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Experts' Advice to Eat More Fish Tainted by Conflict of Interest

October 25, 2007 | 39,273 views

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


Dr. Mercola's Comments:

First, I want to thank one of my committed readers for her sleuth, pointing out the NPR.org’s findings. This is a perfect example of the important role you play when you participate in Vital Votes, and how, together, we can make a difference.

My recommendations would still have been the same, but this additional information really puts the spotlight on how misinformation is spread, how easily it happens, and how you can’t believe everything you read in the “news.”

There is no doubt in my mind that the benefits you get from eating fish and seafood – especially while pregnant – do NOT outweigh the risk of mercury toxicity to yourself or your developing child.

Sorting Through the Recommendations

Animal-based omega-3 fats are absolutely vital for the complete development of your baby’s brain during pregnancy and the first two years of life.

In fact, omega-3 fat, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), is so essential to a child's development that if you -- and therefore your child -- are deficient in it, your child's nervous system and immune system may never fully develop, and it can cause a lifetime of unexplained emotional, learning, and immune system disorders.

Being deficient in omega-3 has also been shown to increase your risk of premature delivery. BUT, as the study in Environmental Health Perspectives shows, so does being exposed to mercury from fish consumption… So, why expose yourself to toxic heavy metals when you can get the goodness of omega-3 from safe, clean sources, other than fish and seafood?

It is obvious that the experts responsible for generating this recommendation have a similar appreciation of the amazing benefits that omega-3 fats have for your health. Unfortunately, I believe these experts are in denial and do not have a full appreciation of the dangers of heavy metal and chemical contamination, which has migrated into most commercially available seafood.

Why You Should NOT Eat Fish

The problem with high fish consumption is that most of your commercially available fish are highly contaminated with mercury, which can cause as much brain damage as omega-3 can bring health benefits.

An alarming 40 tons of mercury are released into the United States alone every year due to burning coal to generate electricity. Mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants moves through the air, is deposited in water, and finds its way into fish, accumulating especially in fish that are higher up the food chain.

Fish like tuna, sea bass, marlin, and halibut show some of the worst contamination, but dozens of species and thousands of water bodies have been seriously polluted.

As a result, if you eat a lot of fish during pregnancy, or even as little as a single serving of a highly contaminated fish, you can expose your developing child to excessive levels of mercury. The toxic metal can cross through your placenta to harm your child’s rapidly developing nervous system, including your baby’s brain.

Some fish are more problematic than others. These are some of the ones you should definitely avoid -- just as  you would avoid alcohol -- if you are pregnant: 

Tuna steaks

Canned tuna

Sea bass

Oysters (Gulf of Mexico)





White croaker

Largemouth bass



For a more comprehensive report on fish recommendations and dangers, please review my previous report on this topic.

In a perfect world, fish would be a near-perfect food -- high in protein and full of essential nutrients and fats. But our world is not perfect, and, sadly, neither is our fish supply. Therefore, I do not recommend eating any fish -- unless you have lab results in your hand that can attest to its purity.

Safe Alternatives to Fish

I believe there is a safe and effective way to get all the health benefits of omega-3, without any of the risks of mercury, simply by either:

  • Eating only clean, pure fish, such as Vital Choice Alaskan salmon, which I have had tested on numerous occasions and I know is mercury free
  • Take a high-quality omega-3 supplement, like krill oil or  fish oil

If you insist on eating typical, store-bought fish, however, and want to know more about the extent of your mercury exposure, I urge you, for the sake of your health and that of your family, to check out the online mercury calculator at GotMercury.org.

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