Exercise Training for “The Boys”

Studies suggest that there is a relationship between exercise and male fertility.  Interestingly, men who have a ”moderate” exercise program (1 hour of exercise 3 times per week) have been shown to have better sperm parameters than men with heavy training regimens like marathoners and triathletes (Vaamond et al. 2009).  And gals, even if your guys isn’t a pro athlete he may still be working out in a way that’s not optimal for fertility.  Too much exercise, inadequate rest between workouts and “weekend warrior” bouts of intense activity could stack up to impair sperm count, morphology and motility. 

This may in part relate to the fact that habitual,  moderate physical activity can act as an antioxidant because it “trains” our body to become a better producer of antioxidant enzymes.  However, when exercise becomes intense and exhaustive, or when we do not allow time for the body to rest and repair, cell damage due to oxidative stress can occur.  Here are some guidelines to pass along to your honey to make sure both he and “his boys” are staying fit:

Fertility-Friendly Exercise for Guys

  1. About an hour of moderate intensity cardiovascular three times per week is optimal for fertility.  He should keep his heart rate around 65-75% of max and make sure there’s adequate time to rest and restore between workouts.   
  2. Resistance training will help your honey maintain lean body mass, stay strong and look like a hottie .  Again, taking time to rest and restore is key.  Allowing for at least 48 hours of rest between resistance training sessions optimizes muscle repair and workout efficacy. 
  3. Practice yoga.  When we say yoga is good for stiffies we don’t just mean tight muscles.  Stretching reduces chronic stress and releases tight muscles in the hips, back and groin.  Net result:  less tension and improved blood flow to the pelvic organs…natural Viagra! 
  4. Avoid back-to-back strenuous work-outs.  Stagger cardiovascular training with resistance training and yoga/stretching routines to achieve optimal fitness with minimal side-effects. 
  5. Keep the shorts loose and the “equipment” cool.  Avoid saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs. 
  6. Practice relaxation training every day.  In the go-go world in which we live, our bodies and minds have forgotten how to relax.  Taking 15 minutes a day to practice meditation, conscious breathing or deep relaxation is imperative to combat the toll that stress hormones take on our health and fertility. 

With this exercise wisdom “under his belt,” (so to speak) your guy can do his part to make sure both he and his swimmers are in tip-top shape! 

 Vaamond et al. Response of semen parameters to three training modalities.  Fertil Steril 2009; 92:  1941-6.

The Importance of Good-Quality Supplements – Must Read

Pulling Down the Moon nutritionist Breea Johnson guest-posts on Beth and Tami’s Fertility Authority blog this week.  For more information about fertility nutrition and supplements, you can visit our e-tail fertility boutique.   Our supplement line is “PDtM Approved” and adheres to the standards Breea discusses here.  Of course, nutrition is a highly individualized subject, so we recommend a consult with a fertility nutrition specialist to make sure your program suits your needs and diagnosis.  Check out Breea’s must-read post here .

Fire-Cupping and Fertility

By Pamela Policastro, L.Ac.

So, when you go for your weekly fertility acupuncture treatment and your practitioner breaks out the little cups, she’s not proposing a toast (unless you’ve just gotten a + Beta!).   When the cups come out, it’s likely she’s looked at your tongue, taken your pulse and identified excess heat or stagnant energy that needs to be shaken up or dispelled from your system.

Fire cupping is a form of  traditional medicine found in many cultures around the world.  It involves placing cups containing reduced air pressure(suction)onto the skin.  The earliest record of cupping is in Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world.  It describes that in 1,550 BC, Egyptians used cupping.  Archaeologists have found evidence in China of cupping dating back to 1,000 BC.  In ancient Greece,  Hippocrates used cupping for internal disease and structural problems.

In traditional Chinese medicine(TCM), cupping is a method of applying acupressure by creating a vacuum on the patient’s skin.  The therapy is used to dispel stagnation, stagnant blood and lymph, thereby improving qi flow.  Cupping is used to treat respiratory diseases such as common cold, pneumonia and bronchitis.  It is also used on back, neck, shoulder and other musculoskeletal  conditions.  Cupping  can be a very useful technique for women going through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), too.  I use cupping on fertility patients to release excess heat if overstimulation occurs during an IUI or IVF cycle.

The cups themselves are of various shapes and sizes.  Plastic and glass are the most common materials used today, replacing the horn, pottery, bronze and bamboo cups used in earlier times.  The low air pressure required may be created by heating the cup or the air inside it with an open flame or a bath in hot scented oils, then placing it against the skin.  As the air inside the cup cools, it contracts and draws the skin slightly inside.  Cups are normally used only on softer tissue that can form a good seal with the edge of the cup.  They may be used singly or in large number to cover a larger area.  They may be used by themselves or placed over an acupuncture needle.  Skin may be lubricated, allowing the cup to be moved across the skin slowly.

Depending on the specific treatment, skin marking is common after the cups are removed.  This can vary from a simple red ring that disappears quickly to a bruise that fades within a few days.  Gweneth Paltrow has been sighted with cupping marks on her back…smart girl!

About Pam :

Pamela received her Masters Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, N.M.  She is nationally certified by the NCCAOM in Oriental Medicine, and is a licensed acupuncturist in the state of Illinois.  She received her Bachelors Degree in psychology from SUNY at Stonybrook, N.Y.  Additionally, Pamela has studied Chinese Herbal Medicine, Oncology Acupuncture at Memorial Sloan Kettering, N.Y.C., and fertility with Dr. Berkley from The Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness, N.Y.C.

Pamela is also nationally certified in Chinese Herbal Medicine.  Combining herbs with acupuncture, Pamela strives to attain the best possible results with all her patients.  Specializing in fertility, Pamela works to restore a mind/body balance to optimize natural conception and assisted reproductive therapy.  She is also affiliated with Mercy Hospital.

“There is a soul force in the universe which, if we permit it, will flow through us and produce miraculous results.”   Ghandi

If you would like to book an appointment with Pam for acupuncture, click here .

Boost Your Egg Quality I.Q.

Because we work so closely with physicians, we have to be scrupulous about any suggestion that Traditional Chinese Medicine, nutrition and yoga can impact egg quality because there is very little clinical evidence to support this assertion.  That said, there is very little clinical research that has actually been done to examine the impact of holistic treatments on egg quality.  Perhaps that’s because the issue is low on our national health priorities list…

Or maybe it’s not.  It actually turns out that there’s great deal of concern about egg quality in U.S. women – for a couple of reasons.  First, infertility seems to be on the rise in the U.S. and this increase is not wholly accounted for by maternal age, leading researchers to wonder if something in our lifestyle or environment is impairing fertility.  Second, there is concern that poor egg quality may be partially responsible for increases in chronic diseases like heart attacks, diabetes and chronic high blood pressure.  In 2002 the National Institutes of Health introduced the Female Health and Egg Quality Initiative , to address the concern that poor egg quality may be responsible for difficulties in attaining and maintaining a healthy pregnancy for a significant number of females.  In addition, certain “adverse health situations” in women prior to or around the time of fertilization have been identified as risk factors for poor egg quality:  poor nutrition, extreme exercise, smoking, hyperglycemia/insulin resistance, obesity and, potentially, inflammation.  (To follow this initiative you can visit the NIH’s National Cooperative on Female Health and Egg Quality program ).

Pulling Down the Moon’s E.Q. I.Q.  (a.k.a. Egg Quality Intelligence Quotient)

It’s both sobering and empowering that our lifestyle behavior before conception may dictate the health of our future kids.  At Pulling Down the Moon we take a long-range view of improving egg quality based on a few basic assumptions:

  • Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have.  At the time of puberty, dormant egg follicles begin a cycle of monthly maturation that causes multiple follicles to mature and results in the release of an oocyte from a single “lead follicle.”  If pregnancy does not result from ovulation, menstruation occurs.  The cycle repeats until menopause somewhere around the age of 50.
  • Human egg development (folliculogenesis) takes place over a period of about a year, or 13 menstrual cycles.  During this time the follicles wake from their dormant state and prepare for recruitment.  During the last 120 days of this period the maturation process quickens.  The final few days of maturation are action packed as the egg “slims down” to 23 chromosomes through a highly energy-intensive process that prepares the oocyte to receive 23 chromosomes from a sperm to make a healthy embryo with 46 chromosomes.
  • When the ovaries do not respond to the usual hormonal cues of the menstrual cycle, in particular the signal of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), they are considered to be poor quality.  In Assisted Reproduction settings, egg quality is generally diagnosed by testing a woman’s FSH levels as well as her response to ovarian stimulating medications.
  • While age is still the major determinant of egg quality, it is not the only factor at play.  The health of the developing eggs and their ability to respond to internal or external hormonal stimulation may be affected by poor blood flow, stress, toxic substances like cigarettes and environmental contaminants, inflammation caused by stress or diet, hormonal imbalances and potentially intake of unhealthy dietary fats.

A Role for Holistic Therapy

At Pulling Down the Moon we work with many women who have been told they have diminishing ovarian reserve/poor egg quality.   Upon receiving this challenging diagnosis, some women feel ready to move on to “second solutions” like donor-gamete programs.  Others, however, are interested in exploring ways to improve the quality of their own eggs before taking other measures.  If you’re a woman seeking to improve the quality of your eggs, here are a few tips to boost your E.Q.I.Q.:

  • Making a significant impact on egg quality is not a short-term project.  At the Moon we target a minimum of 3 months, but in actuality, working within the 13 month period of egg development is optimal.
  • Acupuncture and herbal treatment have been used for thousands of years to help regulate the menstrual cycle.  Intricate cycles of growth hormones and growth factors occur in the ovaries in response to commands from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland throughout the entire maturation process.  By helping to regulate and balance the hormone cycle, techniques from Traditional Chinese Medicine are thought to restore an oocyte’s ability to respond to hormonal cues.  Acupuncture can also stimulate blood flow to the ovaries.
  • Revamp your diet to eliminate foods that cause inflammation (refined sugar, corn-fed red meat, many preservatives and nitrates, omega-6 fatty acids and transfats.  Chronic inflammation has been shown to decrease our cells’ ability to respond to hormonal cues (as in the case of diabetes) and may play a role in conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
  • Work with a fertility nutritionist .  Nutritional supplementation, eating an anti-inflammatory/hypo-allergenic diet (like our ART Recovery/Prep Program) and improving gut function can play an important role in hormonal health.
  • Eliminate toxins from your living environment including substances such as parabens (found in cosmetics), phthalates (found in pliable plastics), Bisphenol A (in plastics), PCBs and PBDEs (coolants, flame retardants).  These chemicals can mimic our body’s reproductive hormones and are associated with infertility and cancer.
  • Reduce stress.  Stress is associated with hormonal disruption and inflammation.  Learning to relax is a key part of re-establishing hormonal balance in our body.
  • Maintain a low-impact, moderate-intensity exercise program that emphasizes gentle cardiovascular exercise like walking or swimming, and yoga to promote flexibility and streng th.  In contrast to high intensity activities like running, spinning and impact aerobics, yoga encourages blood flow into the internal organs by releasing tight musculature in the hips, groin and low back while stimulating our body’s parasympathetic “rest, digest and nest” hormone response.

Here is a simple breathing meditation that uses mudra (hand yoga) to strengthen the ovaries and developing oocytes.  In yoga, each of the fingers has meaning and is associated with a particular organ system.  The thumb, which is the focus of this meditation, is thought to restore equilibrium in weak or challenged body parts.  We use this mudra and visualization to send light and warmth to our ovaries.

Sit comfortably or lie down.  Wrap the thumb of your right hand with the four fingers of the left hand and rest the left thumb along the inner edge of your right hand (it will sit next to the index finger of the right hand).  Focus your mind on your ovaries.  Now visualize a light burning just below your navel.  With each exhale, direct light down to your ovaries.  For the first several breaths, you can visualize dark clouds of smoke escape from the ovaries as you breathe light into them and expel imbalance and negative energy from this part of the body.  After a few breaths, concentrate solely on the light that warms and illuminates the ovaries and oocytes.  Repeat holding the other thumb.

Working with Thoughts

A couple years ago, Tami and I spent a wonderful week studying yoga nidra with an amazing teacher and yogi, Richard Miller.  At the retreat we spent a lot of time exploring the nature of our mind.  Richard shared this hilarious piece by Zen writer Kim Boykin, Meditation Hints from the Colorado Division of Wildlife .  Whether you’re a seasoned practitioner or mind/body beginner, this is worth a read.

Fertility Acupuncture 101 with PDtM’s Hena Shomali

Holistic Fertility Primer: Fertility Yoga

Do any of the following statements apply to you?  If so, you may want to read further to learn why joining a fertility yoga class would be a good first step for you on the fertility journey. 

  1. I feel completely out of control of my fertility journey.
  2. All my friends are pregnant or have children so I feel very isolated from my peers.
  3. I experience mood swings as a result of the hormonal medications I am taking.
  4. I’m having trouble sleeping.
  5. I am struggling to find a way to be healthy and active while trying to conceive.
  6. I’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis or PCOS.

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above,  joining a fertility yoga class is a great way for you to enter the world of holistic fertility treatments.   Read the reasons why below:

1.  I feel completely out of control of my fertility journey.

Studies show that stress is the number one reason that women drop out of insurance-paid medical fertility treatment.  In our yoga classes we use non-religious philosophical teachings from yoga to re-frame the fertility journey, focusing on tools to release stress and doubt, and emphasizing your innate ability to heal.  Studies have also shown that women who use a yoga-like coping mechanism of “letting go” of control have higher rates of IVF success. 

2.  All my friends are pregnant or have children so I feel very isolated from my peers.

There is something magical that happens when women come together and share their experiences.  We call this magic our “sacred sauce,” but it’s no secret.  Research consistenly shows that being part of a community improves both mental and physical health outcomes, and specifically, research has shown that women who participate in mind/body support groups have better IVF success outcomes.* Yoga has also been shown to reduce anxiety .

3.  I experience mood swings as a result of the hormonal medications I am taking.

Yoga can combat the side-effects of hormonal medication in a number of ways.  First, many women complain of bloating, discomfort and weight gain as a result of fertility meds.  The gentle stretching of a yoga routine encourages the movement of fluids out of bodily tissues into lymph vessels for excretion.  Also, yoga has been shown to increase levels of “feel good” neurochemicals that can combat stress and depression. 

4.  I’m having trouble sleeping.

Sleeplessness has many causes, including lack of physical exercise, caffeine/alcohol intake and stress.  During the day we can control our “monkey-mind” by distracting ourselves with work and activity.  At night, when the lights go out, our mind is free to play the “fertility-nightmare-theater.”  What-if’s, regrets and nightmare scenarios loom spring to life when we close our eyes.  Insufficient sleep can also raise cortisol (stress hormone) levels and has been associated with infertility.  Yoga’s gentle movement, breathing and mindfulness techniques stimulate our body’s “rest, digest and nest” (parasympathetic) hormonal response.

5.  I’m struggling to find a way to be healthy and active while trying to conceive.

When you’re trying to conceive, strenuous exercise is not recommended.  This means that many women who control their stress with high impact, high intensity exercise are left feeling stuck.  Yoga, because it involves a blend of movement, strength and balance can provide a vigorous workout that is low impact but has a high impact on fitness.  Unlike other forms of exercise which primarily promote blood flow to the large skeletal muscles, yoga promotes blood flow to the internal organs of digestion, reproduction and elimination. 

6.  I’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis or PCOS.

Both endometriosis and PCOS are associated with inflammation, a condition that can be harmful to our body tissues, our immune system, and potentially our oocytes.  Stress exacerbates inflammation and new research suggests that women who practice yoga regularly may be more resistant to the physiological impacts of stress.     Women with PCOS have also been shown to have higher levels of sympathetic tone (the hormones associated with the “fight or flight” stress response). 

Fertility yoga is also easy on the pocket book.  If you join a fertility yoga class at Pulling Down the Moon you will learn techniques that will serve you well over the course of your fertility journey and beyond.  If the class is too expensive or not geographically possible, you can always check out a book or video  and begin practice on your own. 

As always, if you have any questions regarding fertility yoga, please post your comments here.  Experts are standing by!  Be present, be positive…become a fertility yogini!   

*Domar et al.  Presented at the American Society for Repro Medicine conference

What Are You Smoking????

by Pamela Policastro, L. Ac.

Welcome back to our Fertility Acupuncture Tools of the Trade feature.  This week’s topic is moxibustion. 

No, moxibustion is not some sort of wacky-backy. 

 In traditional Chinese medicine(TCM), acupuncture is often used together with moxibustion (some of you know it as that weird smelling cigar we use to heat your needles with).  Moxibustion is used for both prevention and healing of disease . It works through burning moxa or mugwort, which is an herb, to warm the meridians or acupuncture points.  It can help improve the flow of blood and qi, and achieve superior healing effects. 

The history of moxibustion began thousands of years ago in china.  Moxibustion originated after the introduction of fire into man’s life.  It is believed that while warming themselves by the fire, ancient people accidentally found relief from cold and pain when specific areas of the skin were subjected to burning.  Later on, they started using hot stones or hot sand wrapped in animal skins or plant bark, to press on local body areas to treat diseases.  Ancient people eventually learned to use ignited branches or hay to warm the sick part of the body.  From there, moxibustion was begun. 

Moxa leaves were later chosen as the best material.  These herbal leaves are easily ignited and produce a mild heat.  In addition, the aroma of the herb itself  can help enhance the effect of removing obstructions or stagnation of blood and qi.

The major ingredient used for moxibustion is Artemisia Vulgaris.  Moxa is pure yang (active & warm) in nature.  It has the ability to restore the essential yang from collapse (physical exhaustion).  It can regulate qi and blood, expel cold and dampness, warm the uterus, stop bleeding, warm the spleen and stomach to remove stagnation, and regulate menstruation.  When ignited, it can travel through all the meridians and eliminate hundreds of diseases.

The mild heat generated by moxibustion can also penetrate deep into the muscles of the body.  Moxibustion can be used for a variety of diseases, including asthma, common cold and flu, arthritis, abdominal pain, diarrhea, chronic fatigue, and, of course, help with fertility.  Wow..nature rocks it out!

When next we meet, I will discuss fire-cupping.  Peace, Pam

About Pam

Pamela received her Masters Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, N.M.  She is nationally certified by the NCCAOM in Oriental Medicine, and is a licensed acupuncturist in the state of Illinois.  She received her Bachelors Degree in psychology from SUNY at Stonybrook, N.Y.  Additionally, Pamela has studied Chinese Herbal Medicine, Oncology Acupuncture at Memorial Sloan Kettering, N.Y.C., and fertility with Dr. Berkley from The Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness, N.Y.C. 

Pamela is also nationally certified in Chinese Herbal Medicine.  Combining herbs with acupuncture, Pamela strives to attain the best possible results with all her patients.  Specializing in fertility, Pamela works to restore a mind/body balance to optimize natural conception and assisted reproductive therapy.  She is also affiliated with Mercy Hospital.

“There is a soul force in the universe which, if we permit it, will flow through us and produce miraculous results.”   Ghandi

If you would like to book an appointment with Pam for acupuncture, click here .

More Evidence in Support of Fertility Yoga

More evidence in support of yoga for fertility:

A new study examining the potential stress-reduction benefits of hatha yoga practice compared the inflammatory and endocrine responses of healthy women to a restorative hatha yoga session and to control activity.  Half of the 50 subjects were “expert yoginis” (women with a regular yoga practice) and half were yoga novices.  Prior to each intervention session the women were subjected stress challenges in order to guage the extent that yoga speeds recovery from stress.  The results of the study were very interesting.

  1. The yoga session boosted mood compared to the control activities, but no change was found in subjects’ response to stress before and after yoga or any of the control sessions.  HOWEVER…
  2. In response to the stress events the novices, who were not statistically different in age or other variables from the expert yoginis, had C-Recative Protein levels (a marker of inflammation) that were 4.75 times as high as the experts.

The researchers concluded “the ability to minimize inflammatory responses to stressful encounters” lowers the burden that stress places on an individual.  They also suggested that their research supports the idea that regular yoga practice dampens stress-related changes and can have lasting health benefits.

These findings are extremely relevent for women struggling with infertility.  Stress is an inflammatory condition and inflammation is implicated in many infertility diagnoses including PCOS, endometriosis, miscarriage and potentially even poor egg and sperm quality.   The take-home from this research is that yoga may do more for a woman who is trying to conceive than reduce her anxiety levels and improve her mood.  Regular yoga practice may actually improve her physiological response to stress events and protect her body from the negative effects of chronic inflammation.

Getting Started with Holistic Fertility Treatment

Perhaps the most common question we get at the Moon is “where should I start?”  Women and couples are interested in doing everything they can to increase their odds of conceiving.  But among all the services available – nutrition counseling, acupuncture, yoga for fertility and massage – where to begin?  For the answer to this question, stay tuned to our blog this week as we discuss the different treatments we offer at Pulling Down the Moon and who will best benefit from these treatments.

The most important thing to recognize, though, is that using holistic treatment for fertility requires your participation.  Unlike a medical regimen, where you simply follow the directions your doctor provides, holistic treatment asks you to become involved in identifying and correcting physical, mental and emotional imbalances in your life.  In a sense, these treatments require you to be part of the treatment team.  This is true even if you are also using medical fertility treatments in addition to holistics.

The other point to make about holistic therapy is that it can take some time to work.  Treatments like acupuncture have shown short-term benefit (as few as two acupuncture treatments have been shown to increase IVF success rates), but studies using a longer treatment time frame actually have much more impressive results.  Nutrition changes can also be effective immediately, especially in terms of improving gut function, but other more long-term effects (potential improvement in egg or sperm quality, reduced inflammation, ovulation induction in PCOS) can take several months to achieve.   We feel great for a few hours after yoga or a massage – but longer term practice of these modalities actually leads to a lasting calm in which our body and mind can begin to heal themselves. 

So what’s right for you?  Stay tuned to our blog this week for a deeper exploration of what holistic fertility techniqes are right for you.   Also, feel free to post your questions.  We’ve got experts standing by. 

Be present, be positive!  Paige

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