Interviews from the Blue Couch - Jen Stone

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We are very excited to introduce you to Jen Stone from Feng Shui by Jen. As part of our Chinese medicine training we get a brief introduction to Feng Shui and I have always wanted to learn more. My conversation with Jen was very informative and her knowledge, capability, and vigor for the practice were infectious. She has even written a book on the subject called “The First Guide for Feng Shui Enthusiasts.”

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Please tell me about your business?

Feng Shui by Jen is a business based in Scottsdale that provides Feng Shui, a tool to help you understand the energetics of your environment (home, business) and remedy imbalances with subtle design changes, and Ba Zi, a unique system that can help uncover your Life Potential by analyzing the blueprint of your personal birth data. In addition to these consultations we also teach classes and free workshops.

How and why did you start it?

I was born in Hong Kong and lived there until the age of 14. I went to university for accounting and worked in the field of forensic accounting. People would know why I would be brought into a situation and pretty much avoid me. Then a friend gave me a book on Feng Shui and it resonated with me. I left my corporate job, studied with Raymond Lo and opened my business in 2013. I am now an Accredited Feng Shui Master.

What have you learned along the way?

As a small business owner who provides services and teaches internationally, I have found that I have to wear multiple hats and build my own personal skill set. You have to be authentic to what you offer, be in service to others, and engender gratitude. Word of mouth is very important for small businesses as well.

How can your business benefit our patient base?

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When used together Ba Zi and Feng Shui readings put your situation into perspective and empowers you to make a change. They are useful tools for relationships, learning your place in the world, and understanding your body and health challenges. In terms of fertility, we can figure out times of your life when you are more fertile and optimal timing of fertility treatments.

Anything else you would like to add?

You can check out our events page on my website for upcoming free local talks and a variety of workshops.

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Latest Research on Acupuncture and IVF

By Shira Dobratz MSOM, Dipl.OM, L.Ac, FABORM

It’s very exciting to see that the success of Chinese Medicine is attracting more and more attention by advanced western research. A recent study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (BMC Compl Alternative Med) challenged the effectiveness of Acupuncture to improve CPR (clinical pregnancy rates) and LBR (live birth rates) of women undergoing IVF. It detailed data from 27 different studies with 6,000 women undergoing IVF. Click here to read the article: (https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-019-2523-7). It was found that Acupuncture increases the success rates of both CPR and LBR for women undergoing repeat IVF cycles d/t a poor response (from either egg quality issues, endometrial receptivity, or unknown factors).Those success rates were even higher for women who underwent more than 2 treatments prior to the day of FET (frozen or fresh embryo transfer).

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) we treat issues of fertility by:

●  harmonizing the interrelationships and function of the internal organs 


●  clearing obstructions 


●  improving the qi (strength and smooth movement of the body’s internal energy) 


●  Improving the blood supply (both volume and proper circulation) within the uterus and surrounding

●  improving the health and quality of the eggs 


●  improving the receptivity and vital health of the endometrium.

We have many western medical studies that reveal Acupuncture’s ability to: 


●  stimulate ovulation by adjusting a woman’s endocrine function of the HPO (hypothalamic-pituitary- ovarian) axis 


●  improve egg quality, improve blood circulation to the uterus and ovaries by inhibiting uterine central sympathetic nerve activity 


●  improve the endometrial receptivity 


●  reduce infertility-related stress and depression by positively impacting changing the stress hormones serum cortisol and prolactin

Hopefully there will be more studies done, of this caliber, to continue investigating the relationship between Acupuncture and the varying parameters of the IVF population worldwide.

At ilumina Healing Sanctuary we are well aware of the benefits of Chinese Medicine for our fertility patients, particularly for those who’ve had poor response in the past. With whatever methods of family planning that are utilized, we rejoice as a clinic in the positive impact our medicine is making for our community and we love to see evidence that shows the world the same thing that what we are seeing in our clinic everyday.

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For more information about how Chinese Medicine may be suitable for you on your own journey with fertility, with any questions or to schedule first appointment please contact us at 602-957-2602.

Fertility Yoga: The Evidence

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Recently, I was asked to put together a handout reviewing the research supporting the benefits of fertility yoga.  I am often recommending these modalities to patients for self-care during preconception, pregnancy and post-partum and even I was surprised by the wealth of evidence out there. Importantly, while most of the focus tends to be on prenatal yoga, the evidence points to starting a yoga practice, like a prenatal vitamin, months prior to conception to improve fertility, including in conjunction with conventional fertility treatments, and though the postpartum period to reap the benefits for both mother & baby.

It is important to note that this article and many of the studies, use the term "yoga" to represent a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages strength & stretching (asana), mental centering (meditation), and focused breathing (pranayama).

Research suggests that in this way, yoga prior to and during pregnancy is safe and can have many benefits for women and their babies:

  • Improved sleep, quality of life  & self-efficacy 1,2, 5, 6, 13

  • Reduced stress, depression and anxiety. Compared to non-depressed women, depressed pregnant women experience higher rates of pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, pre-birth complications, pre-term delivery, low birth weight and is associated with cognitive and emotional problems in children 1-7, 9-16, 18, 21

  • Improve fertility and increase the success rates of IVF by improving physiological & psychological states, in addition to improved tolerance of IVF treatments. 19, 20

  • Improved immune function as evidenced by increased immunoglobulin A 10 

  • Decreased heart rate variability, indicating increased parasympathetic: sympathetic functioning more than relaxation or exercise alone 2 

  • Increased strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth 2

  • Decreased lower back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, hypertension, diabetes and shortness of breath 1, 2, 5, 6, 14, 23

  • Significantly decreased duration of first stage of labor and the total duration of labor, frequency of labor induction, perineal tears, episiotomy & C-section; increased rates of comfort during delivery and post delivery through the increased production of endorphins and dopamine 2, 5, 11, 15, 23

  • Improves socialization with other pregnant women and prepares for the stress of being a new parent. 2, 3, 4, 5 as evidenced by decreased levels of cortisol 10, 12, 14, 18

  • Cord blood cortisol level of babies indicates positive health status of the newborns verifies that prenatal meditation can influence fetal health and better temperament at fifth month reflecting the importance of prenatal meditation in relation to child health. 17

  • Infants prenatally exposed to maternal mindfulness have been found to be “less fussy” when compared to those exposed to higher levels of anxiety; an example of “prenatal programming”: Positive/negative traits of mother during pregnancy may ‘program’ infant. 18

  • In the postnatal period, yoga during pregnancy & after delivery was linked with a lower risk of maternal depression & anxiety by up to 67%. 24-26

When to start and what to do

Yoga can be started anytime in the preconception period. New or returning students should focus on yin, slow flow, restorative or prenatal classes; heated classes should be avoided. Research indicates that pregnant women should start at by 18-26 weeks gestation, one to three times per week for 30-60 minutes with the most benefit seen in the integrated yoga interventions (mindfulness + asana). Students should inform the teacher of possibility of pregnancy. 2, 6-9.

References

1. Yoga during Pregnancy: A Review, American Journal of Perinatology; 2012.

2. Systematic Review of Yoga for Pregnant Women: Current Status and Future Directions;Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012.

3. Mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting education: promoting family mindfulness during the perinatal period. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2010

4.  Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood: results of a pilot study. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2008.

5. [Effects of prenatal yoga: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials]. Nihon Koshu Eisei Zasshi.2015.

6 .Yoga in Pregnancy. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2016.

7. Potential for prenatal yoga to serve as an intervention to treat depression during pregnancy.Womens Health Issues. 2015 . 

8. Mindfulness yoga during pregnancy for psychiatrically at-risk women: preliminary results from a pilot feasibility study.Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2012.

9. Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis, BMC Psychiatry. 2015.

10.Effects of prenatal yoga on women's stress and immune function across pregnancy: A randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2017.

11. Yoga during pregnancy: The effects on labor pain and delivery outcomes (A randomized controlled trial).  Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2017.

12. The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2014.

13. The Effects of Prenatal Yoga on Birth Outcomes: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health. 2013.

14. The effects of mindfulness-based yoga during pregnancy on maternal psychological and physical distress. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2009.

15. Benefits of preparing for childbirth with mindfulness training: a randomized controlled trial with active comparison, BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017.

16. CALM Pregnancy: Results of a Pilot Study of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Perinatal Anxiety. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2014.

17.Prenatal meditation influences infant behaviors. Infant Behav Dev. 2014.

18. Maternal mindfulness and anxiety during pregnancy affect infants’ neural responses to sounds. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience,2015. 

19. Yoga can improve ART outcomes in couples with infertility. Altern Ther Health Med 2018.

20. Yoga: an adjunct to infertility treatment. Fertil Steril. 2003.

21. Meditation for preterm birth prevention: A randomized controlled trail in Udonthani, Thailand. International Journal of Public Health. 2016.

22. Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2008.

23 Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. J Neurosci. 2011.

24. Impact of prenatal exercise on both prenatal and postnatal anxiety & depressive symptoms. Br J Sports Med. Nov 2018

25. Effects of exercise-based interventions on postpartum depression: A meta-analysis of randomized control trials. Birth. Sept 2017

26. Efficacy of yoga for depressed and postpartum women: A randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract. May 2015

Chinese Herbal Medicine at ilumina

by Dana Price DOM, L.Ac., FABORM

At ilumina Healing Sanctuary our practitioners are educated, trained and board certified in Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine not only includes the sophisticated art and science of acupuncture; it also includes the extensively practiced Chinese herbal medicine sometimes referred as prescriptionology. This is because there is a very specific method of combining herbs to bring about the most beneficial therapeutic effect for an individual patient.

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Chinese herbal prescriptionology has been practiced for thousands years and during that time physicians have empirically learned what works, at what dosage and in which type of patient. Recently, we have combined that ancient knowledge with science to further our understanding of these medicinal herbs and ensure their safety.

Our practitioners at ilumina specialize in infertility treatment, and the use of unique herbal prescriptions individualized to each patient during the process of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby is an advanced technique and rare to find. We administer herbs while women are trying to conceive on their own, using ovulation enhancement, and undergoing IVF. With our close to 20 years experience in doing this we know how to combine herbs with cycles to ensure therapeutic benefit.

Ilumina has a full traditional Chinese herbal pharmacy, semi customizable herbal tinctures and a wide variety of pre-made pills. The products we stock are top of the line and come from companies that ensure the highest safety measures.

Chinese herbal prescriptions are such a benefit to fertility as well as other health issues and take a lot of training and experience to perfect. They are an integral part of a comprehensive Chinese medicine treatment plan.  Our practitioners at ilumina have the training and wisdom needed to practice as Chinese medicine was intended. If you are interested in starting an individualized herbal prescription please call the office and schedule a consultation.

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The Importance of Weight & Metabolic Balance in Female Reproductive Health

By Leigh Lewis NMD, L.Ac., FABORM, RYT

The role of weight in all aspects of female reproduction has been validated by science for several decades with both underweight and overweight body habitus causing problems.  Being underweight has been linked with a relative hormone deficiency what can lead to thin uterine lining and irregular ovulation and menses, therefore interfering with fertility.  Adipose tissue, most notably abdominal fat, has been linked to excess production of estrogen which can also lead to issues with ovulatory and cycle irregularity and decreased fertility.  Once pregnant, body weight should increase for most patients by 25-35 pounds, however, women who are underweight at the time of conception may need to gain more, with overweight women needing to gain less or sometimes, simply maintain their pre-pregnancy weight.  Pregnant women who are underweight are at a higher risk for having a miscarriage, an underweight baby or a preterm birth.  Being overweight confers an increased risk for miscarriage, gestational diabetes and hypertension, preeclampsia, C-section, and an overweight baby. There are also increased risks to the baby born to an overweight mother: diabetes and metabolic syndrome (high cholesterol, blood sugar imbalances, hypertension, overweight) in child- and adulthood. In a recent study, the CDC concluded that 50% of American women gain too much weight in pregnancy.  Oftentimes, excessive weight gain during pregnancy is difficult to lose in the post-partum and can be further compounded by subsequent pregnancies. Finally, many women gain weight during the months or years of hormonal fertility treatments…this weight can be the most difficult to lose.

In general, recommendations are for women to maintain a “normal body weight” as indicated by a body mass index between 18.5-25, although individual variability may dictate otherwise.  This would be a weight between 120-140 for a woman who is 5’6”. However, there are individual issues that might change this recommendation; for example, a female body builder will have a higher muscle to fat ration and since muscle weighs more than fat, she would likely have a higher healthy body weight. Your provider can help determine your ideal weight range.

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Diet and exercise are often the first recommendations made to women and while this is typically good advice, many women are frustrated because usually they have tried it all before.  An important and often neglected first step is to make sure there aren’t any underlying metabolic issues that might predispose one to having weight issues.  Lab analysis of Vitamin D, thyroid function, cholesterol, glucose and insulin can provide insight to underlying factors that could make weight loss or gain more difficult.  Radical diets may help one achieve initial goals, but are difficult to maintain for the long-term and may lead to nutritional deficiency.  In fact, most current research suggests that a sensible, whole-food, Mediterranean-style diet is the best for promoting and maintaining both a healthy weight as well as general health, including fertility and pregnancy.  Some individual variations may be necessary; women with PCOS for instance often fair better with a higher protein/lower carb diet.

In general, one does not have to even achieve a “normal” body weight to see improvement in ovulation, menses and fertility, including improving the success of in vitro fertilization treatments: improvement can be seen with as little as 5-10% weight change.  This is good news, but can seem daunting to many nonetheless, and getting assistance from a team of professionals at least initially may be the best course.  As many of us know, what to eat is only part of the issue for most…we all know less sugar and alcohol and more fruits and vegetables would be beneficial, portion size matters, exercise is important. You likely have heard it all before and could probably tell your best friend or daughter or mom the keys success. The issue isn’t so much how to eat better and exercise more, it is why can’t we implement what we already know we should be doing.  There are several studies that illustrate the positive impact individual or group therapy can have in changing lifestyle behaviors is a way that can have long-lasting health impacts.  In addition, while it may seem like a luxury to have a personal trainer, a series of 4 weekly sessions or joining small group trainings geared for women can set you up to have success with your workouts instead of just grinding out miles on the treadmill.  Some trainers can also help set up individual meal plans.  Finally, stress, both physical and mental can play havoc with the hormones that affect both weight and fertility, adding a mind/body practice to any regimen is a great place to start, whether it be as part of a group or as a home practice.

The bottom line is if you are concerned that your weight may be negatively impacting your reproductive health and fertility or you simply are trying to re-establish your pre-pregnancy weight for general health reasons, consider making an appointment to discuss your individual goals with one of the practitioners here at ilumina and please see resources below for other specialists offering programs to help you meet your goals.


Farrah Hauke, PsyD – offering individual therapy and a 4-week workshop series on psychological strategies to lose weight & keep it off. 480.659.5107; www.arizonapsych.com

Lindsey Cusey & McKenzie Smalley - Personal Trainers/Nutrition Consultants *offers a discount to ilumina patients; www.fithappygirl.com

Donation-based Yoga + Mindfulness classes for women @ Kinfolk Chiropractic, Tuesdays 6:30pm, to RSVP email leighklewis1@gmail.com

Chinese Medicine Weaves Spring with the Wood Element

Written by: Shira Dobratz L.Ac. 

Spring. Warm breezes. Birds chirping. Flowers and sunshine. Nature reminding us of hope and new beginnings.

In Chinese Medicine spring is tied to the element of Wood.  Twigs and plants that grow up through the cracks of measured cement pavements, and the way plants and trees respond to wind both give insight into the Wood element.  Lush green life on a mission for sunlight can not be stopped! No matter the wind, trees hold their ground, firmly rooted into the earth, yet with free and easy response to the strength and direction of the wind. This is the wood element doing what it's designed to do and being what its designed to be, centered, goal oriented, flexible, courageous and resilient.

We have similarities to the journey of greenery. We too are on a mission to grow, we too have a propelling need to be nurtured and sustained, we too face many obstacles in our desire to thrive,  we too feel tested by the pressure and intensity of many winds upon us. Strong emotions like stress and frustration can surface for many of us in that process.   Seeking balance in this season includes turning from harsh and relentless self-direction and instead towards peace, harmony,  and supple reactions. Slowing down in the spring can give us time to harness the creative vision, strategic brilliance, courage and confidence that are gifts of a healthy Wood element. In balance we are not caught up in a frenetic and exhausted knot from all the movements and changes, excitements and pressures, but instead can move through the diverse winds with grace, ease, and kindness to others and ourselves.  

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help balance these energies within us, as well as Pranayama, Yin styles of yoga, fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables, whole grains like brown rice with ghee or sesame oil, a decrease in alcohol and caffeine consumption, drinking plenty of water, getting a little extra rest, soaking in salt baths, and beginning collaborative endeavors with friends or family. 

Libido Recharge Part III

Written by Dr. Dana Price DOM, Dipl. O.M., L.Ac.

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For part three of our Libido Recharge blog series I would like to explore a far too common reason for low libido- “I’m too tired for sex”, which in Chinese medicine translates as Yang deficiency. This is the common pattern of living a lifestyle on the go, working too much and not getting enough rest and downtime, and then when sex does cross your mind, you just don’t have it in you.

With Yang deficiency, women can feel like their metabolism has slowed, they are gaining weight easier, they tend to be tired and low energy, and often feel cold easily. Yang is the warmth, active, moving, extroverted energy that we all have. So when we deplete our Yang through taking on too much, overwork, lack of exercise, stress and excessive adrenaline, or chronic illness we don’t have much energy left for sex.

So what can you do to rebuild your Yang deficient low libido?:

Diet: Non-wheat complex carbs with a small amount of high-quality protein (vegetable) is best as well as cutting out dairy, fruit juices, and fried or fatty foods.

Foods that rebuild the Yang are: Carrots, mushrooms, onions, leeks, sweet potatoes, ginger, cherries, apples, bananas, quinoa, lentils, black beans, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, walnuts, and cabbage.

Exercise: Don’t exercise when you are tired and get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week.

Avoid Caffeine: Caffeine gives a “false” energy and can make you feel more run down when it wears off.

Cut Down on Alcohol: No more than one drink per night and 3 drinks in a week.

Avoid Excess Salt: Salt in a small amount boosts the Yang but in large amounts depletes it. Check your labels and avoid processed foods which are high in sodium.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs also work great to boost the Yang

When and How Should my Exercise Routine Change When Pregnant or Trying to Conceive?

Written by: Charlene Hagner M.Ac., Dipl. O.M., L.Ac.

It is important to move and get your blood circulating. In Chinese Medicine, movement facilitates the qi, and removes stagnation; it’s essential to keep the blood and qi moving for a healthy endometrial lining and pregnancy. It can be as simple as taking a daily walk for 20-30 minutes.

If you are regularly active, and have been staying on an exercise routine, it is safe to continue, but stay away from abdominal strengthening activities after ovulation (around cycle day fourteen) and with a positive pregnancy test. When trying to conceive and during pregnancy, yoga can be relaxing and helpful, but hot yoga can be counterproductive.

After an Embryo Transfer (FET), the reproductive endocrinologist asks the patient to rest the three days following, and keep their heartbeat under 100 beats per minute in the first 10 weeks after transfer. After the first trimester, the woman can return to her normal exercise routine, with the consent of her doctor.

Here are some of the benefits from exercise during pregnancy you may experience according to the American Pregnancy Association:

  • Helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling May help prevent, or treat, gestational diabetes.
  • Increases your energy
  • Improves your mood
  • Improves your posture
  • Promotes muscle tone, strength, and endurance Helps you sleep better
  • Regular activity also helps keep you fit during pregnancy and may improve your ability to cope with labor. This will make it easier for you to get back in shape after your baby is born.

You will probably want to avoid the following type of exercises during pregnancy:

  • Activities where falling is more likely
  • Exercise that may cause any abdominal trauma, including activities with jarring motions, contact sports or rapid changes in direction.
  • Activities that require extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, or bouncing
  • Bouncing while stretching
  • Waist twisting movements while standing
  • Intense bursts of exercise followed by long periods of no activity
  • Exercise in hot, humid weather
  • Do not hold your breath for an extended period of time
  • Do not exercise to the point of exhaustion  

You may want to include these basic guidelines in planning exercise during pregnancy:

  • Be sure to wear loose fitting, comfortable clothes, as well as a good supportive bra.
  • Choose well-fitting shoes that are designed for the type of exercise you are doing.
  • Exercise on a flat, level surface to prevent injury.
  • Eat enough healthy calories to meet the needs of your pregnancy, as well as your exercise program.
  • Finish eating at least one hour before exercising
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.
  • After doing floor exercises, get up slowly and gradually to prevent dizziness.

Here are a few resources of trainers that work with women trying to conceive and during pregnancy.

Lindsey B. Cusey, Lindsey@fithappygirl.com - owner/online coach, certified personal trainer, and paleo nutrition specialist. Website- WWW.FITHAPPYGIRL.COM

Mckenzie Smalley, Mckenzie@fithappygirl.com - Personal Trainer, online and At home Training, and paleo nutrition specialist.

Steel Fit, Joe Steel, CPT jsteelfitness@yahoo.com

How Can Mayan Massage Support Endometriosis?

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Written by: Audrey Blanchard LMT

Endometriosis is the abnormal growth of cells (endometrial cells) similar to those that form the inside or lining  of the uterus, but in a location outside of the uterus. Endometrial cells are cells that are shed each month during menses. Endometrial cells attach themselves to tissue outside of the uterus and are referred to as “endometriosis implants”.

Endometriosis is estimated to affect over one million women (estimates range from 3% to 18% of women) in the United States. It is one of the leading causes of pelvic pain and reasons for laparoscopic surgery and hysterectomy in this country. Estimates suggest that between 20% to 50% of women being treated for infertility have endometriosis, and up to 80% of women with chronic pelvic pain may be affected.

Here at ilumina, one of the ways we treat Endometriosis is with the Arvigo Techniques of Mayan Abdominal Therapy®. This type of massage can help loosen adhesions or scar tissue in the abdominal cavity. Gentle massage strokes are used to help align the uterus to a center position and increase blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. If the uterus is out of place, it can cause additional pain or cramping around menses. Additional blood flow brings oxygen and nutrients to support healthy tissues. Along with the in office massages, clients are given special self care instructions that can be done at home, castor oil packs, vaginal steams as well as nutrition and lifestyle modifications that can help to decrease symptoms of Endometriosis.

Check out our case study on Endometriosis here. One client came in for treatment of painful menses, endometriosis and low ovarian function. After a couple of Arvigo Mayan Abdominal massages her pain level went from a 10/10 to a 5/10 with reduced need pain medication at the onset of menses. Also her uterus showing at midline per ultrasound.

Libido Recharge Part II

Written by: Dr. Dana Price DOM, Dipl O.M, L.Ac. 

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In the first of this three part series, I brought to attention the #metoo movement and asked the reader to visualize what a completely unhindered expression of female sexuality would look like. I hope you had the opportunity to explore this. If not please spend some time with this. It is my belief that if we have the vision, we can direct our actions to support and become it. 

I also brought up the three most common types of Yin/Yang imbalance and patterns that arise with low libido. I presented the “stressed” type. In this blog we will explore the “not feeling sexy enough for sex”, or as we translate it in Chinese medicine,Yin deficiency.

This pattern of Yin deficiency can manifest as low libido with difficulty becoming aroused, painful intercourse and lack of lubrication. In general Yin deficiency can include a general dryness of skin and hair, the lack of self nurturing, and potential negative self image. This pattern can also manifest as rushing through sex, and restlessness during sex, stubbornness and inflexibility in relationships, easy to get anxious, irritable and being scattered, vivid dreams, constipation, feeling warm, and light and short menstrual cycles. Here are some things you can do to rebuild your Yin:

Exercise: yoga (not hot), tai chi, qi gong, swimming or hiking. Limit aerobic workouts to 30 minutes three times a week. 

Nutrition: Whole foods diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, with small amounts of protein and healthy fats. Avoid red meat and eat more vegetarian sources of protein than meat. Food that increase the Yin energy are: seaweed, beets, flaxseeds, spinach, chard, string beans, grapes, blackberries lettuce, nuts, millet and whole wheat to name a few.

Hydration: Here in Arizona it is already hot, sunny and dry which by nature depletes our Yin. It is very important to drink between 100-120oz of fluids per day. Alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating so it should be avoided. With that said avoid becoming overheated saunas, steam rooms, hot baths and hot yoga are not good choices.

Sleep: Getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night is imperative to rebuild Yin. If you remember from the first in the series, rest and night time is Yin. So you need more.

Meditation: Begin a daily meditation routine and do what you can to reduce stress levels. 

Vitamins: Potassium (bananas are good), Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin E are helpful.

Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas are very potent to increase Yin and rebalance your Qi

Lets Talk About Vaginal Tissue Health

By Leigh Lewis, ND, L.Ac.

Many women experience changes to their libido and sexual function due to changes in hormones that occur throughout life. Post-partum and perimenopause are frequent times when hormones plummet and this can causes lower desire and changes to the vaginal tissue that can cause discomfort with intercourse.  Other hormonal, like thyroid, or nutritional, like iron, deficiencies can contribute to this issue as well and should be screened for.

Medications can be a cause of sexual function issues, notably birth control and antidepressants, and there may be alternatives that have less impact. Alcohol and marijuana use can have negative impacts as well. Finally, it is important to consider relationship factors that may be playing a role; a couple of sessions with a qualified therapist can greatly help investigate & address this area. If discomfort is deep in the pelvic area, a specialized physical therapist may be able to assist you.

There are several ways you can address these issues on your own before consulting a physician:
For vaginal dryness or pain with intercourse: RepHresh or Replens, both available OTC at many pharmacies. These products are not lubricants, but actually restore vaginal tissue health without hormones. Try for twice a week for one month and see if the improvements decrease your symptoms.
For low libido: Maca (Femenessence) is a Peruvian herb that has been used traditionally to improve libido. Try 1000mg per day for a month to see if you notice an effect.

If these do not help, consider making an appointment here at ilumina to discuss pharmaceutical options. After ruling out any contributing factors, we can discuss possible hormonal therapies like bio-identical estrogen, testosterone or DHEA. These hormones have all been shown to be helpful for improving libido, orgasm and/or decreasing vaginal discomfort by improving tissue integrity. There are topical and oral forms available and some options are covered by insurance.  If vaginal tissue atrophy is the main concern, I have been very successful using both hormonal & non-hormonal compounded combinations.  Finally, a brief word about safety: most low dose topical hormone formulations used to treat local vaginal issues are not absorbed systemically and therefore are not considered to carry the same risks as menopausal hormone replacement therapy, even for breast cancer survivors.

Another pharmaceutical option is Addyi (flibanserin), a daily medication that has been shown to improve sexual desire. The side effects are generally minimal and it should not be taken with alcohol, but it may be good options for those women for whom none of the above has been helpful.

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Most importantly, seek help:

though this is a sensitive topic, we are here to help you with all facets of your health and that includes sexual health & wellbeing.

 

 

The Libido Recharge, Part I

By Dr. Dana Price DOM, Dipl.O.M., L.Ac.

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The #metoo movement has really opened my eyes to how prevalent sexual trauma is for girls and women in our society with incidents ranging to very forceful and overt, to the subtle sprinklings on day to day life. I have my #metoo experiences and have been investigating how these experiences have encouraged me to suppress and shut down my fierce, blossoming and powerful sexual force. I wonder what the fully unhindered and empowered sexual me would look like. I do not have the answers and know that this process will unfold and recreate itself with time- as the feminine does. I encourage you, during this month of the expression of love and coupledom, to look within and investigate your sexual energy and what you would look like to be fully unencumbered and empowered.

I am engrained in Chinese medicine and have spent my adult life viewing the world through the interplay of Yin and Yang. A dark and cold wintry day is an opportunity to go within and nourish the Yin, a day that I want to be outside riding my bike in the wind of a sunny spring day gets my Yang recharged. Mental, physical and emotional health arises out of this interplay and when something is off- your Yin/Yang balance is disrupted.

So what happens when there is the lack of desire to have a fulfilling sexual experience or your body just does not respond? There are reasons related to unresolved trauma that are beyond the scope of this blog, so I am going to address the Yin/Yang imbalance that can arise and manifest as three main patterns. The first and most common is being too stressed and therefore your Qi (part of the Yang system) gets stuck. The second is not feeling from Yin deficiency and a woman can not feel sexy and confident enough for sex, and thirdly being Yang deficient and too tired for sex. In this first part of a series of three we will take a look at the libido being suppressed because of stress.

If you are feeling too stressed for sex you need to get your stuck Qi moving. In particular we call it your Liver Qi. Something I hear from my patients is that the desire for sex is low until they get warmed up and once they get going everything is fine. This is Qi stagnation. The Qi gets moving and you feel better.

Exercise is great for this. Get your blood pumping and do higher intensity endurance exercises like power yoga, running, spin class and the like. Be sure to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and get your 10,000 steps in per day.

A plant based diet is best; focusing on 70-80% of each meal as vegetable based, while avoiding dairy and refined foods. Good foods to move Qi include: broccoli, cauliflower peppermint, radish, tomato, celery, asparagus, lemon, brown rice and chia seeds. Avoid caffeine, that morning coffee stagnates Qi and is infamous for exacerbating PMS symptoms and fibrocystic breasts. If you need the ritual of coffee I recommend organic cold-brew.

Avoid toxins: skip the plastic bottles, check and see what you are putting on your body- go organic as much as possible on all of your beauty products. To find what is best check out the Skin Dee section of www.ewg.org. Also, change your pads and tampons to organic, if you do nothing else do this.

Meditate and have some downtime. Where is your happy place? A nice bath, reading a book, having sex? Spend some time each day nourishing yourself.

Supplement with some vitamins: calcium and B vitamins get depleted with stress so make sure that in addition to taking your multivitamin you take extra calcium and a B complex.

Acupuncture & Massage: here at ilumina we work with stress and anxiety on a daily basis and we know that our acupuncture and massage really help break the stress cycle and sustain relaxation. Even better is to supplement these therapies with Chinese herbs.

If you find that you fit into this imbalance of Qi stagnation give yourself 3 months to journal on your vision of your full sexual expression, exercise, eat clean, meditate, and follow the other steps and see the change.

In my next two blogs I will write on the other two patterns that are frequently encountered at ilumina. 

Acupuncture and Transfer Day

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By Charlene Hagner M.Ac., Dipl. O.M., LaAc.

       Transfer Day can be full of many different emotions. Women can have a range of emotions from excitement, anxiousness, and even a range of both. Having a moment to breathe and experience some relaxation before and after the transfer is wonderful, and a small benefit compared to the biological benefits of acupuncture on the day of transfer. Acupuncture increases the blood flow to the uterus. Research has been done, by using a Doppler to detect blood flow before and after treatment, showing an improvement of blood flow to the uterus and ovaries after a treatment. Treatments given before and after transfer help to improve patients' response to IVF medications, and the chances of pregnancy.

A two year case study, involving our clinic and a top rated Fertility Clinic in the valley, showed a 10% increase of pregnancy rates when using Acupuncture day of transfer. ilumina Healing Sanctuary has continued a valued reputation with fertility doctors in the valley for two decades, and we support in making the process as easy and comfortable as possible.  All of our practitioners have extensive experience in IVF transfers and supporting with acupuncture in a clinical setting. 

It is important to contact us when you know the date of transfer to reserve the time for transfer day services. We meet with patients 45 minutes ahead of the frozen embryo transfer, so the Acupuncturist has plenty of time for the treatment and the patient stays an extra 30 minutes after the transfer to receive the second acupuncture session. 

Let us know how we can support you through your fertility journey. Call or email us with any questions. 

It’s Thyroid Health Month: What is a “normal” thyroid function?

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By Leigh Lewis ND L.Ac. Naturopathic Doctor

Most patients have had thyroid function testing prior to seeking assistance at ilumina, whether it is for fertility issues, difficulty losing weight, mood and energy issues or simply as part of a general check up.  However, there is much confusion amongst health care providers and patients regarding what constitutes normal function tests. In fact, recent research suggests that patients can be experiencing significant symptoms such as those mentioned above even when the results are normal and may be able to safely take and benefit from thyroid replacement. This is why we often request patients bring in their results or get new testing even if they have been told that all their thyroid testing is within normal range.

The thyroid can be through of as the gas pedal to many bodily functions.  It’s hormones increase heart rate, bone turn-over, basal metabolic rate, cognition, digestion, reproductive function, etc.  When there are not enough thyroid hormones, these processes slow down and when there is too much, they speed up.  The tricky thing is, two individuals can have the same thyroid hormone levels and one feels great and the other feels terrible.  Individual biochemistry dictates these differences and our current lab testing is based on pooled population data, therefore, often missing individual nuances.

A quick explanation on thyroid function testing:

Typically we here at ilumina recommend the following tests:

  • TSH – thyroid stimulating hormone:
    • This is a hormone produced by the brain to stimulate the thyroid to produce its own hormones such that when thyroid hormones levels are low, TSH levels rise and when thyroid hormones levels are high, TSH levels drop.
  • Free T3 and T4 – triiodothyronine and thyroxine
    • These hormones are produced by the thyroid, T4 is viewed as a precursor to T3, which is more biologically active and potent, T4 is converted to T3 via an enzymatic reaction…some people have difficulty making this conversion, necessitating a combination of T3 + T4 for replacement.
  • Thyroid antibodies:
    • These immune cells represent a common cause of thyroid disease; produced by the body, they attack specific mechanisms in the production and function of the thyroid hormones such that activity is either increased (autoimmune hyperthyroidism) or decreased (autoimmune hypothyroidism).  Research suggests that the presence of these antibodies may explain symptoms of thyroid disease despite normal thyroid function tests.

There are several other thyroid tests that may be done other practitioners, but in practice it is our experience these do not lend much more information.

Confused? You should be.

Basically, it is important to remember that, while your thyroid function testing may be within the normal range, it doesn’t mean you would not benefit from a trial of thyroid replacement.  Some patients, like those with mood, weight and energy issues, will be monitoring symptoms to see if the replacement has a positive impact, others, like those with fertility issues, may not notice a day to day improvement in any symptoms, but the hope is that time to conception & risk of miscarriage will decrease.  Replacement can be done safely in those with initially normal labs because repeat labs will  detect over medication or if the dose needs to be increased. If thyroid antibodies are positive, anti-inflammatory supplement and diet measures may be helpful.

Thyroid function affects nearly all of our physical, psychological, and mental processes either directly or indirectly; talk to us today to review yours for a healthier tomorrow.

Misconceptions of Preconception

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

By Leigh Lewis ND, L.Ac, Naturopathic Doctor

Are you hoping for pregnancy in 2018?  If so, keep reading for information that may help you reach you goals.  You may be surprised to learn that the conception rate for any one act of intercourse at the right time of the month, when the stars are aligned and without any fertility issues, is only about 25%.  Yet, even knowing this, many couples expect to be able to conceive easily without much forethought or planning.  This may be in part because we, especially as women, have spent most of our lives trying NOT to get pregnant.  As such, it is not surprising that many couples are blindsided if they are not pregnant within the first several months of trying.   However, there are a few simple things you can do to increases your chance for a timely & healthy pregnancy.
 

Preparation is Key:  General Recommendations for All

Prenatal lifestyle & supplements: As with many goals in life, the path to a successful conception and a healthy pregnancy is planning.  Lifestyle factors, including cigarette, alcohol & caffeine consumption, and marijuana and other recreational or prescription drug use in either partner can increase time to conception and increase risk of miscarriage & chronic health issues in children.  Current research suggests that even if you have very regular and normal cycles starting a prenatal vitamin with adequate methylfolate several months prior to intended conception has numerous benefits in decreasing the risk of nutritional deficiencies, decreasing time to conception, preventing birth defects and decreasing risk of miscarriage as well as decreasing the risk of future autism spectrum disorders and other learning disabilities.  While a prenatal helps correct nutritional deficiencies, some women may need additional vitamin D, B12 and iron depending on lab levels.  These nutrients, if low, can interfere with one’s ability to get and maintain a healthy pregnancy.  The  omega 3 fatty acid derived from fish oil, DHA, has been found to benefit brain development and should also be part of the pre-conception plan.  Finally, finding prenatal supplements that are well-tolerated prior to pregnancy can help avoid problems with consistency if nausea and vomiting are an issue early in pregnancy.  A well-rounded multivitamin and mineral can also improve many aspects of sperm health when taken for at least 3 months prior to planned conception.  First pregnancy and want to improve chances?  Be sure to seek help on tracking ovulation and cycle via basal body temps or apps combined with timing intercourse (see resources below).
 

Pre-conception weight: Another recommendation that can decrease time to conception and increase probability of a healthy pregnancy is a normal weight.  Being overweight or underweight can interfere with fertility by decreasing ovulatory cycles.  Being overweight can also predispose to gestational diabetes and hypertension that can increase the risk of both conditions for mother and baby later in life.  Normal weight has also been found to improve the success of fertility treatments like IVF.  In short, it stands to reason that taking 3-6 months to address any weight issues can go a long way to improving health parameters for both mother and baby.  Special diets or intense exercise can also cause some deficiencies that can be ruled-out with simple blood tests.
 

Contraception: It should be noted that it may take up to 12 months to re-establish normal ovulation and cycles after discontinuing hormonal contraception.  That said, some women may be able to conceive the month after stopping contraception.  The best course of action is to stop any hormonal contraception a year prior to intended conception, using non-hormonal forms (i.e. condoms) until conception is desired, to allow the body to re-set.  This would also be a good time for both partners to start their respective supplements mentioned above.  For those that are trying to avoid or delay pregnancy, remember prevention is the best medicine…there are several safe and effective forms of contraception to choose from.  Finally, a word about lactation:  While breastfeeding can help to space babies, it is not fool-proof and many women will return to fertility while breastfeeding, some even before regular menstruation resumes.  For some women however, even breastfeeding infrequently can delay another conception. Please keep this in mind whether hoping for a pregnancy or to prevent one.

For those with fertility problems:

According to the CDC, American infertility statistics between 2011-2015 were as follows:

  • 12.1% women aged 15-44 with impaired fertility
  • 7.3 million women aged 15-44 who have ever used infertility services

While as many as 30% of couples never find the cause of their infertility, we do know several possible contributing factors that may play a role:

  • Age: fertility rates within one year decrease & time to conception increases after 30 years of age

30s:  75% chance
At 40:  40% chance
By age 43: 1-2%

  • Underweight, overweight and nutritional deficiencies (see above).
  • Hormonal imbalances: thyroid disorders, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, low estrogen and/or progesterone.
  • Stress, anxiety, & depression: evolution may have set us up to delay conception at times of emotional stress
  • Structural issues: blocked tubes from prior infections, uterine fibroids/polyps, adhesions or scarring from endometriosis or previous pelvic surgery
  • Chronic illness such as autoimmune conditions

Infertility is diagnosed as no conception within 12 months of trying if under 35 years and 6 months if over 35 years. It helps to recognize the importance of these definitions as further lab testing, semen analysis, pelvic imaging and consultation may be recommended at this time.  

Couples with any of the above issues should consider when they ideally would like to conceive and give themselves at least 6-12 months to get healthy by following the above general recommendations and seek guidance from a practitioner who specializes in women’s health and fertility to address specific issues in particular.  The same could be said for women in between pregnancies in order to prep selves for a future conception as pregnancy, breastfeeding and caring for a growing family can take a toll on the body and mind.

If ovulatory, menstrual, or hormonal irregularities are suspected, addressing them by ruling out underlying factors is key.  Research shows that acupuncture and specific herbal formulas and supplements may help normalize hormones and cycles, facilitate conception and improve the health and wellbeing during pregnancy and increase the success of conventional fertility treatments.

Fertility issues can be stressful, especially when combined with pre-existing insomnia, depression, or anxiety, and this can interfere with fertility and exacerbate emotional issues; truly a vicious cycle.  However, there are safe ways to address these issues through meditation, yoga, acupuncture, herbs and supplements.  In some cases medications may be the safest option with several studies showing that medications are preferable to “white-knuckling it” through depression and anxiety.

We here at ilumina are here to help you at any stage: from pre-conception and prenatal to postpartum and beyond, we offer diet & lifestyle counseling, mental health support, acupuncture, western & oriental herbs and supplements, massage and medications to address these issues.  Please feel free to contact us today to get started on your pre-conception health & wellness plan.

Resources:
1. Taking Control of Your Fertility
https://www.tcoyf.com
2. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association
http://www.resolve.org
3. American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
http://www.asrm.org
4.  American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (ABORM)
http://www.aborm.org
5. Clue: Menstrual/Fertility Tracker App
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id657189652