Health & Medical Pregnancy & Birth & Newborn

Pregnant? 2 Cans of Tuna Per Week OK

´╗┐Pregnant? 2 Cans of Tuna Per Week OK

Pregnant? 2 Cans of Tuna Per Week OK

FDA Panel Encourages Certain Women to Eat Fish in Moderation

July 31, 2002 -- The FDA has already warned pregnant women not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because of high mercury levels that could harm their babies.

Now -- after much controversy over leaving tuna off that list -- an FDA advisory panel is recommending pregnant women eat no more than two 6-ounce cans of tuna a week, if that's the only fish they eat.

The original advisory states that pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and children under age 2 can eat 12 oz of seafood per week including shellfish, canned fish, and other ocean fish. Tuna was implied in that advisory, an FDA source tells WebMD.

Fish provides high-quality protein and essential fatty acids, such as omega-3, that help the fetus develop brain cells. Also, the American Heart Association recommends people eat fish twice a week because of those same fats.

"It's really important that pregnant women eat fish," says Voni Dandolu, an ob-gyn at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "There's so much health benefit in it. I don't want to see patients stay away from eating it."

Among its recommendations, the panel has asked that the FDA:

  • Clarify the types of "other fish" that are safe for pregnant women, based on information from the EPA and individual state agencies. The FDA does not regulate fish that are caught by recreational fisherman; since some state waters are heavily polluted with mercury, women could absorb far more mercury from these freshwater fish caught in their local waters.
  • Publish its findings regarding mercury levels in specific fish.
  • Establish a quantity of fish -- including canned tuna -- that children can eat based on their body weight.
  • More effectively monitor the mercury found in fish and in humans.

The recommendations will be put on the FDA's priority to-do list for fiscal year 2003, which starts on Oct. 1, says the FDA source.

How does Dandolu advise her patients?

Eat no more than two 6-ounce cans of tuna a week until the FDA advises differently, she says.

But other options -- flounder, shrimp, catfish, salmon -- are all safe to eat during pregnancy, she tells WebMD. "The amount of mercury in those fish is [very small], so there really is no limit on those fish."

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