Mercury Exposure May Lead To ADHD

By Amir Khan on October 9, 2012 10:34 AM EDT

Cuttlefish
Exposure to mercury in the womb can lead to ADHD, according to researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital. (Photo: Flickr.com/Tom Weilenmann)

Exposure to mercury in the womb can lead to ADHD, according to researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital. However, while fish is the main culprit of prenatal mercury exposure, researchers found that more fish consumption, not less, can curb the effect.

"How much fish you eat is not equivalent to how much mercury you are exposed to," Dr. Susan Korrick, study author and researcher with Brigham and Women's Hospital, told ABC News. "I think the public health conclusion that I would come to is that one can benefit from fish consumption, but it's important to try to consume fish that are low in mercury."

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Researchers examined the mercury levels of more than 400 women 10 days after they gave birth between 1993 and 1998 and asked them to fill out a survey of their fish consumption. When the children were eight, the researchers tested them for signs of ADHD, which include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

Researchers could not identify which fish the women ate, but said that the women who consumed more fish than average had children who exhibited less ADHD symptoms, as long as the fish was low in mercury.

Fish high in mercury include shark, swordfish and fresh tuna, according to the study. A healthier choice is salmon, rainbow trout or herring, which are all low in mercury and high in healthy fats.

Researchers said the findings show how paradoxical fish consumption can be.

"It's elegantly showing the paradoxical paradigm that it's both good for you and bad for you," Christina Chambers, a researcher with the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists' Collaborative Research Center in San Diego, told ABC News.

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"They're finding the kids are slightly above average in the number of symptoms," Richard Gallegher, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone, told ABC News. "They [the ADHD symptoms] can certainly impact how well kids are tending to things in school."

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