FISHING FOR FACTS: MERCURY AND SEAFOOD CONSUMPTION DURING PREGNANCY

FISHING FOR FACTS: MERCURY AND SEAFOOD CONSUMPTION DURING PREGNANCY

  The topic of seafood consumption during pregnancy and breast-feeding is one filled with confusion. For example we are told to stay away from certain seafood such as tuna due to the high methyl mercury (MeHg) content, yet we are also told that there are benefits such as Omega-3 fatty acids that come from tuna and seafood. Therefore making the public confused, leaving people to wonder do the benefits outweigh the negatives? Well I think it is important to know the facts and to stop always believing what we are told. The truth is, yes mercury exists in tuna and other fish. But the real question is how much? Are there better options to choose and what can we do to combat the mercury intake that is unfortunately in the environment. So where does this confusion come from? Why do we fear the exposure to mercury in seafood? Well to sum it up, it’s the media and how they portray the facts. This isn’t to say that mercury exposure is not real and that it doesn’t pose a threat, but please note that when statements get disseminated, it’s always important to look at the study in which it came from. What were the quantity of subjects? Where (geographically) is this being produced and who is funding the study and what was their purpose? I know these are all questions that many people don’t think about when they here facts served over the media, but I am here to help shed some light on this fishy matter. After reading a few articles, I stumbled across a research professor, Nicholas Ralston PhD, a research associate professor at the University of North Dakota, who mentioned that part of the confusion came from two large studies based out of the Faroe Islands and New Zealand, that looked at the effects mercury consumption had on childhood brain development[1]. These two studies found that children with the highest mercury levels experience adverse neurological effects. While studies conducted within the United States and other countries found that increased seafood consumption was associated with higher IQ within children, even with children with similarly high mercury levels. While in Japan and the Seychelles Islands that even though their population eats on average about 12 ocean fish meals per week there has been no adverse affect of the mercury exposure.[2][3] Ralston decided to dig deeper and see where and why the inconsistencies lie in this matter. And to our surprise he found that researchers discovered that the mineral Selenium played a role. Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is known to help prevent free radical damage to cells, while also being a part of 25 enzymatic reactions that protect the brain from damage. Selenium acts as a mercury magnet with a very strong binding affinity for the toxic substance. On the negative side, the mercury prevents the enzyme (salenoenzyme- used to protect the brain) from doing its job, thus posing as a threat to pregnant woman and young children. On the positive side, this strong attraction allows selenium to mix and neutralize mercury’s reaction characteristics. Meaning that the binding from mercury and selenium that is produced is not absorbed by the body and gets flushed out of the system. Therefore the presence of selenium in the diet will help with toxicity levels of mercury get removed from ones body. Ralston also took a look deeper into each study and found that the Faroe Islands and New Zealand studies were examining based off whale and shark as the seafood source, which is high in mercury and low in selenium. He also noted that “that’s not what most people eat” and mentions that both countries are known to be selenium poor. Even though they consumed selenium-rich seafood it wasn’t enough to compensate. He further mentioned that at the time of the study that New Zealand was one of the most selenium deficient countries, so if mercury entered the equation it would have a dramatic affect. On the other hand, the United States is not a selenium poor country and on the contrary Americans get the RDA of 55 mcg / day. So what does that mean for us? A 2011 report from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the majority of commercial wild and farm raised species, the health benefits of seafood consumption- primarily decreased cardiovascular disease risks and improved neurodevelopment- outweigh the risks of mercury and other organic pollutants[4]. The FDA says that pregnant woman who consume two seafood meals per week could provide their child with an additional 3.3 IQ points by the age9 [5] So where does this leave pregnant and breast feeding woman? Well the advice from the FDA is to stay away from these four high mercury fish: shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel. In 2011, the FDA set a minimum level of intake at least 8 oz. per week and state that woman who are pregnant or breast-feeding should eat more fish then the current national average to support fetal growth and development as well as maternal health. They further stated that woman should limit consumption of certain fish – including albacore tuna to 4-oz./ week. As for freshwater fish, it is recommended that consumers follow fish advisories from local authorities before eating seafood from local streams, rivers and lakes. I for one, love tuna and for some reason during my pregnancy craved it even more! With that said I was able to consume tuna but made wise choices of what type of tuna I purchased and ate. If you are like me and want to eat your tuna without concern, I highly recommend purchasing Safe Catch. Safe Catch tuna is the only mercury-tested tuna released on the market. The company tests each fish used in its canned and pouched tuna products for mercury. The tuna is non-GMO, sustainably caught, free of additives and packed only in its own juices in a BPA-free can. For more information, visit www.safecatch.com. So the take home message here, is to still consume seafood while pregnant, but to make educated choices as to the type of fish you choose. And if tuna is on your mind, consume the appropriate amount per week, if pregnant. Also the addition of selenium into your diet will help flush any mercury within your body. A great source are found in Brazil Nuts, only 1oz (6-8 nuts) per day contain the 555 mcg which is 777% Daily Value of selenium and will help detoxify your body against free radicals. Seafood offers omega-3 fatty acids and DHA, which have numerous benefits for mother and child. Overall, the benefits outweigh the negatives when it comes to seafood consumption and to be smart and choose wisely.   Eat well and #benaturAli           [1] 7. Oken E, Bellinger DC. Fish consumption, methylmercury and child neurodevelopment. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2008;20(2):178-183. [2]  Myers GJ, Davidson PW, Strain JJ. Nutrient and methyl mercury exposure from consuming fish. J Nutr. 2007;137(12):2805-2808. [3] Davidson PW, Cory-Slechta DA, Thurston SW, et al. Fish consumption and prenatal methylmercury exposure: cognitive and behavioral outcomes in the main cohort at 17 years from the Seychelles child development study. Neurotoxicology. 2011;32(6):711-717. [4] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization. Report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption. http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/ba0136e/ba0136e00.pdf. Published 2011. [5]  McGuire J, Kaplan J, Lapolla J, Kleiner R. The 2014 FDA assessment of commercial fish: practical considerations for improved dietary guidance. Nutr J. 2016;15(1):66.

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