Our kids are facing alarming and increasing rates of allergies, eczema, autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer. The next generation’s life expectancy has also shockingly declined compared to our own.

For at least 3 decades, evidence from environmental health studies has led to growing agreement amongst scientists and many health professionals that environmental toxins are playing a role in the incidence and prevalence of these and other health conditions in the United States. Scientists estimate that at least 30% of childhood asthma and 5% of childhood cancers are a result of chemical exposures.

Please read if you are planning to get pregnant soon or even far in the future…

Pregnancy, Toxic Body Burden, and Our Kids’ Health

It’s also now clear that many health problems begin long before birth due to toxic exposures in the womb.

From conception on, our babies get more than just our genes; through maternal-fetal transfer, they receive a constant toxic streaming download of the body burden of chemicals we have accumulated throughout our own lives and which we are exposed to in pregnancy. Pregnancy itself increases the mobilization of a number of stored chemicals and heavy metals, for example, lead, which cross the placenta and get to baby.

It is also documented that a mother’s stores of common fat-soluble environmental chemicals including PCBs, and dioxins released during pregnancy, can expose the fetus to harm. A very recent study found that pregnant women and their fetuses are being exposed to triclosan and its cousin, triclocarbon, both endocrine disruptors, through the use of antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, and over 2,000 common consumer products. And a 2009 study by the Environmental Working Group found 232 toxic chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborns.

Endocrine disruptors can affect the way hormones function in our bodies, and this can have a major impact on fetuses still in the process of sexual differentiation and development. We know that rates of birth defects of the sexual organs of babies, particularly boys, have increased dramatically in recent years. Every single one of the women tested in this study had triclosan in their bodies, and half of newborns tested were also exposed to triclosan.

When I test my own patients in my practice for this chemical, I also find that almost every woman tests positive!

Pregnancy can turn the generally inert pool of toxins stored in our bodies into a risk for our babies long after our own toxic exposure has ended, and can concentrate chemicals in our babies when there is ongoing exposure. It appears that these have consequences in development at the time of exposure, and have the potential to set off a number of genetic and metabolic events that continue to pay forward throughout our children’s lives. And we know that the earlier the exposure in pregnancy, the greater the harmful impact on baby’s development.

Our kids are the canaries in the coal mine of our toxin over-burdened environment. Scary, I know. But there are things we can do to mitigate the toxic burden that is passed onto them by us! Should a preconception detox be one of these? 

Environmental Toxins & Fertility: Another Reason to Think About It

In addition to the health burdens our children might potentially face as a result of environmental toxins, the rates of fertility challenges women (and couples) are facing is significant. At least 12% of women had difficulty conceiving in 2002, a 40% increase from 1982, and while some reports say this trend has plateaued; there is disagreement on this in the scientific community. What there is no disagreement about is the role of environmental endocrine disruptors on fertility – the jury is in and they do cause problems. So theoretically, does that also suggest that detoxification before trying to get pregnant might be helpful in preventing fertility problems?

Should You Do a Pre-Pregnancy Detox?

Concerns about the hazards of pre-pregnancy and prenatal exposure to the health of baby-to-be are legitimate. According to a 2006 article in the Maternal Child Health Journal, identifying blood levels of lead and exposures to toxic environmental chemicals should be part of medical preconception care. While they raise concerns about remote exposures (those that occurred years ago), they emphasize those exposures that occur in the 3-4 months prior to conception. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recently issued a historically unprecedented clarion call asking obstetricians to inform pregnant women of ways to avoid potential toxic environmental exposures in light of recent scientific evidence.

But what about doing preconception testing for toxic chemical and a pre-pregnancy detox? Is this necessary? A good idea? Or just a fad?

Whether to do prenatal testing for body burden toxins is less clear. The testing done by integrative and functional medicine doctors is expensive and there isn’t clear correlation between the levels found on the tests and the impact this might have on baby. Nonetheless, having your doctor test for heavy metals, particularly lead, mercury, and arsenic, might be quite reasonable and the results may serve as a proxy for your toxic body burden, and can also shed light on whether you are still actively being exposed to heavy metals. If cost is not an issue, you could consider doing prenatal testing for commonly known environmental toxins within available test panels to get a sense of how high your body burden is, give yourself a period of time to avoid exposures, and use foods and supplements to try to support natural detoxification processes, and retest. But it’s important not to get too troubled by the testing, because again, the meaning of the levels in an otherwise healthy person is unclear.

Additionally, it is unclear whether specific detoxification programs done within a few months of conception might actually mobilize stored toxins into the bloodstream making them more likely to enter the developing baby’s circulation at a vulnerable time. Thus timing becomes an important consideration. If you plan to do a detoxification program, I recommend starting 6 months prior to the planned conception time, allowing 3 months between the end of detoxing and when you get pregnant.

Another question is which detoxification methods are optimal. Different chemicals require different methods for elimination whether that is lead, mercury, or non-heavy metal toxins such as BPA, dioxins, or other endocrine disruptors.

If you have symptoms or conditions suggesting environmental toxicity, particularly symptoms of chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, or autoimmune conditions, or known toxin exposures, then working with either an environmental, preventative medicine, or integrative-functional medicine physician is a good place to start for sound advice on how to appropriately detoxify.

Often, identifying and eliminating the exposure, while eating a healthy diet and using herbs and nutritional supplements that support the body’s own natural detoxification processes can make a tremendous difference in reducing body burden and helping you to overcome toxin-related illnesses.

Commonly used and generally safe supplements that support natural detoxification include:

  • Branched chain amino acids to help bind and transport toxins from the body
  • N-Acetyl cysteine and Glutathione (in the liposomal form) which help to transform toxic forms of chemicals being eliminated by the liver into less toxic, more execrable forms
  • B-complex, bioflavonoids and antioxidants such as those found in fresh berries, green vegetables, and most fresh vegetables, as well as in resveratrol, which also help to transform chemicals into less toxic forms and protect your cells against oxidative damage
  • Herbs such as green tea extract, curcumin from turmeric, broccoli extracts (including products including indole-3-carbinol, DIM, and sulphoraphanes), milk thistle, and artichoke extract.

The Six-Month Preconception Health Plan

There are many things you can do prior to becoming pregnant to optimize your health and reduce your toxic body burden. I like to think of the 3-6 months prior to conception as a time to intentionally optimize health, thus naturally reducing toxic exposures and also hopefully, your body burden. Detoxification during pregnancy is not safe or appropriate, and the above supplements are not all safe for use during pregnancy, so discontinue if you think you’ve conceived.

Here are my top  suggestions, in addition to the obvious ones of avoiding smoking, excess alcohol, and known workplace exposures:

  1. Eat organic as much as possible, drink clean, filtered water, and eat only low mercury fish. Eat a plant-based diet, rich in leafy green vegetables (kale, collards, broccoli), good quality protein, healthy oils (olive oil, coconut oil), organic berries (fresh or frozen), nuts, seeds, and a small amount of complex starches from whole grains.
  2. Take a prenatal vitamin that has methyl folate, which is the active form of vitamin B9, necessary for healthy formation of your baby’s nervous system and important for supporting natural detoxification, an Omega 3 fatty acid supplement, also beneficial for baby’s nervous system and which most of us enter pregnancy low in, and at least 2000 units of vitamin D daily, also commonly deficient in most of us and which helps to prevent gestational diabetes in mom, which also reduces oxidative stress on baby, when you do become pregnant
  3. Avoid toxic cosmetics and body products
  4. Avoid toxic household cleaners and antibacterial household and body products
  5. Avoid flame retardant chemicals and plastic food containers
  6. Support your body’s optimal detoxification and natural fertility with foods, herbs, and supplements (see above), discontinuing herbs and supplements at the time of conception unless they are proven safe and are appropriate to continue into pregnancy (i.e., vitamin D, folic acid, methylfolate, or a prenatal vitamin).
  7. Get to a healthy weight for your body
  8. Practice stress reduction

Also, please check the medications you are on, or use commonly. Even seemingly “safe” medications like tylenol used during pregnancy have been associated with increased problems for baby including autism and ADD…so now’s the time to try to find safe, effective alternatives that you can continue to take if needed,  up to and during pregnancy.

While the issue of environmental toxicity and our pregnancies is a heavy burden to bear emotionally, we can decrease our chemical body burden with smart choices for our health – and the health of future generations.

If you’d like to hear me talk about this topic, head on over to my podcast for a listen!

To your good health,

AJR-Sig

 

 

 

43 Comments

  1. Aviva, thank you so much for this post! It’s so synchronistic for me as I am preparing to conceive soon and wanting to be as healthy and toxin-free as possible. I’m definitely planning to get blood tests done and appreciate your advice, especially the supplements that support detox.

    I know your focus is women’s health, but I’m wondering if you have any resources or tips for men’s health in conception. Should men also get tested for environmental toxins?

    • Hi Kathryn, Great question and I thought about include a section for the men, but I thought I might put y’all to sleep if that blog got any longer! 🙂 Pretty much all of the same applies for them as for us…. And a shared preconception plan makes it all the more enjoyable. Warmly, Aviva

  2. Thank you for this information. I’m most concerned about detoxing and improving gut issues while breastfeeding. I’m about to have my second child in a couple weeks and have many gut-related issues that is like to work on clearing up (without having to wait two more years while I breastfeed). I find conflicting information. Do you have a recommendation?

  3. Perfect timing with this article as I have been thinking a lot about this recently, and am considering beginning a cleansing protocol, with a future pregnancy in mind.
    I feel so fortunate that my pre-conception diet came in the form of working and living on an organic farm 9 months prior to getting pregnant with my son, and based on the Weston A. Price Foundation. I had a successful home birth, he nursed easily, continuing on for 3 1/ 2 years, we continue to eat an almost exclusively organic diet, and my son is incredibly healthy.
    However, I do wish I had done more of a detox and THEN built my body back up, b/c there are some chronic issues in his constituion that I have not resolved- cradle cap, minor eczema that flares up, tendency towards dampness ie- patchy tongue, and occasional grinding of his teeth.
    He now goes to public school, and though they have an organic garden, the rest of the food served for lunch is not organic, and I wonder how much to let go, and when to remain vigilant, while he, at age 5 wants to be like the other kids.
    GREAT ARTICLE! Any more insights about achieiving balance or the myth of balance, on nutrition w/ kids and the WORLD would be geatly appreciated.
    PS I have been following your books for years now, and now your blog. Your work continues to be a beacon. Thank you.

  4. I’m 10 weeks pregnant. Any suggestions for detoxing or just getting healthy during pregnancy? Are there any foods or supplements tgat are more helpful than others?

    • Hi Jessi! Congrats. While I don’t recommend detoxing during pregnancy, following the suggestions at the end of this blog for healthy living will be a great step for you and a great gift to baby! Be well!!! ~Aviva

  5. Thanks for another well written article. I’m 36 weeks pregnant now and wish I’d thought more about all of this long before we found out babe was on the way! I am terribly glad that I’ve done the research I have done now, found your writings, and am doing the best we can to make our whole family and home as toxin free as possible! Thanks!

  6. This was perfect to forward to my daughter and niece who are both in the preconception stage. It always sounds better coming from someone other than mom:))

  7. Hi Aviva,

    Do you suggest a particular prenatal vitamin? I have to be gluten and soy free! I have such a difficult time determining what the best prenatal vitamin would be for me!

    I appreciate all of your advice on removing the toxic burden as I am in the process now. Your guidance is so helpful! xx

    • Hi Lauren
      I like Thorne Prenatal because it has methylfolate. Rainbow Light also makes excellent quality supplements. Best wishes! And so sorry for the long delay….Aviva

  8. What are your thoughts on probiotics during pregnancy and nursing?
    And for moms who are pregnant who have anxiety who want to come off meds Any suggestions on any foods that may help, or herbs that are safe to take in pregnancy?
    Thanks for any advice!!

  9. Is Kombucha safe in pregnancy? Will the detox effect have negative effects on the fetus if the person drank Kombucha since preconception?

    • Hi! Kombucha does have some alcohol and sugar content so I am cautious about it — but occasional use should be safe. I would not worry at all if you drank if during the preconception time. Babies are pretty hearty!

  10. Dear Aviva,
    I love this article, I work with many women pre-pregnancy an they are naturally concerned given our environmental challenges…
    If you do a future blog on preconception, do you have thoughts regarding women with recent or past Lyme or Lyme related co-infection who are planning to conceive? I find that many many of the young women in my practice are confronting this, as in New York, we are in an Epicenter, and I have read that Lyme can pass the placental barrier, and even go into the breastmilk. Thanks for all you do in the world! Best, Rachel Koenig, L.Ac, CH

    • Hi Rachel,
      Oh, this is such a fraught and confusing topic — and the issue of maternal-child transmission is still unclear. Certainly women who have Lyme should try to be as symptom free for as long as possible before getting pregnant, and do some work to repair their gut microflora if they’ve had extensive antibiotic exposure and are experiencing any symptoms of dysbiosis. Love to hear what you are learning, too!
      I will keep this in mind in future articles — but wish I had some clarity and wisdom to offer — it’s a tough condition!
      Aviva

  11. I’ve heard that organic fertilizer is not regulated, and there are stories of manure infected with E. Coli and other diseases being used on organic farms, even during fruiting. How can I be sure my organic food is really safer than regulated US grown conventional produce?

  12. Hi Aviva,
    Thanks for the great post. I am in the process of trying to conceive and am already following many of the tips in this article. I guess I am wondering what my partner can do for his part, to increase our chances of a healthy happy pregnancy?

    • Shana,
      This is a terrific questions. Actually, besides the prenatal vitamin, the advice Dr. Romm outlines in the 6 month preconception recommendations are applicable to your partner! The health of both partners does matter!

      Warmly,
      Becca Sarich, CNM, a member of Aviva’s clinical team

    • Sure do! I usually recommend the Thorne Prenatal as it has methylfolate, and Nordic Naturals fish oil as they are a clean product. I do think food based supplements are optimal, and getting nutrition from good quality food golden! If you’re preggers, congrats!!!

  13. What are your thoughts on a pre-conception detox if you are still breastfeeding? My son is 2.5 and we are thinking about getting pregnant in the next year, so this is a great time for me to detox. But I’m afraid I will mobilize toxins straight into my breastmilk. My hope is to tandem nurse, and I went through a lot with my son to get him to breastfeed, so weaning is really not my first choice at this point. Thank you for the great article!

    • Hi Megan,
      If you do a major detox, that’s a possibility, but if you do something like my 3 day gentle winter detox, and just eat simply and let your body reboot its own natural detox, that is totally fine. But in truth, if you have just had a baby and are BF’ing you’ve probably downloaded a lot of stored toxins already so might not need to do anything at all. Just make sure you’re eating well for both babies when you get pregnant and take extra folic acid or methylfolate. I tandem nursed 3 of 4 pregnancies and in retrospect, was more stressful than I think I needed to make my life! 🙂

  14. I’m trying to prepare for pregnancy and think a detox is really good idea, but where to start? Detoxing seems to be such a fad and it is difficult to ascertain what is good advice and what is not. Is there some plan or resource that you would recommend specifically? Is following a specific plan better or just changing my diet overall and adding some of the recommendations you mentioned? I concur that tips for men and preparing for pregnancy would be great too!

    • Hi Shari,

      This is Megan from Dr. Aviva’s team, following the tips that Dr. Romm lists under the six month pre-conception health plan is a really great place to start as it is a great guide to have as you are making some changes. Best of luck!!

      Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

  15. Hello, I been off birth control going on one year next month June 2015. I been trying to get pregnant, this moth of May a week after my period I decided to start Lyfe Tea Detox a 14 day detox, I am on day 4 I have been feeling less blooded now, my main concern is conception during the detox! I am not sure when I really do ovulate but I have been having intercourse now would this affect anything? if I was to get pregnant during the detox? Please would appreciate and answer!

  16. Hi Aviva,
    With my first pregnancy, I ate the standard American low fat diet of processed junk. We found out at 18 months that she has a cat allergy, because her skin was broken out. Shortly after she was born, after coming across a popular blog, I changed everything in our house to organic….food, lotions, make-up, house cleaners, etc. So with my second pregnancy, I feel like I did a lot of things “right”, but definitely 1000 times better than with my first pregnancy. Well, we found out at age 3 months with my son, that he has all kinds of food allergies. We found out just with him eating my breast milk. He just turned a year old, and he’s never had any of the foods that we found out through a blood test that he’s allergic to. I gave him hummus a couple of weeks ago, and found out that he’s anaphylactic to something in that…I assume the chick peas. So his allergies are severe. My husband and I are planning on trying for a third baby soon. What do you recommend that I do differently? I didn’t take a probiotic with either pregnancy, but I take one daily now. I take HMF Forte by Genestra brands. I’ve read that it’s good to take a probiotic while pregnant. Is this a good brand? Also, with my second pregnancy, I took the Garden of Life Raw Prenatal. I’m seeing in your comments above that you recommend a different prenatal. What are your thoughts on the Garden of Life Raw Prenatal? I just want to make sure I do everything I can to prevent another child with an allergy. Neither my husband or I have any allergies.
    Thank you for any advice that you can give!

    • Hi Katrina,

      This is Megan from Dr. Aviva’s team and I just wanted to chime in and let you know that you have been heard. Dr. Aviva knows how hard and frustrating this can be, especially when you have made so many changes, and worked really really hard to do what is best for both your body and your baby. Aviva will be offering a course called the Allergy Epidemic in her Healthiest Kids University course very soon. It sounds like it would be a great fit for you, as you will get a lot of information and guidance for both your kids and your body. I so deeply understand the desire to do everything you possibly can to keep your kids healthy, and I hope that you can trust your momma instincts! You are doing beautifully.

      Megan- Aviva Romm Nutritionist

  17. Fantastic podcast, Aviva, I thank you for elaborating on a topic I have already had in my sights for a few years.
    I have in the past done a supervised liver cleanse before conceiving. Can I safely nurse while doing an occasional cleanse? Or am I exposing my baby to more toxins? Presently my baby is under one yr but is eating solids with gusto. Its a period of my life where my nursing runs into and through the next pregnancy as opposed to a break in between.

  18. Hello,

    I hope I am not late in commenting but I just came across the podcast yesterday and loved it! I have a question about amalgam fillings, I just recently had 3 put in (I never knew the harms at the time) and was wondering if I should get them out or would the intensive detox suffice, as they are very expensive to get removed? Also, How long after the detox should I give before TTC?

    Warmest Regads,
    Mia

    • HI Mia, Are you SURE they’re amalgams? I don’t think dentists are allowed to use them anymore – only composites…

  19. Hi Aviva, an informative blog and important information on how best we can protect the health of the next generation. As a naturopath in Australia, I am interested to know if triclosan is identified in blood or urine samples. Also what triggers the mobilisation of these toxins from fat stores in pregnancy?

    • ABSOLUTELY! I’ve found it in the blood work of many patients. Weight loss, ironically, can trigger stored toxins to be liberated!

  20. Thank you for this timely article.
    Do you have any thoughts on adding colonics to a pre-conception detox? Is this something that should be considered prior to conceiving?

    • I never recommend colonics. Ever. Not healthy for the gut, based on archaic methods of cleansing and purging. So not in my healing toolbox. Sorry.

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