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 pregnancy. 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