Expectant mothers cautioned to avoid tuna

Expectant mothers cautioned to avoid tuna

by Dr. Steven J. Lipsky MD, FACEP

Congratulations, you’re pregnant! Now, here’s a list of foods to avoid during your pregnancy. The most recent addition to the list…tuna.

Tuna has become the latest food added to the “what not to eat list during pregnancy.” A recent analysis released by Consumer Reports on mercury levels in tuna has sparked media frenzy across the nation. Why? Because Consumer Reports recommendations vastly disagree with proposed new guidelines by the Food and Drug Administration encouraging women of childbearing age and young children to consume more fish. But without carefully monitoring the species of fish consumed, Americans could end up taking in to much mercury, causing potential brain and nervous system damage.

In August 2014, Consumer Reports  published an article, cautioning expectant mothers and those trying to conceive to avoid tuna, especially canned tuna, because of the high mercury levels in the fish and the damaging affects it can have on the brain of a growing fetus. This warning comes on the heals of a new recommendation by the Federal Food and Drug Administration which says pregnant women should eat up to 12 ounces of fish each week, including some tuna” as reported by The CBS Evening News (8/21, story 10, 0:25, Schieffer).

According to The Washington Post (8/21, Sullivan) “Morning Mix”, the FDA published a list of different types of fish and the average amount of mercury levels found in each type of fish on their website. Most types of tuna contained relatively high levels of mercury. Consumer Reports carefully analyzed the data finding “20 percent of the light canned tuna samples tested since 2005 have almost twice as much mercury as what the FDA said is the average amount.” So is the FDA underestimating the danger of mercury levels in tuna?

The FDA and Consumer Reports can agree on one thing and that is pregnant women should stick to salmon, shrimp and tilapia as reported by The New York Daily News (8/22, Taylor). All three types of fish are rich in nutrients, packed with protein and contain the lowest levels of mercury. Other choices include pollock, catfish and flounder. Expectant mothers should also stay away from all raw fish and should avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.

The Oregonian (8/21, Terry) published a statement from the FDA stating, “The Consumer Reports analysis is limited in that it focuses exclusively on the mercury levels in fish without considering the known positive nutritional benefits attributed to fish. As a result, the methodology employed by Consumer Reports overestimates the negative effects and overlooks the strong body of scientific evidence published in the last decade.”

The story has also been covered by the Huffington Post (8/21, Almendrala), TIME (8/22, Stampler), the Today Show Online (8/21, Fernstrom) and HealthDay (8/22, Preidt).

Dr. Steven Lipsky

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