Do you cringe a little bit inside when you hear the word ‘detox’? It’s not surprising given that it gets thrown around like confetti these days, often in association with crash diets, x-number-of-day juice cleanses, and celebrity endorsed products. The term has been so overused by marketers and the media that it has completely lost its true meaning and purpose. Detoxification, when implemented correctly, is actually an essential part of healing. Unfortunately, in the realm of fertility its importance is usually overlooked.
Your state of health in the months leading up to conception greatly influences your ability to conceive, sustain a pregnancy, and develop a healthy baby. The time that it takes for an egg and sperm cell to fully mature is between 90 and 120 days. This means that a window of opportunity exists for you and your partner to optimize your health before even trying. Since we live in a world with more toxins than ever before, detoxification (the proper way) should be a part of every preconception care plan. In this article I will discuss why it’s important and what you can do to support it.
It is well known that babies receive more than just our genes. During pregnancy the placenta serves as the lifeline between a developing fetus and it’s mother, as it provides them with nutrients, delivers oxygen, removes wastes, produces hormones needed to maintain the pregnancy, and guards against infection. What it doesn’t do adequately is filter out all toxic substances. This means that whatever toxins are circulating within the mother, whether acquired from exposure during pregnancy or throughout her lifetime, have the potential to pass through the placenta and accumulate within the baby before it is even born! These toxins can wreak havoc in anyone that is exposed, let alone a developing fetus. In one study 232 toxic chemicals were identified in samples of blood collected from the umbilical cords of 10 newborns at birth, suggesting that we are born “pre-polluted”. It’s no wonder that the incidence of pediatric conditions such as autism, allergies, ADHD, obesity, autoimmune disease, and even cancers are on the rise.
Toxins don’t only affect the health of your baby but also impact your fertility directly. At the most basic level, we need 1 healthy egg, 1 healthy sperm, and a receptive uterine environment to make a baby. In order to have each of these we need our hormones functioning optimally. Most toxins are sneaky in that they act as “endocrine disruptors”, meaning that they trick the body and interfere with our regular hormone function. When hormones are imbalanced it becomes more difficult for both conception to occur and to be maintained. Toxins aid in the development of several reproductive health concerns that cause infertility, such as PCOS, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmunity, premature ovarian insufficiency, and abnormal sperm parameters. Continual exposure to toxins also decreases the quality of our eggs and sperm by causing damage on a cellular level. When egg and sperm quality are poor the likelihood of infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects is greater. These ill effects of toxins can be passed down and made worse from generation to generation, as they are fully capable of altering the integrity of our DNA and changing the way that our genes are expressed.
The human body is certainly well equipped to detoxify itself, but in today’s world the constant stream of toxins that we are exposed to can quickly make it fall behind. The good news is there is a lot we can do to lend a helping hand and lead us back in the right direction. Read below to find out 6 easy ways you can support detoxification in the 3-4 months (minimum) prior to conception, when our eggs and sperm are at their most vulnerable state.
- Reduce Exposure. It sounds like a given but this is the most important thing that you can do, otherwise you will constantly be fighting an uphill battle. Toxins are everywhere nowadays, in our air, water, food, products, and materials we encounter on a daily basis. While it’s not feasible to avoid them all, any effort to reduce your exposure is a step in the right direction. Pay attention to what’s lurking in your cosmetics, personal care products, and cleaning supplies – or better yet, make your own! Always choose glass containers instead of plastic, especially when heating your food. Ditch your non-stick cookware and opt for cast iron, ceramic, or stainless steel instead. Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake as best as possible. Invest in a good quality air filter, or keep plants in the home! I’m merely scratching the surface, but you get the idea.
- Sweat! Some toxins are stored in fat, which means that maintaining a healthy weight is important. Aim to move at least 30 minutes per day and ensure that you build up a sweat each time. Exercise allows toxins to become mobilized from storage so that they can then be excreted by the body. It also helps to balance our hormones and improve circulation, which allows our organs to work efficiently. If you have the luxury treat yourself regularly to a spa day and be sure to use the infrared sauna, as it can aid in the removal of toxins stored deep within our fatty tissues.
- Hydrate. Water helps us to flush out toxins, remove wastes, and transport nutrients to where they are needed. When we are dehydrated our detoxification pathways do not function optimally – digestion is halted, lymphatic fluid fails to flow, and the liver/kidneys become taxed. To stay hydrated aim for a minimum of 2L of filtered water per day. To help support the liver and digestion squeeze in a wedge of lemon to your glass.
- Eat Clean. When it comes to detoxification, diet is huge. Many of the foods we eat contain artificial colourings, flavours, preservatives, pesticides, and herbicides that all disrupt normal hormone function. Try to eat organic as much as possible and refrain from buying packaged and processed foods. Aim for a whole foods diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, protein, and whole grains. The more colourful your plate is, the better! Certain nutrients are required to support the liver in it’s 2 phases of detoxification, so ensuring that your diet is clean and varied will help supply the body what it needs to function at it’s best. To support the liver directly in this process stock up on cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.), onions, garlic, beets, berries, and ground flax.
- Manage Stress. The link between stress and infertility is well recognized and should not go unchecked. Stress can disrupt hormones in both men and women and can lead to problems with ovulation and sperm development as a result. That being said, it is extremely important for you to schedule in some you time each day. Take this opportunity to do the activities you enjoy. Do something you’ve never tried before like acupuncture, yoga, or meditation. Go for a walk outside, take a bubble bath, or schedule an evening out with your friends – anything to help relax your mind.
- Supplement. Sometimes lifestyle modifications are simply not enough given the continuous load of toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis. Additional supplementation with certain vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and botanicals may be needed to support our detoxification pathways. Your naturopathic doctor will prescribe these on an individual basis depending on where the problem lies specifically in your case.
If you have taken anything away from this article, my hope is that your perception of the word “detox” has changed. It’s not all about the latest 7-day-cleanse or 21-day-juice fast, but is rather about taking measures to address the problem at it’s root and support the body’s own detoxification pathways in a gentle way. Taking extra care for your health in the months prior to becoming pregnant can help to enhance your fertility and protect the health of your future baby.
It’s important to note that detoxification in pregnancy and breastfeeding is not safe, so this information should only be applied well before conception occurs (3-4 months minimum).
If you have any questions or would like to put together a preconception care plan that is right for you, book an appointment with Dr. Geil by clicking here.
Dr. Jessica Geil, ND
- Environmental Working Group. Pollution in minority newborns: BPA and other cord blood pollutants. [Internet]. EWG; 2009 Nov 23 [cited 2016 Aug 29]. Available from: http://www.ewg.org/research/minority-cord-blood-report/bpa-and-other-cord-blood-pollutants
- Environmental Working Group. Body burden: the pollution in newborn. [Internet]. EWG; 2005 Jul 14 [cited 2016 Aug 29]. Available from: http://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns
- Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Principles of pediatric environmental health: how can parents’ preconception exposures and in utero exposures affect a developing child? [Internet]. ASTDR; 2012 Feb 15 [cited 2016 Aug 29]. Available from: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=27&po=8