Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood came in the mail yesterday. It's really good. I've only just begun to read it. But checking the index for references to methylmercury, I happened across a passage I have to share:
Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd. There is, however, one shred of good news concerning mercury ingestion: Unlike lead, methylmercury persists in human tissue for a matter of months rather than years.
Avoiding fish both during pregnancy and in the year preceding conception is protective against prenatal exposure.
But even if we all planned our motherhoods with this much foresight, an approach to fetal health that relies on nutritional sacrifices by mothers is still unsound. Cutting back on fish is not like forfeiting cigarettes and beer. Fish is good food. It is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin E, and selenium. It is also a leading source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Fish oils prevent blood platelets from clumping together, which lowers the risk of stroke. For many women, pregnancies and lactation fill significant years of their adult lives. Deciding between protecting the babies' brains and protecting their own cardiovascular health is not a choice they should have to make. [See the fuller context on Amazon]
The months right before I became pregnant with Elizabeth were the period of heaviest tuna consumption of my life. Mostly, I have never been too keen on canned tuna. But in October of 2001, I became very ill. My illness lasted until February of 2002: just when I became resigned to being sick for a long time, I mysteriously got well. I was pregnant, and pregnancy has reset my rambunctious immune system which had spent the previous four months attacking various of my bodily systems. While I was sick -- probably because of omega-3 depletion -- I craved tuna, really craved it. I would go to make a tuna salad. I would open the can, intending to put the tuna in a mixing bowl and add other ingredients. Sometimes the tuna never reached the bowl at all, but got eaten straight out of the can, so strong was my craving. Given this, I would expect that at the moment of Elizabeth's conception, my mercury levels were probably at their highest point for my entire life.
One other point, inspired by Steingraber's mention of cardiovascular health in the passage: in our culture, and indeed in our household, women do most of the cooking. As I recall, during my pregnancy I did even more of the cooking than usual because of the strength of my food whims. So not only was I cut off from much fish as a source of nutrition, but David's fish intake also dropped substantialy. His cardiovascular health is much more of an issue than mine. And it is apparent that changes in our diet may have contributed to the sudden rise in his cholesterol levels and the necessity of an angioplasty. Husbands' health is also compromised by this sort of policy on mercury emissions.
By the way, I'm surprised at how little comment my remarks on mercury emissions have attracted. Really people, you should get upset!