By Annaliese Jones
Our children’s health starts in the womb
Preconception and pregnancy health really is the ultimate form of preventative health. We now know the first nine months in the womb can influence your child’s health for the rest of their lives. What a wonderful opportunity to have a positive effect on your wee ones life!
It is empowering to think that by improving your health through preconception and pregnancy you can actually make a dent in the growing epidemic of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity in the next generation.
Latest research into preconception health focuses on something called epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to modifications to genes that alter the way they behave or are ‘expressed’, without actually causing any change to DNA. This can lead to changes that predispose your child to certain diseases even though you don’t have the genes for the predisposition. A tragic but good example of this happened during the Dutch famine of 1944. The Nazi occupied western Netherlands was highly rationed and eventually cut off from food supply. Malnourished pregnant women developed a change in their genes that produced a change in expression of their children’s genes. This change caused the offspring of these women to be predisposed genetically to cardiovascular disease, kidney problems, diabetes, obesity and other health problems. All despite having plenty of food and good nutrition themselves. The babies of these malnourished women were, as expected, a smaller than normal birth weight, but interestingly their children were also smaller than normal. The research done into these women, their babies and grandchildren was the first of its kind and has led to more understanding of how important maternal nutrition is to the health of your offspring, and the health of their offspring too.
The eggs and sperm that you conceive with are formed up to 100 days before conception. For this reason three to four months of preparation is ideal to ensure the healthiest eggs and sperm possible.
In 1978 the Forsight Center in the UK did some groundbreaking research about fertility and the reduction of miscarriages and foetal health problems. Their approach was based on what we now call “preconception care” and involved diet, supplementation and lifestyle measures that would correct any deficiencies in parents before they conceived. The results were quite astounding. They found that over 75% of couples with fertility issues went on to have healthy babies. Additionally, they worked with high risk couples over a period of 10 years, and were able to reduce the rate of birth defects in that group to 0.47%. The national average in the UK is 6%. As well as correcting deficiencies, the Forsight approach is focused on avoiding toxins of all kinds for the critical 3 months before conception (and during pregnancy) and the men’s health is vitally important too. They continue to do research and work in the area of preconception care today.
Exciting research for allergies
A clinical trail on a particular strain of probiotic called lactobaccilus rhamnosus GG has produced some promising results regarding eczema and allergies in children. They found that when taken in the last trimester of pregnancy and through breastfeeding, this particular strain may reduce the incidence of eczema in children, and reduce the incidence of children with atopic conditions such as allergic rhinitis and food allergy. I certainly get my clients onto it if there are allergies in the family, and it seems to be very helpful.
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