Written by: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc – Nutrition, Adv.Dip Nut Med)
Planning for your pregnancy should not only consider your circumstances, but also your diet and nutrition. The process of conception, pregnancy and birth in and of itself is a miracle and a completely mind-blowing process of creating and growing new life – it is a time where good nutrition is critical, and I’m not just talking about the 9months of pregnancy itself, but the time leading up to it.
The amount of time you take can vary depending on your own desires, the quality of your current diet, smoking and drinking status, oral contraceptive use, toxin exposure and so on. For some it might only be 6 months (which, ideally should be the minimum), for others up to 2 years might be needed to get your health and diet in check to support this miraculous process.
So, why is this so important…?
Ever heard of epigenetics?
For so long it was believed that our genetic makeup we were born with remained as it was throughout our lifespan, however now with more recent understanding, we can see that environmental factors – specifically diet in this case, can alter our genetic expression throughout our life, known as 'nutrigenomics' when discussing the influence of diet and nutrition on genetic expression...
Think of these genetics as tiny light switches, being turned ‘on’ or ‘off’. This is a total game changer. Not only this, but how we eat can influence the genes within our offspring. Research has shown that within males consuming a high fat high sugar diet (that which is similar to a typical ‘western’ diet) actually increases the chances of their children developing type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition and was not believed to be influenced by diet and lifestyle as Type 2 has been.
Correlations exist between characteristics of nutritional quality during pregnancy and the risk of the child developing a range of diseases in adolescence and adulthood including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis and mental health disorders.
This goes to show, it’s not just about the mother’s diet during pregnancy, but both parties need to get on board with ensuring that the best nutrition is provided for their body’s well before they even think to conceive. The diet of both mum and dad before conception, and the diet of the mother during pregnancy, will determine to a very large extent the physical health, the appearance as well as mental and emotional well-being of the child.
A malnourished or depleted body needs time to recover, and that recovery should take place before, not during your pregnancy
Specific nutrients can influence sperm motility and morphology – literally the shape and their ability to swim is affected. It takes 3 months for new sperm cells to develop, its not something that a 7-day detox can fix! For women however, for a new oocyte to form, the cycle is about 100 days!
When nutritionally depleted, or with increased stress (physical, emotional, from toxin exposure and so on) fertility shuts down.
The body knows this is not an ideal environment to conceive and conserves its energy – in a nutshell (and, please note I’m not saying this is solely the reason behind every single infertility case – of course other common conditions influence this from obstruction, PID, infection, endometriosis, PCOS, lack of ovulation, in which women can still have a period, or otherwise). This is commonly seen in women with low body fat percentage and a higher muscle ratio, who exercise to the point when menstruation stops – referred to as the female athlete triad.
Macronutrients are important, in the right amounts – as deficiencies or excesses can both influence fertility, the pregnancy, the risk of complications and the size and health of the foetus, even into their adolescent and adult years.
“Female obesity is associated with significant alterations in reproductive health and fertility. Not only does obesity decrease the likelihood of ovulation, it also significantly reduces the chance for pregnancy in women who ovulate regularly. These data are of particular concern given the ongoing obesity epidemic and its effects on reproductive-age women. Furthermore, women on the extremes of body mass spectrum suffer from subfertility, implicating nutrition in cases of both underweight and overweight women.”
(Shaum & Polotsky, 2013)
A few beneficial nutrients to consider...
Vitamin A - Vitamin A is crucial for genetic expression and genetic potential, for strong bones, healthy skin and keen eye sight, mineral metabolism, hormone production and mental stability. It is vitamin A which gives signal to the undifferentiated stem cells to differentiate into the various organs, such as heart, liver and lungs…
Vitamin A is also needed for sperm production in men, as well as protects the sperm from oxidative damage.
Vitamin D - Vitamin D and A work in synergy and ensures optimal foetal development. Adequate vitamin D levels pre-pregnancy prepares the mothers bones, teeth, organs and brain for the additional stress that comes with being pregnant.
Vitamin E - Vitamin E is an antioxidant and important for immune and cardiovascular health. Studies have found that low vitamin E is associated with an increased risk of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. Vitamin E is also known to prevent preterm infants and male infertility
Vitamin K - For vitamin K2 specifically, research has identified K2 dependent proteins in sperm itself, and it plays a vital role in reproduction. K2 activates receptors responsible for the deposition of calcium and phosphorus in the bones and teeth.
The brain contains high concentrations of K2, where it is involved in the creation of myelin sheaths (protective cases around our neurons), making it important to the development of the central nervous system.
B Vitamins – B12 and B9 – specific for methylation, a cellular process involved within every cell for the appropriate cell division and DNA replication – a vital part of fertility, growth and development during pregnancy
Vitamin C – The ovaries contain high levels of vitamin C and this nutrient is used rapidly during ovulation. It’s also an antioxidant nutrient, important for collagen synthesis and immune system support.
Choline - Choline is necessary for the development of the brain, and especially important for cholinergic neurons (acetylcholine for example). Egg yolks are rich in this nutrient, when from free range hens also provide vitamins A, D, E and K2 as well as minerals iron, zinc, copper and selenium
Iron – Required for the activation of the enzymes that are essential for DNA synthesis during cell replication. During pregnancy, iron demands increase to about 600mg per day. This is to support the increase in red blood cell production, a further 300mg is then needed for foetus. Iron deficiency during pregnancy may affect maternal morbidity, foetal and infant development and pregnancy outcomes.
Cholesterol – Needed for the structure of cell membranes, brain function, hormone production as well as the formation of vitamin D. Within the brain, it supports the brains structure and the myelin sheath of nerve fibres. It supports neurotransmitter functions, such as serotonin, our ‘feel good’ hormone.
EPA & DHA – Part of the essential fatty acids that must be obtained in the diet. EPA is anti-inflammatory, however DHA is critical for brain growth and development. Getting this through the diet by way of fatty fish consumption as well as supplementation with fish oils, krill oil and cod liver oil is highly recommended.
More recently, researchers have even conducted many clinical trials using fish oil supplementation during pregnancy and breast feeding reduced the risk of sensitisation to food allergens. These studies revealed a 30 per cent reduction in risk of egg allergy by age one when supplementing with fish oils during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This is the equivalent of 31 children per 100, making it greatly relevant in a clinical setting to support and reduce egg allergy in children.
Probiotics – The research shows that supplementation with probiotics during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding may reduce eczema risk. Specific strains were studied, which included Lactobacilus rhamnosus, that did show an effect in eczema risk reduction.
More specifically, for healthy sperm…
Selenium – increases sperm concentration and motility, improves morphology and increases pregnancy rate
Folate – increases sperm concentration, increases pregnancy rate
Zinc – improved sperm motility and concentration, improves pregnancy outcome, reduces sperm anti-bodies
CoQ10 – increases motility and sperm concentration, improves morphology and enhances acrosome reaction (basically fertilisation).
Vitamin C – improves motility and sperm density, reduces DNA fragmentation
Vitamin E – improves motility, concentration and pregnancy rate whilst reducing DNA fragmentation.
I could go on and on about every single nutrient and its benefit in pre-conception, fertility, healthy pregnancy as well as optimal health of your child but I fear it would result in an essay to be read.
Take home point – plan for your pregnancy, detox before conception, you’re creating new life and we want to give our bubs the best possible chance at life, not just their life but the generations that flow on from them – not only this, but nutrition to support the health of both parents during a time of rapid growth, change and increase physical and emotional demands – this to be continued after the birth, the ‘fourth trimester’ of pregnancy. For more information on this topic check out the brilliant work of Annalies Corse.
This is an area of nutrition I am personally so passionate about – if you have any further questions or would like guidance and help to plan for your pregnancy you can email to book in a consultation with myself, either face to face or on Skype.
Heres to happy, healthy family’s,
Shaum, K. M., & Polotsky, A. J. (2013). Nutrition and reproduction: Is there evidence to support a “Fertility Diet” to improve mitochondrial function?. Maturitas, 74(4), 309-312.