• Demystifying Insulin Resistance and the Impact on Fertility and Pregnancy

    By Margaret Eich, MS, RDN

    Insulin resistance is a common component of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), but did you know many other women have insulin resistance as well. The presence of insulin resistance prior to pregnancy is associated with increased risk for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and having a large baby. How do you know if you’re at risk for insulin resistance? If you have PCOS, prediabetes, or are carrying extra weight, especially in the abdomen, you may have insulin resistance. An estimated 60-75% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance regardless of their weight. If you are concerned that insulin resistance may be an issue for your, talk to your doctor about labs test that can be done.

    What is insulin resistance? Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps transport glucose, which is broken down from the carbohydrates we eat, into the cells of our body to be used for energy. When insulin isn’t working effectively to get glucose out of our blood and into our cells, this is called insulin resistance. The pancreas tends to compensate for insulin resistance by pumping out even more insulin leading to elevated insulin levels. These elevated insulin levels seem to be at the root of the elevated androgen/testosterone levels commonly found in women with PCOS. Thus addressing the insulin resistance in PCOS may help lower insulin and testosterone levels and improve menstrual cycle regularity. 

    If you do have insulin resistance, the good news is that there is plenty you can do with your diet and lifestyle to help your insulin work more effectively:

    1) Lose weight if needed. Even a 7% weight loss can help your insulin work better. For example, if you weigh 200#, losing 7% of your body weight is losing 14#. You don’t have to lose weight into a “normal” BMI range in order to make a significant impact.

    2) Exercise. Exercise moves glucose from your bloodstream and into the cells of the body without the need for insulin. Ideally, if you can exercise at least 150 minutes per week, you can improve your insulin resistance. Getting some exercise, like walking, after meals, especially after high carb meals, is a great way to help manage blood sugar levels.

    3) Manage your carb intake. Minimize refined carbs and added sugar. Focus on low glycemic carbs like legumes, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. Limit starches to ¼ of your plate at meals, and practice filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables.

    4) Include protein with all your meals and snacks. Including protein helps ensure your meals and snacks are satisfying and keep you full for at least a few hours. When protein is paired with carbs, it slows the absorption of carbs into the bloodstream leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels.

    References: 

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4179873/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3277302/

    Are you looking to manage your PCOS, weight, and/or insulin resistance? Make an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians today!

  • Put On Your Rose-Colored Glasses

    By Alece Demaray RYT 

    I consider myself an optimist and a person who is capable of staying grounded through the whirlwind of life.  This is generally speaking, because being positive is a practice and life is always willing to test you.

    When I started to see a specialist on my fertility journey, I became quickly overwhelmed at the amount of appointments I had to fit into my already full schedule.  Thankfully most of the appointments could be completed early in the morning prior to work, but the early wake ups, finding parking and long days started to wear on me.  In addition, I was feeling stressed at trying to plan ahead of what cycle days I would have to go in, so I could plot my schedule/travel around my new commitment. I became agitated and overwhelmed.  NOT what you want when trying to conceive.  

    Once I got in the routine of the appointments and how they fit in my life, I started to appreciate them more.  For one, I am so lucky to live in a place where this top-notch care and specialty exists. I also began to feel very grounded around my early morning appointments because of what I was doing after them.  After each appointment I would carve out some time go to get some breakfast prior to moving into the rest of the day. While nourishing, I would reflect on the good, what I was grateful for… the level of care I was able to access, my supportive partner, my flexible work schedule, the warm food in front of me.  I would write around 5 things and often that act of writing 5 things stimulated more words to flow. I found that my ritual would leave me feeling calmer and connected to myself. It prepared me to take on the day ahead with a renewed sense of vigor.  

    It can be difficult to find the good when you are feeling down, but I assure you- it is always there.  There is always something to express gratitude for, even if only the shoes on your feet or a snuggle with your pup.  Finding gratitude has a myriad of benefits including improved sleep and fostering a greater sense of contentment. A study carried out by Emmons & McCullough in 2003, also confirmed that people who practiced gratitude daily exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical aches and pains, felt more connected to others and were more optimistic, thus improving their ability to make progress towards their goals. 

    Gratitude has a way of slowing you down and filtering your view of life, allowing you to see the rosy hues.  They are there, BUT it takes some reprogramming of the brain to recognize them BEFORE you see the dark tones.  Believe it or not, we are programmed to find the threat in things first. This stems from way back, when humans were being chased by lions and tiger and bears (oh my) and had to defend themselves to survive!  Thankfully we do not need to operate that way, but our mind is still programmed to scan our environment for what is wrong, what is threatening us. As a result, we can see “threats” in people that we don’t like, jobs that over-stress us and get caught up in drama, losing sight of the bigger picture.  

    There is good news.  We can take conscious action to retrain the way our mind works.  We can flip our attention to see the good. To notice the sun before the feeling the humidity, to savor the doughnut before counting the calories, to admire your accomplishments before obsessing over what is left to do.  

    So how can you make the shift?  It is easier than you think, but it takes a daily commitment that you are more than capable of doing.  Get a notebook and spend 5 minutes every day to jot down 3-5 things that you are grateful for. That is it! Commit to your gratitude journal for 30 days and then check in.  Do you enjoy it? Have you noticed any shifts in your mood, relationships and life?  Good things, abundance and high vibes attract more good things, more abundance and higher vibes.  It’s time to put on your rose-colored glasses, so you can see and experience the beauty around you, your life.  So, start now. What are you grateful for today?

    If this conversation lights you or if this conversation agitates you, let’s talk about it!  I will be at Pulling Down the Moon for two FREE events this summer and will kick off a Yoga For Fertility series in August.  Dates are included below. I hope to meet you soon… and in the meantime, stay grateful, bask in the sun and taste the sweetness of the season.  Soak up the goodness that life serves daily.

    All at Pulling Down the Moon in our Chicago Location.  Check out Yoga for Fertility and our Calendar of Events on our website for more details!

    Questions? Let us help at: 312-321-0004!

  • The Two-Week Wait: Your Holistic Guide to Wellness

    The anticipation, anxiety, the loss of control and not knowing what to expect can be especially difficult during the “two-week wait.” The two-week wait – between ovulation and when your next cycle is due to start – can feel as if you are in limbo as there is no way to tell if you’re pregnant. 

    You may find yourself watching for signs and symptoms of pregnancy. Each twinge in your belly, tenderness in your breasts and feeling of fatigue, asking yourself, “Does this mean I’m pregnant? Or am I getting my period?”

    The questions, the “what if’s,” the TIME all feels endless and one seems to build upon the other until what you’re left with is a gigantic ball of anxiety and feeling a loss of control. 

    What if instead of “getting through” the two-week wait, we were intentional and mindful of nurturing ourselves by creating a plan? This holistic guide to self-care will provide you with a plan for nurturing yourself in four areas: physical, social, emotional and spiritual. 

    Physical

    Sleep is not only necessary and restorative for our bodies, it also allows us to cope with our feelings of anxiety and overwhelm in a more manageable way. If you find yourself having difficulty falling asleep, here are a few helpful tips:

    • Keep a journal or notepad next to your bed and write down the thoughts, worries or items on your ‘to-do’ list. Say to yourself, “This will be here for me if/when I need it.” Sometimes the act of writing something down allows for a cathartic release of whatever we’re feeling preoccupied with.
    • Listen to a guided meditation app before bed to relax into sleep and take your mind off of the two-week wait. Bonus: the more you practice, the more this cues your body and mind that it’s time to sleep.

    Gentle exercise such as planning a walk to a scenic place, a lake or forest preserve. Getting outside can have a calming, centering effect while you are present in nature. Try Yoga for Fertility poses on your own or building community through practice with others. Schedule an Unwind the Mind Massage, “This session was created to be a safe oasis from post-ovulation stress, boosting immune and endocrine function, while supporting a potential pregnancy.” (Pulling Down the Moon, Fertility Enhancing Massage (FEM)

    Social

    • Plan a social outing with your partner or friends. Socializing provides an outlet for connection as well as a distraction from the thoughts and feelings you maybe preoccupied with. And, it’s fun! What activities do you enjoy doing? Want to try something new? Try being intentional about planning enjoyable activities, especially during the two-week wait.

    Emotional

    • Create a list of friends, family members or supports you can reach out to check in with during the two-week wait. Is there a fellow member of your support group, a friend or family member who has an understanding of what you’re going through? Who acts as a sounding board, offers encouragement or provides a fun distraction? Write these supports down so that when you’re feeling especially alone or overwhelmed during your journey you have a few go-to people you feel safe reaching out to.
    • Mantras can have a powerful and empowering impact. Choose a word or short phrase you would like to be the focus during your two-week wait. How would you like to feel and respond to yourself and others? Write the mantra on a post-it note or schedule it as a daily event on your phone to be reminded of your intention. 

    Nurture ~ Empower ~ Peace ~ Joy ~ Warrior

    Spiritual

    • Practicing meditation & mindfulness “Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment… Being present is the most powerful place to be.” Thich Nhat Hanh. Bringing your attention back to the present moment can help decrease feelings of anxiety and increase self-awareness. New to meditation? Try a guided meditation app. There are guided meditations specific to fertility, sleep, anxiety and grief that you may find especially helpful in starting or ending your day.

    In summary, while creating a plan doesn’t take away the uncertainty, it may allow you to feel a sense of control with how you choose to meet this part of your fertility journey. Creating a plan for the two-week can be a nurturing way to care for yourself during a time when your thoughts and feelings may be overwhelming. Take this time to connect with yourself, your partner and those you enjoy spending time with who play a supportive role in your journey. 

    Links:

    Emily Heilman is the founder of Flourish Counseling & Wellness. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Certified Perinatal Mental Health specialist (PMH-C), she specializes in perinatal mental health and wellness, supporting women and their families navigate their fertility journey, the pregnancy and postpartum period, and throughout motherhood. Her experience in the field of women’s and perinatal mental health spans the past 13 years where she has worked in community mental health, hospital settings and private practice. Emily offices are located in the Chicago Loop & Oak Park. To learn more, visit: https://flourishcounselingltd.com/

     

  • Fertility Break?  Fertility Boost!

    Many experience needing a break from their fertility journey, and choose to take one after consulting with their doctor.  Summer travel, the holidays, too many personal life transitions, or even just needing a mental health break are all valid reasons some choose to postpone their next fertility cycle for a month or two.  But a break from A.R.T. doesn’t need to mean a break from your body, or a break from your overall health.

    I was shocked when I first learned that the lifespan of an egg is actually around 90 days, and the lifespan of sperm is 60-70.  Previously I had assumed whatever you did prior to the month of conception really didn’t affect an embryo’s viability all that much…likewise the common notion that age is the only factor affecting egg quality is incomplete. Though age is a factor, the environment of the egg plays a profound role in it’s health and development.

    Several months before ovulation, many different factors are either adding to or subtracting from an egg’s health: the nutrients present in the body, stress and inflammation, hormone balance, pelvic blood flow and ovarian oxygenation.  In fact, researcher Jonathan Van Blerkom of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder concluded that “Findings from several studies indicate that embryos with the highest implantation potential originate from follicles that are well-vascularized and oxygenated.”  Likewise, sperm travels for 6-8 weeks through the body from the time of birth – and the overall health of the body impacts it at every step along the way.

    Though taking a break (for whatever reason) can cause impatience and stress, having one may actually be an opportunity in disguise!  Whether a month or two or even three, being proactive during this time can have a profound impact on your health, your mood, and your fertility.  So schedule in some relaxation time, good foods and supplements, acupuncture, and a detoxifying or blood-building massage.  

    Learn how the Fertility Enhancing Massage Protocol , or ‘The FEM Protocol can help you prep for the next cycle!