A report released by the Environmental Protection Agency provides encouraging data suggesting that pregnancy health advisories are helping young women. It appears they have been paying attention to recommendations about safe seafood consumption. The study performed between 1999 and 2010 indicates that health advisories are helping young women to make wiser dietary choices.
The FDA started telling women of childbearing age to avoid consuming fish that contain high levels of mercury in 2000. Childbearing age is defined as 15 to 44 years of age according to the CDC. Women in this age group have decreased their blood mercury levels by 34 percent in 11 years. The percentage of women whose blood already contained elevated mercury levels decreased by 65 percent since the study began. Interestingly, the amount of fish consumed by women in this age group does not appear to have changed.
The FDA and EPA released a joint advisory in 2004 suggesting that pregnant women or those who may become pregnant eat at least 12 ounces of fish a week. Fish is high in protein, typically low in saturated fats, and contains other beneficial vitamins and minerals. Both DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support healthy brain and eye development in the fetus.
Consuming the right kind of fish is important because some contain more omega-3 fatty acids than others. It is equally important that certain fish be avoided due to high mercury levels. It is recommended that women of childbearing age avoid eating Swordfish, Shark, King Mackerel, and Tilefish.
The Department of Health and Human Services in many states issues advisories for pregnancy to help women avoid fish that are unsafe and further specify that fish from certain bodies of water should be avoided altogether due to contamination. If possible they advise it is best to select fish that are smaller, younger, leaner, and that do not eat other fish.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences conducted a study which has shown that children from mothers who consumed fish at least 4 times a week had higher developmental scores, particularly in language, than children whose mothers had not. They have also shown that high blood mercury levels in women have been correlated with developmental delays. Pregnancy health advisories are helping young women, but also their children down the road.
If you want to get plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids safely into your diet good choices are canned light tuna, sardines, salmon, rainbow trout, catfish, and pollock. Those who do not enjoy eating fish can get some of the health benefits by taking Omega-3 supplements, which are also available from vegetarian sources. When the Omega-3s are derived from fish it is best to buy high quality supplements that have been purified and filtered. This is even more crucial during pregnancy.
It is good practice for everyone to follow these guidelines, but it is crucial for pregnant and breastfeeding women because the child’s nervous system is still undeveloped. The amount of mercury that is bad for a woman is horrible for a baby given the concentration relative to body size. Their bodies are just not equipped to filter out the toxins that can be found in fish.
While seafood is healthy for all ages it is especially important for those whose brains are still rapidly growing. The benefits are so powerful that many commercial infant formulas now contain extra DHA.
Today pregnant and breastfeeding women are bombarded with information about what they can and cannot do. This study suggests they are paying close attention. It is encouraging to see that these important pregnancy health advisories may be helping young women and even more importantly their children.
By Lara Stielow
EPA Mercury Information