Monday, October 24, 2011

Pre-Conception Testing: A Naturopathic Perspective

By Sara Thyr, ND

Photo by lunar caustic via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
When couples decide to get pregnant, most think that they just need to take good care of the baby in utero. Some only worry about nutrition and toxins after the child is born. New research about epigenetics tells us that what you bring into the pregnancy can be even more important for the long-term health of your baby. Diseases like diabetes and heart disease have been linked to toxins to which babies are exposed in the womb. Asthma and allergies are inflammatory disorders with which many children suffer, and the health of the mom during pregnancy can have a great bearing on them.

What does my obstetrician test for?

Standard medical testing might include some look at hormones for ovarian function, particularly for women trying to have babies later in their childbearing years. Most will check to see if the woman has antibodies to Rubella and vaccinate her before pregnancy if these levels are low. They might also look at thyroid function, as malfunction of this endocrine gland makes it more difficult to get pregnant and maintain a healthy pregnancy. They may even look at a woman’s vitamin D levels, and perhaps if they are very progressive check her folic acid, B12 and complete blood count. Most do not look any deeper, unless a woman is having some difficulty getting pregnant. Even then, they are not looking at all of the factors that go into having babies who are not only healthy at birth, but healthy throughout their lives.

What will a naturopathic doctor look at?

Food allergies
Food allergies are a very misunderstood topic, in my opinion. If I ruled the medical world, this test would be as common as a complete blood count (CBC) or thyroid testing. When people have delayed hypersensitivity reactions, they may have some random symptoms, but don’t usually know that there is an association between them and the foods they are commonly eating. Undiscovered food allergies are the most common cause of unexplained infertility. And if a woman does end up getting pregnant, she will pass all of these antibodies on to her child. The mother’s antibodies are passed on to her children, so if she does not eliminate them as much as possible during pregnancy and breast-feeding, she passes her sensitivities on to her children.

An elimination diet can be done in lieu of testing if it is not possible to work with a reputable lab. The most common foods to which people are reactive are wheat (all glutens as well), dairy products and eggs. Some also have issues with soy foods and citrus fruits.

Testing should look at the antibody IgG, as this one is most responsible for delayed hypersensitivity reactions (which is what food allergies exist unless a person has an anaphylactic reaction to a food – in which case they usually know as their tongue and throat swell, they have difficulty breathing, and are rushed to the ER.)

Testing should look at the antibody IgG, as this one is most responsible for delayed hypersensitivity reactions (i.e. food allergy reactions that do not include acute anaphylaxis).

Do you eat a healthy diet? Do you take a multivitamin to ensure adequate levels of the nutrients your body needs? Do these steps ensure that you have in your system everything that is required? Unfortunately, no. I am a big fan of getting our nutrients from healthy, organic foods. Most of us have good digestive systems that will break down and absorb the nutrients that our bodies need. And in the U.S., most diseases of malnutrition have been eradicated. But inadequate levels of many nutrients can have impact on not only the health of the mother, but certainly the developing fetus. Micronutrient testing looks at the long-term levels (not what you got that morning) of all of the B vitamins, A, D, E, minerals that are critical for healthy bone formation, amino acids that help make up the muscles and nervous system, as well as antioxidants that help protect us from many inflammatory diseases. (This is also a great test for the aging population as deficiencies are linked to many disorders.) Shortages of certain amino acids can make it much more difficult for your body to detoxify. B vitamins are critical for many functions, including hormones and nervous system function.

Environmental Toxins
We are all exposed to many environmental toxins every day. Toxins—from pollution while driving or walking down the street, to pesticides and chemicals on our foods, to the plastic liner of the coffee we buy on the way to work, to the perfumes and parabens that are in our body and hair products—are all around us. Some people believe that if they are not working in an oil refinery or carpet factory that they are not exposed to toxins that can be harmful to developing fetuses. Toxic exposure is one area where epigenetics have given us a great deal of information about how we can improve the health of our newborns as well as our entire population. Bisphenol A (BPA) exposure in utero has been linked to men having prostate disease later in life. Phthalates can cause decreased testicular size. Octyphenol is linked to decreased FSH in women and decreased testicular size and function in men. PAH from cigarette smoke exposure while in utero is linked to decreased behavioral scores, ADD and asthma in children.

Some may be unavoidable—if you ride your bike to work you may inhale some vehicle exhaust. But many can be avoided, such as skin care products or cleaning supplies. And even better, you can take some nutrients that will assist your body clearing the toxins from your system more readily. This is particularly important if you are thinking about having a baby.

Hormonal Balance and Adrenal Function
Most hormonal issues can be elucidated in a thorough history with a patient. If a woman has regular cycles and is ovulating—has little to no PMS, heavy bleeding, excess facial hair, fibroids, etc.—then we likely won’t need to pursue in-depth hormonal testing. If someone has a history of early miscarriages, then looking at hormonal balance is more important, especially if she is having difficulty getting pregnant. If the latter is true, then I also always look at adrenal function testing. The adrenal glands are often overlooked unless there is severe malfunction. But more subtle changes can affect her ability to get pregnant, carry a child to term, and feel energized and strong. The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system (the system that encompasses our hormones, including thyroid) and if there is excessive stress, insomnia, abuse history, etc., then checking the adrenals can be very helpful. Some women with increased fatigue will benefit greatly from adrenal support.

Consulting with a naturopathic doctor before, during and after pregnancy provides a great gift of increased health to your unborn child. Click here to find one in your area.

1 comment:

  1. Really Nice Topic and well briefed. I was really looking for some info about naturopathy and I think this blog is really helpful to get the truth. I would like to share this with my online medical community here.

    Dr. Kim Kelly