Tilapia shares a family with the African and Middle Eastern cichlid fish. It is cultured in over 120 countries with global production of 5.6 million tons. Some regions create hybrids of tilapia that are farmed in clean freshwater. (1)
Tilapia is commonly called “garbage fish” or “trash fish” because of its ability to thrive in urban polluted waters.
Because of its ease of survival, it is a cheap and widely available source of protein for people challenged economically. However, its consumption does have some associated health risks.
Health Risks of Consuming Tilapia
According to experts, these are the health hazards of eating tilapia.
1. Contributes to antibiotic resistance
Antibiotic resistance is a huge healthcare and medical concern that can prevent antibiotics from working on common disease-causing microorganisms. This prolongs the period of illness and can even cause death in people with poor immunity. (2)
Studies have found tilapia cultivated in polluted water to contain strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the gut including Klebsiella pneumoniae, E. coli, Enterobacter spp., and Shigella spp. People who consumed this fish also gained antibiotic resistance against these pathogens, making it a health risk. (3)
2. Contains heavy metals
Tilapia contains heavy metals, as it can thrive in pollution-heavy waters that are likely to contain these metals.
Molybdenum, arsenic, and lead are some of these heavy metals that in high concentrations can cause chronic illnesses and even death. (4)
While many experts argue that the presence of these heavy metals is too little to affect health, a newer 2023 research study has found regular consumption of tilapia contaminated with heavy metals to cause cancer in consumers. (5)
- Tilapia is farmed in many regions of the world. It is cheap and easily accessible.
- Because tilapia can grow well in polluted waters, it is termed garbage fish or trash fish.
- Due to the polluted water they thrive in, tilapia can be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and heavy metals, which can impact the health of consumers.