Wonderful Article about Holistic Fertility by Jenny Rough (PDtM featured!)

We hope you will take the time to read this wonderful article by Jenny Rough from Bethesda Magazine .   In the article Jenny shares her personal journey, interviews Reproductive Endocrinologists and speaks to women who used techniques like yoga, nutrition and Traditional Chinese Medicine to support their fertility journey.

We’re also excited to share that Jenny will be offering a FREE writing workshop at Pulling Down the Moon in Rockville on Saturday March 26 from 1 to 4 p.m.  Read more about this event here .

Food and Mood

by Beth Heller, M.S.

Healthy Dinner Depression, as you likely know, is linked to higher rates of infertility in women.  And, with research showing that women struggling with infertility have anxiety and depression rates equal to women with cancer and HIV, it stands to reason that ANYTHING we can do to help support our emotional well-being is essential when we’re trying to conceive.  One simple step you can take to improve your emotional balance is to make better foods choices.

Research is beginning to support what any chocolate lover has known for years –  food has a profound effect on mood.  Let’s take a closer look at the intersection of food and brain chemistry to learn how our diet can help us manage our state of mind.

Foods, it seems, alter our mood through several different mechanisms:  neurotransmitters, endorphins and satiety.

Neurotransmitters (NTs) are chemicals that communicate information throughout the brain and body.    They affect physical variables like heart rate and blood pressure, as well as sleep, the ability to concentrate and overall mood.  Neurotransmitters can be either excitatory or inhibitory.  Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate the brain while inhibitory neurotransmitters calm the brain.  In times of stress and agitation, inhibitory neurotransmitters can become depleted as they strive to “keep the peace.”

Three neurotransmitters have been extensively studied in relation to food:  dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.  Dopamine and norepinephrine are associated with alertness (excitatory) while serotonin is associated with a calming, anti-anxiety effect (inhibitory).

Inhibitory NTs: Adequate levels of the inhibitory NT serotonin are necessary for a stable mood and to counteract excitatory NTs in times of stress and stimulation.  When brain serotonin levels are stable, our mood is generally balanced.  When serotonin fluctuates, we can experience ups and downs in our emotional state.

Carbohydrates cause a short-term increase in serotonin levels, and a subsequent mood boost, which is one reason many people may crave a sugary or potato-chippy snack when they are feeling stressed out or sad.  The serotonin/carbohydrate relationship is a double-edged sword, however, as reaching for that sugary snack can prompt a sugar crash, and an emotional bummer, later.  Serotonin levels can also be depleted during withdrawal from long-term use of caffeine and stimulants which explains the temporary depression/blues that accompany getting “off the java.”

Excitatory NTs: Protein, on the other hand, may block serotonin production and promote the production of two neurotransmitters that increase our alertness and ability to concentrate.  Dopamine and norepinephrine increase with consumption of protein-rich foods.

Neurotransmitters can become depleted by stress, genetic predisposition, prescription and recreational drugs and even poor diet.   Healthy fats are important building blocks of neurotransmitters and studies have shown  links between low intakes of omega-3 fatty acids and depression.

Endorphins : Endorphins are feel-good chemicals secreted by our brain that block our pain sensors and stimulate a sense of euphoria.  Foods that has been shown to increase endorphins include sweet foods, foods rich in fat and, famously, chocolate.  Other healthier sources of endorphins include spicy foods, in particular foods featuring chili peppers.  Sex and vigorous exercise are also a great way to stimulate the production of these feel-good chemicals.

Satiety :  Finally, satiety – or how satisfied we are by our meal – can impact mood.  After a huge meal, blood is shunted away from the brain to the stomach and digestive organs to aid in digestion.  The result?   The sluggishness that occurs post-feast.  The more fat a a meal (think cheese burger and fried) the longer it takes food to leave the stomach and the longer you may feel drowsy or dopey.   On the flip side, meals that are high in processed carbs aren’t a great idea either.  These sugars leave the digestive system quickly and hit the blood stream like a freight train, followed by an inevitable crash and need for another sweet snack.

So, how can we use this information to help us feel better?  Here are some “Mood Management Munchie” tips for better brain chemistry through eating!

1.  Meals that have a balanced combination of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fat are the best choice for an even keel and balanced mood.

2.  Make sure your diet has ample sources of omega-3 fatty acids as these are chemical building blocks for NTs and other important regulatory hormones.  Sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, walnuts, flax seed, scallops, beans, winter and summer squash and romain lettuce.  Because  women who are trying to conceive are encouraged to limit their consumption of fatty fish, you may also want to consider an omega-3 supplement.

3.  For extra snap before an interview or big presentation eat a moderate sized meal (400-500 calories) that is rich in lean protein and complemented with whole grains or try a salad with avocado, walnuts and lean protein on top.

4. If you’re over-stimulated at bed time and need to calm down, try drinking 8 oz of whole milk sweetened with a small amount (1/2 teaspoon) of honey or agave nectar.  Milk is a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid building block of serotonin, and the small amount of sugar will stimulate the quick absorption of tryptophan into the blood and brain, thus sweeping you away to sleepy land.  Add a shake of cinnamon if you want to improve blood sugar regulation. If you are avoiding dairy, you can use almond milk to make this bedtime treat as almonds do have a healthy amount of tryptophan.

5.  For an endorphin boost, try spicy salsa as a condiment or nibble a piece of 70% cocoa chocolate for dessert.  Then go have sex – tee hee!

Recurrent Pregnancy Loss – A Holistic View

by Beth Heller, M.S.

Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL) is one of the most frustrating fertility challenges a woman can experience.   One loss is devastating enough but the cycle of  expectation and disappointment that accompanies RPL can create feelings of despair.  But from both a medical and a holistic perspective, though, couples who experience RPL have plenty of reason to be hopeful.

“In practice we will initiate a work-up for RPL after two losses in a row,” says Reproductive Endocrinologist Dr. Christopher Sipe of Fertility Centers of Illinois.   A medical work-up is important since common conditions such as hyper/hypothyroid, PCOS, luteal phase defect , infection and diabetes can cause RPL.  Once there is a better understanding of the causes of miscarriage, steps can be taken to choose a treatment plan that will optimize the chance of a healthy pregnancy.

There are also holistic strategies for addressing potential root causes of miscarriage.

1.   Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine

From the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective much of miscarriage prevention occurs in the months leading up to pregnancy. Regular fertility acupuncture treatment prior to conception can help to manage stress, potentially regulate the menstrual cycle and improve the uterine environment  by increasing blood flow – key elements promoting a healthy uterine environment and pregnancy.   In cases of  threatened abortion, several studies show that t reatment with TCM herbs has been shown to be beneficial and may relate to an impact on endocrine hormones and abnormal maternal-fetal immune interaction .  While herbs are NOT appropriate during a medicated fertility cycle,  woman who are not using ART may wish to explore acupuncture and herbal therapy.  However, if you choose to consider this route, we recommend that you check with your OB before beginning any herbal regimen and ALWAYS work with a licensed TCM practitioner who specializes in fertility and pregnancy.

2.  Nutritional Support

Studies have linked conditions like hyper/hypothyroid, obesity, PCOS and oxidative stress to early pregnancy loss and each of these conditions has a nutrition connection.  Assuring that a woman’s diet is rich in antioxidant nutrients like Vitamin A, C, E and selenium can reduce oxidative stress.   In some cases, food allergy or intolerance may be causing gastro-intestinal inflammation which in turn may negatively impact the uterine environment or impair the absorption of nutrients that are vital to reproductive function, as in the case of celiac disease.  RPL is also more prevalent in women with  diabetes and PCOS. Working with a nutritionist to learn how to eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in antioxidant nutrients, and supports good blood sugar regulation and  GI function not only supports overall fertility but may address root causes of pregnancy loss.

3.  Stress Reduction

Giving yourself time to grieve, finding community and surrounding yourself with positive people can make a huge difference for a woman who has experienced RPL and is “trying again.”  Researchers hypothesize a link between stress and poor pregnancy outcomes , so techniques like support groups, yoga and meditation not only help you feel better but may help you stay pregnant.

If you would like more information about holistic support for miscarriage or would like to meet with a Pulling Down the Moon Patient Advocate to discuss your particular experience, please call us at 312-321-0004 (Chicago-Area) or 301-610-7755 (DC Metro) or email us at info@pullingdownthemoon.com.

DHEA and DHA: Commonly Confused Fertility Supplements

By Breea Johnson, MS RD

DHEA and DHA are two supplements that are often confused by people trying to conceive. While their abbreviations may look similar they are in fact very different – one is a fatty acid while the other is a hormone and one should be taken during pregnancy while the other should be avoided during pregnancy.

DHA stands for Docosahexaenoic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid and found in conjunction with EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA is beneficial for neurological health and is added to prenatal vitamins for the central nervous system and optical development of a fetus. While it’s not always included in prenatal supplements, it is highly recommended that both pregnant and breastfeeding women take a DHA supplement. Consider this research:

  • A 2004 study published in Child Development found that babies whose mothers had high blood levels of DHA at delivery had advanced attention spans into their second year of life. During the first six months of life these infants were two months ahead of babies whose mothers had lower DHA levels.
  • A 2003 study published in the journal Pediatrics showed children whose mothers took a DHA supplement during pregnancy scored higher on intelligence tests at four years of age than children of mothers not taking DHA supplements.
  • In a 2011 review article, researchers concluded that decreased brain DHA represented an important potential risk factor for depression generally, and postpartum depression in particular as research has found low levels of DHA in mother’s milk and in the red blood cells of women with postpartum depression (Journal of Affective Disorders, 2002).
  • In a trial of women receiving DHA supplementation during the third trimester, the average length of gestation increased six days (Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2003).

DHA is beneficial not only for the health of a growing baby but also for the health of a mother, and thus it’s a critical supplement to take while pregnant and breastfeeding. But, while DHA is an important omega-3 fatty acid, EPA is left out of almost all prenatal supplements. EPA is the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid and is most beneficial when trying to conceive. Research has shown many studies that men and women with higher levels of blood omega-3 fatty acids have increased fertility rates compared to people with lower levels of blood omega-3 fatty acids.

So, now switching to DH E A, which stands for Dehydroepiandrosterone. Unlike DHA, which is a fatty acid, DHEA is a hormone, one of the most abundant circulating hormones in the human body. DHEA has recently garnered a lot of attention in the world of fertility for helping women with Decreased Ovarian Reserve (DOR) and Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) as it is a precursor to hormones such as testosterone and estrogens and may help increase follicular stimulation. It is also known to sharply decline with age. DHEA has been shown in some small studies to improve IVF outcomes in women that are poor responders to IVF. Some research also points to DHEA as possibly reducing aneuploidy chromosomal abnormalities) in embryos and thereby decreasing miscarriage rates.

A few things should be noted about utilizing DHEA when trying to conceive. First, it should not be taken in high doses for long term as it may cause undesirable fluctuations in hormone levels and may also cause liver damage. Also, before beginning DHEA it is advisable to get DHEA-S levels tested to make sure they are within range before supplementation. It is also highly encouraged to notify your Reproductive Endocrinologist before beginning a DHEA supplement. Unlike DHA, DHEA is not to be used if pregnant and should be discontinued as soon as a positive pregnancy test is achieved. DHEA should also not be used if you have PCOS, as this hormone may make this condition worsen.

DHA and DHEA are very different supplements – while both have important roles in trying to conceive it’s vital to know the difference between the two. If you have additional questions, please ask your reproductive endocrinologist or one of our nutritionists at Pulling Down the Moon. To book a nutrition appointment, please call (312) 321-0004 or visit www.pullingdownthemoon.com to book online.

Fertile Heart: Opening Your Fourth Chakra

Cathleen

By Cathleen McCauley, LMT

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I encourage you to take the opportunity to reflect on your Heart Chakra, and your openness to its energy in your life.

Known in Sanskrit as Anahata, the Heart Chakra resides in the center of your chest. It is the fourth major energy center in the chakra system from where love, understanding, compassion and forgiveness emanate. Oftentimes, it is described as the center of your being, where the lower and upper chakras of the body and spirit unite. It teaches that love is the most powerful energy you have; it is the Divine within.

When open, balanced and realized, the fourth chakra allows you to experience unconditional love for yourself and others. It gives way to compassion, being in touch with your feelings, a desire to nurture others and empathy. In times of loss, a balanced Heart Chakra guides you to acceptance. It gives you the opportunity to grieve fully and experience your pain, anger and sadness so you can continue living with an open heart. At its core, the fourth chakra coincides with emotional development and being able to live “by heart.”

An unbalanced fourth chakra may manifest as fear-of loneliness, commitment, letting go, getting hurt or following your heart. It can be characterized by negativity, anger, moodiness, being demanding, possessive or overly critical. Pain between the shoulder blades, tension, high blood pressure, heart pain, fatigue and difficulty breathing are common ailments associated with an unbalanced fourth chakra.

When meeting with a client for fertility massage, the first question I usually ask is, “How are you feeling?” Most times, clients tell me what they are doing to become pregnant. Often they mention stress and the areas of the body that are physically painful; less frequently do they mention emotional feelings.

The Heart Chakra shows us how emotions play a vital role in our lives. And while exploring your heart can be a difficult process, taking gentle steps towards conscious awareness can bring greater love, healing and balance to your journey toward conception.

Pulling Down the Moon offers you many options as you open your heart energy, including yoga, meditation and Reiki. I also encourage you to contact us for more information or make an appointment for the Open the Breath massage session. This interactive treatment helps clients breathe more fully, clears stagnation and bathes the belly and organs in oxygen. As you release certain breathing patterns, you may also release emotions, helping you to delve into the depths of your Heart Chakra.

Questions?  Please contact me at cathleen@pullingdownthemoon.com.

Yoga for Fertility? Try This Simple Flow

Yoga can help fertility by reducing stress and increasing blood flow.  Pulling Down the Moon’s Moon Salute focuses on gentle lunges and folds to help release tension in the hips and groin.  Matching breath with movement (called vinyasa in Sanskrit) is a wonderful way to draw the mind into a meditative state, allowing worry and anxiety to fall away.  As with any exercise program, you should use good judgement and make speak with your physician to ensure the program is right for you. Click here to get started.

 

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