By Cathy McCauley, LMT
You’ve received the results – you are pregnant! Take a deep breath. It may have been a long road to get to where you are now.
Pregnancy is an exciting time, and you’re probably feeling a mixed bag of emotions. Maybe you have concerns or stress. These feelings are normal as changes occur in your life and in your body. However normal, it is important to find healthy ways to deal with feelings, emotions and stress during pregnancy.
Chronic stress during pregnancy can impact you and your baby as more blood is sent to the extremities rather than to the internal organs as a result of the “fight or flight” response. With blood being sent to other areas over the internal organs, stress can compromise blood flow to the baby, perhaps by as much as 65%. This may result in lower fetal heart rate and blood oxygenation (Gorsuch and Key 1974 as cited in Osborne 2012).
Massage for Health
One way you can improve your health and well-being during pregnancy is to receive regular prenatal massage. While multiple sessions can have a greater effect on improving pain and lowering anxiety and depression, even one massage session can offer benefits (Moyer et al 2004 as cited in Osborne 2012). The Unwind the Mind Massage is safe and supportive from transfer through the first trimester at 14 weeks, the Prenatal Massage can be enjoyed throughout pregnancy, and the Postpartum Massage after delivery whenever you feel comfortable or are cleared by your doctor.
Safe, therapeutic touch provides you with deep levels of relaxation that signal your parasympathetic nervous system creating physiological balance, steadier blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rates; regular blood flow to the uterus, placenta and fetus; and healthier immune system functioning, emotional states, and responses to stressful stimuli (Nichols and Humenick 2000 as cited in Osborne 2012). This is good news for you and your baby.
In addition to the therapeutic touch, evidence shows that having a strong support system may reduce pregnancy complications. A study of several hundred pregnant women who had difficult life changes in the two years immediately preceding and/or during their pregnancy found that those who also had strong support systems had one-third the complications of those who experienced similar stresses without a support system (Nuckols et al. 1972; Hobel and Colhane 2003 as cited in Osborne 2012).
Pulling Down the Moon wants to help support you through your pregnancy. Whether choosing prenatal massage, nutrition, acupuncture, or one of our community events; we offer nurturing care for you during this exciting and stressful time of transitions. Our partner, CocoonCare can support your prenatal/postnatal fitness, health coaching, and informative workshop needs!
Osborne C. Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy, A Comprehensive Guide to Prenatal, Labor and Postpartum Practice. 2nd edition. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012.
by Christine Davis, Acupuncture Director LAc MSOM
According to Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) theory, the world is composed of 5 elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Because the ancient authors wanted everything to be neat and tidy with the theory, they divided everything up that way – flavors, colors, senses, and even the seasons. So, while in Western culture, we only embrace 4 seasons, TCM has added a 5th season: Late Summer, usually a shorter time between August to early September. It’s the time when its just plain hot and extra dry/humid depending on your location. The plants have peaked and are beginning to ripen their fruits. The ads for back-to-school are in full swing and no one even cares about their swimsuit body anymore. Nature is experiencing one last burst of transformation before we settle into the retreat and contraction of Fall and Winter.
In TCM, Late Summer is the domain of the element of Earth. Its color is yellow, its flavor is sweet, its internal organs are the Spleen and Stomach, the organs of digestion, which transform the food we take in into our flesh and blood. The Spleen and the Stomach are associated with nurturing, grounding energy.
The Earth element’s direction is the Center. In Chinese, the country of China is called Zhong Guo中国 , or “Central Country,” meaning that to them, they are the center of the world. In fact, the name of the emperor who is credited as being the father of Traditional Chinese Medical theory, Huang Di 黄帝 (2711-2598 BCE), can be translated as Yellow Emperor, thus demonstrating his connection to central, Earth energy.
Late Summer is a time when people who have imbalances in their metabolism & digestion often experience increased symptoms: allergies, nausea, loose stools, low energy, weight gain, blood sugar instability, and other digestive and metabolic issues.
Here are a few ways you can help yourself stay in balance during the Late Summer season:
- Eat in moderation, especially when it comes to sweets. I find that writing down what you eat – whether in a simple journal style or with an app like Lose It or Weight Watchers – helps to keep you accountable for everything that goes through your lips.
- Avoid sweets, excessive simple carbohydrates (breads, pastas, baked goods, etc), excessive dairy, and greasy/fried foods. All of these are enemies of the Spleen (digestive function) and can “gum up the works” so to speak, especially at this time of year. Cold foods are also very tempting on a hot day, but can also slow digestion. Try keeping cold drinks separate from meals to aid in proper digestion.
- Reduce worries! Ok, that sounds much easier than it actually is sometimes, but the emotional manifestation of an imbalanced Spleen is WORRY. So, find the things that really bring you peace – it could be meditation, yoga, acupuncture, but it could also be hanging out with friends/family, taking a walk, sitting by the lake, listening to your favorite tunes. Do what works for YOU to find your center, your happy place to release (even if can only be temporarily) worry.
- Nurture yourself! Along the same line, take the time to give yourself your basic needs: sleep, good nutrition, exercise, relaxation. If you don’t have those things consistently, it is difficult for your body to remain in balance.
Happy Late Summer! I’d love to share more with you, join me on Monday, August 12th at 6pm for the FREE webinar “Eating Right for Your TCM Type”! Register here today!
By Robin Miller, RDN
It is daunting to see how many nutritional supplements are available in grocery stores, pharmacies, health food shops, and internet retailers these days. Finding the right supplement when you are pregnant, struggling with infertility, and for preconception can definitely be a challenge when looking at all the countless products on the crowded shelves.
Even as a registered dietitian, I find myself scouring the shelves to determine which supplements are worth taking and which are made by a company who has a very creative marketing team. The reality is most people do not know what to look for when selecting supplements, and unfortunately may end up paying a premium price for an under-performing product.
Here at Pulling Down the Moon, not only do our team of registered dietitians evaluate a clients’ supplementation regimen, we also ensure that all supplements we recommend adheres to certain standards deeming them safe and effective. We often find many people make supplement decisions based on pretty label claims vs. evaluating what the actual supplement contains and how it is regulated. Most clients get very general advice from their doctors regarding a prenatal vitamin at best and specific brands and ingredients are not discussed. That is where we come in!
Here are some things we look for at Pulling Down the Moon, when we evaluate supplements:
- The supplements must be third-party tested. Since supplements in the US are not regulated, one cannot assume that what you are paying for is what you are actually getting. It is important to see some kind of indication that the supplement was verified by a third party for quantity and purity, undergoing rigorous examination. Look for are the USP seal and the NSF seal.
- Be wary of choosing supplements that provide a “proprietary blend” of ingredients when dosages are not listed on key ingredients. It is essential need to see the quantity of the nutrients that are included in the supplement. A proprietary blend often combines multiple ingredients together, and the amount of each ingredient is not shared on the label.
- There must be studies about the nutrient or supplement that is not funded by the manufacturing company. Our registered dietitians base all of our recommendations on what the research and medical literature suggests. Many supplements claim that they are “clinically proven”, but when you look a little closer, the studies that they use to make this claim may be funded by the company who makes the supplement. It is not an independent study, and therefore bias cannot be ruled out.
- Choose certain versions of nutrients over others, and often it costs more. Whether you are trying to conceive or pregnant, we believe that quality matters. In many cases, certain nutrients are better absorbed and utilized in one version vs. another or are available in a natural form instead of a synthetic for. A version of nutrients that we prefer is: Methylcobalamin instead of cyanocobalamin when Vitamin B12 is being supplemented. Cyanocobalamin is the synthetic form of Vitamin B12.
- If probiotics are being mail-ordered, make sure they are being delivered appropriately if the supplement is not heat-resistant. Many probiotics are heat-sensitive and will essentially die if they are heated beyond 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that you are ordering from a company that offers quick delivery and will ship with an ice pack. Otherwise, having your probiotics sitting in the hot delivery truck may cook them to the point that they are essentially useless to your body.
Hopefully these tips will help you navigate the aisles a little easier the next time you are shopping for supplements. We believe choosing high-quality supplements with high-quality nutrients is 100% worth it in the long run, especially when pregnant or trying to conceive.
Want to get your supplement regimen evaluated by one of our Registered Dietitians? Make an appointment today and come check out the supplements we have available for purchase to support you and your partner on your fertility journey!
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.
Are you looking to manage your PCOS, weight, and/or insulin resistance? Make an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians today!
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.
- Weekend Wine Down: 7/25 @ 7pm, FREE –> Space is limited. Register here to save your spot!
- Go Prana Go: 8/24 @ 10am, FREE –> Space is limited. Register here to save your spot!
- Yoga For Fertility Series: 6 week series, Sundays 11:30-1pm, 8/4 – 9/22 (no class on 8/18 or 9/1) –> Register via MBO here.
Questions? Let us help at: 312-321-0004!
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.
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)
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Yoga for Fertility – https://www.pullingdownthemoon.com/services/yoga-classes/
- Fertility Enhancing Massage (FEM) – https://www.pullingdownthemoon.com/services/therapeutic-massage/
- Meditation Apps:
- Calm – https://apps.apple.com/us/app/calm-com/id571800810?ls=1
- Insight Timer – https://apps.apple.com/us/app/zen-timer-meditation-timer/id337472899
- Meditation Studio: Fertility Collection – https://www.meditationstudioapp.com/fertility
- Fertility Mantras & Positive Affirmations – https://fertility-news.rmact.com/path-to-fertility-blog/infertility-mantras-fertility-mantras-your-choice
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/
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!
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!
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!
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
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!
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