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Good news for pregnant women; bad news for fish

As soon as women find out they’re pregnant, doctors recommend they give up smoking, drinking, and eating certain types of fish. That last item may need to be reconsidered, since a recent study supports the idea that it doesn’t matter what type of fish pregnant women are eating, as long as they’re eating it.

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Researchers collected data from two different studies that reviewed the mercury levels of mothers from Bristol, England, and the Seychelles, a island chain off East Africa where “fish consumption is high and prenatal mercury levels are 10 times higher than in the [United States],” they said in NeuroToxicology.

Those data showed that the mercury levels had no adverse effects on child development as long as the mother ate fish. The nutrients and vitamins in the fish – vitamin D, long-chain fatty acids, selenium, and iodine – provide protection against mercury. There’s also the already-known benefits to eyesight and intellectual abilities that have been associated with fish consumption.

This analysis goes starkly against the grain of what is commonly recommended to expectant mothers, which is to cut out fish altogether. The researchers suggested that governments should review and change those recommendations to focus on the benefits instead.

As long as women follow the researchers’ recommendation to eat “at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily,” they may not have to lay off on the sushi after all.

We’ll show our gut worms the world

Never let it be said that mankind is not a generous species. Sure, we could maybe be kinder to our fellow human beings, maybe declare a little less war on each other, but for the past 50,000 years, we’ve been giving a free ride to millions upon millions to one of mankind’s closest companions: the whipworm.


This revelation into human kindness comes from Denmark, where researchers from Copenhagen conducted a genetic analysis of ancient preserved whipworm eggs found in old Viking and Norse settlements, some of which date back over 2,000 years. In normal conditions genetic material wouldn’t last very long, but these were Viking whipworms eggs with tiny little horned helmets, so the DNA within has remained unchanged. Or it may be the tough chitinous exterior of the eggs protecting the DNA from degrading, combined with their preservation in moist soil.

Once they had their Viking whipworm DNA, the researchers compared it with whipworm DNA from all over the world, tracing its history as it followed mankind from Africa. And it’s been a while: We brought whipworms with us during our initial migration into Asia and Europe over 50,000 years ago. When the Bering land bridge opened up and humanity moved into the Americas, the worms came as well.

This is all possible because the whipworm goes about its parasitic business quietly and cleverly. It mostly sits harmlessly in our digestive systems, producing thousands of eggs a day that get expelled through poop and picked up by another host (human or otherwise); whipworms only cause disease in those with compromised immune systems.

The researchers noted that their study, the first complete genetic analysis of the whipworm, could help combat the parasite, which to this day infects hundred of millions who don’t have access to modern medicine or sanitary conditions. Hopefully, though, the days of free rides will soon be over for the whipworm. After all, if we have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to visit other countries, it’s only fair that our parasites do as well.


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