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Fertility Diet

Those who take medicine and neglect their diet waste the skill of the physician
~ Chinese proverb

Eating a nutritious diet can boost your health and improve your life in many ways.  For women struggling with issues of fertility, eating properly can boost your fertility and increase the chances of becoming pregnant.

The recommendations below incorporate traditional Chinese medicine and groundbreaking research from the Nurses Health

Study which examined the impact of lifestyle and diet on the health of nearly 20 000 female nurses.  Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) focuses on bringing the body into balance.  When in balance a woman’s body is naturally fertile and able to nourish both her own body and her fetus.

Fertility Diet Tips

1. Consume a Whole Foods Diet

Whole foods are minimally processed and provide maximum nutrients, fiber, enzymes, antixoidants and taste without added artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, sweeteners or trans fats.

2. Focus on Slow Carbs

Slow carbohydrates are slowly digested causing a slower and more gradual rise in blood sugar after being eaten.  They include beans, peas, lentils, whole grains (such as brown rice, barley, millet and quinoa) and vegetables.  Slow carbs minimize insulin resistance, regulate blood sugar, improve fertility and prevent gestational diabetes. Eliminate all white carbs – white flour, white pasta, white rice, white potatoes and white bread.

3. Eat Primarily Plant Based Foods

Plant based foods include a rainbow of high fiber, high antioxidant fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.  A plant based diet means that most (but not necessarily all) of the diet is based on plant foods.  This diet is eaten around the world and is associated with health promotion, disease prevention and longevity.

4. High Antioxidant Foods

A diet high in plant based foods will be naturally high in antioxidant foods.  Fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices decrease oxidative stress and cellular inflammation associated with decreased fertility.  Select primarily organic produce – it has been shown in multiple studies to be higher in antioxidants (and free of hormone-disrupting pesticides!)

5. Consume Healthy Fats and Avoid Trans Fats

Healthy fats combat inflammation and improve hormone sensitivity.  Healthy fats and oils include coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, raw (uncooked) olive oil, and fats found in wild cold-water fish.  Trans fast (also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat) – typically found in commercially prepared baked goods, fried foods, and processed snack can disrupt with normal ovulation by interfering with a cell receptor that controls inflammation, glucose metabolism, and insulin sensitivity.

6. Eat Only High Quality Dairy Products

Small amounts of full-fat dairy products daily, such as live culture yoghurt, kefir, and high quality organic goat and cow cheeses have been shown to enhance fertility.

7. Eat Mindfully

Slow down and tune into the nutritive properties of food.  Allow mealtime to be a time when you focus on nourishing your mind, body and spirit.  Mindfulness has been shown to help decrease stress, lower blood sugar and blood pressure, decrease anxiety and depression and enhance well-being.

8. Eat For Balance

In TCM all health concerns are based on an imbalance in the body.  This may be an excess or a deficiency of one of the vital substances or a blockage of energy flow in one of the organ systems of the body.  Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you determine your imbalance and give you recommendations for foods to promote balance (e.g. foods to boost yin or clear heat).

9. Take Supplements Appropriately

Supplements can be used to enhance a healthy diet but should not be used as a replacement for a healthy, balanced diet.  A prenatal multivitamin with iron, calcium, iodine, antioxidant nutrients (A, C, E, selenium and zinc), probiotics, fish oils and others may be used to enhance fertility and support a healthy pregnancy for both mother and child.

Click here for an easily printable PDF copy of the Fertility Diet

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 resources:

Chavarro J, Willett W.  The Fertility Diet.  Harvard Health Publications.  2008.
Lewis R.  The Infertility Cure.  Little Brown and Company.  2004.

Tea and Iron Deficiency

Tea (Camellia sinensis) is one of the most commonly consumed drinks on the planet and is highly respected for its many health promoting properties.  To name a few, tea is:

  • antioxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • probiotic (promotes healthy intestinal bacteria)
  • antimicrobial – antiviral, antibacterial and anti-protozoal
  • anti-mutagenic
  • anti-carcinogenic

However, tea can have a significant negative impact on our health as well.   Green tea, black tea, and some herbal teas (such as peppermint) can contribute to iron deficiency. The polyphenols in tea (the same compounds that give tea – especially green tea – many of its health promoting properties) bind to iron and prevent the body from absorbing it.

When tea is consumed at the same time as iron-rich foods the absorption of iron is decreased by as much as 26%.  This impact on absorption is only a concern with non-heme iron, or plant based iron and is not seen with heme-iron (animal-based iron.)  This leaves vegans and vegetarians at greatest risk for the negative effects of this interaction.

In order to prevent iron deficiency it is recommended that green and black teas – including iced teas, not be consumed with a meal and that individuals at risk for iron deficiency (adolescents, pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans, menstruating women, and the elderly) be aware of the potential impact of tea on their iron status.

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.

Pre-Natal Naturopathic Care

Is Naturopathic Medicine safe during pregnancy?

Absolutely!  Naturopathic Medicine is an ideal treatment option during pregnancy.  Although not all Naturopathic treatments are safe during pregnancy, a large majority of Naturopathic treatments are both safe and effective for the common and uncommon health concerns of pregnancy.
Being under the care of a Naturopathic Doctor during pregnancy does not replace the prenatal care offered by a midwife or obstetrician.  Naturopathic care should be used in addition to these services.  Naturopathic Medicine can offer guidance and treatments above and beyond what is offered by your prenatal health care team and can contribute to a happy and healthy pregnancy for both mother and child.

How often do I see my Naturopathic Doctor during pregnancy?

Naturopathic Medicine is an individualized treatment and frequency of visits will be determined based on your current health, changes in your health, personal health goals, and stage of pregnancy.  In general visits occur less frequently in early pregnancy (unless specific concerns such as nausea, nutrient deficiencies, muscle cramps, or insomnia are present) and more frequently in the later stages of pregnancy.

First visit:

The first visit typically occurs prior to pregnancy (during conception planning) or in the first 4-8 weeks of pregnancy.  During the first visit a comprehensive intake and health history will be completed and a nutritional assessment and recommendations are made.

First trimester visits:

The second visit varies, for some women occurring 2-3 weeks after the first visit depending on recommendations made in the first visit.  For the majority of women the second visit is between weeks 8-12 and is the final visit for the first trimester.  Changes to nutritional requirements are discussed and a diet diary is given to track caloric intake for three days. Naturopathic treatments for nausea, appetite changes, swelling, sleep disturbances, or other concerns may be prescribed as needed.

Second trimester visits:

The second trimester is often the easiest for pregnant women.  It is important to maintain regular visits with your Naturopathic Doctor during this stage of pregnancy to ensure continuing health throughout the remainder of the pregnancy.  A visit is recommended around 18-20 weeks and again at 24 weeks.  Between 24 and 28 weeks a glucose tolerance test is performed by your midwife or obstetrician.  You should see your Naturopathic Doctor in the weeks before this test to learn ways to properly prepare for this test.

Third trimester visits:

During the final trimester you may see your Naturopathic Doctor more frequently.  Preparation for the Group B Streptococcus test, treatments for health concerns that arise more frequently during the third trimester as well as acupuncture and herbal teas to prepare the body for labour and delivery are all addressed during the third trimester.

After due-date visits:

Your Naturopathic Doctor will be available to you if you go past-due with your baby.  Acupuncture and moxa (an herb that is applied to warm acupuncture points) as well as homeopathy can be helpful in promoting labour.

Post-natal care:

After the baby is born it is recommended that you and the baby continue to see your Naturopathic Doctor as needed.  Naturopathic Medicine is safe during lactation and for common health concerns in infants.  Your ND can also offer guidance on infant food introduction and appropriate nutritional supplements to support the tremendous growth your child will experience in their first year of life.

Your Naturopathic Doctor may be consulted at any time during the pregnancy if a health concern arises.  Your ND will tailor your pregnancy treatment to your individual pregnancy.  No two pregnancies are alike!  The visit schedule outlined above is just a general guideline.  Your Naturopathic Doctor will recommend a visit schedule that will meet your needs and support your physical, mental, and emotional health, and the health of your baby throughout pregnancy.

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.

 

Too Much of a Good Thing

Nutrients to Avoid in Excess During Pregnancy

Vitamins and minerals are vital in supporting a healthy pregnancy.  However, some nutrients can cause problems when taking in excess amounts during pregnancy.  Make sure you are not over-doing it with these nutrients during pregnancy.

Vitamin A

Birth defects are associated with vitamin A intake over 10 000IU per day.  Birth defects associated with excess vitamin A include malformation of the urinary and genital tract, skull and facial bones and heart.

These defects occur within the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, so avoid consuming more than 5000IU of vitamin A if there is a chance you may become pregnant.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is safe during pregnancy, but consuming high levels during pregnancy may result in a rebound vitamin C deficiency in your baby following delivery.  Avoid taking more than 1000-4000mg daily to avoid this effect.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for proper bone and teeth development.  However, excess levels can lead to hypercalcemia which can cause placental calcification and fetal arterial stenosis.

From 20 weeks onward 1000-1200IU daily is recommended to promote optimal bone development of the skull and other bones.  Research shows that this amount also promotes optimal bone mass later in the child’s life.

Proper supplementation is especially important if the third trimester occurs during winter months when inadequate sunlight reaches Canada for skin production of vitamin D.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E can inhibit proper coagulation of the blood and should not be taken in high amounts close to delivery.  Avoid taking more than 800IU per day from week 36 onward to decrease the risk of excess bleeding during and after delivery.

Calciumalmonds are a source of calcium

Calcium is important for both mother’s and baby’s health during pregnancy.  Supplementation can help to prevent pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-term labour.

However, excess amounts can increase the risk of kidney stones for the mother and can lead to hypercalcemia (excess calcium) of the fetus and placenta.  Avoid taking more than 1200IU daily.

Also avoid dolomite, bone meal and oyster-shell sources of calcium as these may be contaminated with lead.  Instead use professional quality supplements or consume more broccoli, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, canned salmon (with bones), sesame seeds and enriched soy milk.

Pregnancy is a great time to learn more about nutrients and how they support our health (and the health of our babies).  Naturopathic Medicine is a perfect complement to a natural, healthy pregnancy.  Book a free 15 minute consultation with Dr. Lisa Watson to learn more about how Naturopathic Medicine can support you, your body, and your baby during pregnancy.

Pregnancy – Foods to Avoid

Every mother wants what is best for her baby.  And pregnancy is a great opportunity to start our babies on a healthy diet.

More foods can affect your health and your baby’s health than you might realize.  Understanding what foods to avoid during pregnancy is an important aspect of pregnancy nutrition.

Following these guidelines will help you make healthier choices for you and your baby.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Raw Meat: Uncooked seafood and rare or undercooked beef or poultry should be avoided due to risk of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella.

Deli Meat and Hot Dogs: Deli meats have been known to be contaminated with listeria, which can cause miscarriage. Listeria is able to cross the placenta and may infect the baby leading to infection or blood poisoning, which may be life-threatening. If you are pregnant and you are considering eating deli meats, make certain that you reheat the meat until it is steaming.

Fish – Mercury and PCBs: Fish can be a great source of protein, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.  The omega-3s in fish support the proper development of your baby’s brain, eyes, and nervous system.  Research suggests that complete avoidance of fish during pregnancy may contribute to poor verbal skills, behavioural problems, and other developmental issues during childhood.

However, fish that contain high levels of mercury must be avoided. Mercury consumed during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays and brain damage.  Fish with long life spans tend to contain more mercury than smaller, younger fish.

Farm-raised fish should be avoided due to the significantly higher levels of PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls.  PCBs can disrupt the normal development of the endocrine (hormone) system.  In addition, farm-raised fish have less nutritional value than wild fish due to the restricted diet they consume on fish farms.

High quality fish oil supplements are rigorously tested for mercury and other contaminants and are safe during pregnancy.

Use the following chart to help guide your fish consumption during pregnancy.

Fish Consumption and Pregnancy

Safe Restricted Consumption

DANGEROUS

  • wild pacific salmon
  • farm-raised trout
  • farm-raised catfish
  • fish sticks
  • summer flounder
  • croaker
  • mid-Atlantic blue crab
  • haddock
  • canned tuna
  • mahi mahi
  • eastern oyster
  • blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico
  • lake whitefish
  • blue mussels
  • cod
  • pollock
  • shark
  • swordfish
  • sea bass
  • tilefish
  • tuna steaks
  • King mackerel
safe to consume during pregnancy limit to approximately one serving per week do not consume while pregnant

Smoked Seafood: Refrigerated, smoked seafood often labeled as lox, nova style, kippered, or jerky should be avoided because it could be contaminated with listeria. (These are safe to eat when they are in an ingredient in a meal that has been cooked, like a casserole.)

Raw Shellfish: The majority of seafood-borne illness is caused by undercooked shellfish, which include oysters, clams, and mussels. Cooking helps prevent some types of infection, but it does not prevent the algae-related infections that are associated with red tides. Raw shellfish pose a concern for everybody, and they should be avoided altogether during pregnancy.

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Getting to the Root of Female Hair Loss

Hair loss is a condition affecting many adults – both men and women.  Women are more likely to question why they are experiencing hair loss and may be more negatively affected by the hair loss than men.  Women with hair loss report lower self esteem and often have higher levels of fear, stress, depression and anxiety.

Conventional medicine is often dismissive of female hair loss.  The hair loss is most often not severe alopecia (the medical term for hair loss) and it is often diffuse (scattered over the scalp).

So why are women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s experiencing hair loss?  There are a number of potential causes.  By addressing the root cause of the hair loss, many women are able to stop the hair loss and in some instances, reverse it.

Aging

Unfortunately, hair loss is a normal part of aging.  By the age of 40, the rate of hair growth slows down.  New hairs are not replaced as quickly as old ones are lost.  This age-related hair loss affects both men and women.  In men the hair loss can be more prominent due to the effects of androgens (male sex hormones – such as testosterone).

Androgens

Androgens can contribute to hair loss in women just like in men.  It has been known since the time of Hippocrates that male sex hormones (androgens) contribute to hair loss.  This androgen-related hair loss is very common in women.  A report published in the Clinical Dermatology journal states that it affects approximately 30% of women before age 50.   When it occurs in women it is often referred to as “female pattern hair loss”.

There are a number of reasons why a woman may be affected by androgen-related hair loss.  Genetics, excess androgens, insulin resistance, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and low antioxidant status are all associated with female pattern hair loss.

Drug-Induced Hair Loss

A long list of pharmaceutical drugs can cause hair loss.  Some of the most common ones are:

  • Medications_hair loss
    Many common medications can contribute to female hair loss

    Antibiotics

  • Anticoagulants (Coumadin, heparin)
  • Antidepressants (Prozac, lithium)
  • Antiepileptics (Valproic acid, Dilantin)
  • Cardiovascular drugs (ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers)
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Endocrine drugs (Clomid, danazol)
  • Gout medications (Colchicine, allopurinol)
  • Lipid-lowering drugs
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Ulcer medications (Zantac, tagamet)

When possible, natural alternatives to these drugs should be considered if hair loss is occurring.

Nutritional Deficiencies

A deficiency of almost any essential nutrient can lead to hair loss.  A Naturopathic Doctor can assess your overall nutrient status, but there are a few signs you can look for at home.

Zinc – white lines on the nail can indicate poor wound healing, a common sign of low zinc levels.

Vitamin A – bumps on the back of the arms (called hyperkeratosis) is a common sign of vitamin A deficiency.

Essential Fatty Acids dry skin on the elbows and other parts of the body is a common sign of low essential fatty acid levels.

Another nutrient deficiencies that may lead to hair loss is iron.  A simple blood test is needed to determine iron levels.  Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you interpret this test – many labs have normal ranges that include low iron levels that should be corrected with iron supplements.

If you are deficient in any of these nutrients a test of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) should be considered to determine if you are not absorbing nutrients properly from your diet.

Hypothyroidism

Hair loss is one of the first features noticed by most women with hypothyroidism.  10 to 20% of the adult population has mild to severe hypothyroidism.  A blood test can be done to determine if hypothyroidism is causing your female hair loss.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Gluten Free LogoCeliac disease is a medical condition where gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye grains) damages the small intestines and causes systemic symptoms by cross-reacting antibodies that attack various cells in the body, including hair follicles.  The hair loss with celiac disease is often complete – a condition known as alopecia areata.

In people with gluten intolerance, the condition may manifest as hair loss (not complete) rather than digestive symptoms (which are a predominant feature of celiac disease).

Consider being tested for celiac disease if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bulk, pale, frothy, foul-smelling bowel movements
  • Weight loss
  • Signs of multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies

A gluten-free diet will virtually eliminate symptoms in people with celiac disease.  A trial elimination of all gluten containing foods is recommended for anyone with hair loss to determine if gluten sensitivity is a cause.

Treatment of Hair Loss in Women

One of the central philosophies of Naturopathic Medicine is to treat the cause.  The treatment for female hair loss depends on the underlying cause of the hair loss.

hormone balance_feet
Hormone balance, addressing nutrient deficiencies and addressing the cause will improve hair loss in women.

Treatment of Androgen-Related Hair Loss in Women

  • Address underlying causes of androgen excess
  • Improve blood glucose regulation – low glycemic index diet, blood glucose normalizing supplements (such as glucomannan, fenugreek, or bitter melon), and regular exercise
  • Increase antioxidant intake – vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, green tea
  • Saw palmetto extract – reduces the formation of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) a more potent form of testosterone that is often elevated in male and female pattern hair loss.  Works in a similar manner to Propecia (finasteride) – a prescription drug often used in female hair loss.

Treatment of Nutrient Deficiency-Related Hair Loss in Women

  • Test hydrochloric acid levels to ensure nutrients from food are being absorbed and supplement when necessary
  • A high-potency multivitamin and mineral formula (with iron when indicated)
  • Flaxseed or fish oil daily as a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids

Hair loss in women is a concern that should be taken seriously.  Although some hair loss naturally occurs with aging there may be another underlying cause of hair loss.  Consult with your Naturopathic Doctor if hair loss is a concern for you.  There is help available.

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.