Contaminants & Drug Residues: Safe seafood consumption for pregnant women and young children
1 September 2015 • Author(s): Edward Groth III, Groth Consulting Services
Providing fish consumption advice for pregnant women and young children requires weighing risk-benefit trade-offs. Seafood (I will use the words ‘fish’ and ’seafood’ interchangeably here to include both finfish and shellfish) provides important nutrients, such as the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3s) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are essential for prenatal nervous system development. However, fish consumption is also the primary route of exposure to methylmercury, which is neurotoxic.
Even mildly elevated exposure to methylmercury before and after birth can damage the developing brain. Currently, many pregnant women do not eat enough fish to supply the n-3s their babies need, so public health can be improved substantially by persuading women to eat more fish. Women also need guidance to choose low mercury seafood varieties in order to minimise the risk of possible adverse effects. Clear advice on smart seafood choices can increase women’s confidence that their fish consumption will be beneficial, not harmful to their baby, so providing better advice may be a key strategy for getting pregnant women to eat more fish.
Pregnant women and parents of young children are the primary targets for fish consumption advice because the developing brain is especially sensitive to methylmercury toxicity. Other risk factors include eating more fish than average, ethnic diets with high fish content, and preferring to eat larger, predatory species like swordfish and tuna, which have higher mercury levels. Sound advice on seafood choices can help the many different population groups who need to manage their methylmercury exposure do so, while continuing to enjoy fish…
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