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By Dr. Mercola
Microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract form a highly intricate, living "fabric" that plays an integral part in your health, affecting everything from body weight and nutrition, to chronic diseases of all kinds. It is very susceptible to toxins, and one in particular can wreak havoc on your microbiome.
Beneficial gut bacteria are very susceptible to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Studies have already confirmed that glyphosate alters and destroys beneficial gut flora in animals.
Each individual's community of gut microbes is unique, and the groundwork for each person's gut flora is laid from birth. A baby basically "inherits" the microbiome from its mother, which is why it's so important to address your gut health before, during, and after pregnancy.
If you've taken antibiotics or birth control pills, if you eat a lot of processed or sugary foods – even if you were bottle-fed as a baby—all of these factors can impact the makeup of bacteria and microbes in your gut. And in turn, they can have an influence on your child's health after birth.
Baby's Microbiome Is Seeded at Birth
This is the topic of the featured documentary film, Microbirth, directed by Alex Wakeford and Toni Harman. It reveals a fascinating new view of birth, and how microscopic happenings can have lifelong consequences. The microbiome may even have a generational impact, affecting DNA that is then passed on to future generations.
Emerging research shows that bacteria are absolutely vital for human health, and imbalances in the human microbiome significantly contribute to chronic non-transmissible diseases.
This is no small concern. According to Stefan Elbe, director of the Centre for Global Health Policy at the University of Sussex, who is interviewed in the film, the cost for non-communicable diseases between 2010 and 2030 is estimated to reach $47 trillion—an absolutely staggering sum.
Many of these diseases are directly impacted by your microbiome, which is why it's so important to address your baby's gut health right from the start. This past summer, director Toni Harman wrote an article about her film in the Huffington Post.1 In it, she writes:
"Two amazing events happen during childbirth. There's the obvious main event which is the emergence of a new human into the world.
But then there's the non-human event that is taking place simultaneously, a crucial event that is not visible to the naked eye, an event that could determine the lifelong health of the baby. This is the seeding of the baby's microbiome.
However, with interventions like use of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin / Syntocinon), antibiotics, C-section and formula feeding, this microbial transfer from the mother to baby is interfered with or bypassed completely."
Mode of Birth Influences Your Baby's Microbial Profile
Indeed, research shows that the mode of delivery affects the infant's microbial profile. This is one strong argument for having a vaginal birth, opposed to a C-section, as your baby is "seeded" with microbes as it goes through the birth canal. An article in Science Daily2 reported on such research stating:
"Communities of vaginal microbes change during pregnancy in preparation for birth, delivering beneficial microbes to the newborn. At the time of delivery, the vagina is dominated by a pair of bacterial species, Lactobacillus and Prevotella.
In contrast, infants delivered by caesarean section typically show microbial communities associated with the skin, including Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium.
While the full implications of these distinctions are still murky, evidence suggests they may affect an infant's subsequent development and health, particularly in terms of susceptibility to pathogens."
Seeding Baby's Microbiome 'Should be on Every Birth Plan'
If a child is born with an incomplete or unbalanced microbiome, it can have very significant health consequences, unless corrected. For starters, your child's immune system may be compromised and/or may not fully develop, which leaves the door wide open to developing any number of chronic health problems—now and later in life. Says Harman:
"The discovery of the microbiome is an exciting moment in human history. The insight it gives into the existence of the trillions of bacteria that live on us and in us potentially offers the medical community a new way to treat disease.
Even more importantly, it also offers the possibility of helping to prevent disease in the first place. And it all starts with birth...
Even if vaginal birth isn't possible, then immediate skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding should be fully supported and encouraged by all healthcare providers to help ensure the baby's microbiome is still seeded with the mother's own bacteria.
Apart from the obvious gift of life, the seeding of the baby's microbiome is perhaps the second greatest 'gift' a mother can give her baby. And that's why I believe right now it should be on every birth plan."
Your Gut Microbes Change During Each Trimester to Support Fetal Growth
The composition of a woman's gut microbes actually changes during each trimester of pregnancy in ways that support the growth of the fetus. This is largely influenced by the hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy.
Interestingly, research published in the journal Cell3 in 2012 found that, during pregnancy, the microbes actually become less diverse and the number of beneficial bacteria decline while disease-related bacteria increase.
Under normal circumstances, such changes could lead to weight gain and inflammation, but in pregnancy, they do not cause harm—instead they induce metabolic changes that promote energy storage in fat tissue so the fetus can grow. According to the authors:4
"The findings suggest that our bodies have coevolved with the microbiota and may actually be using them as a tool -- to help alter the mother's metabolism to support the growth of the fetus."
Gut flora is not the only factor influenced by the method of birth, however. According to research published in PLOS One,5 vaginal birth triggers the expression of mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) in mice, which is important for improving brain development and function in adulthood.
The expression of this protein was impaired in mice born via caesarean section (C-section). What happens right after birth can also impact your baby's health. As noted by naturopath Louise Loula:6
"Not only is skin to skin necessary to further seed them with bacteria from your skin but it can also regulate and stimulate their hormone production which allows them to calm down, to regulate their blood sugar levels and their instinct of hunger to then seek out the mothers nipple to being the third phase in seeding, breastfeeding.
... A baby with a c-section, especially those who are then fed formula are potentially at risk for some very serious long term complications. They may be picking up bacteria from an imbalanced environment, especially in a hospital.
Their immune training if incorrect right at the beginning may or may not be possible to correct. It is seen to then go on to affect all tissue from brain development to muscle and mucosal lining development."
Unbalanced Microbiome Can Affect Physical and Mental Health
Researchers are also starting to understand how a child's microbiome can play a role in autism. As noted by Scientific American:7
"Scientists have long wondered whether the composition of bacteria in the intestines, known as the gut microbiome, might be abnormal in people with autism and drive some of these symptoms. Now a spate of new studies8,9 supports this notion and suggests that restoring proper microbial balance could alleviate some of the disorder's behavioral symptoms."
Indeed, this is precisely what Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride surmised when she created the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional Program, which is designed to heal leaky gut by restoring the integrity of your gut lining. According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, in children with GAPS, toxicity flows from their gut throughout their bodies and into their brains. This continually challenges their nervous system, preventing it from performing its normal functions and process sensory information. Virtually any toxic exposure, including a vaccine, can be the "straw that broke the camel's back" in a situation like this. The end result can be symptoms of autism, and/or any number of other neurological problems.
I believe the GAPS Nutritional program is important for most people, as most people tend to suffer poor gut health due to poor diet and toxic exposures, but it's particularly crucial for pregnant women and young children. Dr. McBride is very clear that a poor microbiome transferred to the child during delivery can radically increase their risk of autism, which now affects one in 50 children and headed towards one in two in the next 10 years. Breastfeeding also helps establish a healthy gut flora in your baby, which is why breastfeeding is so crucial to your child's health. No infant formula has that same effect.
Once your baby is ready for soft foods, you can easily provide abundant probiotics in the form of fermented foods. This is one of the most powerful ways to restore your baby's beneficial gut flora. The first fermented food Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends for infants is raw organic grass fed yogurt (not commercial yogurt from the grocery store), because it's well tolerated by most. Ideally, make your own yogurt at home from raw organic milk, and start with a very tiny amount. Once yogurt is well tolerated by your baby, then start introducing kefir. If you have any problems with dairy, you can substitute vegetables fermented with yogurt culture or kefir culture.
Another Overlooked Yet Critical Factor—Vitamin D
Optimizing your vitamin D levels prior to, or at the very least during, pregnancy is also an important factor to safeguard your baby's health, as well as your own. For starters, research suggests your level need to be above 50 ng/ml to protect against serious pregnancy complications such as premature delivery and preeclampsia. So please, if you're pregnant, make sure to get your 25 hydroxy D levels checked. Previous research by Drs. Hollis and Wagner has also revealed a wide variety of other reasons for addressing any vitamin D insufficiency during pregnancy (listed below).
Their preliminary findings were discussed at a 2009 international vitamin D research conference in Brugge, Belgium,10 and included the following (the study was eventually published in 201111 ). According to Dr. Hollis: "I'm telling every pregnant mother I see to take 4,000 IUs and every nursing mother to take 6,400 IUs of vitamin D a day. I think it is medical malpractice for obstetricians not to know what the vitamin D level of their patients is. This study will put them on notice."
Mothers who took 4,000 IU's (10 times the RDA of 400 IU) of vitamin D during pregnancy had their risk of premature birth reduced by half. Women taking high doses of vitamin D had a 25 percent reduction in infections, particularly respiratory infections such as colds and flu, as well as fewer infections of the vagina and the gums. Premature babies born to women taking high doses of vitamin D were reduced by half at both 32 and 37 weeks. The "core morbidities of pregnancy" were reduced by 30 percent in the women who took the high-dose vitamin D. (Including diabetes, high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia -- a potentially deadly increase in blood pressure and fluid accompanied by low platelets) Fewer babies were born "small for dates." Babies getting the highest amounts of vitamin D after birth had fewer colds and less eczema.
Suggestions for a Healthy Pregnancy and a Healthy Baby
Besides the issues of seeding your baby's microbiome, and optimizing your vitamin D level, entire books could also be written about the hazards of chemical exposures during pregnancy. Research clearly shows that prenatal chemical exposures, particularly to endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates, can have wide-ranging and long-term health effects.
While you may not be able to avoid all toxic exposures, it's important to take whatever proactive measures you can to reduce your toxic burden, especially before and during pregnancy. For example, avoiding any and all unnecessary drugs and vaccinations is one aspect you have a large degree of control over. Below are several more. Rather than compile an endless list of what you should avoid, it's far easier to focus on what you should do to lead a healthy lifestyle, free of as many toxic exposures as possible. This includes:
- As much as you're able, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to agricultural chemicals like glyphosate. Steer clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid pesticides, artificial food additives, dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring, MSG, and unlabeled genetically engineered ingredients.
- Maintain optimal gut flora by eating raw food grown in healthy, organic soil and 'reseeding' your gut with fermented foods. (This is absolutely essential when you're taking an antibiotic). If you aren't eating fermented foods, you most likely need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis, especially if you're eating processed foods.
- Optimize your vitamin D level, ideally through sensible sun exposure or by using a tanning bed with an electronic ballast (to avoid potentially harmful EMF).
- Exercise regularly throughout your pregnancy. Previous studies have shown that, in general, women who exercise throughout their pregnancies have larger placentas than their more sedentary peers. The volume of your placenta is a general marker of its ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to your fetus, so it stands to reason that having a large, healthy placenta will lead to a healthier baby.
- Once your baby is born, try to breast feed for as long as you're able—ideally at least six months. Breastfeeding helps ensure that your child's gut flora develops properly right from the start, as breast milk is loaded both with beneficial bacteria and nutrient growth factors that will support their continued growth. It also has powerful components that will inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast. Once your baby is ready to start solid foods, the first fermented food Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends for your infant is raw organic grass-fed yogurt (not commercial yogurt from the grocery store), because it's well tolerated by most infants and children.
- Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is one of the very few fish I still recommend eating.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great database12 to help you find safer personal care products.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances, as they often contain phthalates, which have been linked to reductions in IQ and other chronic health problems.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- When redoing your home, look for "green," toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric, or install a glass shower door. Most all flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
- Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective and natural alternatives out there.