You’re probably thinking that this sounds like an odd title for an article on preconception health care, but "waste disposal" is an important issue whether or not you’re planning a pregnancy, so read on and everything will be revealed.
Radioactive and toxic waste, domestic refuse, sewer out falls, storm water run off, landfills, compost bins, worm farms, recycling programs… all of these issues give local councils and state and federal governments cause for concern. Closer to home, most of you probably have strong feelings about what waste should be dumped (and where), and hopefully you do your bit for the environment by feeding your food scraps to the worms and filling curbside recycling bins.
But what do most of you know (or do) about your personal waste disposal system? Like landfill sites, your body’s waste disposal system can become seriously overloaded. Hardly surprising really, when you consider that all of the potentially harmful substances with which you come in contact including heavy metals, petrochemicals, dyes, solvents, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, food additives, hormones and antibiotics must be neutralized before they can pass out of your body. But there’s more. All the chemicals that are by-products of your own metabolic processes must be rendered inactive as well.
Whew! It’s a big job for governments, and it’s also a big job for your body. Detoxification is actually the biggest item in your biochemical budget. If that waste disposal system isn’t working properly, the build up of toxicity can wreak havoc with your health in the same way that it can wreak havoc with the environment.
More specifically, if you’re planning a pregnancy and that system isn’t working properly, the accumulated toxicity can have an adverse effect on your fertility and on your baby’s mental and physical health (presuming you were able to conceive in the first place). There’s absolutely no doubt that the increasing incidence of reproductive problems (including infertility, which now affects one couple in six and miscarriage, which occurs in one quarter of all pregnancies) as well as compromised infant and child health has some of its basis in increasing toxic exposure.
Everyone on this planet is unavoidably exposed to some degree of toxicity, and the effects of what can only be described as a potent chemical cocktail are profound. But don’t throw up your hands in despair – it’s quite possible to reduce your exposure considerably, and particularly during the four months immediately preceding conception, it’s important that you BOTH make extra special efforts to do so. That’s because sperm take approximately 116 days to form and because the ovum is susceptible to damage for about 100 days before ovulation. If you’re uncertain about what’s avoidable and what’s not, have a look at the various sources of toxicity below:
- Inorganic farming methods - use of herbicides, pesticides, inorganic fertilisers, antibiotics and hormones
- Refined and processed food - 20,000 chemicals are used in food production and manufacture, 4,000 are added directly to the food supply, only 400 of these actually appear on labels
- Cigarettes – There are 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, so it’s important to avoid passive as well as active smoking.
- Coffee, tea, Coca-cola and other soft drinks
- Drugs (prescribed or purchased over the counter)
- Oral contraceptives
- Chemicals - It’s estimated that the greatest chemical exposure occurs in the smallest rooms in the house (i.e., kitchen, bathroom, laundry, garage).
- Chemicals – Especially in the workplace, exposure can be profound (and the effects cumulative). If you’re planning a pregnancy and concerned about your exposure at work, ask about alternative work options.
- Heavy metals - These include lead (from petrol), cadmium (from cigarette smoke), aluminium (from cookware), mercury (from dental amalgam). The heavy metals have adverse effects on all aspects of reproduction, and these are just a few of the main sources.
- Electromagnetic radiation – This can come from computer screens, mobile phones, water beds and electric blankets (ultrasounds as well). EMR will undoubtedly be a major health issue for the next millenium and has been linked to numerous health problems (some very subtle, others not so subtle).
- Metabolic by-products produced by your body
So during those four months, both of you need to be eating the healthiest possible diet (of organically grown, whole, unrefined foods) and living a very healthy lifestyle in a pollution free environment!
But what are you going to do about the accumulation of toxic products from years of past exposure? How are you going to deal with the build up of pesticides from non-organically grown produce, of the additives found in processed and packaged food, of coffee, tea, alcohol, other drugs, the chemicals you used in your kitchen or laundry or were exposed to in the workplace? You’ve got to get rid of that burden before you even think about getting pregnant – in fact, your detoxification program needs to be complete, and the last four months before you conceive should be completely free of toxic exposure.
How your body deals with toxicity is a very individual thing. Some bodies do a better job of getting rid of toxins than others, and of course, some individuals give their bodies better tools to do the job. Let’s have a look at some of those tools.
- Exercise – Stimulates lymphatic drainage and detoxification also occurs through the sweat glands
- Anti-oxidant nutrients - Yet another reason for a nutritious diet and supplements. Vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, zinc and selenium are particularly useful here.
- Purified water - 10-12 glasses daily (add a slice of lemon). If you don’t want to invest in one of the more expensive water purifiers, a plastic jug with a disposable cartridge is an option. But be sure to change the cartridge as directed, otherwise it will dump toxins back into the water.
- Dandelion coffee
- Onions and garlic (a potent and age-old detoxifier)
- Specific foods (organically grown of course)
- Legumes such as lentils, chick peas, dried beans
- Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts)
- Citrus fruits
- Butter - Eaten in moderation, it can be useful for helping the body clear mercury if you have a lot of amalgam fillings in your mouth (and is definitely preferable to margarine).
- Probiotics - yoghurt
In fact, it’s important to get rid of that accumulated toxicity whether or not you’re planning a pregnancy because it can affect your health in other ways as well. One of the more obvious ones is to keep you from achieving and maintaining normal weight. If your body is stuck with a load of toxicity, various biochemical processes will work to keep you fat. No matter how drastically you increase your energy expenditure (i.e., exercise) and no matter now many caloric restrictions you make (i.e., diet), you’ll stay fat until you get rid of that accumulated toxic burden. There are other indicators of toxicity too and they include:
- Constipation, diarrhoea, irregular or sluggish bowel movements, flatulence or bad breath
- Frequent, inexplicable headaches
- Skin rashes, boils, pimples
- Frequent viral infections/lowered immunity
- General aches and pains
- Low energy levels
If you’re wondering what all of this means in practical terms, below is a check list for both of you to follow for a minimum period of four months before you embark on any baby making. But don’t think you’re exempt from worrying about toxicity just because you’re not planning a pregnancy. Getting rid of accumulated toxicity and keeping levels of exposure as low as possible can benefit everyone and can contribute to general feelings of well being and improved energy levels.
- Eat a diet of organically grown whole foods, with emphasis on the foods that are specific for detoxification (see above).
- Take "targeted" nutritional supplements – antioxidants are particularly useful.
- Start a program of regular exercise (for aerobic conditioning, strength and flexibility).
- Avoid common social poisons (alcohol, smoking, caffeine and other drugs including oral contraceptives).
- Avoid environmental pollution wherever possible (choose low toxicity cleaning and personal care products).
- Reduce your exposure to all electromagnetic radiation. Don’t wear an activated mobile phone on your belt next to your reproductive organs.
- Drink at least 2.5 to 3 litres of purified water every day.
Everyone can benefit from avoiding toxicity wherever possible and from practicing the self-help measures outlined above. However, if your levels of toxic exposure have been significant, those self-help measures may not be enough to rid your body of its accumulated burden, in which case professional help may be necessary. However, professional detoxification programs don’t mean fasting. Fasting is a rather drastic way to get rid of toxicity, and it can very quickly push you into a catabolic state. This means your cells are breaking down faster than they’re repairing, and it’s a state that you should always try to avoid. Before your pregnancy, it’s particularly important that your body is doing the reverse. In other words, it should be repairing cells faster than breaking them down which is called an anabolic state.