For Fertility, Watch Your Seafood Intake!

Nov 1 2010 in Food for Fertility by Cindy Bailey

You have probably heard by now that you need to avoid seafood, particularly certain types, due to its mercury levels. This is such a shame—and where I get really mad about how we pollute this planet—because fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, an important and healthy fat, protein, B vitamins and essential minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine and selenium.

But if you’re even thinking of having a baby, you will have to give up seafood that’s high in mercury and limit the rest to one or two servings a week.

In the water, mercury takes the form of methylmercury and that’s the kind found in our seafood.  Once in the human body, mercury acts as a neurotoxin, interfering with the brain and nervous system—not good for the health! But worse, once mercury (or methylmercury) gets into our bodies, it stays a while, accumulating in our blood. Our body naturally gets rid of it, but it can take time—up to six months or more.

In the meantime, if we get pregnant, methylmercury passes through our blood to the developing fetus , causing impaired neurological development. An article on the EPA’s website states: “Methylmercury exposure in the womb, which can result from a mother’s consumption of fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury, can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb.”

According to a July 2005 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in this article, one in 17 (that’s 6%) women of childbearing age have 5.8 micrograms per liter or more of mercury in their blood, which is a level that could pose risk to a developing fetus. According to this same article, some new science indicates that even levels as low as 3.4 micrograms per liter of a blood are a concern.

OK – so don’t panic! In line with the above statistics, most of us do not have those levels of mercury in our blood. However, if you are someone who eats a lot fish, shellfish or sushi on a regular basis, you might want to check with your doctor or naturopath to get your levels checked.

Either way, it’s time to eliminate fish and shellfish that’s high in mercury – usually the bigger fish, which tend to eat the smaller, contaminated fish. According to the FDA, these include swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark.

For other seafood, choose options with the lowest levels of mercury in them and don’t consume more than twice per week. For a guide on which seafood has the lowest mercury levels, see this FDA chart.

Do eat your fish—it’s so good for you—but be sure to watch what you eat and limit!

Handy Mercury Calculator
List of Mercury Levels in Fish

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