The Monitor Daily (U.S.) – Consuming fish during pregnancy improves children’s brain function considerably. Three fish servings per week were found to have protective properties for children’s brain development.
The study, conducted in Spain and led by Jordi Julvez with the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (Barcelona) focused on fish consumption during pregnancy and the effect on fetal development. The large-scale study followed over 2,000 mother-child pairs. The mothers were followed starting with the first trimester of pregnancy. The research concluded when the children were aged five.
The more fish servings the expecting mother had weekly, the better the results concerning children’s brain function. The research team found that if 21 ounces of fish were consumed weekly during pregnancy, no mercury intoxication followed.
Fish consumption over certain limits is associated with neurotoxic issues. Against this background, a number of countries have developed guidelines limiting weekly fish servings to offset negative effects. In 2014, the U.S. FDA released a set of guidelines encouraging women to consume no more than 12 ounces of fish per week during pregnancy.
However, the Spain-based study suggests that there are benefits to fish consumption which go against conventionally-held guidelines. According to Jordi Julvez, seafood remains a key source of nutrients, particularly for healthy brain development.
To understand the link between fetal development, later brain function and fish consumption during pregnancy, the research team analyzed data sets retrieved from the Spanish Childhood and Environment Project conducted between 2004 and 2008. Fish servings and overall fish consumption were self-reported through food questionnaires. The fish categories observed in the fish consumption study were large and small fatty fish. These included: swordfish, albacore tuna, sardines, mackerel, salmon and anchovies. In addition, leaner fish (hake, sole), seafood and shellfish were taken into consideration.
The results of the study were published on January 5th in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The main conclusion of the large-scale study was that consuming fish during pregnancy improves children’s brain function. To address the issue of neurotoxins in fish, the research team tested cord blood after birth, as well as women’s vitamin D levels and iodine levels.
When the children were tested for Asperger Syndrome or cognitive abilities development at 14 months and 5 years of age, not only were they not affected by mercury intoxication, but they showed improved neuropsychological development.
The average fish consumption was three fish servings per week during pregnancy or approximately 20 ounces. With each 10g consumed above the 20 ounces, the children fared better in the neuropsychological development tests. However, no significant improvements were found when the 21 ounces of fish per week during pregnancy were consumed.
Consuming fish during pregnancy improves children’s brain function. The finding is important for loosening guidelines which are too stringent, as is the U.S. case. Nonetheless, the research team advised pregnant women to avoid large fish with longer lifespans. These are the ones which concentrate higher levels of neurotoxins.
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