Ideal Weight For A 9 Year Old Boy In Stone Pregnancy In The Stone Age – Can We Learn Something?

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Pregnancy In The Stone Age – Can We Learn Something?

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

The outcome of pregnancy depends on the basic health of the mother, nutrition before and during pregnancy and the risk of infection. In all these areas, the woman of 50,000 years ago was in a better position than today. How is this possible in an age when there was no water supply, medical care and protection against infectious diseases?

Better nutrition, better pregnancy

The diet of primitive women was less likely to be deficient in important nutrients than that of young girls today. (Ref 1) A study by the University of Cincinnati Medical Center confirmed earlier reports that pregnant adolescents and adults are deficient in iron, zinc, folate, and vitamin E.

A woman who begins pregnancy without enough calcium, vitamin D and other bone-building nutrients increases her risk of developing osteoporosis in middle age. But that’s not the end of the story. Her child may also be at greater risk of future fractures. 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 Age were hearty carnivores. Anthropologists know that it is not so. They lived on a predominantly meat diet for only about 100,000 years, from the time when Homo sapiens developed sharp hunting skills to 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 intentional or accidental inclusion of insects in the Stone Age diet provided more than enough of this critical nutrient.

Lack of folic acid in early pregnancy leads to improper formation of the child’s brain and spinal cord. These abnormalities are much less likely in babies of mothers who receive an adequate amount of folate, at least 400 micrograms per day. So few women eat enough green leafy vegetables to boost folate levels, the US government requires baked goods manufacturers to add it to their products.

Obstetricians have been prescribing multivitamins to their pregnant women for decades, but only in recent years have studies 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 multivitamin/multimineral supplement every day to avoid subtle but health-damaging deficiencies of these nutrients. Taking a multivitamin reduces the risk of birth defects in 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 threefold higher risk of this condition. (Ref. 5, 6)

Would these mostly vegetarian early stone age people be iron deficient? Not really. Their diet was rich in iron, as well as vitamin C, which facilitates the absorption of iron. Under these conditions iron deficiency would be rare. Cereal grains interfere with iron absorption, which explains why iron deficiency is common in societies that primarily eat cereals. However, one of the main reasons Stone Age women were not 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 in American young women. Modern hunter-gatherers, like the oldest stone agers, are either pregnant or lactating for most of their childbearing years and menstruate only a few times between weaning one child and conceiving another. In those groups, breastfeeding really suppresses ovulation because it is literally on demand, that is, every few minutes, even throughout the night. For the modern nursing mother, on demand often means no more than every few hours, and maybe once or twice in the evening 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 the fruits of the sea. Increased intake of fatty acids in fish and shellfish triggered a major advance in brain size and complexity that allowed humans to advance faster in the next 100,000 years than they had in the previous million. Enormous advances in tool making and the development of language and group communication followed.

The human brain is made up mostly of water, but the solid part is mostly fat. The body cannot produce omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which make up so much of the structure of the brain and eyes, so we need them in our diet. A lack of these nutrients in the mother, especially omega-3, prevents the brain and eyes of the newborn from reaching their full potential. The best source of omega-3 fats is fish; Nuts and leafy green vegetables are also good sources.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are found in every cell of the body. They enable the 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. This allows the immune system to fight infection, a real threat that humans have faced from the Stone Age to the age of antibiotics, just 70 years ago.

The benefit of a diet rich in omega-3 fats is obvious, but mothers also need it. Nature protects the unborn child by using the mother’s supply of omega-3 fats. A woman whose omega-3 fatty acid intake is low during the months and years leading up to pregnancy will develop her own deficiency. This gets worse with subsequent pregnancies if her omega-3 intake remains low. Postpartum depression affects about 10 percent of women after giving birth and is linked to a lack of omega-3 fats. (Ref 7, 8)

The latest epidemic

There is one complication of pregnancy that never happened in the Stone Age: type 2 diabetes. No disease in modern times has grown so rapidly. It has grown several times since the 1950s; between 1990 and 2001 it grew by 61 percent. Gestational diabetics (Ref. 9) are those who do not yet have the full-blown disease, but cannot properly process blood sugar (glucose) during pregnancy. About half of them will develop frank diabetes in the years after giving birth.

Most of us know type 2 diabetes, once called adult-onset diabetes, as a disease that our grandparents developed later in life. It is no longer uncommon to find it in adolescents, even in elementary school students. As it permeated the younger generation, it alarmed—but not surprised—physicians to discover that it was no longer a rarity in obstetric practice.

How can we be so sure that a pregnant stone-year-old woman did not have diabetes? This is a lifestyle disease that has three main links: low levels of physical activity, a diet high in refined grains and sugars, and obesity. Those conditions simply did not occur during the Stone Age. Their way of life required strenuous effort. Cereals of any kind were not part of their diet because they require tools and controlled heat. Sugar as we know it simply did not exist and honey was the occasional lucky find. Obesity would not exist, as it does today among the planet’s dwindling hunter-gatherer population.

Mothers with diabetes have more complications in pregnancy than normal women. Their babies are 5 times more likely to die and 3 times more likely to be born with abnormalities of various organs.

They kept the germs at bay

Conventional wisdom says that Stone Age humans were riddled with infections, but that’s simply not true. They had a strong immune system due to a high level of physical activity and an extremely varied diet. Between the protective antibodies that the mother transferred across the placenta and those she gave to her newborn through breast milk, Stone Age babies had more protection from the microbes of the day than modern babies.

STDs don’t spread very far or very quickly when people live in small, isolated groups like they did during the Stone Age. The probability that a pregnant woman today will have at least one of these infections is more than 50 percent (Ref. 10). The effect on babies can be serious; some die, some will be brain damaged.

Choice and consequences

Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs have produced a generation of babies with problems that Stone Age babies never faced. Mothers who smoke have babies who are smaller than normal and whose brain development may be compromised. Maternal use of alcohol or cocaine during pregnancy can lead to stunted growth, birth defects, and other serious problems.

Given the choice, none of us would want to live in a stone age world, but we have neutralized the almost miraculous medical advances of the last century. We have allowed our daughters to be less physically active and live on a marginal diet. If we could reverse those two factors alone, 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 emulate. We can produce the healthiest generation ever by making better choices for our children and ourselves.

Philip J. Goscienski, MD is the author of Stone Age Health Secrets, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him through his website at


1. Giddens JB et al., Pregnant adolescents and adult women have similar low intakes of selected nutrients, J Am Diet Assoc 2000;100:1334-1340

2 Cooper C et al., Review: developmental origins of osteoporotic fractures, 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 bone programming. Part I: alteration of the osteogenic environment, Osteoporos Int 2008 Feb;19(2):147-56

5 Keen CL et al., Credibility of micronutrient deficiency as a significant contributor to 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 Jun 16; 352(24):2544-46

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

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