I cannot think of a more joyous time in my life than my wife telling me she was pregnant with each of our two children. As with so many other expecting parents, we were both excited and anxious. It was our desire to everything we could to keep my wife and babies healthy throughout the pregnancy.
The internet is both a blessing and a curse. Never before has information on virtually ANY topic been available at the click of a button. But information is simply that...information. It will vary in quality and trust depending upon the source (This is more than evident when it comes to political views!).
Unfortunately, it is also true in regards to health information. Unlike searching the internet on how to set up your phone ring tones, guidance on maintaining a healthy pregnancy requires a level of deep trust regarding the source. When it comes to my continuing search for the most current health information, I ask a simple the question: "How do you know?" That is, does the resource have proven research behind their claims or merely the opinion of some so-called experts.
As a physician, I feel obligated to serve my community with integrity, providing them with the best care possible. That means I hold myself to the highest level of accountability. If the research regarding a topic is questionable, I will always advise my patients to err on the side of caution. Without solid research that is supported in the scientific journals, it will not pass my test. Testimonials are nice, but be fore warned, they are NOT research!
So let's get to the reason for this article—what can you do to optimize the health of both mom and baby during pregnancy?
Books have been written on this subject (and some of you have likely read many of them), so my goal today is to discuss some of the key nutrients.
The first nutrient is folate. This vitamin is necessary for cell division and the production of new DNA. Many prenatal vitamins contain folic acid. Folic acid can mask B12 deficiency. Folate absorption requires adequate zinc, a common deficiency in the industrialized world. However, too much zinc interferes with copper. We use a zinc taste test to help monitor zinc levels.
If you are having problems with maintaining pregnancies, I recommend testing for a genetic variant known a MTHFR. This may limit your body's ability to absorb folate. With this information, a properly designed folate supplement can be prescribed. Hemochromatosis is another genetic variant that impairs the ability to remove excess iron from the tissues. It is a common cause of miscarriage as well. Once diagnosed, it can be easy controlled. Left untreated, it can lead to severe organ damage.
Next is choline. This nutrient is essential because a deficiency in choline is linked to neural tube defects. Higher choline intake is associated with improved cognition in babies and children born to women with higher choline status (since only 14 percent of women get adequate choline in their diets, it is a common deficiency). Here are some choline rich foods.
Next are vitamins A, D3, and K2. I have put these together because they are synergistic, working together for the greater good. It is also essential to have them all in adequate amounts to prevent toxicity. Many women are cautioned regarding vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy due to potential toxicity. This is true. However, when supplemented with D3 and K2, toxicity becomes less likely.
Vitamin B12 is also essential for optimal nervous system development and deficiency has been associated with infertility. As previously noted, B12 levels can be adversely affected by folic acid supplementation. If you are vegetarian, be aware that B12 is only found in animal sources. Please make sure that you are receiving adequate supplemental levels. A simple blood test can help monitor B12 deficiencies.
Finally I want to mention omega-3 fatty acids, particularly what is known as DHA. DHA is essential for proper brain development. It concentrates in the grey matter of the brain and the eyes, protecting these delicate tissues from oxidative damage. All omega-3 fatty acids are not the same. Although flax contains high levels of omega-3's, they are in the form known as ALA. ALA must be converted through a number of chemical reactions to become active DHA. Unfortunately this is a very inefficient process. Many sources of DHA are from cold water fish. You must be very careful when it comes to supplementation. Many sources are highly oxidized and contain heavy metals such as mercury because these companies want to save money due to the cost of purification. When it comes to your health and the health of your baby, shop quality over cost.
As you can see, many nutrients can have interactions that can be either good or bad. Do not supplement individual nutrients without proper guidance from a health professional trained in nutrition. You should be receiving the vast majority of your nutrients from real food. That is why my first priority is to make sure moms-to-be are eating properly. This means daily intake of colorful fruits and vegetables (servings: five is fine, nine is divine!). Do your best to eat organic when possible (follow the Environment Working Groups "Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen" for recommendations). That being said, research shows the health benefits of even eating non organic outweighs the possibility of toxic exposure. To minimize pesticide residue, make sure you wash your produce well. Avoid processed foods and refined oils along with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. I don't think I have to mention alcohol or smoking, but I will...DON'T!
Pregnancy can be overwhelming, but remember, you are not alone. Find a good team of health professionals that can bring their particular skills to your service. This includes someone with specialized education in the realm of nutrition. Please call us if you need some assistance in making sure all of your bases are covered. We would be honored to help!