Detoxify for a Healthy Pregnancy and a Happy BabyRahim Habib, BSc, ND March 1, 2010
More and more couples planning a family are taking charge of their health. They will often stop smoking and consuming alcohol and drugs. They understand the effect of common toxins on not only their own health, but that of the baby they are hoping for. They may also eat better and take a pre-natal multivitamin with extra folic acid (a B-vitamin that prevents birth defects).
However, in my ten years of naturopathic practice, I have found that there are many more strategies that could be added when preparing for pregnancy, and even during pregnancy. In this article, I will outline details of recent research that reveals how to increase fertility, strengthen pregnancy, and create a healthy baby.
THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS
Every year, there are more chemicals being used in Canada than the year before; estimates are at about 300 new chemicals being introduced to the marketplace each year. A groundbreaking study by the Environmental Working Group found 287 different toxins in the umbilical cord blood that feeds directly into the growing fetus! These toxins were classified as being carcinogens, immune toxins, neurotoxins, and hormone disrupting chemicals. It’s no wonder that childhood illnesses are rising: childhood cancers (leukemias, brain and bone cancers), asthma, allergies and respiratory problems, increased developmental and learning disorders (eg: Autism, AD/HD), birth defects, early puberty, in addition to reductions in fertility.
In my experience, upon testing each of my patients’ toxin levels I have also noticed more people with elevated toxins compared to just five years ago. Patients are also telling me more often about reactions to perfumes, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke. This increased reactivity to environmental chemicals is caused by the sheer volume of toxins we are exposed to daily, combined with weakened immunity from poor nutrition. (According to a 2007 U.S. report by the Worldwatch Institute, the nutritional quality of food is decreasing – 10-25% lower levels of iron, zinc, protein, calcium, vitamin C, and other essential nutrients per pound of produce or grain – despite increases in crop yield. And it doesn’t help that we are not very good at eating our five to ten servings of vegetables and fruit each day.)
HOW TOXIC LOAD AFFECTS FERTILITY
A woman’s total toxic load can affect her ability to conceive and carry a baby to full term, and can even affect the fertility of the child in adulthood. Take the case of ‘non-stick’ compounds, often referred to as PFCs, or “perfluoro-compounds”. A 2009 study of Danish women tracked their levels of specifically PFOA and PFOS. The women with higher blood levels of these chemicals were found to have twice the likelihood of taking more than 12 months to become pregnant, or to need fertility treatments to attain pregnancy. This is because these chemicals are associated with increased thyroid gland disease (a crucial gland for fertility).
In fact, a 2010 study of the U.S. population found that those with the highest levels of PFOA and PFOS in their blood had twice the occurrence of thyroid disease than those who did not. This is significant, since all of us likely have these chemicals in our bodies; it’s just a matter of how much, and how it’s affecting us individually. There are many sources of these compounds, from the lining in microwave popcorn packages, to stain-repellant clothes and carpet, and of course non-stick cookware. So a good first step in lowering the body burden of these chemicals is to choose ceramic, glass, or stainless steel cookware, as well as all natural materials for flooring and clothing.
Another example of how toxins can affect fertility was shown by researchers in New York in 2009. They found the heavy metal, cadmium, was associated with reduced concentration and motility of sperm. Cadmium comes from cigarette smoke, PVC plastic products, phosphate fertilizers, paint pigments, nickel-cadmium batteries, and the incineration of these and other products. Cadmium eventually enters our food supply through pesticides in commercial non-organic produce. Once it enters the body, cadmium displaces minerals such as zinc, and can affect arteries, kidneys, bones and immunity, and also has estrogenic effects. In this and in many other cases, it’s frustrating to think of how widespread a toxin can become, just from the ways we grow our food, manufacture products, and even how we process our waste. It has come to the point where it is currently impossible to avoid cadmium exposure. This is why performing comprehensive cleansing is fundamental for health overall, and particularly for fertility.
Even the intensity with how we communicate, using hand-held and wireless electronic devices, has an impact. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2009 found that human sperm samples exposed to one hour of a cell phone on ‘talk’ mode showed increased free radical activity and significantly lowered sperm viability and motility. Over the past few decades, sperm counts have decreased about 40%, so it appears that chemical and wireless exposures are wreaking havoc on male fertility.
CHEMICALS AND EMFS DURING PREGNANCY
Pregnant women and their developing babies are also susceptible to electromagnetic fields, as demonstrated in a 2009 Canadian study. Two groups of women, who were sewing machine operators in Ontario and Quebec, were studied based on their level of exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The children born from the EMF-exposed group had two times the risk for developing a range of childhood brain tumours, compared to the non-exposed control group of pregnant women. This is unsettling since Canada’s regulation of EMFs is lacking in comparison with other countries. Studies like these need to affect policy and instrumentation changes sooner rather than later.
For my patients who are planning to conceive, or who are pregnant, I suggest that they keep their bedroom free of any cordless phones, charging bases, mobile phones, and most electrical devices. Keeping no electrical devices in the bedroom is best, restricting it to only a simple battery-operated alarm and a light.
One researcher who has focused on exploring associations between chemical exposures and the health of the newborn, even into adulthood, is Cornell researcher Rodney Dietert, professor of immunotoxicology. His research has found that many childhood and even adulthood chronic illnesses can be linked to immune toxicant exposures. Early chemical exposures can affect the developing fetus, newborn, or toddler at different sensitive developmental stages, causing problems that can pop up even decades later. He calls this ‘developmental immunotoxicity (DIT)’. For instance, allergic diseases and asthma, autistic spectrum disorders, recurrent otitis media, pediatric celiac disease, and type 1 diabetes have associations to chemical exposures at crucial times in childhood development. Even high blood pressure, auto-immunity, and male sterility have been associated with such immunotoxin exposures.
NUTRITION AFFECTS FERTILITY
Besides folic acid and omega-3 essential fats, many other nutrients play an important role in a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. Crucial nutrients include zinc, iodine, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium. I recommend that blood levels of these elements are tested before and during pregnancy and lactation.
In regards to vitamin D, once produced in the skin or ingested as a supplement, this vitamin is converted by the liver and kidney into a form that has hormonal actions which affect most parts of the body. Activated vitamin D has been shown to promote neurodevelopment, has anti-mutagenic effects and anti-oxidant properties; so it’s no wonder that vitamin D deficiency is strongly implicated in learning and developmental disorders such as Autism. Professors Hollis and Wagner of the Medical University of South Carolina have shown that breast milk is a good source of vitamin D for the baby, as long as the mother is taking at least 4,000 IU per day. Note that most public health recommendations are significantly lower than what the recent research has shown is optimal.
TESTING FOR NUTRIENTS AND TOXINS
We are individuals, and so we need an individualized approach to testing our current health status and this includes our nutrition and toxicity levels. Hair, blood, urine, stool, and other tests can be used to determine our individual nutritional and toxin status. One particularly important test for a pregnant female is her thyroid status, even multiple times during pregnancy. One study found that testing the thyroid twice per trimester helped detect that 40% of women tested had an underactive thyroid; this would have been missed if only one test was done early in pregnancy. Having an underactive thyroid during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, birth abnormalities and complications, and even developmental problems in the baby.
OUR BEST HOPE – PRE-CONCEPTION DETOX
Considering all the factors mentioned above, we need to first of all make better product, food, and lifestyle choices to reduce our toxin exposures. In addition, it is fundamental that we regularly cleanse our bodies. Most are familiar with the cleansing kits available in health food stores, which are very helpful. In addition, we need to optimize the functioning of our circulation and the detox-related organs of the body, namely the skin, intestinal tract, kidneys, lungs and liver. I have successfully used a combination of colon hydrotherapy, plus 50 to 100 hours of far-infrared sauna therapy to promote intensive sweating-out of chemicals. This, combined with herbal medicines and other detox-related therapies such as nutritional chelation injections, acupuncture, homeopathy, and oil-dispersion hydrotherapy has proven very effective. A comprehensive ‘couples cleanse’ can last from three weeks to about three months, and is ideal to do 3 – 12 months before the desired conception date. The bottom line is that we need to put more personal effort into ensuring a healthy fertility process, the positive results of which will be realized in the next generation.
10 CATEGORIES OF CHEMICALS FOUND IN FETAL UMBILICAL CORD BLOOD AND POTENTIAL EFFECTS
1. Mercury – from coal-fired power plants, dental fillings, thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs, accumulates in seafood; certain industrial processes. Harms brain development and can cause learning deficiencies and delay mental development in children
2. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – Pollutants from burning gasoline and garbage. Accumulates in food chain. Linked to cancer.
3. Polybrominated dibenzodioxins and furans – In brominated flame retardants, pollutants and byproducts from plastic production and incineration. Accumulate in food chain. Toxic to developing endocrine system.
4. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) – Active ingredients or breakdown products of Teflon, Scotchguard, fabric and carpet protectors, food wrap coatings. Global contaminants. Accumulate in the environment and food chain. Linked to cancer, birth defects, thyroid dysfunction.
5. Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and furans (PBCD/F) – Pollutants, by-products of PVC production, industrial bleaching, and incineration. Persist for decades in the environment. Cause cancer in humans. Very toxic to developing endocrine (hormone) system.
6. Organochlorine pesticides (OCs) – DDT, chlordane and other pesticides. Largely banned in the U.S. Persist for decades in the environment. Accumulate up the food chain to humans. Cause cancer and numerous reproductive effects.
7. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – Flame retardant in furniture foam, computers, and televisions. Accumulates in the food chain and human tissues. Adversely affects brain development and the thyroid.
8. Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (PCNs) – found in Wood preservatives, varnishes, machine lubricating oils, waste incineration. Common PCB contaminant. Contaminates the food chain. Causes liver and kidney damage.
9. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – Industrial insulators and lubricants. Banned in the U.S. in 1976. Persist for decades in the environment. Accumulate up the food chain, to humans. Cause cancer and nervous system problems.
10. Bisphenol A – Used in epoxy resins and hard plastics (polycarbonate (#7)) including baby bottles and to line metal can food containers including infant formulas. Causes birth defects of the male and female reproductive systems, breast and prostate cancer, and infertility.
Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields. Worldwatch Institute, September 2007. http://organic.insightd.net/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=115
Body Burden – The Pollution in Newborns. The Environmental Working Group, July 14, 2005. hhttp://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/execsumm.php
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