This has very important implications for the health of our children. First, let's put it into context. The blood of a mother and her child is separated by the placental membrane. One of the functions of this membrane is to prevent waste products and toxins in a mother's blood from entering the blood of her developing child. It is intended to protect the child, but is not 100% effective. Today there are thousands of toxic chemicals in our water, food and environment. Many of them will end up in our body fluids and tissues. Although our body has very efficient mechanisms for breaking down and eliminating these toxins, the level of toxicity that we are exposed to significantly exceeds our capacity to eliminate them much of the time. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the majority are synthetic or semi-synthetic chemicals that, until recently, the human body has never been exposed to. Just as our general mechanisms of detoxification are not capable of fully protecting us from this toxic chemical onslaught, similarly the placental membrane is not able to fully protect a developing child.
When 232 or 287 (depending on the study) chemicals are detected in umbilical cord blood, we need to keep in mind two things: firstly, this only represents a percentage of the chemicals in a mother's tissues as some would have been filtered out by the placental membrane; and secondly, that there are many more chemicals that could potentially be found in umbilical blood that these studies didn't test for. There is no study that has ever attempted to detect every possible known environmental toxin in umbilical cord blood, or in the human body for that matter. So, in reality, there could be two or five or ten times the number of chemicals that were found in these studies.
Medical professionals often claim that we shouldn't be concerned about this because these chemicals are usually at "acceptable levels". This is ridiculous because our understanding of the affects of these chemicals is insufficient to be able to determine what actually constitutes an acceptable level, especially concerning the affects of long-term exposure. We know even less about the potential affects on a developing child, and virtually nothing about how all of these chemicals interact in our body because the toxicological studies from which the "acceptable levels" are determined almost always focus on a single chemical. Fortunately, some medical researchers are beginning to sound the alarm. Unfortunately, the majority of doctors are still not aware of or unwilling to discuss this with their patients [for example, see: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=should-doctors-warn-pregnant-women-about-environmental-risks].
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is an excellent herb for detoxification. It is also a specific
for helping to protect women from toxins that are hormone disruptors.
One of the things that I've noticed in the last thirty years, in my practice, in the research literature, and in life in general, is that chronic illnesses are significantly on the rise. More importantly from the perspective of this discussion, they are affecting people at younger ages with each successive generation. One of the primary reasons for this is that each generation develops in the presence of whatever toxic chemicals are able to pass through the placental membrane and then after birth they continue to accumulate additional toxicity from the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, from things they put on their body and use in their home, and from other sources in their environment. By the time they start having children, their body fluids and tissues are likely to be considerably more toxic than those of their parents when they were born. The accumulative affect of this is the gradual erosion of the level of health and vitality of the entire human population from one generation to the next.
Until recently it was assumed that unless a substance has the capacity to produce a genetic mutation and is present at a critical stage of embryonic development when the mutation is more likely to occur, the relative risk of the substance is fairly low. However, in recent years there has been a growing body of research on epigenetic factors. This concerns the capacity of a substance to affect gene expression, even if it doesn't affect the genes themselves. Only a small percentage of the content of our chromosomes is actually DNA. Much of it is made up of substances that turn our genes on and off. Recent research has demonstrated that environmental toxins have the potential to affect gene expression. What is even more disturbing is that the affect can potentially last for many generations [for example, see: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120302101821.htm]. This means that even if we could somehow eliminate all toxicity in a particular generation by the time they begin to have children, some of the epigenetic affects of exposure to toxicity in previous generations will continue to be passed down to the next generation. Each generation is being affected by the accumulation of toxicity in the their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc., along with the affects of the toxicity that they are exposed to on a day-to-day basis. The affects of this toxicity doesn't just involve altered gene expression and potential damage to DNA. Toxins affect our cells and tissues in many ways including: interacting with the receptor sites of hormones, neurotransmitters and other chemical messengers; promoting oxidation of enzymes and cellular structures; chemically altering or binding to substances in our body cells and fluids and thereby changing their chemical properties; and altering the functioning of, irritating, damaging or killing our cells by other known and unknown mechanisms.
Sadly, few prospective parents are aware of this. On the positive side, there is a fair bit that can be done about it, although many parents are not willing to take the time or make the effort. One of the major challenges that I see in my practice is that women often come to me after deciding to get pregnant looking for support during their pregnancy, but they haven't considered the need for adequate preparation before getting pregnant. They tend to come to me around the time they want to start trying to get pregnant. As a result, some of them are somewhat discouraged when I recommend as a bare minimum six months, but preferably one year to prepare.
Ideally, beginning one year before they start trying to get pregnant, both parents should be eating a good diet consisting of lots of vegetables and fruits, and whole, natural, minimally processed foods that are certified organic as much as possible. They should also get lots of exercise, reduce stress and minimize exposure to toxicity in their diet, lifestyle, home and work environments. I also recommend eliminating the use or consumption of cigarettes, cigars and social drugs, and also minimizing or eliminating consumption of caffeine and alcohol. If they do continue to consume some caffeine and/or alcohol, these should be eliminated at least a couple of months before they start trying to get pregnant. The women should also not be consuming these while trying to get pregnant, and for the duration of time that they are pregnant and nursing. The men should continue to not consume these while their partner is trying to get pregnant. Once she is pregnant, it doesn't matter as much for him, but I still recommend sticking to this as much as possible to help support his partner.
During the year of preparation, the male partner should go on a herbal detox formulation for about nine months. Then, about three months before his partner starts trying to get pregnant, he should switch to an adaptogenic formulation and continue taking this until she gets pregnant. For more information on detoxification, here are links to two articles that I wrote for Vitality Magazine that discuss detoxing from slightly different perspectives:
Although the focus of both of these articles is on the liver, they provide a lot of useful information that is relevant to any kind of detox. For anyone who is interested in learning about detoxification in greater detail, I will be including a lecture on detoxification in our series of online lectures at some point in the next couple of months. You can find more information on this and other lectures here:
For more information on adaptogenic formulations, here is a link to another article:
Artist's conk (Ganoderma applanatum) is an excellent adaptogenic fungus
that helps support the reproductive system in men.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is one of my favorite female reproductive tonics.
Although this article is on fertility issues, the information is relevant to anyone who is trying to get pregnant whether they are having fertility difficulties or not. The issue of fertility and preparation for pregnancy will also be discussed in more detail in an upcoming online lecture. Anyone who is interested can check out the link above.
There are a lot of important things that need to be considered when it comes to having children. Among the more important considerations are what we need to do to give our children a healthy start. Many prospective parents in our society begin planning well in advance to make sure that they are financially capable of supporting a child. For the benefit of our children, it is important that we put at least as much time and energy to help bring them into the world with a strong, healthy body.