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27 February 2006
Seafood Risks Overstated, Say Researchers

Despite concerns about contamination with mercury, PCBs and other toxins, the benefits of eating seafood outweigh the risks, said a panel of scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Researcher Michael T. Morrissey, director of Oregon State University's Seafood Laboratory, said that numerous studies and investigations had "overwhelmingly been in favor of the benefits of seafood consumption."

Panel member Phil Davidson, from the University of Rochester, told attendees at the meeting about the results of a 10 year study that examined children living in the Seychelles Islands. The children's mothers averaged 12 meals of fish a week - about 10 times the average fish consumption of people in the United States - and those fish contained high levels of methylmercury. Yet tests on the children, taken over the course of the study, found no cognitive defects or other maladies normally attributed to mercury absorption.

"Those results are fascinating," said Morrissey. "Is there something beneficial in consuming the fish that negates any adverse effects of the mercury? The science isn't quite there yet. But it underscores the importance of looking at the issues holistically instead of formulating conclusions based on scattered evidence."

But there are some seafood products where caution is warranted, Morrissey pointed out. Guidelines set by the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency for young children and pregnant women should be followed, he advised. "If you're in that group, avoid eating shark, swordfish, tilefish and Spanish mackerel," Morrissey explained. "But young children and pregnant women should still eat 12 ounces a week of a variety of fish to be sure to get the important nutrients - especially omega-3 fatty acids.

"For the rest of us," he continued, "I would recommend eating fish 4 - 7 times a week. The evidence still suggests that seafood plays a role in reducing coronary heart disease - and new studies suggest that it may reduce the onset of Alzheimer's as well as other mental illnesses."

Michael Crawford of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at the Metropolitan University in London endorsed Morrissey's comments. "There is more and more evidence showing the role of seafood consumption in brain evolution, development and mental health," he said.

Panelist Susan Carlson, of the University of Kansas Medical Center, told the told the meeting that among the important nutrients for pregnant women and new mothers is a specific fatty acid found only in fish oil, docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. DHA has been linked to visual and cognitive acuity in fetuses and newborn infants who have been breast-fed. But women in the United States typically consume less DHA than most other groups around the world, she explained.

Source: Oregon State University


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