Nutrition: Study Questions Limits on Fish in Pregnancy
The Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women to avoid eating certain fish entirely, because they may contain unsafe levels of methylmercury, and to limit seafood to 12 ounces, or about two servings, a week. But a British report, published in The Lancet on Feb. 17, suggests that this may not be the best advice.
In an observational study of more than 8,000 pregnant women and their children, the researchers found that the children whose mothers ate less than 12 ounces of seafood a week were about 45 percent more likely to fall into the lowest 25 percent in I.Q.
The researchers had the mothers fill out questionnaires about their diet during pregnancy and then report periodically on their children through age 8. After controlling for more than two dozen diet and other variables, the researchers found that greater maternal intake of omega-3 fatty acids in fish was associated with better fine motor development, more prosocial behavior and better social development.
They found no evidence that a mother’s consumption of more than 12 ounces of seafood a week had any adverse effect on a child’s development.
“The risks of methylmercury in seafood, many scientists think, have been radically overestimated in an effort to protect children,” said Dr. Joseph R. Hibbeln, the lead author of the study. “The problem with the formulation of the advisory is that there was no calculation of the benefits of seafood.”
Dr. Hibbeln, a researcher at the United States Public Health Service, declined to provide diet recommendations. “We are not offering advice,” he said, “just doing a scientific study to provide information to the other agencies that formulate advice.”