New Model Enhances Understanding of Fish Consumption Risks and Benefits During Pregnancy

Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption During Pregnancy | The Lifesciences Magazine

A groundbreaking model developed by researchers aims to provide clearer guidance on the risks and benefits of fish consumption during pregnancy. Published in The American Journal of Epidemiology, the study involved collaboration between Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, University of Rochester Medical Center, and Cornell University. The model introduces a novel framework designed to assess the health impacts of fish consumption, particularly concerning mercury exposure and nutrient benefits.

Assessing Mercury and Nutrient Content

Lead author Susan Korrick, MD, emphasized the confusion that often surrounds public advisories on fish consumption, which can deter pregnant women from consuming this important food source. The model addresses this by integrating estimates of average mercury content in fish with the nutritional benefits they provide, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, selenium, iodine, and vitamin D. Traditionally, studies assessing mercury’s health effects relied on hair samples, which fail to distinguish between the harmful effects of mercury and the benefits of fish nutrients.

Application and Findings

Applying their model to data from the New Bedford Cohort, which tracks children born to mothers near the New Bedford Harbor Superfund site in Massachusetts, researchers analyzed the relationship between fish consumption during pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children. They categorized fish consumption based on low, medium, and high mercury content. Results showed that children whose mothers consumed fish with lower mercury levels exhibited better neurodevelopmental outcomes. Conversely, higher mercury intake correlated with poorer outcomes in cognitive tests measuring IQ, language, memory, and attention.

Researchers Create New Model to Assess Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption During Pregnancy

Despite its strengths, the study acknowledges limitations, including imperfect estimates of mercury content in fish and the study’s focus on a specific population. Nonetheless, the researchers believe their model could pave the way for more accurate assessments of the risk-benefit tradeoffs associated with fish consumption during pregnancy. Future research aims to expand this approach to larger studies, such as the Seychelles Child Development Study, to further refine guidelines and recommendations.

The study, authored by Sally W. Thurston, David Ruppert, and Susan A. Korrick, was funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences/National Institutes of Health. Its findings suggest a promising step forward in understanding how the choices pregnant women make regarding fish consumption can impact both maternal and child health. As researchers continue to refine their models and expand their studies, they hope to provide clearer, evidence-based guidance to support healthier dietary choices during pregnancy.

Related: 15 Foods during Pregnancy: to Eat, Avoid or Have in Moderation

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