2 What Is The Difference Between Low-Level And High-Level Languages Pregnancy In The Stone Age – Can We Learn Something?

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Pregnancy In The Stone Age – Can We Learn Something?

The woman who became pregnant during the Stone Age faced enormous risks compared to the expectant mother of today. There was no way to control the bleeding or the infection; C-section was not an option. That we have survived as a species seems remarkable – until you dig a little deeper.

The outcome of the pregnancy depends on the underlying health of the mother, nutrition before and during pregnancy and the threat of infection. In all those areas, the woman of 50,000 years ago was better than her counterpart today. How is it possible in an age when there was no plumbing, no medical care and no protection from infectious diseases?

Better diet, better pregnancy

The primitive woman’s diet was less likely to be deficient in important nutrients than that of today’s children. (Ref 1) A study from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center confirmed earlier reports that teenage and adult pregnant women get too little iron, zinc, folate and vitamin E.

A woman who begins pregnancy without calcium, vitamin D and other bone nutrients increases the risk of developing osteoporosis in middle age. But this is not the end of the story. Your child may also be at greater risk of fracture in the future. Middle-aged osteoporosis is at least partly programmed before birth, especially if the mother smokes and has little physical activity. (Ref 2, 3, 4)

Most lay people believe that the Stone Agers were meat eaters. Anthropologists know that this is not so. They lived on a diet of mainly meat for only about 100,000 years, from the time Homo sapiens developed great hunting skills until the advent of agriculture. Before that time, meat came from carrion and small game. Most of their calories come from vegetables, fruits, roots and nuts.

Plant foods contain everything a pregnant woman needs, including vitamins, antioxidants, proteins and minerals. Modern vegetarians are often deficient in vitamin B12, but small game, bird eggs, and the deliberate or accidental inclusion of insects in the Stone Age diet provided more than enough of that critical nutrient.

Folic acid deficiency in early pregnancy leads to defective formation of the brain and spine of the child. Those abnormalities are much less likely among children of mothers who receive an adequate amount of folate, at least 400 micrograms per day. So few women eat enough green leafy vegetables to increase their folate levels, the US government requires that bakery manufacturers add it to their products.

Obstetricians have been prescribing multivitamins for their pregnant patients for decades, but it’s only in recent years that studies have confirmed the wisdom of that practice. In 2002, the American Medical Association reversed a long-standing position and recommended that everyone, without exception, need a daily multivitamin/multimineral preparation to avoid subtle, but health-damaging deficiencies of these nutrients. Taking a multivitamin reduces the risk of congenital defects of the newborn, especially those involving the heart. Preeclampsia is a serious, sometimes fatal complication of pregnancy. Women whose intake of vitamins C and E is low have a three times greater risk of this condition. (Ref. 5, 6)

Could these early Stone Agers, mostly vegetarians, have become iron deficient? Unlikely. Their diet was rich in iron and also in vitamin C which facilitates the absorption of iron. Under these conditions, iron deficiency would be rare. Cereal grains interfere with the absorption of iron, which explains why iron deficiency is common in societies that subsist mainly on grains. However, one of the main reasons why Stone Age women were unlikely to be iron deficient is that they did not have nearly as many menstrual cycles as modern women.

In a primitive society, the onset of menstruation is about 5 years later than that of young Americans. Modern hunter-gatherers, like the earliest Stone Agers, are either pregnant or lactating during most of their childbearing years and only menstruated a few times between weaning one child and conceiving another. In those groups breastfeeding suppresses ovulation because it is literally on demand, that is, every few minutes, even throughout the night. For a modern mother who breastfeeds, on demand often means no more often than every couple of hours and maybe once or twice a night after the third or fourth month. Thus menstruation returns despite breastfeeding and monthly blood loss continues.

The fish-brain connection

Beginning about 150,000 years ago, our ancestors discovered seafood. The increased intake of fatty acids in fish and shellfish initiated the great advance in brain size and complexity that allowed humans to advance more rapidly over the next 100,000 years than they had in the previous million. Enormous gains in tool making and the development of language and group communication followed.

The human brain is composed mainly of water, but the solid part is mostly fat. The body cannot manufacture the omega-3 and omega-6 fats that make up much of the structure of the brain and the eye, so we need them in our diet. Maternal deficiency of these nutrients, especially omega-3, prevents the newborn’s brain and eyes from reaching their full potential. The best source of omega-3 fat is fish; Nuts and green leafy vegetables are also good sources.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are found in every cell of the body. They allow an efficient flow of nutrients, regulate nerve impulses and keep inflammation in the right balance. In a proper diet, there is an equal amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. That allows the immune system to fight against infection, a real threat that man has faced since the stone age until the age of antibiotics, only 70 years ago.

The advantage for the child of a diet that is rich in omega-3 fats is obvious, but mothers also need it. Nature protects the unborn child by tapping into the mother’s stores of omega-3 fats. A woman whose intake of omega-3 fatty acids is low during the months and years preceding pregnancy will develop a deficiency of her own. This worsens with subsequent pregnancies if her omega-3 intake remains low. Postpartum depression affects about 10 percent of women after childbirth and is associated with a deficiency of omega-3 fats. (Ref 7, 8)

The new epidemic

There is a complication of pregnancy that never happened in the Stone Age: diabetes mellitus 2. No disease in modern times has risen so fast. It has increased many times since the 1950s; between 1990 and 2001 it increased by 61 percent. Gestational diabetics (Ref. 9) are those who do not yet have the disease in full, but cannot process blood sugar (glucose) properly during pregnancy. About half of them will develop frank diabetes in the years after the birth of their child.

Most of us know type 2 diabetes, which was once called adult-onset diabetes, as the disease that our grandparents developed in their later years. It is not uncommon to find it in teenagers, even in schoolchildren. As it has immersed itself in the younger generation, it has alarmed – but not surprised – doctors to find that it is no longer a rarity in obstetric practice.

How can we be so sure that the pregnant Stone Ager did not have diabetes? This is a lifestyle disease that has three major associations: a low level of physical activity, a diet rich in refined grains and sugars, and obesity. These conditions did not occur during the Stone Age. His way of life demanded strenuous effort. Grains of any kind were not part of their diet because they required tools and controlled heat. Sugar as we know it simply did not exist and honey was an occasional lucky find. Obesity would have been non-existent, as it is today among the planet’s dwindling hunter-gatherer populations.

Diabetic mothers have more pregnancy complications than normal women. Their children are 5 times more likely to die and are 3 times more likely to be born with abnormalities of various organs.

They kept germs at bay

Common wisdom says that Stone Age people were highly infectious, but this is not true. They had a powerful immune system due to high levels of physical activity and a very varied diet. Between the protective antibodies a mother passed through the placenta and those she imparted to her newborn through breast milk, Stone Age babies had more protection against everyday germs than modern babies .

Sexually transmitted diseases don’t spread very far or very fast when people live in small, isolated bands like they did during the Stone Age. The probability that today’s pregnant female will have at least one of these infections is more than 50 percent (Ref. 10). The impact on children can be severe; some will die, some will be brain injured.

Choice and consequences

Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs have produced a generation of children with problems that Stone Age children never faced. Mothers who smoke have children who are smaller than normal and whose brain development may be compromised. The use of alcohol or cocaine by the mother during pregnancy results in delayed growth, birth defects and other severe problems.

Given a choice, none of us would want to live in a Stone Age world, but we have neutralized the near-miraculous medical advances of the past century. We have allowed our daughters to be less physically active and subsist on a marginal diet. If we could just reverse these two factors, there would be a dramatic decrease in prematurity and other pregnancy complications.

The lessons we can learn from the Stone Age are not subtle, obscure or beyond our ability to imitate. We can produce the healthiest generation ever by making better choices for our children and ourselves.

Philip J. Goscienski, MD is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him via his website at http://www.stoneagedoc.com.

References

1. Giddens JB et al., Adolescent and adult pregnant women have similarly low intake of selected nutrients, J Am Diet Assoc 2000; 100: 1334-1340

2 Cooper C et al., Review: origins of osteoporosis fracture development, Osteoporosis Int 2006; 17 (3): 337-47

3 Prentice A et al., Nutrition and bone growth and development, Proc Nutr Soc 2006 Nov;65(4):348-60

4 Lanham SA et al., Intrauterine programming of bone. Part I: alteration of the osteogenic environment, Osteoporos Int 2008 Feb;19(2):147-56

5 Keen CL et al., A plausibility of Micronutrient Deficiencies Being a Significant Contributing Factor to the Occurrence of Pregnancy Complications, Am Soc Nutr Sciences J Nutr 2003 May; 133: 1597S-1605S

6 Bodnar LM et al., Periconceptional multivitamin use reduces risk of preeclampsia, Am J Epidemiol 2006 Sep 1; 164 (5): 470-7

7 Freeman MP, Omega-3 fatty acids and perinatal depression: a review of the literature and recommendations for future research, Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2006 Oct-Nov;75(4-5):291-7

8 Kendall-Tackett K, A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: the central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health, Int Breastfeed J 2007; 2:6

9 Greene MF and Solomon CG, Gestational Diabetes Mellitus – Time to Treat, N Engl J Med 2005 June 16; 352 (24): 2544-46

10 Baseman JG and Koutsky LA, The epidemiology of human papillomavirus infections, J Clin Virol 2005 Mar; 32 Supple 1: S16-24

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