PUFAs may protect moms from mercury damage

New research suggests omega-3’s in fish may protect, and even reverse, potential damage from mercury in fish in mothers and their babies.

Pregnant women should go easy on the tuna, right? Maybe not, according to new research. A study of pregnant women living on the Seychelles islands who gobble fish like North American moms-to-be may pop pickles and ice cream, suggests that the omega-3’s in the fish actually protect their brains- and their babies’- from any damage that might have resulted from mercury in the fish. The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and was noted on sciencedaily.com.

Not only might the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the fish protect against potential damage from the toxic chemical, they may actually counteract damage mercury causes in the brain, suggests the research. The findings suggest the relationship between the PUFAs and the brain may be far more complex than previously believed, according to a University of Rochester release about the work.

“These findings show no overall association between prenatal exposure to mercury through fish consumption and neurodevelopmental outcomes,” said Edwin van Wijngaarden, Ph.D., and associate professor in the University of Rochester Department of Public Health Sciences and a co-author of the study. “It is also becoming increasingly clear that the benefits of fish consumption may outweigh, or even mask, any potentially adverse effects of mercury.”

The Seychelles Child Development Study – a partnership between the University of Rochester Ulster University, and the Republic of Seychelles Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education – is one of the longest and largest population studies of its kind. People in the Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, are perfect for studying the impact of fish consumption. They chow on fish ten times more than Americans and Europeans. The study followed 1,500 mothers and their children for three decades.

“This research provided us the opportunity to study the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids on development and their potential to augment or counteract the toxic properties of mercury,” said. “The findings indicate that the type of fatty acids a mother consumes before and during pregnancy may make a difference in terms of their child’s future neurological development,” Sean Strain, Ph.D., a professor of Human Nutrition at the Ulster University in Northern Ireland and lead author of the study, said in the release.

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