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Prenatal health and nutrition

Chinese medicine has long emphasised the importance of a good balanced diet for optimal health. This is particularly important when trying to conceive as we are all made up of “prenatal-Jing” from each of our parents. “Prenatal-Jing” is a broad concept in Chinese medicine that encompasses the inherited DNA from the egg and sperm; and the nourishment a developing foetus receives in utero. It provides us with the foundation for our own health and longevity. The quality and strength of this “pre-natal Jing” is determined by the health of our parents and grandparents.

So, it’s interesting that modern scientific researchers are now finding evidence that this ancient Chinese knowledge can be scientifically proven. It has been recommended for a while now, that pregnant women and those hoping to conceive should take a folic acid supplement. This is because folic acid mimics the naturally occurring substance folate which is essential for the developing spine and helps to guard against conditions such a spina bifida. Research into epigenetics (the switching on and off of genes) is showing that how our cells read the DNA is affected by diet and other environmental factors. A recent report shows that scientists have now been able to demonstrate this also happens in utero and is dependant on the nutrition of the mother in the early stages of pregnancy. This reveals that prenatally, lifestyle and nutrition has a profound effect on the future health and long-term susceptibility to disease of our off-spring and that it is not just folate we need to ensure we are getting.

Professor Andrew Prentice, quoted in the Guardian said, “If a mother’s diet is poor then it causes a whole lot of damage to the genome which has a shotgun effect, so a baby might have possible adverse outcomes. This general phenomenon might explain preterm births, problems in pregnancy, brain defects, or why some babies are born too small.” You can read more on this research in the original article from the Guardian here. This article and the report discussed above focus, on the mother’s health, but a baby is not just made up of its mother. The father’s health impacts significantly on the health of his sperm. There is an ever growing field of research on the role of

sperm in recurrent miscarriage and the health of the child.

Ultimately, what conventional and ancient Chinese wisdom points towards and is being increasingly backed-up by research, is that the quality of nutrition developing sperm and eggs, and foetuses receive in utero, plays a crucial role in the health of the child. To get this essential nutrition, it important to eat a healthy balanced diet with lots of nutrient dense vegetables and good quality protein. However, given our intensive farming practices and busy lifestyles, it is not always possible to get enough nutrients from food so adding in good quality supplements can help. You also need to ensure that you have good gut health so that nutrients can be digested and absorbed; and ensure you have good blood flow and circulation to your reproductive organs so the nutrients can get to the womb lining, eggs and sperm.

Acupuncture can help to improve blood flow to and reduce inflammation in the reproductive organs, and help to improve digestive function. Acupuncturists do more than just apply acupuncture – a significant part

of what we do is also to provide appropriate, individualised lifestyle and dietary advice to help you and your future children stay in the best of health.

Jill Storstein, MBAcC is a traditional acupuncturist working in Edinburgh and Aberfeldy with a special interest in fertility, pregnancy and paediatric support.

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