December 28

Fish Food?

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Recently in the News Headlines that Mike trolls the media around the globe to find, I noticed one from London titled Fish Oil Taken By Mom-to-be Helps Baby.

Certainly true, but not exactly cutting edge news. Readers of our Protein Power LifePlan (published seven years ago) will have already heard that ‘news’ long hence.

The essential omega-3 oils found richly in the fat of cold water fish, EPA and especially DHA, have long been identified as critical components in building (and maintaining) the neural network, the nerves, the brain, and its sensory appendages, including the eyes. It should come as no surprise that research has again borne this connection out, this time by showing that increasing these fats in the diet of an expectant mother leads to improved hand-eye coordination of her infant.

At no time is a plentiful supply of EPA and DHA more critical than during gestation, when these structures are developing, and I heartily concur with the article’s advice that pregnant women should include more of them in their daily diets.

The one bone I had to pick with the article is that the author(s) buried an important warning many paragraphs down in this vague language:

The researchers say concerns about mercury content in certain types of fish have made pharmaceutical-grade fish oil supplements increasingly popular among pregnant women.

Concerns? What concerns about mercury? What certain types of fish? Inquiring minds want to know these details.

To report that fish oils are helpful to the brains of babies in one breath, then in the next mention in passing that eating the fish that contain them may be problematic and not say why seems distinctly incomplete and confusing. For the inquiring minds:

Here’s a link to a US government EPA site that will help to answer some of these questions about fish contamination and safe levels of consumption.

Here is the report of a Tiawanese study on the topic.

Here is a site detailing some FAQs about what methyl mercury (the kind mainly found in fish) does in the brain.

And lastly, in case you missed it, here’s the previous blog of mine that provides a bit more information about which fish are safest, from a heavy metal contamination point of view.

Everybody, I suspect, knows that mercury is a poison, but some people may not know that it is especially toxic to the developing brain, even in quantities that would prove quasi harmless to the mother.

While the rest of us who are not moms-to-be or kids-to-be can pretty safely increase our intake of EPA and DHA by eating more cold water fish, expectant mothers, breastfeeding mothers, and the infants they carry or breastfeed must be much more careful. Expectant mothers must understand that although the fish they contain good protein and important essential omegas, they will also contain not only heavy metals (such as mercury) but PCBs, dioxins, furans, and other environmental pollutants that fish can pick up and store in their fat as well. With regard to mercury and pesticide contamination, farmed fish may even be more heavily contaminated than their ocean bretheren. About the only way to eat fish and not get amounts of these substances that might be potentially toxic to a tiny neural system is to choose small fish that don’t have the time or appetite to eat a lot of other fish–for instance, sardines or anchovies. Sadly, neither of these choices, in my clinical experience, tops the list of preferred fish for the majority of women of child bearing age.

Conversely, as the article briefly mentions, during pregnancy and lactation women can choose to take a purified supplemental form of fish oil–or better yet, because of its phospholipid content, which is even more brain friendly, krill oil–from a reputable company . And by reputable, I mean one that insures the purity of its product by verifiable independent third party quality assurance testing.

Since there are plenty of other ways to get quality protein, to my way of thinking pregnant and nursing women should forego fish (delicious as they are) and opt for quality supplements.

As for me, I’ll happily enjoy a side of sashimi in addition to my daily fish oil and krill oil supplements.


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