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.


New Reiki Modality at PDtM

Lisa Espinosa, Reiki Master

Ann Michaels, Reiki Master

Ann Michels and Lisa Espinosa

This past summer Ann and I were fortunate enough to become certified in the Sacred Childbirth with Reiki (SCR) process. Currently there are only eleven SCR practitioners in the country and we are very excited to bring this modality to Pulling Down the Moon. Our teacher, the creator of this process, Cori Nielsen, is a Dar Shem Reiki Master with 15 years experience as a healer. Cori has written numerous articles about SCR and earlier this year she wrote a piece for Reiki News Magazine describing the benefits of this process.

It’s important to explain that this is a powerful and gentle modality that helps bring healing to the reproductive system whether you are trying to conceive or are already pregnant. An important component of our intense training was that each of us experienced an SCR healing. We both experienced deep healing of old emotional wounds that we had been carrying around in our physical body, specifically in the area of the second chakra which houses all of our reproductive organs.  During the training we were also awakened to all the ways that SCR could help women at PDtM.  This process aims to  help heal and harmonize the  reproductive system, potentially enhancing and supporting fertility.  Once pregnant, SCR can be a valuable tool for creating a relaxed and empowered pregnancy and delivery.   Of course this is meant to be a supplement to any medical care that you are receiving, not a replacement.

Because we work within the medical community, it is important for us to say that there is no current clinical evidence looking at the efficacy of reiki for fertility.  It is, in fact, difficult to “prove” healing on a cellular level.  There are, however, numerous studies that support the use of reiki for different medical condition s.  Our commitment to this process is based upon our own personal experience and the feedback of the women who have come to us for reiki treatments and reported extensive benefits.

1. Healing the Reproductive System
Sacred Childbirth with Reiki clears cellular memory of pain and trauma to our reproductive organs bringing balance and harmony to our overall system. In addition, it helps you process emotions that may be locked in your body and blocking prana from flowing.

Possible traumatic experiences that can affect a woman’s well-being, include:

  • miscarriages and other birth terminations
  • diseases and disorders of sacred organs (for example, cysts, cervical cancer, endometriosis)
  • all forms of sexual trauma (child abuse, harassment, rape)

How the SCR process can help:

  • Helps you connect with a deep relaxed state
  • Clears the cellular memory of the traumatic event
  • Helps blocked emotions from trauma to get processed in a safe and gentle way
  • Helps you embody a feeling of empowerment and wholeness
  • Helps release blockages connected to speaking your truth in this way supporting you to express yourself clearly and lovingly
  • Helps release deep-rooted beliefs of inferiority and worthlessness
  • Helps you tap into your inner wisdom and intuition
  • Helps you regain trust in yourself

2. Empowered Childbirth
Below are some of the tools Sacred Childbirth with Reiki can equip you with so you can  have a beautiful, empowered childbirth.

  • Deep relaxation at the core of your being
  • Clearing of fear, trauma and negativity about birth
  • Practice assessing your body’s knowledge on how to birth with ease
  • Visualize your dream birth
  • Specific tools for building partner involvement

*Please note that Sacred Childbirth with Reiki is meant to be a complement, not a replacement, for your prenatal care.

Please look at PDM’s website for upcoming free Reiki seminars where we will describe more about Reiki, the SCR process and offer you a mini sample Reiki session. Also, if you’re interested in hearing more details about our experiences with SCR or Reiki in general please call either one of us or send us an email.  We’d love to hear from you.

The Importance of Good Health Habits During Pregnancy

by Anna Pyne, LAc, MSOM, FABORM

I was reading a recent article in Time magazine on ‘How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life’ and felt impelled to write this latest blog.  The article explains that obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and cancer can be traced back to fetal origins.  The belief is that “the nine months of gestation constitute the most consequential period of our lives, permanently influencing the wiring of the brain and the functioning of the organs…”.*  This inspired me to write about the importance of good health during gestation.  Acupuncture and herbal care during pregnancy is just one modality we offer at Pulling Down the Moon to help ensure optimal health for the mother and developing fetus.

Acupuncture and herbal therapy administered in the first trimester, as I’ve seen in my practice, may help benefit the mother by reducing fatigue, easing nausea, resolves acne, soothes headaches, and any other change that affects the body while the hormones adjust to being pregnant.  For the embryo it is an especially important time as good health in the first trimester will establish the constitution of the growing fetus.  Acupuncture and herbs are still applicable in the second trimester, although treatment is typically not as frequent as in the first.  The third trimester is also an important one, and treatment frequency will increase as the expected due date draws near.   Treatment focus is always adjusted to the mother’s needs at that moment in her life, for example, enhancing the immune system if she has the tendency to fall ill, strengthening the digestive tract in cases of IBS, or boosting metabolism in cases of obesity etc.  Expectant mothers should be cognizant that they are setting the stage for the health of their unborn child from the beginning of pregnancy to labor.  Acupuncture and herbs during this time are a great, safe way to maintain and benefit health when done by a knowledgeable practitioner.  To schedule an appointment or find out more on how acupuncture and herbal therapy can help, feel free to contact me via email or call the office.

Anna Pyne LAc, MSOM, FABORM

*”How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life” Time Magazine, Oct 4 th 2010, p52.

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