Researchers now believe the nine months we spend in the womb determines our lifelong health known as the Developmental Origins Hypothesis. Numerous well designed studies have substantiated that the mother’s nutritional status leading up to and during pregnancy affects her baby’s health not only at birth and during early childhood, but for the rest of his or her life. This leads us to the obvious conclusion that proper maternal nutrition is crucial for boosting fertility and ensuring lifelong health for our children.
Mainstream medicine tells us the best diet during pregnancy is one that’s rich in whole grains and low in fat and animal protein. This is misguided advice that dieticians have been giving to the general public for decades. The fact is, humans ate without grains for the vast majority of our evolutionary history, and it wasn’t till the agricultural revolution approximately 11,000 years ago that grains became a staple in the American diet. Unfortunately, our biology was not adapted to eating these foods which are full of toxins (lectins, phytic acid, etc.) and have a deleterious effect on our health. This move to a grain based diet, was the beginning of the degeneration of our health and development of many of the modern chronic diseases we now accept as normal. Anthropological studies clearly show the skeletal breakdown that occurred once this new diet was adopted.
Perhaps the more appropriate question is whether the Standard American Diet is safe. Infertility rates are already high, and they’re increasing at an alarming rate. 1 in 7 women today have trouble conceiving, and a recent study in the U.K. predicted that number could more than double (to 1 in 3) by 2020. While there are probably several reasons for this dramatic increase in infertility, the Standard American Diet is almost certainly one of the most important.
When you study the eating habits of Traditional cultures that were the healthiest, they had certain dietary characteristic in common. I would like to recommend some specific foods for fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding that will greatly enhance and support the mother’s and the baby’s health.
- Liver – Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It’s loaded with fat soluble vitamins like retinol (preformed vitamin A) that are crucial for reproductive health, and difficult to obtain elsewhere in the diet. Liver is also a great source of highly absorbable iron, which helps prevent miscarriage and maternal anemia, and B12, which is required for proper formation of red blood cells and DNA. Liver is also a good source of bioavailable protein, zinc, and folate.
- Egg yolks – Like liver, egg yolks could be considered “nature’s multivitamin”. But they are especially rich in a nutrient many people have never heard of: choline. Studies suggest that 86% of women don’t get enough choline in their diet. This is significant because choline helps protect against neural tube defects (possibly better than folic acid). It also plays an important role in brain development, helping to form cholinergic neurons and the connections between these neurons that are so crucial in the first few years of life.
- Cold-water, fatty fish – Seafood is the exclusive food source of the long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. DHA is particularly important for fertility and pregnancy. It is preferentially incorporated into the rapidly developing brain during pregnancy and the first two years of infancy, concentrating in the grey matter and eyes. It’s also crucial to the formation of neurons, which are the functional cells in the brain, and to protecting the brain from oxidative damage. Salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines are excellent sources of DHA.
- Cod liver oil – Cod liver oil is a sacred fertility and pregnancy food that is one of the highest dietary sources of vitamin A. It also has more vitamin D per unit weight than any other food. Vitamin D is crucial to fertility and pregnancy, and studies show that up to 50% of women are deficient in it. Vitamin D promotes proper development of the bones, especially during the 3rd trimester when the fetal skeleton begins to grow rapidly. Cod liver oil is also a good source of the long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. ( I recommend fermented cod liver oil by Green Pastures because it is the only one that is not heated, thus retaining all its nutrients).
- Grass–fed dairy – Dairy is a great choice for fertility and pregnancy for those who tolerate it well. Dairy is rich in saturated fat, which is especially beneficial for fertility. It’s also a good source of the fat-soluble vitamins (A,D, K2 & E) and a healthy, natural trans-fat (not to be confused with the artificial trans-fats, which are harmful) conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Fermented dairy products – like yogurt and kefir – are also great sources of beneficial bacteria. This is important because a baby’s first exposure to bacteria is in his/her mother’s birth canal, and the mother’s gut health has a significant influence on the lifelong health of her baby.
There are also foods to that are essential to avoid if trying to get pregnant, or if already pregnant. They are:
- Soy – Soy is estrogenic and a hormone disruptor. Drinking 2 cups of soy milk a day has the equivalent estrogen value of taking a birth control pill. Try getting pregnant doing that. See my previous blog regarding all of the side effects of soy.
- Low-fat milk – A Harvard study showed that drinking low-fat milk has an adverse effect on women’s ovaries and women doing so had significantly lower rates of pregnancy. Fat soluble vitamins A,D, & K are crucial precursors to our sex hormones, without which conception rates are sure to suffer.
- Cereal grains – Particularly wheat which is high in toxins such as gluten, lectin, and phytic acid. See my previous blog for a breakdown of side effects.
- Vegetable cooking oils – Dangerous unstable oils high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids which promote inflammation in the body. (Use olive oil or coconut oil only).
- “Cold” food – Chinese dietetics categorizes foods “energetically” rather than by nutritional content. Cold foods such as ice cream, yogurt, ice drinks, iceburg lettuce, and others create a “cold uterus” inhibiting blood and oxygen flow to the reproductive organs.
There is no one, single, more important step to take than to make nutritional changes that will enhance a woman’s health and the health of her future baby.
Yours in health,
Rick J Bernard, L.Ac.