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Dr. Tori Hudson, Portland, Oregon, Blog Healthline Blog

Gas maskA recent study found that 55.8% of women who were aged 16 to 49 had blood levels of lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that exceeded the average. Data was collected between 1999 and 2004 from 3,173 women in this age group. The survey was designed in such a way that it was representative of the 134.5 million women of childbearing age in the U.S. The researchers were able to identify four main risk factors associated with toxic burden on the body: Age, fish consumption, heavy alcohol consumption and breastfeeding. Women aged 30 to 39 had a 12 fold greater risk and women aged 40 to 49 had a 30 fold greater risk than 16 to 19 y.o. women, of exceeding the average blood level in 2 or more pollutants. Consuming fish more than once per week in the previous 30 days quadrupled the odds of having two or more xenobiotic levels at or above the average compared to women who had no fish consumption. In particular, fish consumption correlated significantly to mercury and PCBs. Heavy alcohol consumption and/or binge drinking also increased relative risk of the three neurotoxicants when compared to women who had never or seldom drank during the study period; and, women who had breastfed at least one child for at least one month were 44% less likely to have two or more neurotoxins at or above the average when compared to those who had never breast fed.

Comments: This study is concerning on many fronts– our waterways are polluted and women of reproductive age are being significantly affected by mercury, lead and PCBs; and… they are passing on these neurotoxins to their breastfed babies. As women age, there is an increasing level of body burden of at least these 3 neurotoxins, and likely continue to accumulate these neurotoxins beyond reproductive age. More than 20% of these women of child-bearing age had these three neurotoxins, mercury, lead and PCBs at or above the average. Another 33% had two neurotoxins at or above the average.

So….do we stop eating fish? I think it’s appropriate to keep the fish intake at once per week.  The problem is, this is an insufficient amount of omega-3 intake, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Fortunately, there is a great solution— purified fish oils tested for contaminants such as lead, mercury and PCBs and removed if present to none or below harmful levels. Assure a pure and fresh fish oil source and certificates of analysis to prove it!

It’s more than distressing, that as a people occupying this beautiful earth, and supposed stewards of it, we have managed to harm it in oh so many ways, and I am afraid that this study only scratches the surface.


Thompson M, Boekelheide K. Multiple environmental chemical exposures to lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls among childbearing-aged women. (NHANES 1999-2004): body burden and risk factors. Environ Res. 2012. Epub ahead of print.

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