- To take an active form of folate instead of folic acid
Pregnant women and those trying to get pregnant are advised to take prenatal vitamins, many of which include folic acid, a synthetic form of folate, rather than the naturally occurring and metabolically active form of folate. This synthetic folic acid must be converted to folate in the body, and it is estimated that up to 60% of the population has at least one genetic mutation that makes this conversion difficult. For women who do have these mutations, our bodies have a harder time getting rid of the excess folic acid, likely due to a reduced detoxification capability. A buildup of folic acid in the body can potentially cause health issues. Folate is important to take at least three months before pregnancy and during pregnancy, if possible. Taking a more active form of folate, such as L-methylfolate, may be a better option than folic acid for many women trying to get pregnant or who are already pregnant. Folate can also be found in a variety of foods, including dark leafy greens, avocados, legumes and liver.
- To work on gut health
Diet and lifestyle practices are modifiable factors that can affect the brain-gut axis and, ultimately, the long-term health of women and infants. Women’s gut health related to pregnancy is only now beginning to be studied and published, but its role has been assumed for some time.
In one study of women with abnormal intestinal permeability, it was found that this leaky gut might allow passage of immune triggers from the external environment that could elicit an immune response. This could lead to endometrial inflammation and, thus, potentially pregnancy complications. Furthermore, we know that poor gut health can lead to hormonal imbalances, lack of nutrient absorption, immune dysfunction and mental health issues. We can clearly see that this is not ideal for the health of a mother or baby. Working to improve gut health may not only result in a healthier pregnancy; it may also help someone struggling with fertility issues to rebalance hormones and reduce inflammation in order to increase fertility.
- To switch to safer skin care/makeup and nontoxic cleaning products
Many pregnant women avoid raw fish, hair bleach and retinols during their pregnancy, as these are more commonly discussed as potentially dangerous. There are many other culprits out there, however. Our skin absorbs the toxins we slather on it daily. Many ingredients and chemicals have particles that are small enough to pass through the skin into our bloodstream, and these particles can break down even further, possibly passing through the umbilical membrane to a baby. Beauty products are hardly regulated in this country, so it’s up to us to source out reputable companies that advocate for safer beauty.
It’s impossible to completely avoid chemicals, but there are things you can do to reduce your exposure and the level of toxicity in your body. It is important to remember that although switching to nontoxic ingredients takes time and may be done in stages, it should not be delayed. Empower yourself to start reading labels, sourcing safer beauty (ewg.org is a great start) and using nontoxic cooking and cleaning products.
Working with a functional medicine specialist can help you get on track with all three of the suggestions listed here, including exploration of MTHFR gene mutation (which can affect folate conversion and detox), working on gut health and educating on nontoxic products.
Brooke Bloom Lam, mother of two, is an educator and functional medicine coach with Keeping Families Well, educating and empowering families to get to the root cause of health issues and to attain optimal health and wellness goals.
Note: None of the information provided here is intended to serve as medical advice. Please do your own research and take any new supplements, questions, concerns or potential changes to your doctor for further discussion.