11.21.2013 8:32 AM

Study: Women Take Fish Advice Seriously, and Babies Benefit

Levels of mercury dropped by one-third, which bodes well for the next generation.

Salmon at a fish market
Photo: Grant V. Faint / Getty Images

By Dan Shapley

Women appear to be eating less fish contaminated with mercury, without decreasing the amount of fish they eat overall, suggesting that they are heeding the advice of health and environmental agencies and advocates seeking to protect the next generation from exposure to this potent neurotoxin.

Mercury is passed from mother to child, and can lead to permanent brain damage, lowered IQ and other health problems. The main way people are exposed to mercury is through eating fish--but not all fish are contaminated. THose fish at the top of the food chain, as well as sportsfish caught in some lakes, tend to have the highest amount of mercury.

There is longstanding (but sometimes confusing advice) about how much and which types of fish to eat.

The study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that blood mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent in surveys between 2001-2010, compared to surveys in 1999 and 2000.

The EPA and FDA advise women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and to eat fish and shellfish that are low in mercury for the health benefits and to reduce exposure to mercury.

EPA and FDA advise women who are or may become pregnant to avoid eating shark, swordsfish, king mackerel or tilefish; and to eat no more than about two meals a week of many other species of fish lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. (Canned white albacore tuna has more mercury and women shouldn't eat more than one meal per week).

The same guidelines apply for feeding young children.

For a visual representation, showing recommendations for a variety of fish, check out these proposed signs for grocery stores, suggested by advocacy groups.


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