Study after study has found that nutrition, environmental exposures and lifestyle, even our thoughts and emotions, have the potential to change our epigenetics, that is, how our DNA is expressed, with implications not only for our our own lifetime but also for the children we conceive.
Nutrition is powerful epigenetic medicine, and we can harness the power of epigenetics throughout life. However, nowhere is the impact of epigenetics more evident than during the preconception period. Not only do your choices and actions affect your DNA expression, but they also affect the genetic expression of the baby you haven’t yet even conceived.
And yes, epigenetics during the preconception period applies equally to men and women.
Briefly put, epigenetics, when applied to areas such as nutrition, lifestyle, emotional health, movement and more, is about optimizing our genetic potential, with benefits for our own lives as well as for the generations to come. Applied epigenetics is about helping the body activate the most favorable DNA expression from the vast pool of potential that our genetic potential affords us.
So, let’s get into the details of what you can do to optimize your future baby’s epigenetics while preparing to conceive!
Nourish your body with nutrient-dense foods that support fertility and sperm and egg health. There’s a reason why certain foods have traditionally been sacred during the pre-conception period. Our ancestors understood that eggs, butter, cream, organ meats, warm soups, vitamin-rich fats such as cod liver oil and emu oil were vital during this important life stage, while of course consuming plenty of local colorful seasonal produce and high-quality animal and plant foods in general, and in particular folate-rich greens.
Nutrition is a vastly influential area for epigenetic expression, and I have seen its impact again and again with couples struggling with a history of infertility, conceiving and having healthy babies after implementing a nutrient-dense whole-food diet appropriate for the preconception and pregnancy periods, taking into account the individual and family history and the broader life context of the parents-to-be.
Don’t get me wrong - this approach is a food-positive approach that aims at offering a broad palette of enjoyable and flavorful food choices within an actionable and emotionally positive framework. It’s about expansion and empowerment, not about deprivation and fear!
Unresolved past trauma impacts epigenetics both in the individual lifetime and across generations. To the greatest extent possible, endeavor to heal from past wounds before conception. Study after study has documented the multi-generational effects of physical and emotional stress and trauma on epigenetic expression, perhaps most notably Schultz’s 2010 article entitled “The Dutch Hunger Winter and the developmental origins of health and disease” and Rodgers’ 2013 article “Paternal stress exposure alters sperm microRNA contents and reprograms offspring HPA axis regulation.” These are two key articles, but there are numerous other examples that could be cited.
One extremely underestimated stressor for fertility and epigenetic expression in both men and women is lack of adequate rest. While Western society encourages us to be always on the go, to rush from one activity to the next, to be on our phones and other devices round the clock, to sleep less and achieve more, to keep going with constant stimulation from caffeine, sugar and other stimulants, and to “unwind” with alcohol and electronics, this way of life keeps the body in a constant state of stress and alarm that interferes with hormonal functioning and adversely affects fertility and pregnancy.
Our bodies won’t truly feel safe for reproduction as long as we’re in a constant state of stress an alarm. Thus, lifestyle modifications allowing for rest, downtime and sleep not only promote increased fertility but also improve epigenetic expression by downregulating the stress response.
We are only beginning to understand the numerous and complex ways in which exposures to toxic substances in some common household materials, home and body care items, and even health and dental products can alter DNA expression.
Some of the key exposures to look out for and limit are:
Chemical scents and fragrances
Plastics and phthalates
For additional information on these topics, see:
If you’d like to learn more about optimizing fertility and preparing for conception, there’s a class for that! I’m very excited to be offering an online class via Zoom with 6 meetings specifically on the topic of nutrient-dense preconception preparation. To learn more and register, see: http://threestonehearth.com/nutrient-dense-pre-conception-32-46-10-1130am-single-copy