Fish consumption, methylmercury and child neurodevelopment

Curr Opin Pediatr. 2008 Apr;20(2):178-83. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e3282f5614c.


Purpose of review: To summarize recent evidence regarding associations of early life exposure to mercury from maternal fish consumption during pregnancy, thimerosal in vaccines and dental amalgam with child neurodevelopment.

Recent findings: Recent publications have built upon previous evidence demonstrating mild detrimental neurocognitive effects from prenatal methylmercury exposure from maternal fish consumption during pregnancy. New studies examining the effects of prenatal fish consumption as well as methylmercury suggest there are benefits from prenatal fish consumption, but also that consumption of fish high in mercury should be avoided. Future studies incorporating information on both the methylmercury and the docosahexaenoic acid contained within fish will help to refine recommendations to optimize outcomes for mothers and children. Additional recent studies have supported the safety of vaccines containing thimerosal and of dental amalgam for repair of dental caries in children.

Summary: Exposure to mercury may harm child development. Interventions intended to reduce exposure to low levels of mercury in early life must, however, be carefully evaluated in consideration of the potential attendant harm from resultant behavior changes, such as reduced docosahexaenoic acid exposure from lower seafood intake, reduced uptake of childhood vaccinations and suboptimal dental care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Dental Amalgam / poisoning
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Female
  • Fishes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / drug effects
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / etiology*
  • Methylmercury Compounds / metabolism
  • Methylmercury Compounds / poisoning*
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / chemically induced
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / poisoning
  • Seafood / poisoning*
  • Thimerosal / poisoning
  • United States
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency / standards
  • United States Food and Drug Administration / standards
  • Vaccines / poisoning
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / poisoning


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • Vaccines
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Thimerosal
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Dental Amalgam