Well Being

The Mercury Myth: Benefits Of Eating Fish While Pregnant Far Outweigh Risks

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pregnant woman with fish tattoo

By the way we warn pregnant women against seafood, you'd think mercury in fish was fetal enemy number one. Not so, according to one recent study. The benefits of fish for developing brains far outweigh potential risks, researchers say. In fact, there may actually be “no adverse effects” of prenatal mercury exposure, as long as omega-3 consumption is adequate.

Lead study author Philip W. Davidson, a professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said the study shows “there are no adverse effects of prenatal mercury exposure from fish … when adjusted for maternal levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids. In fact, we found positive associations with those nutrients and children's language development.”

For the study, Davidson and team collected detailed dietary information from more than 200 mothers and their children in the Republic of Seychelles, where fish consumption among women is at least 10 times higher than in the United States. The children, all 5-years-old, were also given intelligence and developmental tests.

It turns out there were no negative associations between eating more fish and cognitive development. And the more fish a mother consumed, the better her children tested at language development.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends pregnant women limit fish consumption to no more than two 6-ounce servings per week — a recommendation that could not only be causing post-partum depression (a possible consequence of too few omega-3 fatty acids in the diet) but also making our offspring dumber.

“The potential interplay of mercury and polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish appears very complex and we are just beginning to understand their relationship,” said Gary Myers, a professor of neurology, environmental medicine and pediatrics at URMC.

Of course, there are ways to get omega-3 fatty acids other than fish. If you're still worried about avoiding mercury (or a vegetarian), check out these awesome plant sources of omega-3s.