Food and Behaviour Research

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EFSA - Scientific Opinion on health benefits of seafood (fish and shellfish) consumption in relation to health risks associated with exposure to methylmercury

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Following a request from the European Commission to address the risks and benefits as regards fish/seafood consumption related to relevant beneficial substances (e.g. nutrients such as n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) and the contaminant methylmercury, the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) was asked to deliver a Scientific Opinion on health benefits of seafood consumption in relation to health risks associated with exposure to methylmercury.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

Eating fish and seafood has significantly more benefits than risks - both for cardiovascular health, and for women during pregnancy - according to an Expert Review of the scientific evidence from the European Food Standards Agency.

Their Expert Panel concluded that:

  • 1-2 portions a week of fish and seafood helps maintain cardiovascular health in adults 
  • Up to 3-4 portions per week of fish and seafood during pregnancy is linked with significantly better neurodevelopmental outcomes in children than eating none.
Importantly - the reviewers considered both the nutritional value of fish and seafood (which is a key source of brain-essential nutrients including omega-3 DHA, iodine, selenium, Vitamin D and zinc, among others) and its non-nutrient content, incuding potential contaminants such as methyl mercury. 

FDA revises guidance on fish and seafood in prgnancy

FAB followers will be already familiar with the pioneering research which showed that US FDA recommednations for pregnant women to limit their fish and seafood to 2 portions per week were in fact likely to be harming children's cognitive and behavioural development, not protecting it. See:

As a result of this - and other evidence that has accumulated since - the FDA has in fact now changed its own guidance, so that 2 portions of fish a week is now the target for all women to aim for in pregnancy, not the upper limit.

See the related news article here:

 
It is good the European Food Standards agency has also concluded that up to 4 portions per week of fish and seafood during pregnancy provides more benefits than risks.

The challenge now is for public health authorities to get that message across to women who are pregnant, or planning to become so, as current dietary intakes of fish and seafood in the UK and Europe, as well as the US, fall seriously short of the levels that would optimise their children's mental development, as well as their own physical and mental health.

For more information on this subject, please see the following list of articles, which is regularly updated:



In the present Opinion, the NDA Panel has reviewed the role of seafood in European diets and evaluated the beneficial effects of seafood consumption in relation to health outcomes and population subgroups that have been identified by the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption and/or the EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the context of a risk assessment related to the presence of mercury and methylmercury in food as relevant for the assessment.

These included the effects of seafood consumption during pregnancy on functional outcomes of children’s neurodevelopment and the effects of seafood consumption on cardiovascular disease risk in adults.

The Panel concluded that consumption of about 1‑2 servings of seafood per week and up to 3‑4 servings per week during pregnancy has been associated with better functional outcomes of neurodevelopment in children compared to no consumption of seafood.

Such amounts have also been associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease mortality in adults and are compatible with current intakes and recommendations in most of the European countries considered.

These associations refer to seafood per se and include beneficial and adverse effects of nutrients and non-nutrients (i.e. including contaminants such as methylmercury) contained in seafood.