Parents’ powerful preconception influence on children’s future
“You are what you do, not what you say.” Translation: Actions speak louder than words.
“Put your oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help others.” Translation: You help others most effectively by helping yourself first.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Translation: When your kids follow your good example, that’s the sweetest hug you can get.
No matter how you put it, moms and dads set examples for their children that shape the rest of their kids’ life. Loving, engaged parents nurture secure, generous children. Folks who are physically active encourage children to stay active too. Parents who demonstrate adventurous eating habits frequently have kids who like the taste of veggies from a young age. Parents have enormous power to launch children on a healthy, successful trajectory.
But it turns out kids are not always influenced in positive ways by the nurturing they get while still in the womb and as youngsters. The unfortunate ones may grow into teens (and adults) with metabolic, cardiovascular and emotional problems.
Research has shown that Mom’s and Dad’s health before conception and during pregnancy has a huge influence on their offspring’s health as a child, teen and adult. As we mention in our book “YOU: Having a Baby,” research shows that maternal health is important not just for the immediate health of a fetus, but also for long-term health. In fact, prenatal nutritional deficiency has been linked to development of schizophrenia, autism, cancer and brain dysfunction.
Additional research reinforces just how influential the preconception and prenatal health of the mother is to a child’s future:
Twelve percent of children born to obese moms experience wheezing at 14 months as opposed to 4 percent of those born to normal-weight women.
Women who have Type 2 diabetes are far more likely to have a child who develops obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Women with elevated lousy LDL cholesterol are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, and their offspring are more likely to have elevated LDL and clogged arteries.
Hold on a minute! Dads don’t get off the hook.
A study in a Brazilian pediatric journal states that a father’s preconception “obesity results in insulin resistance/Type 2 diabetes and increased levels of cortisol in umbilical cord blood, which increases the risk factors for cardiovascular disease” in the child. Other studies back this up.
The bottom line: A recent study in The Lancet says the preconception period “is a key window during which poor maternal and paternal physiology, body composition, metabolism and diet can induce increased risk of chronic disease in offspring — a lifetime legacy and major driver of health burden in the 21st century.” And that’s just what parents can do to their offspring before they are born.
A major new study in the journal BMJ has found that a mother’s not-so-great lifestyle choices have an enormous effect on a child’s risk for obesity. And that can lead to depression, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
When the researchers looked at around 24,000 children of almost 17,000 women, they found that if Mom eats a healthful diet, exercises regularly, keeps a healthy body weight, drinks alcohol in moderation and doesn’t smoke, her children are 75 percent less likely to become obese, compared with moms who don’t adhere to any of those healthy habits. If mother and child both have those five healthy habits, the child is 82 percent less likely to become obese.
So if you want your children to enjoy a long and healthy life, then Mom and Dad should do all they can to make sure they do too! Eat smart, take a multivitamin, be active, sleep well, avoid toxins like tobacco and manage stress.
And remember, the time to start giving your kids a good head start is before you start trying to become pregnant.
‘Strong is beautiful’
Lindsey Vonn, the Olympic skier, challenged a flock of celebs at the 2013 Met Gala, saying they were half her weight but skinny fat, pointing out they lived on Diet Coke and lettuce, and lacked muscle. “Strong is beautiful,” she rightly insisted.
Skinny fat can happen if you’re not overweight but lose muscle mass and add flab, so your body’s healthy proportion of muscle to fat flips. While it can happen at any age, it is a heightened risk for older folks. All of us lose muscle mass as we age, if we don’t take steps to preserve muscle tone with resistance exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
A new study in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging reports that for folks over 65, losing muscle mass and replacing it with high fat mass — even if they’re not overweight — is a slippery slope to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, being thin and flabby is more damaging to cognitive abilities, including memory, speed of processing and decision-making, than being obese with muscle strength. (However, being greatly overweight and flabby is a double whammy.)
The smartest way to avoid muscle tone loss at any age is strength-building exercises for 20-30 minutes two to three times a week, using stretch bands or hand weights, and aerobic exercise five days a week. Also essential: A diet with heart-healthy plant proteins, lean animal protein from salmon and skinless poultry (studies show older folks should increase protein intake) and lots of water to keep you hydrated and your muscles supple.
Q&A: Birth control methods
Q: I need to change birth control pills because the one I’m taking is giving me headaches. What’s the best way to find a new pill, and do I need a month off or anything?
Marsha B., Albuquerque, N.M.
A: You might need to change your birth control method entirely, so see your regular doctor and get a complete physical with blood tests. He or she can review not only your past health history, but look at all other medications and supplements you’re taking and spot anything that might be combining with the oral contraceptives to cause health problems and headaches. Also, blood clots are a risk associated with taking birth control pills, so if you stay on the pills, we think it’s smart to ask your doc about taking an 81-mg aspirin daily (unless you do extreme sports or have other bleeding risks).
Birth control pills are a combination of estrogen and progesterone hormones, and different brands offer different ratios and doses of each. If your doc says to try another formulation, don’t leave a gap between ending one pill and starting another. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, you should use a condom during transition if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy. If not monogamous, condoms always are necessary, with or without oral pills, to help prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
Finding an oral contraception that works for you has many benefits. Besides being 99 percent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy, there’s decreased cramping; fewer emotional swings; regular, lighter or no periods; and your risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer is cut in half. Although there was a study two years ago that claimed hormonal birth control increased breast cancer risk, a new study from the National Cancer Institute reveals that among younger women using oral contraception, there’s no increased risk of breast cancer — and it may even reduce their risk.
But, if you try other pill formulations and still experience side effects, there are many other options, including implants, diaphragms, IUDs and injections. Talk to your doc about the risks and benefits of each.
Q: My dog is getting up there in doggy years, and our veterinarian recommended adding a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement for his stiff joints. Would probiotics be a better choice for his energy level and overall health?
Jayme W., Portland, Ore.
A: Your instincts are spot on, Jayme. A critical 2017 Canadian review stated: “Glucosamine and chondroitin are commonly recommended by veterinarians as an alternative for treating osteoarthritis in canines unable to tolerate the adverse effects of NSAIDs, or as add-on therapy. Although glucosamine and chondroitin have benign adverse effect profiles, the clinical benefit of using these agents remains questionable.” Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t. However, when it comes to giving your pup probiotics — the beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive tract and often need to be supplemented — well, that’s another story.
One study from the U.K. has shown that when a probiotic and a prebiotic (that’s high-fiber food) are introduced together into a kenneled dog’s diet, that can reduce diarrhea, which is a frequent cause of morbidity for those pups.
But according to an article in Whole Dog Journal, all pooches can benefit from probiotics, “which aid digestion and modulate the immune system.” That not only puts the brakes on diarrhea, but reduces overall inflammation, which can only be good for aging and aching joints.
The article also adds: “If probiotics are being used to help with digestion, they should be taken with meals, but otherwise they may survive better if given between meals, particularly if taken with liquid that helps to dilute stomach acid and move them more quickly into the digestive tract … Probiotics may be given short-term or long-term.”
Pet probiotics can include Enterococcus, Bifidobacteriums and Lactobacillus acidophilus. (Purina’s Fortiflora is well-respected and has good reviews.) Check with your vet for the proper doses for your dog’s weight and age.
Contact Drs. Oz and Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.