Maternal seafood diet, methylmercury exposure, and neonatal neurologic function

Ulrike Steuerwald, P. Weihe, Poul J. Jørgensen, Kristian Bjerve, John Brock, Birger Heinzow, Esben Budtz-Jørgensen, Philippe Grandjean

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    318 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: To determine whether neonatal neurologic function is adversely affected by seafood contaminants from maternal diet during pregnancy.

    Study design: One hundred eighty-two singleton term births were evaluated in the Faeroe Islands, where marine food includes pilot whale. Maternal serum, hair, and milk and umbilical cord blood were analyzed for contaminants. Levels of essential fatty acids, selenium, and thyroid hormones were determined in cord blood. Each infant's neurologic optimality score was determined at 2 weeks of age adjusted for gestational age, and predictors were assessed by regression analysis.

    Results: Exposures to methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls were increased in relation to maternal seafood intake, as were ω3 fatty acid concentrations in cord serum. Thyroid function was normal. After adjustment for confounders, a 10-fold increase of the cord- blood mercury concentration was associated with a decreased neurologic optimality score of 2.0 (P = .03). This effect corresponds to a decrease in gestational age of about 3 weeks. Other indicators of the seafood diet had no effect on this outcome.

    Conclusions: Prenatal exposure to methylmercury from contaminated seafood was associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental deficit. Thus in this North Atlantic population, methylmercury constituted an important neurologic risk factor, although effects of other seafood components were not detectable.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)599-605
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of Pediatrics
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - May 2000


    • NOS
    • neurologic optimality score
    • PCB
    • polychlorinated biphenyl
    • ΣPCB
    • sum of polychlorinated biphenyl congeners


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