Nutritional planning during pregnancy is pretty straightforward, isn’t it? An extensive amount of literature has been written about the topic. The problem is that it is broad, overwhelming, and, frankly, a bit boring. For this reason, many of the solutions to pregnancy-related problems go untreated and often unnoticed.
This is a topic that will affect many of your adult patients. My intent is to pull the quality information out of this quantity of knowledge and apply my personal experience to make the topic straightforward and user-friendly.
Parents-to-be should begin the following routine three months prior to attempting to start a family:
- Get plenty of sleep, at least seven to eight hours per night. If more sleep is not possible, rest.
- Drink lots of water; it is necessary to cleanse the body.
- Exercise. Do what you can and, at the very least, go for walks.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Many people believe they are eating well and only have minor cravings from time-to-time. The problem is that cravings signify nutritional problems.
- Stop smoking and drinking.
Creating a healthy baby comes down to lifestyle. How many future mothers and fathers meet the above recommendations? Most patients believe that they eat well. So, how do you explain to them how their vitamin and mineral deficiencies have developed?
The average American diet is not deficient in nutrients; it may not be balanced, but it is rarely deficient. The 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Health and Nutrition emphatically stated that the overwhelming problem in nutrition is nutrient excess rather than deficiency. Thus, the problem must stem from nutrient assimilation, which begins with digestion and absorption.
The comedian George Carlin has used oxymorons, such as “jumbo shrimp” and “twelve-ounce pound cake,” as a part of his stand-up act for years. Another example of this seemingly self-contradiction is giving prenatal vitamins and minerals to a woman after she becomes pregnant. If possible, prenatal nutrition should start several months before conception to prepare the bodies of both parents for a baby. A nutrient deficiency in either parent will influence child development before and after birth. If there is a pre-existing deficiency in the mother when she becomes pregnant and nutritional support (prenatal vitamins) does not arrive until roughly another month after conception, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to play catch-up. This is because some of the most important fetal development happens within the first month.
Good prenatal nutrition is not confined to a bottle labeled “prenatal multiple vitamin and mineral supplement,” for three reasons:
- Many prenatal vitamin and mineral products contain ingredients of the cheapest quality that can be legally sold. Many of the supplements create a feeling of nausea in expectant mothers because they cannot properly digest or assimilate the products.
- “Prenatal” means prior to birth, not prior to conception. The standard prenatal recommendation is to supplement folic acid to prevent neural tube defects in the baby. The problem is that the neural tube develops within the first three weeks of pregnancy and the mother-to-be often does not even know she is pregnant at that time.
- More emphasis should be placed on the importance of lipid digestion and assimilation for both males and females in order to prepare for the conception and development of the fetus.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)
Fatty acids are the “problem” with problem pregnancies. In this day of great technological research and advances in artificial insemination, fertility pills, and in-vitro fertilization, essential nutrients take a backseat to the latest and greatest pharmaceutical development and are even, more commonly, forgotten entirely. So what makes the essential nutrients essential?
The Three Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)
- Linoleic acid, an 18-carbon fatty acid with two double bonds, cannot be produced by the body and, therefore, must be included in the diet. It promotes growth and heals dermatitis and can be found in vegetable and seed oils, such as safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, and peanut.
- Arachidonic acid is a 20-carbon polyunsaturated fatty acid with four double bonds. It is not essential because it can be converted from linoleic acid. Arachidonic acid is found in animal fat and prevents dermatitis, but does not promote growth. It can also be found in Omega-6 oils in red meat, dairy fat, and shellfish.
- Linolenic acid, the 18-carbon fatty acid with three double bonds, cannot be synthesized by humans. It does not prevent dermatitis but does promote growth. It can be found in oatmeal, evening primrose, borage, and black currant.
Tantamount is digestion and assimilation of the nutrients. That’s where enzymes play a role. If the woman cannot digest meat very well (symptoms of gas, bloating, constipation/diarrhea), she isn’t getting the benefit of the nutrients provided by it. That’s why so many women become vegetarians (beyond religious reasons)—because they feel bad or “yucky” after eating meat. Avoiding something doesn’t really fix the problem, though, does it?
The three essential fatty acids are precursors for prostaglandins. This is a critical consideration because the hormone-like substances are produced and used within a tissue rather than transported to other tissues. They affect blood pressure by stimulating the contraction of smooth muscle in blood vessels and regulating the transmission of nerve signals. In regard to pregnancy, EFA’s promote conception, prevent spontaneous abortion, and allow the woman to initiate labor and commence lactation after delivery.
The male’s nutritional status, equally as important as the female’s during conception, is often overlooked. Males need more EFA’s than females. This is why nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E are often used in the treatment of prostate problems and low sperm counts.
Females have greater difficulty digesting fats and are more susceptible to biliary stasis than males. Therefore, women with problem pregnancies should never supplement oils at mealtime. Oils coat the food and make the food very difficult to emulsify and digest. It is better to supplement oils between meals or in a dry form whenever possible. A low-fat diet is a problem for a fat-deficient woman that desires pregnancy.
The solution is better digestion with plant enzymes and improved dietary habits.
Other lipid-related substances such as phospholipids and cholesterol are also essential in these cases. Phospholipids are water-soluble. They increase the solubility of fats and keep them in an emulsified state, an incredibly important point concerning problem pregnancies. Lecithin, a necessary ingredient in cell walls, is the most common phospholipid. One of the most important supplements you can recommend for women with problem pregnancies is a good source of wheat germ that is not in oil form and not defatted.
Sterols are lipid-related substances that include cholesterol and vitamin D. Cholesterol plays an important role in the maintenance of the myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers. It is also essential for the formation of sex hormones and bile salts—functions that must be supported during pregnancy. Today, the tendency is to use prescription drugs such as statins that have the opposite effect.
Cholesterol is found in animal fats and is absent in vegetable fats. Dietary restriction is useless because the body is able to synthesize cholesterol, simply producing what its homeostatic mechanisms dictate. The problem lies in delivery of cholesterol to the target tissues. The key to lowering high cholesterol levels is to improve protein digestion. I predict it will not be long before this idea is mainstream.
In the next issue of The American Chiropractor, we will explore the special nutritional requirements of the mother-to-be throughout her pregnancy. TAC
Howard F. Loomis, Jr., DC, president of Enzyme Formulations, Inc., has an extensive background in enzymes and enzyme formulations. As president of 21st Century Nutrition, Inc., for fifteen years, he has forged a remarkable career as an educator, having conducted over 400 seminars to date, in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Australia, on the diagnosis and treatment of enzyme deficiency syndromes. Call 21st Century Nutrition at 1-800-662-2630 for more information.