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Recent instructions to pregnant women that came from FDA about limiting the amount of mercury-containing fish in their nutrition may have the unintended effect of depriving fetuses of essential nutrients found in fish.

New studies show that while excessive mercury intake during pregnancy can harm neurological development in fetuses, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients in fish may play a crucial role in the neurocognitive development of infants.

Cognitive abilities of 6-month-old infants were tested, and the results were compared to the amount of fish the infants' mothers ate during pregnancy and the amount of mercury in the mothers' hair. Infants who scored highest on the cognitive tests had mothers who ate more fish during pregnancy and had lower levels of hair mercury.

Researchers report that this is probably due to consumption of those fish types that have little mercury and high amounts of beneficial nutrients like such as salmon, canned light tuna and sardines.


Recommendations published in the magazine Consumer Reports this week urge women to avoid eating any canned tuna while pregnant because of uncertainties about the risk of mercury contamination to developing fetuses.

The recommendations are stricter than the federal government's advice issued two years ago. Then, the FDA advised women and young children to limit — but not avoid — consumption of canned tuna because of contamination.

But the magazine's experts say women should avoid the popular item altogether because of FDA data showing that some canned tuna may have higher mercury levels than once thought.Canned tuna and most other fish and seafood contain some amount of toxic mercury that has worked its way through the food chain because of industrial pollution. In adequate doses, the metal can damage the developing nervous system in fetuses and children.