One of my most influential acupuncture teachers, Kiiko Matsumoto. always said “No sugar during pregnancy, then 38 weeks you can have sugar”. She learned this from her acupuncture teachers.
I asked why and although I never got a straight answer from Kiiko I believe the thinking is that in Chinese Medicine sugar can have a negative impact on the organ system known as the Spleen. In Chinese Medicine the Spleen plays an influential role on the immune system, muscle strength and holding tissue in place. Too much sugar weakens the Spleen and may lead to miscarriage or poor development. Eating sugar at 38 weeks helps relax the tissues and can lead then to an easier birth. I have repeated this idea to most of my fertility patients (especially the ones that have a Chinese Medicine Spleen weakness).
A recent study backed up some of the Chinese Medicine idea of no sugar in pregnancy as it relates to the immune system. In this population-based birth cohort study of over 12,000 women, the researchers found that a higher maternal intake of free sugar during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of atopy and atopic asthma in their children at 7 years old. “Free sugars” include those that are naturally present in honey, molasses and unsweetened fruit juices as well as any added simple sugars such as fructose and sucrose. One may think that perhaps it is what the child is fed in his first few years but the researchers corrected for that variable and showed allergy risk is independent of childhood sugar intake.
“Our results suggest that a higher maternal intake of free sugar during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of atopy and atopic asthma in the offspring, independently of sugar intake in early childhood.” —
I do not believe there are good and bad natural foods. Sugar at the right time can be healing and useful such as at the very beginning stages of a cold with some ginger juice. However too much of a good thing is never a good thing and the effects of simple sugars during pregnancy appear to be deleterious to the unborn child’s immune system. It is known that simple sugar consumption effects production of white blood cells as well as immune cell signaling.
Sugar can also have a disruptive effect on the microbiota which is a major player in our immune response. Speaking of microbiota pregnant women should be taking a good quality probiotic as there are many studies showing its benefit.
So how can a pregnant woman kick the sweet tooth habit? There are a few simple ideas I often use in my practice:
- Do not start the day with simple sugars. This includes fruit. When you start the day with sugar you increase your insulin response and go on ‘the sugar roller coaster’. Save fruit for later in the day, say mid-afternoon.
- Adequate protein – Having protein with each meal helps stabilize blood sugar levels. I usually say about a handful of animal protein.
- Use good quality minerals – minerals are most important and what is really missing from our food supply. Certain minerals such as chromium and magnesium can often curb sugar cravings.
Of course the best way to kick it is to reduce sugars before becoming pregnant. Do a Whole 30 or Paleo diet to clean things up. You’ll feel better too and it will make your unborn child’s life easier.