Updated 20 November 2014

Moms-to-be: diet and air alert

Thinking of making a baby? Get thee off the Atkins diet, a new study suggests. While you’re about it, live somewhere windy, where the air’s clean. And women athletes, you might want to read this too.

Thinking of making a baby? Get thee off the Atkins diet, a new study suggests. While you’re about it, live somewhere windy, where the air’s clean. And women athletes, you might want to read this too.

Many women who’ve tried the Atkins diet swear by it as a way to lose weight without resorting to carrot sticks and lettuce leaves – for the initiated, the Atkins diet involves plenty of protein and limited carbohydrates.

The diet and its popularity has raised some concerns in health circles, and one celebrity’s success story often outweighs a dozen cautionary comments by physicians. But there’s one group of people who should be off the diet – women planning to fall pregnant, a meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology has heard.

Protein-rich diets lower fertility
Animal tests conducted in the US found that protein-rich diets lower fertility and the researchers are suggesting that humans may be affected in the same way. It’s known that eating plenty of protein increases the levels of ammonium in the reproductive tract. Ammonium’s a byproduct of the body’s process of metabolising food and it’s bad news for embryos.

Tests by researchers at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Health showed a 20 percent decrease in fertility rates of mice. It seems to indicate that if you’re planning a pregnancy your diet should more closely resemble the conventional food pyramid, with plenty of complex carbohydrates, fresh produce, water and a little protein.

The same could be said for committed female athletes: time to lay off the protein shakes. Having stocked up on spuds, lentils, wholegrain bread and pasta, what else can you do?

Pollution causes infant DNA damage
Try paying some attention to the air you breathe. Obviously smoking is a no-no, as is more than a glass of wine a day. But fresh evidence has reinforced concerns raised by a groundbreaking study nearly a decade ago.

In 1997, researchers from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York found that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) spewing from vehicle exhausts caused DNA damage in newborn infants.

The tests were done in the Polish city of Krakow, where PAH levels were reported to be about 30 times higher than those of many western cities.

The researchers were uncertain that the results would hold true in the west. Well, they do, says magazine New Scientist. The researchers conclude that while 90 percent of PAHs are filtered out and don’t reach the umbilical blood, the 10 percent that does means that the unborn child is 10 times more vulnerable to DNA damage than an adult. While the adult DNA can repair itself, that of the foetus can’t. They’re uncertain whether the DNA damage means a higher risk of cancer later in life, but they’re certainly concerned about it.

So along with avoiding cat faeces (They carry toxoplasmosis, which can cause brain damage to unborn children), limit your time in traffic jams, where exhaust levels may be eight times higher than normal.

Karen Evenett’s book, Women’s Health, offers the following guidelines for moms-to-be:

  • Raw meat can be dangerous. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling it;
  • Wear rubber gloves if you’re gardening or handling cat litter;
  • Avoid unpasteurised dairy products and pâtés, as well as any food that hasn’t been properly refrigerated.
  • Eggs must be cooked properly.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables must be washed thoroughly.

(William Smook)


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