Funded by the European Commission, the HBM4EU-MOM project also aims to study the lifestyle habits and needs of pregnant women regarding fish consumption in five European countries - Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Iceland and Portugal - insofar as this consumption is associated exposure to mercury.
"What is intended is to have 130 women in each of the countries to have 650 women at European level and we can do a global analysis", said today to Lusa agency the researcher at INSA Sónia Namorado.
Since June, INSA has been inviting women aged between 18 and 44 who are pregnant for up to 20 weeks to participate in the study, but there have been "some recruitment difficulties" due to the pandemic situation, said the coordinator of the project at the national level.
"Although we try to make some dissemination through INSA's Facebook and the collaboration of some health centers, what they say is that women are delaying pregnancy planning, many of them because they are afraid of this pandemic situation", he said Sonia Boyfriend.
On the other hand, said the researcher, "some pregnant women, and it is understandable, are afraid to participate in the study because they want to minimize contacts during pregnancy, because it is a period when they feel they are more vulnerable and want to protect themselves and the baby".
“In this study, we conduct the telephone interview to minimize the time there is direct contact with the pregnant woman and also minimize the possible risks of covid-19”, he said, adding that they already have 45 participants.
Participants will be asked to provide a small hair sample to measure mercury levels and answer a questionnaire on dietary habits, lifestyle and health.
Sónia Matos explained that the harvest can be done at INSA and if necessary, the team travels to the residence. Anyone who wants to participate can get in touch with the team through the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
The research, which is being carried out "as part of a large European project", called the European Initiative for Human Biomonitoring, started in 2017, but was prolonged because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and should be completed by the end of the year.
"The objective of this initiative is to try to understand how we are exposed to chemicals and what the consequences of this exposure may be on our health," he explained.
According to the researcher, there are “huge chemicals” that populations are exposed to, but not all of them will be equally hazardous to health.
“It is known that exposure to mercury comes from the already existing mercury contamination in the environment around us, but the main source of exposure is through food, more specifically from the consumption of fish”, he stressed.
However, he stressed, “Fish is very good for your health and, therefore, there has to be a balance between the two things. The question that arises is: Do we eat the fish and what levels of mercury do we have afterwards? Are they low levels and we don't need to do anything? Or are they higher levels?”
Chronic exposure to mercury is associated with the occurrence of changes in the central nervous system, kidneys and liver, as well as ophthalmological or dermatological syndromes, as well as changes in the immune system, blood pressure and heart rate.
The problem with pregnant women, the most vulnerable group, is that the mercury that exists in their body will also exist in the baby's body, he said.
“By participating in the project, women will not only have the opportunity to know their exposure to mercury, they will also be contributing to the collection of data at the population level that could have effects on health and environmental policies”, said Sónia Namorado .