Mercury Effect: Women Should Mind What Fish They Eat, Warns Study

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Merury traces in fish proved fatal for decades and Japan’s Minamata case in the late 1960s should remain a lesson for any marine food consumption without health precautions. New research has suggested that pregnant women who consume mercury-ladden fish food may develop the risk autoimmune disorders , which may be fatal to the babies inside.

The study conducted by the researchers of the gynecology and obstetrics department of the University of Michigan Medical and Public Health Schools shows that mercury may increase the risk of autoimmune disorders among women if they ingest even “safe levels” of the food.

Autoimmune disorders make the pregnant mother’s body’s immune system to attack healthy cells, including of baby by mistake, leading to abortion or miscarriage.

“We do not have a very good sense of why people develop autoimmune disorders,” said lead author Emily Somers. “In our study, exposure to mercury stood out as the main risk factor for autoimmunity,” Somers said.

Autoimmune disease includes symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis and other complications leading to death among women in general, including those who are not pregnants, according to the study.

For the study, the researchers analysed data among women aged 16-49 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2004 and found that those with high exposure to mercury were at a higher risk of developing auto-antibodies, a precursor to autoimmune disease.

Fish such as swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish contain the highest levels of mercury while shrimp, canned light tuna and salmon have lower levels.

The authors, however, cautious to note that there were many health benefits too from consuming the seafood, a lean protein packed with vital nutrients. But their main concern was that women of reproductive age or those who are pregnants should exercise discretion while eating the type of fish.

The study has been published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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