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Your Guide to Pain Free Periods

Painful periods and menstrual cramps

This is the one article series a lot of women have been asking for – what to do about painful periods and period cramps. Half of women experience pain during their menstrual cycles (and around 90% of teen girls) and 1 in 10 women have periods that are so painful they are unable to work or function for up to a week each month.

So what are we going to do about it ladies? I’m not one to just take things as they are – and I don’t want you to either! Let’s learn a bit more about why some of us get such significant pain during our periods, and then we’ll talk about what we can DO to lessen our pain, and live our amazing lives, every damn day of the month.

Dysmenorrhea

The medical term for painful periods is dysmenorrhea. And it encompasses anything from cramps in the lower abdomen to low back pain, pain/pulling sensation in the inner thighs, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache and fatigue. Dysmenorrhea is basically anything miserable during a period that interferes with our ability to function.

There are two different types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhea – no underlying cause, just the result of our body’s natural physiology

Secondary dysmenorrhea – occurs as a result of something else – an underlying condition that can lead to pain during periods – endometriosis, ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, a narrow cervical opening, etc.

Ultimately we need to understand if there is a secondary cause for the painful periods – and treat that. If your periods started being painful right from your first period in your teens, then it’s most likely primary dysmenorrhea. If you had years of pain-free periods, then a full workup for secondary dysmenorrhea is highly recommended. In either case read on and learn more about what you can do to help yourself manage your period pain.

Why Are My Periods Painful?

A couple of specific physiological changes occur at the start of our periods that contribute to pain during periods.

Just before the start of our period flow the blood supply, and thus oxygen delivery, to the uterus is significantly restricted. In order for the lining of the uterus to be shed there is also an increase in the production and release of inflammatory compounds (called prostaglandins) that stimulate uterine contractions. This combination of low oxygen delivery (called ischemia), inflammatory prostaglandins, and contractions causes the pain associated with our periods.

But Dr. Lisa, not every woman experiences painful periods (lucky b*tches)

Yes, dear reader, this is absolutely true! Some factors need to be considered in those of us who do have painful periods.

Women who have painful periods produce on average 8-13 times more prostaglandins than women who do not experience painful menstrual cramps (more on this in the treatment section). Women who do not ovulate during their menstrual cycle also do not have painful periods – the drop in progesterone is what triggers the inflammatory prostaglandin production and painful uterine contractions. As we get older and make less progesterone, we also can experience much less painful periods.

And lifestyle makes a difference for some women too. Women who already have poor oxygen delivery to the uterus – smokers, women who are overweight, women who are sedentary – they tend to have cramping that is either more intense, or lasts longer, or both.

Treatment of Painful Periods and Menstrual Cramps

There is a LOT that we can do to manage our menstrual cramps. Many of the lifestyle and natural treatments are very effective for reducing pain during our periods and can give women back their vitality every day of the month. Ultimately it can be a trial and error to determine what will be the most effective for you, and working with a Naturopathic Doctor can accelerate your progress.

Below I’ve given you my top ten lifestyle modifications for managing period cramps.  Once you’ve made those changes, check out my article on Natural Treatments for a Pain Free Period. And then when you’re empowered with all that knowledge, book an appointment so we can put together the very best plan for you.

Lifestyle for Pain Free Periods

Studies have found a number of factors that can contribute to painful periods – women who eat more sugar, junk food, fast food and saturated fats tend to have more painful periods. Women who exercise regularly (not just during their periods) tend to have less menstrual cramps. Using tampons can make menstrual cramps worse, as can constipation or food sensitivities.

Below you’ll find my top ten lifestyle tips for reducing period pain

  1. Cut the sugar

Not really a newsflash, but sugar makes just about everything worse – including period cramps. Sugar interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and use B vitamins and minerals, both of which can worsen muscle tension and increase the force of uterus cramps. So quit it – you already knew you should.

  1. Ditch dairy

Prostaglandins, those inflammatory molecules produced by our uterus that cause pain, are made in our body from arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid comes mostly from our diet, in particular dairy products (although poultry is also a high source of arachidonic acid). Reducing or eliminating dairy is a great idea for women who get period pain – and it has been suggested that eliminating dairy may provide a significant benefit (with no other treatments) for up to one-third of women with painful periods!

  1. Avoid alcohol

Ladies, I get it. The urge to have a lovely glass of wine to dull the cramping and misery, and really, you just want it. But I’m a teller of truths – alcohol is a no-go for painful periods. Alcohol is well known to deplete B vitamins as well as muscle-relaxing minerals such as magnesium. Not only that – it interferes with the liver’s ability to metabolize hormones. All of these contribute to more cramping and heavier periods (which lead to more clots, which trigger more uterine spasms, which causes more pain…)

  1. Skip the salt

Salt is something many people think they are avoiding, but that stuff sneaks into everything. While I’m not opposed to a bit of sea salt on my edamame, the primary source of salt in the diet is processed or packaged foods. Salt can increase fluid retention, which can worsen bloating and discomfort as well as period pain. So skip the salt and season with spices instead.

  1. Load up on the legumes, nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of minerals like magnesium and calcium – both of which can lessen muscle tension and reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. Additionally, eating a diet higher in plant proteins and lower in animal proteins has been found to reduce the incidence of dysmenorrhea. So skip the chicken and have some chickpeas and cashews instead.

  1. Eat your veggies

Really, is there anything vegetables CAN’T do? They are the most important component of the human diet, and eating more of them cures just about everything – including period cramps. Women who eat more fruits and vegetables have the lowest rates of painful periods. Vegetables are excellent sources of minerals, like calcium and magnesium, as well as fiber to reduce bloating and discomfort.

  1. Understand your food sensitivities

Wait, what? Food sensitivities? What do those have to do with my period cramps?

It turns out, quite a lot!

Food sensitivities can damage the lining of the digestive tract, altering the absorption of B vitamins and minerals, resulting in more cramping. Additionally, food sensitivities can cause increased production of inflammatory molecules, leading to more inflammation (and more pain) when period time rolls around. Add to the mix the irregular bowel movements that can result from food sensitivities and you have the perfect storm for period pain. So if you’ve ever wondered if you have food sensitivities and you get painful periods, I’d considering having the food sensitivity test. It may be just what you need.

  1. Exercise regularly

Exercise improves blood flow to, and from, the uterus. Exercise also helps to alter the production of prostagandins, leading to less pain. And it’s not just exercise during your period that helps – most studies show that women who exercise regularly have less painful periods than those who don’t. There are also some specific exercises that have been found to help manage period pain – you can read more about those here.

  1. Toss the tampons

We are entering a new age of period empowerment. No longer are we having to choose between bulky pads and bleached cotton tampons. There are so many options now for women to comfortably accommodate their periods.

Pain free periods. Natural treatments for period cramps

From the Diva Cup to Thinx period panties, to all natural pads that are thin and comfortable. Women who use tampons have more painful periods than those who don’t, and most of those tampons are full of chemicals that can be absorbed across the mucosal barrier of the vaginal canal – not a good thing! So toss those tampons and join women in the age of period empowerment!

  1. Try a Natural Approach

While we may be tempted to manage our period pain with Midol and Advil and other pain killers, there are a number of natural supplements – nutrients and botanical (plant) medicines that can provide amazing relief. And without the side effects of those pain killers as well! Start by reading my article on Natural Treatments for Pain-Free Periods and then work with a Naturopathic Doctor to personalize a treatment plan that can give you relief from your menstrual cramps.

Problems with the Pill

There is no doubt that the birth control pill was a huge player in the feminist revolution. First released in 1960, the pill allowed women to delay pregnancy and focus on their career, transforming the lives of women and society. While the pill may be a political powerhouse, and be effective at preventing pregnancy, my belief is that it is being overprescribed, and women are under-educated on the impact that the pill can have on their health.

This article will share some of the concerns that I, as a naturopathic doctor and women’s health expert, have regarding the pill. The purpose is not to convince you to give up the pill, but to empower you with information so that you can make an informed choice as to whether this medication is the right choice for you.

Problems with the Pill

  1. The Pill Depletes Nutrients

One of the biggest problems with the pill is the nutrient deficiencies that result from use. From B vitamins to essential minerals, the pill changes the absorption, utilization and metabolism of a number of different nutrients. These nutrient depletions are the underlying cause of many of the negative side effects of the pill – things like weight gain, moodiness, fatigue and blood clots. You can read all about the nutritional problems with the pill in this article.

  1. Weight gain

The estrogen in birth control pills can cause an increased appetite and fluid retention, leading to weight gain, especially in the first few months on the pill. Long term weight gain on the pill is more likely due to the decreased levels of B vitamins, necessary for carbohydrate and fat metabolism (i.e. burning fat for energy).

  1. No glory for our guts

The pill is known to alter the balance of healthy bacteria in our guts. Estrogen affects gut permeability (a risk factor for autoimmune disease) and bacteria balance, a condition known as dysbiosis. Healthy bacteria are incredibly important for our overall health – especially our immune, mood and digestive health. The pill has been linked to symptoms of gas, bloating, IBS, and an increased risk of Crohn’s disease in women with a family history of the digestive condition.

The change in healthy bacteria balance, combined with the estrogen in the pill, also makes women more susceptible to vaginal and digestive yeast infections. If you get frequent or recurrent yeast infections, or significant gas or bloating symptoms, consider if your pill may be part of the problem.

  1. Moodiness

Any woman can tell you that hormones can have a significant impact on your mood. The rises and dips in estrogen and progesterone that occur over a woman’s monthly cycle can lead to moods and behaviours that foster relationships, encourage sexual intimacy, and make women weepy, emotional and volatile. While some women on the pill notice very little difference in their mood states, other women find their normal emotional states become heightened in intensity and more difficult to manage. The reasons for this are very individual – some women don’t tolerate the high levels of estrogen and others find the high progesterone problematic. In either case, if the pill makes you moody switching to another pill is unlikely to help.

  1. Blood clots

Possibly the most well known side effect of the pill, the risk of blood clots is highest in women who are obese, are smokers or who have a family history of blood clots. The estrogen in the birth control pill is the most likely culprit, increasing the production of clotting factors and increasing a woman’s risk of blood clots by three-to-four fold. Deficiencies of key nutrients can also contribute to an increased risk of blood clots, most notably vitamin B6, vitamin E and magnesium – all of which are depleted by the pill.

  1. Thin endometrial lining

The endometrial (or uterine) lining is necessary for a successful implantation and pregnancy. In women wanting to have a family, long term use of oral birth control pills could thin the endometrial lining, leading to difficulty conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy. The underlying cause of this change is thought to be a down-regulation of estrogen receptors in the uterus, resulting from long term use of synthetic progesterone. The upside to this situation, is that this same mechanism is thought to be the reason why the pill reduces the risk of endometrial cancer.

  1. No sex drive

Never mind a thin endometrial lining if you can’t get up the urge to have sex at all. Many women report a low libido as a major issue they have with taking the pill. The pill lowers androgens and the lowered testosterone is likely responsible for the lack of sex drive. Around ovulation women typically experience a small, but significant, testosterone surge, causing them to seek out sex. On the pill you don’t experience this testosterone surge and your urge for sex can all but dry up. On a positive note – this decrease in testosterone is the reason why the pill can improve acne. But there are other ways to clear acne than giving up your lusty libido.

  1. Ignoring Mr. Right

Some of the most intriguing research on the pill surrounds a woman’s decision making around possible partners. Women who are on the pill tend to be attracted to more masculine, macho men with more ‘manly’ physical characteristics, and ignore men with softer, more ‘feminine’ features. Dr. Julie Holland, in her book Moody Bitches, refers to this as the “dad-or-cad” dilemma – women on the pill are more likely to be attracted to the bad-boy, rather than the more sensitive man who may be more acceptable as a long term partner and father to her children. Dr. Holland suggests it might be a good idea to get off the pill if you’re entering the dating pool, to prevent later regrets!

As if that wasn’t enough, another study found that women on the pill tend to seek out men with more genetic similarities to themselves, increasing their risk of miscarriage and genetic issues in their offspring. Women off the pill tend to choose men that are more genetically dissimilar – a pairing that tends to result in healthy pregnancies, happier relationships, more satisfying sex, and an increased likelihood of female orgasm.

  1. Masks symptoms

One of my biggest concerns with the pill is that it is used by conventional doctors as a band-aid for every female reproductive issue. Got PCOS? Take the pill! Got endometriosis? Take the pill! Got fibroids? Take the pill! PMS or menstrual cramps? Take the pill! Perimenopausal? You get the pill too! In no way does the pill address the underlying issues of these women’s health issues. The pill just provides a steady state of synthetic hormones, suppressing and masking the symptoms of the underlying imbalance. When you get off the pill you are no better than when you started – but you are older. And if you want to try and start a family you still have to address the underlying imbalance. The use of the pill as a way to suppress and deny the imbalances in women’s hormones is a disservice to women and I deplore it.

  1. The pill is a carcinogen

Ok. I get it, this sounds scary. But it’s true. The International Agency for Research on Cancer includes oral birth control pills as a carcinogen on its list of known human carcinogens. Studies have shown that birth control pills can increase the risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer and liver cancer. It can reduce your risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, however. In general I’d suggest using the pill for as short a duration as possible and consider other forms of contraception for the majority of your reproductive years.

We have to keep in mind that the pill is not without problems. It contains synthetic hormones at levels much higher than our body produces on its own. Some of the side effects like acne, breast tenderness, or moodiness might be manageable, but I think women need to be empowered with knowledge to decide if the pill is the right choice for them.

If you have concerns about using the pill, want to balance your hormones naturally, or discuss natural forms of non-hormonal contraception, book an appointment now. Your hormones are in your hands – strive for hormone harmony!

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: 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.

Pain Medications in Pregnancy and Fertility

A large class of pain relief medications has been found to negatively impact fertility in as little as 10 days of use.

NSAIDs and Fertility

There has been evidence for over a decade that chronic use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin,  ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), celecoxib (Celebrex), diclofenac and others can reduce fertility by disrupting ovulation. More recent research has shown that even short term use of NSAIDs can inhibit ovulation with effects seen after just ten days of use.

NSAIDs interfere with ovulation by disrupting production of prostaglandins necessary for follicle development and ovulation. This disruption leads to a condition called luteinized unruptured follicle (LUF) syndrome. This condition results in women experiencing all the typical clinical signs of ovulation but does not result in the rupture of follicle and release of an egg at ovulation.

A 2015 study found that women taking naproxen (Aleve) for 10 days decreased the rate of ovulation by 75% and in women taking diclofenac, ovulation decreased by a startling 93%. In these women progesterone levels dropped also, likely as a result of the lack of ovulation.

Luckily the fertility-reducing effects of NSAIDs are temporary, with ovulation occurring normally in the next cycle for all the women in this study.

NSAIDs and Miscarriage

A further caution for women attempting to conceive: A 2011 study from the University of Montreal found that the risk of miscarriage is 2.4 times higher for women who took any type and any dose of NSAIDs in early pregnancy. Non-aspirin NSAIDs has also been shown to increase the risk of major congenital defects.

Safe Pain Relievers in Pregnancy and Fertility

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the only recommended pain reliever in pregnancy. It is recommended for intermittent and short-term use only.  Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about natural pain relief in pregnancy as natural anti-inflammatories such as fish oil are not only safe in pregnancy, but can also benefit both mother and the developing fetus.

References

European League Against Rheumatism. “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit ovulation after just 10 days.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 June 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150611082124.htm>.

Nakhai-Pour HR, Broy P, Sheehy O, and Bérard A. Use of nonaspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs during pregnancy and the risk of spontaneous abortion. CMAJ, September 6, 2011

Mendonca LLF, Khamashta MA, Nelson-Piercy C, Hunt BJ and Hughes GRV. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as a possible cause for reversible infertility. Rheumatology;2000, 39(8):880-882.

Stone S, Khamasta MA, Nelson-Piercy C. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and reversible female infertility: is there a link? Drug Safety;2002;25(8):545-51.

Gaytan M, Morales C, Bellido C, Sanchez-Criado JE, Gaytan F. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and ovulation: lessons from morphology. Histology Histopathology;2006;21(5):541-56.

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.

Preparing for Pregnancy: Detoxification

Working as a Naturopathic Doctor with a focus on pregnancy and fertility gives me a unique opportunity to influence the health of the future generation while simultaneously optimizing the health of the women and men in my practice. This is an opportunity I like to seize – a chance to make the next generation as vibrantly healthy as they can be!

Pre-Pregnancy Detoxifying

I am not a fan of the detox fad. I feel like it implies that our bodies are dirty or incapable of maintaining health – the very opposite of what I believe. But as with so many fads, there is an essential nugget of truth at the center of it – we are living in a world that is overwhelming our bodies with chemicals – in the air we breath, food we eat, clothes we wear, soaps we use to ‘clean’ our bodies. And our bodies can accumulate these chemicals, and they can cause changes in our hormones, in our cells and in our organ function.

The time prior to pregnancy is a wonderful time to detoxify your life. Not just your body, but your environment, thoughts and behaviours as well. A time to prepare for a fresh new beginning – the beginning of a life and a family.

Detoxifying Your Environment

A landmark study done by the Environmental Working Group found 287 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of babies born in the United States – chemicals that are known to be toxic to the brain and nervous system, lead to developmental abnormalities and cancer.

This study highlights the importance of making changes now – of reducing our exposure to chemicals to decrease our future child’s exposure.

Here are three easy ways you can detoxify your environment prior to pregnancy

  1. household cleanerUse only natural cleaning products – the Environmental Protection Agency has found that in many homes the level of pollutants are three-to-five times higher than they are outside.Minimize your indoor chemical burden by using only all natural cleansing products and avoid these big offenders: upholstery shampoo, furniture polish, all-purpose sprays, bug sprays, bathroom cleansers, room deodorizers, fabric softeners.
  1. Avoid plastic wrap and plastic storage containers. Almost all plastics contain chemicals that have been shown to disrupt hormone balance and can impact fertility and potentially increase the risk of miscarriage.
  1. Change your personal care products, cosmetics and sunscreens. All of these products can contain a plethora of chemicals all with potential negative health effects. The Environmental Working Group maintains amazing databases of these products that can help you to make healthy choices for your self, and your environment. Be sure to check out their Cosmetics Database and their annual Sunscreen Guide.

Detoxifying Your Body

The two best ways we can detoxify our body is 1) decrease our exposure to chemicals and 2) support our body in eliminating them.

My top four suggestions for detoxifying your body are:

  1. Water Eat organic produce. Hundreds of pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on conventional produce at various stages of their growth and production. Nearly two-thirds of produce contains pesticide residues – an alarming number with unknown consequences on long term health. The simplest way to decrease exposure and minimize risk is by selecting organic produce. Following the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen recommendations from the Environmental Working Group is great place to start for understanding which produce you should always purchase organic, and which have lower potential for pesticide residue.
  1. Drink an abundance of clean water. Water is the way that our bodies move nutrients into cells – and toxins out. Drinking fresh, clean water throughout the day can greatly enhance your detoxification – and can improve energy and concentration as well.
  2. Exercise regularly. Exercise supports the lymphatic system – one of the most important systems in detoxifying the body. In order for our lymphatic system to work, we need to move our muscles, forcing movement of lymph back towards our heart. Daily movement practice should be part of any detoxification plan, and any healthy lifestyle.
  3. Do a personalized cleansing program once or twice a year. A personalized cleansing program developed by a Naturopathic Doctor can help identify specific detoxification goals for your body and help you to achieve them. Individualized programs are especially important prior to pregnancy – enhancing detoxification while maintaining optimal nutrient status will support your body now, and your baby’s in the future.

Detoxifying Your Thoughts and Behaviours

No detoxification is complete without as assessment of your thoughts and behaviours. Each of us has thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that impact our health – both positively and negatively. Time spent in personal introspection or working with a counselor can help us to identify patterns of thoughts or behaviours that we would like to modify. The time prior to pregnancy is an ideal time to explore our own feelings on parenthood, our relationship with our parents, and ourselves. It is a great time to let go of thoughts and behaviours that are not contributing to an abundant state of health – to detoxify our thoughts and behaviours and prepare ourselves for our future as parents.

 

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.

 

Basal Body Temperature Tracking

One way to optimize your fertility is to understand your fertility. And this starts with understanding your menstrual cycle and your optimal fertility window.

Basal body temperature tracking, often combined with cervical fluid testing, can be a simple but effective way to increase your chances of conceiving. By tracking your daily temperatures you can get a clear picture of when (and if!) you are ovulating, allowing for appropriately timed intercourse.

How to Test Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT)

For the purposes of tracking your hormone balance across your monthly cycle you should follow these simple instructions.

  1. Basal body temperature thermometerPurchase a BBT thermometer. It is important that the thermometer go to two decimal places (36.00). These are usually found in the family planning section at your local drug store.
  2. Download a free app (Fertility Friend) that allows you to track your temperatures, or print out a tracking chart
  3. Place your thermometer on your bedside table, within reach
  4. Take your temperature IMMEDIATELY on rising every morning. It is important that you do not get out of bed first, do not kiss your partner, do not get up to pee. Your basal temperature is your temperature at rest, any movement can change the temperature.
  5. Note your temperature in your app or on your chart.

Ideally you need to be asleep for at least 3 hours prior to taking your basal body temperature.

Changes in your daily routine, such as sleeping late, stress, alcohol consumption, colds or fevers, can influence your temperature. Be sure to note any deviations from normal in your chart so that any anomalies in your chart can be explained.

Understanding Your BBT ChartBBT

Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you to understand your chart, especially if it does not follow the expected pattern (shown here).

The first half of your cycle (from the first day of your period until you ovulate) should be relatively stable with a lower overall temperature than the second half. At ovulation a significant increase in temperature (usually 0.3-0.5oC) is seen. During the second half (the luteal phase) the temperature should remain high and stable. As your period begins the temperature drops again and a new BBT chart is started.

Why Track Your BBT

For most women the fertile window, the time in which there is a chance for fertilization and pregnancy to occur, is a short 3-4 days. To enhance your fertility you must ensure that intercourse occurs within this window. The BBT chart can help you learn when you are most fertile and allow you to plan accordingly.

The fertile window occurs in the 3-4 days prior to ovulation (which corresponds with an increase in basal body temperature). By tracking your BBT over several months you can start to see a pattern in your ovulation. When combined with cervical fluid testing BBT tracking can significantly improve your chances of pregnancy.

BBT tracking can also highlight imbalances in your hormones that could be negatively impacting your fertility. A lack of ovulation (anovulation), a shortened luteal phase (luteal phase defect), a prolonged menstrual cycle and more can all be identified by a skilled eye simply by looking at your BBT chart.

I recommend all women empower themselves with a greater knowledge of their bodies, and the BBT chart can be an excellent tool in connecting with, and understanding your body, your menstrual cycle and your fertility.

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.

Five Key Nutrients for Headaches

Key Nutrients for HeadacheAlmost half of all adults suffer from headaches and the mental, emotional and physical impacts of headaches are often under recognized and under-treated by medical professionals.

The majority (90%) of headaches are vascular or tension-type, or a mixture of the two. Vascular headaches include both migraines and cluster headaches. The remaining 10% of headaches are due to other conditions such as trauma, dental pain, visual strain, TMJ disorders, neck disorders, sinus inflammation or tumours.

As a Naturopathic Doctor it is important that each person with a headache receive an appropriate intake and assessment to determine underlying causes and precipitating factors impacting their headaches.

In addition to understanding the possible causes of headache, understanding the impact of five key nutrients on headaches allows your Naturopath to assess your diet and recommend supplements where needed.

Magnesium

Low levels of magnesium are typically found in patients with vascular (migraine and cluster headache) and tension type Black beans proteinheadaches. Increasing dietary magnesium, or using a magnesium supplement can decrease the pain associated with magnesium.

Magnesium also acts as a muscle relaxant and can decrease the tension associated with tension headaches.

Foods that are rich in magnesium include pumpkin and sesame seeds, leafy green vegetables, soy beans, black beans, quinoa, cashews, squash, brown rice, barley, millet and oats.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

bell peppers are a source of riboflavinOne of the suspected underlying causes of migraine headaches is impaired mitochondrial function in the brain and in muscles. Riboflavin is necessary for the function of two enzymes involved in this process and can improve the energy reserves of the mitochondria without altering the excitability of neurons.

Riboflavin is used as a prevention for migraine headaches but will not change headache duration or intensity once it is occurring.

Food sources of riboflavin include soy beans, leafy green vegetables, yogurt, mushrooms, eggs, asparagus, almonds, turkey, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, green peas and sea vegetables.

CoEnzyme Q10 (CoQ10, Ubiquinone)

Similar to riboflavin, CoQ10 also enhances the energy-related mitochondrial processes that are impaired in patients with migraine headaches. Taking a daily CoQ10 supplement can prevent migraines but will not impact a headache once it is occurring. Digestive upset can occur with CoQ10 supplements and they should only be taken under supervision by a Naturopathic Doctor.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Salmon is a source of omega 3 fatty acidsOne of the best things you can do for headaches is to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats, found in cold water fish and flax seeds, have many benefits for both vascular and tension headaches. Omega-3s are powerful anti-inflammatories, decreasing the production of inflammatory molecules in your body. They are also vasorelaxant and decrease platelet aggregation – two of the underlying physiological changes in migraine headaches.

Clinical studies have suggested that fish oil can reduce headache frequency dramatically as well and decreasing duration and severity.

Omega-3 supplements are readily available and food sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines, salmon, soy beans, fortified eggs and grass fed beef.

Vitamin D

Many more Canadians are becoming aware of the importance of vitamin D. It is necessary for immune function, bone health, diabetes and cancer prevention. It is also required for the production and response to serotonin.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter with multiple influences on headaches. Altered serotonin release is known to be one of the many physiological results of migraine headaches and low serotonin production, or low response to serotonin can decrease pain threshold.

All Canadians should be taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months, but those suffering with headaches should be sure to have their vitamin D levels tested and take a supplement based on their individual needs. Often the recommended daily allowance (600-800IU) is inadequate for people suffering with headaches.

Putting It Together

Working with a Naturopathic Doctor is your best chance for successful management of headaches. Focusing on lifestyle, diet, exercise, nutrients and integrating other therapies such as massage therapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture and botanical medicines can turn your life around and stop the headache cycle once and for all.

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.