Tel +27 (021) 880 1444 | Fax +27 (021) 880 0291 | P.O. Box 12602, Die Boord, Stellenbosch, 7613
Even if your diet is adequate, it may be important to complement your food intake with supplements, especially during pregnancy. Heidi du Preez explains why.
Many of us do our best to follow a balanced, wholefood diet. In spite of this, nutritional supplementation should be considered as we face the health challenges of modern-day living.
WHY SUPPLEMENT?You may think you have all your bases covered when it comes to your eating plan, but the hard reality is that even though you are making sure you are getting adequate vegetables, protein and the right carbs, the actual food you are eating is lacking in nutrients, as it is either processed or refined, GMO, hybridised, and grown hydroponically or in synthetic-fertilised, nutrient-poor soil. Add to this the toxic, chemically overloaded environment we live in and the amount of chronic stress we have to cope with on a daily basis. All these factors increase the need for nutrient supplementation. Nonetheless, supplements will never make up for a bad diet! A healthy balanced diet and lifestyle remains the cornerstone of any health regimen.
WHY SUPPLEMENT DURING PREGNANCY?If the body is deficient in any specific nutrient during pregnancy, it can have devastating effects on the development, growth and long-term health of the child. An expectant mother needs to follow a well-balanced, wholefood diet, supported by supplementation. However, both parents should embark on a health and supplement regimen at least three to six months before conception to ensure optimum fertility, growth and development of the foetus. Various research studies link micronutrient deficiencies in the sperm to DNA damage and cancer risk for the child.
BEST SUPPLEMENTS FOR PREGNANCYAs with diet, the closer the supplement is to nature, the better. Wholefood supplements, made from REAL food, with balanced nutrients, and optimum bioavailability are the best. Take a wholefood supplement, containing a blend of essential nutrients, rather than isolated nutrients. Take an isolated nutrient only if there is a known deficiency for a period no longer than three months. ‘Food state’ nutrients are not derived from wholefood, but they are more absorbable than synthetic supplements. Take supplementation under the direction of your health care practitioner.
Multivitamin and mineral supportPowdered forms of concentrated supplements based on green superfoods are very nutrient dense, therefore higher in micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes) in relation to macronutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates). In wholefood supplements all the nutrients work together in a synergistic balance and contain important co-factors and phytochemicals (plant chemicals). Second choice to a wholefood supplement would be a prenatal supplement containing all the essential nutrients listed below, to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Folate vs folic acidFolate is the natural form of folic acid, found in dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, barley, citrus fruit, liver, beans, wholegrains and other foods. Folic acid is the oxidised synthetic form used in dietary supplementation and food fortification. It is poorly absorbed and metabolised and can even lead to cancer if taken long-term. The most natural active form of folate is 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). Choose a supplement containing 5-MTHF for best results. Folate is needed for DNA repair and is crucial during pregnancy. It helps to regulate embryonic and foetal nerve cell formation. Folate deficiency is the cause of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida in newborn babies. The daily recommended dosage of folate is 400 mcg, but some sources recommend as much as 1 200 mcg of folate per day for maximum benefit. Start supplemewnting with folate before you fall pregnant, at least until 12 weeks pregnancy.
If you are not taking a prenatal supplement containing folate and other B-vitamins, the best choice would be a good quality B-complex supplement, containing folate (5-MTHF), vitamin B6 (pyridoxal-5-phosphate) and B12 (methylcobalamin), among other B-vitamins.
Vitamin DVitamin D deficiency increases an individual’s susceptibility to autoimmune conditions. Make sure vitamin D levels are adequate during lactation – babies getting the highest amounts of vitamin D after birth suffer fewer colds and eczema.
Supplement with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) – the natural form which is the same vitamin D the body makes when exposed to sunshine. Make sure your supplement contains vitamin K2 which is needed for the absorption of vitamin D. Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 are found in grass-fed meat, liver, chicken, dairy from grass-fed animals and free-range egg yolk. Vitamin D is fat soluble and should be taken with meals containing dietary fat.
Ideally, your blood level of 25(OH)D should be 60 to 70 ng/ml. Take vitamin D supplementation under the recommendations of a health care practitioner.
ProbioticsA healthy gut during pregnancy ensures proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients and elimination of toxins to sustain the life and health of the growing foetus and mother.
The two main groups of beneficial probiotic bacteria are: Lactobacillus, inhabiting the small intestine, and Bifidobacterium, residing in the colon.
A probiotic deficiency can result in diarrhoea, constipation, spastic colon, flatulence and/or the overgrowth of Candida albicans resulting in oral or vaginal thrush and systemic candidiasis. An imbalance of gut flora contributes to most, if not all, autoimmune diseases. The risk of developing atopic eczema, asthma and various types of food allergies during the first two years of life can also be reduced when taking a probiotic.
Infants who have been administered antibiotics in the first six months of life should be given a regular dose of probiotics containing the strain Bifidobacterium infantis. Give the probiotic by rubbing the powder onto the nipple for breastfed infants, or by suspending contents of a probiotic capsule in liquid, or with a probiotic spray. All caesarean section infants should be supplemented with Bifidobacterium infantis immediately following birth for at least one month, since the baby was meant to pick up this beneficial bacteria from the mother while moving through the birth canal.
Essential fatty acidsOur modern diet supplies ample omega-6 fatty acids, but is usually deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Supplementation with DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) during pregnancy increases blood and breast milk levels of this fatty acid. DHA supplementation improves infant developmental outcomes, and reduces the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, postpartum depression in new mothers, pre-eclampsia during pregnancy and Alzheimer’s disease in adults. Choose a good quality fish oil supplement that is in the natural concentrated triglyceride form for best absorption and is free of any contaminants, rancidity and heavy metals. The best source of fish oil is small cold water marine fish, such as sardines, anchovies, herring or mackerel.
ZincZinc is a structural component of cellular RNA and DNA, thus essential to normal growth and development of the foetus, through to adulthood. Zinc plays a huge role in more than 300 metabolic processes in the body. It is essential to growth, mental development, tissue plus skin health and integrity, digestive health, immunity, hormonal balance, bone building and antioxidant protection. Zinc will help to prevent birth defects and cancer, is anti-ageing and prevents degenerative breakdown in the body, thus important for mom too! The highest concentration of zinc is in the prostate gland; it is a very important mineral for dad and plays a huge role in fertility and the well-being of baby. Note that smoking greatly decreases zinc levels. Supplement with a good quality zinc before and during pregnancy and lactation. The recommended daily dosage would be 15 to 30 mg. Do not exceed 75 mg daily.
Vitamin CVitamin C is important for tissue and cellular health, as it helps to bind broken collagen fibres together and prevents free radical damage. It helps support tissue growth and repair – important for the developing foetus, but also for the mother to help prevent stretch marks and aid in wound healing and recovery post pregnancy. Vitamin C plays an important role in fertility, since it helps to improve the health of the uterus, which in turn helps with the implantation of the embryo. It is important for immune health, preventing colds and infections.
Both mom and dad should supplement with vitamin C before and during pregnancy. The best supplement contains concentrated food sources of vitamin C, such as camu-camu, acerola berry, rose hip, acai berries, citrus, barley grass and parsley. It is safe to take up to 2 000 – 4 000 mg of vitamin C daily in divided dosages.
MagnesiumSevere magnesium deficiency can lead to poor foetal growth, pre-eclampsia, or even foetal death. Adequate magnesium levels help tissue growth and recovery during pregnancy, may protect against postnatal depression, and may help the baby receive more nutrition through the placenta. We don’t get enough magnesium through our modern diet, so supplement with magnesium oil on the skin, Epsom salt baths in the evening before bed, or an ionic supplement. Magnesium in combination with vitamin B6 could alleviate morning sickness.
IronTake iron supplements only if you are deficient and make sure it will not result in constipation (more likely to happen with synthetic forms). Vegetarians and vegans should supplement with extra iron, vitamin B12 and zinc. Vitamin C will aid the absorption of iron, thus it is advisable to include it with iron supplementation.
CalciumOnly supplement with calcium if you have a known deficiency. We generally get enough calcium through following a balanced wholefood diet. When you do take extra calcium, make sure it is a good form of multimineral supplement, containing other trace nutrients and minerals to aid calcium absorption.
SUPPLEMENTS TO AVOID DURING PREGNANCYAvoid the following herbs in supplemental form during pregnancy: Aloe vera taken internally (creams and gels are therefore safe), Angelica, Arnica, barberry, black cohosh, bloodroot, cat’s claw, celandine, cottonwood bark, dong quai, Ephedra, feverfew, yohimbe, pau d’arco, passion flower, ginseng, goldenseal, Lobelia, myrrh, Oregon grape, pennyroyal, rue, sage, saw palmetto, tansy and turmeric. Use caution when taking any herbal supplement during pregnancy, especially during the first 12 weeks.
Avoid supplements containing the amino acid phenylalanine and food products containing the sweetener aspartame. Shark cartilage preparations taken during pregnancy may inhibit the formation of new blood vessels. Avoid excessive intake of vitamin A in supplemental form during pregnancy, which has been linked to cleft palate, heart defects and other congenital defects.
SPECIFIC BENEFICIAL HERBS DURING PREGNANCYAlfalfa is a very good source of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K. Both alfalfa and Moringa leaf powder taken during pregnancy and lactation increase breast milk production and aid the healthy growth and development of baby. Green superfoods, nettle, fennel seeds, garlic, burdock root, fenugreek, dandelion and ginger also enrich mother’s milk. Ginger, taken in capsule or tea form, relieves nausea. Other beneficial herbs for nausea include dandelion, peppermint and red raspberry leaf. Raspberry tea might minimise the risk of miscarriage during the late stages of pregnancy.
HEIDI DU PREEZ, PR SCI NAT, M SC.
She is a registered Professional Natural Scientist with a master’s degree in Food Science. Heidi consults to both the food and health industries and runs a private practice in Cape Town. She uses a holistic, biomedical approach, incorporating diet, supplementation, detoxification and spiritual well-being in her treatment regimen. Her focus is on the prevention and cure of chronic, metabolic and degenerative diseases. She is the co-author and publisher of the health recipe book Naturally Nutritious Wholefood Cookbook. Heidi has appeared on TV and often writes for various publications on health matters.
Click here to browse or order previous issues