Biomarkers of seafood intake during pregnancy - Pollutants versus fatty acids and micronutrients

Environ Res. 2023 May 15:225:115576. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2023.115576. Epub 2023 Mar 5.


Intake of fish and seafood during pregnancy may have certain beneficial effects on fetal development, but measurement of intake using questionnaires is unreliable. Here, we assessed several candidate biomarkers of seafood intake, including long-chain omega 3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA), selenium, iodine, methylmercury, and different arsenic compounds, in 549 pregnant women (gestational week 29) in the prospective birth cohort NICE (Nutritional impact on Immunological maturation during Childhood in relation to the Environment). Proportions of the fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in erythrocytes were measured using gas chromatography with flame ionization detector. Selenium was measured in blood plasma and erythrocytes, mercury and arsenic in erythrocytes, and iodine and several arsenic compounds in urine, using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, arsenic compounds after first being separated by ion exchange high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Each biomarker was related to intake of total seafood and to intake of fatty and lean fish, and shellfish in third trimester, estimated from a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire filled out in gestational week 34. The pregnant women reported a median total seafood intake of 184 g/week (5th-95th percentiles: 34-465 g/week). This intake correlated most strongly with erythrocyte mercury concentrations (rho = 0.49, p < 0.001), consisting essentially of methylmercury, followed by total arsenic in erythrocytes (rho = 0.34, p < 0.001), and arsenobetaine in urine (rho = 0.33, p < 0.001), the main form of urinary arsenic. These biomarkers correlated well with intake of both fatty fish, lean fish, and shellfish. Erythrocyte DHA and plasma selenium correlated, although weakly, mainly with fatty fish (rho = 0.25 and 0.22, respectively, both p < 0.001). In conclusion, elevated concentrations of erythrocyte mercury and urinary arsenobetaine can be useful indicators of seafood intake, more so than the n-3 LCPUFAs. However, the relative importance of the biomarkers may differ depending on the type and amount of seafood consumed.

Keywords: Arsenic; Fatty acids; Fish; Mercury; Pregnancy; Seafood biomarkers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic*
  • Arsenicals*
  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants*
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3*
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Humans
  • Iodine* / urine
  • Mercury*
  • Methylmercury Compounds*
  • Micronutrients
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Seafood
  • Selenium*


  • arsenobetaine
  • Arsenic
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Fatty Acids
  • Selenium
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Micronutrients
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Arsenicals
  • Mercury
  • Iodine
  • Biomarkers