Monday, August 11, 2008

So tell me again....WHY are we telling pregnant women to avoid eating fish?

This is one of those issues that simply drives me crazy. The Food and Drug Administration, several years ago, because of mercury content, identified four fish that might be harmful to consume during pregnancy. Those four fish were king mackerel, tilefish, swordfish, and shark.

For the recored, in 26 years of doing this work, I have yet to EVER have ANYONE at ANY point in their life tell me in a diet recall that they eat mackerel (too fishy), shark (eeeuuw!!!), or tilefish (what the heck is a tilefish?). Swordfish is a rare item that comes up.

Let's count those again. Four fish. Mackerel. Shark. Tilefish. Swordfish.

In the time that this warning has come out, consumption of ALL fish has decreased, by about one sixth (17%).

Why have we overgeneralized? Because scary headlines are what sell newspapers and news broadcasts. And when newspapers sell and news shows are watched, newspapers and television stations make more money from advertising.

Did you know, that the losses associated with this preventative measure may outweigh the benefits? According to the Harvard Review, if pregnant women were to eat the same amount of fish they normally do, but replaced fish high in mercury with fish low in mercury, cognitive development benefits could be achieved with virtually no nutritional losses. When those cognitive development benefits are taken into consideration, if those women were to cut their fish consumption by one-sixth, exactly what has happened, the nutritional benefit derived drops by 80%.

A new study suggests that omega-3 deficiency during pregnancy may have effects years later. A group of researchers who had reported that supplementing pregnant and lactating women with omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy resulted in higher IQ scores in their children 4 years after birth, retested the same children at 7 years. The women in this study either took 10 ml of cod liver oil or corn oil from the 18th week of pregnancy until 3 months after their babies were born. Mothers with high levels of plasma ALA and DHA (two omega-3 fatty acids) had children who better learned information, organized it, and later used it in practical situations.

Again...'splain me why we're telling pregnant women to be afraid of fish?

Helland IB, Smith L, Blomén B, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA. Effect of supplementing pregnant and lactating mothers with n-3 very-long-chain fatty acids on children's IQ and body mass index at 7 years of age. Pediatrics. 2008 Aug;122(2):e472-9.


Jennifer said...

Hi Monika and readers –

I came across this blog entry, and have to agree with your concerns wholeheartedly. I am a registered dietitian with The National Fisheries Institute (NFI), and work hard to make sure pregnant women and the health professionals who counsel them understand the latest seafood science. As you expressed, all signs point to an omega-3 deficient diet being the biggest risk for moms (and their babies) who follow a typical low-fish American diet. I wanted to make you and your readers aware of a few further resources on this issue.

1. The NFI pregnancy page

2. The NFI scientific studies database

3. The Brainy Babies, Healthy Kids coalition

4. The often-misunderstood FDA/EPA fish guidance for women who are or may become pregnant, nursing moms, and young children

5. The NFI Blog about Seafood – follow the real-life diet of a dietitian (me!) trying to eat seafood at least twice a week

Jennifer Wilmes, MS, RD
National Fisheries Institute

hormonewoman said...


Thank you for all the references!

I wonder if you might be able to contact me privately? My email is