Thinking about having a baby? Many couples make the decision to have a child, stop using birth control and then hope for that little line to pop up on the urine test strip to tell them that the adventure begins! But what about getting your body ready for pregnancy?
We all know that a great prenatal vitamin is important, but what about your general health and toxicity level before conception? Little is said to men and women about optimizing their health before creating another human. Ironically, we often spend more time thinking about our soil conditions before planting our gardens than we do about our own health before conceiving.
If you are a fan of this magazine then we can assume that you also enjoy whole foods, are committed to some forms of good self-care and would identify as someone who prioritizes their health. This is fantastic! If we seek to optimize our health in pre-conception then there are additional things that can help us reach our goals of having a health pregnancy and baby too. This new and exciting chapter might require you to optimize your daily routine. Even people who eat right and exercise regularly might be at risk of health problems caused by toxic chemical exposures. There are shockingly few tools available that let you understand which toxic chemicals your body has been exposed to and what you can do about it.
Pre-conception is the best time to optimize your general health. For both men and women, looking at risk factors from work exposures, hobbies and contaminants in water and food sources are the best places to get started. There are ways to discover your personal toxin burden but let’s first have a look at some of the evidence and research. There have been steady changes in children’s health over the last few decades. Increases in neurological disease, autoimmune disease and fatty liver disease, and decreases in IQ and learning abilities have all steadily changed. We know that the placenta is not an effective barrier to prevent non-essential elements from getting into the fetus and so what we are exposed to or have stored in our own bodies will be shared with our babies. Unfortunately they are at greater risk because their liver enzymes such as CYP3A4 are not active as a fetus and they can’t filter as well as an adult can (Environmental Science and Research Pollution, 2021).
Environmental medicine is still a growing field of medicine as we have really only used chemicals on this scale in agriculture and household items for the last 100 years. There are multiple articles on PubMed that outline things like urinary metabolites from organophosphates (non-organic sprayed food) having a 2x greater risk of ADHD and a 7% drop in IQ (Pediatrics, 2010). We see journals that describe exposures to PBDE (polybrominated biphenyl flame retardant) that is sprayed on children’s clothing and bedding leading to poor social competence and lowered attention. Gortex and Stainmaster are polyfluoroalkyl chemicals which are considered developmental neurotoxins and are associated with ADHD in children (Environmental Health, 2012). Oxybenzone (sunscreen) exposure leads to a decreased IQ in kids (Environment International, 2020). There is a huge and growing disease burden on our children and very little of it is discussed in conventional medicine. Developing brains are incredibly sensitive. What we do, what we eat and what we are exposed to pre-conception can have a tremendous impact on our kids.
Now that I’ve scared everyone to death and you are planning to quit your job to live in the mountains and are afraid to buy/touch/smell anything, let me offer you some tools! Ideally before conception we would have a year to really improve the health of both Mom and Dad. These toxins damage healthy sperm and eggs and can lead to more fertility troubles, but if we can optimize the parents’ health we can create a healthier ability to conceive and carry. Before pregnancy let’s work on limiting exposures! Look at changing your diet to more organics and stay away from the EWG’s Dirty Dozen foods that should be avoided if not organic. Stay away from farmed fish (high level of PCB) or large fish (mercury). Invest in a good water filter (not a Brita) and air filters. Change your household use of chemicals in cleaning aids and beauty aids. Use an infrared sauna (check with your physician first) to help utilize your skin for excretion of chemicals such as chlorinated pesticides stored in your fat…ask me sometime about my painters and firefighters sweating out yellow and orange chemicals! In pre-pregnancy it is important to have adequate trace minerals such as zinc and selenium because they compete with toxic metals such as lead and cadmium. Increase your fibre such as rice bran because it is a bile sequestrant and can help reduce toxicity by stimulating the liver and gallbladder to eliminate toxins through the stool.
There are so many powerful ways to help support your body’s natural detoxification pathways, but limiting your exposures is the first step. Discovering what may be the underlying burden can be very helpful. Urinary measurements are my first priority when evaluating toxic burden, and these should be discussed with your naturopathic and functional medicine physicians. Traditional blood work can test for liver enzymes and urinary 8-OHdG which can be helpful to evaluate the burden, but they need to be in an optimal range, not just a “normal” range. Extensive urinary testing can be an out-of-pocket expense but it is a tool that allows us to evaluate what our exposures have been and our individualized levels.
Our bodies are amazing and can carry a large burden of chemicals with very few outward symptoms. As we can see from the scientific journals and the rapidly increasing rates of neurological issues and inflammatory diseases with our children, we can appreciate that our silent exposures as parents can have lasting effects. Optimize your chances for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child by detoxification before pregnancy, and start to make changes that can lead to huge opportunities for optimal health with your choices in food, beauty, home and personal use of chemicals. Talk with your doc about your plans to start a family, and enjoy the new adventures of being parents.
Dr. Shelby Entner, nd is a licensed Naturopathic Physician and the owner and founder of Vero Health Naturopathic Medicine in the Okanagan. She earned her doctoral degree in Naturopathic Medicine in 2002 after ten years of studies. Dr. Shelby empowers patients to make changes that are in alignment with their health values and goals and seeks to find answers by looking at the whole picture, instead of simply at a symptom. Learn more: verocare.ca
Published in The Good Life Magazine.