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Building a Healthy Body--Things to Consider before Conception

(Originally published in Veggie Views - revised slightly)

by JoAnn Farb

Here it is as promised two months ago. A large but probably incomplete list of all the things that might best be avoided in the interest of giving one's offspring the best possible start. However, I should state at the outset, that this entire list is coming from memory and represents my own personal beliefs, things I may have read long ago and intuition. Many would argue that there is no "proof" that many of these things present any risk what-so-ever. That may be true. However, when I look around at the increases in allergies, asthma, leukemia, autism, learning disorders, ADD, the need for antibiotics, auto-immune disorders, and other illnesses that seem to be affecting more and more children, I think that the burden to prove that these things carry no risk should be on those producing or marketing them. Personally, in most cases I prefer a small inconvenience over possible exposure to harm.

The thing is, when you are dealing with embryonic development, the evidence now suggests that there are certain very critical moments that occur during development. A particular point in the division of a single cell for instance that if a certain environmental condition exists can alter the genetic code or the expression of that code. Other than recognizing that the first three months of pregnancy probably contain the majority of these "moments", we really can't yet predict when they occur. A few glasses of wine one day, may be inconsequential, while three days later the same exposure could be disastrous. I encourage everyone to read the book Our Stolen Future by Theo Colborn for a more thorough discussion of this idea. A new book recently published, Life in the Womb, by Peter Nathanielsz in fact presents data that supports the view that the gestational environment may be more significant in terms of life time disease risk than genetics! (I haven't actually read this one yet, but it is on my list.)

One more disclaimer. If you are a person who worships technology and the conveniences of modern life, and tires of hearing about potential risks; if you often say, "Well we gotta die of something," or "I'm not going to live in a cave," then you might as well just stop reading right now (unless of course my list proves valuable for a good belly laugh amongst you and your like minded friends). but if you feel that good health is fundamental to a good life, and you are willing to adjust your behavior in order to protect it, then read on.

There is one other thing that I believe could be very helpful that I would encourage you to do before suggesting what to avoid. That is to visit a competent classical homeopath and for both parents to get constitutional treatment prior to conception. I believe that homeopathy will be the medicine of the 21st century! I am seeing more and more evidence, that properly used, homeopathy has the ability to temper genetic predispositions, mitigate negative environmental effects, reduce allergies, and overall improve health. I cannot possibly emphasize this enough! In families with severe predispositions, continued treatment of the mother during pregnancy may even diminish the severity of things like spina bifida, when this has been detected in early pregnancy. The challenge of course is finding a competent homeopath. Experience really does matter -- as does training from a reputable program like Hahnemann College in California. There are areas of the country without decent classical homeopaths -- many people travel great distances for this care, but if you find a competent homeopath it is truly worth it! Likewise I will add one caution here -- do NOT attempt to treat yourself in pregnancy (unless it is low potency used very occasionally) anything with the power to heal also has the power to hurt if misapplied.

There are four main categories of things that I work to avoid more so when I am pregnant. 1) Radiation, 2) Chemicals, 3) Infectious agents, and 4) Heat (only when pregnant). Some of these things may pose a cumulative risk, such as radiation and certain chemicals. It is possible that one's lifetime exposure may have consequences for the quality of sperm and eggs in our bodies. With other things such as certain infectious agents like the Rubella virus, exposure may only carry a risk at certain points during pregnancy. And it is possible that some things like pesticides and/or plastics which may be classified as endocrine disrupters, carry increased risk during pregnancy and even during infancy when certain hormonal switches are being switched.

So let's begin with radiation. I avoid x-rays, air travel (first trimester due to cosmic rays), sonograms, too much computer time, TV, microwaves, cellular telephones, living near cell towers, or electric substations, being too close to any electric motor hair dryers, blenders, etc. (the risk quickly diminishes with a little distance due to the electric field decreasing based upon the square of the distance). Walking far on sidewalks that run right under power lines, sleeping on a waterbed (due to the heater), electric blankets, digital clocks close to the bed, putting the bed close to electrical outlets, and magnets (primarily near my pregnant belly). it is possible that the risk of disorders like Down's syndrome are increased as one's lifetime exposure to radiation increases.

Next is chemicals. I avoid cleaners, detergents, hair dye, polishes, glues, antimicrobial soaps (mild vegetable based soaps I do use), formaldahyded nail polishes, pesticides, flea-dipped pets, pets treated prophalactically for fleas and ticks, cold medicines, all over the counter medications no matter how benign the doctor says they are, second hand smoke, incense, campfires that contain trash, drinking out of plastic, hot food that has been in contact with plastic, cooking with aluminum, tap water, recently painted rooms, newly built kitchens, insecticided buildings, (Read Allergic to the 21st Century for insight into why many of these are listed.) walking through non-organic farms, golf courses, sitting on perfect looking lawns, consuming foods containing artificial colors and flavors, nutrasweet, any foods animal derived (especially fish), which tend to concentrate pesticides and environmental toxins and anything hydrogenated, or containing trans-fatty acids.

Now we come to infectious agents. These include bacteria, Viruses, and Prions (like Mad Cow Disease). In most cases my main concern is for the first trimester, but in some cases does extend al the way through infancy. I believe that if a baby's immune system is sheltered early on, that as it develops it will be stronger and more able to withstand later assaults. It makes sense to me to isolate a newborn from contact with anyone outside of the family, and to limit exposure to strangers the entire first year. While it is true that the immune system requires stimulation for proper development, any home no matter how clean is virtually swimming with microorganisms. These can provide the necessary challenge to an infant's system without overwhelming it, since the infant receives antibodies to these normal household germs via its mother's milk. Many vaccines contain live viruses. So while I was pregnant I considered it prudent to avoid contact with recently vaccinated babies and pets.

Even though I have no data to back this up, it is my gut feeling that many of the chemical additives used in foods and the supposedly benign over the counter medications that are commonly taken by pregnant women, might serve to subtly undermine the baby's immune system, and so I am careful to avoid these too. Of special concern is aspartame (nutrasweet). Books have been written on its dangers. (Excitotoxins the Taste That Kills by Russel Blaylock MD) It seems even more problematic for children under seven -- the blood/brain barrier is more permeable. Be careful Nutrasweet is used many places you would never guess -- like children's medicines, and hundreds of different processed foods.

The fact is we just simply don't have nearly enough data on the variety of environmental factors that influence health. We can't even begin to predict the combined affects of these factors or the synergies that might develop. Nine months is a very short time to be so cautious, but the consequences of not being cautious could last a lifetime.

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