Red alert to fish-rich diets in women of childbearing age
* Foetuses exposed to toxic levels of mercury can suffer brain damage, hearing, vision problems
Dangerous levels of mercury have been found in women of reproductive age across the world, the largest study of its kind has found. Excessive levels the neurotoxic metal can seriously harm unborn children and have been blamed on fish-rich diets.
In some parts of the word gold mining and industrial pollution are also to blame, according to experts in Sweden. The latest research, from Swedish safety group International POPs Elimination Network (Ipen), covered 25 of the countries with the highest risk and found worrying levels in women from Alaska to Chile and Indonesia to Kenya.
Babies exposed to mercury in the womb can have brain damage and hearing and vision problems. Researchers coordinated hair sampling from 1044 women of reproductive age in 37 locations across 25 countries on six continents.
Analysis found that 36 per cent of women had average mercury levels over the US EPA health advisory level of 1ppm. This is the level above which brain damage, IQ loss, and kidney and cardiovascular damage may occur.
Furthermore, the study found that 55 per cent of the global sample of women measured more than 0.58ppm of mercury, a level associated with the onset of foetal neurological damage.
The highest levels were found in women from sites in Indonesia where mercury is heavily used in small-scale gold mining and where fish is also commonly eaten.
Such gold mining leads to serious mercury pollution in sea levels and is also a source of harm to women in Kenya, Paraguay and Myanmar.
Despite concerns about mercury, official advise from the NHS is that everyone should eat fish at least twice a week – including one portion of oily fish such as salmon or tuna.
This is because fish and shellfish are good sources of vitamins and minerals and are far lower in fat than any form of meat. Oily fish is also particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have huge benefits to the heart and brain, and in vitamin D, which strengthens the bones.
Many studies suggest most of us are not eating enough oily fish. However, there is different advice for pregnant women. Experts recommend that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive limit themselves to two portions of oily fish a week.
Furthermore, the UK’s Food Standards Agency recommends these women, and children, not to eat any shark, swordfish or marlin, as these top predators have the highest levels of mercury.
*Adapted from DailyMailUK Online
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