Babies, brains, and a fishy dilemma

Navigating online nutrition information can be confusing. One site claims oily fish are rich in fatty acids essential for healthy brain development. Another says fish contain toxic levels of mercury which damage children’s brain development. Fortunately, the European Journal of Public Health has published GNH graduate Suman Thapa’s review of fish consumption and cognitive development. Refreshing fact-checking, in 2016’s post-truth Internet chaos.

Tuna sushi
Mercury rich tuna sushi with avocado. Delicious and damaging?

Eating fish poses a particular dilemma for pregnant mothers. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, commonly found in fish, are important for child brain development. But before the age of six, mercury can negatively impact child brain development. Many types of fish contain high levels of mercury, so evidence suggests eating fish is both harmful and beneficial for babies cognitive development. Talk about a double-edged sword.


Determined to get to the bottom of this fishy affair, GNH graduate Suman Thapa set out to find if pregnant mothers should be eating fish to support brain development in their unborn babies. His systematic review looked at a global sample of pregnant mothers and children from 0-18 years. This included results from 5,789 eligible mother and child pairs. Through analysis of all the research articles on the topic he was able to come to a conclusion which would help pregnant mothers decide if eating fish would give their babies the best chance in life.

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Suman and his team at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Southern Denmark discovered the type of fish being eaten was important. Salmon, shrimp, pollock, canned tuna and catfish had low levels of mercury and 2-3 servings a week were recommended to get n-3 fatty acid, DHA which is very important factor for children brain development.

Fresh tuna

However, they advised that fish with high levels of mercury like tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel should be avoided.

Suman at the European Public Health Conference, November 2016, Vienna.

Since presenting the review at the European Public Health Conference in Vienna last month, Suman is currently applying for PhDs in Maternal Nutrition. His life ambition is to transform lives through health empowerment by promoting nutrition as a preventative health measure. Watch this space!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. shhharas says:

    Any things to consider when recommending the use of microalgae-derived omega-3’s in this scenario? No mercury, easily obtained, no fish harmed (to my understanding, at least)

    1. Best to contact the researcher Suman Thapa about this directly for academic insight on the issue. What are your thoughts on microalgae as a source of omega-3s?

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