A pre-pregnancy health guide

Life Extension Europe: Pregnancy bump with hands holding a pregnancy scan in front.
Pregnancy, a joyous yet nerve-racking journey, demands careful attention to diet and supplementation to ensure both mother and fetus receive essential nutrients for healthy development. 

Despite the importance of a balanced diet, deficiencies in key prenatal nutrients are surprisingly common. 

This emphasises the need for full prenatal formulas to support a healthy pregnancy and the optimal fetal development.

Beyond vitamins and minerals, critical nutrients like DHA, choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin are vital for the baby's brain and eye health, reducing the risk of anomalies and disorders. 

Deficiencies in pregnancy are common 

It's common for women to believe a healthy diet suffices for pregnancy support, though key nutritional deficiencies are prevailing.

Research from Western Europe indicates a significant shortfall in essential prenatal nutrients among women of childbearing age before conception. In which, almost half lacked adequate folate, 67% were deficient in vitamin D, and a majority failed to get enough omega-3 acids from fish oil (1).

An observational study found that 26% of women had at least one nutrient deficiency, with several experiencing multiple shortfalls (2). This figure rose to 41% among women aged 19 to 50, reaching 47% among those pregnant or breastfeeding.

This suggests nearly half of all childbearing-aged women are not receiving the necessary nutrition for fostering optimal fetal growth and ensuring a healthy pregnancy.

The best supplements to take for pregnancy

Choline and more

During pregnancy, it's crucial to focus on nutrient intake, including choline, which supports brain development and cellular growth in fetuses (8,9). Choline, a vital but often overlooked nutrient(10), is essential for forming cell membranes and neurotransmission. 

Although the body produces some choline, dietary intake from foods like beef, liver, eggs, and fish or supplementation is necessary to meet the increased demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

Pregnant women require at least 450 mg of choline daily, while breastfeeding women need 550 mg, highlighting the importance of incorporating choline-rich foods and possibly prenatal vitamins into their diet to support fetal brain function and development.

Starting choline supplementation before pregnancy or as soon as one finds out they are pregnant is advised due to its critical role in early fetal development, including brain and neural tube formation. 

Life Extension's Prenatal Advantage, a science-based supplement, offers a blend of essential nutrients, including: 

These are to support the health of both mother and baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

This emphasizes the significance of consulting healthcare providers to ensure dietary and prenatal vitamin choices meet all nutritional needs, underlining choline's importance not just for pregnant women but for individuals at all life stages to support cognitive function (9,10,11).

Why is it important to supplement for pregnancy?

The choices a woman makes during pregnancy can have a lasting impact on the long-term health of her child. 

For embryo and fetus, many nutrients are required as the building blocks. These are fish oil-derived omega-3 fatty acid DHA and the essential nutrient choline and these are needed for brain development. These two nutrients are typically under-consumed in Western diets. 

The nutrient, Folate, is essential for the healthy development of the brain and spinal cord. Inadequate folate can lead to permanent abnormalities in fetal growth. 

It is widely known that smoking, drinking alcohol, abuse of drugs can permanently harm the health of a child. Likewise, inadequate nutrition in the diet takes a deleterious toll on the child’s health, raising the risk for chronic disease throughout life (3).

For this reason, it’s vital that women who are attempting to get pregnant or even think they may get pregnant pay special attention to their diet and the nutrients they’re taking.

Lack of adequate nutrients also puts the expectant mother at risk. Preeclampsia (a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure), premature delivery, gestational diabetes, and stunted fetal growth have all been tied to deficiencies of various nutrients (4-7).

Women who breastfeed continue to be the sole source of nutrition for their babies for several months after delivery as well and should continue monitoring their nutritional intake.

Dealing with morning sickness

A recent University of California, Davis study revealed that probiotics significantly reduce morning sickness in pregnant women. Participants experienced a 16% decrease in nausea and a 33% reduction in vomiting after taking a blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains for 16 days (12). 

This research highlights the gut's role in health during pregnancy and suggests probiotics as a beneficial supplement for improving gastrointestinal functions and overall quality of life for expectant mothers.

Morning sickness, affecting up to 85% of pregnant women, can be alleviated with remedies like ginger tea (13) and now, probiotics, known for promoting gut health and supporting various bodily functions (14). 

Safe for pregnant women, probiotics, alongside prebiotics, may also prevent gestational diabetes and improve fasting glucose levels, offering a holistic approach to managing pregnancy discomforts and enhancing maternal and fetal health (14).

The question of infertility

To understand what causes male factor infertility, we have to understand the concept of sperm quality. 

Four factors determine sperm quality:

  • The total number of sperm cells produced (sperm count)
  • Their physical attributes (morphology)
  • Their ability to move properly once ejaculated (motility)
  • The integrity of their DNA

Recent studies show a concerning decline in sperm quality among young men, with sperm concentrations dropping below the 40 million/mL needed for normal fertility. Factors such as sperm motility, semen volume, and the integrity of DNA in sperm cells have also worsened. 

While medical treatments for male fertility issues exist, they often come with side effects, leading to a preference for treating women instead. However, research suggests that specific nutrients, particularly carnitine, can significantly improve sperm quality by enhancing motility and energy supply, thereby increasing the chances of successful pregnancy (15,16).

Antioxidants like vitamin C, E, CoQ10, selenium, n-acetylcysteine (NAC), and zinc have been proven to improve sperm quality by combating oxidative stress and boosting sperm count and motility (17-41). Nutritional supplementation, especially with these antioxidants, shows promise in reversing infertility issues without the need for medication. 

This approach is especially relevant for older men, who are increasingly choosing fatherhood later in life and can benefit from the fertility-enhancing effects of a diet rich in antioxidant nutrients. Supplements like lycopene (42,43), omega-3 fatty acids (44-46), vitamin D (47-50), and ashwagandha (51) also contribute to improving sperm quality and overall reproductive health.

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