Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: The Better Baby Book

When I was at the library the other day, I was searching the "Latest Arrivals" shelf when a book caught my eye.  It was called "The Better Baby Book" by Dr. Lana and Dave Asprey.  Since I am in the child-bearing stage of life right now, and since health topics always interest me, I decided to pick up the book.  I was a little wary of it, because there are such a wide range of definitions for what is "healthy", but I was pleasantly surprised by the book and even felt like I learned a lot (which is saying a lot since I have read pretty extensively on how to have a healthy pregnancy).

The book is written by a husband and wife; he is a health researcher and blogger, she is a Swedish doctor.  They wrote this book after she had two babies in her early fourties.  Before she got pregnant, they both did extensive research on factors leading to a healthy pregnancy and baby.  Not only did she go through both pregnancies without morning sickness, strong cravings or stretch marks, but the prenatal tests done on both babies were off the charts- in a good way.  The person who did the tests for her second baby said they looked like the results of someone in their young 20's.  Of course this is just an anecdote and does not prove that every principle in the book is true and perfect, but it is interesting to note.  I found it especially encouraging because we want a large family which means probably having babies until my late 30's, which is deemed "high risk" but I am glad to hear information which will help me have have healthy babies (Lord willing) until my late 30's (also Lord willing!).

The premises of the book are based off of the newly emerging field of epigenetics.  Most people believe that our genes determine how we are, and that is true to an extent.  But studies are now showing that various environmental factors affect how genes are expressed, which is the study of epigenetics.  The environmental factors emphasized by the authors to positively affect gene expression in pregnancy include detoxification, supplementation, eating the right foods, and controlling maternal stress.

The detoxification chapter was the most helpful to me.  Though I have learned a lot about reducing toxins in our environment over the past few years (in household chemicals, health/beauty products, etc) the authors heavily emphasized avoiding mycotoxins, a type of toxin found in some foods which comes from mold contamination.  Even very small contamination (we're talking parts per billion) is very damaging to your health (especially fertility), and may even be a bigger concern than things like household chemicals (though those are things they mention to be careful about too of course).  In the chapters regarding diet, they list the foods highest and lowest in these toxins.  They also mentioned the importance of filtering your water with a high quality filter, which made me extra thankful for our Berkey (and how God generously provided it).  Another source of stress to the body come from EMF's (electromagnetic fields) that are emitted from electronic items, and they list ways to decrease exposure to EMF's.

The supplementation chapter was also very helpful and eye opening to me.  For my first pregnancy, I only took prenatal vitamins (and most days just a half dose because high quality vitamins are so darn expensive) and a DHA supplement during the last half on the insistence of my midwife (I'm glad she talked me into it :) ).  But the reality is that 100% DV might not even be enough because "daily values" are established based on the bare minimum you need of each vitamin and mineral, which is less than what is optimal, especially when you are pregnant.  Furthermore, they recommend more than just the typically discussed vitamins and minerals; their supplementation list extends from antioxidants to fish oils to probiotics to collagen protein and specific amino acids.

They mention that they spent about $300 per month in supplements (because they personally decided to buy the highest quality supplements) but mention that you can get by spending about $100 per month to get all of the supplements they recommend.  Even $100 per month is pretty high for some people, so I recommend reading carefully their description of all the supplements they recommend and determining which would be most helpful for you personally (and also doing outside research).  The reality is that a prenatal vitamin probably isn't enough, so making informed decisions in this area is important.

The chapter on diet was good, but nothing eye opening to me personally.  The foods that they emphasized as most healthy, such as eggs (especially raw yolks), coconut, grass-fed meat, wild fish, grass-fed butter and vegetables are things we already try to eat as much as possible.  The foods they recommend emphasizing are the lowest in the mold toxins (mycotoxins) that I mentioned above.  The one thing I disagreed with was their emphasis on eating a low-carb diet, which I don't think there is enough evidence to support this idea yet.  I would be concerned for a woman to test out a diet like this during pregnancy when she really needs the energy from carbs.  Nevertheless, the diet seemed to work for them, even if I wouldn't follow their recommendations to a tee.  Anyone who eats the standard American "healthy" pregnancy diet that is low in fat, and high in whole grains and fruit would benefit from reading this chapter.

One tip that the authors gave that I have found to be incredibly helpful is to drink a half teaspoon of sea salt (NOT table salt) in a large glass of water first thing in the morning after you wake up.  The reasoning is that when you wake up, your adrenal glands are struggling to push potassium levels down and sodium levels up, and consuming a balanced salt with water helps the adrenals to do their job prepare for the day.  I have done this almost every day since I read this tip and have found that it has helped my energy level incredibly in the morning.  Within minutes of drinking the water, I am feeling very awake and ready to take on the challenges of the day.  The water tastes slightly salty, but certainly not like drinking ocean water.  Sea salt is a balanced salt that will leave you feeling satisfied after you consume it, not more thirsty like table salt does.

The chapter on stress was a bit helpful, because its always good to be reminded about how damaging stress is to your health (like when I am stressing out about eating healthfully, and then I remember that I am canceling out all the benefits of eating healthfully by being stressed!).  I didn't find their suggestions for dealing with stress helpful, because I am a Christian and I deal with stress in a Philippians 4:6 kind of way, and not through yoga/biofeedback/meditation etc kind of a way.

In every chapter they mention the importance of starting these things before you get pregnant, which I whole-heartedly agree with.  It is important that your body be well nourished from day one (especially since it can be a few weeks or sometimes months before you know you are pregnant), and that healthy patterns are started early (and not a stressful new thing to learn and enact after you are pregnant).

Overall, I would recommend this book.  It just came out this year, and is well-researched with the latest studies in epigenetics, which itself is an emerging field.  Though newer doesn't always mean truer, their research is helpful and important to think over.

Anyone in the child-bearing stage of life would benefit from reading this book, especially if you are interested in health and wellness.  As with anything in life (besides the Bible): remember to chew the meat and spit out the bones.

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