• W3 – A Week Without Wheat. Insights for Fertility, Weight Loss and Beyond

    by Beth Heller, MS

    First off, I am not one for giving things up, especially when it comes to food.  Thankfully I do not have the digestive issues, weight issues or other symptoms of allergy that are associated with wheat gluten sensitivity and, frankly, I adore bread.   Yet, last Tuesday I decided that I was going to experience a week without wheat (W3).

    So why, on earth would I do that?  First, while I try not to be swayed by media, I have to admit that one of the precipitating factors was an article I read in the Huffington Post entitled “Three Hidden Ways Wheat Makes You Fat.” Written by Functional Medicine guru Mark Hyman, a man who clearly does not like wheat one little bit, the article outlines did introduce some facts about wheat that caught my attention.  Like the fact that the wheat we eat today is different from that eaten by our ancestors.  Modern wheat, called dwarf wheat, has been genetically altered over the years to be starchier and contain stronger gluten.  More dramatic is Hyman’s description of how dwarf wheat prompts the creation of “gluteomorphins and gliadorphins,” brain- and behavior-altering chemicals similar to the endorphins created in response to pleasure and strong exercise.  This, according to Hyman, prompts craving and bingeing.

    Now that’s alarming. My quick Pubmed search, however, did not reveal any clinical data about gluteomorphins (Hyman calls it gluten-morphine) or gliadorphins, apart from one study looking at gluten and autism symptoms.  Yet, the basic premise of Hyman’s article, that the wheat we eat now is not our grandparent’s wheat, rings true to me.  I also know that if I were to binge on anything it would be crusty bread and butter.  In my world of moderation, bread is my siren song.  Could I be “addicted” to gluten morphine?

    The second, and more sensible reason I decided to go W3, is that reducing wheat consumption is a component of our new Lifestyle & Weight Loss Program, First Line Therapy for Fertility – more about this program soon!  And, like everything we recommend at the Moon, I wanted to make sure that I could do it myself before I recommended it to another.

    I don’t want to bore you with a daily food-frequency or play-by-play of my W3, but I did notice a few interesting things when I chose to eliminate this source of calories from my diet. What follows is a short and sweet summary of the kernels of wisdom I gleaned  from a week without wheat:

    • Kernel #1:  Wheat consumption is a habit.  When I was faced with a week  without wheat none of my go-to foods were available.  I had to find different choices for breakfast (steel cut oats), re-think my “side” of bread and butter at Panera (choose an apple), and stretch for a different side dish at dinner instead of buttered noodles (try amaranth).  All in all, the process felt more like an exercise in breaking food ruts than giving up a staple.
    • Kernel #2:  The results were subtle.  After a week off wheat, I cannot report any particularly striking changes in my overall health.  However, as I look back at the past week I am sure a nutrition analysis would reveal a healthier, more varied and nutritious diet than my habitual eating pattern.  I became painfully aware that I could point to “lazy choices” I made every day – chicken wraps at Whole Foods, pasta or noodles with dinner, dried cereal and breakfast breads  as well as lunchtime sandwiches – that kept me from better choices.  This was an empowering insight.
    • Kernel #3:  I can see how cutting back on wheat would make a diet more fertility-friendly.  If used intelligently, limiting wheat frees up calories for healthy fats, encourages the consumption of more nutrient rich foods and discourages the consumption of processed foods.  If used unwisely it could also be a disaster.  Gummy bears are gluten free.
    • Kernel #4:  This last point, that processed foods rely heavily on wheat, is a no-brainer.  Think of all the crackers, dried cereals, low-fat cookies, cakes and frozen meals on offer at your local supermarket.  When wheat is out you have to find a new pasture  to graze.  Also, when shopping this week I realized that there are plenty of gluten-free foods that are highly processed.
    • Kernel #5:  Addicted?  In my case I would argue that I’m just plain lazy.  I learned this week that I rely heavily on processed grains to the exclusion of other nutritious foods.

    When Tuesday came around and I was done with my W3 I was surprised that I didn’t rush to the coffee shop for a muffin. Maybe I’m strange, but I enjoyed this process of diversifying my diet. I think I’ll let it ride for a bit until some of my newer, healthier choices become habitual.  I know that a lot of women out there are going gluten-free for fertility.  For some it’s a therapeutic decision because they are dealing with the very real impact of gluten sensitivity and allergy.  For others, the goal might be weight loss. Whatever the reason, there’s one piece of advice I can give anyone making dietary changes:   Make your changes from a place of exploration and inquiry. Empower yourself to know what is right for you.  It’s helpful, too, to work with a nutritionist to maximize nutrients that support fertility.

    Have you made dietary changes as part of your fertility journey?  Have they felt empowering or onerous?  We’d love to hear your experiences.

    For more information about nutrition and fertility, check out Tami and my book The Infertility Cleanse:  Detox, Diet and  Dharma for Fertility.  We have fabulous nutritionists at Pulling Down the Moon who are available in-person or by phone for an empowering consult to help you optimize your diet for health and fertility.  Visit www.pullingdownthemoon.com for more information!

  • Anna’s News: Appropriate Exercise According to Chinese Medicine

    Anna Pyne LAc, MSOM, FABORM

    Patients often ask me is exercise safe to do when trying to conceive and how much is too much.  Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) standpoint is that light to moderate exercise strengthens the qi (energy) and builds the blood, but it becomes counterintuitive when performed excessively so.  Too much exercise actually depletes the body of qi and blood which will negatively impact fertility.   Since the general focus of treatment is to enhance and circulate blood flow to the reproductive organs so that they work more efficiently, I advise not over exercising to where you feel exhausted from your work out.  You should feel energized and good after the correct workout routine.  Everybody is going to have a different definition for what too much and too little exercise is.  You really have to pay attention to how you feel.  Generally, exercising at least three times a week will help to improve circulation of qi and blood to the reproductive organs nourishing them, and it boosts musculoskeletal tone.

    Another aspect according to TCM is taking into account the patient’s Chinese medicine pattern.  For example, in a patient that is deficient of blood it is recommended that they do not work out while on their period so as not to lose any more blood of which they are already lacking.   Another example is if the patient only has qi deficiency (not including blood deficiency) then light, not excessive, exercise during menstruation is going to be a positive thing that will boost the body’s qi.

    If patients are undergoing a medicated fertility treatment cycle then light exercise, like walking or gentle yoga, according to TCM is good, even every day, leading up to the patient’s procedure, whether that be an intra-uterine insemination (IUI) or an embryo transfer which is associated with an in-vitro fertilization cycle (IVF).  I ask that the patients avoid walking however for a few days after their IUI or embryo transfer.  For more information regarding TCM’s take on exercise and enhancing your fertility please feel free to contact us at anytime or call to make an appointment!

    Anna Pyne LAc, MSOM, FABORM

  • Chronic Negative Energy Balance and Fertility: Is Your Exercise Program Affecting Your Ability to Conceive?

    by Beth Heller, MS, RYT

    Research published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that women who exercised 4 hours or more times per week for 1-9 years were 40% less likely to have a live birth and were almost three times more likely to experience IVF cycle cancellation.  They were also twice as likely to have an implantation failure or pregnancy loss than women who did not report exercise.  This research reinforces previous data showing that strenuous exercise can disrupt reproductive hormone regulation.

    A common question that arises at Pulling Down the Moon is whether or not women should give up exercise when trying to conceive (ttc) and/or undergoing A.R.T.  For many, exercise is an important tool for relieving depression, controlling stress and regulating body weight.  Putting the message out there that women who are “ttc” should abstain from exercise could be dangerous – we’re already a highly sedentary society – but data such as the study referenced above suggest that we should look closer at the ways in which exercise can interact with our reproductive system.  An understanding of the mechanisms at work may help us make more intelligent exercise choices.

    Another recent study dove into this question by comparing the menstrual cycles of sedentary and exercising women who were matched for age, body weight, BMI and age of menarch.  The results were astounding.  In the sedentary group, only 4% of women had menstrual dysfunction.  In the exercise group only 50% of cycles were ovulatory and 50% were abnormal.  Within the abnormal cycles,  29% demonstrated Luteal Phase Defect (a short luteal phase) and 20% were anovulatry.  In a further study of this same sample of women, the researchers found a correlation with “high-DT “(high drive for thinness) and menstrual dysfunction and found that REE (resting energy expenditure) was decreased in these women, a sign that they were experiencing negative metabolic effects of chronic negative energy balance.

    So What Is Energy Balance?

    Energy balance is a simple equation that nutritionists and exercise physiologists use to conceptualize the factors at work in weight loss and weight gain.  The energy balance equation is:

    When Energy In = Energy Out, body weight is stable

    When Energy In > Energy Out, there is weight gain

    When Energy In < Energy Out, there is weight loss

    Long-term negative energy balance in females is associated with decreases in circulating metabolic hormones (like thyroid hormone) that regulate overall metabolic rate, and with increases in baseline stress hormone levels like cortisol.  Often, shifts in energy balance can occur without weight loss, especially in long-term exercisers.  Call to mind that trim gal at the health club who spends 60 minutes a day on the elliptical trainer but never gets thinner.  While she may view the exercise session as justification for a candy bar, her body perceives it as a major “fight or flight event.”  Although her weight does not change, hormonal and metabolic shifts like the ones described above can still occur as the body slows down non-essential systems (like reproduction) to preserve energy.  Signs that a woman may be in negative energy balance are anovulatory cycles or the absence of menstrual periods.

    Should Women Give Up Exercise when Trying to Conceive?

    The answer to this question is a resounding “no!”  Exercise has also been shown to relieve depression, control stress and regulate a healthy body weight – all very important elements for conception.  What women do need to consider, however, is how to exercise in a way that is “fertility friendly.”

    Intensity :  When we talk about exercise intensity we are talking about how HARD your body works during a particular exercise activity.  Intensity of an exercise determines its energy requirement, or how many calories you burn while exercising.  Thus, excessive intense exercise can create  a negative energy balance .  This may be a good thing when a woman has significant weight to lose but it is not a good thing when she is at a healthy weight.

    Impact :  Exercise can be either low- or high-impact.  High impact activity is and exercise in which both feet leave the ground.  Examples of high impact exercise are running, aerobic dance that involves jumping and jumping rope.  Spinning is also high impact, although this form of cycling exercise does not involve jumping, the intense resistance and sprinting used in spin classes can place enormous impact on joints and muscles.

    In general, high impact exercise can be detrimental to fertility in one of two ways.  The first is through the production of endorphins.  Endorphins “natural pain killers” produced by the body in response to strenuous exercise.  While these chemicals serve to mask pain signals and allow us to enjoy long-duration, strenuous exercise, they can also disrupt reproductive hormone regulation.  Second, high impact exercise is generally more intense than low impact exercise, causing the excessive energy drain described above.

    What’s the Right Exercise Mix for Fertility?

    Fertility-Friendly Exercise : Fertility-friendly exercise is moderate-intensity (heart rate at 60-65% of maximum), low-impact and of medium duration (30-45 minutes, 3-4 times per week).

    Good Exercise Modalities:  walking, swimming, recreational bike riding, resistance training and hatha yoga

    Relaxation Training: Learning to relax through practices like breathing and meditation are an important part of any fitness program.  Taking 20 minutes a day to meditate or just breathe can help to reduce stress and lower circulating stress hormones.  In addition, cross-training and including rest days where the body can rebuild and restore is also very important.

    Nourish Up through Diet: In two recent blogs, Nourishing Up for Fertility and Energy Balance for Fertility – A Holistic View we explore the idea of creating a nourishing lifestyle that changes the paradigm of daily life.

    For many women, letting go of an intense exercise program can be difficult.  Services like acupuncture, massage and nutrition counseling available at Pulling Down the Moon can be very helpful in making the transition to a more nourishing and fertile lifestyle.   Click here to learn more/book an appointment.

    Sources

    1.  Morris SN Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Oct;108(4):938-45.

    2.  De Souza MJ Hum Reprod. 2010 Feb;25(2):491-503. Epub 2009 Nov 26.

    3.  Gibbs JC Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Aug;21(4):280-90.

  • Prenatal and Postpartum Massage: Good for Mom and Babies!

    Cathleen McCauley L.M.T.

    By Cathy McCauley, LMT, NCTMB

    A woman experiences gradual yet profound changes during pregnancy and the postpartum months following the birth experience. Pulling Down the Moon now offers massage packages to accompany you on your journey during this special time.

    Beginning in the second trimester, or week 14, the Moon’s certified prenatal massage therapists provide safe, nurturing and supportive massage focused on your specific needs.  Treatments can melt away pregnancy pain and discomfort, increase relaxation and promote health and wellness for mother and baby.

    Numerous studies show the benefit to both mothers and babies who receive prenatal massage. According to a 2010 study, research shows that women who received prenatal massage reported decreased depression, anxiety, and leg and back pain. Cortisol levels decreased, which decreased excessive fetal activity; the rate of baby prematurity was also lower.  In a study of labor pain, women who received massage therapy experienced significantly less pain, and their labors were on average three hours shorter with less need for medication (Field 2010).

    After you’ve given birth, your body slowly returns to its non-pregnant state, typically taking six weeks. Massage during this postpartum period supports your recovery from giving birth, reduces pain caused by structural and muscular changes and encourages relaxation and stress relief.  The postpartum time can be an emotional experience, filled with joys and challenges.  Postpartum massage may contribute to healthy family development and reduce the likelihood that excessive musculoskeletal pain will distract from the pleasure of motherhood (Field 1996).

    Experience the benefits of maternity massage. Purchase a 60-minute prenatal or postpartum massage three-pack for $340 and save $10 per massage. Schedule an appointment with one of the Moon’s certified prenatal and postpartum massage therapist in the Chicago Area (312-321-0004) or the DC Metro area (301-610-7755).

    We look forward to accompanying you on your journey!

    References:

    Field, T, Grizzle N, Scafidi F, Shanberg S. Massage and relaxation therapies’ effect on depressed adolescent mothers. Adolescence . (1996, 31:903-911).

    Field, T. (2010). Pregnancy and labor massage therapy. Expert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology , 5, 177-181.

    Osborn, C. (2012). Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy, A Comprehensive Guide to Prenatal, Labor and Postpartum Practice . Baltimore, MD. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

  • Fertility Friendly Eating on Budget


    Margaret Wertheim M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

    by Margaret Wertheim, MS RD

    Sometimes it can feel like following a fertility friendly diet is expensive, especially when you may have extra costs for fertility treatments and medications. Here are some ways to help keep your food budget in check:

    1. Prioritize organic meat and dairy. Due to the use of hormones, pharmaceuticals and pesticides in the production of meat and dairy, these items should be your highest priority to buy organic. If completely organic dairy will put too much of a strain on your budget, buy the rBGH-free (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) dairy. While this doesn’t guarantee the animals have been given feed raised without pesticides, at least you know the cows weren’t treated with hormones. Similarly with beef, if organic or grassfed beef is out of your price range, at least make sure to buy beef that is raised without hormones, as estrogen is routinely used in raising conventional beef.
    2. Choose lower cost cuts of meat. It’s much less expensive to buy a whole chicken than boneless skinless chicken breasts or any one part of the chicken. Alternatively, buy some grassfed ground beef, which costs less than buying steak. Use it to make some homemade chili, tacos, enchiladas, meatballs or any of your favorite recipes. Serve with plenty of vegetables.
    3. Eat eggs. They’re nutrient-rich, and even the most expensive organic eggs don’t cost more than $5 per dozen. A dozen should provide the protein for 6 breakfasts at less than $1 each.
    4. Learn about the Dirty Dozen . These 12 fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticide residues, so spend some extra money buying organic spinach and strawberries. When it comes to avocados and onions, it’s ok to buy the conventional version since these are some of the Clean 15, or those fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels of pesticide residues.
    5. Buy in bulk. Save money by buying whole grains, beans and nuts and seeds in the bulk section. It’s usually significantly less expensive than buying the prepackaged version.
    6. Cook at home instead of eating out. You can serve a delicious home-cooked dinner for 2 at a fraction of the cost of eating out or ordering in. When you have extra time, stock up your freezer with healthy homemade soups and other meals that you can quickly reheat after a long day at work when there isn’t time to cook.
    7. Do price comparisons. Some of the major chain grocery stores actually have higher prices in their natural foods section compared to your natural foods grocery store or Whole Foods. The opposite can also be true. Check out fruit and vegetable markets, where they often carry some very reasonably priced organic produce. This may require trips to multiple stores, but it can definitely help to trim your food budget.
    8. Eliminate high-cost low-nutrient foods. An excellent example of this is cold cereal. Cold cereals are generally quite expensive, not well-digested and their vitamin and mineral content is generally due to a spray-on multivitamin. Meanwhile you can generally buy 1 pound of organic oats in bulk for less than $2. Cut out other foods like packaged cookies and sweets. These items tend to be pricey and have no fertility benefits.

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