Fish Alert for Pregnant Women
By Maureen Connolly
If you're pregnant (or trying, or even thinking about trying) making
fish a regular part of your diet has always been considered a good move
health-wise. After all, both fresh and saltwater fish are considered an
excellent source of protein. And many species are packed with
disease-fighting and brain-boosting compounds that benefit you and your
But now there seems to be a catch when it comes to
eating fish: Both the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency warn that certain types of fish contain
dangerously high levels of a poison called methyl mercury. When methyl
mercury builds up in the body, it can damage the brain and nervous
system. Toxic levels can affect your vision and motor-ability. In an
unborn baby, exposure to high levels can affect brain development.
"What we've found is that methyl-mercury interferes with the formation
of myelin. Myelin is a fatty-like substance that insulates the nerve
endings in the brain," explains Kathy Mahaffey, Ph.D., director of the
division of exposure assessment for the EPA.
One of the
biggest sources of methyl mercury comes from industrial pollution that
is first released into the air, and then settles into both fresh- and
salt-water sources. The EPA is hoping efforts to reduce environmental
sources of mercury will eventually reduce levels of toxicity. But they
say it will be years before we see any major improvements.
In the meantime, the EPA has issued the following advisories:
- Women who are pregnant or could become pregnant; nursing mothers (and young children) should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish.
- Women of childbearing age and pregnant women may eat an
average of 12 ounces of any other fish each week. This includes fish
purchased in stores, ordered at restaurants, as well as fish caught by
you or a family member or friend.
There are also fish
advisories being issued for individual states. To find out which ones
are being made for where you live, as well as where you plan to travel
to, check out the EPA's website.