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J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2010 Jan;20(1):54-68. doi: 10.1038/jes.2009.2. Epub 2009 Mar 18.

Use of advanced cluster analysis to characterize fish consumption patterns and methylmercury dietary exposures from fish and other sea foods among pregnant women.

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  • 1INRA Mét@risk, Research Unit for Methodologies of Food Risk Analysis,Paris, France.


On account of the interspecies variability in contamination and nutrient contents, consumers must balance the risks and benefits of fish consumption through their choice of species, meal size and frequency. The objectives of this study were to better characterize the risk of methylmercury (MeHg) exposure in a sample of 161 French pregnant women consuming sea food, including fish, molluscs and crustaceans, and to explore the use of unsupervised statistical learning as an advanced type of cluster analysis to identify patterns of fish consumption that could predict exposure to MeHg and the coverage of the Recommended Daily Allowance for n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). The proportion of about 5% of pregnant women exposed at levels higher than the tolerable weekly intake for MeHg is similar to that observed among women of childbearing age in earlier French studies. At the same time, only about 50% of the women reached the recommended intake of 500 mg/day n-3 PUFA. Cluster analysis of the fish consumption showed that they could be grouped in five major clusters that are largely predictable of the intake of both MeHg and n-3 PUFA. This study shows that a global increase in seafood consumption could lead to MeHg exposure above the toxicological limits for pregnant women, thereby questioning the overall balance between this potential risk and potential beneficial effects of n-3 PUFA intakes. Only pregnant women consuming a high proportion of fatty fish meet the n-3 PUFA intake requirements without exceeding the toxicological limit for MeHg. The clusters identified suggest that different intervention strategies may be needed to address the dual purpose of ensuring high PUFA intakes at acceptable MeHg exposures.

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