In November I posted 10 Nourishing Foods to Eat During Pregnancy and since then I have had several individuals inquiring about my top #2 food on the list, liver. Unfortunately, liver happens to be a controversial food for pregnant mammas, it is high in the fat soluble vitamin A which is picked on for being toxic to infants in the womb. Hopefully, no doctor would even deny that a mother is in need of vitamin A for both her and her developing infant, but is there really too much vitamin A in liver?
Since no attentive pregnant mama wants to do any damage to her growing baby, the high vitamin A content in this fantastic superfood, puts many mammas on red alert. Although not a single midwife of mine has ever even uttered the world liver, I have found many midwives do tell their patients to avoid liver due to the high vitamin A content. Even doing a simple google search about eating liver during pregnancy will turn many liver hungry mammas away quickly.
Your Baby Needs Vitamin A
In the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston A Price describes his study of vitamin A deficiency and the detrimental problems that it will cause. It is clear that vitamin A is responsible for the formation of the eyes and has much to do with the development of the central nervous system. Experiments with laboratory rats deprived of vitamin A experienced prolonged gestation (long pregnancies) and very difficult labors that often resulted in the death of mother and baby. Pigs deprived vitamin A experienced defects in the snout, dental arches, eyes and feet. These pigs also experienced both cleft pallets and hair-lips.
Pregnancy Will Cause Extra Nutrient Demands on the Body
Pregnancy drains a woman’s body of a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and other raw minerals, and breastfeeding demands more still. As you might expect, the demands of producing a baby draw down maternal stores of a spectrum of nutrients, including iron, folate, calcium, potassium, vitamin D, vitamin A and carotenoids, magnesium, iodine, omega-3, phosphorus, zinc, DHA and other essential fatty acids, B12, and selenium. – Deep Nutrition, p.77
There is little evidence that most modern mammas are getting enough nutrients for baby’s development during their pregnancy with the increase of postpartum depression and other health problems both during and after pregnancy. Pregnancy will often draw the nutrients from a mother’s own body in order to supply baby with everything needed to grow and develop properly. Over 6800 American baby’s are born a year with cleft pallets, which is perhaps an example of vitamin A deficiency.
According to my research, the RDA for vitamin A for pregnant women is just 300 IU more than the RDA for women that are not pregnant. The Institute of Medicine came up with this figure by analyzing the vitamin A stores in fetuses that were voluntarily aborted between 37 and 40 weeks. They divided the amount of by the number of days in the last trimester assuming how quickly vitamin A would accumulate. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Childcare, p.46
There are many problems with a calculation such like this one. This does not describe the health of the infant nor does it tell us of any toxicity to the infant. Plus, vitamin A is to be used and not stored. This is not helpful in pinpointing how much vitamin A would be used by the baby. Traditional cultures ate plenty of organ meats and liver on a regular basis where there is no evidence of any sort of diet change during pregnancy.
Toxicity of vitamin A would be extremely serious, however it is estimated that more than 25% of Americans get less than half of the RDA of vitamin A in their diets, which is likely an extreme conservative amount anyhow. You are most likely deficient in Vitamin A if you experience any sort of night blindness. And, deficiency is associated with a risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and stomach cancer. Staying Healthy with Nutrtion, p.95
The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends 20,000 IU per day from cod liver oil and additional vitamin A from milk, butter, eggs, and three to eight ounces of liver per week. Yet the medical profession warns pregnant women that this quantity of vitamin A increases the risk of birth defects. This belief can be traced to a single study published in 1995 that purportedly found an increase in the risk of birth defects among mothers consuming more than 10,000 IU per day. As discussed in the sidebar below, there are several important flaws in this study. Every other published study on this subject shows this amount of vitamin A to be safe—indeed, one major study of over 25,000 births showed that daily doses of vitamin A up to 40,000 IU cut the risk of birth defects in half. Weston A. Price Foundation
Unfortunately, medical science makes no differentiation between synthetic forms of vitamin A, and food based forms of vitamin A. Although vitamin A toxicity is something extremely dangerous it is also extremely rare. Especially when the body has an extra need for more vitamin A during pregnancy. The body is unable to process synthetic forms which may easily be stored in the liver and cause danger to both mother and baby. I do not ever advocate taking a synthetic form of vitamin A during pregnancy.
After examining all the evidence I don’t see why generous helpings of properly sourced liver such as amounts suggested by the Weston A Price foundation can not be a very healthy addition to any pregnancy diet. I wouldn’t advocate purchasing liver from your local supermarket taken from confined and sick animals. But, I think that avoiding liver from good sources would be much more detrimental to the health of mother and baby than consuming it.
Haas, Elson. Staying Healthy With Nutrition. Celestial Arts. 2006.
Masterjohn, Chris. Vitamins for Fetal Development. Weston A Price Foundation.
Morell, Sally Fallon. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Childcare. New Trends Publishing.
Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Price Pottenger Nutrition. 2008.
Shanahan, Catherine. Deep Nutrition. Big Box Books.