Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Fish During Pregnancy Places 600,000 American Children At Risk for Lowered IQ and Learning Disabilities

Fish Contamination, Pregnancy and Cognitive Development

Each year in the U.S., up to 600,000 children are born at risk for lower intelligence and learning problems due to mercury exposure because their mothers ate fish. That's the number of children the Environmental Protection Agency estimated to be at risk in an analysis published last month using data from the Centers for Disease Control. This is double the Agency's previous estimate.[1]

This study follows on the heels of the joint FDA/EPA advisory in March, which warned young children, pregnant and breast-feeding women, or even women just planning to get pregnant to severely limit the consumption of many types of fish like canned tuna, and to stay away from some fish completely, like swordfish, mackerel, etc. Still, many scientists didn't think the advisory went far enough.

After learning that the FDA was going to "disregard" science[2] and allow women to eat a whole can of albacore tuna once a week, one leading FDA advisory panel expert resigned in protest. University of Arizona toxicologist Vas Aposhian said the advisory should have put more stringent limits on all canned tuna and warned women who might get pregnant to avoid albacore tuna entirely, claiming that "The new recommendations are dangerous to 99 percent of pregnant women and their unborn children.[3] "It seems that one should be more concerned about the health of the future children of this country," he said, "than the albacore tuna industry.".[4]

The hundreds of thousands of babies born every year in the U.S. to the one in six women with enough mercury in their blood to put their babies at risk suffer most often subtle losses in potential. Although mercury can cause irreparable damage to the human central nervous system and has been found to deform fetuses, more often, "It might reduce IQ by a few points," says Dr. Michael Gochfeld, chairman of New Jersey's mercury task force. "It might reduce motor coordination, so that this child is someone we think of as a klutz. It might make them unmusical."[5]

Studies have shown that children born to mothers who ate a lot of fish were slower to talk, walk and develop fine motor skills and have weaker memories and attention spans. And the brain damage is apparently permanent. Follow-up studies over a decade later showed that their brains had not recovered.

The tuna industry feels that tuna is being unfairly singled out and is quick to point out that "almost all ocean fish and seafood naturally contain trace levels of mercury."[6] One such leading "natural" source is the smoke that pours from coal-burning plants across the U.S. And this past Earth Day it was the coal and power industry executives that were celebrating.

Lost in Bush's "war on terror" is Bush's war on the Clean Air Act. As part of Bush's "Clear Skies Initiative," the Bush White House proposes to weaken and delay efforts to clean up mercury emissions from America's power stations, thus saving millions for their corporate campaign contributors. The energy industry alone contributed $40 million to Republican election campaigns, including $1.3 million directly to Bush. And they got their money's worth.

Last December as the EPA signed the first proposal ever to cut mercury emissions from coal plants, Bush was busy proposing mercury be delisted as a toxic air pollutant. The EPA was hoping to cut mercury emissions 90% by 2008. Bush had a better idea--how about 70% by 2018? Bush's plan would also allow coal plants to buy and sell pollution credits; in other words, bigger plants could buy the right to continue emitting mercury.

At the same time, Bush is applauding Congress for passing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes harm to a fetus a federal crime separate from harm to the mother. Of course Bush's "Clear Skies Initiative" is going to mean harm for both.

We have until June 29th to make our voices heard. Go to http://www.epa.gov/air/mercuryrule/ to submit comments to the EPA about their proposed Utility Mercury Reductions Rule.

On a personal level, people can reduce their exposure to mercury by not eating fish. In a recent public relations blitz, Chicken of the Sea International was quick to point out the heart-healthy benefits of the omega 3's found in fish. Thankfully people don't need to choose between mercury poisoning or heart disease.

For adults, mercury overload from eating fish can cause fatigue and memory loss--something clinicians often call "fish fog". Mercury poisons the heart and may double one's risk of dying from a heart attack. In fact, the mercury contamination in fish and fish oil may be so extensive that some recent data suggests that it may cancel out the benefits of the omega 3's in the fish. There are a number of studies, for example, showing increased mortality among fish-eaters, which we think is from the toxic mercury. Thankfully, plant-based sources of omega 3's provide a safe and healthy alternative.

Our bodies convert some of the short chain omega 3's found in flax seeds, for example, into the long chain omega 3's found in fish fat, so one can choose to get omega 3's packaged with soluble fiber and antioxidants in flax, rather than getting them packaged with heavy metals and carcinogens in fish. Many Doctors recommend everyone eat 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds a day (thorough chewing works well also).

For those who want to take supplemental long chain omega 3's directly, but don't want to be exposed to the high concentrations of PCBs and pesticides in fish oil capsules,[7] there are at least two vegan algae-based contamination-free supplements in veggie-caps currently on the market.

[1] Environmental Health Perspectives 112(April 2004).
[2] Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT). March 20, 2004.
[3] The Boston Globe. March 20, 2004.
[4] USA TODAY. March 22, 2004.
[5] Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin). April 12, 2004.
[6] Greenwire. March 22, 2004.
[7] Times Newspapers Limited, January 11, 2004

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