A Quick Guide to Healthy Eating

What is healthy?  Healthy eating is about consuming food for a more than adequate nutritional profile. Here are a few tips to ensure you eat foods high in nutrients rather than empty calories.

Focus on real food

Real food is fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and beans.  Concentrating on these foods means reducing your consumption foods that a processed and come in a packet, box, jar or can.

Consume healthy fats

Healthy fats are found in avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and oils like olive oil.  These will keep you feeling fuller for longer and is essential to help lower cholesterol and keep your skin and hair looking good.

Eat quality protein

Quality protein is lean meat, tofu, fish, pulses and nuts/seeds.  Protein is very important macronutrient required for our body to grow and function.  Protein breaks down into amino acids which form building blocks for DNA, cells, muscle, organs and more!  When it comes to processed meats such as salami and mettwurst remember…focus on real food.

Eat the rainbow

I suggest trying to incorporate at least 3 differently colours of fruit/vegetables in each meal.  This ensures you get a variety of nutrients your body needs.

Portion control

This is often the hardest for people.  A couple of strategies is to portion your meals before eating and pack away leftovers so you are not tempted to go back for seconds.  Another strategy is to pack you plate with vegetables. I like to cook extra vegetables with my meals and try to have at least half of my plate in vegetables.

Cut back on sugar

Sugar found in fruit is fine but it’s the added sugar that is the problem.  Sugars are hidden in processed food which is another reason why I recommend to eat real food.  Sugar raises insulin levels which leads to weight gain, hormonal issues and more.

Should you snack?

Technically, unless you are burning a lot of calories because you are a professional athlete you don’t really need to snack.  It is ok to feel a little bit hungry every now and then.  In fact, a substantial break between meals allows your gut to rest and detoxify.  You may also find after a couple of weeks of no snacking that your blood sugar levels will be more stable, you will no longer have the urge to snack and you might also say goodbye to the 3pm slump.  If you can’t wait for next meal I suggest choosing real food options like veggie sticks, fruit or nuts.

Plan your meals

We are all time poor which is why meal planning is so important.  Once you have done it you will see how much time it saves you and how much cheaper it is. The key is to choose easy recipes that you know don’t require too much fuss especially after a long day at work.

  • Take 15-20min on the weekend to pick out 4 meals (you can choose more or less depending if you want to have a night out)
  • Write them on a calendar or meal planner for dinner
  • double or triple the recipes according to your family size so you at least have leftovers for lunch the next day
  • Write your shopping list.  This also helps to prevent impulse buying especially when that block of Lindt chocolate is on special.
  • Cook your first scheduled dinner and portion out your dinner plates and lunches

 

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Infertility

The prevalence of PCOS is thought to be 5-10% and is a contributing factor towards infertility.

PCOS is diagnosed when 2 of 3 criteria are met:

  • oligo-ovulation (less than 8 periods/year) and/or anovulation (no ovulation occurs)
  • Excess androgen activity (determined via blood test)
  • Polycystic ovaries (diagnosed with gynaecological ultrasound)

Obesity can contribute to the development of PCOS and can also be a cause of infertility.  Both PCOS and obesity increases your risk of diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia and cardiovascular disease.

Hyperinsulinaemia (elevated insulin) leads to increased fat – particularly around your mid-section.  Elevated insulin levels contribute to abnormalities of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis that lead to hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS.

One of the common hormonal imbalances in women with PCOS is increased testosterone production and free androgen index. These hormones lead to acne and hirsutism (excessive face and body hair growth).  The adrenal glands also produce hormones and therefore stress can over-stimulate the adrenals, thereby adding further to the hormonal imbalance.

 

Source: Healthstatus.com

Why Weight?

Although not all women with PCOS are overweight, in those who are, weight loss is an essential part of PCOS treatment.  Not only can weight loss result in dramatic improvement in the condition, weight loss has also been shown to be more effective than current medication for insulin resistance.

As little as 2-5% reduction in weight can be enough to improve metabolic and reproductive indices in women with PCOS.  A healthy lifestyle to lose weight has been shown to lower testosterone production, improve insulin resistance and decrease hirsutism in PCOS.  Even in those without PCOS, weight loss for obese people will also slow obesity related co-morbidities.  Furthermore, for overweight/obese women, a 5kg weight loss can increase the chance of pregnancy by 50%.

I advocate long-term modest weight loss which is far more effective than drastic weight change which incorporates dietary counselling, acupuncture and exercise.

PCOS can be a difficult condition to manage, therefore treatment for PCOS is ongoing. In some cases, it can be months before a client’s initial menstrual bleed.  Reduction of hirsutism can also take up to 3 months before changes are observed.  Counselling and practitioner support can be helpful for continued monitoring of improvement of signs and symptoms .  This not only allows you to track your progress but can help you to stay motivated to achieve a regular menstrual cycle and allow ovulation to occur to improve your chances of becoming pregnant.

 

References

Barry, J, Kuczmierczyk, A & Hardiman, PJ 2011, ‘Anxiety and depression in polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, Human Reproduction, Vol. 26, No. 9, pp. 2442-2451, viewed 12 October 2015, <www.ebscohost.com>

Bhattacharya, SM & Jha, A 2010, ‘Prevalence and risk of depressive disorders in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).’, Fertility and sterility, vol. 94, no. 1, pp. 357–9, viewed 12 October 2015, <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0015028209037042>

Johnson, N 2014, ‘Metformin use in women with polycystic ovary syndrome’, Annals of Translational Medicine, Vol. 2, No. 6, pp. 1-7, viewed 23 October 2015, <www.atmjournal.org>

King, LK, March, L & Anandacoomarasamy, A 2013, ‘Obesity & osteoarthritis’, Indian Journal of Medical Research, vol.138, pp. 185-93, viewed 25 May 2014, <www.ebscohost.com>

Sarris J & Wardle J 2014, Clinical Naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice, 2nd edn, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, Australia

Sirmans S & Pate K 2013, ‘Epidemiology, diagnosis, and management of polycystic ovary syndrome’, Clinical Epidemiology, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp.1-13, viewed 23 October 2015, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/>

The Egg and the Sperm

Evidence suggests that infant health is linked to the health of the mother and Father.  Preconception care is about what you do 3-6 months prior to becoming pregnant with a focus on reducing conception related risk factors and improving health to have a healthy baby.

Preconception for Egg and Sperm

It takes 3-4 months for a female’s eggs to mature before being released for ovulation and a male’s sperm to mature and fully form.  Any non-viable egg/sperm will not reach maturation and will not be released.  This highlights the importance of starting preconception care 6-12 months prior to give yourselves the best possible chance of a healthy pregnancy. More studies are emerging on an infant’s health stemming from pre-birth and even prior generation’s, this is known as foetal Programming. (so yes, your parents and grandparents can influence your health!).

Many lifestyle factors dramatically affect fertility, birth success and infant health.  Preconception care aims to promote fertility, conception and a healthy pregnancy outcome.  Here are a few factors you should consider:

Diet and nutrition

Diet is important when planning for pregnancy.  Certain deficiencies such as iron, selenium and zinc have been linked with poor ovulation, thyroid disorders and certain autoimmune conditions.  On the other hand, a diet high in simple carbohydrates and refined sugars is also associated with decreased ovulatory fertility.

Weight

Overweight and obese women are less likely to conceive than those with normal weight.  Increased weight also increases the risk of pregnancy complications.  Over- and underweight women may have difficulty conceiving due to hormonal imbalances and ovulatory dysfunction.  Furthermore, obesity can also contribute to reduced outcomes of IVF.  Weight loss (and weight gain with underweight women) has been shown to improve fertility in obese women.

Preconception care recommendation is to cease smokingSmoking & Alcohol

We’ve all heard how important it is for women to cease smoking and consuming alcohol during pregnancy.  But it is just as important for males as these can adversely affect fertility for both sexes due to increased toxin load and damage to DNA in sperm and ova.

Furthermore, smoking reduces sperm production, motility and causes DNA damage in males.  In females, smoking can affect hormone levels particularly during the follicular phase which is the time the ovary matures and ovulation occurs thus affecting fertility.

Stress

Psychological stress is an added risk factor for reduced fertility in both females and males.  Couples should undertake stress reducing activities whether it is acupuncture. exercise, meditation, dancing or cooking during all stages of preconception and pregnancy.

Toxin Exposure

Exposure to herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, other chemicals and heavy metals have been associated with decreased fertility, a higher risk of miscarriage and increased risk of the child developing ADHD and autism.

It is important to examine your exposure to chemicals not only in food but everyday chemicals around the house including cleaning products, cosmetics and skincare.  If you experience high exposure to chemicals due to work or where you live (farming districts), I recommend testing for heavy metals and undergoing a detoxification program 6-12 months prior to trying to conceive to ensure not only improvement of your own health but also oocyte and sperm quality.

Pre-natal vitamins

Pre-Natal supplementation should ideally commence 3 months before conception to ensure that the mother is not deficient in nutrients required for hormone production, oocyte production and has ample stores during gestation; as well as for male sperm production and quality.  When choosing supplements:

  1. Quality is very important as you are looking to form new life into this world.  Not all supplements are created equal with some forms being more absorbable than others
  2. More is not necessarily better.  Too high doses of anything is not always good.  Again, this goes back to quality
  3. Get tested.  In some cases, if you don’t have a deficiency you don’t need the supplement.  Some nutrients in excess can actually cause harm
  4. Seek professional advice – practitioner only supplements that can only be prescribed by your healthcare professional (ie. Naturopath, nutritionist, doctor) may sometimes be better quality than cheaper over-the-counter supplements.  These will also often be formulated on based on scientific research.

Preconception care for a healthy babyIt takes 2 to tango

Men also experience declining fertility as they age.
Lifestyle factors that may affect fertility in males include wearing tight-fitting clothing, using hot baths and spas and saunas.  Diets high in meat and dairy have also been associated with compromised semen quality, whereas diets high in fruit and vegetables have shown to be more beneficial to sperm and men’s health overall.

Other factors that should be considered when planning for pregnancy is medications such as cholesterol lowering and blood pressure medication that can affect the health of the sperm along with over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

It is important to remember that fertility and improving egg and sperm quality is not always an overnight fix.  Even if you are healthy and seemingly doing all the right things your ferility may be affected by an undiagnosed condition. Thus, whilst it is important to follow some general dietary and lifestyle advice it is imperative couples have an individual assessment and the correct tests. As without the correct diagnosis, there is no correct treatment and without correct treatment there is no improving egg and sperm and your situation remains the same!

 

Tips to reduce your toxin exposure for pregnancy

If you’re pregnant, looking to conceive or are concerned about your overall health, here are a few tips to reduce your toxin exposure.

Opt for natural

Less is more. Reduce the number of personal care products and make up and opt for natural and if possible organic.  This includes your nail polish, hair dyes, sunscreen, toothpaste and more!  Just be mindful that just because the label says “natural” it might not always be the case.  Always read the ingredients.  If you don’t know what they are, then it’s often likely they aren’t natural.

A great website to source natural skincare, cosmetics and household care items is Nourished Life (www.nourishedlife.com.au)

Clean Green

Household cleaners, insect repellants and air fresheners often contain harmful chemicals that can penetrate your skin, irritate your lungs and enter your blood stream. Furthermore, these can often irritate babies lungs and children with asthma.

Cheaper and safer alternatives for cleaning include basic household items such as vinegar, baking soda and a good micro fibre cloth.

Go fragrance free

Phtalates (endocrine disruptors), linked to reproductive, motor and behavioural development are commonly found in fragrance ingredients.  Furthermore, no one knows what’s in synthetic fragrances as manufacturers only have to indicate the combination of chemicals used with only the word “fragrance”.  There are now many fragrance-free products available and if you do want some scent, opt for products scented with essential oils instead.

 

Choose organic whenever possible (or grow your own)

Eating organic means reducing your pesticide exposure. Research has shown that switching to an organic diet reduces pesticide remnants found in urine after just five days.  In addition organic foods cannot be genetically modified.

If switching to an organic diet is not affordable for you, I recommend choosing organic (or at least grass fed) meat and dairy, eat fruits and vegetables that are in season and buy organic fruits and vegetables that are known to retain the highest levels of pesticide residue.  These can be found on EWGs dirty dozen list.

Cook your own

Preparing your own meals using fresh, whole ingredients gives you maximum control over what ends up on your plate.  And is great practice for when baby comes along.

It is important to note that safer cooking option include example coated cast iron and stainless steel cookware.  Until recently non-stick cookware was made of a chemical, PFOA, which has been linked to cancer, heart disease, infertility and pregnancy complications.  New chemicals are now being used to produce non-stick cookware however their safety is still unknown.

Swap your plastic for glass

Plastics have been shown to contain many toxic compounds that can end up in your food, especially when the plastic is heated.  Avoid canned foods as they are lined with BPA. Switch your Tupperware and drink bottles for glass.   If that is too costly, start by just replacing the old, scratched containers.  Many plastic containers have a number on the bottom indicating the type of plastic it is.  Re-use only #2, #4 and #5.  Avoid #1, #7.

Not only will this be better for your health, it will also be better for the environment.

Eat small fish

Fish are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids which are important for a healthy pregnancy and foetal development.  Eat seafood no more than 2-3 times per week and opt for smaller fish such as sardines which have less mercury contamination than deep sea fish such as swordfish and tuna.

 

By making a few changes to minimize your toxin exposure you can protect yourself and your family from possible risks.

 

 

Regulating your Cycle

Having a healthy, normal period is incredibly important for fertility and long-term health in women. An irregular period or one with symptoms including menstrual cramps, heavy menses, or clots is often a sign that something is imbalanced with your hormones and body.

A regular menstrual cycle is also important when you are planning for pregnancy not only to maximise fertility but to establish when you are most fertile and how balanced your hormones are.  This can be achieved by measuring basal body temperature along with monitoring cervical mucus to anticipate ovulation and overall hormone status.

Addressing your menstrual irregularities is highly recommend to ensure optimal fertility, pregnancy, birth and for your own quality of life.  This is achieved through testing and treating the underlying causes of cycle irregularity such as:

  • blood sugar abnormalities
  • Adrenal fatigue (HPA axis dysfunction)
  • Stress
  • Poor Sleep
  • gut dysfunction
  • impaired liver function
  • Progesterone deficiency
  • Oestrogen deficiency
  • Thyroid Imbalances
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Pituitary disorders
  • Endometriosis
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome

Many of these conditions can often be managed with acupuncture, dietary and lifestyle changes.

Eat a healthy diet

Eat a healthy diet for fertility

For improved hormonal function, the goal should be to keep blood sugar steady. This means limiting refined carbohydrates and sugars such as white bread, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, ice-cream which can cause your blood sugar to spike.  My tip is to limit the amount of packaged food you consume and concentrate on fresh fruit, vegetables and quality organic meat instead.

Don’t forget about fat!  There is a misconception that fat is bad for you but it’s the quality and quantity of fat that you need to consider.  Omega fatty acids often found in fish oil, olive oil, nuts and avocados are important for balancing hormones.

A higher fibre intake from plant foods can help with the excretion of extra hormones in the stool.  Micronutrient-dense foods like liver, eggs, fatty fish, dark leafy greens also provide vitamins and minerals that support liver detoxification and ovarian health.

There is not one diet that works for everyone however I will recommend to all my clients particularly those planning for pregnancy, to opt for organic food where possible to limit their toxin exposure.

Maintain a healthy weight

Extremes of BMI, either significantly underweight or overweight, is associated with menstrual irregularities such as amenorrhea along with its impact on Fetal Programming (more on that one later)

As a general rule for fertility, a woman’s BMI should be between 18.5 and 30. Lower than 18.5 is considered underweight, and higher than 30 is considered obese.  Studies show a higher prevalence of PCOS in women who are overweight and obese, which is likely related to the insulin resistance seen in many women who are significantly overweight.  Healthy eating (and exercise) can help improve insulin sensitivity and shed excess body weight, reducing symptoms of PCOS and thereby increasing your chances of becoming fertile.

If you are underweight (BMI is below 18.5) and you are struggling with dysfunctional menstruation or amenorrhea, your goal should be to gain enough weight to get back into the 19 to 25 range of BMI.

Practice stress management

Chronic stress changes your hormonal profile and can have a long-term impact on menstrual function. Stress impairs the ovarian cycle through activation of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, which affects the release of ovarian hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone.  The symptoms of adrenal fatigue such as reduced libido, worsened PMS, and weight gain, are related to the impact of chronic stress and HPA axis activation on hormonal balance.

Women under chronic stress are at higher risk for menstrual abnormalities and infertility.  Therefore, I recommend to add in some regular stress management techniques such as acupuncture,  light exercise, meditation, yoga, gardening or other hobby into your daily or weekly routine to help you feel better (and calmer).

Improve your gut function 

Good gut function is crucial for hormonal balance as excess hormones are eliminated via our stool.  Research shows that the gut microbiome has a major impact on hormonal balance.  Certain gut flora, dysbiosis and intestinal permeability (leaky gut) can raise insulin levels.  Improving gut flora and ensuring regular (daily) bowel movements is an important part of my treatment protocol particularly if you are experiencing constipation, bloating, loose stools and even reflux.

A healthy, balanced diet including fermented foods, fibre, probiotics and avoidance of foods allergens (especially with leaky gut) can help increase diversity of your gut flora which in turn can reduce inflammation, physiological stress and assist to balance hormones.

The importance of sleep

Sleep is important for hormonal regulation and in turn can affect fertility

Sleep and sleep disturbances can affect menstrual function due to the disruption of your natural circadian rhythm.  The primary hormone that is responsible for these circadian rhythm-related menstrual disturbances is melatonin, (aka. the sleep hormone). Inappropriate patterns of light and dark exposure disrupt melatonin secretion, thus negatively impacting the menstrual cycle.

To regulate your circadian rhythms, avoid bright and artificial light at night (eg phone and computer screen use) and get plenty of natural light during the day. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule (even on weekends) and aim to have 7-8 hours of sleep at night.

Avoid environmental toxins

Whilst chemicals are found everywhere, we can reduce our exposure to them.  There are many chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, these have the ability to affect our delicate hormonal balance

Avoiding BPA in plastics and phthalates found in skin care is a good place to start.  Swap your plastic food containers and drink bottles for glass and your skin care/cosmetics for natural, toxin free products. Learn more about reducing toxin exposure here

Supplement if necessary

There are a handful of supplements that can be helpful for generally balancing hormones, as well as for improving the metabolic disturbances that occur in PCOS.

I prescribe supplementation and herbs based on an individual’s needs but it may often include zinc, magnesium, probiotics, methylated B-vitamins, vitex (chastetree) and vitamin D if status is low.

Try acupuncture for fertility

Try Acupuncture

There is evidence for acupuncture’s effects on improving menstrual function and reducing symptoms of PMS including menstrual pain associated with cramps.  Acupuncture can also be effective in reducing stress.  I often use acupuncture as part of my treatment protocol and as an adjunct have positive results due to its balancing nature.

If you need help or guidance with regulating your menstrual cycle or balancing your hormones contact me for an appointment today to start feeling better tomorrow.