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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Flip-Flopping On Fish

Anyone else getting frustrated at the mixed messages we get when it comes to our health? The flip-flopping in which physicians and scientists seem to engage on a daily basis can really leave a person's head spinning. Take, for example, the warnings we've received for so long about protecting ourselves from the dangerous effects of sun exposure. It was inevitable, though, that a study would come out informing us that scientists were now seeing rising rates of Vitamin D defiencies, which could raise the risk for certain cancers. Or how about this one: I did a Google search for "coffee+health". The first few results included an article with the headline "Decaf Coffee Tied To Heart Disease", as well as (from the very same site!) one with the title "Coffee - The New Health Food?"

These types of contradictory messages seem to crop up every time I look at a news source, so it only suprised me a little to see this article. Apparently, a study has just been concluded which shows that pregnant women who consume large amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids give birth to children who have higher IQ's, better motor skills, and less aberrant social behavior than children born to mothers who did not consume adequate amounts of the fatty acids. The reason this finding is so stunning to me, is because this is in direct conflict with the advice of my obstetrician during my last few pregnancies. He, along with the AMA, recommended that I limit my fish intake to twice weekly, as the high levels of mercury found in fish such as tuna could be toxic to a developing fetus. The article addresses this contradiction, and notes that the researcher at the helm of the study recommends that pregnant women ignore the advice to avoid fish:
Perhaps the most startling finding was that the children of those women who had consumed the smallest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids during their pregnancies had verbal IQs six points lower than average. That may not sound much, but it would have a serious effect on a country's brainpower if it were widespread. And the finding is particularly pertinent because existing dietary advice to pregnant women, at least in America, is that they should limit their consumption of seafood in order to avoid exposing their fetuses to trace amounts of brain-damaging methyl mercury. Ironically, that means they avoid one of the richest sources of omega-3s.

Dr Hibbeln, however, says his work shows that the benefits of eating such fish vastly outweigh the risks from the mercury in them. Indeed, in the Avon study, it was those children exposed to the lowest levels of methyl mercury who were at greatest risk of having low verbal IQ.
Fascinating, but slightly troubling. One has to wonder whose advice to heed, especially in the wake of stakes as high as your child's development.

So, pregnant women, and their significant others, ask your obstetrician if the advice to limit your intake of fish has been updated in the wake of this study.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a quandary. Tuna has a mercury problem. Salmon is also a great source of Omega-3, but farmed salmon (the only kind available most of the year and much less expensive than virtually all other fish) apparently swim in their excrement all day long, creating a different type of problem.

The only reasonable course seems to be the one prescribed by the Rambam and others: moderation.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is why I love your blog, om. Keep it up.

1:00 PM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

I don't see a contradiction. Like everything else I can think of, there's a balance of good and bad. Such a balance is necessary for our existence on many different levels (which I don't have time to expound upon here). Of course, our entire lives are filled with such decisions. We can make more money on a certain business deal, but such a deal also carries higher risk. We can develop an anti-bacterial soap, but that might result in bacteria that is able to mutate in new ways, etc.

The bottom line is, we may THINK that we have it all figured out, but in reality, we don't even have a clue. If we DID really have it all figured out, then having smart kids and living to 120 and being rich and paying no taxes would be the norm...

3:16 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

The answer is to stick with salmon. It doesnt have nearly the same amount of mercury as tuna.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Renegade Rebbetzin said...

The obstetricians won't change their advice so long as there are no caps on awards from personal damage lawsuits, or whatever the lawsuits are called that you file against an OB when something ends up wrong with your baby. But since nobody has (yet) sued an obstetrician for causing their baby to have a lower IQ, the OBs are going to keep advising against anything that may possibly have a one in a million chance of harming a fetus, such as fish, peanuts, mayonnaise, and occasionally standing up out of your chair - regardless of any potential benefit those things may have. That's my prediction, anyway.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement? The one I take is purified and guaranteed mercury-free.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the Rennetzin's comments (it's called medical professional liability, or medical malpractice), but I mostly wanted to observe that I cannot imagine easier orders to ignore than limiting one's intake of catfood. I mean fish.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, has no one heard of flax?

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just coming to say that! You can get Omega-3 goodness from flax seed oil (some frozen waffles contain this - not sure if they have a hechsher, tho'), and even tastier, from avocados.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

In general, I'd be more worried about the toxic than the IQ, though as RenReb noted the lack of caps is a problem, and the exaggerated emphasis against everything that has the slightest chance of being a problem is ridiculous.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'nobody has (yet) sued an obstetrician for causing their baby to have a lower IQ'

Please don't mention this to anyone! There are enough ambulance chasers out there as it is!!!

(Full disclosure: I'm married to a physician.)

2:42 PM  
Blogger Ayelet said...

A frum doctor recommended to me a supplement called Omega-Brite. It is a very pure from of omega-3 and does not use any non-kosher ingredients as many omega-3 supplements do. This particular doctor extolled the virtues of regular consumption of such supplements especially in having a positive affect on one's mood. You might consider looking into it.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no need for special supplements, extracted flax seed oil, or waffles containig flax. Simply mix a few tablespoons of ground flax meal into your morning oatmeal. Ground flax meal is available with a hecksher and at inexpensive prices.

2:42 PM  
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6:42 PM  
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