Can Pregnant Women and Nursing Mom’s Eat Fish? Yes!

Vital Choice: Healthy Moms & Baby PackFew subjects elicit more emotion than the safety of food eaten by pregnant or nursing women and its impacts—good or bad—on their children. And that’s how it should be, given the vulnerability of fetuses and infants, and the importance of optimal brain development to childhood and lifelong capacities and outcomes. But some of what we’ve heard over the years is not withstanding the test of time.

Take the case of pregnant and nursing women who are advised not to eat fish, all of the studies published on this subject find that children’s brains benefit when their mothers do eat more fish during pregnancy and nursing, and that children are not harmed by the minuscule amounts of mercury in most ocean fish. This post dispels the myths and provides suggestions to keep both mother and baby healthy.

This is how Harvard public health researchers put it in a recent medical literature review (Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB et al. 2006):

“For major health outcomes among adults, based on the strength of the evidence and the potential magnitudes of effect, the benefits of fish intake exceed the potential risks.”

“For women of childbearing age, benefits of modest fish intake, excepting a few selected species, also outweigh risks.”

The few exceptions to which they refer to are: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, which should be avoided by children and pregnant and nursing mothers.Pregnant

Both Christiane Northrup, MD and Andrew Weil, M.D., stand out as a voices of reason within a misguided, drug-focused medical paradigm that downplays wellness and prevention. Dr. Weil wrote on this in the Huffington Post, titled “Pregnant? Eat Fish!

Dr. Weil writes,

“Research now suggests that the benefit to a baby’s neurological health from omega-3s appears to far outweigh the potential for harm from small amounts of mercury in fish tissues.”

He goes on to cite the research backing this statement… findings we’ve reported, along with research explaining why the abundance of selenium in ocean fish renders the presence of traces of mercury virtually irrelevant to human health.

The only exceptions are the very few species exceptionally high in mercury, which the U.S. FDA and EPA advise pregnant and nursing women to avoid entirely, the fish to avoid are: shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and commercial tuna typically found in supermarkets.

But as Dr. Weil points out, the best available evidence shows that children and pregnant or nursing mothers should be eating at least 12 ounces of seafood per week, not up to that amount, as the EPA and FDA still advise.

Wild Alaska Salmon and Halibut rank high among nature’s purest sources of the protein, vitamins, and omega-3s essential for optimal child development and life-long health.

Dr. Andrew Stoll, author of The Omega-3 Connection;

“The developing brain [of the unborn baby] in particular has a huge and absolute requirement for energy in the form of oxygen and glucose, and for structural molecules, including fatty acids of the omega-6 and omega-3 class…

When maternal blood is rich in oxygen and nutrients, the unborn child can thrive. But thousands of research studies document the consequences when maternal blood is deficient in some nutrients…. Since essential fatty acids cannot be manufactured by the human body, the fetus acquires all omega-3s from the mother’s bloodstream, and ultimately from her diet and the stores of EPA and DHA in her tissues.

Imagine a scenario in which the mother is partially depleted of omega-3 fatty acids. Since omega-3 fatty acids are actively transported to the developing baby, EPA and DHA will be siphoned off from the mother to meet the high demand of the baby’s brain and body development. If there is just enough for the baby, fetal development can proceed normally.

The outcome for the mother in this situation is less certain. Depleted of omega-3 fatty acids, the pregnant and then postpartum woman may experience a host of health problems.

The situation is probably worse in the case of the pregnant woman depleted of omega-3s. In this case, neither the mother nor the developing baby will have adequate levels of omega-3 oils, laying the groundwork for a host of documented health consequences.

Omega-3 deficit during pregnancy delivers a devastating double blow: it compromises the future integrity of the baby’s brain and possibly general health and may affect the mother’s current and future health as well as perhaps putting the pregnancy itself at risk.”

The Benefits of Fish Omega-3s Far Outweigh the Negative

According to the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) (a trade group), Americans currently consume only five ounces a week of fish high in omega-3s, which is less than half the amount (12 ounces per week) recommended by the FDA and EPA.

And the NFI estimates that some 14 percent of women of childbearing age eat no fish at all, despite the fact that omega-3s are essential to proper fetal brain and eye development.

The best available evidence shows that the rewards of eating lower-mercury seafood (i.e., almost all ocean species) are clear, while the risk of harm remains undocumented and hypothetical… except among children who eat lots of the very high-mercury fish identified in the current EPA-FDA guidelines.

Unfortunately, some groups downplay the proven developmental rewards of seafood and grossly exaggerate the virtually non-existent risks of consuming most any seafood frequently.

The FDA notes that the nutrients in fish—especially omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin D, and others—could boost a child’s intelligence quotient (IQ) by an estimated three points.

And the food regulation agency also points to the preponderance of evidence showing that the greatest benefits to children would result if pregnant women, women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children eat more than 12 ounces of fish a week, which would mean lifting the limit currently advised by the FDA and EPA.

No doubt, the notable developmental and health benefits of fish—especially fattier fish like wild salmon, sardines, tuna, sablefish, and mackerel—flow from their abundance of omega-3s, vitamin D, selenium, and other key nutrients.

Dr. Northrup’s Healthy Mom & Baby 4-Week Package

Vital Choice Seafood and Organics teamed with Dr. Christiane Northrup to devise this delicious and nutritious combo pack of wild salmon, Halibut and certified organic berries, which make eating well for two easier than ever!

This Healthy Mom & Baby Pack provides 3 servings of wild Salmon or Halibut per week for a full month plus 3 pounds of delicious organic berries!

  • 3 Sockeye Salmon Burgers (4 oz each)
  • 3 Sockeye Salmon Portions (Skinless/Boneless, 6 oz each)
  • 3 Silver Salmon Portions (Skin-on/Boneless 6 oz each
  • 3 Alaskan Halibut Portions (Skinless/Boneless, 6 oz each)
  • 1 lb bag each (3 lbs. total) Frozen Organic Blueberries, Strawberries, and Raspberries

Buy the “Healthy Mom & Baby 4-Week Package here.

Pregnant Women and Nursing Mom’s Can Eat Albacore Tuna

The advisory notes that albacore tuna – known as “white” tuna – is generally higher in mercury than “light” tuna (usually skipjack tuna).

However, that is not true of smaller, younger, Vital Choice Pacific Albacore Tuna, which is sustainably troll-caught far out in the Pacific Ocean by local Bellingham, Washington, fisherman Paul Hill, the only tuna fishery in the world certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

At the request of Vital Choice, Paul hand-selects the smallest fish for Vital Choice, to ensure the lowest possible mercury levels and the most tender flesh.

Compared with standard canned albacore, the Vital Choice fresh and canned albacore averages four times less mercury.

Predatory fish like tuna accumulate mercury over time, so the small, young, Pacific albacore rank much lower in mercury than national brands; see the sidebar titled “Vital Choice Albacore: exceptionally pure” when you’re at the Vital Choice site (the same is true for their small, young, Alaskan halibut).

Evidence does suggest that children and pregnant and nursing mothers should indeed limit intake of standard, national-brand canned albacore tuna, which consists mostly of much older, larger, higher-mercury fish than fresh and canned small albacore.

Omega-3s and Kids: Why fish is better than flaxseed

Only fish—especially fatty fish—provide usable (long-chain) omega-3s to human cells, where they exert singular influences that enable optimal childhood development… and enhance health at every age.

The superiority of long-chain omega-3s explains why mothers and children should seek out the only significant food sources: fish, algae, and shellfish.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acid called DHA is an essential component of brains and eyes, which explains why fish-borne omega-3 fatty acids are ideal for optimizing fetal and infant development.

There is a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid known as ALA in nuts, seeds (especially flax and hemp), certain vegetable oils, and dark, leafy greens. But mothers’ bodies can only convert a small percent of ALA to DHA: just enough to ensure adequate—but likely not optimal—development. This is why nutrition-savvy pediatricians like Dr. William Sears recommend that expectant mothers eat ample amounts of low-mercury fish.

The reasons for the human body’s affinity for the long-chain omega-3s in fish may lie in our evolutionary past, when, a growing body of evidence suggests, early hominids gravitated to food-rich rivers, lakes, and ocean shores. These environments offered the abundance of omega-3-rich fish, shellfish, amphibians, and aquatic plants necessary to development of modern humans’ outsized, heavily omega-3-dependent brains.

Sources:

Reinberg S. Fish Safe for Pregnant Women to Eat. Accessed online October 7, 2007 at http://health.msn.com/pregnancykids/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100171470

Sakamoto M, Kubota M, Liu XJ, Murata K, Nakai K, Satoh H. 2004. Maternal and fetal mercury and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids as a risk and benefit of fish consumption to fetus. Environ Sci Technol 38(14): 3860-3.

Springen K. Pregnant Women: Eat More Fish or Not? Newsweek. Accessed online Feb 17, 2007 at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17177330/site/newsweek/

Willett WC. Fish: Balancing Health Risks and Benefits. Am J Prev Med 2005 Nov;29(4):320-321

Myers GJ, Davidson PW, Cox C, Shamlaye CF, Palumbo D, Cernichiari E, Sloane-Reeves J, Wilding GE, Kost J, Huang LS, Clarkson TW. Prenatal methylmercury exposure from ocean fish consumption in the Seychelles child development study. Lancet. 2003 May 17;361(9370):1686-92.

Myers GJ, Davidson PW, Palumbo D, Shamlaye C, Cox C, Cernichiari E, Clarkson TW. Secondary analysis from the Seychelles Child Development Study: the child behavior checklist. Environ Res. 2000 Sep;84(1):12-9.

Newswise/Medical News, July 19, 2005. IFT hears Americans not eating enough fish for good health. Accessed online July 20, 2005 at http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/513221/

Oken E, Bellinger DC. 2008. Fish consumption, methylmercury and child neurodevelopment. Curr Opin Pediatr 20(2): 178-83.

Oken E, Kleinman KP, Berland WE, Simon SR, Rich-Edwards JW, Gillman MW. Decline in fish consumption among pregnant women after a national mercury advisory. Obstet Gynecol. 2003 Aug;102(2):346-51.

Oken E, Radesky JS, Wright RO, Bellinger DC, Amarasiriwardena CJ, Kleinman KP, et al. 2008. Maternal Fish Intake during Pregnancy, Blood Mercury Levels, and Child Cognition at Age 3 Years in a US Cohort. Am J Epidemiol 167(10): 1171-81.

Palumbo DR, Cox C, Davidson PW, Myers GJ, Choi A, Shamlaye C, Sloane-Reeves J, Cernichiari E, Clarkson TW. Association between prenatal exposure to methylmercury and cognitive functioning in Seychellois children: a reanalysis of the McCarthy Scales of Children’s Ability from the main cohort study. Environ Res. 2000 Oct;84(2):81-8.

Layton L. FDA Draft Report Urges Consumption of Fish, Despite Mercury Contamination. Washington Post, December 12, 2008. Accessed online December 12, 2008 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/11/AR2008121103394.html

Loosemore ED, Judge MP, Lammi-Keefe CJ. Dietary intake of essential and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy. Lipids. 2004 May;39(5):421-4.

Mahaffey KR, Clickner RP, Bodurow CC. 2004. Blood organic mercury and dietary mercury intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 and 2000. Environ Health Perspect 112(5): 562-70.

Mahaffey KR, Clickner RP, Jeffries RA. 2008. Methylmercury and omega-3 fatty acids: co-occurrence of dietary sources with emphasis on fish and shellfish. Environ Res 107(1): 20-9.

Mahaffey KR, Clickner RP, Jeffries RA. 2008. Methylmercury and omega-3 fatty acids: co-occurrence of dietary sources with emphasis on fish and shellfish. Environ Res 107(1): 20-9.

Mahaffey KR. 2004. Fish and shellfish as dietary sources of methylmercury and the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosahexaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid: risks and benefits. Environ Res 95(3): 414-28.

Maternal Nutrition Group. Seafood Recommendations During Pregnancy. Accessed online October 7, 2007 at http://www.brainybabieshealthykids.org/seafood-recommendations-for-pregnancy/

ALSPAC Study Team. Accessed online at http://www.alspac.bris.ac.uk/welcome/index.shtml Feb 17, 2007.

Axtell CD, Cox C, Myers GJ, Davidson PW, Choi AL, Cernichiari E, Sloane-Reeves J, Shamlaye CF, Clarkson TW. Association between methylmercury exposure from fish consumption and child development at five and a half years of age in the Seychelles Child Development Study: an evaluation of nonlinear relationships. Environ Res. 2000 Oct;84(2):71-80.

Bouzan C, Cohen JT, Connor WE, Kris-Etherton PM, Gray GM, König A, Lawrence RS, Savitz DA, Teutsch SM. A Quantitative Analysis of Fish Consumption and Stroke Risk. Am J Prev Med 2005 Nov;29(4):347-352

Budtz-Jorgensen E, Grandjean P, Weihe P. 2007. Separation of risks and benefits of seafood intake. Environ Health Perspect 115(3): 323-7.

Choi AL, Cordier S, Weihe P, Grandjean P. 2008. Negative confounding in the evaluation of toxicity: the case of methylmercury in fish and seafood. Crit Rev Toxicol 38(10): 877-93.

Cohen JT, Bellinger DC, Connor WE, Shaywitz BA. A Quantitative Analysis of Prenatal Intake of n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Cognitive Developmen. Am J Prev Med 2005 Nov;29(4):366.e1-366.e12Transparency & Appreciation: I want all of my readers to know that I do provide links on this blog to other businesses that sell products that I use and love, I will never post a link to anything that is inconsistent with my ideology.
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Disclaimer:
This site does not provide medical advice. My purpose is to share experiences and information as I seek to improve the health of my family through a real food and natural lifestyle. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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