Q:What is the best way for an expectant mother, living in London, to protect her unborn child from pollution (ie, air) and also the best way to prevent allergies (ie, asthma, eczema) from developing in a baby even before it is born and in the first few years. I have read there has been a great increase in allergies in children over recent years. C.F., Chiswick.
A:It may interest you to know that a study was recently done of umbilical cord blood lead levels in five cities in California. Fourteen per cent of premature babies had cord blood lead levels above 10 ug, the level above which one research team has documented psychoneurological effects in children during the first few years of life. Lead and other toxic metals in the environment have also been implicated in increased miscarriage rates, a variety of congenital defects and stillbirth.
If the child is otherwise normal, a high toxic metal level in the mother can produce a child who suffers from learning disabilities, hyperactivity and general lower than average mental development.
Short of moving out of polluted urban environments, the best way to protect your unborn baby is to follow the Foresight (Association for Preconceptual Care) guidelines for screening your own toxic metal levels, ideally before you get pregnant or at least during your pregnancy. A doctor used to doing these kinds of studies and measuring your metal levels can then advise you on the vitamins to take which will protect you and your baby from lead and other environmental poisons.
Biolab, as we've mentioned before, is one such lab in London which conducts these studies; Foresight can also direct you to other places for hair mineral analysis (Foresight, The Old Vicarage, Church Lane, Witley, Godalming, Surrey GU8 5PN).
As a rule of thumb, zinc is perhaps the most important protector of the unborn against these environmental onslaughts; so our nutritional advisors recommend that you have your zinc levels tested and then take supplementation if necessary. It's especially important for pregnant women to take zinc last thing at night since iron and folic acid will interfere with its absorption. Other minerals to protect you are magnesium, iron, vitamin D and calcium.
Foresight and others recommend that you have a complete testing of all minerals and vitamins and take whatever supplements are necessary, after being reviewed by a qualified practitioner. This tends to be a far more sensible approach to supplementation than the scatter gun method of loading up on megavitamins "just in case".
Perhaps the single most important way to avoid allergies from developing, according to Leo Galland and others, is to breastfeed exclusively for six months. Ignore the advice of well meaning but nutritionally ignorant pediatricians who suggest you give a newborn orange juice (a highly allergic substance!) or supplement with a bottle because your baby is fed a lot it's normal. (We've seen 11 pound at birth babies fed nothing but breast milk for a year positively thrive.) I had to junk my hospital pediatrician's comment that newborns like orange juice because they get "bored" with breast milk.
Don't be too over eager to introduce solids before six months, despite what health care workers say. Earlier isn't better. And when you do introduce solids, be very cautious about introducing the big five common allergens: cow's milk, wheat, corn, soy and sugar. Some people say that it's best not to introduce any of the above until your baby is at least nine months to a year old, particularly if you have a history of allergy in the family.
Babies and children who are deficient in iron (which is very common in young babies), magnesium, calcium and vitamin D, as well as zinc, will show the effects of lead far more than their healthy counterparts.
An excellent book on the subject is Leo Galland's Superimmunity for Kids (Bloomsbury), which has become something of a bible in my household. He provides the most up to the minute suggestions for optimum nutrition for mothers, babies, school age children and teenagers. He also includes a batch of the recipes at the back, which provide scores of ideas for low sugar healthy "sweets. I find that my daughter absolutely loves lollies and biscuits made with such things as yoghurt and concentrated fruit juice, not sugar.
Incidentally, one of our readers asked about giving vitamins to her eight month old baby.
Nutritional doctors are divided on this issue. Some advocate a liquid vitamin mineral supplement like Acquacelle or the equivalent; others tend to worry about supplementing small children because you can block absorption of other vital nutrients. Leo Galland, for instance, is opposed to zinc supplementation in small children, except under medical supervision, because it can block the absorption of selenium and iron (which year old babies tend to be deficient in anyway).
Two important rules of thumb prevail. The first is, learn everything you can about nutrition for babies and young children. Superimmunity for Kids is a virtual goldmine of information about vital ways to boost nutrition; Galland likes to emphasize healthy foods, rather than supplementation. He has a number of suggestions for how to get enough calcium, iron and zinc into young children. He and others recommend that you concentrate on lean meat and vegetables, egg yolks and cooked fish, rather than relying primarily on wheat and milk.
If you wish to supplement and those living in London or other urban centres may feel their babies need extra protection it's probably prudent to do so under the supervision of someone schooled in nutritional medicine, such as the Institute of Optimum Nutrition. They can take hair mineral analysis or sweat tests to determine if your baby is deficient in zinc or other minerals and also monitor to make sure he or she isn't getting overloaded.