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Pregnant women should follow guidelines on eating fish

Fish November 26, 1997
Web posted at: 11:09 p.m. EST (0409 GMT)

From Correspondent Linda Ciampa

ST. JOSEPH, Michigan (CNN) -- When registered dietitian Robin Jacobson became pregnant, she stopped eating fish.

"I don't feel it's safe," she says. "There are too many toxins in our water."

The U.S. government agrees with her when it comes to certain fish. It advises pregnant women and women of child-bearing age to limit consumption of shark and swordfish, which have higher levels of mercury than other fish, to no more than once a month.

"Mercury can have an adverse affect on the developing fetus," said Mike Bolger, of the Food and Drug Administration.

A study last year found that pregnant woman who ate fish contaminated with small amounts of mercury did not harm the development of their children, so the warnings against shark and swordfish may change.

Of more concern are women who eat fish caught recreationally in lakes, rivers or bays. State governments have issued some 2,000 advisories warning women and children against eating certain fish caught in certain waters.


Fishing is a lot like real estate. It has everything to do with location.

For example, walleye and smallmouth bass from the St. Joe's River in southwestern Michigan are perfectly safe to eat. But travel 50 miles northeast, and it's a different story entirely.

Michigan's Kalamazoo River is polluted by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), highly toxic chemicals banned in the 1970s. Larger fish that eat smaller fish can have concentrations of toxin a thousand times higher than the levels found in the river's sediment.

A study last year found that women who ate fish contaminated with PCBs gave birth to children who scored lower on IQ tests later in life.

Hudson River sign

But fish is a good source of protein and the best source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the development of a fetus.

Hal Humphrey, of the Institute of Environmental Technology, gives this advice to pregnant women:

"Choose your fish species correctly. Don't eat the swordfish. Don't eat the shark. Eat the cod or eat some of the other fish which aren't implicated."

Women should follow their own state's advisories and steer clear of older, fattier fish, such as bluefish from bay areas or trout from lakes. Those fish that have been around longer have had more time to accumulate toxins.


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