Printed in today's New York Times...
Federal health officials should think carefully before issuing advisories recommending that women of childbearing age limit their intake of fish, new research suggests.
The warnings are intended to protect fetuses from mercury, which concentrates in some fish and, at high enough levels, can damage the brains of the babies.
But in a series of articles in the current American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers say the effect of the advisories may be detrimental to public health, since the fatty acids in fish help prevent serious problems like stroke and heart disease.
There is also evidence that they help prenatal brains develop.
"These and other potential health effects yield a classic risk-risk trade-off," wrote the lead researcher, Joshua T. Cohen of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Harvard researchers asked experts from a variety of universities to review the literature and decide whether the benefits of reducing mercury in pregnant women's diets was worth the loss of the fatty acids.
"I think we've got two messages," Dr. Cohen said. "If you're not pregnant and you're not going to become pregnant, eat fish. If you are pregnant or you are going to become pregnant, you should still eat fish, but you should eat fish low in mercury."
The problem with the government advisories, the researchers said, is that officials do not try to assess what effect they will have on the public.
They are directed at women of childbearing age, but some experts believe they keep other people away from fish, too. And instead of avoiding just those fish high in mercury, like swordfish and king mackerel, some women avoid all fish.
Bonnie - finally, somebody is making sense. I cannot tell you how many clients have unnecessarily stopped eating fish because of federal health advisories. We need to read the fine print of the advisories or speak to a local health professional, like myself, who has a public health background.