Pregnant and breast-feeding women should consume at least 12 ounces of fish and seafood per week for optimal brain development of fetuses, infants and young children, according to guidelines to be released on Thursday by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, the Washington Post reports. The coalition is a not-for-profit group with nearly 150 members, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, CDC and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
According to the Post, the coalition's guidelines on consumption of seafood during pregnancy and immediately after pregnancy "are at odds" with current FDA and Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. FDA and EPA in 2005 issued warnings that advise young children, pregnant women, nursing women and women of childbearing age to avoid consuming swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish because of high mercury levels. The warnings also recommend that those groups no more than 12 ounces of fish weekly and eat no more than six ounces of canned albacore tuna weekly.
The guidelines were prompted by some studies that showed that high levels of mercury -- which accumulates in the environment, as well as in the flesh of fish and the bodies of those who eat fish -- contribute to birth defects and other health problems. Several studies also demonstrated a subtle loss of mental acuity in the offspring of women who consumed fish during pregnancy. Fish and seafood are the major dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important nutrients for the brain and nervous system in developing fetuses, infants and young children, the Post reports.
The Healthy Mothers guidelines recommend eating 12 ounces or more of fish and seafood weekly to ensure healthy brain development. The guidelines recommend eating ocean fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, which are highest in omega-3s. According to the Post, fish is high in the mineral selenium. The panel of experts that created the guidelines said "there is a growing body of evidence that selenium in ocean fish may also counteract the potential negative influence of mercury exposure."
The new guidelines also recommend higher fish and seafood consumption to protect women's health, the Post reports. According to James McGregor, a University of Southern California obstetrician who headed the Maternal Nutrition Group, women who do not consume enough omega-3s in pregnancy seem to have a higher risk of depression during pregnancy and after giving birth.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation