Tel +27 (021) 880 1444 | Fax +27 (021) 880 0291 | P.O. Box 12602, Die Boord, Stellenbosch, 7613
We know that a mother’s nutritional status at the time of conception, and in the first few weeks that follow, is the single most important determinant of a baby’s growth in those critical early stages. Following the diet and supplement plan we recommend will help you optimise your nutrient intake.
Boosting immune-supporting and libido-enhancing vitamins and minerals can also help to prime you for conception, as will some know-how about timing your baby-making activities! In this article, we also explain what homocysteine is, and why this naturally occurring substance is a critical marker for a healthy pregnancy.
IMMUNE POWERCatching a virus or infection in the early stages of pregnancy can not only add to the physical stress you are under, but it can also increase your risk of miscarriage or harming your baby at a critical stage in development. So keeping well in the run up to conception is especially important. We are all frequently exposed to germs and viruses that cause illnesses, but if you have a strong immune system, you’re equipped to fight back more effectively and either avoid symptoms of the illness entirely or have a milder attack.
Your immune strength is totally dependent on a sufficient supply of vitamins and minerals. Insufficient intake of vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, folic acid, C and E suppresses immunity, as do deficiencies of iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium. An optimal intake of these nutrients is therefore vital in boosting immune strength. Since no nutrient works in isolation, it’s advisable to supplement with a quality high-strength multivitamin and mineral as well as eating an optimal diet. Studies have shown that supplementing with a multi can also strengthen your immune system and reduce infections.
EXTRA HELP IF YOU DO BECOME ILLIf you do succumb to an infection or virus while you’re trying to conceive or are pregnant (or indeed at any time), there are certain nutrients that can be very effective at helping you fight it off. A nutritional solution is especially advisable at this time because conventional medications can harm your developing baby – research has found that aspirin, for example, can increase risk of miscarriage and impact on a baby’s IQ. Even paracetamol, which is considered the ‘safer’ painkiller, has been linked to cell mutations.
When your body is invaded by an infection, these invaders produce dangerous oxidising chemicals called ‘free radicals’ that weaken your immune system. Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E plus zinc and selenium disarm these free radicals and turn the tables to weaken the invader. They also have a wide range of other immune-boosting functions. For example, vitamin A helps to maintain the integrity of the digestive tract, lungs and all cell membranes, preventing foreign agents from entering the body, or viruses from entering cells. Vitamin E is another important all-rounder, as it improves immune cell function and is a powerful antioxidant. So if your immune system needs some help, increase your intake of antioxidants and supplement with a daily antioxidant formula.
In addition, it’s worth supplementing extra vitamin C. To date more than a dozen immune-boosting roles of vitamin C have been identified – it helps mature immune cells, improves their performance and is itself antiviral and antibacterial, as well as being able to detoxify toxins produced by bacteria. In addition, it is a natural antihistamine.
However, the dosage of vitamin C is crucial. A review of studies looking at its protective effect against the common cold found that it was only consistently effective in doses of 1 000 mg or more (almost 20 times the RDA). So we suggest you take at least 1 000 mg of vitamin C daily, which you can increase to 1 000 mg an hour if your immune system is under attack. The only word of caution is that large doses of vitamin C can cause loose bowels – but if this happens, just reduce the dose slightly until symptoms subside.
LOVE FEASTThe diet and supplement plan outlined in my book The perfect pregnancy cookbook will help you to boost your nutrient intake. And the sooner you make some positive changes, the sooner you’ll start to feel perkier. If your libido, or that of your partner, is in need of an extra boost, however, there are some key foods that make an ideal love feast.First off, research has found that men low in zinc are low in testosterone, have a low sex drive and a low sperm count. A man can also lose up to 3 mg of zinc per ejaculation. And for women, a deficiency in zinc can also lead to hormone imbalances which can contribute to low libido. Oysters are the richest known food source of zinc, hence their reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. Other sources include fish, meat, eggs, pumpkin seeds, nuts and fresh ginger.
Antioxidant nutrients help to optimise blood flow to sex organs and minimise any damage. Eating a rainbow selection of fruit and vegetables can provide a wide variety of sources – aim for at least six to seven portions a day. An antioxidant supplement will also boost your intake.
B-vitamins are needed for testosterone production, adrenal support, making energy and healthy nerves. In particular, vitamin B1 is needed for healthy thyroid function (low levels of thyroid hormones can impact on sex drive), while B3 is a vasodilator, enhancing blood flow to sex organs, and is essential for pituitary function, which controls hormone balance. Eating some mushrooms, watercress, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, Marmite, nuts or seeds daily will increase your intake. And supplementing with either a high-strength multi or a B-complex can boost levels further.
Finally, washing all this lovely food down with a bottle of wine is not advisable as alcohol reduces fertility and increases your risk of miscarriage and birth defects. Nor is enjoying an after-dinner coffee, cigar or cigarette for the same reasons. But you could try a cup of ginseng tea, as this Chinese herb is widely regarded as a ‘sexual rejuvenator’. Do note, however, that caution is needed with certain herbs in pregnancy, so it’s best to stick to teas rather than tinctures or tablets (unless under the guidance of a nutritional therapist or herbalist).
PERFECT TIMINGIn case you didn’t know, making a baby isn’t quite as easy as just having sex. During a woman’s monthly cycle, there is only one day in which an egg is available for fertilisation. However, sperm usually live for three days and under excellent conditions can survive for five. Therefore, if you know when you ovulate, having sex in this five-day window dramatically increases your chances of conception. So, how do you find out when ovulation occurs?
A different type of mucus is produced just before the egg is released – and unlike normal vaginal mucus, fertile mucus is sticky and thread-like, a bit like egg white. It’s designed to both nourish and protect the sperm, providing it with channels to move along, thereby increasing its chances of reaching the egg. It’s also easy to spot. In a World Health Organisation study, 90% of women could identify their fertile mucus within the first month of learning what to look for.
Another way to tell when you’re fertile is by monitoring your resting temperature (i.e. as you wake up in the morning) – this will drop, then rise very slightly as you ovulate. There are also ovulation predictor kits that you can buy from chemists and large supermarkets and these measure levels of hormones produced a few days prior to ovulation, although they don’t tell you when ovulation actually occurs.
CONCLUSIONFinally, don’t make the mistake of thinking that lots of sex is the answer, or limit sex only to your fertile period. For men, too much sex can reduce sperm concentration and not enough can cause an increase in the build up of poor-quality sperm. So during your fertile period, every other day is perfect, and once every three or four days the rest of the month.
HOMOCYSTEINE: YOUR MOST IMPORTANT PREGNANCYSTATISTICIf there was some way to test whether you’re getting enough folic acid and other B-vitamins to prevent common birth defects, or measure how efficient you are at supporting the most critical biological function necessary to ensure your baby’s healthy development, would you jump at it? Well such a test exists – and an ever-growing body of evidence supports how important this is for pregnancy.
This test measures your level of a toxic protein in the blood called homocysteine. It’s a marker for a critical chemical process in the body called ‘methylation’ and being a ‘good methylator’ is what allows you to pass on the best genetic potential and helps cells to divide and grow to full bloom during pregnancy. This biochemical process also helps you make essential substances and break down toxic ones in the body – you methylate about one billion times every second.
Research links high homocysteine levels to infertility and a significantly increased risk of pregnancy problems. In fact, if you have a low level versus a high level you are almost ten times less likely to have a miscarriage, pregnancy complications or a child with a birth defect. And one in 10 people actually lacks a certain enzyme that keeps homocysteine in check, so predisposing them to higher levels.
The good news is that it’s easy to bring down high homocysteine and maintain a healthier low level. How? Well folic acid is part of the story – its ability to lower homocysteine is why pregnant women are advised to supplement it. But it can do this even more effectively if combined with vitamins B2, B6, B12, zinc and a nutrient called TMG. Together, and at the right doses, these nutrients can reduce an undesirable homocysteine level – which in pregnancy is anything above 7 – to a healthy level, below 6, in about two months. If your level is above 9, supplement with 1 200 mcg of folic acid, 1 000 mcg of B12, 75 mg of B6, 20 mg of B2, 15 mg of zinc and 1.5 to 3 g of TMG.
He, together with his team, carried out Britain’s biggest-ever health and diet survey, the 100% Health Survey, which has now been completed by over 60 000 people. His book, The 10 Secrets of 100% Healthy People, portrays the fascinating insights provided by the survey and his 30 years study of good health and how to achieve it.
Click here to browse or order previous issues