Is it safe to eat sushi at 39 weeks pregnant? (Dangers)
In this brief guide, we will answer the question “Is it safe to eat sushi at 39 weeks pregnant?”. We will also discuss why sushi is unsafe during pregnancy.
Is it safe to eat sushi at 39 weeks pregnant?
No, it is not safe to eat sushi at 39 weeks pregnant. Seafood-related foodborne illnesses primarily come from the consumption of raw or undercooked seafood like in sushi preparations.
Typically, shellfish are responsible for a higher number of seafood-related infections compared to finfish, as finfish are typically consumed in a fully cooked state. Pathogens linked to the consumption of seafood encompass noroviruses, Vibrionaceae, Salmonella bacteria species, and certain helminthic and protozoan species. (1)
Why might sushi be dangerous?
Sushi is frequently considered a potentially dangerous food due to the inclusion of raw fish and seafood. While parasitic infestation is a primary concern related to sushi consumption, there are other significant issues to be aware of, including:
Contamination with heavy metals
Sushi can be contaminated with heavy metals, with mercury being a prominent concern, especially in predatory fish where it often appears as methylmercury. In sushi, the red algae called nori is commonly used. It’s worth noting that nori also contains significant amounts of cadmium and arsenic, which are heavy metals. (2)
Contamination with bacteria
Sushi, when not subjected to heat treatment, can easily become tainted by pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Bacillus cereus, and Staphylococcus aureus. This absence of heat treatment poses a potential health risk (2)
These amines are produced when amino acids undergo decarboxylation. One common biogenic amine is histamine, which can cause scombroid fish poisoning. It is especially associated with fish from the Scombroidae and Scomberesocidae families like tuna.
Apart from histamine, there are other biogenic amines such as tyramine, putrescine, and cadaverine that can be potentially toxic and may worsen the adverse effects of histamine while forming carcinogenic nitrosamines. (2)
What are fish benefits during pregnancy?
Regular consumption of fish during pregnancy has shown positive associations with birth weight and cognitive function in children while demonstrating a lower likelihood of food allergies and eczema development. Seafood is a rich source of proteins, essential vitamins, fatty acids, and trace elements.
Consuming seafood has been linked to a reduced risk of various diseases in adults. Notably, the consumption of fatty fish has been inversely related to the risk of coronary heart disease and overall mortality. Fish and other seafood are nutritionally beneficial, serving as primary dietary sources of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
Ensuring an adequate intake of these omega-3 PUFAs during pregnancy, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is crucial for optimal fetal neurodevelopment and may offer protection against other adverse perinatal and long-term outcomes. (3, 4)
What are the symptoms of contaminated fish?
Pathogens linked to the consumption of seafood encompass noroviruses, Vibrionaceae, Salmonella (bacteria) species, and certain helminthic and protozoan species.
Parasitic infections can manifest in a spectrum of symptoms, from mild gastrointestinal issues to severe conditions like nutritional deficiencies, anemia, liver diseases, and bowel obstructions, all of which can significantly impact pregnant women.
In cases of bacterial contamination, the impact is typically confined to the gastrointestinal tract and often resolves on its own. Treatment primarily focuses on ensuring proper fluid and electrolyte balance. Commonly used antibiotics like penicillins, cephalosporins, and fluoroquinolones do not pose an elevated risk of birth defects or other adverse pregnancy outcomes. (1, 5)
What are the symptoms of heavy metal contamination?
MethylMercury, a well-established neurotoxin, poses significant risks to the developing fetal brain due to its high vulnerability. A high intake of cadmium is associated with various health issues. These include damage to the renal tubules, skeletal problems, osteoporosis, and an increased risk of certain cancers like breast, bladder, endometrial, and lung cancer.
Exposure to inorganic arsenic carries serious health risks, including cancer, gastrointestinal injuries, and coronary heart disease. Dietary exposure to nickel can potentially cause harm to various bodily systems, including the kidneys, liver, and reproductive system.
It is important to note that while nickel is recognized as a carcinogen, this specific effect predominantly occurs through inhalation rather than oral ingestion. This means that the risks associated with orally consumed nickel primarily revolve around fetal development, impacting factors such as skeletal development, fetal weight, and even mortality.
Consuming lead orally is connected to chronic kidney disease, elevated blood pressure, and, notably, reduced cognitive and intellectual development in both adults and children. The developmental neurotoxicity of lead exposure during childhood and infancy is a particularly concerning consequence of dietary lead exposure. (2, 4)
Is there a way to safely consume sushi during pregnancy?
Yes. Seafood intended for human consumption undergoes rigorous screening for microbial contamination, enhancing the safety of commercially available products. Cooking is the most reliable method to deactivate parasites, although flash-freezing is also effective and is commonly employed for sushi-grade fish.
If pregnant women source their raw fish from reputable establishments, ensure proper storage, and consume it promptly, there’s no need to avoid it. However, they should limit their intake of high-mercury fish and shellfish, such as fresh tuna and yellowtail. Instead, they can opt for low-mercury alternatives like salmon, crab, and shrimp, which can be enjoyed more frequently. (1)
In this brief guide, we will answer the question “Is it safe to eat sushi at 39 weeks pregnant?”. We will also discuss why sushi is unsafe during pregnancy. In my studies, I was able to uncover why sushi is not advised at any stage of pregnancy. In my perspective the risks posed by raw fish make it very unsafe to consume by pregnant women. In the case of sushi consumption, tuna and similar fish should be avoided.
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TAM, Carolyn; EREBARA, Aida; EINARSON, Adrienne. Food-borne illnesses during pregnancy: prevention and treatment. Canadian Family Physician, v. 56, n. 4, p. 341-343, 2010.
KULAWIK, Piotr et al. Heavy metal contamination, microbiological spoilage and biogenic amine content in sushi available on the Polish market. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, v. 98, n. 7, p. 2809-2815, 2018.
STRÅVIK, Mia et al. Biomarkers of seafood intake during pregnancy–Pollutants versus fatty acids and micronutrients. Environmental Research, v. 225, p. 115576, 2023.
BLOOMINGDALE, Arienne et al. A qualitative study of fish consumption during pregnancy. The American journal of clinical nutrition, v. 92, n. 5, p. 1234-1240, 2010.
JONES, J. L. et al. Sushi in Pregnancy, Parasitic Diseases–Obstetrician Survey. Zoonoses and public health, v. 58, n. 2, p. 119-125, 2011.