Summary: A new study challenges popular belief that fish consumption during pregnancy can contribute to ASD in children. Analyzing blood samples in one of the largest longitudinal studies to date, researchers found no links between mercury levels in mothers and autistic traits in their offspring. Surprisingly, the only adverse effect of mercury was noted in children’s poorer social skills if the mother did not consume fish at all, especially in girls.
Source: University of Bristol.
A major study examining the fish-eating habits of pregnant women has found that they are not linked to autism or autistic traits in their children.
Scientists at the University of Bristol looked at the assumption that mercury exposure during pregnancy is a major cause of autism using evidence from nearly 4500 women who took part in the Children of the 90s study.
Using analysis of blood samples, reported fish consumption and information on autism and autistic traits from one of the largest longitudinal studies to date, researchers found no links between levels of mercury in the mothers and autism or autistic traits in their children. The only adverse effect of mercury found was poor social cognition if mothers ate no fish at all, especially for girls.
Lead author and founder of the Children of the 90s study Professor Jean Golding commented: “Our findings further endorse the safety of eating fish during pregnancy. Importantly we’ve found no evidence at all to support claims that mercury is involved in the development of autism or autistic traits.
“This adds to a body of work that endorses the eating of fish during pregnancy for a good nutritional start to life with at least two fish meals a week.”
In October 2017 the University of Bristol presented a policy briefing document to government departments explaining that current advice for pregnant women is complex and confusing and may encourage women to limit or avoid eating fish altogether.
Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the University of Bristol Dr Caroline Taylor contributed to both the new research and policy document and added: “All species of fish contain traces of mercury, which can harm brain development, but we’ve found that the health benefits of fish, probably from nutrients such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and iodine, outweigh the risks from mercury.
“The advice on eating fish when pregnant is complicated and overwhelming. There is now a body of evidence to support a simpler and clearer approach that maximises the health benefits of fish. “I believe the next step is for a comprehensive study into how the current guidelines have affected the consumption of fish in pregnant women overall.”
Director of the National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, Carol Povey said: “At The National Autistic Society, we welcome all research which furthers our understanding of autism. This is a robust study which confirms what previous research has found: it is a myth that high mercury levels in pregnant mothers cause autism.
“There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK and, although the exact causes of autism are still not fully understood, research to date has shown it involves many complex and interacting factors, including genetics, the environment and the development of the brain.
“While it is important to understand the causes of autism, we believe more research should be focused on what helps autistic people and their families so that all autistic people can have a good quality of life and get the support and understanding they need.”
About this neuroscience research article
Source: Julia Walton – University of Bristol Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com. Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain. Original Research: Open access research for “Prenatal mercury exposure and features of autism: a prospective population study” by Jean Golding, Dheeraj Rai, Steven Gregory, Genette Ellis, Alan Emond, Yasmin Iles-Caven, Joseph Hibbeln and Caroline Taylor in Molecular Autism. Published April 23 2018. doi:10.1186/s13229-018-0215-7
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]University of Bristol “No Link Between Autism and Eating Fish During Pregnancy.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 21 May 2018. <https://neurosciencenews.com/autism-fish-pregnancy-9091/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]University of Bristol (2018, May 21). No Link Between Autism and Eating Fish During Pregnancy. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved May 21, 2018 from https://neurosciencenews.com/autism-fish-pregnancy-9091/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]University of Bristol “No Link Between Autism and Eating Fish During Pregnancy.” https://neurosciencenews.com/autism-fish-pregnancy-9091/ (accessed May 21, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
Prenatal mercury exposure and features of autism: a prospective population study
Background Mercury (Hg) has been suspected of causing autism in the past, especially a suspected link with vaccinations containing thiomersal, but a review of the literature shows that has been largely repudiated. Of more significant burden is the total quantity of Hg in the environment. Here, we have used the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to test whether prenatal exposure from total maternal blood Hg in the first half of pregnancy is associated with the risk of autism or of extreme levels of autistic traits. This is the largest longitudinal study to date to have tested this hypothesis and the only one to have considered early pregnancy.
Methods We have used three strategies: (1) direct comparison of 45 pregnancies resulting in children with diagnosed autism from a population of 3840, (2) comparison of high scores on each of the four autistic traits within the population at risk (n~2800), and (3) indirect measures of association of these outcomes with proxies for increased Hg levels such as frequency of fish consumption and exposure to dental amalgam (n > 8000). Logistic regression adjusted for social conditions including maternal age, housing circumstances, maternal education, and parity. Interactions were tested between risks to offspring of fish and non-fish eaters.
Results There was no suggestion of an adverse effect of total prenatal blood Hg levels on diagnosed autism (AOR 0.89; 95% CI 0.65, 1.22) per SD of Hg (P = 0.485). The only indication of adverse effects concerned a measure of poor social cognition when the mother ate no fish, where the AOR was 1.63 [95% CI 1.02, 2.62] per SD of Hg (P = 0.041), significantly different from the association among the offspring of fish-eaters (AOR = 0.74 [95% CI 0.41, 1.35]).
Conclusion In conclusion, our study identifies no adverse effect of prenatal total blood Hg on autism or autistic traits provided the mother ate fish. Although these results should be confirmed in other populations, accumulating evidence substantiates the recommendation to eat fish during pregnancy.