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The Best Way to Cook Bacon…is in Water???

My blog software has a function that tells me what search terms bring people to my website.  Despite the numerous entries I have written on health, children, pregnancy, and nutrition, the #1 search term that brings people to my site is still “the benefits of bacon”!!!  This tells me that even if I posted the cure for cancer, the answer for world peace, or the quantum formula for staying young forever naturally, you people would all just scroll down until you found more info on bacon.  And that is why I love you.  So, to give the people what they want I thought I should share with you the bizarre discovery that I made last night – the best way to cook bacon is in water!

I buy the natural, nitrate-free bacon in bulk at the Whole Foods butcher counter because it is $8.99/pound versus $8.99/ half-pound shrink-wrapped package in the cooler.  The only downside to this is that the butcher counter bacon is like 3 times thicker than normal bacon which means I either cook it for a ridiculously long time on low heat resulting in a not-burned but rock hard carbonized piece of bacon or I cook it at higher heat for less time which results in partially charred bacon with completely raw fat.  Neither of these options helps my reputation for burning food, which started in college when I set a piece of toast on fire in a friend’s toaster oven and which continues to current day with my toddler staring up at me with his big eyes and furrowed eyebrows while I cook, pointing at the pan and saying repeatedly, “Mommy it’s buh-ning, it’s buh-ning.”  Parenting is hard enough without the commentary, thank you very much!  So last night, planning BLT’s for dinner, I decided to get educated and googled “best way to cook bacon” while nursing my 6-month old (really, what did we do before smart phones?  Figure things out on our own?).  I found this video:

“Super Quick Video Tips: How to Make the Most Perfect Bacon Ever”

If you don’t have time for the 1-minute video or if you’re at work and shouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place let alone watching a video about bacon on company time, here’s the summary:

  • Put bacon in skillet, cover with water (like 1-2″ of water).
  • Heat on high until water boils, then turn down to medium high.
  • Once water has evaporated turn to medium low and keep cooking until bacon is to your liking.

The results were perfect! The bacon was crispy, not burned, and so good that my toddler and I ate almost all of it before my husband came home from work so I had to pretend like grass-fed hamburgers with bacon crumbles (made from the 1 piece of bacon left after our mother-son bacon rampage) were what I was planning for dinner all along.  Poor guy.

September 10, 2012   1 Comment

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

Airport Scanner Safety

It’s summer, which for many people means it’s time to travel.  I’ve had a lot of questions from people regarding the issue of whether full-body airport scanners (the big space elevator-looking things parked at more and more airport security lines) are safe, especially for people who may be more susceptible to radiation such as those who are pregnant or have a history of cancer.  Of course there is a HUGE amount of controversy surrounding this subject ranging from an individual’s right to privacy to the issue of national security to the health risks of radiation exposure.  There is an excellent excerpt from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association titled “Pandora’s Boxes: Questions Unleashed in the Airport Scanner Debate” that sums up the health-related issues pretty well.  If you have time to read the entire text I really recommend it.  If you don’t have time (because you’re at the airport frantically deciding which security line to stand in) here is my 5-second summary:

  • The type of radiation used in most of these machines is likely to be carcinogenic (meaning it may cause cancer, probably by damaging DNA), but the doses are supposedly very low.  This is still not very reassuring to me since I am already exposed to small doses of daily radiation from my cell phone, wireless laptop, etc. and radiation exposure is cumulative.
  • The common estimate is that it would take 1,000 scans in an airport scanner to equal the amount of radiation you would receive in 1 chest x-ray.  However, the methods used to calculate this estimate have been questioned by studies including several performed by scientists at the University of California San Francisco.
  • The authors of the text were unable to find any large-scale studies done on humans or animals using this technology.  That is not a good sign – especially for something that is being placed in airports nationwide!

Another tidbit that I found in other articles was that scientists are questioning the safety of radiation that appears to only penetrate skin-deep and how that could lead to skin cancer in individuals who are predisposed.  To put it in perspective, airport scanners are not exposing people to enough radiation to cause skin to burn the way that prolonged exposure to UV radiation (sunlight) would but it is something to consider when looking at overall radiation exposure over a lifetime.

With all that said, here is what I do when I’m heading through airport security:

  • I decline the airport scanner line and instead ask for the standard metal detector/pat down treatment.  Many people don’t realize that this is a perfectly legal option and will not put you on the “suspicious activities” list!  You have a right to refuse to walk through something of questionable safety.  The pat down takes an extra 5-10 minutes so plan accordingly in your travel timing.  If you think this is a crazy and extreme thing to do, you can be encouraged by the fact that when I recently flew while still pregnant and refused the scanner line, the female TSA agent who did my pat down quietly said to me “Good for you honey, and good for your baby.  You should refuse this every time, pregnant or not.  These scanners are not good.  I don’t like working around them all day.”
  • I try to remember to take a dose of a good multivitamin and eat a few Brazil nuts prior to travel.  The multivitamin will supply zinc and B vitamins including folate and the nuts supply selenium. Zinc, B vitamins (especially folate), and selenium are three very important nutrients for DNA repair.  Even if you refuse the full-body scanner line, there is still exposure to radiation simply from the altitude at which the plane is flying.
  • Do what you can to support the immune system which is your surveillance system to help track down and destroy any pre-cancerous cells (not to mention bacteria and viruses you may be exposed to while traveling).  Things you can do to support your immune system include: drinking water, avoiding sugar, eating protein, getting sufficient rest, taking vitamin C and/or zinc lozenges, and utilizing immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea and elderberry.  One thing I DON’T recommend is taking Airborne products for travel.  The packaging is cute and it’s a nice idea but the last time I checked they all contained Splenda, an artificial sweetener that contains chlorine, as well as another artificial sweetener called Acesulfame Potassium.

Most importantly, I would say not to stress out too much about the whole issue!  Traveling in and of itself is stressful and overly stressing out about exposure to small amounts of radiation can also cause damage to DNA.  If you’re reading this after your thousandth trip through the full-body airport scanner and are worried your skin is going to mutate into its own person and walk away, please take comfort in the fact that the body is very smart and if you supply it with what it needs, it knows how to repair itself, all the way down to your DNA.

June 27, 2012   No Comments

Homemade Shave Oil Scrub

Tomorrow is Father’s Day!  Mr. Milk (my toddler – need to think of a new name for him since he’s been weaned for quite a while – at 2 years old Mr. Mischief seems appropriate) is at a birthday party with Daddy and Mr. Muscles (the newest addition to the family) is napping so I took this rare moment of peace and tranquility to whip together some homemade shave oil scrub to add to my husband’s shave-inspired Father’s Day gift.  We’ve recently gotten into reruns of Queer Eye on Netflix and he is especially intrigued by their shaving advice so I thought to get him some aftershave in his favorite fragrance which would be a true classic Father’s Day gift from his two boys.  Below is the recipe for the shave scrub I made just now in less than 3 minutes from ingredients I already had in the house!  Now he can exfoliate once a week before shaving just like the guys on tv tell him to.

The ingredients you need are:

  • Exfoliant – I used fine grind Celtic salt that I had in the cupboard.  Finely ground salt or sugar are the best because they dissolve and don’t clog your sink drain but ground oatmeal, almonds, or flax are good also.
  • Oil – I used coconut oil (of course!) but olive oil, almond oil, jojoba, or avocado would work.  Really almost any oil works, just don’t use a janky oil like canola or vegetable oil or something that will become rancid like cod liver oil or flax oil unless you like the smell of dead fish on your man!
  • Fragrance – I used jasmine essential oil to go with the coconut and appeal to my husband’s Hawaiian DNA.  Originally I was going to use peppermint oil but it was in the bedroom with my napping infant and there was no way I was going to go in there to retrieve it!  You can use any essential oil or combo of fragrances that you like.
  • A container – I had a nice glass flip-top container that I picked up at one of those organizational stores for $3.  A small glass mason jar would have worked also.

You want a ratio of 3 parts exfoliant to 1 part oil.  I had limited time so I just eyeballed it and filled the jar halfway with Celtic salt and then added about 1/3 that volume of coconut oil.

For a traditional body scrub the consistency should be like wet sand, but for shave scrub I wanted to add a little more oil to act as a moisturizer so the consistency was more liquid.  Safety note: don’t forget that this is oil so if you use it in the shower the floor will get slippery!

Once you have the scrub to desired consistency, add a few drops of your essential oil for fragrance and you’re all done!  Father’s Day gift complete – and it was so easy that our sweet boys could have almost made it themselves :)

June 16, 2012   No 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