Achieving a Healthy Pregnancy (adapted from the seminar “Achieving a Whole Pregnancy: Bringing Holism into Birth” by Joel M. Evans, M.D.Because pregnancy is physically demanding, it’s useful to think about reasonable changes to diet and lifestyle that you might make in order to improve your general health and well-being and prepare the way for pregnancy.
- Reducing your chemical load: When you eat foods that have a lot of additives and preservatives, you consume chemicals that are more difficult for the body to break down.
If you want to begin your pregnancy with your body functioning as well as it can, it’s better to eat foods with fewer chemicals. Overall, that means eating whole grains and five to seven daily servings of (preferably organic) fruits and vegetables, and avoiding foods with artificial sweeteners as well as packaged foods (like snack foods) with a long shelf life. And, if possible, detox before pregnancy!
- Preparing for pregnancy: Once you become pregnant, you need more vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, folic acid, choline, and the omega-3 fatty acids (EPA-DHA). How important is detoxification/reducing your chemical load and increasing your vitamins, minerals and fatty acids? Of the 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. Fetuses of women who ate an “imprudent” diet (including high intakes of chips/crisps, sugar, confectionary, white bread, soft drinks, and red meat and low intakes of fruit/vegetables, rice/pasta, yogurt, and wholemeal bread) had reduced ductus venosus shunting and increased liver blood flow, which have longer-term detrimental
consequences for lipid and clotting factor homeostasis. Recent research has established that acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer, and the second most common cause of mortality in children aged 1-14 years, can originate in utero, and thus maternal diet may be an important risk factor for ALL. Nutritional roles of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and neonatal development reported positive effects of omega 3’s in pregnancy: promote brain and eye development, encourage fetal weight gain, reduce preterm labor, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, increase the nutritional value of breast milk, impact the immune system to decrease childhood atopy, allergy and asthma stabilize mood and prevent depression. Choline, is a vitamin that is a precursor for acetylcholine, phospholipids, and betaine. It is required for the structural integrity of cell membranes, cholinergic neurotransmission, lipid and cholesterol metabolism, and transmembrane signaling. Rat studies show significant improvements in memory and brain development. Dietary intakes of choline were associated with reduced neural tube defect (NTD) risks. NTD risk estimates were lowest for women whose diets were rich in choline, folic acid, betaine, and methionine. Pregnancy and lactation are periods when maternal reserves of choline are depleted. At the same time, the availability of choline for normal development of brain is critical. Thus, memory function in the aged is, in part, determined by what mother ate during her pregnancy. Folic Acid, also known as folate, is a nutrient in the B-complex vitamin group (there are eight B vitamins altogether). It has been shown to reduce the rate of fetal abnormalities, particularly defects to the brain and spinal cord such as spina bifida (an opening in the spine), by 50 to 70 percent. It also reduces the recurrence rate of these defects in subsequent children by as much as 80 percent. In addition, animal studies have shown that prenatal folic acid reduces the incidence of childhood cancers. Folic acid also offers important health benefits to adults, lowering the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, depression, and abnormal Pap smears. Because the spinal column and brain begin to develop almost immediately after conception, it’s ideal to have been taking folic acid while trying to conceive — no matter how long it takes. However, if you haven’t been taking prenatal vitamins while trying to conceive, increasing your folic acid right after you learn you’re pregnant is still a good idea for you and your developing child. Calcium, as you may already know, you and your baby both need calcium for strong teeth and bones. But calcium does more than build healthy bones—among other things, it helps the body maintain regular circulation, muscle action, and nerve function. Since the baby will take the calcium he needs from you no matter what, you need to replenish your own stores of the nutrient.