Updated Government Study Finds Mercury Levels in Women and Young Children Are Not of Concern

New Data Affirms That Tuna Is a Safe and Healthy Food Choice

Nov 05, 2004, 00:00 ET from U.S. Tuna Foundation

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Tuna Foundation (USTF) today
 stated that by finding that mercury levels in women and young children are
 very low and "not of concern," a new study from the federal Centers for
 Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should reassure all Americans that eating
 fish, such as canned tuna, is safe and should be encouraged because of the
 many health benefits associated with seafood consumption.
     Published in the November 5 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly
 Report, the CDC's new study confirms that mercury levels from fish consumption
 for women and young children in the U.S. are well below any level of concern.
 Specifically, CDC researchers used the ongoing National Health and Nutrition
 Examination Survey (NHANES) to analyze the amount of mercury in the blood of
 more than 3,600 women of childbearing age and 1,500 children aged one to five
 years and found that all had mercury levels significantly below the threshold
 for any known risk.
     Of added significance, the new CDC study updated previous estimates of
 mercury levels in women and young children and found that concentrations in
 the blood of American women have actually declined over a four-year period
 (1999-2002).  While CDC estimated that 8 percent of U.S. women had mercury
 levels at or slightly above the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA)
 "reference dose" in 1999, this number has dropped to only 6 percent.  What
 makes this finding even more significant is the CDC's conclusion that women
 with mercury concentrations at this slightly higher level are not at risk
 because EPA built in a ten-fold safety factor when it established its
 reference dose.
     At the same time, the new CDC report confirms previous findings that no
 child in the U.S. has mercury levels that are even close to the EPA's
 reference dose and are not at risk from consuming seafood.
     "The government's new study is reassuring because it demonstrates that
 over 94 percent of women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels below
 EPA's reference dose, which in itself is a very conservative guideline.  These
 levels are far below the blood mercury levels observed in island populations
 where effects have been reported," said Jay Murray, Ph.D., a toxicologist that
 specializes in maternal and fetal health and a member of the Tuna Nutrition
 Council, which advises USTF on nutrition and public health matters.  "We now
 have proof that mercury levels in the vast majority of women and young
 children in the U.S. are not of concern, which should go a long way towards
 reassuring the public that eating seafood, such as canned tuna, is safe and
 provides a number of important health benefits."
     Even though the CDC study finds very low levels of mercury in U.S. women
 and young children, the report urged pregnant and nursing women to follow the
 government's 2004 seafood advisory to reduce mercury exposure during
     Health Benefits of Omega-3s During Pregnancy
     Complementing these findings, the CDC report also emphasized the health
 benefits associated with seafood consumption, such as the growing body of
 evidence about the beneficial role that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish,
 play during pregnancy.  A recent National Institutes of Health study across 23
 countries found that women whose breast milk was rich in omega-3 were less
 likely to experience postpartum depression.  Further, extensive research
 confirms that the omega-3 fatty acids in canned tuna may prolong gestation,
 which could reduce the incidence of premature birth.  For these reasons, the
 government's advisory makes it clear that: "A well balanced diet includes a
 variety of fish and shellfish that can contribute to heart health and
 children's proper growth and development."
     Equally important for pregnant and nursing women, canned tuna contains DHA
 (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for the
 healthy development of the fetus and young child.  According to scientific
 studies, DHA comprises approximately 40 percent of the polyunsaturated fatty
 acid content in the cell membranes in the brain and 60 percent of the cell
 membranes in the retina and is transferred from mother to the fetus at a high
 rate during the last trimester of pregnancy.
     "It is important for pregnant and nursing women to understand that the
 omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are essential during pregnancy and
 lactation," said Joyce A. Nettleton, D.Sc., RD, author of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
 and Health and another member of the Tuna Nutrition Council.  "Accumulating
 evidence shows that eating canned tuna and many other types of fish during
 pregnancy provides the omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for the
 developing fetus to develop and thrive."
     Canned Tuna Is Nature's Healthy Fast Food
     Besides the benefits for pregnant and nursing women, the omega-3 fatty
 acids found in canned tuna are important for people of all ages, which is why
 several health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the
 American Dietetic Association now recommend that people eat two to three
 servings of a variety of fish a week, including canned tuna.  According to a
 number of recent studies, the omega-3 fatty acids found in canned tuna and
 other types of fish lowers the risk of heart disease, reduces the likelihood
 of blood clots and stroke, protects against certain cancers, has a therapeutic
 effect on autoimmune diseases, and helps to relieve depression.
     More information about canned tuna and its health benefits is available at
 the USTF Web site, http://www.tunafacts.com.
     Established in 1976, the U.S. Tuna Foundation (USTF) is the national
 organization representing the canned tuna processors and the fishermen who
 supply them and addresses issues ranging from fishing access arrangements to
 federal and state regulations and domestic marketing.

SOURCE U.S. Tuna Foundation