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Fish Aids Fetal Brain Development

New research suggests that fish may indeed be "brain food".

In a study of 135 mothers and their infants, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that mothers' fish consumption during pregnancy aided fetal brain development. Overall, the greater a woman's fish intake during the second trimester, the better her 6-month-old performed on a standard test of mental development.

On the other hand, when mothers had fairly high mercury levels -- as measured in hair samples -- their babies tended to have relatively poorer test scores.

According to the researchers, fish can be a brain-healthy food for women to have during pregnancy -- but only if they eat varieties likely to have little mercury contamination.

Environmental mercury is primarily a product of industrial pollution. Most fish and shellfish have some level of mercury, but certain large, long-lived fish are likely to accumulate high levels of the pollutant, which can damage the developing fetal brain. Some shark, swordfish, albacore tuna, king mackerel and tilefish may be high in mercury.

However, fish provide a number of important nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, which support fetal brain development.

When participants' babies were about 6 months old, the researchers gave them a test that measured their visual memory. The test is a good way to measure the potential effects of fish intake, the lead researcher said, because it looks at both brain function and vision. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in eye development as well as brain development.

Overall, babies' scores on the test climbed by 4 points for each weekly serving of fish their mothers had during the second trimester.

If you're avoiding fish because of concerns about mercury, we have the perfect solution for you. You can take fish oil capsules that contain highly concentrated amounts of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Vital nutrients fish oil has been thoroughly tested by independent labs for mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead, rancidity and a wide range of environmental pollutants. It passes all specifications for acceptability and is one of the purest fish oil products on the market.

Source: Oken, E et al, Maternal fish consumption, hair mercury, and infant cognition in a U.S. Cohort, Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Oct;113(10):1376-80