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Salmon and pregnancy: a dangerous combination?

Smoked or raw salmon should not be eaten during the gestation period. The risk of doing so is very high and it is not worth it. This is not the case with cooked salmon, as the preparation process is different and eliminates any bacteria that could be dangerous.

Concerns about what can or cannot be consumed during this period is very common among pregnant women. It is important to know that raw or smoked salmon is potentially dangerous and that it is not a myth, it is a proven fact.

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Salmon and pregnancy: a dangerous combination?

Smoked or raw salmon and pregnancy are a dangerous combination. Symptoms in the mother can be very mild or even go unnoticed a few hours after consumption, but the effects on the baby can be very serious in some cases.

Although it is an issue that still generates confusion today, the truth about this is that smoked salmon is fish raw, and this makes it one of the forbidden foods during pregnancy along with other types of meat raw.

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Why is smoked salmon contraindicated and cooked salmon not?

Smoked salmon is potentially harmful because it is raw. On the contrary, cooked salmon is out of risk, because cooking it and exposing it to high temperatures kills dangerous bacteria.

Like raw meats or other smoked products, smoked salmon can carry bacteria or parasites. These can affect the mother and even the baby.

Some studies have tried to show that smoked products are safe for pregnancy. They conclude that parasites and bacteria cannot survive more than 14 months in food.

But most doctors do not advise and even prohibit the consumption of smoked salmon. Not so with cooked salmon, as it actually provides omega 3, which benefits both mother and baby.

Due to these differences that can cause confusion, and is that cooked salmon can be consumed in pregnancy. Another option is to freeze. Whether it is smoked or not, freezing kills all parasites and bacteria.

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Problems derived from the consumption of smoked salmon

Consuming smoked or raw salmon can cause listeriosis or anisakis. Either of these two diseases are potentially dangerous for both mother and baby. For this reason, certain foods are discouraged during the gestation period.

Either of these two infections can be fatal to the baby. In both cases, the mother may have mild or severe symptoms, but there are usually no serious consequences. The main problem lies in the damage to the baby.

1. Listeriosis

Listeria is a bacteria found in water and in raw meat and fish, vegetables and fruits, and milk.. If any of these are not washed properly (or cooked in the case of meat and fish), you can get listeriosis.

Listeriosis can cause slight symptoms in the mother after consuming contaminated food. In some cases it causes fever, diarrhea, dizziness, and muscle and headaches.

However the real problem is for the baby. It can cause fetal death or premature delivery. Another possibility is that it causes septicemia, which is an infection that causes sequelae. Thus, it is important that if the mother presents any type of discomfort she immediately go to the doctor.

On these occasions, studies must be carried out to confirm the diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate antibiotics. This allows to fight the infection in early stages avoiding further complications.

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2. Anisakis

Another risk of consuming smoked or raw salmon is the contagion of anisakis. Although anisakis is not as harmful to the baby as listeriosis can be, any infection during it can lead to complications that are best avoided.

Anisakis is a worm that can cause a serious stomach infection. Although this is not serious for the baby, it can be for the mother and can even put the pregnancy at risk if the infection progresses and worsens.

These worms lodge in the intestines once infected fish have been eaten, causing digestive problems or allergies. In mild cases, the infection can be treated with antibiotics and antihistamines, eliminating all risk to mother and baby.

However, this stomach infection caused by anisakis has come to cause peritonitis or intestinal obstruction. In these cases, a surgical intervention is required that puts the pregnancy at high risk.

The risk of infection to the mother is reason enough to prevent this worm from entering the body, since it compromises the health of the mother and the child.

Prevention measures

The best prevention is to eliminate the consumption of smoked or raw salmon during pregnancy. This food can be substituted for cooked salmon that does not represent a greater risk. Another suggestion is to prepare the smoked salmon by also cooking it.

Some doctors and midwives suggest that to consume smoked or raw salmon, it is frozen before for three days. In this way the risks of contracting anisakis or listeriosis are eliminated. However, there are those who still advise against its consumption.

For these reasons, the best recommendation is to avoid or eliminate its consumption throughout the gestation and lactation period. It is best to talk with your doctor and follow his recommendations so as not to run any unnecessary risk.

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Bibliographic references

  • Audicana, M.T. and Kennedy, M.W. (2008). Anisakis Simplex: From Obscure Infectious Worm to Inducer of Immune Hypersensitivity. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 21 (2), 360–379.

  • Berger, S.A. and Marr, J.S. (2006). Human Parasitic Diseases Sourcebook. Jones and Bartlett Publishers: Sudbury, Massachusetts.

  • Montalto, M., Miele, L., Marcheggiano, A., Santoro, L., Curigliano, V., Vastola, M. and Gasbarrini, G. (2005). Anisakis infestation: a case of acute abdomen mimicking Crohn's disease and eosinophilic gastroenteritis. Digestive and Liver Disease, 37 (1), 62–64.
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