By Breea Johnson, MS RD LDN
We tend to think of our genetics as a hereditary "gift" from our parents - one that can keep on giving. Depending on the cards dealt by nature, we may have a life-long relationship with Aunt Martha's high blood pressure, Uncle Mike's diabetes and even worry that one day we'll end up with Grandpa Joe's Alzheimer's. Or maybe we've got "good genes," and expect to live to be ninety-eight like Grandma Mary with a dry martini in our hand. Hey, you can't fight genetics, right?
Actually, that's not entirely true. While there is validity to genetic patterning, no health outcome is engraved in stone. Enter an emerging field of study called epigenetics that evaluates how a woman's diet, stress, toxic exposure and behavioral factors in the pre-conception and prenatal period can actually alter her off-spring's genetic makeup and risk for chronic disease. One established example of epigenetics is the "Thirty Phenotype Hypothesis," which links poor fetal nutrition to the development of chronic diseases, specifically coronary heart disease and Type II diabetes, later in life. Other emerging research is teasing out associations between psycho-social stress and poor pregnancy outcomes (miscarriage, low birth weight and premature birth) as well as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and poor immune function later in life (Wadhwa et al. 2009).
As you might imagine, these new developments are placing serious focus on peri-natal health and nutrition. When you are newly pregnant, your OB is likely to give you a handout that outlines the "need to know" info for the next nine months. This resource is great for basic prenatal nutrition guidelines, like which foods to avoid, extra calorie needs and weight gain guidelines, as well as a basic heads' up about the nausea, constipation and heart burn that may be in your near future. Yet, when it comes to pregnancy, there's basic knowledge and then there's cutting edge. At the Moon it's our goal to stay on top of the emerging research surrounding the peri-natal period and to use this information to help optimize the health of mom and baby. We not only counsel our patients on nutritional issues, we also provide a whole range of services specifically directed to pre-conception and pregnancy including yoga, acupuncture and massage.
Among some of the "nutrition-forward" topics we're tracking:
- Vitamin D during pregnancy - what does the latest research say about recommended dosages and why is it important for baby's future health?
- If you're overweight when you start a pregnancy, what does the latest research say about weight gain?
- Gestational Diabetes - can it be prevented?
- Soy exposure in pregnancy - helpful or harmful?
- Emerging guidelines on the benefits/risks of phytoestrogen intake for infants.
- Increasing rates of infertility in men may be related to perinatal exposure to certain chemicals. What should you be avoiding?
- Is it possible to avoid prenatal exposure to mercury and other heavy metals?
- Artificial sweeteners – should you consume them while pregnant?
- Organic foods, pesticides and the effect on fetal development.
- Prenatal Psycho-social stress and potential health consequences for baby.
- Can you safely consume potential allergens like peanuts during pregnancy?
If you have undergone ART to conceive, you may have worked with a specialist in fertility nutrition along the way for optimal health during the process. Prenatal nutrition is a whole new world, with its own recommendations and guidelines. Thus, the need to see a prenatal nutrition specialist is more important than ever. So, when you are thinking about seeing a nutritionist during pregnancy, make sure to see a Prenatal Nutrition Specialist for the latest, up-to-date guidelines. If you would like to book an appointment with a Pulling Down the Moon nutritionist, please call (312) 321-0004 or visit www.pullingdownthemoon.com for Online Scheduling.
Wadwha et al. Developmental Origins of Health and Disease: A Brief History of the Approach and Current Focus on Epigenetic Mechanisms. Semin Reprod Med 2009 September:27 358-368.