Fish in the diet of pregnant women promotes the development of their unborn children. This was reported by researchers in the British medical journal “The Lancet”. Children of those mothers who eat more than 340 grams of fish per week during pregnancy particularly benefited.
That writes the group around Joseph Hibbeln of the US health authority (NIH) in Bethesda (US state Maryland). The researchers had evaluated data from 11,875 women on their fish consumption. They were each interviewed at the 32nd week of pregnancy. In addition, the children of these mothers were examined for their mental abilities at the age of six months to eight years. The result: the more fish the mothers ate, the better their scores for social behavior and skills, fine motor skills and communication.
Fish and other seafood are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which humans need but cannot produce themselves. Omega-3 refers to a detail in the chemical structure of these molecules. The optimal development of the nerves and the brain of small children depends in many cases on these fatty acids, explain the researchers. They divided the mothers into three groups: the first ate no fish, the second up to 340 grams and the third more than 340 grams per week.
Among other things, Hibbeln and his colleagues examined so-called verbal intelligence, the ability to use words. Boys and girls whose mothers ate less than 340 grams of fish were found with above-average frequency in the lower quarter of the test subjects, they say in “The Lancet.”
“These results underscore the importance of fish to the maternal diet during pregnancy and support the widely held view that fish is food for the brain,” writes Gary Myers of the University of Rochester (U.S. state of New York) in an accompanying commentary.
Hibbeln and his colleagues had focused on the 340-gram figure after other U.S. authorities initially advised expectant mothers against eating more than that amount. According to these concerns, the traces of neurotoxins contained in the fish could harm unborn children. However, such a recommendation could also result in an undersupply of omega-3 fatty acids for the children, according to The Lancet.
Methylmercury, which can accumulate in fish, is particularly dangerous. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin considers one to two portions of fish a week to be beneficial to health. Although fish can be contaminated, there is no need to reckon with alarming mercury intakes if this recommendation is adhered to, it says.