Panel: Seafood Benefits Outweigh Risk
But Institute of Medicine Report Repeats Warnings for Pregnant Women and Children
Oct. 17, 2006 -- The health advantages of eating seafood outweigh the risks
for most Americans, a report by government-sponsored experts concludes.
The report was issued Tuesday by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Its
conclusions could help lay to rest ongoing fears that contamination from
pollutants like methyl mercury and microbes like bacteria and viruses make
seafood consumption unsafe.
Still, experts repeated warnings from the FDA that women who are pregnant or
may become pregnant or are breastfeeding, and children up
to age 12, limit their intake of some seafood and avoid others altogether.
The seafood industry has complained that such warnings have driven much of
the public away from consuming fish, though it is touted as a high-protein,
low-saturated-fat food source. The IOM panel issued the report at the request
of a division the U.S. Department of Commerce, which promotes American business
interests domestically and overseas.
"The average person can consume more fish than they do," says Susan
M. Krebs-Smith, PhD, a panelist who is chief of the risk factor monitoring and
methods branch of the National Cancer Institute.
Some studies have concluded that regular seafood consumption can cut heart disease
risk by virtue of omega-3 fatty acids in fish and some shellfish. But though it
acknowledged those studies, the IOM panel warned that the cardiovascular
benefits of eating fish remain by and large unproven.
The report did not take into account a new Harvard University study,
published in this week's issue of The Journal of the American Medical
Association, concluding that regularly eating salmon and other fish high
in omega-3 fatty acids can cut risk of death from heart disease by more than a
The study, based on a review of previous research, also concludes that the
benefits of eating salmon on the heart greatly outweigh what some studies have
pegged as an increased cancer risk owing to dioxin contamination found in
"If you consume a variety [of fish], then you’re not going to get a high
intake of anything" toxic, says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, a researcher
who conducted the study and briefed reporters today in Washington.
Both the Mozaffarian and the IOM experts say they agree with FDA guidelines
issued in 2004 urging women who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are
breastfeeding to limit consumption of most fish to 12 ounces per week.
The advisory, which also applies to children under 12, was issued amid
concerns that methyl mercury contamination could put fetuses and young children
at risk for brain development problems.
The FDA also urged those women to eat no more than 6 ounces of canned
"white" albacore tuna per week and to avoid entirely four fish species
-- shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel -- because of high mercury
levels. The magazine Consumer Reports earlier this year recommended that
pregnant women avoid canned tuna altogether.