As it turns out, children don’t display autism-like behaviors when the corresponding expecting mothers consume fish. The fear was that low levels of mercury that may be found in some fish was a cause of autism in unborn children.
Scientists went through more than 30 years of examinations in the Republic of Seychelles, an island country in the Indian Ocean, where the inhabitants eat an average of ten times the amount of fish than residents of Europe and the U.S. They found no significant relationship between fetuses being exposed to mercury and development of autism-like tendencies, which include difficulties in language and speech progression and social skills.
The research involved kids whose mothers ate an average of 12 fish meals every week in a typical week while pregnant, said head writer Edwin van Wijngaarden, an associate professor in the department of public health sciences at New York’s University of Rochester Medical Center.
“These conclusions add to the increasing body of knowledge that imply that exposure to mercury doesn’t warrant a significant role in the onset of these behaviors,” van Wijngaarden stated in his paper.
Mercury in its natural form originates from sources like volcanoes, in addition to many man-made sources, like coal-burning power facilities. Most of the planet’s mercury makes its way to the oceans, where it then infiltrates the food chain and, subsequently, into fish.
Fish are contain high levels of nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, that assist with proper brain development, and commonly contain minimal amounts of mercury. However, research shows that exposure to increased levels of mercury is tied to developmental issues, so exposure for expecting mothers is an issue. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends expecting mothers minimize how much fish they consume, but the consequences of low-level mercury exposure is still undetermined, the scientists said.
The research is part of a continuing project named the Seychelles Child Development Study. It involves 1,784 children, from birth to age 18, and their mothers. The researchers utilized hair samples taken from the mothers near the time of their child’s birth to figure out the level of prenatal exposure to mercury.
Two surveys, one answered by the parents and another answered by the children’s teachers, were used to decide if the research participants showed autism-like tendencies.
“Although the amount of fish eaten in the Seychelles is considerably higher than in other countries in the modernized world, it’s still deemed as low-level exposure,” said Philip Davidson, lead analyst of the research and professor emeritus at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
“This research reveals there’s no significant relationship in children whose mothers were tested with mercury levels that were up to 10 times greater than the levels found in the Europe and the U.S.” Davidson stated. “This is a sentinel society, and if it doesn’t exist here, then it likely doesn’t exist to a significant degree.”
The detailed conclusions were released in the journal Epidemiology online on July 23.
- Study Sees No Link Between Mercury Exposure, Autistic Behavior (nlm.nih.gov)
- Eating Fish During Pregnancy: Will It Raise Baby’s Risk for Autism? (thebump.com)