Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fish and Pregnancy

I was completely torn on whether or not to eat fish during my last pregnancy. I had a pretty good idea which ones contained a lot of mercury, but I just figured it was easier to avoid all of it. I did, however, eat tuna(non albacore) and salmon.

The Federal Drug Administration and its European equivalent have very different advice on the subject.

Dr. Michael Leondardi from Maternal Fetal in Peoria, IL said, "The issue is that omega 3 fatty acids in cold water fish are good for developing eyesight, brain development, etc. In fact, some prenatal vitamins now come with an additional capsule of omega 3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, some large cold water fish are more likely to concentrate mercury which is not a good thing for pregnant women and small children."

There is a great series of articles in the Chicago Tribune. The paper did a three part investigative report on the mercury levels in fish and its health effects. If you haven't heard about this study, you will be alarmed when you read it. There is basically very little testing done to see how much mercury is in the fish we eat. Even the health food stores say they get their fish from the same distributors as everyone else, so their mercury levels aren't any safer.

"Supermarkets throughout the Chicago area are routinely selling seafood highly contaminated with mercury, a toxic metal that can cause learning disabilities in children and neurological problems in adults, a Tribune investigation has found.

For high-risk groups--young children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and women who could get pregnant--some fish might do more harm than good. Mercury can damage the central nervous system of children, causing subtle delays in walking and talking as well as decreased attention span and memory.

In one of the nation's most comprehensive studies of mercury in commercial fish, testing by the newspaper showed that a variety of popular seafood was so tainted that federal regulators could confiscate the fish for violating food safety rules.

The testing also showed that mercury is more pervasive in fish than what the government has told the public, making it difficult for consumers to avoid the problem, no matter where they shop."

And what about the canned tuna I ate during pregnancy that was not albacore? Well, I thought it was safe, but according to the Chicago Tribune investigation, "The fishing industry also has failed consumers. The newspaper's investigation found that U.S. tuna companies often package and sell a high-mercury tuna species as canned light tuna--a product the government specifically recommends as a low-mercury choice."

What fish are the safest?

Small or short-lived species, such as sardines, shrimp, crab and tilapia, generally have low amounts of mercury. Wild salmon, which eat plankton and small fish, are low in mercury, as are farm-raised salmon, which are fed fish meal containing little mercury. Regulators report that fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches, which typically are made with pollock, are low in mercury. But scientists say more tests are needed to confirm that.

What fish have the most mercury?

Large predator fish, such as swordfish and shark, generally have the most mercury.

There is a section on the Tribune's website where you can actually type in your weight and the computer will tell you how many ounces of certain kinds of fish you can have each week. The information is based on a Chicago Tribune study. After doing the calculations, I don't think I ever eat enough seafood to go over the recommended allowance. I would have to eat more than two cans of tuna each week.

Dr. Michael Leonardi points out, "Depending on one's dietary choices, it could be a major issue for pregnant women and young children. I advise my patients to read it and use their own best judgement."

Here's what you need to know about mercury and fish from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Here's an editorial from Dr. Charles Lockwood on modern You do have to register for the site, which I don't like doing, but this is good information.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


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