Eating fish during pregnancy doesn't shape kids' heart health, study finds

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A recent study published in the journal Nutrients reports that maternal fish intake during pregnancy does not impact the cardiovascular health of children born to these mothers at 11 years of age.

Study: Maternal Seafood Consumption during Pregnancy and Cardiovascular Health of Children at 11 Years of Age. Image Credit: Tomsickova Tatyana / Shutterstock.com

Background

Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for about 18 million deaths each year, thus making them a leading cause of mortality worldwide. Many of these diseases can be prevented through the implementation of certain modifiable lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise.   

Recent evidence indicates that people who regularly consume fish are at a lower risk of developing cardiovascular complications. Fatty fish are a rich source of n-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and n-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which can positively impact the cardiovascular system through their anti-inflammatory, antiarrhythmic, and antihypertensive properties.

Consumption of a healthy diet during pregnancy is important for optimal fetal growth and development. In fact, the fetus is fully dependent on maternal dietary omega-3 for development.

Study design

The current longitudinal study enrolled 657 pregnant women who were monitored throughout their pregnancy until the birth of their child. All children born to these mothers were enrolled in the study at birth and followed up until they reached 11 to 12 years of age.

The women were asked to complete a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire to allow the researchers to assess their daily food intake during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. The cardiovascular health of the children born to these mothers was evaluated by arterial stiffness and retinal microcirculation.

Arterial stiffness was assessed by carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity. Retinal microcirculation was assessed by photographic measurement of the central retinal arteriolar and venular equivalent. Importantly, both arterial stiffness and retinal microcirculation are widely used parameters to assess cardiovascular outcomes.

Important observations

At baseline, about 88% of the women enrolled in the current study had normal pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) values. About 44% of children had one parent with a history of at least one cardiovascular event, including heart attack, angina, stroke, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension.

Women who reported high fish intake had significantly higher energy intake during pregnancy as compared to those with low fish intake. The median maternal total seafood consumption during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy were 451.9 and 433.8 g/week, respectively.

Children born to mothers with high fish intake during pregnancy similarly reported significantly higher fish intake. Notably, the distribution of genders among children born to mothers of different tertiles of fish consumption was similar.

The researchers did not identify any significant difference in the evaluated cardiovascular parameters between children born to mothers with higher and lower fish intake during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. Nevertheless, slightly higher arterial stiffness was observed in children whose mothers had a higher intake of canned tuna during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Study significance

Maternal fish intake during pregnancy does not appear to influence the cardiovascular health of children by 11 years of age. These observations align with many other studies that have reported no beneficial effect of fish intake during pregnancy on the cardiovascular health of children.

Significant limitations of the current study include the overall young and healthy status of the study participants, which may have prevented any significant differences from being observed among minor variances between these individuals. Furthermore, reduced pulse wave velocity is often reported in adults with pre-existing health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol that increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, the overall high levels of fish consumption reported in the study cohort may increase the risk that the children born to these mothers were exposed to higher levels of mercury, which would inevitably reduce the potential cardiovascular benefits associated with fish consumption. Other limitations include the observational nature of the study and the use of a food frequency questionnaire that is vulnerable to measurement errors.

Despite these limitations, the current study has several strengths, including the exploration of total fish intake and the intake of different types of seafood. Furthermore, the robust follow-up protocol allowed the researchers to measure cardiovascular endpoints in a pediatric population that is often understudied.

Journal reference:
  • Pinar-Martí, A., Fernandez-Barres, S., Lazaro, I., et al. (2024). Maternal Seafood Consumption during Pregnancy and Cardiovascular Health of Children at 11 Years of Age. Nutrients. doi:10.3390/nu16070974 

 

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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