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A pregnant woman’s diet has considerable impact on her child’s health and development. Findings from two recent reviews suggest that maternal consumption of fish and seafood improves children’s performance on intelligence tests.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, seafood is a broad term that includes both fresh and saltwater fishes (such as salmon, tuna, trout, and tilapia) and shellfish (such as shrimp, crab, and oysters). Dietary intake of seafood provides many vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids that play key roles in a child’s neurocognitive development during pregnancy and early life. Seafood also contains mercury, a neurotoxicant. Questions remain about whether seafood consumption impairs neurocognitive development in pregnancy and childhood.

The authors of the review analyzed data from randomized controlled trials, prospective cohort studies, or case-control studies involving pregnant women and their children, including 29 studies of more than 102,000 mother-child pairs and 15 studies of more than 25,000 children under the age of 18 years. They found that even low intake of seafood – about four ounces per week – improved neurocognitive development among children. These improvements were manifested in an average increase of 7.7 points on intelligence tests. In addition, no negative neurocognitive outcomes were reported, even with high seafood intake, despite possible higher mercury exposure to mercury.

These findings have relevance for public health recommendations regarding dietary seafood intake among pregnant women and children.

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