Prenatal Mercury Exposure Tied to ADHD Risk, Study Finds

A new study adds to the importance of pregnant women avoiding meals that contain fish known to have high levels of mercury.

Researchers have published a study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that links low-level prenatal mercury exposure with a greater risk of ADHD-related behaviors, according to a news release from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Additionally, the study also found that eating fish during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of  having a child with ADHD symptoms.

“These findings underscore the difficulties pregnant women face when trying to balance the nutritional benefits of fish intake with the potential detriments of low-level mercury exposure,” said Dr. Susan Korrick, lead researcher from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in the news release.

Researchers from BWH and the Boston University School of Public Health surveyed 400 children born in Massachusetts from 1993 to 1998. They collected hair samples from the mothers shortly after they gave birth and data on how much fish they ate while pregnant. Eight years later, the researchers met with the children and tested them for ADHD-related behavior.

The research showed that the more mercury they found in a mother’s hair, the higher the risk of ADHD-related behaviors in their children.

“Additionally, researchers found a reduced risk of ADHD-related behaviors in children whose mothers reported eating more than two servings of fish per week, which is a higher number of servings than is currently recommended by the United States Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency,” the release states.

The study does not recommend which types of fish pregnant women should eat. Earlier studies have shown that shark, swordfish, king mackerel and fresh tuna have high levels of mercury. Flounder, haddock and salmon are fish that contain lower amounts of mercury, according to the release.

“Women need to know that nutrients in fish are good for the brain of a developing fetus, but women need to be aware that high mercury levels in some fish pose a risk,” said Dr. Sharon Sagiv, of Boston University School of Public Health.

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital news release

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