If you are pregnant or want to be, or if you are breast-feeding, you should eat a minimum of 12 ounces of fatty fish such as tuna every week, reads new expert recommendations, published by Reuters and The Washington Post, sparking instant controversy.
According to these new recommendations -- created by a group of 14 obstetricians and nutritionists, in partnership with the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition -- seafood including mackerel, sardines, light tuna, salmon, shrimp, and lobster are good sources for omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential nutrients known to help brain development.
These benefits of eating fish supposedly outweigh your risk of mercury toxicity.
The group cited a study published in the February issue of the journal Lancet (February 17, 2007, pages 537-538: Maternal fish consumption benefits children‘s development), which found that children whose mothers ate more fish and seafood during pregnancy had better developmental skills than those whose mothers ate less, or none.
Another study, published in the same issue of the Lancet (February 17, 2007, pages 578-585: Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood: an observational cohort study), similarly found that mothers who ate less than 340 grams of fish and seafood per week in pregnancy did not protect their children from adverse outcomes.
The researchers believe the advice to limit seafood consumption might be detrimental, stating “These results show that risks from the loss of nutrients were greater than the risks of harm from exposure to trace contaminants in 340 grams seafood eaten weekly.”
The Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies expert panel did not establish a new recommended upper limit for consumption.
The membership list of National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) include such well known entities as the Centers for disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Agriculture, the March of Dimes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and others, which makes them a credible source of new dietary recommendations.
However, NPR.org investigated the matter further, exposing several problems with the stories published by Reuters and The Washington Post, as well as casting a shadow of doubt over the HMHB’s credibility.
First, when NPR investigative reporter, Allison Aubrey, contacted The American Academy of Pediatrics, they were surprised to find out they were associated with these new guidelines, as they strongly disagree with them. Ditto for the March of Dimes and the CDC.
Additionally, Judy Meehan of HMHB went on record stating that the fish industry had paid $60,000 for the panel’s travel expenses to a Chicago meeting, where the new advice was configured, but pointed out that industry did not pay for any of the scientific research cited by the panel as the basis of their recommendations.
There are, however, many other studies showing that mercury contamination from fish consumption does constitute a health hazard for mothers and their babies, such as the 2007 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. According to this study, fish consumption was positively associated with premature delivery.
The advisories issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2001 and 2004, advise pregnant and nursing women to limit their consumption of fish and seafood to a maximum of 12 ounces per week, due to concerns about mercury toxicity.
Environmental Health Perspectives January 2007; 115(1): 42–47 (Free Full-Text Report)
The Lancet February 17, 2007; 369:537-538 (Free Full-Text Report)
The Lancet February 17, 2007; 369:578-585 (Free Full-Text Report)
Reuters October 4, 2007
The Washington Post October 4, 2007
NPR.org October 4, 2007