This article will provide mums and dads to-be with an increased understanding of the benefits of detoxification before conception. We also cover a range of pertinent diet and nutritional issues relating to preconception and pregnancy, This information can therefore be used as part of preconception planning to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy, for both mother and child. It should also be stressed that preconception planning is equally important for men – in order to increase the chances of a successful conception and healthy birth.
This article will also provide helpful information for anyone interested in the detoxification process and ways to support this for themselves. Topics covered below include details on how supplements can help to remove toxic metals, an increased understanding of the benefits of food supplementation on the fertility journey, how diet can affect fertility and the unborn child, and the latest information and research in the world of nutrition and fertility.
We have previously written about the importance for both men and women planning to have a child in respect of nutrition, diet and other related health issues. We have also detailed recent groundbreaking research in the field of nutrigenomics which highlights how the diet of the mum and dad at a preconception stage can have a fundamental genetic impact on the planned child. Links to these articles are provided at the end.
We are Toxic Beings – Why?
In the world we live in today we are all ‘toxic beings’; by this we mean our body contains levels of ‘man-made’ toxins that did not exist in centuries gone by. This toxic load we carry is due to widespread exposure to toxins in literally everything around us and much that we consume. Four areas primarily attributed to contributing a toxic load are:
- Personal hygiene products
- Social and recreational drugs (including alcohol)
In greater detail each of these can be broken down into the following key toxin contributing factors:
- Many of the foods we eat contain – Colourants, flavourings, preservatives, herbicides, pesticides
- Pesticides – Are primarily fat soluble (i.e. once ingested they get stored in our body), carcinogens and hormone disruptors
- Bisphenols in plastics – Leech into the foods they package; many are fat soluble and get stored in the body. Bisphenols disrupt fertility, impact on the health of eggs and male fertility
- Acrylamide – A carcinogen found in chips, crisps, biscuits etc.
So the ideal diet for women and men would be one containing organic foods (raw or gently cooked). However if you have not followed such a diet for a considerable period of time prior to conception there will still be a ‘toxic load’ in the body.
- Our natural environment contains chemicals ‘everywhere’ – in the air, water, and plants. The ones that particularly impact pregnancy and preconceptual health are:
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – From burnt food, car exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke –are known carcinogenic and can impact on fertility and the developing foetus
- ‘Roundup’ (glyphosphate) – Upsets glucose tolerance, impacts adversely on bone degeneration
- Water – Oestrogen and other chemicals that are not reduced by processing are found in the water we drink, bathe and cook with
In the UK the environment agency monitor air quality. Unfortunately we can’t all live in the Outer Hebrides where the air quality is the best. Yet we need to be mindful of all of these environmental factors that may impact on our long-term health; and particularly in relation to preconception and pregnancy.
Personal Hygiene Products
- 60% of what is put on our skin is absorbed into the blood stream and stored in our body
- Benzyl peroxide (for example, commonly found in acne products) – Is a mutagen, carcinogen, even toxic if inhaled
- Diethanolamine (DEA) monoethanolamine (MEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) – Used in foams – An irritant to eyes and skin; accumulates in organs and brain
- Dioxin – Often not listed but found in many products such as cleaning fluids, antibacterial ingredients – Causes cancers, reduced immunity, miscarriage, birth deformity
- Synthetic colours from coal tar dyes (found in make-up) – All are carcinogenic (Reds, blues, orange colours)
- Parabens – Preservative, in deodorants and other skin care products. Have been identified in breast cancer cells. May contribute to sterility in males, hormone imbalance/disruptor
- PEG polyethylene glycol – Contain dioxins and found in many products – Sun screens, baby care, personal care
- Phthalates – (plasticiser) Often not listed on labels. Found in many products. Can cause damage to liver/kidneys; birth defects; decreased sperm count
- SLS/SLES -sodium laurel sulphate/laureth sulphate – Used in around 90% of personal products such as shampoos, soaps, anything that foams. Can cause eye damage, depression, and is toxic
The best advice is to simply read the labels on all your current products and those you plan to buy. If there are ingredients on labels that you don’t understand or that sound chemical there is a wealth of information available online. Again organic products are the best option. But even products listed as organic do not need to be 100% organic – so scrutinise all the ingredients on everything!
Social and Recreational Drugs
- Alcohol – Quite apart from the fact that it should be avoided, or taken in moderation, at preconception time, also contains preservatives, benzene and sulphites
- Caffeine – The most widely consumed stimulant in the World. When ingested in excessive amounts and for extended periods, caffeine produces a specific ‘toxidrome’ (‘caffeinism’), which consists primarily of the following:
- (CNS) features – Headache, light-headedness, anxiety, agitation, tremulousness, perioral and extremity tingling, confusion, psychosis, seizures
- Cardiovascular features – Palpitations or racing heart rate, chest pain
- Gastrointestinal (GI) features – Nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, bowel incontinence, anorexia
- Cigarettes – All accumulate and cause damage ( PAH, cadmium- heavy metal etc)
The list above is not exhaustive, for example there are many illegal substance which all bring their own toxicity and damage, and of course should not be ingested. For preconception, pregnancy and beyond cigarettes and alcohol should be avoided by both mum and dad.
Why do we need to detoxify preconception?
There is a timing element for detoxification of the body. Our body primarily stores toxins, the toxins are not circulating in our body but end up being stored in organs. Detoxification encourages the release and excretion of toxins, and this will give rise to detoxification symptoms and also a much higher circulating level of toxins. Therefore it is important to detoxify pre planned conception, not when conception is being attempted, or during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Toxins are stored in fat cells, the brain, bone, liver etc. The liver is a primary store of toxins and an organ associated with natural detoxification of the body, particularly when addressing alcohol and drugs, also hormones and oestrogen. Indeed the liver is a major organ for natural oestrogen detoxification, so it is vital to maintain a healthy liver to help with hormone regulation.
For those that have used hormonal contraception detoxification can assist in restoring a normal monthly cycle. Many birth defects and fertility issues find their root cause in a toxic build up/exposure of the parents.
Eradicating the body of pollutants and allowing the body to achieve homeostasis promotes health and a balanced anti-inflammatory environment – this will optimise fertility. And to be clear again – Both parents need to carry out detoxification.
When and How to Detoxify
A programme of detoxification should be started at least 3 months before planned conception – and Ideally much longer before. If you are unsure on any aspects of carrying out a detoxification programme seek advice from a qualified health practitioner specialising in this area. (As an example Foresight Preconception offer a specialist advice service in respect of testing levels of heavy metals and minerals in people with such concerns).
An ideal programme will gently help the removal of stored toxins over a period of time. The key is ‘gently’ to avoid excess symptoms from the detoxification. For those who wish to undertake a professional detoxification in conjunction with a reputable firm or practitioner progress can be monitored individually through hair analysis of heavy metals and minerals; and also through symptoms that are related to the detox.
How Supplements can Help to Remove Toxins and Heavy Metals
There are a variety of body mechanisms involved in detoxification. By understanding the role each plays this helps to explain how supplements can help to naturally support the body during the process. To help healthy detoxification; the liver, GI tract, urinary tract and metabolism need to be healthy.
- Liver – produces bile, which acts as a removal vehicle for substances that are fat soluble and organ stored. Bile collects toxic substances as they pass through the hepatic circulation and these are carried into the intestine to be removed in the faeces. The liver is the major organ of detoxification as all blood passes through the liver
- Kidneys – Need to be healthy for efficient removal of water soluble toxins via the urine
- Chelation – Some minerals have the capability to “chelate” (bind) to heavy metals, and this helps remove them via the GI tract
- Sweat – Acts as another vehicle to remove water soluble toxins via the skin
- Digestive system – Faeces: It is important to keep the digestive system healthy and a 6-8 hour transit time. Avoid constipation as this increases risk of toxins in the faeces being re-absorbed
Nutrients and Supplements to Support
The following nutrients support the above detoxification mechanisms:
- Liver – Milk thistle, spirulina, dandelion, mint, parsley, garlic, vitamin C, choline
- Urinary tract – Hydration, cranberry, blueberry juices, (d mannose if UTI), nettle tea
- Chelators – Zinc, selenium, spirulina, manganese, vitamin C
- Digestion – Avoid constipation whereby toxins can be re-absorbed. Adopt a high soluble fibre diet and take appropriate probiotics, linseeds, and plenty of fluid (water). A Healthy bowel function is of paramount importance
- Antioxidants – Pro-oxidants are formed in quantity during detoxification. It is important to ensure good intakes of vitamins, minerals. phyto antioxidants – Vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, flavonoids, carotenoids, polyphenolics
The greater specifics of action on some of the above nutrients include:
Zinc: Lead and cadmium inhibit zinc dependent enzymes and exert a more toxic effect in the presence of zinc deficiency. Zinc is always needed at good levels during detoxification
Phospholipds and Omega 3: Krill Oil, Phospholec, fish oil to replenish stored fats and replace those contaminated with fat soluble toxins. Also considered to improve the microcirculation aiding in oxygen delivery and detoxification function.
Spirulina: The combination of phytonutrients and chlorophyll provide a natural chelating support with evidence of benefit in heavy metal detoxification. Spirulina also promotes bile flow.
Garlic: Protective of blood cells from oxidative damage, contains sulph-hydryl groups which oxidise mercury, cadmium and lead, rendering them water soluble and inhibiting their absorption. Protective of microbial infections often associated with heavy metal overload due to the allicin content – a powerful antimicrobial.
Vitamin C: believed to assist with lead and cadmium toxicity and provides additional antioxidant support. Vitamin C is the universal antioxidant as it is the only one that is water soluble. Hence it has capability to remove all water soluble toxins and also to bind to (via conjugation) fat soluble toxins and render them water soluble to aid removal.
In addition: (to reiterate) – Increase all antioxidant support to assist in the detoxification process and deal with increased pro-oxidants.
The Benefits of Supplementation on the Fertility Journey
The following information will provide mums-to-be with an increased understanding of the benefits of supplementation on the fertility journey. Many women improve their diet and lifestyle once pregnant or immediately prior to pregnancy. This is laudable however the reality is that for these, and many other women, the likelihood is they are entering conception and pregnancy in a nutrient deplete state.
In addition those switching to a healthier dietary regime at, or around, pregnancy there will be residues remaining in the body of a perhaps previous less than healthy lifestyle, due to diet and alcohol for example.
Research has identified key nutrient deficiencies in every group of the population (in the UK). Amongst the most depleted groups are pregnant women and the young (both men and women); the latter being a key demographic planning pregnancy.
For those not nutritionally replete and without healthy lifestyles in place there is an increased risk for poor fertility and a less than favourable environment to ensure a successful and healthy pregnancy for mother and baby. This must be addressed well ahead of the pregnancy.
For preconception it should be considered that to achieve a healthy pregnancy we need healthy eggs and sperm – therefore we need to ensure nutritional support starts in sufficient time to ensure healthy eggs and sperm. It takes 3 months for an egg and a sperm to mature, so any changes to diet and environment must therefore be instigated a minimum of 3 months before planned conception, ideally longer still! You need to consider your starting point too – if currently you have a regime of poor nutrition and lifestyle this will mean you are starting from a negative position and will require increased levels of the appropriate nutrients, and longer time to achieve a nutrient replete state.
Pregnancy increases micronutrient needs, to fuel mother and foetus, by 50% – but only calorie needs by 25%-30%. And this hence increases any existing nutritional deficiencies at a critical time. It is important to realise that it is paramount not to enter pregnancy in a nutrient depleted state because any such ‘gap’ will get larger and impact on the health of your baby (and you too).
A recent study published in Nature demonstrated definitively that the diet of the mother at conception impacts irreversibly on the gene expression of the baby. The link to this story in detail is provided below. This is indeed ‘groundbreaking’ information and reaffirms the huge responsibility for mums to be to maintain a healthy diet. The research clarifies the mothers diet at the time of conception will affect the health of that child throughout its life.
At Cytoplan an integral part of our philosophy is that there is a ‘Nutrition Gap’ in the population today, caused by a number of different factors, but which means that most people are not getting the level of essential nutrients needed for health and protection on a daily basis. This deficit impacts adversely on both immediate and long term health. This rationale is pertinent for all of us at all stages of life. And as previously noted especially pertinent at preconception and pregnancy for the health of mother, father and the planned baby. You can read more about the nutrition gap by following this link – Cytoplan Approach to Nutrition .
Bearing in mind the nutrition gap and the range of nutrient deficiency issues we have noted above we would typically recommend nutritional support for women at preconception, pregnancy and breast-feeding with a well-balanced multi-vitamin and mineral formulation which should include: Vitamin A (beta carotene), The B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Folic Acid, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Selenium and Zinc. This formulation is ideal for women. Men do not need iron or calcium but they need the rest of the nutrients above. At Cytoplan we have tailored formulations for each partner.
The greater specifics on these nutrients in relation to preconception and pregnancy are:
Folic acid (methylfolate) – Reduces neural tube defect risks such as Spina Bifida and others. Research indicates the benefit for a healthy full term pregnancy for folic acid supplementation beyond the previously advised twelve weeks, with recommendation for folic acid to be taken preconception and throughout pregnancy @ 400ug/day. Folic acid supplementation is logical because it is a methyl donor and hence a growth promoter; there is lots of growth taking place in pregnancy and hence it is needed to support this. (*Please note we recommend methylfolate and not folic acid for supplements – details further below).
B Complex Vitamins – Necessary for the production of DNA and RNA for egg and sperm. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are important for genetic coding and improving sperm count in men. Vitamin B6 is believed to increase fertility for women.
Beta Carotene (for vitamin A) – Antioxidant protection for sperm and egg DNA. (**We only recommend the Beta Carotene as the safe precursor to vitamin A in supplements).
Vitamin C – A range of antioxidant benefits; also protective of sperm and internal DNA damage, enhancing sperm quality.
Vitamin D – Is important during pregnancy to help build your growing baby’s bones. Also a vitamin needed for health of all organs and tissues. All pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised by Government to take a vitamin D supplement. (***We recommend vitamin ‘D3’ and not D2 as this is the most bioeffective form of Vitamin D and is now available from a vegan source)
Vitamin E – For antioxidant support and important for fertility for both sexes.
Zinc – An essential component of genetic material. Zinc deficiencies are linked to chromosome changes for male and female, reduced fertility, increased risk of miscarriage due to the impact on reproductive hormones. High concentrations of zinc are found in sperm, thus an essential mineral for healthy sperm and numbers.
Selenium – An antioxidant, essential to maintain chromosome integrity and important in miscarriage prevention and birth defects; also essential for sperm formation and numbers.
Omega 3 – An ‘Essential Fatty Acid’ important preconception for men and women and continuing during pregnancy for the developing baby. The anti-inflammatory support of Omega 3 particularly relevant for sustaining a full term pregnancy. Semen is rich in prostaglandin hence the importance of essential fatty acids supplementation for quality, motility and sperm numbers. Omega 3 is important for the health of every cell in everyone, particularly for eye and brain health of the developing foetus.
How Can Diet Affect Fertility and the Unborn Child?
Diet is important for both partners when planning a pregnancy. Obesity is associated with reduced fertility for women due to hormonal imbalances and resulting reduced ovulation. In addition those very underweight, and for some those that partake in regular heavy exercise, fertility can also be reduced.
Research indicates the benefits of the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ for health and fertility as this is a more natural wholefood diet providing good intakes of healthy fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish. The diet is rich in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, and provides healthy protein sources. This diet is low in processed foods which currently form a large part of many UK diets; refined and processed food diets are linked to poor blood sugar control, weight gain and hormonal imbalances. These can all lead to irregular and short menstrual cycles impacting on ovulation and fertility. Nutrient poor refined diets also impact on nutrients for healthy sperm.
Alcohol reduces fertility in both sexes and impacts on the developing infants with risks such as foetal alcohol syndrome. Caffeine consumption is considered to decrease fertility; studies have particularly looked at the consumption of coffee where even low intakes were considered to impact on sperm count and motility. Therefore limit caffeine intake; it is suggested that women who are pregnant should consume no more than 200mg caffeine a day. A rough guide so that you can understand and monitor your caffeine intake is as follows:
- 1 mug instant coffee – 100mg
- 1 mug filter coffee -145mg
- 1 mug tea -75mg
- 1 can cola -40mg
- 1 can energy- drink 80mg
- 1 50gram bar of plain chocolate 50mg, milk chocolate has half the quantity
Iron deficiency is common in females of all menstruating ages. A diet for preconception and pregnancy should contain iron rich foods. Yet again forward planning is important. Start the iron rich diet well before preconception is planned, this is because it is a lot more difficult to raise iron levels in those who are iron depleted during pregnancy because at this point lots of the Iron is being used by the growing child.
Finally, fish is a healthy protein, and oily fish an important source of Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids -essential for the development of the nervous system amongst a range of health benefits. But most omega 3 rich fish are also likely to be high in heavy metals like mercury. In this respect the ground feeding and scavenger fish like mackerel are the worst, with the algae feeding fish like sardines and anchovies the best. But this is one area where a clean fish oil supplement is safer and better than food sources. Both whole body fish oil or krill oil are ideal as supplements, particularly as the Government now warns against fish consumption during pregnancy.
The Department of Health have stated: “Women who are planning a pregnancy or might become pregnant, or who are already pregnant, should take a folic acid supplement and vitamin D supplements”. In 2012 the chief medical officer for England recommending that all pregnant and breastfeeding women and children aged six months to five-years-old should take vitamin D supplements.
At Cytoplan we offer a service to help people optimise health through diet and supplements, and this includes one-to-one support for those planning a birth or in pregnancy. If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time. If you want to be alerted by email when a new post is published simply add your email address in the ‘Get The Latest Post By Email’ in the right-hand column.
Amanda Williams, Cytoplan Ltd
firstname.lastname@example.org, 01684 310099
*Folic Acid: For supplementation of folic acid we only recommend methylfolate. Methylfolate (5MTHF) is the most stable, safe and bioeffective form of folate. Read our article on folic acid and methylfolate: Cytoplan Blog: Methylfolate
** Beta Carotene is a precursor of vitamin A found in plants it is enzymatically converted to vitamin A in the body as it is required. Beta Carotene is considered safer than taking Vitamin A because the body only converts the amount it needs at any point in time. Hence at Cytoplan we do not have Vitamin A in any of our products – only Beta Carotene, the safe precursor. (Government advice recommends restricted vitamin A intake in pregnancy). Cytoplan Beta Carotene
*** Vitamin D: When it comes to vitamin D supplements vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable form of this nutrient, and far preferable to vitamin D2 to supplement with. At Cytoplan we only use and recommend vitamin D3 in a supplement form. Cytoplan Blog: The Health Benefits of Vitamin D
Cytoplan Pregna-Plan multivitamin and mineral
Our ‘Pregna-Plan’ supplement is specifically formulated for all stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding and the formula is ideal to aid preconception planning for women too. Pregna-Plan comprises all of the most appropriate vitamins and minerals necessary for women and baby during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. This includes the current UK Government recommendations comprising Folic Acid and Vitamin D. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Recent Research in the Field of Fertility:
L Arginine, L Carnatine, zinc, folic acid, vitamin E, selenium, Glutathione, CoQ10
Martin Imhofemailemail, Jakob Lackner, Markus Lipovac, Peter Chedraui, Claus Riedl. Improvement of sperm quality after micronutrient supplementation E Spen Journal Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages e50–e53, February 2012
Jolien Steenweg-de Graaff, Akhgar Ghassabian, Vincent W.V. Jaddoe, Henning Tiemeier, and Sabine J. Roza. Folate concentrations during pregnancy and autistic traits in the offspring. The Generation R Study Eur J Public Health (2014)
doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cku126 First published online: July 31, 2014.
S. West1, H. Lashen, A. Bloigu, S. Franks, K. Puukka, A. Ruokonen, M.-R. Järvelin,J.S. Tapanainen,and L. Morin-Papunen,Irregular menstruation and hyperandrogenaemia in adolescence are associated with polycystic ovary syndrome and infertility in later life: Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 study Hum. Reprod. (2014)
doi: 10.1093/humrep/deu200 First published online: August 1, 2014.
Alberto Ascherio MD, Dr PH, Kassandra L. Munger. Not too late to take vitamin D supplements ScD1 DOI: 10.1002/ana.24239
Supplementation of vitamin D and calcium may reduce fasting plasma glucose and insulin, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce low-density lipoprotein ‘bad’ cholesterol while boosting ‘good’ cholesterol for women with Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM), according to Iranian researchers.
Veerle Van Hoeckemail, Peter E.J. Bols, Mario Binelli, Jo L.M.R. Leroy. Reduced oocyte and embryo quality in response to elevated non-esterified fatty acid concentrations: A possible pathway to subfertility? Animal Reproduction Science
Frary JM, Bjerre KP, Glintborg D, Ravn P The effect of dietary carbohydrates in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Minerva Endocrinologica  (PMID:24914605)
Zatollah Asemi & Maryam Karamali & Ahmad Esmaillzadeh Effects of calcium–vitamin D co-supplementation on glycaemic control, inflammation and oxidative stress in gestational diabetes a randomised placebo-controlled trial: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Diabetologia DOI 10.1007/s00125-014-3293-x