Many ancient cultures spent months, or even years, preparing women (and men!) of child bearing age for fertility and conception. This wisdom had been passed down over the generations and these people knew that conceiving a healthy baby starts long before conception. Just like soil needs to be mineral rich and healthy before the seed is planted to produce a healthy plant, couples that would like to start a family should consume a nutrient rich diet before getting pregnant.
The most famous and well known pregnancy nutrient is folate. Not to be confused with folic acid which is the synthetic form and not utilized well, folate is necessary for the production of new DNA which is needed to make new cells. The best sources of folate in the diet are liver and leafy green vegetables. Biotin is another B vitamin that is super important in the preconception phase due to its effect on proper development of the fetus. Liver and egg yolks are both great sources of biotin. Women that have been on the birth control pill prior to conception should pay special attention to replenishment of these B vitamins since the mechanism of the pill tends to deplete B vitamins.
Fat soluble vitamins are also very important in the preconception period. The scientific name for Vitamin E is tocopherol from the Greek τόκος (tokos), meaning “childbirth,” and φερειν (ferein), meaning “to bring forth.” Scientists are not sure of its exact role in pregnancy, but mice that are deficient in this vitamin are either unable to reproduce or produce offspring that die soon after birth. Vitamin A is necessary for the differentiation and patterning of all of the cells, tissues, and organs within the developing body. It is especially important for the development of the communication systems between the sense organs and the brain. Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin and is closely linked to vitamins A and K in its role in fertility and conception. In women, higher levels have a positive impact on the production of sex hormones and reduce inflammation. It is also instrumental in the efficient synthesis of male hormones. These fat soluble vitamins work best in concert with each other so it is best to obtain them from high quality foods such as liver, egg yolks, grass fed butter, fermented foods and fresh vegetables.
The essential fatty acid DHA along with choline is very important for optimal brain development in the fetus (and beyond!). Rats fed three times the normal choline requirement during pregnancy give birth to offspring with remarkably resilient nervous systems. These offspring have a lifelong 30 percent increase in visuospatial and auditory memory; they grow old without developing any age-related senility; they are protected against the assaults of neurotoxins; they have an enhanced ability to focus on several things at once; and they have a much lower rate of interference memory. We do not know the effects when transferred to humans, but choline should definitely be something added to a preconception diet. This nutrient is found in liver, egg yolks and high quality dairy from grass fed cows.
Based on the above, the ideal preconception diet would consist of:
- •1-2 3 oz servings of pasture raised liver such as in this pate: http://balancedbites.com/content/easy-recipe-chicken-liver-pate/
- •Daily servings of 2-3 pastured eggs, especially yolks. Yonderway Farm has the best eggs you will ever taste and you can order them here: http://yonderwayfarm.com/
- •2-3 servings weekly of cold water fish such as salmon, anchovies and sardines (these are also low mercury fish)
- •6-9 cups daily of vegetables – cooked and raw. Three cups or more should be leafy greens of all types which are high in folate
- •Daily servings of fermented foods (1 tbsp or more) such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and high quality grass fed yogurt such as Siggi’s or Maple Hill Creamery brand
- •Daily servings of pasture raised or wild animal protein – about 9-12 oz daily
- •Daily servings of healthy fats (about a thumb size portion at each meal) such as grass fed butter and ghee, coconut oil and other forms of coconut, pasture raised lard and duck fat, olive oil and avocado.
A nutritional test such as offered through labs such as Spectracell or Genova before pregnancy can be very helpful in determining what micronutrients may be deficient so they can be replenished before pregnancy through diet and supplementation. Many functional medicine practitioners now offer these detailed reports.
It is never too early to start preparing for a healthy pregnancy! One of the best parenting decisions moms and dads (remember, they make up half the DNA!) will make is to adopt a nutrient rich diet.
Sheila is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and heads up the nutrition and wellness department at Women’s Specialty Healthcare. Her work with functional medicine practitioner and ob/gyn, Dr. Dian Ginsberg, has shaped her outlook on preconception nutrition and therapies. More information on Sheila can be found at www.womensspecialtyhealthcare.com