LOS ANGELES — The dilemma of whether to eat fish or not has been a concern for pregnant women for quite some time because of the high amounts of mercury in seafood. But there’s good news for moms-to-be who can’t pass up that bronzini special at her favorite restaurant. A new study out of the University of Southern California shows that the children of women who ate a moderate amount of fish during pregnancy have a better metabolic profile than children of women who rarely eat fish.
“Fish is an important source of nutrients, and its consumption should not be avoided,” says Dr. Leda Chatzi, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the senior investigator on the study, in a release. “But pregnant women should stick to one to three servings of fish a week as recommended, and not eat more, because of the potential contamination of fish by mercury and other persistent organic pollutants.”
Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids which help protect the body from inflammation. However, certain types of fish contain large amounts of mercury — a toxic substance that can cause permanent brain damage.
Researchers want to know if the health benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks. To answer this question the research team used data collected on 805 mother-child pairs by researchers in five different countries.
The measures used for the fish study include how much fish the women ate during pregnancy, the mercury levels of the women during pregnancy, and health assessments of the children once they were between the ages of 6 and 12. Researchers used the health assessments to assign each child a metabolic profile score.
The children of mothers who ate fish in a moderate amount (1-3 times a week) had better metabolic scores than the children of mothers who ate fish rarely (less than once a week). However, more fish consumption does not mean a better metabolic profile — the children of women who ate fish more than 3 times a week had worse metabolic scores.
Eating more fish leads to higher levels of exposure to mercury and other pollutants that get into the fish. The study found a correlation between high concentrations of mercury in the mothers and worse metabolic scores in the children.
“Fish can be a common route of exposure to certain chemical pollutants which can exert adverse effects,” says co-author Nikos Stratakis, PhD, a USC postdoctoral scholar. “It is possible that when women eat fish more than three times a week, that pollutant exposure may counterbalance the beneficial effects of fish consumption seen at lower intake levels.”
Researchers dug a little into the mechanism that drives the difference in metabolic score of the children. They found that the levels of proinflammatory biomarkers differed between the groups of children. Since inflammation plays a big role in the metabolic profile score, these biomarkers might explain why the children of mothers that ate more fish had improved metabolic profile scores.
The researchers plan to continue to monitor the health of these children until they are about 14-15. They also want to investigate the effects that eating different types of fish during pregnancy has on the health of children.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.