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

January is Thyroid Awareness Month

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

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

This little butterfly shaped gland in your neck has many functions, so when it is malfunctioning the body feels the consequences, as many as 12.5% of Americans suffer with a thyroid disorder, and many people are undiagnosed. Some causes of thyroid disorder include: Autoimmune disease, gluten intolerance, stress, toxins, adrenal fatigue, and iodine deficiency.

The thyroid gland drives the metabolic rate of every single cell in your body, which is 37 trillion cells, so you can imagine symptoms like weight gain, male and women’s infertility, hair loss, depression, and chronic fatigue are some symptoms of a low and hyper functioning thyroid.

At ilumina Healing Sanctuary, we bridge Eastern and Western medicine making it easy to check your thyroid, and get help with any imbalances of your hormones. It’s important to get your thyroid checked regularly. The thyroid plays an important role in getting pregnant and maintaining pregnancy. New research suggests that a slightly underactive thyroid may affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant even when the gland is functioning at the low end of the normal range, according to a study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Chinese Medicine has come to the rescue, considering a study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which stated, “Cases of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and their immune function and thyroid function were observed. It was found that Chinese Medicine was able to reduce the thyroid antibodies in the peripheral blood of the patients with hypothyroidism and to recover their thyroid function”. Treating patients with Chinese Medicine can help lower anti-thyroid antibodies and regulate thyroid function

Check your thyroid frequently, maintain a healthy balanced gluten free diet, manage stress, and regular acupuncture treatments are important to keep the thyroid happy.

It is essential to keep the body balanced. Discussing these concerns with your Chinese Medicine practitioner may help you take control of your thyroid health.

Written by Charlene Hagner L.Ac., Dipl.OM

 

Why (not) Bike Commute?

Oftentimes schedules are so busy it is difficult to get in the recommended daily exercise requirements for general health and weight management.  One way to combat this issue is to bike commute to work, gym, happy hour, acupuncture, or other errands. It is definitely easier than most people think initially and, given that we are blessed with pretty nice commuting weather for about 8 months per year, what’s your excuse for not giving it a try?

First things first: The bike. Finding a bike that fits and is in good working condition is key.  Definitely check out Craigslist for good deals, but be sure to stop by a bike shop to be sure that it fits or can be altered to fit before you buy. Despite the great weather, commuting in AZ can cause difficulties in the form of thorns, rocks, broken glass, construction nails, etc commonly found in the bike lane.  Luckily, there are several ways you can set yourself up for success in your commute.  Choose a mountain bike or a hybrid bike that allows for wider, thicker tires. Any bike shop or REI can help you pick tubes that are thorn-resistant.  Keeping an eye on your tires and/or taking your bike in for annual maintenance/tune-ups are keys to preventive care.  

Currently, my commute is 5.5 miles and takes about 25 minutes each way. I am riding a 1986 Bianchi hybrid bike that was a hand-me-down from my husband.  If you start snooping in the garages of friends and family, I bet you too could come across a hand-me-down bike.

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Next step: The route.  In addition to maps at local bike shops, ADOT has a great website with access to several bike lane maps: http://www.azbikeped.org/maps.asp
Also, Google maps has a “bicycle” icon and it will suggest a route to your destination that is safer for commuting by bike vs. car.  I have found the latter suggestions to be fairly accurate.

Other things that make commuting easier are listed below.  I link to REI because they will install racks, tires, etc on to your bike if you by the items there and they are very helpful and have great sales on gear as well as informative classes on bike maintenance:
A helmet
A comfy seat
A water bottle holder + water bottle
A commuter rack + panniers: allows you to carry things to/from errands, office, yoga without having to get a sweaty back or tight shoulders. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/bike-bags-racks.html
A lock
A portable pump + possibly tubes
A light to see and be seen
Pedal cages, not a must but they do increase the efficiency of each pedal stroke

Now that you have outfitted the bike, let’s get to you, the rider. There are several companies that make clothes that are perfect for commuting. There’s no reason to wear spandex unless you want to.
Women’s specific bike commuting clothes
ElevenPine shorts: https://www.elevenpine.com/collections/womens/products/women-s-uprising-11p-short
Terry for dresses, jeans and other bike-to-event commuting wear: http://www.terrybicycles.com/Apparel?gclid=Cj0KCQiA0vnQBRDmARIsAEL0M1m9NIrlmOTXOvclWLyoHL602F8FfqBq_uBYaDvwJ6EWBU6UvxcvVIkaAq4QEALw_wcB

Clean up at your destination
Burt’s Bees face/body wipes
Travel sized deodorant
Essential oil face/body spray
Extra underwear

Other tips:
Bike Mechanic classes @ REI & local Bike shops
AAA roadside bike assistance
UBER/LYFT rides, just let the rider know you have a bike to be sure they can/will accommodate, though most that state 6 passengers will be able to get you where you need to go
If you are going to ride more than say 8-10 miles or an hour each way, you may want to invest in a professional bike fit and maybe a class on basic care skills, like changing a tire: Jeff Lockwood at Lifesport@cox.net

If you have any questions about getting started of cycling groups in the area, just ask…most of us at ilumina are cyclists and love to talk bikes!

Why (not) Meditate?

By Dr. Leigh Lewis

This is a question I have been personally struggling with for years, nay, decades. I have long been aware of the research supporting the practice as pertains to health benefits, both mental & physical, and yet there was this wall blocking me from doing it. As a former endurance athlete, I’d spend hours each week running, biking, swimming and lifting, sometimes in the pouring rain and freezing temperatures, but never had the time to meditate for 15 minutes.

Then, when I relocated from Oregon to Arizona, by design, I found myself with more time. Coincidentally, I also found myself struggling with some health issues that required me to slow down. A quick web search and chat with my colleague, Dana Price, who is a strong advocate of meditation, I was able to connect with a local resource, the Phoenix branch of the international Tergar organization, which has a number of on-line and in-person meditation training opportunities and resources, offering both secular and Buddhist-based tracks.

It has been one year since I have embarked on my quest for a daily meditation practice. I haven’t been perfect, but have meditated formally more days than not and have been able to integrate mindfulness into my daily activities. What I have found is not earth-shattering, but, like many others will attest, this practice has helped me feel more calm, increase my tolerance to inevitable stressors, approach my dealings with others in a more compassionate way. Again, I am not perfect, I may still curse others in traffic and get irritated when placed on hold for more than 10 minutes, but I am more likely to see how these reactions are not beneficial and may, in some cases, be harmful. Many sources will describe how our thoughts can re-wire our brain and affect the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters produced thereby having specific physical actions. Physically, I have slept better, experienced less migraines, and have less distress from hormonal fluctuations.

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In my clinical practice, I am frequently working with patients who are reporting physical symptoms that are at least partially due to or exacerbated by stress. Many have been told they need to decrease stress to see improvement in these symptoms. However, there is no anti-stress pill or quick fix to achieve this and stress is, unfortunately, a very prevalent fact of our modern lives. Unlike many other medical treatments, meditation is not only effective, but is free, has no side effects, is easily accessible, and can be done by anyone. Research supports the application of meditation for a wide variety of health issues such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure,  perinatal mood issues, chronic pain, insomnia, infertility, disordered eating, and decreased immune function.

So knowing that stress is a fact of life and has negative impacts on our health and well-being, where does one start? First, it is important to realize there is no “right way” to meditate. Like with exercise, it is important to find a technique that resonates with you for long-term success. Listed below are a variety of apps, books, websites and local resources that can help you find a path that will work best for you. I suggest starting with one of the books that do a great job providing the foundation of why meditation can be so helpful and how to go about starting a practice. If you are more technologically-minded, the apps may provide a great resource for guided meditations and ways to track your time. As always, contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic further

Books:

Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness; Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Why Meditate: Working With Thoughts and Emotions; Matthieu Ricard

Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life; Tich Nacht Hahn

Apps

Headspace www.headspace.com

Insight Timer www.insighttimer.com (free)

Online Resources:

https://learning.tergar.org Joy of Living and Path of Liberation training resources.

https://palousemindfulness.com/MBSR/gettingstarted.html 8- week free MBSR training

Local Resources:

http://www.iluminahealing.com/meditation/ Led by Dana Price

https://tergar.org/communities-and-practice-groups/find-a-center-or-group/phoenix/

http://www.solutionmindfulness.com/about MBSR group training & resources

 

 

Cold and Flu Prevention: 5 Tips to Better Health Revisited

Its that time of year again where summer turns to fall and many patients come in with seasonal colds, increased stress levels and abnormal digestive symptoms. Boosting your immune system during these times are important for helping you stay healthy. Chinese Medicine has been treating the common cold for over 5,000 years, and helps prevent sickness by boosting your immune system and restoring balance.

Five tools for a pathway to prevention and remedy during the cold season:

1. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses diagnostic tools such as your tongue and pulse. The tongue is an expression of your digestion and body system. This can be a tool for prevention and diagnosing imbalances. The pulse is a way to understand the rhythm of the body. The pulse represents different organs in respect to Chinese Medicine practices. Using these tools help us better understand how to treat and prescribe the best herbs and treatment plan for your optimal health. Regular acupuncture treatments are beneficial for prevention and remedy for this year’s cold and flu season.

2.This time of the year the body craves more rest, and in preparation for the cold season getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night is highly recommended.

3.Eating a balanced meal can be challenging during the holidays, but staying close to a healthy, clean diet can prevent inflammation and digestion upset.

4. Zinc- is an essential trace mineral necessary for all forms of life and growth. It is part of DNA development, immune system response, and may reduce suffering from symptoms of the common cold.

5. Elderberry- has been frequently linked with increased immune coordination. This berry has been shown to boost the production of immune cytokines. The cytokines are key messengers in the immune system to help regulate immune response. This allows the body to defend against disease.

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

Benefits of Breastfeeding


In Chinese Medicine theory breast milk is an expression of Blood energy and Qi (vital energy).  It is understood that once a baby is born the Blood that was once nourishing the placenta is now transformed into breast milk. Breastfeeding has many benefits to the baby and mother, and is recommended by WHO (World Health Organization) to breastfeed the first six-months of your babies life for some of the reasons listed below.

  • Better healing post labor: Oxytocin is released when your baby is nursing. Oxytocin helps your uterus to contract and return to its normal size more quickly.

  • Baby Health: The incidence of pneumonia, colds, and viruses are reduced among breastfeed babies. Also, breastfeed babies are less likely to develop type1 diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, and Celiac Disease.  

  • Getting to Know Your Baby: You have to read your baby's 'satiety cues' a little better, because unlike with a bottle, you can't see how much he's eaten," Kelly says. "You have to rely on your own instincts and your baby's behavior to know when your baby is full."

  • Lower SID’s Risk: Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome by half.

  • Stronger Bones: Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis. When a woman is pregnant and lactating, her body absorbs calcium much more efficiently

  • Custom-Made Supply: Formula isn't able to change its constitution, but your breast milk changes to meet your baby's needs. Colostrum that comes in after you deliver is full of antibodies to protect your newborn baby. It's also higher in protein and lower in sugar than full milk, so even a small amount can hold off your baby's hunger

  • Calorie Incinerator: If you feed your baby 20 ounces a day, that's 400 calories, you've swept out of your body. Women lose their mommy tummy more quickly with breastfeeding.

Below is a great source for all breastfeeding questions:
http://kellymom.com/category/bf/

The Fourth Trimester: No Need to be "Wonder Woman"

The "Fourth Trimester” discussed here includes the weeks, months, and years after pregnancy, between pregnancies or following a woman's last pregnancy. Referred to elsewhere as “postnatal depletion”, this is not an illness or disease that requires treatment in most cases. Instead, it falls into a nebulous category with other periods of normal hormonal flux women experience throughout their lives, including PMS, pregnancy, & menopause. And, like these issues, a given woman may experience a range of symptoms on a continuum, similar to a bell-shaped curve, with some women experiencing little to no distress, most women experiencing moderate distress, and some women significant amounts of distress. Similar to the aforementioned hormonal issues, the severity of symptoms may meet clinical diagnostic criteria and even still women may feel like they have to "white-knuckle it" through this stage, not wanting to ask for help for fear of being discounted.

"Is ours not a strange culture that focuses so much attention on childbirth--

virtually all of it based on anxiety and fear--

and so little on the crucial time after birth, when patterns are established that will

affect the individual and the family for decades?"

~Suzanne Arms

It is important to acknowledge that in the US we often put more kind focus on pregnant women and then switch this focus to the baby immediately after delivery when mother-focused support is virtually non-existent. We as a culture ignore the needs of new mothers and make many demands on them that are prevented in other cultures out of respect for the postpartum period, a time recognized & honored as distinct from other times in a woman's life. Curiously, these other cultures, which also incorporate social supports for menstruating and menopausal women, have virtually no post-partum disorders compared to 50-85% of new mothers in industrialized nations like the US. During this time, protective measures, so-called "mothering the mother", help support and care for new mothers.  Specifically, the practice of "lying in" relieves women of their normal workload and the implied duty to entertain visitors, allowing time for recuperation, rest, and family bonding.  Not only does our culture minimize the significance of this change & the support necessary to healthfully assimilate this change into the family's life, but there is often an unspoken belief that any woman who needs post-partum support has somehow failed when in reality we as a culture have failed her.

Of course, having a child & parenting is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding and these effects are compounded with subsequent pregnancies & deliveries. Most women survive the transition relatively unscathed, but at what cost?  Few can honestly say they did not experience any of the symptoms listed below and, sadly, most did not seek any assistance either because they did not want to "bother" others or because they were simply too exhausted to focus on anything but mothering. However, by drawing attention to these issues, we can address these concerns sooner, rather than later, thereby avoiding a crisis. By caring for and prioritizing oneself, you can be healthier as an individual, mother, partner, colleague, & friend.

Symptoms may include, but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep dysfunction
  • Poor motivation, concentration, memory
  • Mood swings
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Inability to lose weight
  • Urinary & vaginal issues
  • Low libido & sexual dysfunction
  • Hot flashes/night sweats

By assessing a woman's medical & reproductive history, diet, lifestyle and relevant test results, we can often identify the underlying contributing factors to the symptoms she is experiencing.  Special attention should focus on follow-up on any issues encountered in previous pregnancies, such as prenatal/post-partum mood issues, blood sugar & blood pressure abnormalities, and nutritional & thyroid deficiencies.  These problems can negatively impact a woman's health and well-being long after the pregnancy & post-partum stages and make these already challenging stages more so.

A holistic approach focusing on the mind & body by integrating Eastern & Western medical therapies can be selected based on the severity of symptoms, individual risk-factors, and patient preference and may include recommendations for the following:

  • Social engagement & support
  • Counseling
  • Meditation & quiet time
  • Acupuncture
  • Aerobic exercise & yoga
  • Hormone replacement
  • Pharmacological & non-pharmacological treatment options

Unfortunately, one of the hardest things for any mom to do is find time for herself for self-care, but you may be surprised by the number of resources available to you: friends, family, neighbors, and daycares at gyms/studios are resources that are available to most. Having in-home help for a couple hours per week may seem like a luxury, but if it provides you with the support needed to get out for a massage, a run, therapy, acupuncture, lunch with a friend or a yoga class, it is money well-spent.

For more information, if you have any questions, or to schedule an appointment, please feel free to contact us today.

 

Transfer Day Acupuncture helps to increase chance of pregnancy by 10%

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Nearly 1.6% of all infants born in the United States every year are born using Assisted Reproductive Technology. Reproductive Endocrinologists are persistently looking for ways to increase couple’s success for pregnancy. Recently a two-year study was done in the Arizona Valley to determine the success of using acupuncture day of transfer. The total sample size was 396 patients with the minimum age of 23yo and the maximum age of 45yo, and an average age of 35yo. Those who did receive acupuncture before and after transfer improved their chances of pregnancy by 10%; compared to the group that didn’t receive acupuncture.

According to Manca di Villahermosa et al “failure of embryo implantation is considered the biggest challenge of reproductive medicine”.

IVF is a stressful process to the body and finding ways to relax and prepare the body for implantation are crucial. Acupuncture increases the blood flow to the uterus, increases endometrial-lining development, decreases spasms, and calms the patient. Many studies continually support the data that when ART is combined with Chinese Medicine the pregnancy rates are higher. Acupuncture not only improves the pregnancy rates, but also helps ease the anxiety of the patients.  Wherever you are in your fertility journey acupuncture will be helpful, if you are thinking about onsite acupuncture day of transfers, we will go to most doctors in the valley to offer our services.

By Charlene Hagner M.Ac., Dipl. OM. L.Ac.

 

Need a little help understanding Pre-eclampsia?

Hypertension in Pregnancy

Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication defined by high blood pressure, 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher, and signs of damage to another organ systems, most often the liver and kidneys. Pre-eclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal. Even a slight rise in blood pressure may be a sign of pre-eclampsia.

What factors increase risk of pre-eclampsia?

  • Previous history of pre-eclampsia
  • Multiple gestations
  • History of Chronic High Blood pressure, PCOS, Diabetes, Kidney disease, and organ transplant.
  • First Pregnancy
  • Obesity, BMI 30 or greater
  • Family History


How does pre-eclampsia affect pregnancy?

Hypertension can impair kidney and liver function, and cause blood clotting problems, pulmonary edema, seizures and severe edema. Pre-eclampsia affects the blood flow to the placenta, often leading to smaller or prematurely born babies.

What can help with pre-eclampsia?
 

  • Continue to follow a healthy diet and regular exercise (low sodium diet)
  • Magnesium is an excellent supplement safely used in pregnancy. Magnesium citrate, at doses of 400-600 per day, is often used in both preventing and treating hypertension. Hospitals use IV magnesium for hypertensive episodes and pre-eclampsia to reduce blood pressure.
  • Acupuncture helps to smooth the flow of blood and increase the tone of the vascular system, and returns the body to parasympathetic state.
  • Vitamin D levels should be checked, because Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to hypertension.
  • Coenzyme Q10 was studied for prevention of pre-eclampsia at 200mg per day from 20 weeks to delivery. This should be taken under the supervision of a physician.
  • Medications to lower blood pressure. Medications, called anti-hypertensives, are used to lower your blood pressure if it's dangerously high.

 

Skin Cancer Awareness

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We in AZ are probably more attuned to issues related to sun damage and skin cancer than our friends in Northern climes, but I am frequently amazed how few people use a daily SPF and reapply as recommended to truly prevent pre-cancerous changes.  People usually are good about applying and reapplying when on vacation at the beach or the lake, but it the daily ultraviolet exposure driving to work, walking the dog or working in the garden that adds up over time and causes skin cell damage that can cause discoloration, wrinkles and skin cancer. Over 5 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in America, with nearly 90,000 of those attributed to melanoma, which is the cause of almost 10,000 deaths.  

Skin cancer can be present anywhere on the body and with little to no signs or symptoms, however, most can be caught through the simple process of monthly self-check and annual dermatologist skin exams. Early detection, like in all health concerns, is key, and knowing your body’s specific moles and freckles and other marks is the best way to notice a new lesion or change in a previously existing one.

The “ABCDE Rule” of skin cancer detection is simple to follow when conducting monthly self-check skin exams and should be a sign to see a dermatologist:

ASYMMETRY: if one half is different from the other half of a lesion
BORDER: irregular edges to a mole
COLOR: any multicolored lesion or growth that contains blue, pink, white, red or black shades
DIAMETER: a growth that is larger than ¼ inch across or increases in size
EVOLUTION: any changes to a pre-existing mole

In terms of prevention, The American Cancer Society recommends people “SLIP on a shirt, SLOP on sunscreen, SLAP on a hat, and WRAP on sunglasses” to prevent the negative effects of UVA and UVB radiation from the sun.  Understandable, people worry about the chemicals found in sunscreens, but there are ways to find which sunscreens are the safest by researching the Environmental Working Groups website and/or app http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/

Even with this information, many are confused by the array of sunscreens on the market.  Physical sunscreen formulations are made up of minerals like titanium and zinc oxide that create a barrier on the skin, blocking & reflecting both UVA rays (cause wrinkles & cancer) and UVB rays (responsible for sunburn). Mineral sunscreens are effective once applied, unlike chemical sunscreens which require approximately 30 minutes to become effective.  In addition, chemical sunscreens not only are less effective than physical forms, but have been found to accumulate in the body and have even been linked hormonal disruption and breast cancer. Chemical sunscreens may also oxidize in the sun, causing potential free radial formation which could increase the risk for premature aging and skin cancer.  Some companies have added minerals to their chemical sunscreens as a marketing tool, but the risks of the chemicals stay the same.

I personally have been very impressed with TiZo, a mineral sunscreen that is free of oils, parabens, fragrances and dyes and unlike the pallor imparted by many similar products in the past, these blend well and are very comfortable to wear.  Since these products are only available through licensed professionals, mention it to your ilumina practitioner and we can get some ordered for you.

Parabens: It is important to know what they are.

Our skin is the largest organ in the body, and what we put on our skin is important to our health.  Everyday we use products such as; sun screen, body lotions, shampoo, body wash, deodorant, and so on. These body products have ingredients that can cause harm to our immune and endocrine system.

A commonly used synthetic ingredient to help preserve body products, food, and pharmaceuticals is paraben. The parabens most commonly used in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. It’s important to check your products for these parabens, and buy products that are paraben free.

Parabens acts like estrogen, which may increase the risk of women developing estrogen-positive breast cancer. Researchers conducted tests on 20 different samples of human breast tumors, which revealed parabens to be present in each sample.

Parabens also affects men’s endocrine system; findings from several studies have reported low sperm counts as well as decreased levels of testosterone in men. It was concluded that these results were related to the absorption of parabens in commercial products.

It is important to check the labels of your cosmetics, and buy paraben free products. Many companies are realizing the dangers of paraben products, and switching their formulas to paraben-free. Keep healthy this summer and check your body products and sunscreens for these hidden ingredients.  Make informed choices in regards to what you put on your skin.  If you aren't sure, ask one of us at ilumina and we can help make recommendations.

 

 

Author Highlight: Christiane Northrup

At ilumina we want to be an educationalresource for our patients and with that we have a lending library were we make available some of our trusted teachers and authors.  

Christiane Northrup started with a medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School and completed her residency at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston. She is an obstetrician and gynecologist and an advocate for woman’s health and wellbeing. She has written several books including Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom; The Wisdom of Menopause; Mother-Daughter Wisdom; The Secret Pleasures of Menopause; and Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Wellbeing. Dr. Northrup is a crusader for woman’s health, and is helping woman change their ideas around aging in our society.

As a Chinese Medicine practitioner her views on women’s health align with the ancient Chinese beliefs in treating the root of the problem verse the patients symptoms. At ilumina we treat the origin of the ailment, and help woman to restore health and balance in their lives. Chinese Medicine has a deep history in treating Women’s Health and is being used to treat a variety of conditions to help reestablish health in the body.

In Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, she covers the treatment of many health concerns PMS, menstrual cramps, breast cysts, fibroids, cervical dysplasia, endometriosis, infertility, depression, and cystitis. She takes her time explaining how many of these physical problems have roots in emotional upsets or lifestyle choices. This book helps woman to have an educated and healthy outlook on there bodies.
    
Women have trusted Dr. Northrup’s approach for decades. In 2013, Reader’s Digest named her one of “The 100 Most Trusted People in America.” And, in 2016, she was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, a group of leaders using their voices and talent to help and heal humanity.

Christiane Northrup has many hobbies including Argentina tango, culinary arts, travel, and watching movies. Dr. Northrup’s work has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, The View, Rachael Ray, Good Morning America, 20/20, and The Dr. Oz Show. 


“True health is only possible when we understand the unity of our minds, emotions, spirits and physical bodies.”
-Christiane Northrup

 

 

Why is water so important to the body?

Water is important to many functions of the body. We can survive three weeks without food, but only three days without water. There are some factors when figuring out how much water we should consume, like our activity level, age, and the consumption of water-rich veggies and fruit. On average we should consume 90oz of water on a daily basis. Increasing your water consumption can help with anxiety, constipation, and more.

1. Clearer Skin - Certain toxins in the body can cause inflammation to the skin, which results in clogged pores and acne. Water helps flush the system and reduce blemishes.

2. Fluid Balance - Roughly 60 percent of the body is made of water. Drinking enough H2O maintains the body’s fluid balance, which helps transport nutrients in the body, regulate body temperature and improves digestion.

3. Kidney Function - Our kidneys process 200 quarts of blood daily, sifting out waste and transporting urine to the bladder. Kidneys need hydration to clear away what we don’t need in the body.

4. Fatigue Fighter - Water can help fight the afternoon energy drops. One of the most common symptoms of dehydration is fatigue.


Bottoms Up!!

Begin by drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up. Get in the habit of keeping a water bottle on hand at all times. If the taste begins to become a drag, shake it up with a squeeze of citrus, cucumbers or mint.

 

The Baby Box

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SIDS: How to Reduce the Risk

At ilumina we work very hard helping women and couple conceive and have a healthy baby. We have been focusing on educating women on the benefits of acupuncture & Chinese medicine during postpartum for fatigue, breast milk production, and anxiety/depression. So I started thinking to myself what can we do for the babies?

My answer came while driving to work one day when I heard about Baby Boxes and how Finland has the lowest infant mortality rate due in part to the government handing out baby boxes to expectant mothers on their prenatal visits.

A riff of the Finnish model is being incorporated here in the United States with Alabama and Ohio joining New Jersey in providing expectant mothers with a baby box. Arizona is not on board yet but hopefully soon.

If you would like to learn more about Baby Boxes and how to get one on your own you can see the Baby Box University's website.   Also see the American Academy of Pediatrics sleep guidelines website.
You can also see NPR's original story on Baby Boxes