We all know that fish are a great source of Omega 3’s and fatty acids, but consuming fish during pregnancy isn’t always safe. Research has indicated that they are also a source of harmful toxins, such as pesticides and heavy metals such as mercury. These harmful chemicals tend to accumulate “higher up the food chain”, meaning that the bigger the fish the more contaminated it is likely to be.

Because of potential toxicity, fish consumption should be limited especially during pregnancy, lactation and in young children.  Health Canada advises that all Canadians should limit their consumption of fresh and frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, escolar, marlin and orange roughy due to their mercury levels.  Heavy metals such as mercury have a negative impact on the development of the fetal nervous system as it tends to accumulate in the brain.  This can lead to health problems such as decrease in I.Q., delays in walking and talking, lack of coordination, blindness and seizures.

Omega 3 fatty acids, more specifically – EPA and DHA – are very important in healthy fetal development.  Research indicates that they prevent premature births, are involved in healthy development of vision and the nervous system and increase intelligence.  Essential fatty acids also have potential benefits for the mom.  In studies they have shown to be important nutrients in the treatment of depression.

Non-fish sources of omega 3 fatty acids include walnuts and ground flaxseeds.  However, these food sources do not contain enough of the essential fatty acids and you should not rely on these sources alone for the omega 3 health benefits.  Taking a supplement of fish oil during pregnancy is the best option available to ensure that you and your baby’s health are protected and nurtured during pregnancy and beyond.  Fish oil provides the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids without the risk of toxicity.  However, beware of the type of fish oil you choose to take.  You should make sure that the company that produces the fish oil uses strict guidelines that ensure the fish oil is molecularly distilled to remove the heavy metals, pesticides and other chemicals that are commonly found in fish.

Dr.  Agnieszka Matusik, ND is a Naturopathic Physician practicing family medicine in Kerrisdale and Kitsilano communities of Vancouver.  For more information contact her at [email protected].

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