I never thought there would be an intersection between my "Entourage"-watching habit and matters of the gullet, but actor Jeremy Piven (who plays Hollywood agent Ari Gold on the show) is apparently a victim of eating too much sushi.
As was widely reported yesterday, Piven has withdrawn from his role in the Broadway play "Speed-the-Plow" after discovering unusually high levels of mercury in his bloodstream. The diagnosis was made after he complained of fatigue, dizzy spells, and failing to remember his lines. According to his physician, Dr. Carlon Colker, Piven's mercury levels were roughly six times what the body can handle. His diet is blamed for the mercury poisioning. "He was eating sushi twice a day and taking some Chinese herbs," Dr. Colker told E! News. "I tested his heavy metals and his mercury was amazingly, shockingly high."
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to mercury "may result in severe damage to the nervous and reproductive systems and may ultimately be fatal. Common symptoms of mercury poisoning are poor coordination and altered sensory perception. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to mercury exposure. The most common cause of mercury poisoning in the United States is the consumption of fish contaminated with methylmercury."
This is not to say that everyone agreees that mercury poisoning can be attributed to fish. The National Fisheries Institute (NFI), a fishing industry trade association, denies the link entirely. In a letter to the New York Times disputing a January 24, 2008 article on sushi and mercury, Mary Anne Hansan, Vice President, NFI, wrote, "You say that you don’t know whether it’s true that not a single American has ever been clinically found to have mercury toxicity from fish consumption. I’d say that before you run a front-page story on the topic, that ought to be one of the first facts you should nail down. It’s easily confirmed by federal agencies and major medical organizations and the answer is this: zero."
The FDA and EPA advisory on fish consumption mainly targets women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children. It recommends limiting consumption to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of fish lower in mercury.
Let's say Piven had two six-ounce portions of tuna sushi five days per per week, he would have exceeded the FDA advisory in just one day. According to a the Natural Resources Defense Council's mercury calculator, the mercury intake for a 5' 10" (this is disputed, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt) white male of average weight (170 pounds for a 43-year old this size) consuming 12 ounces of Bigeye and Yellowtail Tuna per day would average an intake of 1.69 micograms per day, more than 15 times the EPA recommendations.
Interestingly, Piven's bout with mercury poisoning has occurred just as the FDA indicates it may be reconsidering it's original advisory limiting seafood consumption. There's going to be a huge debate over any attempt to reverse current policy, and one wonders if such a public case might be influential.
What's next for Piven? Playwright David Mamet told Daily Variety, "My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer."