It beats playing classical music next to your tummy everyday.
Anglers always knew that fish were brain food, but a new study may indicate that consuming fish while pregnant could result in measurable increases in IQ for the baby. According to an observational study published this week in the American Journal of Epidemiology, moms who consistently ate three to four servings of fish per week—or about 21 ounces—were linked to a 2.3 point increase in their baby’s IQ over those who do not consume as much fish. The study did not specify which specific fish performed best in this correlation, but said that fatty fish, such as tuna, seemed to show the most noticeable results.
The research was conducted by scientists at the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain. They evaluated 1,892 mother-child pairs from the first trimester of the pregnancy through to the child’s fifth birthday, and monitored both neuropsychological development as well as fish consumption during pregnancy. What they found was that increasing the amount of fish eaten every week, even slightly, could result in higher test scores from the children later on. This was especially apparent when the children turned five. The consumption of fish was also linked to a reduction in the appearance of autism-related traits.
On the other hand, some experts say that predatory fish such as tuna or swordfish are also high in mercury and should be limited in consumption. According to Time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously warned pregnant women against consuming too much fish, but recently revised their stance and recommended two to three servings a week. Likewise, the researchers on this study are not encouraging mothers to consume more fish, but simply reported that seafood-high diets are linked to a higher average IQ score.
“Seafood is known to be an important source of essential nutrients for brain development, but at the same time accumulates mercury from the environment, which is known to be neurotoxic,” the study’s lead author, Jordi Júlvez, told Reuters.
However, the study did not find any adverse effects from high fish consumption. Some European agencies also encourage higher fish intake than the FDA, approximately 150 to 600 grams of fish compared to the FDA’s recommended upper limit of 350 grams.
“The American guidelines advise pregnant women not to take large fatty fish,” Júlvez told Forbes, “such as bluefin tuna, as it accumulates more heavy metals, such as mercury, and lipophilic contaminants such as organochlorine compounds. However, we have not found adverse effects by a high intake of fish, including large fish. We think that the positive effect of fish overcomes the negative effect of mercury.”
Experts recommend that pregnant women eat fish with less mercury, such as salmon, freshwater trout, perch, and flounder.