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60-Second Health

The Mercury's Falling...in Women's Seafood Consumption

Between 1999 and 2010 changes in seafood consumption meant that blood levels of mercury in women of childbearing age dropped by a third, and the percentage of such women who have worrisome blood levels of mercury dropped by two thirds. Dina Fine Maron reports

Fish fouled by heavy metal mercury has been a concern, especially for pregnant women. Since it can wreak havoc on the developing nervous system of a fetus.

But here’s some good news. Though Americans still chowed down on about the same amount of fish between 1999 and 2010, blood levels of mercury in women of childbearing age appear to have dropped 34 percent during that time. And there’s been a 65 percent drop in the percentage of women in that age group who have enough mercury in their blood to spark health concerns.

The findings are from the Environmental Protection Agency, based on figures from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. [Trends in Blood Mercury Concentrations and Fish Consumption among U.S. Women of Childbearing Age NHANES, 1999–2010]

The data suggest that moms-to-be are still supping on sea life and racking up the vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids enmeshed in each fishy bite. But they’re making savvier choices, avoiding the fish with the most mercury—such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.

Though most seafood contains some trace amounts of mercury, the EPA says that at low levels it’s nothing to lose sleep over. For us, if not the fish.

—Dina Fine Maron

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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