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Environ Sci Technol. 2004 Jul 15;38(14):3860-3.

Maternal and fetal mercury and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids as a risk and benefit of fish consumption to fetus.

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Department of Epidemiology, National Institute for Minamata Disease, 4058-18 Hama, Minamata, Kumamoto 867-0008, Japan.


Maternal fish consumption brings both risks and benefits to the fetus from the standpoint of methylmercury (MeHg) and n-3 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids). MeHg is one of the most risky substances to come through fish consumption, and mercury concentrations in red blood cells (RBC-Hg) are the best biomarker of MeHg exposure. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6n-3), which is one of the most important fatty acids for normal brain development and function, is also derived from fish consumption. Our objective in this study was to examine the relationships between RBC-Hg and plasma fatty acid composition in mother and fetus at parturition. Venous blood samples were collected from 63 pairs of mothers and fetuses (umbilical cord blood) at delivery. In all cases, fetal RBC-Hg levels were higher than maternal RBC-Hg levels. The geometric mean of fetal RBC-Hg was 13.4 ng/g, which was significantly (p < 0.01) higher than that of maternal RBC-Hg (8.41 ng/g). While the average fetal/maternal RBC-Hg ratio was 1.6, the individual ratios varied from 1.08 to 2.19, suggesting considerable individual differences in MeHg concentrations between maternal and fetal circulations at delivery. A significant correlation was observed between maternal and fetal DHA concentrations (r = 0.37, p < 0.01). Further, a significant correlation was observed between RBC-Hg and plasma DHA in fetus (r = 0.35, p < 0.01). These results confirm that both MeHg and DHA which originated from fish consumption transferred from maternal to fetal circulation and existed in the fetal circulation with a positive correlation. Pregnant women in particular need not give up eating fish to obtain such benefits. However, they would do well to at least consume smaller fish, which contain less MeHg, thereby balancing the risks and benefits from fish comsumption.

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