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Is it Safe for Pregnant Women to Eat Fish?

It has been popular opinion for many years that pregnant women should avoid most fish, due to concerns about mercury content. Many fish are off the list and so is sushi, for obvious reasons. But what if it turns out that fish may actually be good for fetal development? New research from the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that this may be the case.

Researchers conducted a study on potential health benefits and risk of fish consumption during pregnancy. During this study, data was collected over 30 years from 1,500 women in the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. In this part of the world, pregnant women tend to eat about 12 servings of fish per week. These women are 10 times more at risk for mercury exposure than American women. Surprisingly, researchers did not find developmental delays in the children of these women both at birth and beyond. They also found that the omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish may protect the brain tissue that mercury can harm. The study also found that pregnant women who consumed a lot of Omega-3s had babies will enhanced language and communication skills.

Some health experts are not ready to call off the ban on fish quite yet. “More study needs to be done before you can convince me that the fish is actually protective. I want to see the data,” said Dr. Laura Riley from Massachusetts General Hospital. The FDA is also approaching this data cautiously, waiting to take big action. For many decades the FDA recommended a maximum of two servings of fish per week for pregnant women. Now they are changing their tune, but only slightly. Pregnant women are now encouraged to eat two to three servings of low-mercury fish per week. This includes wild caught salmon, shrimp, and light canned tuna.

It may also be difficult to convince the American public that it’s okay for pregnant women to eat fish. Women often turn to their mothers or other close family members and friends for advice, and old habits can be tough to break. It may take several generations before any real change is seen, especially due to the fact that more research is needed on the subject. For now, pregnant women can feel confident eating small amounts of healthy fish. Most would agree that until the benefits are more of a sure bet that the consumption is taken easy. Always consult your primary care physician when nursing or pregnant, especially in regards to dietary needs and safety.

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