Concerns about consumption of farm-raised catfish 

‘Does eating catfish reared with growth hormones lead to cancers and drug resistance?’ is a puzzle that has remained difficult to fix. Not a few Nigerians wish the answer is not in the affirmative.

The reason for the foregoing expectation is not farfetched, as catfish pepper soup and barbecue, popularly known as ‘point and kill’, have remained among the delicacies in Nigerian homes, pubs, hotels and eateries.

As a delicacy considered mouthwatering and irresistible by many, it is very common at middle class social gatherings.

It is nicknamed point and kill because the customer chooses the preferred fish from a big bowl of live catfish and the fish is killed on the spot and prepared in hot gravy, while the customer waits.

Catfish has become one of the most popular fish meals consumed around the world. But there have been issues about its benefits and and otherwise to consumers’ health. There have been warnings, from health experts, who raise the red flag about the dangers of catfish consumption.

Excessive consumption and health implication

Moderation has always been the best advice in everything we do in life. Catfish consumption is not exempt. A medical practitioner, Dr Arikawe Adeolu, at a media parley in Abuja, said excessive consumption of catfish could increase the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Catfish contains omega-6 fatty acids, which could increase the level of inflammation in the body, he noted, adding that inflammation is the underlying cause of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and diabetes.

He said although catfish also contained omega-3 fatty acids, which had a lot of health benefits, the ratio of omega-6 is far greater. This, according to him, calls for moderation in it’s consumption to minimise health risks.

He explained, “The omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the concentration of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream and increase the concentration of good cholesterol in the bloodstream. It also helps protect the cardiovascular system from any form of disease, prevent inflammation in the body and reduce the quantity or concentration of inflammatory substances in the body.

“The underlining basis for most cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and many other diseases that we know today is chronic inflammation, which signifies a long-standing inflammation in the body. This is where the catfish controversy comes in.”

Financial Street gleaned a lot of reports advising against eating catfish because it contains more omega-6 fatty acids.

“Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, in the sense that they increase the level of inflammation within the body and make one more predisposed to any kind of disease. When catfish features a lot in your diet, you ingest more omega-6 fatty acids than the protective omega-3.Therefore, you are more predisposed to diseases.

“The optimal ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids is supposed to be four to one, but because the catfish is reared artificially and is fed with synthesised food, the ratio can be up to 10 to one,” Adeolu stated.

Health benefits

Adeolu also said though there were a lot of controversies surrounding the consumption of catfish, it still held some advantages over most fishes consumed today. Catfish, he noted, is a good source of protein and rich in essential amino acids needed to build muscles, bones and different tissues in the body.

Catfish, he explained, contains a moderate amount of calories per serving/gramme; hence, it is for those watching their body weight.

According to him, catfish is rich in phosphorus and magnesium, which are essential micro-nutrients that play significant role in a lot of biochemical processes in the body.

The toxic label

Analysed from another angle, there have been assertions and counter-assertions that suggested that the consumption of farm-raised catfish is toxic, due to the level of antibiotics in its feeds. But experts have countered such assertions, describing them as untrue, as the quantity of antibiotics used in catfish feed is reportedly negligible and has not been found to cause any health damage.

Mike Muokeme, a scientist and catfish farmer, says, “The recent report spreading through the Internet that catfish is unhealthy and toxic is very laughable and holds no water.”

He argued that the proponents of the claim were propagating the information based on research carried out on fish reared in the United States of America.

He said, “Although I still have some doubts about the claims, it is erroneous to conclude that all catfish raised in other parts of the world are toxic like those raised in the U.S.

“Also, some food and nutrition writers have condemned the consumption of farm-raised catfish and have reported that they have low amount of nutrients compared to those caught in their natural ecosystem. While this can be true in a way, the argument is not enough reason to label them toxic, as most meat products are farm-raised and not caught in the wild.”

Last line

Based on outcomes of many  fora on the issue, there is an appreciable depth of anonymity that catfish pepper soup is a healthy food, anytime, especially when garnished with ginger, garlic, onions and other natural spices that will improve not just the taste and flavour but the nutrient level.

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