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Category — Sexual health

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

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

The Health Benefits of Capers

Nothing says “I’m better than you” like cooking with capers.  Most people either love or hate the flavor of those salty little green pellets, but no matter what, if you serve them at a dinner party and someone complains about it you can very aristocratically say “That’s okay, not everyone has refined enough tastes to enjoy the delicate nuances of capers” while gracefully adjusting your tiara.  This is especially helpful when the dinner party consists only of you, your  husband (who does not appreciate capers, by the way), and your toddler.  Here are just a few of the health benefits to justify cooking like a princess:

  • Stachydrine, a phytochemical found in capers, has been found to be a “potent anti-metastatic agent” in regards to prostate cancer and seems to work at the genetic level to keep prostate cancer cells from reproducing.  So you are actually cooking with capers to keep all the prostates at the dinner table healthy!
  • Bioflavonoids from capers have been found to inhibit NF-kappa B activation.  Who cares?  Even if you don’t, the drug companies do.  NF-kappa B is a major target for drug research because this factor has been found to be chronically activated in disease states such as cancer, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and even acne.
  • Extracts from caper plants have been found to lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels.  Of course, if your hypertension is due to salt sensitivity then eating salty capers by the bucketful is probably not the best option.
  • The anti-arthritic components in capers seem to be most concentrated when extracted into alcohol.  This justifies cooking any sort of protein (fish, chicken, lobster) in a white wine, butter, and caper sauce!
  • Capers are a rich source of rutin, a bioflavonoid that is sometimes taken in supplement form to prevent and treat varicose veins.
  • Capers have been found to have “important antimicrobial, anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and antiviral properties“.  This study firmly proves that if I left anything out in my list above, you can use the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon game (health version of course) to relate whatever ailment your dinner guest may have to something that capers can help with.

December 5, 2011   1 Comment

Postpartum Hair Loss: “When did my stylist give me bangs?”

The other day I was talking to a friend when suddenly, just like Jennifer Lopez, a luxurious lock of hair that was fabulously cut to cheek length fell across my face.  And of course, I – again like J. Lo – swept it away deftly and gracefully and kept talking.  And then I realized that I don’t have bangs and haven’t had them since I was about 6 years old.  This realization prompted me to flash back to the months right after Mr. Muscles was born a little less than 2 years ago when I would look in the mirror and see little sproutlets of hair standing straight up all around my hairline like the awkard feathers of a silkie chicken.  My luxurious movie star bangs are just the remnants of the hair shed during the postpartum days, those magical days when your body hurts, you feel like a milk cow, you’re exhausted, and you still look pregnant enough for people at the grocery store to ask how far along you are even when you’re holding your newborn.  And oh yeah, your hair falls out.  Any man reading this post – single or married – should make a mental note at this time to be absolutely certain to tell ANY woman in their life who just had a baby how beautiful and wonderful they look, while also remembering to never ask them why their hair looks like that and never ever offering to buy them hair gel as a gift to keep their weird hair spikes down as my wonderful, loving husband did (he is in fact wonderful and loving and luckily he made this comment when our son was about 6 months old and I was far enough past the post-partum months to think it was funny).

But enough about that!  Let’s talk about why postpartum hair loss happens and how to keep it as under control as possible:

  • In a non-pregnant woman, about 90% of hair is in a growing phase and 10% is in a resting stage.  The resting stage hair is what tends to fall out with brushing and every day activity.
  • During pregnancy, estrogen levels get very high.  Estrogen is the hormone that (among other things) encourages cell growth, so it makes sense that high estrogen levels would encourage more hair to stay in the growing phase and discourage hair from falling out.
  • After baby is born and breastfeeding begins, estrogen and progesterone levels fall as prolactin levels rise.  This abrupt change in hormones is what makes some women susceptible to postpartum depression and it is what is responsible for the bulk of hair loss after pregnancy.  It’s not so much that MORE hair is falling out, it’s that all the hair that was delayed from falling out when estrogen and progesterone levels were high starts to wake up and realize it’s time to fall out.  And most unkindly of all, they decide to all fall out together in those months after baby is born.
  • Other factors contributing to postpartum hair loss include stress (but new moms are never stressed so ignore that one), low iron levels (check with your midwife or doctor to see if you need to take iron after the birth), insufficient protein intake, insufficient vitamin and mineral intake, and hair being pulled too tightly by hair clips and/or baby.
  • To help keep hormones in balance during the fantastic transition after birth, I highly recommend drinking red raspberry leaf tea up to and after the birth.  I actually kept drinking it all through the nursing phase and now that I’m pregnant again it’s another regular part of my tea rotation.  At the rate I’m going, I will probably be drinking red raspberry leaf tea for the next ten years and beyond!
  • Nutritionally, it’s also really important to take iron if your healthcare provider recommends it.  This would usually be the case if you were anemic during pregnancy or you had a lot of bleeding during or after the birth.  You can also include iron-rich foods such as grassfed beef and blackstrap molasses in your diet.
  • Since low protein levels contribute to hair loss in everyone (not just pregnant women), it’s important to make sure that new moms get adequate protein in the postpartum months.  Since it’s not always easy to sit down and eat 3 square meals a day with a newborn, I encourage moms to keep protein-rich and easy-to-eat snacks handy, such as nitrate-free cold cuts, yogurt or cheese from grassfed cows, hummus or other bean dips (if your baby is ok with beans), nut butters, deviled or hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon, and protein bars made with whey or rice rather than soy.  If you have friends or family nearby that can help with cooking, enlist their help in keeping your fridge stocked with protein-rich meals and snacks.  In addition to preventing hair loss, eating protein in the postpartum months helps to prevent postpartum depression and accelerates the rate at which you’ll be able to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans!
  • I also usually recommend that nursing mothers take a double dose of their prenatal vitamin for the months following birth, since it’s such a time of transition.  Depending on the vitamin you’re taking, you may want to double check this with your healthcare practitioner.
  • Another thing that is obvious to some people but not to others (like myself) is that you want to avoid pulling on your hair in the same spot.  When Mr. Muscles was born, I had my hair back in a bun or pony tail most of the time pulled straight back from my face which is probably why most of my postpartum hair loss happened around my forehead hair line.  Most women lose hair from the front and sides of their hair rather than the back, so this is normal, but looking back I could have varied the natural part of my hair and tried braiding it into pigtails once in a while to reduce the weight of my hair always pulling on the same spot.
  • If you feel your hair loss is extreme and you see visible bald spots after having a baby, be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife about it.  They can run tests to see if your thyroid needs support or if there is another underlying imbalance that needs to be addressed.

Above all, if you’re experiencing postpartum hair loss, try to remember that it’s a normal thing that will eventually stop.  And in a couple of years you may be lucky enough to have surprise movie star bangs without having to pay your stylist!

November 7, 2011   5 Comments

Honeymoon Nutrition

My fabulous, wonderful, beautiful, talented, brilliant, and hilarious little sister got married a few days ago and is currently on her honeymoon.  While shopping for her bachelorette party gift I came across a horrifying amount of artificial sweeteners in the various edible oils and lubricants you can buy at Victoria’s Secret and other less classy establishments (sorry Grandma if you’re reading this!).  Yes, while everyone else is enjoying the funny gag gifts at such stores, I am the weirdo in the corner reading all the labels of the freaky love potions (I ended up buying my sister a tasteful nightgown and a classy and respectable book).  On almost every single container, I found various artificial sweeteners hidden in the ingredients such as Acesulfame K, Sucralose (Splenda), Aspartame, and Saccharin.  I do understand the rationale behind using artificial sweeteners in these products – you wouldn’t want to add real sugar to an area prone to yeast infections and artificial sweeteners are cheaper than natural alternatives.  And yes, I don’t think anyone is going to buy these products and eat entire bowls of them for breakfast so it’s not like the amounts you would be exposed to are the same as those causing cancer in lab rats.  But still, with so many chemicals in our environment that are causing levels of sperm to drop worldwide and making fertility more of an issue for so many people, it seems to me that the last thing a person should do is apply artificial sweeteners to an area that absorbs so much.

So, all that to say that I was deeply troubled after my shopping excursion, thinking of all the new couples starting out with funny wedding gifts that are actually poisoning their genitals (okay maybe I am being a little dramatic).  Rather than running into the shops and breaking all the bottles on the ground while hysterically screaming about the worldwide decline in sperm counts I decided to fight back by posting a few recipe ideas for all natural freaky deaky love potions that my dear readers can enjoy and make for their friends as wedding or anniversary gifts.  Enjoy!

Warming Coconut Cream -Combine the following in a 4 oz. squeeze bottle (for warm climates where coconut oil stays liquid) or a small jar (for cool climates where coconut oil stays solid):

  • 4 oz. Coconut oil (any kind except hydrogenated)
  • 2 drops Cinnamon essential oil
  • 2 drops Orange essential oil
  • 2 drops liquid Stevia

Cooling Coconut Cream– Combine the following in a 4 oz. squeeze bottle (for warm climates where coconut oil stays liquid) or a small jar (for cool climates where coconut oil stays solid):

  • 4 oz. Coconut oil (any kind except hydrogenated)
  • 2 drops Peppermint essential oil
  • 2 drops Vanilla essential oil
  • 2 drops liquid Stevia

For a gift, you can give a cutely wrapped bottle of each of the above as a kind of His and Hers gift. Please note that any kind of oil will weaken latex so even though coconut oil is exceptionally good for skin it may cause your friends to have a creature of their own before their time if they’re using any type of birth control involving latex, such as latex condoms or a latex diaphragm (though most diaphragms these days are made of silicone).

Tropical Delight– Yes, the name is creepy enough to make it just as cool as any other edible massage oil on the market.  In an 8 oz. glass bottle or plastic squeeze bottle, combine:

  • 6 oz. Jojoba oil
  • 8 drops Jasmine essential oil
  • 4 drops Vanilla essential oil
  • 1 tsp Xylitol

Since this one is oil based it will also weaken latex.  Using xylitol as a sweetener may actually have some benefits for skin, since xylitol has been shown in some studies to kill overgrowth of yeast and harmful fungus or bacteria.

Cookie Potion– This one uses glycerine as a base, which is safe for latex.  The smell I recommend is vanilla, a smell which many men associate with love.  The theory behind this is that the smell of vanilla reminds them of the childhood smell of baking cookies.  In an 8 oz. squeeze bottle, combine:

  • 1/2 cup Glycerine (look for it either in the cosmetic or baking section at your local health food store)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp alcohol-free Vanilla extract (real, not imitation) or 12 drops Vanilla essential oil

Glycerine has a naturally sweet flavor, so there is no need for added sweeteners.

August 5, 2011   1 Comment

Man Meat: Foods to Increase Testosterone

I realized today that I’ve been writing so much lately about pregnancy, babies, and women’s health that I better balance it out and write about something manly lest this become a girls only blog!  Here are a few foods that balance testosterone levels and help to keep a manly man the way nature intended – you guessed it – manly.

  • Butter: Yes, I am famous for going on and on about the health benefits of butter and allowing my toddler to eat slices of butter like they’re candy but there’s a reason for that.  Butter from healthy cows that have been fed grass instead of grain is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), the only trans fat found in nature and one of the most manly fatty acids out there.  In fact, if you take a break from reading this blog and do a search on CLA I bet you will come upon a host of bodybuilding websites, and what is more manly than a bunch of overly tan men, greased up with Crisco, dancing around on a stage and posing in tiny underpants?  But back to butter.  It contains CLA, which helps to balance levels of insulin, estrogen, and testosterone.  And this is why it’s a popular supplement for bodybuilders.  Butter also contains activated vitamin A, which is necessary for production of testosterone.
  • Grassfed beef: This is another great source of CLA and also a wonderful way to get plenty of protein and zinc – two precursors needed for testosterone production.  Please note that I am making a distinction here between grassfed meat and butter and regular commercial meat and butter.  Sadly, commercial cows are raised in feedlots, fed grain that lowers their levels of CLA (cows get CLA from the fermentation of grass in their gut done by bacteria that are killed off when feedlot cows are fed grain and antibiotics), and in some cases are even given doses of synthetic estrogen to make them grow faster and produce more milk.  These factors end up having the opposite effect on testosterone and they are the reason that foods containing saturated fat have such a bad reputation these days.
  • White button mushrooms: Aromatase is an enzyme that turns androgens (man hormones) into estrogens (lady hormones).  This is most important in the development of hormone dependent cancers, which is why foods that have anti-aromatase activity are heavily studied so that drug companies can figure out how to make drugs with the same activity.  White button mushrooms are one of the foods that you will find in these studies, though I suspect that most mushrooms have the same benefits (white buttons are just the cheapest, so probably they are the easiest to study in large amounts – that is purely my speculation though).  If you’re going to go off the deep end on eating mushrooms, make sure that you cook them first (in grassfed butter!).  Eating raw mushrooms in large amounts can expose you to a toxin inherent in mushrooms which is broken down when they are exposed to heat.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, radish, turnip, and watercress.  Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur-based compounds including one called I3C (indole-3-carbinol) that help to balance hormone levels and detoxify excess estrogen.  These compounds are widely studied for their anti-cancer effects, and when I worked in a clinic we used to give men a supplement containing these sulfur-based compounds to help them with urinary frequency problems.  Some of them came back reporting an increase in function in the “love area”, which I’m guessing would be due to a balancing of their testosterone levels!
  • Pumpkin seeds: Rich in zinc (another important nutrient for balancing hormone levels), pumpkin seeds also contain phytochemicals that are especially nourishing to the prostate.  The two studies I read found that pumpkin seed oil effectively reduced prostate size in cases of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia – also known as an enlarged prostate) that were caused by hormone imbalance.  And for all you coconut lovers out there – I found a study from Cuba that showed coconut oil to have the same benefits on BPH!

Ladies – I know the focus of this blog was more on men, but keep in mind that testosterone levels are important for women too!  In fact, testosterone is the single most important hormone related to sex drive for women.  So you may want to re-read this blog with that in mind :).

July 6, 2011   2 Comments