« November 2006 Table of Contents
Studies tout health benefits of seafood and downplay
- Steven Hedlund
November 01, 2006
The health benefits of eating a variety of seafood twice a
week outweigh the risks of exposure to methylmercury, PCBs and
other contaminants, according to two major studies released by
the Institute of Medicine and Harvard School of Public Health
on Oct. 17.
The first study, "Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and
Risks," was conducted by the IOM's Committee on Nutrient
Relationships in Seafood.
This group was formed in 2004 to review previous research on
the health benefits and risks of eating seafood to help
Americans make educated dietary decisions.
"Seafood … can substitute for other proteins higher in
saturated fat and often improves the overall nutrient content
of the diet," said Malden Nesheim, committee chair and a
nutrition professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., at
an Oct. 17 press
"For most of the general population, following [the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's] dietary guidelines when making
seafood choices will balance benefits and risks."
"The average person can consume more fish than they do,"
added Susan Krebs-Smith, a committee member and chair of the
National Cancer Institute's Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods
Branch in Bethesda, Md.
The report, which was funded by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, echoed the FDA's methylmercury advisory,
warning nursing mothers, pregnant women, women planning a
pregnancy and children age 12 and younger to avoid eating
swordfish, shark, tilefish and king
The advisory also says they can safely consume up to 12
ounces of seafood, including up to 6 ounces of albacore
Teenage and adult men, women not planning a pregnancy and
especially adults susceptible to cardiovascular disease may
reduce the risk of the disease by eating seafood regularly
(i.e. two 3-ounce servings per week). Cardiovascular disease is
the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.
The report also recommended that those who consume more than
two servings per week eat a variety of seafood to diminish
exposure to contaminants from a single source.
"Seafood is safe and nutritious," said William Hogarth,
director of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, at a
separate Oct. 17 press briefing.
The IOM's Committee on Nutrient Relationships in Seafood
also urged federal and state agencies to work together to
better communicate the health benefits and risks of eating
seafood to consumers.
The second study, conducted by an independent team of
Harvard researchers and published in the Oct. 18 issue of the
Journal of the American Medical Association, found that adults
who ate seafood once or twice a week reduced their risk of
cardiovascular disease by 36 percent and cut their risk of
total mortality by 17 percent.
What's more, "omega-3s are healthy for a developing baby's
brain," said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study's lead author and a
Harvard cardiology professor.
The Harvard study was funded by the National Institutes of
The seafood industry hailed the studies' findings. The
National Fisheries Institute, U.S. Tuna Foundation and Food
Products Association issued a joint statement that the IOM
report "should ease consumer concerns about mercury in fish and
encourage Americans to eat fish at least twice a week."
Environmental groups, including the National Environmental
Trust, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program,
Environmental Defense and Oceana, criticized the IOM report for
failing to consider the environmental impacts of consumers'
seafood choices. The groups also criticized the committee for
including only one consumer representative, Jennifer Hillard of
the Consumer Interest Alliance of Canada.
"We eagerly anticipated this report," said Gerald Leape,
NET's VP of marine conservation, at an Oct. 17 press
conference. "But when it came to life, we were disappointed
because it's unbalanced."
- Steven Hedlund