The findings, featured in the American Journal of Epidemiology, on January 5, suggest that exposure to seafood while being in the womb is far from harmful to fetal development; instead, it can result in increased IQ, by boosting and accelerating cognitive processes.
Prior studies had indicated that since fish tends to be riddled with mercury and other pollutants, consuming it during pregnancy can be greatly detrimental to the growing baby, given that these neurotoxic substances can reach permeate the amniotic liquid.
On the other hand, it is a well-documented fact that oily fish in particular contains numerous brain-boosting nutrients, such as two essential types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
The two compounds, found in salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, kippers, trout etc., have been proven effective in staving off memory loss, and also in preventing brain degeneration like the one associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Given the fact that consuming seafood appears to be such a double-edged sword, health experts haven't been urging people to stop including it in their daily diet, but they did set a certain threshold beyond which fish intake can be hazardous, because of its high content of mercury and other contaminants.
More precisely, the 2014 dietary guidelines adopted by the United States Food and Drug Administration specify that expectant mothers shouldn't consume more than 12 ounces of fish on a weekly basis. Similarly, the European Food Safety Authority urges pregnant women to limit weekly consumption of seafood between 5 ounces and 21 ounces.
Now, this newly published scientific paper seems to allude that the advantages associated with eating fish while pregnant greatly outweigh the risks.
Experts from Barcelona's Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology looked into data collected during the Spanish Childhood and Environment Project, which surveyed approximately 2,000 women starting from their earliest stages of pregnancy, from 2004 until 2008.
Throughout the study, every participant had answered a wide variety of questions, some of them referring to daily eating habits.
That's how study authors were able to determine each individual's weekly intake of shellfish, lean fish (sole, sake etc.) and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, swordfish, sardines, albacore tuna, anchovies etc.).
Researchers also analyzed the subjects' blood test results, focusing mostly on iodine and vitamin D levels, and kept track of each baby's exposure to mercury and other contaminants, by reviewing data from umbilical cord blood tests.
All this comprehensive information was then correlated with results obtained by the babies in their first 5 years of life, during various cognitive examinations.
It was discovered that expectant mothers had consumed around 17.6 ounces of fish on a weekly basis. Also, for every extra 0.35 ounces of seafood ingested by the women during pregnancy, their offspring obtained higher and higher scores during the IQ assessments.
In addition, the likelihood that the child would suffer from autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger syndrome was lower when the mother incorporated larger amounts of seafood in her daily diet.
Such benefits remained apparent for all the kids that had been exposed to fish while in the womb, as long as weekly servings favored by their mothers didn't exceed 21 ounces.
Based on these findings, lead study author Jordi Julvez now believes that pregnant women shouldn't avoid consuming seafood, fearing that this might harm the baby.
What they should do instead is eat moderate amounts of fish especially in the first trimester of pregnancy, when benefits are the highest for the fetus.
They should still be cautious and refrain from consuming swordfish, catfish, king mackerel or shark, because these species absorb more mercury and other pollutants than other marine creatures, due to their long life cycles.
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