Forbes Nutrional Services

Category — Hormone balance

Bacon and Sperm Quality

Bacon and sperm quality

The bacon world (yes, there is a bacon world) is buzzing with the results of a recent Harvard study that claims eating bacon lowers the quality of sperm.  As an outspoken nutritional defender of bacon, I had to put my two cents in here and caution people not to throw the bacon out with the bath water (hardy har har).  Most bacon on the market today is highly processed, full of nitrates, and sourced from pigs that have been raised in toxic confinement conditions requiring the use of antibiotics and fed a nutritionally deficient diet full of genetically modified and pesticide-rich soy.  There is no question in my mind that this type of bacon, and particularly the nitrates used to preserve it, would harm sperm quality.

However, if you are able to purchase bacon that is nitrate-free and sourced from healthy animals that have been raised on chemical-free pasture (grass), then your bacon may be supplying a shot of beneficial saturated fat, which is important for fertility.  Obviously you would need to also eat other foods that help normal cellular production and fertility such as vegetables and seafood.  That is just part of being a human being!  But “as part of a balanced breakfast”, bacon may still be a helpful thing to eat as long as it’s the right kind.

While doing some quick research to respond to this study, I came across an interesting tidbit on nitrates.  I believe it’s mostly the nitrates in processed meats (bacon, sausage, lunch meat) that are harmful to sperm because you need selenium (found in Brazil nuts and seafood) and vitamin E (found in olive oil and avocado) to detoxify nitrates.  Interestingly, selenium and vitamin E are both absolutely essential to producing healthy sperm.  I found an animal study which showed that testosterone levels (both in blood and semen) were significantly lowered in rabbits when their intake of nitrates was high…and I don’t want to know how they harvest semen from rabbits.  The interesting part of the study was that researchers were able to “significantly increase” testosterone and fertility – without reducing nitrate intake – by supplementing those animals with vitamin E, selenium, and vitamin C (found in citrus, broccoli, and organic red bell pepper).   My point here is not to say “keep eating low quality bacon, just take supplements with it” but to say that even if you have been eating nitrate-rich foods and are having fertility problems (I always say a prayer for Jared from Subway when I see those commercials and think of how many years he ate nitrate-filled cold cuts for a primary protein source), there is hope for you!  The human body is very smart and can recover from almost anything if we give it the right tools.  And I’m holding fast to the assertion that one of those tools is an occasional serving of high quality bacon.

October 16, 2013   8 Comments

My Homemade Kombucha Recipe

After 7 years of spending way too much money on GT Dave’s Kombucha (which is delicious, but in Hawaii is almost $5 per bottle), I decided to take the plunge and started brewing kombucha myself.  Kombucha offers an extensive list of health benefits including but not limited to hormone balance, cancer prevention, detoxification support, and even improvements to bone and tooth quality.  I personally drank it through both pregnancies to prevent nausea (which I never had, thank goodness!) and when not pregnant would drink it for the week prior to my period to prevent migraines and PMS during that time.  At $5 a bottle that really adds up!  To be brutally honest, I was resistant to brewing my own kombucha because in my mind the next step after entering the world of home fermentation is Birkenstocks and hairy armpits (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things!) but I realized I was being ridiculous and my resistance was costing me money that could instead be spent on practical, important items like stilettos and waxing (okay, now I’m really being ridiculous but I’m too hopped up on coffee and homemade kombucha today to have a filter and I’m perceiving myself as funnier than I actually am).  But back to the point – making kombucha at home was shockingly easy to do and my very first batch (pictured above) turned out well so I wanted to share the recipe with all of you who may also be skeptical of home brewing.  Here’s what you do:

  1. Find a SCOBY (the starter – stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast).  I recommend checking on Craigslist.org for someone in your area (just type in “SCOBY” or “Kombucha”) or contacting your local Weston Price chapter leader.  If you can’t get a SCOBY from either of these places, you can get them on Amazon, but this tends to be the most expensive option.  I found someone through Craigslist here on the North Shore of Oahu (relatively far from me) who referred me to their friend in Waimanalo (close to me) who was nice enough to meet up and gave me a free SCOBY.  Here’s what they look like:  While it may seem a little disturbing to meet up with a total stranger and leave with a ziplock baggie full of something that looks like an alien organ suspended in a solution of brown liquid, it is totally worth it.
  2. Get a half gallon glass jar (or gallon, or any size glass container really, but my recipe is for a half gallon because that’s the biggest jar I have), fill it with purified water, and then dump that water into a pot and bring it to a boil.  Stir in approximately 3/4 cup sugar, but don’t dump it in all at once or it might boil over.  White sugar is actually the best (and cheapest) but you can use any type of sugar you have on hand – white sugar, brown sugar, organic sugar, I’ve even heard of people using molasses.  The sugar is just to feed the fermentation so the bacteria and yeast should eat most (if not all) of it anyway. Just don’t use honey since it has antibacterial properties.
  3. Remove solution from heat and add 2 black tea bags (any type of black tea, I used plain old Lipton’s because I had it in the cabinet but since then have started using organic black tea from Vitacost).  Steep for 10 minutes to brew a strong tea.  (You can also use an equivalent amount of loose tea, you just have to strain it and that’s 5 seconds I’d rather spend doing something else.)
  4. Cool to room temp.  If you’re in a hurry you can throw in a few ice cubes and put it in the fridge to cool faster, just make sure you stir well to avoid any “hot spots” that might kill the bacteria in the SCOBY.
  5. Once the solution is cool enough, add your SCOBY along with 1-2 cups of kombucha from a prior brew (use storebought kombucha if you didn’t get liquid with your first SCOBY, or if storebought isn’t available add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar to make the tea acidic enough for fermentation) and cover loosely with a cheesecloth or other breathe-able cloth (I used a thin dishcloth, but Gerber diaper cloths work well also) and secure with a rubber band.  Place this in an area where the temp is around or slightly warmer than room temp (between 74 and 84 degrees F) and leave it alone.  Here’s how my first brew looked:
  6. Depending on how sour or bubbly you like your kombucha, you can let it brew for a minimum of 3 days up to a month.  My first brew I fermented for 5 days (it was sour and tasty, but not too bubbly), my second brew I fermented for 2 weeks (more sour and tasty, and more bubbly) and my third brew is in the works now.  You can check the fermentation process by gently dipping a clean spoon into the mix and tasting to check how sour and bubbly it is.  Also, one of the fun things to notice as your kombucha is brewing is that the SCOBY “mother” produces a “daughter” which starts out as a thin, clear film on the top and eventually turns into a perfect little disc the exact shape of the top of your brewing container.  Mine looked like this:
  7. Once the kombucha has fermented to your liking, you can pour off what you want to drink and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy it!  Be sure to reserve at least 1-2 cups of your brew as the starter for the next batch, which you can store at room temp if you’re going to use it in the next few days or in the fridge if it’s going to be a while before your next batch.  You can drink the kombucha straight, or add juice or fruit for flavoring.  It is sweet on its own so doesn’t require additional sweetener but I find that it mellows nicely when you add something tart for balance, such as lemon juice or frozen berries (but I personally don’t recommend adding these to the fermentation unless you really know what you’re doing – I would wait until your brew is complete to add them to the final product).

Obviously, after 3 batches at home I don’t consider myself a kombucha expert but I did want to share this info with you to let you know that you don’t have to be an expert to make your own! For more practical tips, I recommend visiting the SustainabiliTEA site on kombucha.  I did not read the entire site (yet), but what I did read was very helpful and concise and explains some important issues such as how to avoid and detect mold.

TURD IN THE PUNCHBOWL ALERT: For the sake of full disclosure, I must confess that the frozen berry mix used in the beautiful picture of the finished kombucha at the beginning of this blog is the very same organic antioxidant mix that was recently recalled from Costco for containing pomegranate seeds from Turkey that were giving people Hepatitis A!!!  Luckily I only used it once to flavor that particular glass of kombucha.  I didn’t like the flavor (maybe my body could innately taste the Hepatitis A – but more realistically it’s because I didn’t like the flavor of the variety of cherries used in the mix) so it stayed in my freezer untouched until it ended up on the news.  Now it’s still in my freezer until I can take it back to Costco and exchange it for something with a little less communicable disease.  I don’t have any hepatitis symptoms and thankfully my kids and husband didn’t have any of the berry mix, but just to be safe I’m taking milk thistle herb (for liver support) and eating lots of coconut oil (for its anti-viral activity).  In the future I will try to stick to flavoring my kombucha with fresh fruit that I have washed myself.

June 5, 2013   9 Comments

Breast Cancer Nutrition

Lately it seems that I’m working with more and more otherwise healthy women who are battling breast cancer at younger and younger ages.  The purpose of this blog is to give some nutrition and lifestyle tips to aid the fight against breast cancer, but I have to start off by saying that if you are dealing with breast cancer it’s not your fault.  It’s not because you did or didn’t do something: many of us don’t exercise, eat a terrible diet, live a stressful lifestyle and don’t get breast cancer.  Of all cancers, breast cancer seems to be the most emotionally charged because it is so fundamentally wrong that the parts of us which help to make us visibly feminine and which may have nourished our infant children would now be capable of so much destruction.  So – in my very humble opinion – the first thing you have to recognize is that a breast cancer diagnosis is not your fault, but that there are things that you can do to help turn your hormonal chemistry back to health.

There are many nutrients involved in the biochemistry of cancer, but the two supplements I would immediately start taking if I were battling breast cancer would be:

  1. Iodine.  Iodine is a mineral that is concentrated in the thyroid, breasts, and ovaries.  It is found in seaweed, fish, egg yolks (as long as the chicken lived in an iodine-rich area), and organ meats.  Iodine deficiency is related to abnormal breast tissue growth (which is why many women with fibrocystic breasts find relief by increasing their iodine intake) and increased sensitivity to estrogen in breast tissue.  On the surface this increased sensitivity may not seem like a big deal, but when you factor in the amount of estrogen that our bodies are bombarded with on a daily basis (see lifestyle tips below) you can start to get a picture of why breast cancer is on the rise.  Signs that a person may have low levels of iodine include low body temperature (feeling cold when others are warm), fatigue, goiter, and slowed growth of body hair (meaning you have to pluck your eyebrows or shave your legs less often, but ladies please don’t intentionally deprive yourself of iodine just to save on your waxing bill :)!).  Despite the addition of iodine to salt, many Americans still have low levels of iodine.  In my opinion this is because of our rampant exposure to things that compete with iodine, namely chlorine, fluoride, and bromine.  Nerd alert – if you look at the periodic table of elements you will see that these elements are in the same column as iodine which means they have similar properties and may compete in the human body.  Chlorine can be found in tap water, pesticide residues, and as a breakdown product in Splenda (the artificial sweetener that “Tastes like sugar cause it’s made from sugar” or in my more accurate slogan which hasn’t been picked up by the manufacturers: “Tastes like sugar cause it’s made from poison”).  Fluoride is found in fluoridated tap water, toothpaste, and is a breakdown product of industrial fertilizers.  Bromine is found in some baked goods and in fire retardants (which is why my kids don’t sleep in pajamas treated with chemical fire retardants – bromine is linked to hyperactivity and with two already super active little boys, Lord knows we don’t need anything to increase their activity levels!).  You can see how the exposure to these elements from multiple sources on a daily basis helps to squash the small amount of iodine the average American gets in their diet.  A general dosage to restore iodine levels is around 25 mg of iodine (I like the forms in Iodoral brand the best) but if you plan to take iodine for any length of time it is best to have your levels evaluated with an iodine loading test, and of course consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any medications you may be on.
  2. Sulforaphane Glucosinolate, abbreviated SGS.  This dietary compound, found in cruciferous vegetables (ie broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts), works at the epigenetic level – meaning that regardless of whether you have the so-called “gene for cancer”, it works at a deeper level that tells your genes how to express themselves.  Epigenetics is a huge and exciting area of research and I’m having a hard time not going on a 10-page rant about how it proves that we are not just victims of our genes so I will just save that for another blog!  Johns Hopkins has done extensive research on Sulforaphane and its specific role in preventing cancerous growth in the breast as well as in prompting breast cancer cells to commit apoptosis, or programmed cell suicide.  Broccoli sprouts are the richest dietary source of SGS and can be purchased at most health food stores or grown at home from broccoli seeds.  If sprouts aren’t your thing, SGS is also available in supplement form.  It’s important to note that SGS is not just for ladies – it has been found to prevent several forms of cancer and has similar anti-cancer effects in prostate cancer cells.

Lifestyle tips that may also help include:

  • Avoid environmental estrogen like the plague that it is.  Sources of environmental estrogen include plastic (especially any plastic with a smell, such as plastic shower liners – the smell means it’s off-gassing), new foam mattresses, hormones in meat and dairy products, pesticide residues on food, bis-phenol A found in plastic food storage containers and in the lining of canned foods, synthetic fragrances found in cosmetics and air fresheners (that’s right I’m talking about you, Glade Plug-ins), preservatives and sudsing agents in personal care products, chemicals and fragrances in commercial cleaning products, pharmaceutical and pesticide residues in tap water, adhesives in new carpet, fumes in paint, and dry cleaning chemicals. Now, before you banish yourself to your closet wearing a burlap sack and eating only air, realize that you can avoid most of the above by eating organic foods as much as possible, storing food and beverages in glass or stainless steel instead of plastic, drinking only filtered water, using natural cosmetics and personal care products, and being mindful of the chemical input of things in your home (i.e. choose a cloth shower curtain instead of plastic, look for VOC-free paint, consider a latex or wool mattress instead of foam).
  • Go to bed at or before 10 PM and sleep in a totally dark room.  This helps your brain to produce adequate amounts of melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep regulation that also has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.  The link between melatonin and breast cancer may partially explain why nurses and other night-shift workers have higher incidences of breast cancer than other populations.
  • Take time to nurture yourself.  Metaphysically speaking, the breasts are commonly linked to feelings of nurturing (or lack thereof).  Figure out what this means for you – maybe it’s getting a massage, taking a hot bath, eating a meal you really enjoy, going on a trip, scheduling a few minutes of “me time” into your day, planting a garden, reading a book, allowing yourself the time to exercise, or simply taking a nap!  Regardless of the treatment option you choose, taking the time to nurture yourself will help you on the road to healing.  For more info on this, see the excellent book Feelings Buried Alive Never Die by Karol Truman that discusses the link between specific emotions and the particular diseases they are associated with and gives practical steps for creating health in the link between mind and body.  For an overall look at emotions and women’s health, I recommend the book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, that is an amazing and practical read on learning to love our bodies – even when certain parts may be giving us a hard time.

One more thing that I would like to mention is that when choosing a treatment option, make sure you go with the option that is absolutely what you want to do.  I know I personally tend to have a more holistic approach, but in talking with oncologists through the years the one theme that remains constant is that people have the best outcome when they are confident in their treatment choice.  Whether you decide to go with chemotherapy, radiation, surgical options, natural options, experimental treatments, nutritional treatments, or no treatment make sure that you are doing it because you feel it’s the right choice for you. Every woman is different, every cancer is different, and finding the right treatment option for you – regardless of what your insurance company thinks – could be the key to getting you through this difficult step and on to the rest of your life.  Things may seem bleak right now, but in lectures I have given nationwide with cancer survivors, the thing I hear most often from these amazing women is that cancer changed their life for the better because they realized how strong they really were.  A cancer diagnosis was the catalyst that forced them to choose daily to replace fear and despair with love and celebration.  My sincere wish is that it does the same for you!

October 31, 2012   4 Comments

Nutrition for Night Shift Workers

My little sister – who happens to be the cutest nurse in the world and is the cover girl pictured above – is slated to start the dreaded thing that most, if not all, nurses must do at some point in their career: night shift.  Working nights has been linked to increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men.  The big sister in me wants to write a letter to my sister’s hospital detailing all these risks and asking that they keep her only on days for the duration of her career, but like most people who work nights, what she’s doing is important enough that it can’t wait until morning (she helps to deliver babies).  So, for those of you who work nights because you are doing important stuff that can’t be done during the day or – like my own mom – work nights for the noble purpose of being home during the day with your families…which means basically not sleeping for about 18 years…here are some tips that may help you:

  • The main hormone affected with working night shift is melatonin, the hormone produced by the brain that helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles.  Melatonin also has anti-cancer and anti-aging effects, so it’s really important to support your body’s production of this hormone.  Melatonin can be taken as a supplement, which I think is okay in the short-term (a few days to a few weeks) for people who are traveling across time zones or who have insomnia severe enough to warrant medication, but I don’t recommend it as a long-term fix (more than a few weeks at a time) because it affects the reproductive system and taking it long-term can reduce the amount that your body produces naturally.
  • To support melatonin production, try to set a regular bed time so that your brain can adjust to the new sleeping pattern.  This may be nearly impossible if your work shifts alternate between night and day, but even then you can try to set a schedule so that you are in bed 3 hours after your shift ends (or whatever makes sense for you) regardless of the time your shift actually ends.
  • Melatonin is produced in response to darkness, so even if the sun is blazing outside try to recreate gradual darkness as you wind down to bedtime.  For example, if you get off of work at 7 AM then once you get home do something that relaxes you such as taking a warm bath with the lights dimmed or reading a book with the curtains drawn.  Then go to sleep in a completely dark room (use black-out curtains or a sleep mask if you need to).
  • Foods that may help to increase melatonin production because they contain small amounts of melatonin include olive oil, tomatoes, grape skins, walnuts, oats, and rice.  Tryptophan and Vitamin B6 are also needed to produce melatonin.  Foods rich in tryptophan include chicken, tuna, fatty fish such as salmon or halibut, and of course turkey!  Foods rich in vitamin B6 include chickpeas, tuna, beef, and turkey.
  • Another major reason that night shift may be hard on your health is that it’s unnatural for the body to produce significant amounts of insulin during the night hours, when the body is normally focused on growth and repair.  Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to carbohydrates.  In small amounts, complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, whole grains) actually help to make tryptophan available to the brain, but eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (basically everything in the snack machine) causes surges of insulin to be released which encourages fat gain, accelerates aging, and can further disrupt sleep patterns.
  • To keep insulin levels in a healthy range while working nights, it’s absolutely vital to plan ahead and take snacks with you to work!  Try to eat a small amount of food every 2-3 hours (skipping meals causes insulin levels to become unbalanced also) and focus on foods containing protein along with healthy fats and/or complex carbohydrates.
  • To save you the time of figuring out snack ideas for work, here are some ideas that you can prep on your day off and have ready to grab when you leave for work:
    • Celery sticks with tuna salad (look for skipjack or chunk light, which are lower in mercury).
    • Salmon salad (same as tuna salad but made with canned wild salmon) and raw veggie sticks or crackers.
    • Baby carrots and garbanzo bean hummus.
    • Apple slices and almond butter.
    • Caprese salad made with diced fresh tomatoes, diced fresh mozzarella (buy at any grocery store), diced red or sweet onion, and torn fresh basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
    • Sprouts rolled up inside turkey slices.  Or turkey slices straight out of the package if you’re busy!  Just look for nitrate-free turkey, since nitrates are linked to stomach cancer and erectile dysfunction in men (how’s that for a motivator to eat healthier?).  I usually buy freshly sliced turkey from the deli counter at the local health food store.  They have lots of different nitrate-free options and it’s cheaper and fresher than buying the pre-packaged kind.
    • Smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers rolled up in a sheet of nori sushi paper (or a whole grain tortilla if you don’t like nori)
    • Cook an extra portion of chicken, steak, wild salmon, or halibut with dinner during the week, slice it and serve it cold over a green salad or a small bed of wild rice while you’re at work.
    • Chickpea salad made with 1 can rinsed canned chickpeas, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1/2 diced red onion, a handful of chopped fresh parsley or dill (whichever flavor you prefer), a handful of crumbled feta, Italian salad dressing (if you use the bottled kind then pour the oil portion off and replace with olive oil) and salt and black pepper to season.
    • Spinach salad with red grapes, chopped walnuts, crumbled feta, diced chicken or wild salmon, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing.
    • Chicken and rice soup made with chicken broth, diced chicken (make extra at dinner), diced carrots, diced celery, chopped onion and garlic, and brown or wild rice.
    • Sliced pears and fancy cheese (whatever kind you like as long as it’s real cheese…American cheese does not count as fancy cheese!) or a handful of raw walnuts or almonds
    • Fresh sauerkraut (in the refrigerated section of health food stores, will say “live active cultures” on the label or if you are truly amazing you can make your own sauerkraut) rolled up in roast beef deli slices with spicy mustard – or served on a slice of whole grain sourdough bread if a roll-up is too messy.  If your coworkers complain about the smell of the sauerkraut you can let them know that it’s balancing your hormones while replenishing levels of healthy bacteria in your gut so stop whining.
    • Fruit salad made with fresh fruit of your choice (whatever is in season in your area), frozen berries, chopped walnuts, and diced unsweetened coconut.  One of my great friends in Iowa who used to always get into passionate discussions with me about whether cheese or butter was tastier (guess which side I was on) told me that putting a tiny bit of fresh mint in fruit salad “elevates” the flavors (her dad is a chef and her mom is a Flamenco dancer, so she can’t help saying words like “elevate” while making hand gestures like an Italian pastry chef) of any fruit salad.  She was right and to this day I grow mint in the backyard because of her!
    • Fresh oatmeal with chopped nuts.  Cook it in a tiny crockpot if you have one!
    • Smoothies made with coconut or almond milk, frozen fruit, nuts or seeds, and yogurt or your protein powder of choice.
    • Eggs in basically any form.  Deviled, egg salad, hard boiled, soft boiled, sunny side up, poached…just try to avoid scrambled because frying the yolk at high heat destroys some of the nutrients that are so nourishing to the brain.
  • One more really important thing to remember is to stay hydrated!  One of worst things you could do while working night shift is to drink caffeinated beverages and neglect to drink enough water.  I didn’t find any studies to back it up, but my personal theory is that some of the health problems associated with working night shift are compounded by long-term dehydration because people forget to drink water when their schedules are flipped.  Staying hydrated also prevents fatigue which will make it less likely that you will need to depend on caffeine during your shift.  Some caffeine is okay – and probably necessary for most of us – just be sure to limit caffeine consumption to the first half of your shift so you will sleep easier once you get home and can rest.  I know it’s especially hard for people on night shift to drink enough water because they tend to be in fast-paced jobs such as medicine, security, or factory production and can’t take a lot of bathroom breaks.  I have found in my practice that clients who are especially concerned about urinary frequency actually find that they need fewer bathroom breaks when they are more hydrated because their bladder starts to empty more efficiently.  To stay hydrated, I suggest bringing a large container of water to work (either a large water bottle, or my favorite: a glass quart-sized Mason jar with a lid and a straw – very classy) and keep if full at your work station so that whenever you are near it you can take a few big gulps that would ideally add up to about 8 ounces for each hour of your shift (or whatever you need to stay hydrated).

If anyone out there has tips for staying healthy while working night shift please share them in the comments section!

July 18, 2012   2 Comments

7 Tips for Natural Childbirth

Well, I went and had a baby!  He came a few weeks ahead of schedule so it was a major surprise but we are both doing great.  I had another fast labor with no medications and a few friends have asked for advice on how to do the same so I thought I would share a some ideas that may be useful to other expecting moms out there.  Even if you plan to use medication during birth, hopefully these tips can help you get through the beginning part of labor with the best possible outcome!

1. Have a small baby.  This is the part where I disclose the fact that both of my kids were under 6 pounds and both were born prior to their due dates.  I share this because I want you to know up front that I am not a rock star mom with a high pain tolerance – I think if I were one of these women on the news having 14 pound babies the title of this blog would probably be “How to Schedule a C-Section”.  However, if you do all that you can during your pregnancy to  make sure that your baby is a size that is appropriate for you it can make labor easier.  The most important key here is to keep your blood sugar under control so that your baby doesn’t get bigger than they should be.  You can do this by avoiding sugar; eating a nourishing, traditional diet that is rich in healthy fat, protein, and vegetables; getting regular exercise; and keeping stress levels under control as much as possible.

2. Immerse yourself in positive birth stories.  Part of this is also to not let yourself watch reality tv shows about birth that just show women stuck in hospital beds, unable to move freely, experiencing difficult births that end up with all kinds of interventions!  I highly suggest reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, the first half of which is all positive birth stories (the second half is full of really helpful medical info).  Or if you have friends or relatives that had a positive birth, ask them to tell you about it in detail.  That way when you are in the throes of labor you can have in your mind positive and reinforcing images rather than the fearful and dramatic images that are projected on television.

3. Put the pain in familiar context.  This may not work for everyone but it really works for me.  I think part of what makes labor so scary is that women are inundated with statements like “it’s the worst pain you’ll ever feel.”  For me, prior to birth, the worst pain I thought I ever felt was my first bikini wax!  But to most women a bikini wax isn’t bad at all, so it’s really all relative.  Open ended statements like “the worst pain you’ll ever feel” leave a lot up to the imagination when you’re going through a new experience.  What worked better for me, rather than imagining that the pain was going to just get worse and unimaginably bad, was to take each contraction and realize that it really just felt like a bad stomach flu or really intense gas.  So the pain wasn’t a huge mystery to me, it was something I had felt before in the form of stomach pain and it was something I had already survived in my life.  Other women describe labor as feeling like bad menstrual cramps, while others say it feels like intense lower back pain.  And, not to be crude, but to me the pushing phase feels like you’re pooping a tiny bowling ball with a small wooden log attached…maybe not a familiar feeling but at least something you can imagine!

4. Make water your friend.  Hang out in the shower or bathtub (whatever is comfortable for you) and if you are not feeling nauseous, be sure to drink plenty of water between contractions.  Hydrated muscle is able to operate much more efficiently to get that baby out.  For my first child I spent about 4 hours in the shower at home (thank the good Lord for a large hot water tank!) letting the warm water run over my stomach and back which greatly eased the pain of contractions.  For my second baby labor happened very quickly and we had just enough time for me to get into the whirlpool tub at the hospital for a short time before I got to the pushing phase.  When we arrived at the hospital I was already 6 cm dilated and having very intense contractions every 2-3 minutes.  As soon as I immersed my belly in the warm water, it took all the pressure off and I actually had to send my husband into the other room to check the monitor (they put one of those waterproof mobile monitors on me) to see if I was still having contractions because being in the water took all the pain away!  Sure enough I was having regular contractions of the same intensity as before even though I could hardly feel them and within about 15 minutes I was ready to push.

5. Keep moving.  As mentioned above, the way birth is pictured on television is that a woman just lays there, yells a lot, and a baby is born.  Having been through two unmedicated births in 3 years (yes as I was pushing out the most recent baby I vividly recall thinking “how am I already back at this place in such a short time???) I can think of nothing more ridiculous or more painful than the thought that we are supposed to just lay there and magically push another human out of our bodies.  If I had been prepared, I would have had someone video me during labor so that every time The Learning Channel puts on another birth special showing a woman lying in a hospital bed I could hack into it and instead broadcast myself in labor with my first son pushing against the wall as a contraction started coming and then when the contraction was in full force running naked through our tiny studio apartment yelling “It hurts it hurts it hurts!” at 4 in the morning while my husband sits on the bed timing contractions and staring at me with wide eyes.  Somehow running and yelling helped to discharge the pain and let it move through me.  With this most recent labor, what felt right during intense contractions was to grip the bathroom countertop with my hands, stand up on my tip-toes, and quickly sway my hips back and forth like an overcaffeinated hula dancer.  I do think that this movement helped the baby get into position faster and was part of what cut my labor from 8 hours with my first boy to 3 1/2 hours with the second.  I think that this point is one of the most important even if you plan on eventually having an epidural because if you can stay in tune with your body and what feels right as far as movement you will help your baby get into the best position before the medication is administered.  As a side note, when you are driving to the hospital or birth center and obviously can’t move around then singing can be really helpful.  Keeping your neck and mouth muscles relaxed with singing or humming or deep breathing actually helps to keep your pelvic muscles relaxed and open.

6. Choose your own position.  Birth is an adventure and you should be allowed to choose what feels right to you.  Be sure to discuss this in detail with your healthcare provider so that you know that when you give birth you will be allowed to do what feels right to you.  The midwife I have been visiting with was very lenient and would basically let you give birth while swinging from the chandelier as long as it posed no harm to you or the baby.  However, when I actually went in to the hospital the doctor that was on call was one who preferred to assist birth with the woman on her back.  For my first son I gave birth in this standard position (slightly sitting up, leaning back, both legs pushed back) and I recall feeling like I needed to be on all fours but I just didn’t feel free to move because everything was happening so fast (he was almost born in the car because his stubborn mother waited until contractions were less than 2 minutes apart to go to the hospital) and I was overwhelmed.  It took me half an hour to push him out in this position (I’m not complaining!), I ended up with a second degree tear, and something was not right in the way I was pushing so I went through 6 months of pain that only resolved with pelvic physical therapy.  Yes, such a thing as pelvic physical therapy exists – it’s like a tiny gym for your nether-regions – and I highly recommend it for any woman who has lasting pain after childbirth.  With my most recent birth, after I got out of the tub I was brought to the hospital bed (no water births allowed in hospitals here in Hawaii yet) and I told the nurse I wanted to be on all fours with one leg on the ground to push into the ground.  She said I had to be completely on the bed and that I could be on all fours but when the doctor came in I would have to turn over.  Of course in my head I was thinking that if the doctor also had a bowling ball with a log attached coming out of her body then she could decide how I would be but since she did not then she would have to figure out how to physically make me turn over.  Plus a few swear words.  So, I hunkered down on all fours, face in the pillow, bare butt still swaying quickly in the air and just kept thinking over and over “animals do this every day without dying and without pain medication”.  I vividly remember one push…two pushes…the nurse next to me telling me to breathe and try not to push because the doctor was not at the hospital yet…three pushes…another nurse saying “she’s not going to wait, get the ER doctor”…four pushes…and then I looked down at the bed and there below me was this perfect little boy and the nurse was saying “turn over Jessica and hold your baby!”.  I was completely in shock that he came out so fast!  I know your second one is supposed to come faster but I honestly think that the position I was in was right for my body and how he was positioned in me and that is why he was so incredibly fast and easy to deliver and why I felt completely fine and had no pain after the birth (though this was partly due to the endorphin rush that goes along with childbirth) to the point that I didn’t even need Motrin.  Some women find that standing, kneeling, squatting, laying on their side, or another position is best for them to help their baby make his or her entrance into the world.

7. Stay flexible.  And I don’t mean physically, though that is important for helping with all the movement and positioning items mentioned above!  I mean stay flexible mentally and spiritually in your expectations – there is no other time that is such a life and death moment as the process of giving birth.  While I generally tend to be anti-medicine simply because I respect the intelligence of the body more than the intelligence of the medical realm, there is a time and a place for modern medicine.  If you went into birth hoping for a natural birth and ended up with every intervention known to man but at the end of it all you took home a baby then in my opinion it was successful and you should be proud of yourself!  Childbirth can be both exhilarating and traumatic and then add to that the huge hormone fluctuations and the lack of sleep associated with having a newborn and all I can say is…wow.  If your birth didn’t go exactly as you planned, talk about it with someone who loves you, cry about it, let all of the emotion out and let yourself move on.  And if your birth did go exactly as you planned, please do talk about it and help those around you reprogram their thoughts and expectations about childbirth!

If you have labor tips of your own please share them in the comments section – I would love to learn what helped you!

March 21, 2012   1 Comment

Sperm Series: Scary Soy

Lately, I have been receiving an unusual number of inquiries regarding sperm health through my Ask Jessica Q&A service.  I’m not sure what it is about the new year that makes men so urgently concerned about sperm health, but I’m happy to help answer their questions!  I have received so many questions that I thought I should start a series of blogs about sperm health to help those of you out there with the same questions who might be too shy to ask.

One of the most alarming things I have been finding in my sperm research (I’ve been up to my elbows in sperm research lately, thanks to you readers) is the way that sperm interacts with soy.  It keeps on coming up so I thought I would focus on soy for the first installment of this blog series.  Here are a few facts, supported by research, that will have you hiding from the scary soy monster!

  • Soy exposure beginning in infancy and continuing through adolescence causes males to have “significantly higher” levels of estrogen and “significantly lower” levels of testicular testosterone than in control groups.  While the study supporting this was done on rats to determine whether soy exposure changed the physical makeup of their reproductive systems (it didn’t), it is still alarming to me to think of how many little boys start out on soy infant formula, then transition to soy as filler in their school lunch meat – all in the name of good health.
  • Foods that help to improve sperm health include egg yolks and raw (or at least non-homogenized) milk, while soy was found to induce “sublethal” damage to sperm, meaning it doesn’t directly kill sperm, but it gets pretty darn close!  An interesting study was done on ram sperm (really, what could be more manly than sperm from a ram?) which found that freezing sperm with egg yolk or milk protein made it more functional when thawed, while freezing it with soy lecithin created “sublethal damages that seriously affect sperm functionality”.  One more reason to choose creme brulee over soy ice cream for a romantic baby making dessert!  As if you needed a reason…
  • Just a few months ago, a study was done in Japan which found that increased intake of soy and coffee (oh no!) was a “significant contributor to poorer semen quality”.  Other non-dietary factors identified as sperm killers (kind of like Ghostface Killah but different) in the study included exposure to plastics, ingestion of pesticides, and increased levels of cadmium from cigarette smoke.

It’s important to keep in mind the fact that the body can usually deal with soy if it is only eaten occasionally and in small amounts.  The effects of soy are not the same in everyone – some men suffer extreme hormonal changes when eating even small amounts of soy, while some vegan men who use soy as their primary source of protein have no problems with fertility and have several healthy children to prove it.  If you do decide to eat soy, please be sure it is not genetically modified (label would say something like “GMO-free”) and try to stick to fermented forms of soy such as tempeh, miso, or natto over highly processed forms such as tofu.

January 6, 2012   No Comments