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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

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

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

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