A chemical neurotoxin commonly found in seafood may cause kidney damage — even at levels now considered safe for human consumption, a new study in mice suggests.
Domoic acid, which accumulates in seafood and is toxic to the brain, has been found to damage the kidneys at concentrations that are 100 times lower than the levels known to cause neurological effects.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology
), suggest federal health officials should review levels of the toxin now considered safe for human consumption and update consumer recommendations.
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Domoic acid, also called "Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning," is a heat-resistant toxin that is becoming more prominent in coastal regions, likely due to environmental changes. It can accumulate in mussels, clams, scallops, and fish, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set a legal limit of domoic acid in seafood based primarily on its adverse neurological effects.
But because the toxin is cleared from the body by the kidneys, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina who conducted the new study found it also has detrimental effects on these organs. By giving mice varying doses of domoic acid, the team found that kidneys are far more sensitive to the toxin than the brain.
"We have found that domoic acid damages kidneys at concentrations that are 100 times lower than what causes neurological effects," said P. Darwin Bell, who helped conduct the research. "This means that humans who consume seafood may be at an increased risk of kidney damage possibly leading to kidney failure and dialysis."
While the findings need to be verified in humans, the researchers said increased awareness and monitoring of domoic acid levels in all seafood are warranted and the FDA should reconsider the current legal limit for the toxin.
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