When pregnant mom eats fish, kids do better

When pregnant mom eats fish, kids do better

Thu Feb 15, 2007 11:46PM GMT
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Children of mothers who ate more fish and
other seafood while pregnant are smarter and have better developmental
skills than kids of women who ate less or none, researchers said on
Thursday in findings they called surprising.

The study, sure to be controversial, sought to assess whether it is
wise, as some experts and the U.S. government have recommended, for
pregnant women to limit their seafood intake to avoid mercury, a toxin
that can harm the nervous system of developing foetuses.

Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, a U.S. National Institutes of Health researcher
who led the study in The Lancet medical journal, said seafood is a key
source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for fetal brain development.

The researchers said limiting pregnant women’s weekly intake to 340
grams (12 ounces) of fish and seafood, as advised by the U.S.
government, did not protect their children from developmental problems.
Women who avoid seafood, they said, may actually be harming their
babies by depriving them of essential nutrients needed for the
developing fetal brain.

"It was very surprising," Hibbeln said in a telephone interview. "We
did not expect such clear-cut results of the harm of low seafood

The study looked at the children of more than 8,000 British women
tracked by the University of Bristol to determine how kids fared if
their mothers ate more than 12 ounces — about two average meals.

These children, compared to those whose mothers ate lesser amounts,
were more advanced in developmental tests measuring fine motor,
communication and social skills as toddlers, behaved better at age 7,
and earned higher verbal IQ scores at age 8, the study found.

The differences were striking when looking at kids whose mothers ate
no seafood. They were 48 percent more likely to have a relatively low
verbal IQ score at age 8 compared to children whose mothers ate the
higher amount of seafood.


The Environmental Working Group, which calls the U.S.
recommendations too lenient, said the study highlighted the need for
governments to take actions to keep pollutants out of seafood, like
cracking down on coal-burning power plants.

"The study reinforces the importance of keeping our seafood supply
clean, making sure it’s not overly contaminated with mercury and other
chemicals that could actually harm brain development," said Jane
Houlihan, the group’s vice president for research.

Mercury can build up in fish living in waters contaminated with it
due to industrial pollution. Mercury can be particularly bad for
foetuses and children because it can cause neurological and
developmental problems.

In 2004 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug
Administration advised pregnant women and young children to eat no more
than 12 ounces per week of light tuna and other seafood lower in

The agencies recommended they eat none of some fish with high
mercury levels — shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish — and
no more than 6 ounces (170 grams) a week of albacore tuna because of

"When you look at the net benefits of the nutrients in seafood and
the net risks in seafood, it appears that the advisory inadvertently
causes the harm that it was intended to prevent," Hibbeln said.

In a commentary in Lancet, Dr. Gary Myers and Philip Davidson of the
University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York wrote, "These
results highlight the importance of including fish in the maternal diet
during pregnancy and lend support to the popular opinion that fish is
brain food."


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