Here are excerpts from the abstract of this interesting new review of the scientific evidence on fish consumption and health, including gender-based distinctions in advice.
In response to growing public concern in recent years regarding the presence of chemical contaminants in fish as well as emerging evidence on the multiple nutritional benefits of including fish in the diet, FAO and WHO convened a Joint Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption in January 2010. The tasks of the Expert Consultation were to review data on levels of nutrients (long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) and specific chemical contaminants (methylmercury and dioxins) in a range of fish species and to compare the health benefits of fish consumption and nutrient intake with the health risks associated with contaminants present in fish.
Consumption of fish provides energy, protein and a range of other important nutrients, including the long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCn3PUFAs).
Among the general adult population, consumption of fish, particularly fatty fish, lowers the risk of mortality from coronary heart disease. There is an absence of probable or convincing evidence of risk of coronary heart disease associated with methylmercury. Potential cancer risks associated with dioxins are well below established coronary heart disease benefits from fish consumption. When comparing the benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids with the risks of methylmercury among women of childbearing age, maternal fish consumption lowers the risk of suboptimal neurodevelopment in their offspring compared with the offspring of women not eating fish in most circumstances evaluated. At levels of maternal exposure to dioxins (from fish and other dietary sources) that do not exceed the provisional tolerable monthly intake of 70 pg/kg body weight. Neurodevelopmental risk for the fetus is negligible. At levels of maternal exposure to dioxins (from fish and other dietary sources) that exceed the provisional tolerable montly intake, neurodevelopmental risk for the fetus may no longer be negligible.
Among infants, young children and adolescents, the available data are currently insufficient to derive a quantitative framework of the health risks and health benefits of eating fish. However, healthy dietary patterns that include fish consumption and are established early in life influence dietary habits and health during adult life.