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The Prenatal Prescriptionby Peter Nathanielsz
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OnePrenatal Programming:
The New Science of Life in the WombImagine A Warm southern California Evening In August 1921. Alice Miller is preparing dinner when she begins to feel the bands of muscle in her womb tighten in earnest. For the last few nights, these muscles have been more active than usual, but never contracting this strongly or for this long. Nurses sponge her brow through a long night of labor, and as the sun comes up on a bright summer morning, her first child is born. She names him James. James is a chubby, healthy boy right from the start, and from the moment Alice first swaddles him in white cotton and gently cradles his little pink body in her arms, she senses he will be a lucky child. As he grows he proves to be both lucky and happy, able to weather well the normal knocks of childhood. His parent's luck doesn't hold, however. A year after his birth his father, Michael, an engineer at an electric plant in the San Fernando Valley, is hit by a truck disabled, and has to leave the well-paid job he has held for close to a decade. The Miller family is forced to move back to their native Pittsburgh, where they can be nearer the support of family and friends. James's mother keeps the family fed by working at a large commercial laundry — much of the work is moving heavy sheets, and she is on her feet all the time. Michael becomes very depressed, and relationships among family members suffer under the financial strains. There is often not enough money for Alice to purchase the fresh fruits and vegetables and other nutritionally balanced food she bought in California. Her world becomes even more stressful five years later when she is pregnant with James's brother,William. Her income is crucial to the family, and she keeps working six days a week until her water breaks.As James grows up and then grows old, he continues to do well, taking each new stage of life as a challenge to be overcome. Throughout childhood, James has the same diet as most everyone else in his neighborhood: a diet high in carbohydrates and fat, but one with little protein and almost no vegetables or fresh fruit. But while this diet and lifestyle produces high blood pressure and blood sugar problems in most of his neighborhood buddies as they reach middle age, James's cholesterol and blood pressure stay low. As they reach their late fifties and early sixties, many of James's friends — born in the difficult years of the depression when their mothers were not well cared for during pregnancy — begin to suffer from chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. His brother, William, is diagnosed with high blood pressure at forty, then diabetes at fifty, and then dies of a stroke in his early sixties. But at seventy-nine, James has stayed fairly healthy.What is the difference between James and his neighbors? Between James and his brother, William? How can people be exposed for most of their adult lives to the same environment and turn out so differently? This is the conundrum, the million-dollar question, that has stumped health scientists for decades. We now know that the key to this conundrum almost certainly lies largely in the disparate environments that James and William were exposed to during the crucial nine months before birth. Despite the fact that they are brothers with similar, though not identical, sets of genes, their bodies function very differently as aresult of the very different conditions they experienced during prenatal life.We have all noticed how differently people function. Some people eat almost anything, in any amounts, and never gain any weight. Their cholesterol and blood pressure stay low regardless of their diet. Other people watch what they eat, exercise regularly, and still have a tough time with their weight, blood pressure, or cholesterol. Understanding these differences has become one of the major challenges of modem health science. As one fellow scientist puts it, "We want to find out why some people are built like a Rolls-Royce and other people are built like a Yugo." For a long time, scientists and the public have attributed these differences to genes, diet, and general lifestyle. But in recent years we have garnered enough evidence to know that, while these three factors play important roles, much of the way our bodies work is molded and solidified during our fife in the womb. There are critical periods during prenatal development when our cells and organs decide how they will behave for the rest of our lives. Like James Miller, we may live in one location, but our bodies are still listening to the lessons they learned in the womb, lessons taught by very different life circumstances. James lived most of his life in a working class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, but his pattern of health and sickness more closely resembled that of residents in the well-off, sunny, fruit-laden area of southern California. His body was indelibly changed long before he made any of his own choices about what kind of food to eat or how often to exercise in later life. William was less fortunate because, as a result of the situation inwhich his mother lived during his life in the womb, he was provided with a less supportive womb environment. This permanent molding of his basic body functions is a perfect example of fetal programming.We get the idea for the word "programming from a twentieth-century scientist, Konrad Lorenz. Lorenz discovered that newly hatched geese will immediately bond with the first moving animal they see after emerging from their shell. Fortunately, this first living thing is usually their mother. But Lorenz showed that goslings would just as easily bond with him and follow him everywhere if he, Lorenz, was the first being they saw. This is an example of postnatal programming...
Did you know that your actions during pregnancy impact your child's health after birth and into adulthood? That what you eat, how much you exercise, your stress level, and your immediate environment are all key factors in determining your baby's predisposition to such conditions as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, cancer, even depression? Based on more than thirty years of rigorous scientific research, Dr. Nathanielsz's The Prenatal Prescription explains why this is so and what you can do about it.
Focusing on the main factors that directly affect the unborn child — nutrition, stress, toxins, and exercise — Dr. Nathanielsz lays out a clear and easy-to-follow program for "prenatal programming." He explains the science behind the fetal origins of adult disease, and offers tools that you can use to make your prenatal interaction with your baby memorable and beneficial.
Starting before conception, this simple prescription will change forever the way you think about preparing yourself for pregnancy. All parents want a long and healthy life for their child. The Prenatal Prescription explains how to make this a reality.
About the Author
Peter Nathanielsz, M.D., Ph.D., Sc.D., is director of the Laboratory for Pregnancy and Newborn Research at Cornell University. He is the author of Life Before Birth and Life in the Womb, and lives in Ithaca, New York.
Christopher Vaughan has been writing about health and science for fifteen years. The author of How Life Begins and the coauthor of The Promise of Sleep, he lives in Menlo Park, California.
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