Children born to mothers-to-be who ate an average of 12 meals of fish a week about 10 times the average U.S. citizen eats showed no harmful symptoms.
The study by scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center is the latest in a series of updates on children who have been studied since their birth in 1989 and 1990 in the Republic of the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. The children have been evaluated five times since their birth, and no harmful effects from the low levels of mercury obtained by eating seafood have been detected.
"Consumption of fish is generally considered healthy for your heart, yet people are hearing that they should be concerned about eating fish because of mercury levels," says lead author Gary Myers, M.D., a pediatric neurologist. "We've found no evidence that the low levels of mercury in seafood are harmful. In the Seychelles, where the women in our study ate large quantities of fish each week while they were pregnant, the children are healthy."
In a commentary on the research in The Lancet, Johns Hopkins scientist Constantine Lyketsos writes that, "For now, there is no reason for pregnant women to reduce fish consumption below current levels, which are probably safe." He calls the Seychelles study a "methodological advance over previous studies."
Questions about the health effects of mercury often boil down to seafood because fish are the primary source of exposure to mercury for most people. Scientists estimate that about half the mercury in the Earth and its atmosphere originates from natural sources such as volcanoes, and about half comes from man-made sources.