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Neuroscience For Kids

Mercury in Canned Tuna
December 7, 2010

Fish has sometimes been called "brain food" because it is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. One favorite fish for many people is canned tuna. But with its health benefits, canned tuna may also have health risks because it contains mercury.

Mercury, especially methylmercury, is a neurotoxin. Mercury is especially dangerous to developing babies because this chemical can cross the placenta and the blood-brain barrier. Children exposed to mercury may be born with symptoms resembling cerebral palsy, spasticity and other movement abnormalities, convulsions, visual problems and abnormal reflexes. Mercury can also affect brain development by preventing neurons from finding their appropriate place in the brain.

A new survey by Consumer Reports (January, 2011) shows that only one or two servings of canned tuna can provide children and young women with more mercury than advised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Consumer Reports bought 42 samples of cans and pouches of tuna. Test results of these samples showed:

A young woman who eats just one serving (2.5 oz) of white tuna or two servings of light tuna would exceed the daily safety level for mercury set by the EPA. Because of the high content of canned tuna, Consumer Reports recommends that young women and children should limit the amount of canned tuna they eat. They also advise women who are pregnant to avoid canned tuna completely.

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