FoodFacts.com is well aware that for years, expectant mothers have been advised to avoid consuming fish with low levels of mercury. There’s been a concern that the chemical may be responsible for behavioral disorders such as autism. With the numerous nutritional benefits fish can bring to both mother and unborn child, we were happy to read some information today that disputes these concerns.
A new study coming out of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Public Health Sciences, the Seychelles Ministries of Health and Education, and the University of Ulster in Ireland, is reporting that there is no association between pre-natal mercury exposure and autism-like behaviors. The study draws upon more than 30 years of research in the Republic of Seychelles. The Republic of Seychelles is an ideal location to examine the potential health impact of persistent low level mercury exposure. With a population of 87,000 people spread across an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, fishing is a both an important industry and a primary source of nutrition – the nation’s residents consume fish at a rate 10 times greater than the populations of the U.S. and Europe.
The Seychelles Child Development Study – a partnership between URMC, the Seychelles Ministries of Health and Education, and the University of Ulster in Ireland – was created in the mid-1980s to specifically study the impact of fish consumption and mercury exposure on childhood development. The program is one of the largest ongoing epidemiologic studies of its kind.
The study followed 1,784 children, adolescents, young adults and their mothers. Researchers first determined the level of prenatal mercury exposure by analyzing hair samples collect from mothers at the time of birth.
The researchers then used two questionnaires to determine whether or not the study participants were exhibiting autism spectrum-like behaviors. The Social Communication Questionnaire was completed by the children’s parents and the Social Responsiveness Scale was completed by their teachers. These tests – which include questions on language skills, social communication, and repetitive behaviors – do not provide a definitive diagnosis, but they are widely used in the U.S. as an initial screening tool and may suggest the need for additional evaluation.
The mercury levels of the mothers were then matched with the test scores of their children and the researchers found that there was no correlation between prenatal exposure and evidence of autism-spectrum-like behaviors.
There’s been an ongoing debate regarding fish consumption for expectant mothers. There are so many nutritional benefits from fish … vitamin E, lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids (which aid in fetal brain development), to name a few. But at the same time there has been serious concern regarding exposure to mercury and developmental problems for unborn children. Because of this the FDA has recommended that women limit fish consumption during pregnancy. Researchers noted that further study is needed in order to produce conclusive results.
FoodFacts.com looks forward to understanding more about the relationship between mercury and autism-related behaviors, as well as the prenatal benefits of fish consumption. Fish is healthy protein that provides important nutrients for healthy development. We look forward to further research that may possibly add fish back into the pregnancy diet – both for the enjoyment of the mother and the healthy growth of the unborn child.