Health experts have long urged limited consumption of certain types of fish because of mercury, particularly by children and pregnant women. But new research by the University of Bristol suggests those concerns may be overstated and that fish accounts for a fraction of mercury levels in the human body.
In a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the British scientists estimate fish accounts for just seven percent of mercury levels in the human body.
The findings, which are based on the long-running "Children of the 90s" study, are based on an analysis of 103 food and drink items consumed by 4,484 women during pregnancy. Overall, the researchers found that the 103 items accounted for less than 17 percent of mercury levels in the body, with fish accounting for less than half of that total.
"We were pleasantly surprised to find that fish contributes such a small amount [only seven percent] to blood mercury levels," said lead researcher Jean Golding. "We have previously found that eating fish during pregnancy has many health benefits for both mother and child.
"We hope many more women will now consider eating more fish during pregnancy. It is important to stress, however, that pregnant women need a mixed balanced diet. They should include fish with other dietary components that are beneficial including fruit and vegetables."
Past research by the Bristol scientists has shown eating fish during pregnancy has a positive effect on the IQ and eyesight of developing children, possibly because it contains many beneficial components including iodine and omega-3 fatty acids.
The new study indicated that, after fish, the foodstuffs with the highest mercury were herbal teas and alcohol, with wine having higher levels than beer. The herbal teas were an unexpected finding and possibly due to the fact that herbal teas can be contaminated with toxins.
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