In last weeks post, I discussed the foods and substances that both men and women should avoid before pregnancy in Part 1: Preconception Health 101: What to Avoid Before You Get Pregnant. Part 2 will focus on what to include before you get pregnant.
Did you know that nutrition, stress and toxic exposure during preconception and pregnancy, can affect the health of your family for up to four generations (1)? This phenomenon, known as epigenetics, explains how changes in gene activity can occur without changing our DNA. Ways that you can influence your genes is what you put on the end of your fork. Your fork is so powerful it not only transports food to your mouth, it can be used as a genetic on and off switch to alter and influence the health of you and your baby. Your fork is literally the most powerful instrument there is.
Research has shown that certain birth defects can be traced to nutritional deficiencies prior to conception (1) and improving the nutrition of girls and women could prevent common chronic diseases in future generations (2). These facts highlight the astounding effect of your choices during preconception and pregnancy.
Making empowered choices
What follows are some steps that you can make to improve your reproductive health and prepare your body for conception. Men are definitely included here and are often the overlooked piece of the fertility puzzle. Preconception health is about both parents.
3 factors that shape your baby, their life and the lives of their children:
- The quality and quantity of nutrition that you eat
- The pollutants, drugs, and infections that you expose your body to during foetal development
- The stress level and state of mind that you adopt while pregnant
Nutritional choices before pregnancy
If you are planning to get pregnant or trying to get pregnant, then nutrition and lifestyle choices play a significant role. Focus on what you can do to improve your preconception health. Preconception health has as much to do with preparation as pregnancy, motherhood, and fatherhood.
Below are some recommendations for how you can improve your health and prepare your body for pregnancy. I always encourage food first when thinking about nutrient intake. There is no replacement for healthy food and its role in optimal health. However, a good quality prenatal supplement can act as a bridge when trying to meet a therapeutic level of specific nutrients.
Start with food first
Focus on foods that are the highest in each nutrient to promote preconception health. Check out the Bloom Guide for a list of each nutrient involved in promoting preconception health.
Make sure that the food you eat maintains a Low Glycemic Index of Macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, protein). The Glycemic Index (GI) is a way to measure the impact of food on your glucose (sugar) levels. A good ratio to use is 40% Carbohydrates, 30% Fat, and 30% Protein. A Low Glycemic Index ratio is associated with decreased risks of major chronic disease like diabetes and metabolic syndrome. It also helps to regulate your blood sugar for maintained energy and fewer cravings.
Detoxification support (3)
First phase detoxification
We all have two main phases of detoxification in our liver. The first phase requires nutrients like vitamins A, E, C, B3, B6, B9, and B12, minerals and antioxidants like copper, selenium, zinc, manganese, and CoQ10, glutathione, flavonoids, and phospholipids (choline and serine), and thiols, as well as branched chain amino acids (lysine, valine, and iosleucine) to make toxins that are fat-soluble into water-soluble toxins, which happens in phase II of your liver detox.
Second phase detoxification
The second phase detoxification requires the amino acids glycine, taurine, glutamine, N-acetylcysteine, cysteine, and methioine. All of these nutrients work together to make sure that any toxic exposure that you have, whether internal (endogenous) or external (exogenous), is filtered through your liver and excreted. These nutrients are found in foods that you commonly eat, but I’ve highlighted foods that have the highest nutrient density in the Bloom Guide. Remember, you don’t have to be perfectly systematic in your eating, but you do need to be consistent. Consistency leads to sustainability.
Methylation vitamin and mineral co-factors include; B vitamins, iron, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids, as well as sulphur-based amino acids, l-methionine and l-cysteine. The easiest way to think of methylation is to think of it like activation. In order for healthy activation, you need co-factors (or necessary parts) to ensure that your body can detox more effectively, make neurotransmitters, make energy in your cells, improve your cardiovascular system health, and decrease uric acid build-up.
Uric acid is a chemical that breaks down purines in your body. If purine levels get too high, then you can get sick. We also know that poor methylation is associated with infertility and miscarriage. The co-factors highlighted above can be found in food form in the Bloom Guide. Don’t worry about exact serving sizes and nutrient intake, but rather choose foods from each food group daily. You are looking for wholesome intake, not perfection. Your body will be able to rebalance without perfection.
Include a rainbow of foods daily to ensure proper phytonutrient intake: phytonutrients help keep a plant’s vitality strong, there are thousands that we know about and thousands that we still are learning about—but the thing to remember is that they improve the vitality to those who intake them as well. Think red/orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, white/tan foods—try for at least one food from each colour daily.
Antioxidant is a word that is thrown around all the time. But, what do we mean when we say antioxidant? Antioxidants are your body’s security and protection team. They help fight off damage that is happening to your body internally (endogenous), or externally (exogenous). Commonly known antioxidants are vitamins A, E, and C, as well as the minerals selenium, copper, zinc, and manganese. In the Bloom Guide, I’ve listed top foods that are rich in these nutrients. Try for antioxidant focus foods daily. Again, remember that consistency is perfection.
Eat probiotics and probiotic-rich foods
Probiotics are necessary and healthy bacteria that help your gut stay happy and balanced. These friendly bacteria are a crucial part to nutrient absorption. Without them, you decrease your ability to keep yourself healthy. Did you know that over 70% of your immunity comes from your gut lining? When you don’t support the health of your intestinal tract your susceptibility to all toxicity becomes a problem for you. Stand up for your gut health and take action by choosing fermented foods that are known to have a 100 times more friendly bacteria than found in supplements. Check out the Bloom Guide for your probiotic-rich foods.
Cook with herbs and spices
Herbs and spices help to decrease free radical damage done to your body, and promote balance along your digestive tract, while supporting your detoxification pathways. Choose to include herbs and spices whenever you can.
A word about inflammatory foods
Avoid foods that cause increased inflammation and have known associations with common food sensitivities and allergies such as; wheat and gluten, corn, and cow dairy. These will put an extra strain on your digestive system, particularly the lining of your gut. Remember, the gut is the engine to your immune system functioning optimally.
What happens when food is not enough to address your individual nutrient needs? Maybe the increased need comes from an unhealthy balance that has been happening in your life for a long time, or from increased nutrient needs, like during pregnancy, that can’t be addressed with food alone?
As mentioned before, there is absolutely no way that supplements will beat out nature, and the beautiful nutrient rich food that it creates for us. But, when you can’t get all of the right foods in, or your individual health (preconception/pregnancy) needs require higher nutrient levels than found in food, that’s when a prenatal supplement acts as a bridge. See the Bloom Guide for 6 things to look out for when choosing a prenatal.
- Eat a balanced macronutrient (carbohydrate/fat/protein ratio) diet
- Support your detoxification pathways by including a rainbow of foods daily and increasing protein intake
- Include antioxidants into your daily eating
- Increase your colourful fruit and vegetable intake – eat the rainbow
- Add gut supportive nutrients to improve your nutrient absorption
- Avoid foods that increase inflammation
- Meet your methylation (activation) needs by choosing foods that are high in B vitamins, iron, zinc, omega 3-fatty acids, l-methionine, and l-cysteine
- Add in plenty of herbs and spices
- Take a prenatal supplement
All of this will create a balanced and holistic approach that will improve your reproductive health. What you do now will have long-term health affects for you and your family. That is an amazing and empowering fact. You have the tools. Go implement them.
“What you find at the end of your fork is more powerful than anything you’ll find at the bottom of a pill bottle.” – Dr Mark Hyman MD
(1) Yao, Y., Robinson, A.M., Zucchi, F.C. et al. Ancestral exposure to stress epigenetically programs preterm birth risk and adverse maternal and newborn outcomes. BMC Med12, 121 (2014).
(2) https://www.prb.org/nutritionofwomenandadolescentgirlswhyitmatters/ Accessed 18/6/20
(3) 2: Bland, J, et al, Environment and Toxicity, Liver detoxification pathways and supportive nutrients, Figure 9.3, Clinical Nutrition: A Functional Approach, Institute For Functional Medicine, Gig Harbor, WA, 2004, 254