From: The Lancet press office, Friday 16 February 2007

(Joseph Hibbeln, the current holder of the McCarrison Society's Cleave Award, presented his paper at the Society's Generating Healthy Brains conference in January 2006) 

Higher maternal seafood consumption during pregnancy results in children showing better neurological function than children whose mothers eat low amounts or no seafood during pregnancy, according to an Article published in this week’s issue of The Lancet.

Seafood is the predominant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for optimum fetal brain development. However, in the USA, women are advised to limit their seafood intake during pregnancy to 340 g per week, to avoid fetal exposure to trace contaminants of neurotoxins*.

Joseph Hibbeln (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA) and colleagues from Bristol University, analysed an observational cohort study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)†, to assess the possible benefits and hazards to a child’s development of different levels of maternal seafood intake during pregnancy. Maternal seafood intake during pregnancy of less than 340 g (ie, less than three portions) per week was found to be associated with increased risk of their children being in the lowest quartile of verbal IQ, compared with mothers who consumed more than 340 g per week. Furthermore, low maternal seafood intake was associated with increased risk of suboptimum outcomes for prosocial behaviour, fine motor, communication, and social development scores‡. For each outcome measure, the lower the intake of seafood during pregnancy, the higher the risk of suboptimum developmental outcome.

The authors conclude: “We recorded no evidence to lend support to the warnings of the US advisory that pregnant women should limit their seafood consumption. In contrast, we noted that children of mothers who ate small amounts (<340 g per week) of seafood were more likely to have suboptimum eurodevelopmental outcomes than children of mothers who ate more seafood than the recommended amounts.” {}