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If Vitamin A was "awesome", vitamin B is "bodacious". Seriously, vitamin B is HUGE! It's way to big to cover all the in's and out's of this complex and rather incredible vitamin, so, I'm going to give you the 'coles notes' version of why vitamin B is so important to include in your fertility, pregnancy and postpartum diet.
The B vitamins are water soluble, meaning that you pee out what you don’t use and you also don't store excess in the body like you do with fat soluble vitamins. Roughly translated, if you have a high concentration in your diet you'll pee neon yellow AND because they aren't stored in your tissues you need to eat them often to ensure you have enough to fuel your body's demands. Good thing they are found in some delicious things!
You need more Vitamin B when:
- You have a history of taking Oral Birth Control or any other synthetic hormone
- History of Smoking or high alcohol use
- High caffeine consumption
- Have a diet high in refined or processed foods
- History of antibiotic use
- Have a genetic mutation, such as MTHFR
- Are a Vegan or Vegetarian
- Have a history of dieting or are an athlete
- You're trying to become pregnant :)
Quick Facts about B-Vitamins:
There are 8 commonly known B vitamins. These vitamins are usually found together in foods and require similar co-enzymes to be best absorbed and utilized by the body. Some of the vitamins can be made in the body by the healthy bugs in our guts, while others cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from our diet. B- vitamins need to be in their "active" forms before they can preform metabolic tasks in the body. Vitamins are converted from their inactive to their active forms by a process called methylation. Methylation is aided by enzymes (that you make or consume) and is dependent on a intricate pathway of chemical reactions. Some people, like those with MTHFR, have a deficiency in one area of the pathway making their conversion of inactive to active B - vitamins more inefficient thus increasing their need. You can read more about that in an old post here or check out our section on MTHFR in the upcoming Baby Making and Beyond.
The low down on each B-Vitamin and why you need it in your fertility and pregnancy diet!
- Vitamin B1 Thiamin: Found in decent amounts in lean pork. Thiamin produces acetylcholine and is key for nervous system health. Choline is a critical nutrient for a growing baby's brain and nervous system development. You'll learn all about my love of Choline in my next post. C for choline.
- Vitamin B2 Riboflavin: Often found in liver, fatty fish, eggs, nori and sunflower seeds. B2 helps metabolize fats and carbs in your diet. Vitamin B2 promotes fetal growth and a healthy nervous system.
- Vitamin B3 Niacin: One of the most stable B vitamins, it can be easily manufactured in the body by the amino acid tryptophan. B3 is found in liver, fish and poultry (all which happen to contain tryptophan!) It's important during pregnancy to produce new DNA (building blocks of new cells) as well as help us stabilize our blood sugars (key for hormonal health).
- Vitamin B5 Panthotheic Acid: Panthothenic acid comes from the Greek word (ever see My big fat greek wedding, if so, insert smirk, if not watch it, hilarious) Panthos meaning "everywhere". As you guessed, deficiency is uncommon, it's hard not to find B5 in whole foods. Vitamin B5 is a great anti-stress vitamin and helps chill out the adrenals. Having a balanced adrenal system helps you stabilize your progesterone levels. KEY for fertility and pregnancy.
- Vitamin B6 Pyridoxine: Easily found in whole foods, the highest concentration is found in organ meats, egg yolks, fish, poultry and walnuts. Dark leafy greens also contain large amounts. A general rule Meg follows is: anytime there is an excess of estrogen more B6 is required. B6 is one of the ESSENTIAL vitamins that will help protect you against nausea and morning sickness during pregnancy (more estrogen during this time). There is also a much greater need for B6 when you've been taking birth control pills (again, a high concentration of estrogen in your system). B6 helps fight depression, mood swings, skin conditions and aids in detoxification. The list is pretty much endless. Bottom line, get your greens and eat some liver every now and again.
- Vitamin B7 Biotin: Biotin is both a co-enzyme and a B-vitamin. It's found in small amounts in most foods but mostly produced by our healthy gut bacteria. Deficiency can be caused by insufficient gut bacteria (like if you have taken antibiotics) or when women consume egg whites without the yolk, particularly if egg whites are not totally cooked. Avidin, a protein in raw or under cooked egg whites binds to biotin in the stomach and decreases it's absorption. Biotin helps metabolize fats and help the body form new tissues and new little people. It helps with healthy nails, hair and skin. Some experts believe that the crusty, kind of gross skin condition, Cradle cap, in infants is caused by a biotin deficiency. If your baby struggles with this, supplementing them with a probiotic may help.
- Vitamin B9 Folate: From the latin folium meaning 'foliage' folate is abundant in dark leafy greens. Folate needs are higher prior to conception to aid in the growth and development of a healthy neural tube in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Deficiencies a pregnant woman can result in neural tube defects such as spina bifida in her baby. It's important to get folate in it's active form, especially if you have any form of MTHFR. Look for folate vs folic acid on your prenatal vitamin. Folic acid is a synthetic derivative and not the best choice. Folic acid supplementation in large doses over long periods of time has recently been tied to breast cancer.
- Vitamin B12 Cobalamin: B12 is found in most animal proteins. Vegans and Vegetarians are at the highest risk for deficiency as there aren't really any good sources of B12 in their diets There is a common misconception that it's possible to get B12 from seaweed, fermented soy and brewers yeast. Not totally true. These plant foods actually contain B12 analogs called cobamides that actually block intake and increase the need for real B12...YIKES! Low B12 levels is a big deal. It's associated with anemia and has also been strongly linked to recurrent pregnancy loss and placental abruption. B12 is as important as B9/Folate if you ask me. It works with B9 to help give you energy, prevent anemia, guard against neural tube defects and significantly aids in brain and nervous system development.
So there you have it...Big, bodacious vitamin B for fertility, pregnancy and beyond. Want more info or need help fine tuning your fertility, pregnancy or postpartum diet? Want to learn how to test for MTHFR and other methylation challenges? I can help. I'm now taking consults again! Finally :) Click the big button above to book your first consult.
So we begin our journey exploring all the vitamins of the alphabet. It's awesome (get it "A"wesome?) that vitamin A is the first one because in my mind, it is one of the most important micronutrients not only to help you boost your fertility and prepare for pregnancy, but also during pregnancy and breastfeeding. So, let's explore the wonders of this over achieving vitamin.
The Scoop on Vitamin A
Vitamin A is important for many key functions in the body. These include:
- Hormone Balance and Fertility
- Thyroid function
- Bone growth and skin health
- Cell differentiation and multiplication
- Immune Function (viruses and bacteria seem to retreat in the presence of high vit A)
- For your growing baby specifically: Vitamin A is important for the development of the neural pathways between the brain and sensory organs and in the development of the nephrons in the kidney.
- Vitamin A deficiency is also associated with pregnancy loss...needless to say, it's an important part of a healthy diet.
Two Types of Vitamin A
Retinoids (Reteinol Esters): Derived from animal sources. Retinoids are found in the liver of any animal and in smaller quantities in egg yolks, butter and cream from grass fed cows.
Carotenoids: AKA Beta-carotene. Vitamin A derived from plant sources. Think carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe. Basically, if it has an orange hue, it's probably rich in carotenoids. Carotenoids must be converted by the body into retinol in order to be used by the body. This is kind of tricky for the body to do and is a pretty inefficient process. This process can be even trickier if you suffer from a hormone imbalance, thyroid condition, it can be effected by food preparation and cooking methods and also if don't have enough fat in your diet or if you have digestive problems. Babies also don't convert well (another reason to feed your infants over 6months liver).
Vit A in a Nutshell
- Fat soluble Vitamin. This means it must be consumed with a fat to be properly absorbed.
- Both Retinol Esters from animals and Beta Carotene from plants must be converted by the body into Retinoids. Once converted they are stored in the liver as Retinol Esters. This is why liver is such a rad source of Vit A and also why high doses of vitamin A retinol, when taken in a concentrated form, can cause birth defects months after discontinuing them. High potency topical skin serums are known for this.
Traditional cultures around the world seem to instinctively know the the benefits of proper vitamin A consumption. In fact, liver is found in the diets of almost every tribal group around the world, from the Canadian Inuit to the Maori in New Zealand. Many cultures even make special efforts to ensure pregnant women consume liver regularly. They instinctively know that vitamin A is critical for the health and wellbeing of our growing babies and is an KEY part of there development. Weston A Price has a great article that goes into the details about why Vitamin A is so critical for fetal development. Take home message....CONSUME LIVER in reasonable amounts!
Vitamin A Toxicity in Pregnancy
The fear about Vitamin A toxicity in pregnancy over the past 20 years is something that commonly worries women whenever I suggest regular dietary liver consumption. Here's the deal.....In 1995, a small study based in Boston found that high does of vitamin A could cause neural tube defects. The issue with this study is that it only looked at higher does (25,000 IU+) Vitamin A consumption from SYNTHETIC sources (retinol & retinol esters). Follow up studies from several sites in Europe concluded that doses up to 30-50,000 IU in pregnancy from REAL FOOD sources were very safe, in fact, potentially beneficial to pregnant women. Sadly however the FDA did not change it's message and the public was once again misinformed.
Retinol Sources and Levels
- High-vitamin cod liver oil 230,000IU /100g
- Regular cod liver oil 100,000IU /100g
- Duck liver 40,000IU/100g
- Beef liver 35,000IU/100g
- Goose liver 31,000IU/100g
- Liverwurst sausage (pork) 28,000IU/100g
- Lamb liver 25,000IU/100g
- Egg Yolk 1,442IU/100g
- Pasture Raised Butter 2,500IU /100g (this level varies greatly depending on diet of cows)
The US and Canada currently recommend 5,000 IU per day . From the work of Weston Price, we could guess that the amount of Vitamin A in primitive diets could have as high as 50,000 IU per day. Current recommendations from a variety of sources hover around the 10,000 IU-25,000IU level when obtained from a modern diet rich in daily grass fed butter, eggs from pastured animals and beef, lamb or poultry liver several times once a week. If you're not eating liver adding a 1 tablespoon of fermented cod liver oil can help. You can also take liver capsules, which are also a great source of b-vitamins. Solgar, Vital Pastures and Radiant Life all make good products.
What's a Pregnant Paleo Mama to do?
Always enjoy your vitamin A sources with a fat. Vitamin A is fat soluble and needs fat to be properly absorbed.
Enjoy liberal amounts of butter from grass fed cows and egg yolks.
Enjoy liver from grass fed animals once or twice a week to ensure you have a good supply of retinoids. Unless you are consuming Polar Bear or walrus liver, a serving or two of liver per week is not likely to cause any trouble. If you find the flavour of liver to be strong, try chicken liver, duck liver or lambs liver. They are milder. I have a great lambs liver meatball recipe ! It's easy to hide a few ounces of liver in meatballs, burgers or meatloaf. If you're feeling adventurous you could also try one of Liz's Liver Smoothie Shots I'm going to give this a go this week....keep your eyes out for me on Instagram giving this a shot...literally. Ha ha.
Consume beta-carotene rich foods to your hearts content. Yumm squash (I am a squash addict)
Always consume vitamin A rich food with a FAT. This helps you absorb to absorb the nutrient. This gives you full permission to slather your yam or kabocha squash liberally with grass fed butter or coconut oil.
Make sure you are getting enough Vitamin E in your diet
Vitamin E is necessary for the absorption of Vitamin A. Vitamin E can be found in: spinach, turnip, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, asparagus, collard greens, broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts.
Pregnant or planning for pregnancy? I'd give your high dose Retinol skin creams a miss to reduce the chance of toxicity. Try a vitamin C skin serum instead to achieve a beautiful glow!
Vitamins... OMG if you're a woman these days you're often BOMBARDED with adds, blog posts and displays in your local Whole Foods trying to sell you the next greatest thing vitamin that will cure all that ales you, help you have an effortless, glowing pregnancy, recover, lose weight, have the perfect baby, cure said perfect baby from crying and throwing your sleep out of whack, then oh yea, take this to help you sleep. Shessh.
By far, the most common question I get from women, and a few of their lovely partners, is, what are the best prenatal vitamins and why? What are the most important nutrients to help nourish a fertile body and support a healthy pregnancy? What vitamins are important to help you recover postpartum and help as create 'uber awesome' breastmilk? Well, I'm going to answer all of these question over the upcoming months starting with that super important vitamin A and going all the way to good ol' Z (for zinc)
But first....indulge me in a ramble. By far, the most important nutrient you can support health and wellbeing is is vitamin "L".... that's LOVE. I know, I know, it's a bit cheezy, but I am a grain free granola crunching midwife after all. Seriously, the best thing you can do for your body and mind is invite love into your life.
Self love, is the BEST! Self love goes way beyond self esteem, although, self esteem is a lovely side effect of caring for yourself. I talked about the importance of having gentle loving kindness for yourself when you're healing from either a miscarriage or a traumatic birth experience on Part 1 of my episode with the Balanced Bites Podcast a few weeks ago.
Self love is an important part of self care. Loving yourself means honouring and respecting the AMAZING body you have. I'm not talking about taking a selfie of yourself flexing at the gym, although, truth, I've done this with no apologies. I'm talking about recognizing just how powerful your body is and respecting all that it does for you. This means being kind to yourself, no matter what. When we forget to be kind, it's easy to start sabotaging the essence of a healthy body through self judgement, shame and unrealistic ideals. In other words, if we lose the joy in caring for ourselves, we don't feel happy. Not feeling happy or satisfied can actually manifest themselves physically in your body. Your stress hormones, including cortisol, can go up, your digestion suffers, the way you assimilate the nutrients from a healthy diet is effected and even your gut bacteria can be altered! If these aren't reasons enough, think about how it feels to be sad or anxious all the time. Not really a space or place I want to live in. An unhappy mind is not healthy.
How do we step out of these patterns ? First, simply recognizing negative self talk or habits. Remember that saying in the 80's or maybe it was the 90's, "knowing is half the battle" .... GI Joe said that, but anyway, seriously, that is the first step. Once you've gotten some awareness you can actually take some steps towards positive action.
Meg's tips for inviting more self love into your life
1. Whenever you feel your mind slipping into a negative pattern, recognize it. You don't need to judge it, just witness it....sit with it and simply let it be. Have a touch of gentle loving kindness for yourself.
2. Actively change your thought pattern and LISTEN to your body. Once you've recognized that negative self talk, say something positive to yourself that opposes it. For example, you might be 2 months pregnant. You're also a gym junkie. You workout not only because it makes you feel good but also because it helps you feel in control of your body. You haven't been able to work out for days and you finally have a chance but man...you're soooo tired. You start an inner dialogue that tells you to get your lazy butt off the couch and get to the gym or else you're going to get 'soft'. Now is the time to change those thoughts. Your pregnant! Give yourself a break. Honour the amazing things you're body is doing....that's why it's so tired. Think to yourself, what would feel most nourishing? A nap? A walk outside? A bit of yoga?....listen to what it says in reply.
3. Make sure to take time every day to practice some form of self care. For me, it is usually 10 mins of meditation in the morning or evening or a touch of restorative yoga. It can also mean cooking yourself a healthy meal, getting a massage, going for a walk in the woods, watching Real Housewives, whatever! Just do something that honours your space and nourishes your sense of LOVE for yourself.
4. If you're struggling breaking these patterns or find that your going through something traumatic, like a birth trauma, get help. Reaching out to a clinical therapist can work wonders in many circumstances. It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you. It means you are human!
Taking care of yourself and practicing self love is the BEST thing you can do and the BEST vitamin out there. It has the benefits of making you a better woman, better mother and better lover. Give yourself a dose every damn day.
I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the “optimal” diet for fertility. Between finishing up with Baby Making and Beyond and working towards my Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) certification, nutrition is number one on my mind.
So, back to my question, is your fertility diet actually sabotaging your ability to conceive? What do I mean by that, well, let me explain. This question was triggered by an email sent out by Real Food Liz, my BMB partner in crime. In it she posed the question, are you “accidentally” dieting. Listening to the Balanced Bites podcast this week there was some discussion about how we view our food choices. There is a large tendency in our food and looks obsessed culture to diet, go on detoxes and boot camps. Some of these programs can be great re-sets for helping us move towards a more healthy, balanced real food approach, but sometimes, the “rules” they create can end up extending past these 21 or 30 day challenges, limiting our diets, but more importantly, create a toxic relationship around food. Food can be labeled, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and even worse ‘permitted’ or ‘not permitted’. We can lose our ability to enjoy eating and enjoy our meals.
Back to my original question, is your fertility diet actually sabotaging your ability to conceive? While I’m trying to create the most optimal dietary guidelines to maximize fertility it is my most sincere fear that these “guidelines” could actually cause more damage than they create good by causing toxic STRESS and feelings of deprivation for some women who just so desperately want to do the very best thing for themselves and for their future babies. Stress, in any form, is toxic to fertility. Put very simply, stress activates adrenal hormones (think cortisol), which sends signals to your body that now is a stressful time and not a good time to conceive. Stress is powerful enough that the benefits of even the most “perfect” fertility diet could be nullified by the effects of elevated cortisol.
Here’s the issue with stress when you’re seeking to optimize fertility:
- Cortisol raises blood sugars and promote inflammation as well as unhealthy weight gain (especially around your tummy).
- Cortisol reduces your body’s ability to make it’s own sex hormones including thyroid, estrogen and progesterone
- The constant stress on the adrenal system tells the body that it’s not “safe” and that now is not a good time to raise a baby successfully.
So, what to do about it? What can you do if you feel trapped in a “diet” or set of eating “rules” . What do you do if you're feeling deprived, stressed out or exhausted by trying to achieve the perfect diet ?
1. Let go of all the rules! We each get multiple times each day to make food choices. We are all individuals, not robots. Sometimes we make more nutrient dense choices, while other times we may make choices that just satisfy our souls. When enjoyed, these are all GOOD CHOICES. Try to choose nutrient dense most of the time. Other times just enjoy the ice cream Sunday or gluten free pizza. Heck, last week I ate a marshmallow that fell in the fire pit. Whatever. No stress, no consequence. One choice at a time.
2. Create a list of ‘smart’ deal breakers Always avoid things that obviously are harmful for your body and are known to cause a reaction or be a source of inflammation. For me it’s dairy and gluten. They are an absolute NO GO. That being said. When I want my ice cream sundae, I’ll make it with decadent coconut milk ice cream and dairy free chocolate fudge. No suffering here!
3. If fertility is your goal, create a list of things you want to include each week and then fill in the gaps with spontaneous eating habits that nourish your body and soul. For example, you want to eat liver twice each week, eat dark leafy greens every day and enjoy more bone broth. Easy! Meet these goals and then fill in your diet with spontaneous unplanned choices that keep your mind, body and soul satisfied.
4. Create a stress free culture around meal times. Enjoy your food. Sit down with family for at least one meal per day. Try not to eat on the run or be distracted by the TV or computer when you nosh. Take five deep breaths before sitting down to eat. Not only will this aid in digestion and nutrient absorption (fertility bonus),but it will also acts as a potent stress reliever. If regular meditation or yoga isn’t already a part of your fertility practice, MAKE IT A PRIORITY. Yes, I said this loudly, a stress management plan is just as important as anything you put in your mouth. We will have a GIANT stress section in Baby Making and Beyond, so stay tuned for that.
If you need help with your diet or nutrient plan, feel free to send me a message. I’ll be accepting new clients in the spring of 2017 and have a waiting list started of everyone who’s interested in a bit of help. I’ll be offering a wide variety of both hormone and allergy testing as well as fertility, prenatal and post- baby nutrition packages. So stoked for this new phase in my career and excited to keep working with all of you wonderful women. Also, stay tuned for a series of e-books designed to help you get on your way to fertility and pregnancy friendly paleo eats.
Till then, enjoy that Sundae. You know how I feel about ice cream!
Can you believe it's been 10.5 months?! Time flies and as I find myself in a space of reflection, I'm realizing that for the past few years (or more), my mantra has been, "I'm just so busy, there's no time". I've been chasing the "dragon" so to speak, burning the candle on both ends trying to keep up with work and life.
Well, you know what happened? It caught up to me. Shocking, I guess I'm not immune to burnout and my body is protesting! After facing some real health issues, I'm re-focusing and defining what balance means for me. I'm also re-defining how I can continue to give back to the beautiful world of women and families while honouring my self and it's own needs.
In the next few months, expect some exciting announcements, new posts and different directions. I've started my path towards becoming a Registered Holistic Nutritionist so I can officially add that piece to my practice and am psyched to share this journey with all my readers. Keep the questions coming, I love the daily emails I get from women and their partners near and far.
Meg the Midwife (and soon to be RHN)
Change is a beautiful thing! However, with all the changes in my life lately I just don't have time to update this wonderful blog all that often. So, in an effort to simplify, right now I'll just be working on Baby Making and Beyond and putting Modern Paleo Midwife on hold.
Until I return, check out these links to my most popular posts or feel free to search for something in the search bar on the right.
Guide to Eating Paleo in Every Trimester:
Stay tuned for BMB for TONS of more in-depth and comprehensive info. Until then, follow me on Instagram and please feel free to send me your questions or comments. I'll still be checking comments and emails as always :)
Meg the Midwife