Category Archives: Physiology

Pregnancy: The Best Detox You Should Never Have.

In day-to-day conversation, announcing a pregnancy for a woman or couple can be met with happiness, congratulations, apprehension at times, and the simple acceptance that a baby is happily growing, awaiting a healthy arrival into the world. Difficulty conceiving, miscarriage, infertility and fertility treatments are topics that can remain unspoken for many during the time of announcing a pregnancy. For most women and men, their reproductive stories are rarely straight forward, interspersed with loss, contraception, relationship changes, careers, possibly illness and of course, absolute joy.
The journey of potential parenthood is often not straightforward. Practitioners of Complementary Medicine and those integrating this into their life are already aware just how important preconception care is for mothers and fathers to be. Preconception care should ideally take at least 6 months for both men and women, longer if specific health issues are of concern.

We already know that preconception care is essential to establish the following facets of health, ideally before conception takes place:

  • To identify and correct any maternal or paternal nutritional deficiencies
  • To identify and treat any unresolved illness in parents, as much as possible
  • To minimise or even eliminate exposure to environmental toxins, especially those affecting spermatogenesis (sperm production), oogenesis (egg production) and embryogenesis (development of the early embryo; first 12 weeks of gestation).
  • To eliminate exposure to environmental toxins known to accumulate in various human body tissue, for example, heavy metals.
  • Preconception care is essential to the health of all growing families, no matter the level of health experienced by parents. Preconception care maximises the nutritional status of both parents and stabilises the genome. Both allow for the transfer and inheritance of healthy genes. Though not a cure for profound heritable genetic disorders, preconception care can help to minimise some signs/symptoms in families for whom this is a problem.
  • Detoxification is a significantly important topic in preconception, prenatal and antenatal health. However, did you know just being pregnant induces a state of physiological detoxification in the mother? This topic is rarely discussed, even in complementary and orthodox medicine. This is a concern for a number of reasons:

1) Detoxification can actually be initiated very simply and effectively in the preconception phase; harsh methods are not required for its efficacy. It is an excellent form of preventive medicine. Detoxification should take place in the preconception phase, and ideally, well before conception.

2) Pregnancy (due to the action of the placenta) induces a state of physiological detoxification for the mother. Many health practitioners are unaware of the full extent of placental physiology, and the role of the placenta in maternal detoxification. A potential gap may exist in the education of practitioners with regards to this topic.

3) The health of a growing embryo and baby relies on lack of exposure to harmful environmental substances, PLUS those released from maternal tissue storage. They may inadvertently be exposed to such substances in utero, simply via healthy placental function.

The unknown process of pregnancy detoxification
The concept of pregnancy being a physiological process of detoxification remains relatively unknown. This is especially the case regarding general health information aimed at pregnant women. An internet or Google search looking for pregnancy as a form of detoxification will yield no results. The only information gleaned from such a search advises women not to undergo detoxification whilst pregnant or nursing. This advice is absolutely correct; detoxification can release substances stored in tissues that can be harmful to unborn babies, and infants or toddlers who are being breastfed. A closer examination of placental structure and function can explain the physiology behind this process.

The placenta is an exchange organ that requires sufficient and continual access to the maternal circulation. The establishment of such access is a critical process of the first trimester. Maternal erythrocytes (red blood cells, RBC’s) are present in the foetal circulation, though significant maternal RBC’s are not observed until 10-12 weeks gestation. Studies show conversions of blood vessel architecture in both the uterus and placenta toward the end of the first trimester. Additionally, glandular secretions from the uterus supply most nutrients (maternal proteins, carbohydrates and glycogen (from which glucose is derived) and lipids), plus non-nutrient growth factors of early pregnancy. This then progresses toward a more haemotrophic (blood derived) contribution as maternal arteries begin to supply nutrition. This process in essential in establishing a continual nutrient and energy supply for the growing foetus.

For a maternally derived molecule to access the foetal circulation, it must cross several layers of materno-placental tissues, which are selective and tend to regulate the passage of various substances to the foetus.

Placental anatomy and paternal genes
The formation of the placenta is truly remarkable; there is no other time in life when a human acquires a completely new organ, only to be expelled at the end of a pregnancy. The paternal genome of the baby’s father has a major influence on placental development; these genes preside over the building of the placenta. Thus, fathers are not exempt from preconception care practices. They provide half of their baby’s genetic material, and the majority of the genes required for building this vitally important organ.

Placental Physiology: metabolism, transfer and endocrine secretion
Put simply, the human placenta has three main roles during pregnancy:

1) To transfer nutrients (water, simple sugars, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes) from mother to baby, via blood circulation. It is known as an exchange organ.

2) The synthesis of hormones, peptides (very small proteins) and steroids required to sustain growth. It functions as an endocrine organ.

3) Metabolism. Metabolic waste products from the baby are transferred in the same way to the mother for removal. It performs the waste removal functions of the lungs, the kidneys and the liver, all of which are immature in the developing foetus.

Pregnant women and babies in utero are exposed to a large variety of xenobiotic substances. The concept of the placenta acting as a complete physical barrier, protecting the foetus from all harm is false. It is known that most pharmaceutical drugs administered during a pregnancy cross the placenta to some extent. Specific chemical properties determine just how easily a substance can cross the placenta:

Chemical Properties

Lipid solubility: Highly lipid soluble molecules cross the placenta more easily. Some pharmaceutical drugs including aminoglycosides and some environmental toxins.

Protein binding: Non-protein bound substances cross the placenta more easily. They are biologically active and retain pharmacologic/toxic effect

Molecular weight: Low molecular weight substances cross the placenta more easily. Examples include many pharmacological agents. Any molecule < 900 daltons in size, Methylmercury, lead DDT and nicotine.


Physiological exchange from maternal to foetal circulation occurs via the following processes:

Passive diffusion: gases (O2, CO2, CO), H2O, H2O soluble vitamins cross faster than lipid soluble vitamins, glucose, small amounts of free fatty acids, electrolytes (Na+, K+, Cl-, Ca2+ and Mg2+). Diffusion occurs in both directions from mother to baby and the reverse.
Transport-protein mediated passage: solutes are transferred at a rate much greater than that of diffusion. Many amino acids are transported in this way.
Endocytosis and exocytosis: Endocytosis occurs when a maternally derived molecule is ‘trapped’ within a small pouch formed by specific placental cell membranes, forming a vesicle. The contents of these vesicles may then be released or ejected into the foetal environment via exocytosis. Antibodies, unconjugated steroid hormones and infectious agents (particularly viruses) readily cross the placenta via this transport mechanism.
Solvent drag/bulk flow: this drives water transfer, with water-soluble solutes being dragged along.
The placenta is a selective barrier and does prevent the passage of maternal hormones and other substances from crossing the placenta. Additionally, a cache of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes (the same detoxification enzymes present in liver tissue) are active in placental tissue. These are more restricted than those observed in liver tissue, though several drugs and foreign substances are detoxified here.

“This combination of efflux transporters and defensive enzymes provides a degree of protection to the fetus against exposure to potentially noxious xenobiotics, although many drugs and chemicals can still cross and act as teratogens”.

– Burton, G. et al. Placental anatomy and physiology. In: Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, 7th ed. Elsevier.


Molecules that are without chemical charge, lipophilic (lipid-soluble), minimally protein bound and of a low molecular weight are known to cross the placenta to the foetal circulation. Some pharmaceutical drugs and environmental toxins belong to this chemical category. Many environmental toxins may have been stored in maternal adipose tissue before well before pregnancy, hence the importance of detoxification prior to conception and pregnancy. Some substances are known teratogens, harmful to growing babies and may also be linked to growth restriction. The enhanced elimination physiology of pregnancy is possibly beneficial for mothers, but undesirable for growing babies. The ideal situation is that any man and women of reproductive age where a pregnancy is possible should consider following:

1. Completely avoid nicotine and recreational drugs. Some substances are linked to foetal growth restriction and can be stored in adipose tissue long-term.

2. Assess exposure to environmental toxins via your occupation, residence, beauty/grooming practices or hobbies. Limit this exposure as best as you can.

3. Limiting environmental exposure is not practical 100% of the time. Nutritional, dietary and detoxification interventions with a professional health practitioner early in the preconception phase is an ideal way to minimise risk.


1. Syme M, Paxton J and Keelan J (2204). Clinical Pharmacokinetics.43: 487.
2. Myllynen P, Pasanen M and Vahakangas K (2007). The fate and effects of xenobiotics in human placenta. Expert Opinion in Drug Metabolism and Toxicology. 3(3):331-46.
3. Kozlowska R, Czekaj P. Ginekol Pol . Barrier Role of ABC facility of proteins in human placenta (2011). 82(1): 56-63.
4. Burton G, Sibley C and Jauniaux E. Placental anatomy and physiology. In: Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, 7th ed. Philadelphia: 2017; Elsevier, 2-25.
5. Castillo J and Rizack T. Special issues in pregnancy. In: Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014, 914-25.

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The Benefits of Deep Breathing

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, Masters Candidate (USYD)

Breathing for health would already come as no surprise to you. Failure to breathe is incompatible with sustaining life. It’s one of the major vital signs monitored in emergency rooms and examined by paramedics to ascertain ones level of consciousness and determine imminent danger to life. In not so life-threatening circumstances, we recognize breathing as one of the quickest and simplest ways to quell excess stress, guide us through anxiety and stem the physical and emotional discomfort of a panic attack. Taking a deep breath helps millions of people everyday, whether they are addressing the world at a press conference, quarrelling with a friend, birthing a baby or attending an important meeting.

The benefits of deep breathing don’t have to be set-aside for times in life where a good deep breath helps you rise to a stressful challenge. Deep breathing has far reaching benefits on many organ systems. Lets consider which aspects of your health will benefit most from deep breathing and how to easily incorporate this practice into daily life.

Respiration (breathing) does not simply mean filling your lungs with air. The main goal of respiration is to deliver oxygen (O2) to every cell and tissue of your body, whilst also removing carbon dioxide (CO2). In order to achieve this, respiration takes place over four key phases:

  1. Pulmonary ventilation. This is simply the inhalation and exhalation of air from the outside environment to inside our body. Air must reach the smallest structures of our lungs, tiny sac-like structures known as alveoli.

Deep breathing facilitates the delivery of sufficient air and O2 to the alveoli, whilst also expelling sufficient amounts of CO2 upon exhalation.

  1. Diffusion of O2 and CO2 between the alveoli and blood, which are in direct contact with each other in the lungs.

Deep breathing helps to deliver sufficient O2 to blood, where it combines with haemoglobin, a protein in our red blood cells. Deep breathing during exhalation helps rid the body of CO2 (a waste product of cellular respiration) via the alveoli.

  1. Transport of O2 and CO2 in blood and body fluids into and out of cells.

Delivery of sufficient O2 to cells via deep breathing is essential for thousands of chemical reactions, most notably metabolism and the production of energy as ATP.

  1. Other facets of respiration, including the regulation of pH (acidity/alkalinity) in your body.

The oxygenation of haemoglobin via deep breathing is one of the most vital buffering systems of the human body. Sufficient oxygenation of haemoglobin is required to prevent dangerous shifts in blood pH (acidity/alkalinity) levels.

Deep breathing is necessary during intense physical activity in order to deliver oxygen to hard working muscles. It is also a renowned stress reliever. The practice of deep breathing is so inextricably linked to health that it forms the foundation of many health and healing modalities including yoga, meditation, and pilates. It is known by many names in these practices, including diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration. The ability of deep respiration to focus the mind and stem anxiety makes it an important practice in the martial arts, from gentle tai chi and qi gong through to combative tae kwon do and jujitsu.

Systems that will benefit most

  • Nervous system. A good, deep breath will help to stimulate the parasympathetic division of your autonomic nervous system. This is the section of the nervous system predominant during rest activities. Deep breathing relaxes the nervous system. Considering that modern life is full of stress, deep breathing is probably the most portable stress reliever we have.
  • While the liver receives most of the glory regarding detoxification (followed closely by the kidneys, bowel, lymphatics and skin), respiration is responsible for ridding the body of the gaseous waste products of human metabolism. CO2 is the major waste product here, but other minor gaseous wastes are also expelled on exhalation.
  • Pain relief. Any woman has been through labour, or any person who has suffered the pain of injury and trauma will be able to relate to the power of breathing as a form of analgesia. This requires effort, as our natural instinct when in pain is to hold our breath. If initiated, deep breathing through pain is known to increase endorphin levels, which are natural pain killers.
  • Lymphatic system. Our lymphatic system is a network of vessels that carry lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Unlike blood vessels, lymphatic vessels are not powered by the heart, thus requiring other ‘pumps’ to move lymphatic fluid around. One of these pumps is good respiration, facilitated by deep breathing. The lymphatics are involved in detoxification.
  • Energy production. It stands to reason that the higher the oxygen content of your blood, the better your energy levels will be
  • Digestive system. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing encourages blood flow to abdominal organs, including those of the digestive tract. This can help to facilitate peristalsis (muscular movements of the digestive tract). Additionally, a calm nervous system is required for efficient digestion. By supporting your nervous system with deep breathing, you also facilitate healthy digestion.

Practical tips for better breathing.

Due to our busy lives, we often do not breath properly and in a very shallow manner. Here are some practical tips to help you reconnect with the feeling of deep breathing:

  1. Sit up straight and walk tall. Improved posture automatically helps fill your lungs with more air when you breathe.
  2. Allocate some time each day for deep breathing: at your desk, in the shower or in bed at the beginning and end of the day. 5 to 10 minutes is all it takes to help make this a habit.
  3. Feel your body move when you breathe… is anything moving? Deep breathing is rather active and uses multiple muscle groups. Focus on pushing your abdominal area in and out to enhance deep breathing, as opposed to the rise and fall of your shoulders (this indicated shallow breathing).
  4. Consider looking in to the practice of Buteyko breathing. 


  1. Guyton, A. and Hall, J. (2000). Textbook of Medical Physiology (Tenth Edition). W. B. Saunders Company. Harcourt Health Sciences. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  2. Harvard Medical School. The family Health Guide (2015). Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. Harvard Health Publications. Available at:
  3. Moseley, A. et al. (2005). The effect of gentle arm exercise and deep breathing on secondary arm lymphedema. Lymphology. 38: 136-145.
  4. Westerdahl, E. et al. (2005). Deep-Breathing Exercises Reduce Atelectasis and Improve Pulmonary Function After Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery. Chest. 128 (5): 3482-3488.

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation

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