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Understanding Spotting Between Periods

“Why am I spotting?” is a common question that comes up in my naturopathic practice, impacting up to 1 in 3 women at some point in their reproductive lifespan. Spotting is most common in women during adolescence and during the transition to menopause, but can occur at any point in a woman’s life. While most women are told spotting is not significant, speaking to your doctor is suggested to determine the underlying cause.

What is Spotting

Spotting, also called intermenstrual bleeding, or even more technically “metrorrhagia” occurs when there is bleeding from the uterus at irregular intervals, most often between expected menstrual periods.

Causes of Spotting

  1. Ovulation

Ovulation is the most common cause of spotting in women. Around ovulation estrogen levels drop off slightly as an egg is released from the ovary. This drop in estrogen can lead to bleeding that is most often significantly lighter than a period and lasts for a shorter time. The blood may also be a different colour – brownish or pink. This ovulatory spotting is considered to be normal, but you should discuss with your health care provider to ensure nothing else is causing this symptom.

  1. Birth control pill

Birth control pills, and other forms of hormonal contraception (IUDs, patches, injections and implants), commonly cause spotting (called “breakthrough bleeding”) during the first few months of use. Most common in the first three months, for some women it doesn’t improve – if this happens a higher dose birth control or different method of contraception may be needed. Breakthrough bleeding is also common if you don’t take your pills as directed (missing a day or not taking at the same time each day). Women who smoke and take birth control pills are more likely to experience breakthrough bleeding (and should consider other forms of contraception due to the increased risk of blood clots.)

Other medications have also been found to be associated with intermenstrual bleeding, including anticoagulants (warfarin, heparin), antipsychotics, corticosteroids, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs.)

  1. Polycystic ovarian syndrome

One of the hallmarks of PCOS is irregular periods. In PCOS women do not ovulate, which leads to a lack of progesterone production and unopposed estrogen causes continued growth of the uterine lining. The lining will continue to thicken until it outgrows its blood supply and degenerates. Different sections of the lining may outgrow their blood supply at different times, causing spotting.

This lack of ovulation can also have similar results in adolescent girls who do not yet have a mature reproductive hormone cascade, resulting in spotting.

  1. Local infections

Infections of the vagina, cervix and endometrial lining can all cause spotting between periods. The infection is most often secondary to a sexually transmitted infection, but can also occur with pelvic inflammatory disease. Inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis) or uterine lining (endometritis) can also cause bleeding after sexual intercourse.

  1. Uterine or Cervical Polyps

Polyps are soft growths that can occur on the inside surface of the uterus or on the surface of the cervix. These growths are benign but may cause irregular bleeding, especially after intercourse.

  1. Perimenopause

The changes in hormone balance that occur in the years prior to menopause can lead to irregular periods and spotting between periods. With the transition to menopause comes a decrease in egg quality, resulting in less progesterone production and shorter menstrual cycles. The decline in successful ovulation can also lead to longer cycles. And both of these states of hormonal imbalance can lead to spotting.

  1. Thyroid hormone imbalances

The healthy function of the thyroid directly influences the healthy function of the reproductive organs. Under functioning of the thyroid (hypothyroidism) has been known to cause menstrual spotting, and correcting the underlying imbalance typically resolves the symptom.

  1. Pregnancy

Spotting in pregnancy can be an alarming symptom, but for many women it is totally normal. Some women experience spotting associated with implantation that can be very similar to a menstrual period. If you do experience spotting in pregnancy, see a doctor immediately to ensure optimal safety for both mom and baby, and to rule out an ectopic pregnancy which can be life-threatening if not treated.

  1. Uncommon causes

Less common causes for intermenstrual spotting include foreign bodies in the vagina (most often toilet paper or tampons) and certain types of reproductive cancers, including cervical, ovarian, endometrial and vulvar cancers. Clotting disorders can also worsen spotting and should be considered in teen girls with heavy periods or frequent spotting.

Testing for Spotting

While most spotting between menstrual cycles is benign and normal, it is important to try to identify an underlying cause, and correct it if possible. Achieving hormone harmony is possible, and can be done with the support of your Naturopathic Doctor.

Discuss this checklist with your Medical or Naturopathic Doctor to help you achieve your personal hormone balance.

Menstrual spotting checklist

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Hormone Testing

The importance of hormones for human health can’t be understated. The over 50 hormones in the human body act as chemical messengers that control most major bodily functions – from hunger, stress, mood and emotions to reproduction.

The body maintains an intricate balance of hormones, a state called homeostasis. When this delicate balance is challenged a wide variety of symptoms can occur – insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight gain, acne, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis, PCOS, diabetes, menstrual irregularities, and many, many more.

When identifying an unbalanced hormonal state, hormone testing can provide valuable information that will allow you to take steps to restore your optimal hormone balance, resolve symptoms, and restore optimal health.

Hormone Testing

Three important factors need to be considered when seeking testing for hormone balance.

            Timing of Testing

Time of day and time of month are important factors in getting valuable information from hormone testing. For most hormones, testing should be done first thing in the morning. An exception to this rule is cortisol, which is often tested at multiple points over the course of the day.

Time of month, or more accurately, time of the menstrual cycle, is also an important consideration for women. Generally hormones should be tested about one week before an expected period, when levels are at their peak.

Testing Sample Type

There are three main ways to test for hormone levels – blood (serum), saliva or urine. Each has it’s benefits and can be used, depending on the information needed.

Blood – a simple blood draw can give a great deal of information about thyroid hormones, insulin and blood sugar levels, vitamin D, prolactin, FSH and LH. It’s a quick process with well established reference ranges. However, it’s not considered the best test for steroid hormones like estrogen and progesterone, as levels in the blood stream do not accurately reflect free hormone levels available for action in the body.

Saliva – a home saliva test kit will provide excellent information about the free hormone levels of many steroid hormones: cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, DHEAS and testosterone. This test is often considered the most accurate reflection of hormone balance in the body. The drawbacks to salivary testing are the less well established reference ranges and the lack of testing for hormone detoxification pathways.

Urine – a newer testing type for hormone balance, the dried urine test for comprehensive hormones (DUTCH), gives a good overview of the steroid hormones estrogen, cortisol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEAS as well as the metabolites produced when our body breaks down these hormones.

            Balance Over Absolute Values

The last important consideration for hormone testing is that the results of your hormone test should be interpreted by a practitioner with a great deal of expertise in hormone testing and hormone balancing. When looking at a hormone test the most important information is the balance between the different hormones, rather than the absolute values of each individual hormone. A low normal progesterone with a high normal estrogen results in the same symptoms as a normal estrogen and a very low (or abnormal) progesterone.

Hormones are responsible for a vast variety of functions in our bodies, and their imbalance is an important (and common!) cause of symptoms. If you suspect you may have a hormonal imbalance, book an appointment with your Naturopathic Doctor today to discuss your options.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Diagnosing PCOS

Diagnosing PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is one of the most common conditions that I treat in my naturopathic practice. It affects 1 out of every 10 women and can manifest in many different ways – hair loss, facial hair growth, acne, difficulty losing weight, irregular menstrual periods or infertility. Because of the many different symptoms of PCOS, an accurate diagnosis is important.

The Rotterdam Criteria

The diagnosis of PCOS is currently made according to the Rotterdam Criteria, a 2003 consensus reached by the Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

Diagnosis of PCOS requires that a woman meets two of three criteria:

  1. Infrequent or no ovulation (resulting in irregular or absent menstrual periods)
  2. Signs and symptoms or laboratory tests that show high androgen (male hormone) levels – these include acne, hair loss, facial hair growth, darkening of the skin at skin folds
  3. Cysts on the ovaries on ultrasound

For a diagnosis of PCOS it is also important to rule out other causes of these symptoms, such as a pituitary, thyroid or adrenal disease.

Clinical Evaluation

taking-notesThe first step in diagnosis of PCOS is a thorough evaluation with your medical or naturopathic doctor. Your doctor will ask a lot of questions. Be sure to share if you experience any of the following:

  1. Irregular periods – menstrual cycles that are longer than 35 days, infrequent periods or no periods at all can all be associated with anovulation and PCOS.  (Keep in mind: 1 in 5 women with PCOS still have regular periods, so having a regular period does not rule out PCOS)
  1. Acne – facial, chest, or back acne can be a sign of elevated androgens
  2. Hirsutism – abnormal growth of coarse hair in a male pattern (lip, chin, torso)
  3. Hair loss – elevated androgens is a major cause of head hair loss in women
  4. Oily hair or skin
  5. lump-sugar-549096_640Sugar cravings – a sign of insulin imbalance, one of the major hormonal imbalances in PCOS. Other symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness or irritability (or “hangry”) if a meal is missed.
  6. Recurrent yeast infections – a sign of elevated blood sugar levels. Other symptoms include excess thirst and frequent urination.
  7. Overweight or difficulty losing weight – often a cause, and consequence, of the hormone imbalances in PCOS
  8. Darkening of the skin – especially at the back of the neck or in the skin folds at the underarms, under the breasts and between the thighs. This darkened skin is called acanthosis nigricans and is associated with elevated testosterone.
  9. Infertility – difficulty getting pregnant is often the driving factor for a diagnosis for PCOS
  10. Family history of PCOS or diabetes

 Laboratory Testing

Laboratory testing is the second criteria for a PCOS diagnosis. Many different lab tests can be used to confirm a suspected PCOS diagnosis, and these tests may highlight the underlying hormonal imbalances that cause PCOS. If you are taking the birth control pill to suppress your PCOS symptoms these tests will not provide accurate information.

Luteinizing hormone (LH) – high – produced by the pituitary gland to stimulate ovulation, levels are often elevated because ovulation is not occurring

Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) – normal or low – typically assessed in relation to LH levels, some women with have a higher than normal LH:FSH ratio (greater than 1:1)

PCOS laboratory testingSerum testosterone (free and total testosterone) – high – 80% of women with PCOS have elevated levels of androgens. DHT levels may also be elevated

Progesterone – low – during the second half (luteal phase) of the menstrual cycle progesterone levels will be low due to the lack of ovulation

Estradiol – normal – typically in PCOS estrogen levels are normal or slightly elevated

Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG ) – low – if tested, levels may be low

Fasting blood glucose – high – women with abnormal blood sugar levels typically have higher body weight, have higher androgen levels and are more insulin resistance

HbA1C – high – a long term (3 month) measure of blood sugar stability

Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) – high – levels of AMH are often elevated in PCOS due to the lack of regular ovulation

DHEAS – high – half of women with PCOS will have elevated adrenal production of DHEAS

Prolactin – normal – elevated prolactin can cause symptoms similar to PCOS; if your prolactin levels are high a pituitary tumour must be ruled out.

Thyroid stimulating hormone – normal – should be measured to rule out other causes of menstrual irregularities

Cortisol – normal – should be measured to rule out Cushing’s syndrome

Additionally, a pelvic or transvaginal ultrasound may reveal multiple 2-6mm follicular (simple) cysts on the ovaries. Ovarian volume or area may also be increased.

Moving Beyond Diagnosis

PCOS DietAn appropriate diagnosis of PCOS is important for women seeking optimal hormone balance. But the diagnosis is only the beginning. Your naturopathic doctor can be your partner as you move beyond diagnosis towards understanding and hormone balance. Read the other articles in the PCOS Series by Dr. Lisa Watson: Understanding PCOS, The PCOS Diet (also available as an infographic), PCOS and Infertility, PCOS in Adolescence, PCOS and Pregnancy, Hormonal Balance in PCOS and Naturopathic Medicine for PCOS.

Dr. Watson is currently accepting new patients at both her Toronto clinics. Contact her for a complimentary meet and greet appointment, or book your initial consultation today. The best time to start balancing your hormones is now.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Pin this article for later: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/207165651589076259/

Natural Treatments for Thin Endometrial Lining

The uterus is made up of three layers: an outer protective layer, a muscular layer, and an inner lining (endometrium) which develops each month to support and nourish a fertilized egg. If a woman does not conceive, this lining is lost during the menstrual period.

Endometrial thickness is an important factor in improving pregnancy outcomes. An ideal thickness is between 9-10 mm at ovulation. If your endometrial lining is thin it may not allow for optimal implantation and successful pregnancy.

A thin endometrial lining can be identified on ultrasound done at or near ovulation, or can be suspected in women who have very light menstrual periods.

Women with long term use of birth control pills (10 years or longer) are more likely to experience thin endometrial lining. Use of the fertility drug Clomid (Clomiphene citrate) is also associated with thin endometrial lining, especially when used for multiple cycles in a row.

Below are some suggestions for ways to naturally increase the thickness of your endometrial lining and improve your chances for a healthy pregnancy.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

An herbal medicine with a very long history of use, red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is a uterine tonic that may help to optimize development of the uterine lining. It is also a rich source of nutrients to support a healthy endometrium, including iron and vitamin C. Drink three cups of the tea per day from the first day of your period until ovulation.

Black Cohosh

Another herbal medicine, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is a rich source of phytoestrogens that can provide further estrogen stimulation to the uterus and support a thick endometrial lining. Studies have been done combining black cohosh with clomid and found improved endometrial thickness and more successful pregnancy rates. Dosage ranges from 80-120mg per day from the first day of your period until cycle day 12. Best taken under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor who can monitor liver function for optimal safety.

Red Clover

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is another isoflavone rich phytoestrogen, similar to black cohosh. It is used to increase blood flow to the uterus and support estrogen balance in the body. It is used daily from cycle day 1 to 12 at a dose of 40-80mg of standardized isoflavones.

Bioidentical Estrogen

red poppyEstrogen is necessary for the development of a healthy endometrium. If estrogen levels are low (which occurs as we get older) then the lining of the uterus will not develop optimally before ovulation. A blood or saliva test for estradiol can identify low estrogen levels and a bioidentical estrogen cream can be used safely to increase estrogen levels in the first half of the cycle, prior to ovulation. Your Naturopathic Doctor can prescribe bioidentical estrogen at a dose that is individualized to your needs.

Iron

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in women. Necessary for the health of red blood cells, low levels of iron may lead to an inadequate development of the uterine lining. If you are a vegan or vegetarian or have a history of having a thin uterine lining, ask your Naturopath or Medical Doctor to test your iron (ferritin) and hemoglobin levels.

Exercise

Inadequate blood flow to the uterus can be a significant cause of a thin uterine lining. This can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress or uterine fibroids. Exercise and acupuncture are two of the most effective ways of improving blood flow to the uterus. Swimming, walking, jogging, dancing, yoga or hula hooping are all excellent ways of getting the blood flowing to the uterus. Try engaging in some form of physical activity every day, especially in the two weeks leading up to ovulation.

red tulipsVitamin E and L-Arginine

Researchers have found that the use of these two nutrients can increase the blood flow to the uterus through the uterine radial artery. Published in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2010, it was found that vitamin E increased blood flow in 72% of patients and increased the endometrial thickness in over half of patients. L-Arginine increased blood flow in 89% of patients and increased endometrial thickness in two-thirds of patients. Dosage of vitamin E in the study was 600mg per day and the dosage of L-arginine was 6g per day.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of my favourite ways of addressing the issue of a thin endometrial lining. Acupuncture has many benefits for women’s hormonal health. It decreases stress, supports hormone balance, and regulates and increases blood flow to the reproductive organs. Clinical studies have demonstrated an improvement in the thickness of the endometrial lining with regular acupuncture treatments. Points that are often considered include: CV4, CV6, LI10, KI3, SP6, SP10 and ST36. Moxibustion, a warming technique, can also be used in combination with the acupuncture.

Working with a Naturopathic Doctor can help you to develop an individualized plan that will improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Additionally, if you difficulty conceiving be sure to have your thyroid thoroughly assessed because low thyroid function is also associated with failure of implantation.   Be sure to work with a Naturopathic Doctor who is experienced in supporting fertility and can help you achieve your goals, naturally.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Select references:

Takasaki A, Tamura H, et al. Endometrial growth and uterine blood flow: a pilot study for improving endometrial thickness in the patients with a thin endometrium. Fertil Steril. 2010;93(6):1851-8.

Yu W, Horn B, et al. A pilot study evaluating the combination of acupuncture with sildenafil on endometrial thickness. Fertil Steril. 2007;87(3):S23

Low Testosterone in Men: Supportive Supplements

Many otherwise healthy men are suffering with low testosterone levels.  Testosterone is an important hormone for male sexual health, but also mood, energy, muscle strength, bone density and many many other functions in the body.

Testosterone levels decline with age, and men of this generation are producing up to one-quarter less than their grandfathers.

Symptoms of low testosterone are variable but may include:

  • Low libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depression and low mood
  • Brain fog and reduced mental functioning
  • Osteoporosis
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Infertility and low sperm count

Low testosterone levels can be identified on blood or salivary panels. If you think you may have low testosterone, ask your doctor for a test.

You can learn about lifestyle approaches to improving low testosterone levels here, or read on to learn how specific nutritional and botanical supplements can increase your testosterone and get you back to feeling vibrantly healthy.

Nutritional Supplements

Zinc

The most important nutrient for male health, even a slight deficiency in zinc can lead to lower testosterone levels and decrease sperm counts. It is estimated that 80% of men are not getting the daily recommended intake of zinc (11mg). Good food sources are nuts, pumpkin seeds and whole grains. Take supplements only under the care of a qualified naturopathic doctor – taking too much zinc can be toxic to sperm and result in infertility. Taking zinc with folic acid has also been shown to be more effective at balancing hormones and sperm production than either alone.

Astaxanthin

This carotenoid molecule (less well-known than it’s cousin beta carotene), is isolated from algae.  Astaxanthin has been found to increase testosterone levels and sperm health after three months of supplementation. It has stellar antioxidant properties and is safe for most men.

Botanical Supplements

Mucuna pruriens

A traditional Ayurvedic herb, mucuna is able to balance the entire cascade of male hormone balance from the production of GnRH in the hypothalamus all the way to testosterone production in the testes. Human and animal studies have shown increases in sperm count and increased testosterone. It also has been found to decrease reports of stress and decreased stress hormone (cortisol) production.

Tongkat Ali

Eurycoma longifolia Jack, or Tongkat Ali, is a traditional Malaysian botanical medicine. We don’t know exactly how it works, but studies have demonstrated increases in hormones, including testosterone as well as increased libido and sperm count.

Withania somnifera

Ashwaganda, an excellent adaptogenic botanical, has been found in studies to improve sperm counts, hormone balance and testosterone levels. This botanical is best indicated for men with stress in addition to low testosterone levels.

Tribulus terrestris

A botanical with a long history of use for improving male virility, muscle strength and sexual potency. Tribulus is thought to enhance production of lutenizing hormone, leading to an increase in testosterone production. Studies have found daily supplementation can improve hormone parameters after as little as one month.

As with all supplements, supervision by an experienced and qualified Naturopathic Doctor is recommended to ensure safe and effective use.  Natural remedies may be natural, but they are not without side effects and potential interactions.  Your ND will help you find your ideal balance.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

 

Low Testosterone in Men: A Lifestyle Approach

Testosterone is the dominant reproductive hormone in men and it has a lot of different actions in the male body. Not only is it responsible for libido and sexual health, it is also involved in prostate health, hair growth, mood, muscle strength, bone density and many many other actions.

We know that testosterone levels in the current generation are much lower than they were 100 years ago. Studies suggest that the peak testosterone production in men today is up to 25% lower than it was in our grandfathers.

Testosterone production also declines with age. There is a 50% reduction in testosterone production between 25 and 75 years of age.

Symptoms of low testosterone are variable but may include:

  • Loss of libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Reduced cognitive function/ foggy thinking
  • Osteoporosis
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Low sperm count/ infertility

Low testosterone levels can be identified on blood or salivary panels. If you think you may have low testosterone, ask your doctor for a test.

There are many lifestyle, dietary and naturopathic treatments for low testosterone. Discuss with your Naturopathic Doctor what treatments may be best for you.

Lifestyle Interventions

Avoid alcohol

Alcohol increases estrogen levels and can lead to low testosterone balance in men. If your testosterone levels are low, reduce or avoid alcohol to support hormone balance.

Avoid marijuana

Marijuana use can lower lutenizing hormone, decrease testosterone and lower sperm counts. We don’t know how much is needed to have these effects, so best to avoid it altogether.

Quit smoking

Cigarette smoking is one of the most damaging habits for sperm health and it also decreases testosterone levels. Talk to your ND if you need help quitting smoking.

Avoid plastics and endocrine disrupting chemicals

BPA Free bottlePlastics and other chemicals (household cleaners, pesticides, herbicides, etc) are known endocrine disrupting chemicals – they disturb our body’s hormone balance. Plastics and household cleaners are the most common EDCs in our environment. So switch to glass and all natural cleaners to prevent hormone imbalance.

Achieve an optimal body mass

Being overweight results in increased estrogen production from fat tissues and decreases circulating testosterone levels. Being underweight can also be problematic for hormone balance. Focus on a healthy exercise and diet to achieve your ideal body mass.

Get enough sleep

Peak testosterone production coincides with the onset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in younger and older men. Not getting enough sleep (less than 6 hours per night) can lead to lower testosterone levels. So get your 8 hours every night.

Exercise regularly

In general, testosterone levels are elevated directly following heavy resistance exercise. The greatest elevations in testosterone occur when you work large muscle groups, with moderate to high intensity, with short rest intervals. Consider working with a trainer if you are inexperienced in this form of exercise to prevent injury.

Manage stress

High stress hormone (cortisol) production leads to a greater increase in the conversion of testosterone to estrogen in fat cells (a process known as aromatization). Focus on active relaxation and stress management, and talk to your ND if your stress levels are high or out of hand.

A healthy lifestyle is one important factor in improving low testosterone levels in men.  Nutritional support, botanical medicines and acupuncture can also be helpful.  For more information check out this article by Dr. Lisa Watson, ND – Low Testosterone Levels in Men: Supplement Support.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

 

 

The PCOS Diet

A nutritious diet is the cornerstone of health – a foundation on which we can build healthy choices and behaviours. In no condition is this more true than polycystic ovarian syndrome. Choosing the right foods for PCOS and avoiding others can be enough for many women to balance their hormones and decrease symptoms of PCOS. And there are no harmful side effects – just the benefits of a healthy diet and vibrantly healthy lifestyle.

The PCOS Diet – What to Avoid

  1. Refined grains

Breads, bagels, muffins, crackers, pasta – all the many forms of refined grains that are common in the western diet, should be avoided in women with PCOS. These high glycemic-index foods quickly raise blood sugar levels and can lead to insulin resistance – a condition where your cells no longer respond to insulin. This is thought to be one of the underlying hormonal imbalances in PCOS.

  1. Refined sugars

Fighting Sugar AddictionSugars found in cookies, cakes, candies, sodas and sweetened beverages can wreak havoc on your hormones in a similar way to refined grains. Best to leave these foods out of your diet entirely and instead opt for naturally sweet fruits to nourish your sweet tooth.

  1. Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most hormonally devastating things we can put in our body. Not only is it made of mostly sugar (and in PCOS we know what sugar can do to our insulin response!) it also prevents the liver from being able to effectively process and eliminate excess hormones. Women with PCOS also have an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Limit alcohol consumption to red wine, have no more than one serving per day and don’t have it every day.

  1. Red meat

Red meats are high in saturated fats and contribute to inflammation. Saturated fats can also lead to increased estrogen levels. I recommend limiting red meat to lean cuts of grass-fed, hormone free meat and consuming it no more often than 1-2 times per week.

  1. Dairy

Dairy is a significant source of inflammation, unhealthy saturated fats and should be avoided by women with PCOS. Additionally, dairy increases the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) which is known to negatively impact ovulation in PCOS. Rather than reducing dairy, you should consider avoiding it all together to help manage your PCOS.

The PCOS Diet – What to Enjoy

  1. Vegetables and fruits

Eat food

The foundation of the PCOS diet is a plant-based diet. Vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds are provide the body with essential nutrients and fiber. Soluble fiber such as that found in apples, carrots, cabbage, whole grains such as oatmeal, and beans and legumes, can lower insulin production and support hormone balance in PCOS.

  1. Proteins

Healthy proteins are an absolute necessity for women with PCOS. While dairy and red meat are not recommended, plant based proteins like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and legumes are encouraged. Other healthy proteins like turkey, chicken breast, eggs and fish should also be emphasized. For most women with PCOS, a daily intake of 60-80g of protein per day is recommended.

  1. Wild salmon

An excellent source of protein, wild salmon is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3s improve insulin response and blood sugar metabolism and studies have shown lower circulating testosterone levels in women who supplement with omega 3s. Choose wild caught salmon and other cold water fish two to three times per week and incorporate other healthy sources of omega 3s such as walnuts and flax seeds into your diet.

  1. Cinnamon

CinnamonSpices are an amazing way to increase antioxidants in your diet, and cinnamon is especially useful for women with PCOS because it can help to regulate blood sugar. Sprinkle it on apples, oats or quinoa in the morning, add it to teas and use it in flavourful stews or curries.

  1. Pumpkin seeds

    These zinc-rich seeds help to lower testosterone levels and are an easy, high protein snack to enjoy every day!

  2. Green tea

Studies have shown that green tea extract helps to improve the response of cells to insulin, as well as lower insulin levels. Consider drinking a few cups of green tea daily – or better yet, have some matcha to get a big nutritional benefit!

  1. Spearmint tea

Spearmint tea for PCOSAs little as two cups of spearmint tea per day for a month can lower testosterone levels and improve symptoms of abnormal hair growth (hirsutism) in women with PCOS. A must for all women with polycystic ovarian syndrome!

  1. Broccoli

Cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, kohl rabi, kale – these brassica vegetables are a source of indole-3-carbinole, a compound thought to support the detoxification and breakdown of hormones in the liver.

  1. Walnuts

Researchers have found that consuming 1/3 cup of walnuts per day for six weeks can reduce testosterone levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve fatty acid status in the body. Combine these with your pumpkin seeds for a satisfying afternoon snack!

  1. Leafy greens

Spinach, kale, arugula and all the amazing variety of leafy greens are good sources of vitamin B6 – a nutrient necessary for balancing prolactin levels – a hormone that is often elevated in PCOS. Greens are also high in calcium, a mineral necessary for healthy ovulation. One more great reason to get those greens!

I hope you will embrace the PCOS diet – you really can heal your body through food medicine. If you need more support or guidance, contact me to book a free 15 minute consultation and together we can find your vibrant balance.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Select References

Kaur, Sat Dharam. The complete natural medicine guide to women’s health. Toronto. Robert Rose Inc. 2005.

Hudson, Tori. Women’s encyclopedia of natural medicine. Los Angeles. Keats publishing. 2007.

Celiac Disease in Pregnancy

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is more than a gluten intolerance. It is an immune reaction that is triggered by exposure to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and other grains) that results in inflammation and damage to the digestive tract. The small intestines, the part of the digestive tract that is damaged by gluten in celiac disease, is also the location of most nutrient absorption. This inflammatory damage can lead to significant nutrient deficiencies and health problems outside the digestive tract.

More than 330 000 Canadians are thought to have celiac disease (rates have doubled in the past 25 years), but only one-third of those people have been diagnosed. Women have higher rates of celiac disease, although we’re not entirely sure why. Celiac disease does not always manifest clear symptoms (gas, bloating, diarrhea) so it can go for years without a diagnosis.

Celiac Disease During Pregnancy

Bread slicedWomen with undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease can experience negative outcomes in pregnancy – longer time to conceive, increased rates of neural tube defects, increased rates of miscarriage, more fetal growth restriction and increased low birth weight babies. Additionally, women with undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease have been found to have a shorter duration of breastfeeding (about 2.5 times shorter) than treated women with celiac disease.

The poor absorption of folic acid in celiac disease may be the primary cause of the majority of these outcomes. Folic acid is necessary for DNA replication and the production of new cells – two very important functions in early embryo development. We know that folic acid deficiency can lead to an increased risk of neural tube defects and has been linked with an increased risk of miscarriage. Additionally, deficiencies in zinc and selenium are common in untreated celiac disease. These nutrients are also necessary to ensure healthy pregnancy.  You can read more about the nutrient deficiencies in celiac disease in my article Nutrient Deficiencies in Celiac Disease.

There may also be an immune component to the impact of untreated celiac disease on pregnancy. It has been postulated that anti-transglutaminase antibodies may be able to damage the placenta or the maternal endometrial cells. These antibodies are only present during active, untreated celiac disease.

Testing for Celiac Disease in Pregnancy

Some researchers suggest that all women with unexplained miscarriages be tested for celiac disease. Some suggest that all women who are trying to conceive be tested. Still others recommend testing only if hemoglobin or ferritin (iron) levels are low. Testing is done with an initial blood test which can then be followed with a biopsy of the lining of the small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. Your Naturopathic Doctor or Medical Doctor can help you decide whether testing is warranted.

Managing Celiac Disease During Pregnancy

The negative outcomes of celiac disease on pregnancy can all be managed by consuming a gluten free diet and taking appropriate supplementation to ensure nutrient adequacy. In the majority of women, 6 to 12 months of a gluten free diet can reduce the risk of negative pregnancy outcomes down to normal levels. Using a professional quality prenatal or folic acid supplement can also help to improve pregnancy outcomes in women with celiac disease – discuss with your Naturopathic Doctor which gluten-free supplements will be most appropriate for you.

Select References

  1. Moleskia SM, Lindenmeyer CC, Veloskic JJ, Millera RS, Millera CL, Kastenberga D, DiMarinoa AJ. Increased rates of pregnancy complications in women with celiac disease. Ann Gastroenterol 2015;28:236-40.
  2. Tersigni C, Castellani R, de Waure C, Fattorossi A, De Spirito M, Gasbarrini A, et al. Celiac disease and reproductive disorders: meta-analysis of epidemiological associations and potential pathogenic mechanisms. Hum Reprod Update 2014;20(4):582-593
  3. Martinelli P, Troncone R, Paparo F, Torre P, Trapanese E, Fasano C, et al. Coeliac disease and unfavourable outcome of pregnancy. Gut 2000;46(3):332-5.
  4. Dickey W, Stewart F, Nelson J, McBreen G, McMillan SA, Porter KG. Screening for coeliac disease as a possible maternal risk factor for neural tube defect. Clin Genet 1996;49(2):107-8.
  5. Rostami K, Steegers EA, Wong WY, Braat DD, Steegers-Theunissen RP. Celiac disease and reproductive disorders: a neglected association. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 2001;96(2):146-9.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) affects up to 1 in 10 women. It truly is a multi-headed beast – each woman manifests the hormonal imbalances and symptoms of PCOS differently. Only through understanding the underlying imbalances unique to each woman can we hope to overcome polycystic ovarian syndrome and achieve balanced, vibrant health.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a “syndrome” – in medical language that means it is a condition characterized by a group of symptoms, not all of which are necessary for diagnosis. To be diagnosed with PCOS you must have two of the following:

  1. Infrequent or no ovulation (irregular or long menstrual cycles or no menstrual periods)
  2. Signs or symptoms (or laboratory testing) showing high androgens (testosterone or dihydrotestosterone) – these include acne, abnormal hair growth, hair loss, darkening skin at skin folds
  3. Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound

As you see it is possible to have PCOS and not have polycystic ovaries! It is a syndrome that results from hormone imbalances in the body – hormones that directly impact the ovaries and ovulation.

Causes of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

What causes the hormone imbalance that leads to the symptoms associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome? We don’t have a clear answer to that for every woman. There are some risk factors associated with developing PCOS, but women with no risk factors can still develop this syndrome.

            ScaleRisk Factors for PCOS

  • Genetics
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • High blood sugar
  • Low blood sugar
  • Use of seizure medication (valproate)

Hormones and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

There are a vast number of hormonal imbalances that are intricately intertwined in PCOS. A brief summary is given below, for a more in depth exploration, please read the article Hormones and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

hormone balanceTestosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) – levels of free and total testosterone are often elevated. Production of androgens (male hormones) in the ovaries is increased in PCOS. The increased levels of testosterone and DHT lead to the characteristic acne associated with PCOS.

Luteinizing hormone (LH) – increased LH is characteristic of PCOS. The diagnosis of PCOS is often identified when the LH:FSH ratio is greater than 2:1.

Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) – can be low or normal. The lack of ovulation that occurs in PCOS is partially due to the lack of follicle response to FSH.

Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) – levels are decreased. SHBG binds to testosterone and DHT, rendering them biologically unavailable. With low levels of SHBG, increased action of testosterone is seen in tissues (resulting in hair loss, abnormal hair growth, and acne).

Insulin – high levels of insulin, or resistance to insulin in the tissues, is thought to be a primary cause of PCOS. Many doctors think that insulin imbalances are the first step in the cascade of hormone imbalances that occur in PCOS.

Symptoms of PCOS

The symptoms of PCOS occur as a result of the hormonal imbalances at the root of this condition. Your symptoms can help guide an experienced clinician to identify the dominant imbalances resulting in your PCOS.

            Common symptoms of PCOS:

  • Obesity and weight management issues (only in 40-50% of PCOS sufferers)
  • Acne (typically along the chin and around the mouth)
  • Oily skin
  • Polycystic or enlarged ovaries (found on ultrasound)
  • Blood sugar imbalances (“hangry”, dizziness, lightheadedness)
  • Darkening of skin at skin folds (acanthosis nigricans)
  • Long or irregular menstrual cycles (due to lack of ovulation)

Naturopathic Management of PCOS

Naturopathic medicine has great potential in the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome because it focuses on individualized care. There is no “standard” protocol for PCOS, your ND will need to discuss your symptoms and recognize your state of hormonal imbalance to develop an effective treatment plan.

Organic VegetablesYour naturopath may order additional laboratory testing if the underlying hormonal imbalances are not clear. Testing may include salivary or blood tests, depending on which hormone is being assessed. You may be asked to keep a record of your Basal Body Temperature, a simple means of tracking the hormonal ebb and flow of your monthly cycle.

The cornerstone of treatment for PCOS is improving response of the body to insulin. This often involves exercise and consuming a whole foods diet that is low in refined and processed sugars. Botanical medicines and nutritional supplements may also be used to address specific hormone imbalances such as elevated testosterone or decreased sex hormone binding globulin. Please read the article Naturopathic Medicine for PCOS to learn about the many treatment options available.

Beyond Understanding

At this point you have an understanding of the symptoms and hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS. Continue your understanding by reading other articles in this series by Dr. Lisa Watson, ND including Hormonal Imbalances in PCOS, PCOS and Infertility, The PCOS Diet, PCOS in Adolescence and Naturopathic Medicine for PCOS.

If you are ready to start working on achieving your healthy balance, Dr. Watson is currently accepting new patients at both her Toronto clinics. Contact her for a complimentary meet and greet appointment, or book your initial appointment today.

 

 

The Uterine Fibroid Diet

“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison” ~ Ann Wigmore

Below are listed some suggestions for ways food can be your medicine in the treatment of uterine fibroids. These recommendations will optimize nutrient levels, support detoxification and balance estrogen levels – all important treatment goals for improving health and managing the symptoms of uterine fibroids.

Fibroid Diet: Foods to Avoid

  1. Alcohol

Alcohol can alter estrogen metabolismAlcohol can wreak havoc on hormone balance. Consuming even moderate levels of alcohol can increase circulating estrogen levels in the body, impacting the progression of uterine fibroids and increasing the risk of endometrial cancer. Alcohol also interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and utilize B vitamins, nutrients that are essential for proper estrogen detoxification in the liver. Avoid alcohol or drink only small amounts infrequently.

  1. Refined sugar

Sugar is another culprit that can increase estrogen levels. Consumption of sugar in the form of fruit is fine, but eliminating all sources of refined sugars can help to improve hormone balance.

  1. Saturated fats

A diet high in saturated fats is associated with high circulating blood estrogen levels. Found predominantly in dairy products (cream, cheese, butter, ghee), fatty meats (beef, pork), processed and fried foods.   Limit or eliminate these foods from your diet and instead choose healthy polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.

  1. Avoid the use of plastic

Plastics are an abundant source of hormone disrupting chemicals. These chemicals have similar molecular structures to estrogen, and are able to bind to estrogen receptors resulting in an increased estrogen effect in the body. To minimize the risk avoid using plastic food storage containers and never heat food in a plastic container.

Fibroid Diet: Foods to Enjoy

  1. Increase dietary fiberHealthy whole grains

    A diet low in fiber is associated with elevated estrogen levels, which has been demonstrated to increase the risk of endometrial cancer. A diet high in fiber also helps to improve elimination of estrogen by encouraging healthy and regular bowel movements.
    Focus on healthy whole-food based fibers: fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limit processed and refined grains (breads, crackers, muffins, etc.)

  1. Consume whole grains

Whole grains are a rich source of fiber and one of the best sources for B vitamins. B vitamins are essential for healthy detoxification of hormones, including estrogen.
Choose whole grains that retain the entire grain: brown rice, wild rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rye, amaranth

  1. Eat tomatoes and an abundance of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants and fiber. Lycopene, a compound found in yellow, orange and fruits and vegetables (especially tomatoes) has been shown to have potential in decreasing the size of uterine fibroids.
Cooked and canned tomato sauces are the richest sources of lycopene. Consume 6-10 servings of whole fruit and vegetables per day.

  1. Cabbage family vegetablesTomatoes on the vine

The Brassica (cabbage) family of vegetables support detoxification and encourage a healthy estrogen balance by favouring production of the less active form of estrogen. Consume broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohl rabi and cauliflower regularly to reap these benefits.

  1. Soy and legumes

A diet rich in soy and vegetarian proteins like legumes has been shown to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. Soy acts as an estrogen modulator, decreasing the action of high circulating estrogen. Choose organic, non-GMO soy products, like miso, tempeh, tofu and edamame and have one serving per day. Also increase other legumes such as beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils. 

  1. Flaxseed

The lignans found in flaxseed help to regulate estrogen levels and have been found in studies to have promise in decreasing the risk of cancer. One to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day will also provide a rich source of fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.

  1. Vegetarian diet

Women consuming a vegetarian diet have higher rates of estrogen detoxification and elimination. Vegetarian diets are rich in beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Eating a vegetarian diet even 60% of the time can make a big difference for hormone balance. 

  1. Soy is a vegetarian protein and source of ironIron rich foods

    Iron deficiency anemia is a common concern for women with fibroids. In a terrible catch-22, iron deficiency can make heavy menstrual bleeding associated with fibroids worse, leading to worsening iron deficiency. A supplement may be needed for some women, but consuming a diet rich in iron can be very important for women with uterine fibroids. Rich sources of iron include lentils, beans, soy, pumpkin seeds, nuts, raisins, fortified cereals, chicken, beef, turkey, oysters, shrimp and clams.

  1. Green tea

    One of the best foods for uterine fibroids is actually a beverage. Green tea is a rich source of polyphenols, especially epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). These polyphenols have been shown to be protective against cancer, help to balance hormone levels, and promote detoxification. In one study green tea extract was found to decrease the size of uterine fibroids, improve the quality of life and improve iron deficiency associated with uterine fibroids. Drinking 2-3 cups per day is a great choice for all women with fibroids.

Diet is one of the best ways to support your body when you have uterine fibroids.  Your Naturopathic Doctor can also give you guidance on how to decrease pain, prevent progression of fibroids and decrease excessive bleeding during your periods.  Contact a naturopath today and start yourself on a journey of optimal health.

Selected References

Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Roshdy E, et al. Int J Womens Health. 2013;5:477-486.