• Bringing in the New Year with a Cleanse

    By Breea Johnson, MS RD

    It’s the end of the holiday season and most people are already looking towards next year saying to themselves “This will be the year that I _______.” Whatever it is that this next year will be about, cleansing on an emotional, physical and nutritional level is a great way to clear your head and start working towards achieving your goal. Because being in your best health in your best body with your best mind opens you up to achieving anything you set out to accomplish.

    Over the past year I have gotten many requests for us to do our ART Recovery/Prep cleanse as a group cleanse as many women like the peer and emotional support that group meetings provide. So, for the New Year, yoga teacher Jenilyn Gilbert and I are working together to offer a joint nutrition and Kundalini yoga cleanse for 4 weeks starting in January 2011. The nutritional cleanse will be a slightly modified version of our ART Recovery/Prep Cleanse which is sure to move your diet to a more clean and green fertility-friendly place. Every week we will split our time between an interactive nutrition lecture and a yoga class that focuses on cleansing a specific area of our body.

    What you need to know:

    Start the New Year with a special yoga and nutrition combo cleanse! This cleanse will combine nutrition guidelines and Kundalini yoga to focus on restoring digestion, supporting liver detoxification and cleansing both physically and emotionally. Peer support will help you find greater success and even enjoy the process of cleaning up body, mind and spirit!

    This class is not for women currently on a medicated fertility cycle or who are pregnant. No prior yoga experience required. The class fee of $200 includes four combined nutrition and yoga sessions, teas and snacks. Any related nutrition supplements are extra.

    Co-taught by senior PDtM yoga instructor Jenilyn Gilbert and nutritionist Breea Johnson at the Chicago River North location this is the right class to help you meet your goals for health and wellbeing in 2011!

    To sign up or if you have any questions, call Pulling Down the Moon at (312) 321-0004 or visit our web registration page.

  • The Importance of Post-Partum Support

    Although I only have two children I had three post-partum periods – five post- pregnancy periods if you count miscarriages.   As you can tell from these stats I struggled to have kids.  The emotional upheaval that accompanied my miscarriages and the stillbrith was overt.  Because I experienced loss the medical folks involved in my care were direct about providing resources for emotional and physical support.  But

    with my first healthy delivery of a live child – my son Jackson – my experience of the post-partum period was obviously different.  I was excited, motivated and ALIVE.  The lack of sleep that other parents complained about was a nuisance that I shrugged off.  I had a new baby and a new business, Pulling Down the Moon, where we were helping women find this blissful state of motherhood.  I took media interviews from the delivery room, taught fertility yoga at night and worked at PDtM all day with Jack tucked away under my desk.  Depression?  Heck!  I was energized by this post-partum thing!

    But sooner or later the laws of physics catch up.  I think the law goes “for every action in the universe there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Or, perhaps more accurately, “what goes up must come down.”

    In my case the descent began with a tiny sliver of wood that lodged itself in my bare foot while I was teaching yoga.  Although I removed the sliver, within a week the sole of my foot was excruciatingly tender.  A week after that I limped around so pathetically that my business partner Tami Quinn asked me if I was okay.  I wasn’t.  The entire ball of my left foot had turned a vile shade of yellow-green.  I could barely walk without tears coming to my eyes.  Before teaching yoga I’d pop advil and wrap my foot in bandages.

    On Tami’s insistence I visited my doctor, initiated a course of antibiotics that didn’t work and finally ended up with minor foot surgery.  And what was the result?  Well my foot got better.  But something else happened during that time too –  I stopped running around (literally)!  I stayed home from work and stopped teaching while my foot healed.  And during the three-week period I actually sat still  I realized the tremendous, momentous changes that were sweeping through my life.  Jackson was almost four months old when I realized I was mentally exhausted, physically run-down and – yes – depressed.

    I actually think this may be a common phenomenon.  Many of my friends have had similar experiences of major illness and physical breakdown during the post-partum period.  My friend Annie (not her real name) was hospitalized twice with severe mastitis that had become septic.  Another friend experienced tingling and numbness in her limbs and spent a terrifying couple of weeks undergoing testing for multiple sclerosis.  I could add other stories but the theme is the same – the bliss of new motherhood abruptly punctured by a physical crash.

    Could these sorts of symptoms be related to the post-partum period?

    According to Crissy Anderson, Clinical Fellow at The Family Institute of Northwestern University, the answer is yes.

    “While we most often hear about postpartum depression,” says Anderson, “it actually falls under a larger umbrella of postpartum mood disorders. Anxiety, Panic Disorder, OCD and Psychosis (most rare, about one in every one thousand women), while less common than postpartum depression, are all mood disorders that new moms can experience.  Some new moms experience a period of mania, where energy and abilities seem limitless…this will be temporary, though, and is most often followed by a period of depression.”

    Whether or not a new mom develops a diagnosable mood disorder, the majority will experience the “Baby Blues”. These are typically in response to hormonal changes, starting a few days after birth and lasting for several days up to a couple of weeks; symptoms include mood fluctuation, crying, anxiety, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and fatigue.”

    Dr. Jeremy Bloomfield agrees that the stress of the post-partum period can manifest in many different ways.

    “The mind/body connection is real.  When we have stresses and conflicts that we unconsciously avoid in order to minimize anxiety, we still find creative ways to express ourselves.  Often people express themselves through their bodies via physical symptoms and ailments.  And make no mistake, these expressions and illnesses are real.”

    Bloomfield explains that our natural focus is on the beauty and wonder of having children and the “normal stresses” of new parents.  But sleep-deprivation and new schedules are only part of the story.  Parenting also activates conflicts associated with societal and cultural messages, family expectations, changing bodies, and deeply held beliefs about “how life should be.”

    “Parenting can even stir up conflicts that have lain dormant or were resolved in some provisional way.   In Beth’s case it took a splinter to pay attention to the big picture.”

    As I sat crying on my sofa with my foot up I finally admitted that I had to take some time for myself.  I called in help, made an appointment with a therapist, got serious again about yoga and scheduled some acupuncture sessions to help restore my jing (life essence).  Within a few weeks major depression was averted and life-balance was restored.  I often wonder how the first four months of Jackson’s life would have unfolded if I made these changes earlier.  Would I have slowed down, enjoyed more, taken time to cocoon?

    If you find that you are relating to this story, I encourage you to join our new program M-Power:  A 10 Week Mind Body Program for New Moms. It’s easy to take excellent care of yourself when you’re pregnant – but once baby is born, self-care falls to the side as all eyes are on the newest arrival. Nearly 85% of new moms experience “baby blues,” which can be compounded by sleep loss, relationship stresses and hormonal fluctuations. M-Power is a unique program that combines group processing, practices like acupuncture and yoga and expert psychological support to make the first months of motherhood an “M-powering” experience.

    This 10 week program will explore topics including the transition to motherhood, changing relationships, knowing your baby’s cues, as well as a mindfulness component that will help you be more present in these precious days. Interwoven with these discussions will be sessions in group acupuncture, postpartum exercise, yoga/relaxation and nutrition for mood and energy. M-Power will help you take care of YOU while you meet other new moms and form a strong social support system.

    Learn more about this program here.

  • The Heart in Chinese Medicine

     

    The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) “Heart”, totally different than our Western Science Medicine (WSM) definition, encompasses the mind and the activity of the hypothalamus and pituitary, the glands which control the entire cycle.  Of course, there are a number of TCM organs that play a role together in the healthy functioning of the cycle, but my focus for today is on how special the Heart organ is in TCM and conception.

    In old Chinese medicine texts the description of the Heart is “the master controller” or “the Emperor” of the other organs.  It is interestingly similar to the hypothalamus and pituitary in WSM which often refers to these glands as the master controllers of other glands in the body.   It is imperative that the Heart function properly, in other words that the mind is stable, in order for the hypothalamus and pituitary to work normally.  This then will lead to a healthy ovulatory cycle, and hopefully in the end a conception cycle.

    Acupuncture, herbal therapy, yoga, meditation, reiki, and massage can all help impact a stable mind or healthy Heart in TCM, which can in turn benefit the cycle.  This is only one aspect of one organ system in TCM that participates in a very intricate process with many other organ systems to make a healthy cycle.  If you have any questions about the Heart please feel free to contact me via email or call the office to make an acupuncture appointment.

    Anna Pyne LAc, MSOM, FABORM

  • A Meditation on Candles – To Burn or Not to Burn?

    I have a candle problem.  Votives, tea lights, pillars, travel tins and even lanterns – you light it, I love it.  I collect candles for every mood.  I have frilly girly candles for around my bath tub, tall serious candles for my table and of course romantic candles for my bedroom. I do scented candles, too.  Since smell is intimately connected with the primitive brain, a candle’s aroma can impact emotions without the involvement of  conscious mind.  This is because our sense organs are linked to the limbic system, the primitive part of our brain that governs what we perceive as friend or foe.  Maybe it’s a cave-girl thing but I also find the flickering of a flame – any flame – irresistible.  Strike a match and the safety and security of cave and clan burst into being.

    So, imagine how upset I was to learn that scented candles may actually contribute to fertility and health problems! Unless a candle is scented with 100% essential oils it is likely that the aroma blend contains  a group of compounds called pthalates that can interfere with the function of our reproductive system.  In addition, candles apparently create soot and for that reason they are now under investigation by consumer health groups as a cause of breathing problems and allergies.  There’s a heated debate about soy vs. paraffin wax and which burns cleaner (both make soot, but apparently soy makes white soot, or less soot, or something like that.  The debate is confusing and there’s isn’t a lot of concrete research for either side). If that’s not enough confusion I recently learned that despite regulation against the practice, the wicks of many candles still contain lead.  When burnt, lead wicks may raise the amount of  lead in a living space to unsafe levels.

    If you’re an occasional candle user I don’t think there’s a huge need for concern.  However   I’m not an occasional user of scented candles – I am a heavy user. While I don’t feel the necessity of going cold-turkey, I have implemented some steps to cut down that I can share:

    1.  Burn only candles made with 100% essential oils.  Most “all natural” candles will be made with a soy or beeswax base.  Until a more definitive answer arises, soy seems to be the choice of environmentally conscious candle makers and users.  Look for soft (cotton or cloth) wicks rather than stiff wicks.  The good news/bad news is that this step comes with a built-in deterrent.  Candles made with soy and essentials are expensive!   At an average of $20 a pop for a small pillar candle, these high-end beauties get a promotion to “special occasion only.”

    2.  Switch to essential oils for your everyday aromatherapy needs.  The soot output of a soy-based tea light is less than a bigger candle.  Better yet – use an electric essential oil burner to diffuse aroma throughout your home.

    3.  For that cave-girl desire for flickering fire?  Experiment with electric candles.  Like stevia, no one is going to believe it’s real sugar, but the design of electric candles is getting better every day and we do use them in our centers.  They flicker and glow – and can add mood in a pinch.

    4.  Finally, I have found that Christmas lights aren’t just for the holidays any more.  A string of little Italian lights hung around my bedroom on a special night provides a bit of spice that may even surpass candles.

    So that’s it ladies.  For that anniversary, that special special romantic dinner and for make-up sex, it’s still going to be real flames for me.  For other occasions I think I can find ways to create mood without fire.  Any Martha Stewart types out there have any suggestions for me?

  • Tea…for Two? (We Hope!)

    We love tea. From the earliest conception (pun intended) of Pulling Down the Moon, we knew that we wanted a cozy tea room where people could sit back, relax, and let their troubles dissolve in a cup of hot tea. We soon realized that we could make our tea rooms even more special by giving our guests tea that was delicious, relaxing, and-most importantly-fertility friendly. So, we called on the expertise of our acupuncturists and designed our ARTeas that use the principles of Chinese medicine to promote fertility at different phases of your cycle. Nourish tea is great for the first part of the cycle, Ovulation Support is helpful during ART stimulation or the follicular phase, and Implantation provides uterine support and calming herbs after ovulation, insemination, or embryo transfer.* All of that and fabulous flavor, too! We’d write more about it, but it’s time for a tea break…

    * Th ese statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

  • A Perfect Holiday Gift

    So many people ask us, “What can I do to maximize my fertility?” There’s so much information from magazines, websites, friends, well-meaning relatives-it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed. And in the midst of all that, there may be doctor’s orders, shot schedules, etc., etc., etc. We wanted to create a package that would give clear, straightforward tools to help navigate the fertility journey.  Our book, Fully Fertile , draws on a number of sources and traditions (like nutrition, Chinese medicine, yoga, relaxation techniques, and spiritual awareness) to create a 12-week plan for optimizing fertility. Since exercise, relaxation, and spiritual growth are so important to fertility, we also included our Yoga Practices for Fertility DVD. We tout the benefits of yoga on a regular basis (and if you’re not sure what the benefits are, just ask us and we’ll be happy to tell you…anytime…repeatedly…really!) and we want to give women the opportunity to do a practice that is specifically designed for fertility. Yoga is a great way to get back in touch with your body, calm your mind, and gain a sense of balance. And after the book is read and the yoga practice is done, nothing is more soothing than a hot cup of Nourish tea. We hope these tools will help women feel calm, clear, and-of course-Fully Fertile.

    Click here to view the Fully Fertile package…

  • Fall Fertility-Friendly Foods

    By Breea Johnson, MS RD

    Thanksgiving is around the corner and it seems a lot of people are stressed about what to eat and what not to eat.  The holidays can definitely be a time of sweets, gooey casseroles and nutrient-poor side dishes, but it’s also a time when many great nutrient-rich and fertility-friendly foods are in prime season.  Check out these great picks along with some of my favorite recipes for a nutrition boost this holiday season:

    • Squash – Do you know the difference between summer squash and winter squash? Summer squash are thin-skinned squashes like zucchini or yellow squash whereas winter squash has a thicker skin like acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash. In the fall, winter squash predominate and are utilized in everything from salads to soups and desserts. Squash is a great source of beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C and potassium. They even contain omega-3 fatty acids and are loaded with fiber! One of my favorite recipes is Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup with Fresh Rosemary . Try also pairing squash with roasted chicken and sautéed spinach; or roast squash and add to a salad for a sweet, hearty taste; or use spaghetti squash instead of pasta for a dish.
    • Kale – I think of kale as an unsung hero, as it’s actually one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables around! While not very popular among the mainstream crowd, it has a following of its own among many die-hard nutrition fans. Most people don’t know what it tastes like but you might recognize it as it is used for decorating around many salad bars! Kale contains over 45 different phytonutrients and is loaded with Vitamin K, A, C and manganese. Kale also contains some omega-3 fatty acids. There are three main types of kale: Curly Kale (the one you see at salad bars), Lacinato Kale (a much more tender-tasting kale) and Red Russian Kale (often only found at Farmer’s Markets). I think the latter two are the tastier of the bunch. One of my favorite kale dishes is Emerald City Salad which makes a great side dish for Thanksgiving! Kale is also tasty sautéed with garlic and olive oil; added to scrambled eggs; or in soups, such as a white bean and kale soup.
    • Beets and beet greens – Root vegetables are some of the most nutrient-rich vegetables if they are grown in good soil. Beets are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich and helpful for detoxification. They are high in folate, manganese and iron – all nutrients that are essential for fertility and pregnancy.  One of my favorite beet recipes is Luscious Beet Salad with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds as it incorporates both beets and beet greens to make a delicious and nutrient-rich salad!  Beets are also great in soups, mixed with roasted vegetables, or even in brownies — Gluten-free Walnut Beet Brownies !
    • Cranberries – Cranberries actually have a very short growing season – fresh cranberries are harvested between Labor Day and Halloween and appear in markets from October through December.  Cranberries are very nutrient-rich, however, most cranberries whether cooked or dried contain lots of added sugar. Cranberries have one of the highest antioxidant levels (containing resveratrol, piceatannol, and pterostilbene) and they are also a good source of Vitamin C.  One of my favorite cranberry recipes is Fresh Cranberry Orange Relish. My mother used to make this to accompany turkey growing up and it’s something that remains a must have at Thanksgiving. I even make it from time to time to put on a turkey sandwich. Try it instead of a traditional cranberry sauce and see what you think.

    So, this holiday season don’t stress about not eating perfectly. Instead, have fun, have some pie, enjoy your family and friends and try incorporating some great fall fertility-friendly foods into your diet!

    For more information about Pulling Down the Moon’s nutrition program, please check out www.pullingdownthemoon.com or call 301-610-7755 (Shady Grove) or 312-321-0004 (Chicago).

  • Our Brain on Infertility: How Mindfulness Heals

    Beth Heller, M.S.

    CLICK HERE GET INFORMATION ABOUT THE UPCOMING MINDFULNESS TRAINING FOR FERTILITY CLASS STARTING APRIL 28, 2012

    I vividly remember what my brain was like “on infertility.”  A desire so strong that it wiped out every other goal I’d ever had.  The education I strived so long for was useless, my dream job was unfulfilling and everywhere I looked I saw pregnant women that made my empty belly ache.

    That was my brain on infertility; clenched around the idea of having a baby and at war with each moment that didn’t bring me a positive pregnancy test.  Studies have shown that women dealing with infertility have anxiety and depression levels equals to women with cancer and HIV and I believe them.

    Living with that sort of suffering for a day is difficult.  But my journey lasted a year, and then another year and yet another.  In fact it took seven years and five pregnancies to end up with two children.  At some point the universe took pity on me and sent me a message.  ”Wake up, Beth” a voice said.  ”You are missing your life and forgetting to live.  You need to make some space around this infertility thing.”

    What?

    Well, I didn’t know it then but the call was an invitation to wake up from being the victim of my thoughts and attitudes.  I was being called to the concepts of “big mind” and the practice of meditation.

    One of the most revered teachers in the tradition of Mindfulness Meditation, Gil Fronsdal, recently put it this way in a dharma talk.  Our brains have been conditioned to grasp and cling.  This conditioning, which we believe protects and helps us, actually limits our ability to live life fully.  Think about a hand clenched in a fist.  A fist is useful for some things, like smashing and punching.  It’s good for holding on to a rope, grasping at straws and gripping very tightly.  Now think of an open hand.  An open hand can paint, write, caress and clap with joy.  It can grip when it wants, and let go when it needs.  The soft and tender parts of the hand are hidden when the hand is clenched and exposed when the hand opens.

    Now apply that metaphor to “our brain on infertility.” It’s the idea of a baby that we are grasping.  And it’s understandable – having a baby is a primal urge.  We clench with all our might around the idea that we want a baby and that we cannot be happy until we have one.  We clench on the pain of every baby shower, the sorrow of every miscarriage and the fear that maybe we will need to use donor eggs or adopt.  Our goal is to get pregnant and our happiness depends upon the fulfillment of that goal.

    Let’s be clear.  This is not a personal flaw.  As humans we are culturally conditioned to grasp.  We have been trained to hold on tightly to our dreams.  We have internalized the belief that worrying about something means that we really care about it.  We learned that we must be goal-oriented and never let down our guard or lessen our effort to get the things we want. Yet there are inconvenient truths about clinging that we choose not to recognize.  First, clinging creates a tremendous amount of suffering.  When we begin to look deeply, we find that the energy of clinging is supplied by emotions of fear, jealousy and aggression.  We see that our mind functions like  a monkey swinging through the trees, reaching from one thought to the next in our desire to control, manage and satisfy our desires.  We can never find a place of  ”enough.”  It is exhausting.

    Meditation is a powerful technique for learning how to “unclench” the mind and find happiness that is not dependent on anything outside ourself.   It’s simple, really.  We just sit and observe the sensations, thoughts and emotions that are present in our body and mind.  We watch our monkey mind.  We breathe.  Meditation is actually quite misunderstood.  Many people try meditation and quit because they “can’t” or “it’s not working.”   The expectation is that meditation will make them feel calmer, relaxed and blissful – I used to think I should find myself bathed in white light whenever I sat on my meditation cushion.  It is actually the reverse.  When we sit, the contents of our mind often seem turbulent and chaotic.  But the simple act of continuing to sit and observe this chaos begins to change our life outside of meditation.  At first there’s a subtle awareness of space, or “big mind.”  We are less reactive to stress, pain and suffering.  Behind the desire and aversion we find an awareness that is sensitive, flexible and joyful – independent of the outer conditions of our life.

    Many women fear that becoming mindful and starting to meditate will make them passive in their quest for a child.  This simply isn’t so.  The wish for a child remains vibrant and active – it’s simply that happiness doesn’t depend on the fulfillment of this wish.  We have relaxed the grip a bit so our mind is free to explore, enjoy and create again.    Solutions and resolutions come for difficult questions because we have relaxed enough to allow them to surface.  The journey toward parenthood is still challenging, but it no longer defines us.  We find some joy again in spite of the pain.

    If you can relate to my brain “on infertility,” I encourage you to learn more about meditation.  There are many opportunities to experience meditation at the Moon.  Our Reiki Meditation Circle for Women meets on Thursdays from 6 to 7 p.m. at our Chicago location.  We also teach meditation in our Yoga for Fertility program.  If you’re looking to get serious about a meditation practice, stay tuned to our website to learn more about our upcoming program “Mindfulness Training for Fertility.”  This collaborative program with the psychological support staff from Fertility Centers of Illinois will introduce you to the practice of mindfulness meditation with a specific focus on fertility.   Click here for more info/to register!

  • Autism: Causes and Early Identification

    Jen Preschern, M.A., CCC SLP

    1.  Researchers have identified the genes that cause autism.  There are 100 genes that can recombine in any  way.  This is why no 2 children with autism are the same.   (This is widely accepted by the research community. PBS has a segment on it:   http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/autism-genes.html )

    2.   However, researchers are also looking at what epigenetic causes “turns on” these genes.  Basically, if/what environmental causes are connected with the expression of the genes.    Meaning,  you may inherit your dad’s genes for  high blood pressure.  However, if you eat right and exercise, these genes may never be expressed and you may live to be an old man with normal blood pressure.

    For more information on the fascinating new field of epigenetics, check out PBS:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/epigenetics.html (As a digression-  I highly recommend the segment on the Tale of Two Mice.  It describes pre-natal epigenetic causes of obesity. Fascinating)

    3.  Jenny McCarthy and Hollywood need to step down .  Autism is not caused by the  MMR vaccine or any other regular vaccine ( at least not those given after a baby is born.  There might be some connection if a mother is given vaccines while pregnant.)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20837594

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17898097

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20812501

    *If anyone is not convinced yet, I can find about a hundred more studies that show that  AUTISM IS NOT CAUSED BY the MMR shot!!! Get your kids vaccinated, and encourage your friends kids to get vaccinated too.     Measles and Rubella is returning because idiots follow the advice of celebrities over the advice of researchers.

    4.  There is a correlation (research is not sure if it’s a cause) of paternal age and autism.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20837314

    5 . While researchers are debating as to exactly WHAT epigenetic factors turn on the autism genes, there is some promising research on exposure to chemicals while  in-utereo

    There is a link between pre-natal exposure to common pollutants and autism (one chemical in particular: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon benzo(a)pyrene.    US News did an easy to follow report on this too- second link.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20889680

    http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/womens-health/articles/2009/07/20/exposure-to-common-pollutant-in-womb-might-lower-iq.html?PageNr=1

    If you are pregnant, or know someone who is pregnant, I recommend eliminating chemicals from your home as much as possible, including the use of plastics for microwaving/storing food/water bottles, and the use of chemical cleaners as much as possible.     I would also look at eating only grass-fed beef and organic milk.   The amount of chemicals in our standard meat and dairy system in the USA is staggering.     High fructose corn syrup while pregnant  is also a no-no.   Look at the labels. These things are all derivatives of processed corn: sucrose, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup.  If  a food item has one these ingredients listed, and it is not a candy product- don’t buy it!    A recent Stanford study proved that this stuff makes you fat.   Another study printed in the recent Economist magazine  showed that a mother’s diet while pregnant pre-disposes her child to the same food preferences.  (I did not provide research on this paragraph here, but I can get it if anyone is interested).      Until researchers can identify what specific chemicals are linked to autism, I’d recommend staying away from all of them if you are pregnant.

    6.   If the genes are expressed, autism is caused by abnormalities in the pre-frontal lobe of your brain.  In a nutshell, the left pre-frontal lobe controls language, working memory, executive functions.  The right prefrontal lobe controls the mirror neuron system, which is the location of the ability to feel emphathy or  ”feel” what another person is going through.   Here is an interesting PBS segment on the mirror neuron system:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/mirror-neurons.html

    In children with autism,  the area in the brain responsible for the mirror neuron system, the pons opercularis(the symmetrical site of Broca’s – language production area- on the left hemisphere), is not working as compared to normally developing children.   In a recent FMRI study, the activity recorded in the pons opercularis during a facial expression/matching test  was directly correlated to the severity of autism. In children with the most severe autism, the area was not activating at all!  This means that the part of the brain that is able to connect with other people is just not working!!!

    It is also believed that the genes/environment cause the brain to myelinate, or form connections between parts in the brain, improperly-  In some places too much too fast, in other places not enough-  Myelin in the brain is absolutely necessary- It creates connections and allows skills to become automatic.         (As a digression- the myelin that connects the occipital area(vision),with Wernicke’s area(language comprehension), with Broca’s area(language), with the amygdala(emotion regulation), with a not-yet fully formed  yet pre-frontal lobe(goal setting, inhibiting of impulses, attention, working memory)  becomes fully connected around age 6 in most children-  This is why children can being reading at this age!!  Before this time, the brain is literally not connected! )

    Thus, a child with autism can not “feel” other people’s emotions,  and they are easily over-stimulated because any incoming stimuli not only activates one brain area like a normally developing child, but large portions of the brain (due to the too strong/too much myelin connections).  It all makes sense-   Children with severe autism  then use compensatory strategies, such as hand flapping/perseveration, in orde to help regulate themselves.  They are also unable to deal with change in the environment, because the area of the brain responsible for regulating change is not functioning properly.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20564327

    *research that shows more myelin in left and front medial frontal cortex-  These are the executive function areas that help children regulate emotions, set goals,  monitor progress.    They are also the areas responsible for language, and social interaction (the mirror neuron system)

    7.  Researchers believe that children can be identified with autism as early as one, maybe even earlier-

    Some red flags for very young children-

    • A child spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on dynamic geometric images(staring at fans, watching movement of cars, looking at things not people) –    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20819977 This type of child would be more interested in staring at moving objects than interacting with you.    Meaning, most babies can be entertained by games like “peek-a-boo” for quite a long time.   When you play with normally developing babies, they will be looking at your face and smiling with you.  Children with autism will be more interested in the object that is covering your face in peek-a-boo than in you.  Their eyes would be following the towel you use to cover your eyes, instead of looking at your face when you lift up the towel.
    • Delayed/missing development of eye gaze.  For instance,  with a normally developing child, if you stop playing and look towards another family member, the baby’s eyes will look where you look.    Or, if you point to a cup on the counter, the baby will follow the pointing of your finger and look where you are looking when you say “cup!”    A child with autism will appear to “not be paying attention” and will not follow your gaze or finger points.
    • Delayed/missing development of gestures- Even before babies communicate with words, they use gestures (pointing, pulling on your hand to show you something). If a child is not doing this by age 1, it is a huge red flag.    Gestures are considered the pre-cursor to oral language.
    • And of course,  delayed oral language development-  but all these other factors can be identified much earlier.

    8.  What is a parent to do if they suspect autism?  Find a friendly speech/language pathologist!    www.asha.org can help you locate someone in the area  or let me know and I can help you find one.

    Jennifer Preschern, M.A. CCC-SLP

    Jen has worked as a speech/language pathologist in the public school setting and in the private setting. She currently works with Leap Learning Systems in Chicago, IL as a reading/language consultant.  Jennifer holds masters degrees from Northwestern University in speech/language pathology and in learning disabilities, and a school administration degree from Loyola University. She is also certified in early intervention techniques from the Hanen Center and in phonics instruction from Orton-Gillingham.   She has published several teacher resource books, and presented at numerous state and local educational conventions primarily in the areas of reading, writing, and language.

    If you would like to contact Jen with any questions, feel free to email her at jenpreschern@onebox.com.

  • Boost Your Immune System…Naturally

    By Breea Johnson, MS RD

    As fall begins to transition to winter and the weather cools off, it’s inevitable that many people will become sick – with colds and flus. The estimates are that 5-20% of Americans will get the flu, and 80% will be prescribed unnecessary antibiotics. Smart eating, exercise, hand-washing, and getting plenty of rest are strategies to prevent sicknesses. Dietary nutrients play a critical role in maintaining an “optimal” immune response, and both insufficient and excessive intakes can have negative consequences on the immune status and susceptibility to a variety of pathogens. Check out these supplements to help boost your immune system this cold and flu season.

    • Vitamin D has been found in many studies to prevent the flu in children, adults and pregnant women as it stimulates anti-microbial peptides and beneficially modulates the immune system.  Vitamin D blood levels naturally dip in the winter months due to the inability to synthesize it from the sun if living above a certain latitude (such as Chicago). Recommended dose is 2000 IU per day.
    • Selenium is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system, including neutrophils, macrophages, NK cells, and T lymphocytes. Deficiency of selenium has been found in people with low immune function, likely correlated to the fact that selenium is mostly found in the liver, spleen and lymph nodes which help regulate the immune system.
    • Zinc is a key trace element in many homeostatic mechanisms of the body including immune responses. Low zinc bioavailability results in limited immuno-resistance to infection and supplementation of zinc can help restore immune response and reduce the incidence of infections.
    • Probiotics – Since about 70% of immune system is in the digestive system it becomes one of the first lines of defense against active pathogens. Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) have the ability to enhance gut (digestive system) defense systems. In a recent study in Pediatrics, probiotics were found to reduce incidence and severity of the flu and cold among children.

    You might have heard the old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – however, if you do become sick, try some of these strategies to help speed healing and lessen the uncomfortable aspects of being sick:

    • Fluids – especially if vomiting or having diarrhea to replace lost electrolytes. Try warm water, herbal teas, coconut water, or grated ginger and honey in hot water.
    • Rest and a good night’s sleep
    • Healing foods such as homemade chicken broth (with vegetables, garlic, lemongrass and ginger)
    • Temperature checks (if under 101 degrees, an elevated temperature can be beneficial as it’s the natural process to fend off bacteria or virus)
    • If Nasal congestion, try the Neti Pot with saline solution that is naturally anti-microbial.
    • If Chest congestion, try steam showers.


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