3 Things To Avoid During Preconception To Help You Conceive A Healthy Baby
A lot of interesting literature is emerging in the field of fertility linking the health of the man and the woman prior to conception with the future health outcomes of future generations.
Many traditional cultures in the world have understood this, and practice dietary and lifestyle changes in the 6 months leading up to marriage and pregnancy. What they inherently have known, science is just beginning to discover: that your health now, prior to conception, affects your future child’s health and your children’s children’s health.
Whoa. Those are some pretty far reaching effects!
The hypothesis was originally referred to as the “early” or “fetal” origins of adult disease hypothesis – basically, the idea that environmental factors like nutrition in the mother act to program risks for the early onset of adult diseases and premature death for the offspring. As far back as 1934, researchers noticed that the environment affects a child’s future risk of some of the components of metabolic syndrome, such as hypertension, impaired glucose tolerance, and obesity.
Since then, scientists have identified several conditions that are linked to maternal diet prior to conception, such as metabolic syndrome, ADHD, and diabetes. Birth defects have also been linked to nutritional deficiencies in the mother’s diet prior to conception.
And it’s not just Mum’s health that matters. New research using the mouse model showed that male rats exposed to either dietary restrictions, medications, or high stress environments fathered babies with birth defects, stunted growth and higher risks of mortality – these impacts also affected the second generation of offspring.
So, what are men and women to do, during the preconception period, to improve their health?
I’ve put together my top 3 things to-not-do during preconception to help you get started. Keep in mind that for both men and women, the “preconception” period lasts at least four months (the amount of time that it takes to mature an oocyte for women, or produce a new batch of sperm for men).
3 things to avoid during preconception to help you conceive naturally (and improve the future health outcomes of your child and your grandchildren..):
1. Avoid foods that interfere with preconception health
Foods on this list should be avoided for a number of different reasons – they can lead to decreased nutrient levels, they increase oxidative stress that causes cellular damage, and perturb the immune system by causing inflammation. In the period of preconception, inflammation and oxidative stress are particularly harmful because developing sperm and eggs are very sensitive to those types of damage.
Watch out for:
-refined foods (white foods including flour and pasta, processed food, fast food)
-added sugars (found in pop, fruit drinks, coffee and tea, processed foods, fast food)
-foods with artificial sweeteners or additives (even ‘healthy’ sounding ones like agave nectar or cane sugar)
-margarine, canola oil and other refined vegetable oils (stick to coconut oil, grass fed butter or ghee, and good quality olive oil)
-too much caffeine (1 x 250ml cup of coffee a day, with NO added sugar, after food but still before noon = my rules for caffiene use during preconception; no energy drinks or caffiene supplements)
2. Avoid substances and chemicals that damage preconception health
Just like how the foods on the above list can damage nutrient reserves and cellular health, many substances cause similar types of damage. While any substance that you put into our body could potentially harm a developing egg or sperm cell, here are the most harmful ones to avoid.
-excessive alcohol (one or two drinks a week, if social and not used as a coping mechanism, are likely fine for both men and women)
-intravenous drugs (like you thought those were healthy..)
-marijuana (this one gets its own category, because we see it so frequently in BC. For men especially, THC is incredibly damaging to sperm – it reduces sperm count by 29% and causes sperm to swim in circles as opposed to in a forward motion. Men need to cut it out, completely, through the entire preconception period)
-tobacco (the books are pretty well closed on this one, smoking cigarettes reduces ovarian reserve and damages sperm – quit now. And don’t be around others who smoke – passive smoke also damages female fertility).
-environmental chemicals (this topic deserves its own blog post – but switching from conventional to eco- and health- friendly products in your home significantly impacts hormonal regulation and reproductive function for men and women)
3. Avoid too much stress
Though it’s the last thing someone trying to conceive wants to hear, high levels of stress do contribute to infertility. I did an entire webinar on this topic, and some of my research is here. Unfortunately, 30-50% of infertile women report depressive symptoms, and women with elevated depression scores have less than half the conception success rates of women with normal scores during IVF. Further, the diagnosis of infertility has been ranked emotionally with the diagnosis of HIV, heart disease, or cancer.
When the body is under prolonged or excessive stress, it is very depleting to nutrient levels – especially some of the B complex vitamins, vitamin C, and magnesium. Stress results in hormonal imbalance like low progesterone for women and low testosterone for men. Inflammatory and auto-immune diseases have also been linked to chronic stress. Over time, these imbalances contribute to the block to conception for many couples.
There are many techniques to reduce stress, and what works for you may not work for others. Experimenting with acupuncture, yoga, hiking, journaling, counseling, hypnotherapy, etc. is the best way to figure out what works for you.
If you think your nutrient levels may be depleted, or your oxidative stress and inflammatory levels are elevated due to some of the above factors, you should join me on Fridays for our “TGIV” IV nutrient clinic. Everyone is welcome to book an IV session with me, and anyone will benefit from a custom-tailored IV drip. When you’re not getting proper nutrition from your food, or if you’ve engaged in behaviours that are depleting, often the only way to get those levels back to normal is to do a series of nutritional IVs. Nutritional IVs are safe, efficacious, and actually quite relaxing. Read more about our IV clinic here, then join us next Friday!
See you next week,
Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND