Consuming fish during pregnancy may aid brain development if future child, as well as decrease the risk of autism, a new study suggests.
In the study – published on Friday (Jan. 5) in The American Journal of Epidemiology – a team of researchers in Spain looked at approximately 2,000 mothers and their children from when the mothers were in their first trimester of pregnancy, to when the kids were five years old.
The results showed that the IQ scores in children whose mothers ate about 21 ounces of fish each week while pregnant were 2.8 percent higher, compared with children whose mothers did not eat that much fish.
Moreover the developmental health in children whose mothers ate three to four serving of fish during pregnancy was not negatively affected by the mercury in fish, compared with those whose mothers did not consume fish.
Jordi Julvez, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, said that tilefish and tuna – which women are told not to consume during pregnancy – were linked to the greatest developmental benefits.
It is important to note that the study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship and it is only observational, the researchers said. However, it implies that high levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – a compound that plays an important role in brain development and growth – may in fact outweigh the negative effects of mercury.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration current recommendations suggest that pregnant women should eat two to three servings of fish (that are lower in mercury) per week.
For the new study, the researchers used blood samples from the newborns’ umbilical cords to measure the DHA and mercury levels in their blood. The researchers also looked for signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and assessed the children’s cognitive development when they were 14 months old and then again at the age of five.
Edwin VanWijngaarden, chief of epidemiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said that the new study results are in line with a lot of previous studies that have also linked better outcomes in children with eating fish during pregnancy.
However, other studies – such as the one conducted in 2004 by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – found that risk of impairment in brain function and heart damage in children was linked with pregnant women consuming fish that contained methyl mercury.
In any case, more research needs to be conducted to establish the exact link between fish consumption and brain development, the researchers said.
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