Pregnant, Breast-Feeding Women Should Eat At Least 12 Ounces Of Seafood Weekly

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Pregnant and breast-feeding women should consume at least 12 ouncesof fish and seafood per week for optimal brain development of fetuses,infants and young children, according to guidelines to be released onThursday by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, the Washington Post reports. The coalition is a not-for-profit group with nearly 150 members, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, CDC and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

According to the Post,the coalition's guidelines on consumption of seafood during pregnancyand immediately after pregnancy "are at odds" with current FDA and Environmental Protection Agency guidelines (Squires, Washington Post,10/4). FDA and EPA in 2005 issued warnings that advise young children,pregnant women, nursing women and women of childbearing age to avoidconsuming swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish because of highmercury levels. The warnings also recommend that those groups no morethan 12 ounces of fish weekly and eat no more than six ounces of cannedalbacore tuna weekly.

The guidelines were prompted by somestudies that showed that high levels of mercury -- which accumulates inthe environment, as well as in the flesh of fish and the bodies ofthose who eat fish -- contribute to birth defects and other healthproblems. Several studies also demonstrated a subtle loss of mentalacuity in the offspring of women who consumed fish during pregnancy (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report,7/13/06). Fish and seafood are the major dietary sources of omega-3fatty acids, which are important nutrients for the brain and nervoussystem in developing fetuses, infants and young children, the Post reports.

New Guidelines

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The Healthy Mothers guidelines recommend eating 12 ounces or more offish and seafood weekly to ensure healthy brain development. Theguidelines recommend eating ocean fish, such as salmon, tuna andsardines, which are highest in omega-3s. According to the Post,fish is high in the mineral selenium. The panel of experts that createdthe guidelines said "there is a growing body of evidence that seleniumin ocean fish may also counteract the potential negative influence ofmercury exposure."

The new guidelines also recommend higher fish and seafood consumption to protect women's health, the Post reports. According to James McGregor, a University of Southern Californiaobstetrician who headed the Maternal Nutrition Group, women who do notconsume enough omega-3s in pregnancy seem to have a higher risk ofdepression during pregnancy and after giving birth.

Previous Research, Reaction

A study published in the Lancetearlier this year found that children of women who ate only smallamounts of fish during pregnancy had lower IQs and lower academic testscores at age eight and more behavioral and social problems throughoutearly development than children whose mothers ate 12 or more ounces perweek. Other studies also have indicated that consuming low levels ofomega-3s found in fish can raise the risk of premature birth and lowbirthweight.

"There is a big debate about what is safe,"Patricia Nolan, one of the experts who drafted the new guidelines and aprofessor at Brown University,said, adding, "There are really complex questions. That is why we aredoing this." FDA said it plans to study the recommendations but is notprepared to change its advice at the time, the Post reports (Washington Post, 10/4).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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