Although several health benefits are associated with seafood, recent study results indicate that women of childbearing age who expose themselves to mercury by eating seafood could be at greater risk of developing an autoimmune disorder. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, analyzed data from 1999 to 2004 on women aged 16 to 49 years. The research team found that among these women, greater exposure to mercury was linked to a higher rate of autoantibodies, a potential precursor to autoimmune disease.
“We don’t have a very good sense of why people develop autoimmune disorders,” said lead author Emily Somers, PhD, ScM, in a press release. “A large number of cases are not explained by genetics, so we believe studying environmental factors will help us understand why autoimmunity happens and how we may be able to intervene to improve health outcomes. In our study, exposure to mercury stood out as the main risk factor for autoimmunity.”
Although the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have both stated that pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 oz (340 g) of seafood a week, the study authors suggested that women of reproductive age avoid excessive mercury consumption by carefully selecting the type of fish they eat; fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish contain particularly high levels of mercury, whereas shrimp, canned light tuna, and salmon have lower levels.