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Is Pufferfish Bad For You?

Also Known As: Fugu, blowfish



Short answer

There are over 100 species of pufferfish, otherwise known as fugu in Japan. They are all highly poisonous but if prepared the right way they are edible. If the toxin is ingested it can cause immediate death. The filet (safe part) of the pufferfish is low in calories, low in fat, high in protein and a good source of vitamins and minerals. There may be a form of the pufferfish toxin that can be used intravenously in pain management. However, looking at the risk of being poisoned with ingestion it would be wise to stay away from this fish.



Long answer

The deadly pufferfish which is also known as fugu in Japan is illegal in most parts of the world but considered a delicacy in Japan.  The pufferfish, also known as blowfish, can inflate its body over twice its size to ward off predators.  The species that have long spines (like a porcupine) contain a deadly toxin that can kill instantly.  It is said that there is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans. The most deadly part of the pufferfish is the liver but the spines, skin, intestines, eyes, kidneys and the ovaries also carry the toxin tetrodotoxin.

Tetrodotoxin is a powerful neurotoxin that shuts down muscle contraction, causing heart failure and respiratory failure.  Early symptoms of poisoning include dizziness, exhaustion, headache, nausea and vomiting.  Tetrodotoxin is 120 times more poisonous than cyanide and there is no known antidote. If someone comes in contact with this poison the recommended medical treatment is life support until the body naturally rids itself of the toxin.

This delicacy in Japan is extremely expensive and only licensed chefs are allowed to prepare it.  These chefs have to take written and preparation (preparing hundreds of fish) evaluations to become licensed. The chefs must be at least 20 years old and can train anywhere from 3-5 years. When preparing the pufferfish for consumption, the “torafugu” variety is the pufferfish of choice due to it having the least amount of toxin in its system. Currently, there are specially created “fugu farms” that ensure a toxin-free variety. 

Once the fugu is prepared for the dinner table the filet of the pufferfish actually has some health benefits. The fish is low in calories, carbohydrates and fat, and is high in protein.  Pufferfish is a good source of vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

This may be an expensive delicacy in Japan but the risks outweigh the nutritional benefits and there are so many other fish available that will not poison you and deliver great health benefits.

One interesting note is that scientists in China have isolated an active ingredient of tetrodotoxin that may help with pain, especially in cancer patients and opiate addicted patients. There are no addictive properties identified and no known side-effects. Wex Technologies in Canada have created an injectable drug called Tectin that is showing promise in the growing field of pain management.

Possible short-term side effects

  • poisoning that can cause immediate dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, cardiopulmonary failure and death

Commonly found in

  • japanese cuisine - as sashimi or cooked in soups or stews

Ingredients to be aware of

  • tetrodotoxin

Big is pufferfish bad for you 2


  • if you receive the filet that is toxin free it will be low in fat, carbs and calories and high in protein
  • source of vitamin b12 and vitamin d
  • an isolate of the toxin may be beneficial in pain management

Healthier alternatives

  • fish that does not contain tetrodotoxin

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Written by Dr. Becky Maes | 06-07-2018

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Suggest improvement or correction

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