My little baby Sasha is off to a bad start. Back in June there was a study showing second-born boys have lower IQ’s than their older brothers presumably because their parents have more time to read aloud and talk in intelligible sentences when there is only one kid around. Now I find out that I should have been eating a whole lot more fish than I did when I was pregnant with the little guy, and because I didn’t, he may have lost a few more IQ points. Damn it!
According to this article in the Washington Post, a group of concerned scientists from the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition — a nonprofit group with nearly 150 members, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are now advising pregnant and breast-feeding mothers to consume at least twelve ounces of fish and seafood per week “to ensure optimal brain development of their babies.”
This is just great. While I was pregnant, I dutifully followed the federal government’s advice which had been in place since 2001 that cautioned pregnant and nursing women to eat no more than twelve ounces of seafood a week because of concerns over mercury contamination.
Well, what changed?
According to the article, the twelve ounce limit was based on a theoretical calculation of contamination of methyl mercury found in many large fish. Exposure to too much methyl mercury has been linked to neurological problems. In 2001 and 2004 the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency advised women of reproductive age and small children to avoid eating shark, tilefish, king mackerel and swordfish because of their high mercury content and to limit albacore tuna to no more than six ounces per week.
But recent studies have suggested that the health benefits of fish and seafood outweigh the potential health risks from mercury. Based on that evidence, a number of countries and governmental groups including United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Nordic Council of Ministers, already advise that pregnant women eat at least a couple of servings of fish weekly. Fish and seafood are the major dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, especially a substance called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), that are key nutrients for brain and nervous systems in the developing fetus and in babies and young children.
But what about the mercury? How did the scientists suddenly decide that the good outweighs the bad?
Some of the most compelling evidence for the importance of including seafood in the diet of pregnant women came earlier this year from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the United Kingdom. In February, a team of scientists from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported in the journal the Lancet that the children of women who ate little fish during pregnancy had lower IQs and more behavioral and social problems than youngsters whose mothers ate plenty of seafood.
I said it before and I’ll say it again. Poor Sasha! I ate almost no fish when I was pregnant with him. Partially it was due to the mercury problem and partially it was due to the fact that fish ended up on the list of things that seemed exceptionally unappetizing to me during pregnancy. You can’t choose which things fall on that list and once they’re there, they stay there til the pregnancy’s over. At least that was my experience.
Although the article doesn’t say it explicitly, I would guess women should still opt for fish and seafood that are known to have less mercury. Here’s a site that explains this more in depth.
The scientists hope that pregnant women will view eating some fish as “an important building block for babies’ nutrition,” the article says. The group also recommended increasing consumption of other foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as eggs fortified with DHA and flaxseed.
Oh well, Sasha may have to make it in life on his charm and good looks. Lucky for him, he’s got plenty of both.