• Yoga at the Plate

    by Cassie Harrison RYT

    When I think of July, I think of baseball.  I imagine it has to do with hoping a few of my favorite players make it to the All Star Team and that my team will be over .500 by then. So it’s no surprise to me that a Baseball analogy found its way into my teachings during my online Yoga for Fertility class. I used it to demonstrate the power of being present. So grab the peanuts and join me in an at bat experience of past, future and present through a batters mind.

    A batter’s at bat, they adjust their grip and the pitcher gets ready to throw the first pitch. The batter’s lost in thought, thinking about the last time they faced this pitcher, remembering how bad it went, would it happen again? A feeling of dread overcomes them, the batter begins to feel helpless, powerless, and decides they can’t can’t get a hit when, Whoosh! A fast ball whizzes past them. The batter didn’t even see it coming.

    A second batters at bat, takes a few practice swings, steps up to the plate, and eyes up the pitcher. The pitcher throws the first pitch, a curve ball, the batter swings and misses. The batter regroups, steps back up to the plate, starts to think about what the pitcher will throw. Will it be another another curve ball? Maybe a fast-ball? What should I be ready for? Adjusting their stance, fidgeting with their hat, glove, trying to anticipate what’s coming, and trying to be ready for it all.They worry about what’s coming next, the pitchers throws, the batter still trying to decide what’s coming when another curve ball bends past them. Strike!

    A third batters at bat, they take a few practice swings, feels the weight of the bat in their hands. They adjust their helmet and gloves until they feel snug and right. They walk towards the field, listening to the roar of the crowd. Excitement begins to fill them as they get closer to the plate. Stopping just short, they take a few more swings, knock the dirt off their cleats,  and take their stance. They look at the pitcher and can see them spinning in ball in their hand. They hear the catchers breath next to them, and in their peripheral they see the infield moving closer. They feel the energy changing. They wait, watch, eyes sharp, mind quiet. They squeeze the bat, kick the dirt, and listen for what the pitcher is about to throw. The pitcher gets the call, whoosh…crack, the ball flies deep to center…  

    Which batter are you in your fertility journey? Are you like the batter lost in thought reviewing the past? The past are our memories, it happened, it might feel like you are reliving it, but it’s done. Like the batter, if are you lost in what happened and unable to move forward, the world will continue and you will miss it. Maybe you identified with the batter worrying about the future? You are so busy trying to figure it all out and anticipate everything that instead you’re missing what is happening now, unable to react to your current circumstances. Are you afraid to step out of your thinking mind, fearful that what you’re working towards won’t happen if you’re not constantly thinking about it? This could result in living in fear. Fear of making a mistake, not doing everything, not staying on top of current procedures, etc… you name it! The future is yet to come, not set in stone. The only thing real is what’s happening at this very moment. Are you missing it, because you are numb with thought? The more your mind is here, present, the more you will be free from thoughts that don’t serve you and cause the constant chatter, mind stuff (in yoga we call it citta). Sometimes those thoughts are painful and we escape them by planning ahead or reviewing the past. I’m asking you to be present with them. By facing them makes this present moment not only real, but may give you an opportunity to heal.  If your thoughts are mostly those in past or future, your mind has sabotaged your time and taken you away from the present. We aim to be the third batter, in tune with what’s around you, finding your center. The power of presence calms and quiets the mind, taking away our state of worry or panic. We surrender to the present moment and tune in to our true selves. In the present we are not being driven by the emotions behind the thoughts. We’re here and now, the mind is quiet. We are present with what is around us. Not reacting to the emotion, the fear behind the thoughts. Do and plan the schedule of what you need to stay on track on with your fertility journey this summer, but then step away from the clock and be present. Swing into now and hit your center. Don’t let the fear of striking out, stop you from playing the game!

    See how Yoga for Fertility can shift your summer at our FREE workshop on Monday, July 15th at 7pm.  There will be a special REI Q&A at the start of the workshop! Then join our next Yoga for Fertility Series in Highland Park starting on Monday, July 22nd!

  • Tips for Enhancing Male Fertility

    By Robin Miller RDN

    The fertility journey can be an exciting time for many couples…until it’s not. After many months or even years of trying to conceive and often times deemed “fertility-challenged,” baby-making can become a stressful task for many couples. Newsflash! 1 in 8 couples struggles with infertility, you are not alone!

    Conventional wisdom suggests that infertility is primarily a female issue, however research shows that approximately 40% of infertility cases are due to male-factor. The good news is there is much research that highlights how certain changes in a male’s lifestyle, including diet, weight loss and intake of herbs and supplements have proven to enhance male fertility.

    Here are some things men can do to improve their fertility:

    • Lose weight. It is recommended that men maintain a normal BMI (18.5 to 24.9 according to the CDC). Research suggests obesity may lower sperm parameters and testosterone. However, these effects may be reversible with gradual weight loss through diet and exercise, but not with bariatric surgery. Bring on the fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy and get moving!

     

    • Throw out the tobacco. Smoking tobacco has been linked with lower sperm concentration and impaired sperm motility and morphology. Use of chewing tobacco is dose-dependent, presenting a negative effect on sperm count, motility, morphology and viability.

     

    • Cut back on alcohol consumption. Studies suggest that heavy alcohol consumption can negatively impact many male fertility factors. However, moderate consumption of alcohol appears to have a limited effect on male fertility factors. Instead of drinking alcohol, try sparkling water or club soda with a slice of lemon or lime.

     

    • Start taking supplements and trying holistic therapies. Many supplements have been studied and show positive effects on male fertility, including: coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and a combination of zinc and folate. Be sure to speak with a registered dietitian and your physician about your individual needs as it relates to supplements.  It can also help to add Acupuncture, TCM herbal medications, and Mind Body practice to your routine!

    REFERENCES: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26952957

    1 Al-Ali BM, Gutsxhi T, Pummer K, Zigeuner R, Brookman-May S, et al. Body mass index has no impact on sperm quality but on reproductive hormones levels. Andrologia 2014; 46: 106–11. by caffeine. Fertil Steril 1975; 26: 158–61. 30 Aitken RJ, Best F, Richardson DW, Schats R, Simm G. Influence of caffeine on movement characteristics, fertilizing capacity and ability to penetrate cervical mucus of human spermatozoa. J Reprod Fertil 1983; 67: 19–27. 31 Barkay J, Zuckerman H, Sklan D, Gordon S. Effect of caffeine on increasing the motility of frozen human sperm. Fertil Steril 1977; 28: 175–7. 32 Hammitt DG, Bedja E, Rogers PR, Syrop CH, Donovan JF, et al. Comparison of motility stimulants for cryopreserved human semen. Fertil Steril 1989; 52: 495–502.


    Want to learn more about enhancing male fertility, then book a Nutrition Consult with our registered dietitian today!  Try a Passport this summer and save as packages can be shared with your partner!!

  • Nutrition, Hormones, and Microbiome Diversity

    By Kelly Lyons, L.Ac, MSOM

    I often get the question, “Why do I need a probiotic?” It is easy to take a probiotic and start to develop valuable high quality and diverse forms of gut bacteria.  All too often, that diversity in bacteria is lacking. Probiotics can help adjust that.

    Study after study shows correlations between gut health and vital system health throughout the body. Just recently, I read an article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that illuminates a relationship between PCOS and gut bacteria. In “Gut Microbial Diversity in Women With PCOS Correlates With Hyperandrogenism” the study revealed links between PCOS and a reduction in microbiome diversity. It also showed a possible correlation between elevated testosterone in women and decreased microbiome diversity. In a follow-up study, one of the same researchers, Varykina Thackray, Ph.D., stated, “Our new results suggest that altering the gut microbiome via prebiotic or probiotic therapies may be a potential treatment option for PCOS.” (Links to studies at end of blog.)

    What does the gut have to do with hormone balance? Glad you asked. Hormones are metabolized in stages as they trek through the body.  They travel to the liver, and then they go to the gut, where hopefully and ultimately, they are eliminated out of your system. At various points along the way, hormones can get tripped up in their metabolic process.  If hormones get to the gut, and there is an unhealthy microbiome balance, they can easily get stuck there. This is one way that hormones accumulate and mess with digestion, disrupt biofeedback signaling, and slow down healthy hormone production.

    I think about what probiotics have to do with Chinese Medicine a lot. Traditional diets across cultures use daily fermented foods to assist digestion. Ancient Chinese texts describe the digestive system as the earth element and the center.  “The Earth permits sowing, growing, and reaping.” This is a very important passage from the Shang Shu, translated by our beloved late teacher Giovanni Maciocia. You hear your acupuncturist talk often about “reducing damp” and “reducing sugary foods that cause damp accumulation.” As the stomach and spleen are the origin of qi and blood, this makes sense.

    If you are trying to get a certain amount of highly nourished blood moving, without hesitation, to the uterus, you need the digestive system to be on it. You need the Earth element. You need the Spleen and Stomach channels to not be overworked and bogged down.

    If you are trying to metabolize hormones, whether in a natural cycle,  a medicated cycle, postpartum, menarche, perimenopause, or menopause, you need your digestive tract working optimally.

    Unfortunately, most of us were not raised to have a diverse palate that intuitively steers us to foods, herbs, and spices that are bitter, sour, pungent, salty, AND sweet. We mostly enjoyed sweet and salty diets. This creates an environment that appeals to certain microorganisms in the gut and discourages microbiome diversity. Did you know that there are taste receptors in the lower GI tract? So, we need to balance the flavors we eat, if we want our bodies to outmaneuver the impact of our less than healthy choices.  

    What does a sour food do for us? Technically, it increases saliva, digestive enzyme secretion, stimulates metabolism, and encourages proper liver function. (By the way, the sour flavor falls into a TCM category with the liver and spring, so when you feel like heavy wintery foods are not working for you anymore, try adding sour foods into your menu with greens to aid in the digestive transition). Apple cider vinegar? Yes, add a splash to your lemon water in the morning, with your probiotic. It will help prep your system to start digesting. Add it to your greens, too, at lunch!

    What about the taste of bitter? Bitters increase saliva and digestive enzyme production. They enhance the movement of blood in the digestive system after meals. If you have been in our offices, you know HOW IMPORTANT it is to keep blood moving in the abdominal cavity. Bitters encourage more complete absorption of nutrients. This can protect the body from having to deal with stray food particles leaving the intestines through the bloodstream, otherwise known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. Guess what that does? It reduces damp and clears heat. Where there is inflammation, there is fluid accumulation, and vice versa. Next time you go to buy your chocolate bar, go as dark as you can and think about how beneficial that bitter is!

    Pungent flavors are amazing. These are the wildcard friends that open you up and make you laugh your eyes out! They literally open up the orifices, again, when the tendency is to contract. These are things like onion, garlic, ginger, scallions, horseradish, mustard, mint. All of these plants are known across cultures as medicine.  Mint needs no introduction to my clients. It is cooling, vents pathogens, soothes the liver, motivates blood flow, and is uplifting. It is part of an essential formula in Chinese Medicine called Xiao Yao San, or Free and Easy Wanderer. Pungent flavors are medicine. Use them in your meals. A little goes a very long way.

    Empty nutrition is robbing us of systemic health. Non-functional food is fueling the growth of harmful bacteria that degrades gut health, leaves cells weakened, and entire body systems undernourished and in distress. And there is a lot that you can do. If you are on a mission to balance hormones, regulate a cycle, reduce bloating and promote healthy metabolism of hormones from a medicated cycle, or reduce anxiety, and you haven’t aimed your attention at your gut, start now! Take a breath, get in warrior pose, and start helping your gut be as strong as it can be. Come in and talk to us. Let us help you through it.

    Exciting stories often start in very tiny packages.  Microorganisms are an example of this. Our entire body is understood as an ecosystem in Chinese Medicine. I remember reading an article about salmon shortages affecting old growth trees. It said that more than 75% of the nitrogen the trees needed to thrive was provided by the remains of salmon dragged into the forest by animals.  It reminded me of the human digestive system, and how reliant it is on tiny, often understudied components.

    If you are not taking a probiotic, or eating fermented foods daily, consider it. If you are bloated, constipated, or experiencing brain fog and signs of hormone imbalance, come in and discuss what to do with your practitioner.  Probiotics, prebiotics, functional and balancing foods, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, exercise, working with a nutritionist, and supplements can help create a healthy structure for you to take your next step forward.

    Try acupuncture, nutrition, massage, and yoga during these summer months with passport savings! Pick-up a probiotic on your visit, too!

    Research Links:

    Pawelczyk L, Duleba AJ, Kelley ST, Thackray VG. 2018. Gut Microbial Diversity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome correlates with hyperandrogenism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 103:1502-1511. doi: 10.1210/jc.2017-02153 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6276580/

    The Endocrine Society. “Improved PCOS symptoms correlate with gut bacterial composition.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 March 2019. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190323145201.htm

     

  • How to Support Healthy Estrogen Metabolism

    By Margaret Eich, MS, RDN

    Do you struggle with conditions associated with estrogen excess, such as irregular cycles, fibroids, endometriosis or PCOS? Luckily there are some diet and lifestyle factors and supplements that can help you manage.

    Eat your fiber. Excess estrogen is detoxified by your liver and is excreted in your urine and stool. Eating plenty of fiber as staying well-hydrated helps ensure regular bowel movements, to remove estrogen from your body. Fiber also feeds your beneficial gut bacteria. Especially high fiber foods include legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and peas; berries especially raspberries and blackberries; fibrous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts; nuts and seeds like chia seeds, and almonds; and whole grains like barley, quinoa, and oats. Try something new at a local farmer’s market this season!

    Reduce exposure to environmental estrogens. Certain environmental toxins such like Bisphenol A (BPA), pesticides, and phthalates in personal care products are hormone disruptors acting like estrogen in our bodies. These chemicals are hormone disruptors that may alter hormone balance and reduce fertility. To limit exposure, use only BPA-free plastics. Better yet minimize use of plastic and use glass and stainless steel for food storage, eating, and drinking. Choose organic whenever possible, and choose phthalate and paraben free personal care products.  Check your products on the Environmental Working Group page!

    Try Female Balance. This vitamin and mineral fortified rice protein powder supplement contains fiber to support healthy digestion and removal of estrogen in the stool. It also contains phytoestrogens from flax and kudzu to help support healthy estrogen metabolism. Female balance also contains antioxidant nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E, and zinc to help reduce oxidative stress. We usually recommend taking Female Balance supplement for a 2-3 week period after a miscarriage or unsuccessful ART cycle or while taking a break from fertility treatments. Female Balance should not be used while taking birth control or fertility medications.  Ask about this supplement option for you while in-center (Chicago, Highland Park) or schedule a nutrition consult today!

     

  • Pride and Community

    by Cassie Harrison, Yoga Team Leader RYT

    June is pride month and festivities are already underway in Chicago and its suburbs. We were lucky enough to have our own Pride parade near us in Buffalo Grove, IL. Regardless of how you identify, you will need support through your journey.  Finding community early in the process will help make it more manageable and maybe even enjoyable. What’s often forgotten, at least in the beginning and not until after one faces setbacks, is to take care of oneself. Often I get students in my Yoga for Fertility class who are yoga novices and come to me with an attitude of “well it can’t hurt to try yoga.” Darn right, you should’ve been here from the start! If you’re going to carry a baby, are you (or your partner) preparing your body to support a pregnancy? Whoever is involved in the process to create a family will need community/emotional support, nutrition, exercise, and self-care.  

    Community is priceless. I felt very alone during my fertility struggle and it wasn’t until I found a community that I realized how much I needed it. One’s path to parenthood is a personal journey, with or without problems. With problems, it just makes it harder to keep it personal and/or private. Schedules getting disrupted by always needing to go appointments, taking medications (that may or may not make one crazy), and add in the emotional roller coaster … well you get the idea. Go. Now. Find your community.

    Here are a few resources to get you started:

    Additionally, below are a few LGBQT+ resources available to those in the Chicago area:

    And what I thought was an nice article from a lesbian couple struggling with infertility:

    Enjoy some food and yoga tips today at:

    • Food is medicine, eat better. Period. EWG.org has a list of fruits and vegetables high in pesticides to stay away from, called the dirty dozen. They also test consumer products and rate them, most important to stay away from are endocrine disruptors. Start there to help decide when to go Organic and identify  products in your home that could hurt your fertility.

     

    • Hello Yoga. It’s both exercise and self care wrapped up in one beautiful package. Yoga connects the mind and body, a moving meditation. It supports the physical body by promoting hormonal balance, improving blood flow, and helping support tissue detoxification. Not to mention self-massage (drink plenty of water after a practice!). A few of my favorite yoga postures (that anyone can do, yes that includes you!).  These poses require focus, which settles the mind. Find a quiet space inside or out, and practice Eagle, Reclined Figure Four, Warrior (I, II, III) and Camel.

    Eagle 

    Reclined Figure Four 

    Warrior I 

    Camel 

    Have a great summer. Make time for yourself, the kind that fills your bucket! Find your community, eat well, and practice (key word here) yoga.

    Namaste. 

  • Massage for Men?

    By Meredith Nathan LMT

    When we discuss fertility massage, it’s often assumed this practice is designed only for women.  It’s true that the benefits for women are vast, but men shouldn’t feel left out! The male reproductive system completely mirrors the female reproductive system (in function if not in location).  The Fallopian tubes are comparable to the vas deferens, as both are systems of transportation in the body. The ovaries are comparable to the testes, both producing the carrier’s ‘seed’. The uterus and the penis both allow the safe passage of that ‘seed’.  And though the hormones dominating men and women are different, both can be negatively impacted by stress.

    Abdominal and sacral massage can positively impact circulation, lymphatic flow, and digestive congestion in both men and women.  Keeping in mind that restricted blood flow can impact nerve function (including the nerves of the reproductive organs), lymph movement helps the body’s systems of detoxification (and toxicity can impact sperm quality) and digestive stagnation can actually affect hormonal balance, the connection between massage and fertility for men becomes clear.  And since the sperm live for 60-70 days, receiving fertility massage while making positive lifestyle choices for several months is ideal!

    Lastly, who can argue with the benefits of a stress-reducing massage during a highly stressful time?  Lowering cortisol levels, the stress hormone, can boost libido, increase energy, and help promote hormone balance.  And perhaps most importantly, it can increase your sense of well-being during an often tense and emotional time. Our culture doesn’t often celebrate or create space for men’s emotions, or their need for self-care…but during a fertility journey, both are vital to creating the endurance that will go the distance.

    Try a Fertility Enhancing Boost today!

  • Staying Hydrated this Summer

    By Margaret Eich, MS, RDN

    We all know the importance of staying hydrated, but some of struggle more than others with this task. In the summer, it’s much easier to become dehydrated as we spend more time outside in the sun and heat. The Institute of Medicine recommends 91 oz (2.7 liters) fluids daily, and this requirement goes up to 100 oz (3 liters) during pregnancy. Of course, there are some variations in fluid needs based on body size with smaller bodies needing less fluid than larger bodies. These fluid requirements may seem high, but they include fluids from beverages and from food. About 80% of our fluid intake comes from beverages, so that means you should aim for about 72 oz fluid beverage when not pregnant and about 80 oz while pregnant. Monitoring the color of your urine and aiming for pale yellow urine is a good way to ensure you’re staying hydrated.  During the summer heat, we need to replace the fluids lost through sweating, so this further increases fluid needs.

    While trying to conceive or pregnant, our choices of fluids become somewhat more limited, as it’s best to avoid alcohol and caffeine. Of course, water is always a great choice, but understandably sometimes we want other options. Try these tips to stay hydrated this summer:

    • Focus on naturally caffeine-free beverages like water or water infused with fresh mint, cucumber, or fresh fruit.
    • Unsweetened coconut water is a great source of electrolytes and can be helpful for making mocktails.
    • Eat more soups and fresh fruits and vegetables, which naturally provide water.
    • As a substitute for alcohol, try drinking club soda or sparkling water with a splash of 100% fruit juice and a lemon or lime slice.
    • Instead of coffee or caffeinated tea, try unsweetened non-dairy milk like almond milk or flax milk with a little vanilla and/or cinnamon and/or cocoa powder. Add a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup for a little bit of sweetness.
    • Peppermint and ginger tea (and our ARTeas in-center!) are safe herbal tea choices for trying to conceive and during pregnancy.  Drink them hot or iced.
    • If you have trouble drinking enough fluids, try using a straw and take small sips throughout the day.
    • If you’re having trouble getting in enough fluids, it can also be helpful to track your fluid intake with an app, or simply by using a water bottle of known size. For example, if you have a 16 oz water bottle, if you drink 4.5 water bottles, then you’ll meet your 72 oz from beverages.
    • It can also be helpful to divide the day into 2 sections. For example, try getting in half of your water needs before 2 pm. If you haven’t met your first half of the day goal by 1:30 pm, it’s time to drink up. This can help you be more consistent with spreading your fluids out throughout the day.

    Book a Nutrition Consultation to learn more!  Try a Passport this summer and save!