Emma Leavens, Nutritional Therapist, currently 18 weeks pregnant
Allergies such as eczema, asthma, hay fever and food reactions are becoming an epidemic in developed countries. Why is that? Where are they coming from and what can we do in pregnancy to decrease the chance of our baby having allergies? To answer these questions, its important to understand the basics of how the immune system works in relation to allergies.
There are two arms to the immune system, called TH1 and TH2, and in a perfect world they are each sat on one side of an equally balanced seesaw. TH1 fights bacteria and viruses and TH2 defends mainly against environmental and food allergens. The TH1 and TH2 group of cells are in turn regulated by another group of immune cells called T regularity Cells (Tr). The Tr is found in our GALT (Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue), which lies in our digestive system and is basically THE DIGESTIVE TRACT’S IMMUNE SYSTEM. So if the Tr cells aren’t doing their job the TH1 and TH2 will be completely out of balance.
So, lets move to the digestive system. It should be populated with beneficial bacteria and yeasts, but too often the modern woman’s gut is populated with far too many negative bacteria and yeasts. Antibiotics and the contraceptive pill (to name just a few types of medications) kill bacteria in the gut. Once the good bacteria is killed, the bad stuff can grow and feed off our not so perfect eating habits and really start to flourish. This leads to all sorts of other pathogens settling in our digestive tract, causing foods not to be absorbed properly and toxins to be let into our blood stream. So the TH1 arm of the immune system is having to work extra hard, killing all these viruses and yeasts and random other pathogens. It’s working too hard!! Imagine the seesaw, the TH1 is loaded down with work, so the TH2 starts to go up. Not only that, the TH1 isn’t coping, so his buddy TH2 decides to start working hard to give him a hand. However, TH2 isn’t programmed to fight these gut pathogens, it only knows how to stop environmental allergens from getting into our body. So it starts doing more than it should, it starts working harder but as a result is reacting to all sorts of things in the environment which normally it wouldn’t attack – pollen, dust, foods etc. So the outcome – ALLERGIES!!!!!!!!!
Our babies are made up of what we’re made from. As they develop inside us, they get whatever we have inside our digestive systems (could be toxins or could be good wholesome food). When we breastfeed them, their own sterile stomachs are being populated with whatever bacteria is in our digestive system. When they come out through the vaginal tract, they pick up a whole host of bacteria which helps populate their own gut – if our gut is good, the vaginal bacteria will be good, but if our gut is not so good, our vaginal bacteria won’t be so good either.
What to do? – Basically work hard to ensure the gut of your baby is populated with good bacteria, to ensure they have a well-balanced immune system from the word go!
To do this, you need to ensure your digestive tract is populated with the right kind of bacteria and yeasts and stop feeding the bad ones. This will have a significant impact on the immune health of your baby. If you’re not yet pregnant you can do a bowel cleanse and detox before building your body back up ready to carry a baby for 9 months. If you’re already pregnant, here’s what to do:
- Cut out any form of refined sugar, white rice and bread
- Eat a mainly savoury diet, with lots of good fats, protein and vegetables
- Drink lots of vegetable juices or have a teaspoon of barley grass powder in water daily (sip throughout the day not all in one go)
- Take the right type of probiotic and/or prebiotic tablet or capsule. Probiotics contain good bacteria and yeasts and prebiotics are food for probiotics, so help good bacteria/yeasts stay in your gut. The actual type of probiotic depends on each individual and what’s happening inside, but as a rough guide:
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (10 billion organisms, less won’t be effective enough) – take in the last 3 months of pregnancy and whilst breast feeding – specifically for helping to prevent allergic reactions in babies
- Saccharomyces boulardii – is safe to take throughout pregnancy, is recommended for those who have a digestive yeast overgrowth
- Broad spectrum probiotics, which contain a range of probiotic cultures – up to 9 different species. These are better at populating a gut fully rather than single dose strain of probiotics.
My absolute absolute advise though, is to seek help from a qualified practitioner rather than self prescribe – a Nutritional Therapist or Naturopath. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or doubts about what to do. The above is simply a brief guide to give you an idea of what to look for in health stores, as well as the importance of your digestive health on the health of your baby.