What You Need to Know About Eating Fish

With concerns about mercury levels in fish -- a usually healthful food -- how much should women of childbearing age eat?

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

Fish and shellfish have gained star status on the dinner menu. Several medical groups now advocate tuna, salmon, and their fishy (and shellfish) cousins as important to a heart-healthy and overall healthy diet.

But for women, the choice has been less clear. The concern: Are fish and shellfish safe -- if pregnancy and children are in the picture? Could mercury in fish put an unborn, newborn, or young child at risk? Should pregnant women eat fish?

Various reports have turned up conflicting results -- some indicating risk, others pooh-poohing all the worry. To clarify this murky issue, WebMD turned to some of the nation's experts.

"[Pregnant] women should be cautious because their unborn fetus is very sensitive to toxicity from mercury," says Robert Goyer, MD, professor emeritus and chairman of pathology at University of Western Ontario. Goyer participated in a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study evaluating the credibility of the EPA's mercury studies.

"We came up with the same results the EPA did," Goyer tells WebMD. "We don't know which stage of fetal development is more critical -- whether it's the third trimester or the moment of conception, or if it's continuous exposure to mercury during pregnancy. But all this has been factored together in the EPA/FDA advisory."

Government's Advice to Pregnant Women