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WELLNESS: Consider detoxing before getting pregnant

GUEST COLUMN When we think of a healthy pregnancy, many things come to mind, including physical activity, healthy eating and stress management. But we often fail to recognize the significance of a healthy lifestyle and diet even prior to conceiving.


When we think of a healthy pregnancy, many things come to mind, including physical activity, healthy eating and stress management.

But we often fail to recognize the significance of a healthy lifestyle and diet even prior to conceiving. If we can reduce our exposure to environmental pollutants now, our future children will have a healthier start to life.

Toxic compounds can pass through the placenta or concentrate in breast milk due to its high fat content. This is because many toxins are fat-soluble and will accumulate in fat tissue. While babies need the fat as nourishment, it is unfortunately an efficient way of exposing them to these toxins. Babies are particularly vulnerable because of their immature organ systems and limited ability to process these compounds.

POP - persistent organic pollutant - is a term used to describe environmental pollutants that are stable, stored in the body in fat tissue and can have negative effects on the hormonal system. POPs include lead, mercury, PCBs and dioxins, to name a few.

We now have evidence through animal studies that this early exposure can have negative effects on child development and even future cancer risk.

One of the most insidious sources of toxins are the foods we eat. A diet study done by the FDA revealed POP contamination in a whopping 155 foods. The pesticide DDT was by far the most common despite the fact that its use has been banned in most countries since the 1970s (by definition, POPs persist in the environment and do not degrade). Other prevalent contaminants were insecticides and pesticides. One of the notable contaminated foods was dairy products, which are often eaten in greater quantities during pregnancy. This is likely due to the fact that animal products are higher on the food chain and, thus, the animal has a greater ability to concentrate the toxins in its fat stores, which are then passed on to the consumer.

In addition to POPs, non-persistent pesticides are also a concern. Studies on a class of pesticides called organophosphates have shown a range of cognitive effects on children exposed to low levels in utero. Some of the observations that have been noted are a lower IQ, decline in motor skills, poor focus and hyperactive behaviour. This type of pesticide is found in chemical products used to control weeds, insects, fungi and rodents. Often the primary exposure to these chemicals is by eating foods that are sprayed with them.

If you're wondering how else you might be exposed to these pollutants, the answer is that they are all around us. Environmental contaminants come from a variety of sources, including solvents, fumes, paint thinners, personal care products, plastics and old building materials. They enter the body through the skin or they are inhaled as fumes. PCBs were used in industrial processes and now end up in our oceans and food supply when they are not disposed of properly. Others are used in the manufacturing of electronics and foam padding in sofas and mattresses. The toxins leach out of these items and settle onto the ground as dust.

It's virtually impossible to completely avoid all toxins but, by educating ourselves, we can reduce our exposure.

Detoxi?cation before conception is the ideal way to reduce exposure to environmental toxins for both mother and child, giving your baby a brighter future. Here are some tips to get you started:


Consume at least five servings of fresh vegetables daily, including at least one serving of dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards or chard. An antioxidant-rich diet will help reduce the oxidative stress caused by certain pesticides.

Try juicing fresh vegetables such as cucumber, celery and carrots. Add in a burst of flavour with ginger, lemon, cilantro or ?at leaf parsley. The liquid phytonutrients are easily absorbed through the digestive tract and into your cells.

Drink plenty of ?ltered water to help ?ush out toxins.

Eat whole foods - those that are minimally processed, such as raw nuts and seeds, fresh produce, oats, quinoa and brown rice. Read labels of any packaged foods you consume so you know what you're putting into your body.

To limit your exposure to environmental toxins:

Avoid animal fats as they are higher on the food chain and appear to be some of the most concentrated sources of POPs. Among the highest ranked foods that were tested are cheese butter and hamburgers.

Avoid using plastic with the #7 recycling symbol, as it often contains BPA.

Avoid BPA-lined canned foods. Use fresh or frozen foods or use cans labelled "BPA free."

Avoid personal care products such as shampoos and lotions with phthalates. Although there are no labelling requirements for phthalates, they are often listed as "fragrance" or "parfum" on the ingredients. "Natural fragrance" or "essential oils" should not contain phthalates.

Use the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list to avoid the 12 most commonly pesticide contaminated produce items. Always wash your produce thoroughly.

- written by Amanda Svendsen, naturopathic physician at Port Moody Naturopathic Health and Wellness, 604-949-0077.