A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester reassesses the benefits and drawbacks of eating fish during pregnancy. The new findings reveal that Omega-3 fatty acids offset the toxicity of mercury in oceanic fish.
The new research revealed that pregnant women who ate large amounts of fish during their pregnancy gave birth to healthier babies than pregnant women who had their bodies stuffed with Omega-6, a harmful fatty acid found mainly in meats and cooking oil.
The new findings are based on data gathered by a three-decade survey in the Seychelles, the islands in the Indian Ocean, where pregnant women usually eat up to 12 servings of fish per week. About 1,500 women and their children were surveyed
“They eat a lot of fish, historically about 12 fish meals a week, and their mercury exposure from fish is about 10 times higher than that of average Americans. We have not found any association between these exposures to mercury and developmental outcomes,”
explained Edwin van Wijngaarden, study co-author and Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester, N.Y.
Researchers also noticed that the Omega-3 fatty acids found in oceanic fish may protect brain tissue from the damage mercury may do to it. They also found that newborns had development problems due associated with mercury ingestion whenever their mothers had low levels of Omega-3, but high levels of Omega-6.
Study authors explained that the phenomenon may be linked to Omega-3 benefits found in fish oil that offset the toxicity of mercury. The study also revealed that a generous Omega-3 intake was linked to a better language development and communication skills in newborns.
However, for decades health experts recommended that expectant mothers should refrain from fish because of high levels of mercury in it. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines recommended a maximum two servings of fish per week.
But last summer, FDA announced that it planned to update the guidelines and recommend pregnant women eat low-mercury fish at least 2-3 times per week. Among the safe fish, FDA mentions canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish and shrimp.
Dr. Laura Riley from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston’s department of labor and delivery said that the new study didn’t convince her.
“More study needs to be done before you can convince me that the fish is actually protective. I want to see the data,”
But Dr. van Wijngaarden has explained why his research showed fish was beneficial for both mothers and unborn children. Mercury is toxic for the human body because it induces oxidation and thus inflammatory processes. However, Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil reduce the level of inflammation of a mother and offset the bad effects mercury may have on her child, Dr. van Wijngaarden concluded.
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