Mothers should feast on fish?

A report says pregnant women can raise their child's IQ by eating fish.

Published February 16, 2007 8:20PM (EST)

The frustrating battle over fish continues! A study released yesterday found that the children of women who ate very little fish during their pregnancy had lower IQs and more behavioral problems than the children of fish-feasting mothers, reports the Washington Post.

If you're anything like me, you had to reread that news, because -- yes! -- it seems to directly contradict the studies that gave rise to the mercury alarm over the past few years. We've repeatedly been told pregnant women risk their child's health by consuming too much fish, the reason being that mercury -- a neurotoxin found in some seafood -- can cause brain damage in developing fetuses. But this study found that women who consumed more than three servings of fish a week had children with higher IQs than those of women who ate less than that and remained well within the Food and Drug Administration's recommendations for fish consumption. Joseph R. Hibbeln, the study's lead researcher, said there was "no evidence to lend support to the warning of the U.S. advisory that pregnant women should limit their seafood consumption."

Don't discount the mercury warnings, though! Part of the reason for the contradiction is that fish is both "brain food" (it's chock full of omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein) and potentially toxic; researchers have tried to weigh the risks and benefits and still are. "I think that the U.S. warnings are not meant to discourage fish consumption," Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, told the Post. Instead, as the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency urged previously, mothers should limit the amount that they eat of larger, predatory fish (like shark and swordfish) that have higher mercury levels, Rimm said. (And the most obvious aim still remains: reducing mercury pollution!)

This new study raises a lot of questions, namely: What kinds of fish did the mothers eat? Did they or didn't they stay away from eating predatory fish? Before these questions are answered, though, we can only speculate that there might be a need to tweak the guidelines for how much fish women should consume per week. The EPA says its recommendations remain the same, at least until the study is reviewed or its findings reproduced.

But in the interest of moderation and as a woman who is neither with child nor soon-to-be pregnant, I'm gonna go enjoy the heck out of a tuna sandwich for lunch, thankyouverymuch.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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