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

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

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.

 

 

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/

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.

 

 

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

Need a Resolution? Personal Responsibility for Proactive Health Care in 2017

No matter your personal feelings about the outcome of the election, one thing is sure to be true: health care as we know it is changing. Actually, there has been a slow, but steady change in premiums, deductibles, covered benefits and out-of-pocket expenses over the past decade with the net effect that patients are shouldering more and more of the financial responsibility. On the other hand, care seems to be less personal, with less provider continuity and less time allocated for patient appointments and follow-up. This has led many government officials, providers, and patients to call for reform. Unfortunately, there appears to be little consensus on how to fix the problems and more concerning is the question as to whether our current system can even be fixed?

 

One thing that seems to be clear is that most of the illnesses Americans are struggling with are those related at least partially to lifestyle and thus potentially preventable. By modifying our habits and keeping an eye towards prevention, we can significantly decrease our risk of the most expensive and debilitating illnesses. Recently, the CDC named “heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis as the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems”. For example, according to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the US, affecting over 30 million adults and a growing number of children. These figures relate to what is known as Type 2 diabetes, a largely preventable condition that also significantly impacts the risk of cardiovascular disease. Another nearly 100 million Americans have pre-diabetes. Medication to control diabetes can exceed $250 per month and combined with the costs of regular doctors visits, and related medication for blood pressure and cholesterol, it may be possible to spend $5000 per year to manage this one condition.

 

On the other hand, what would happen if this money were spent on improving individual general health and wellness; efforts to improve diet, manage weight, and decrease stress. In doing so, we can decrease our risk for all the aforementioned conditions named by the CDC and therefore improve overall health and quality of life, maybe even avoiding medications altogether.

 

This is a laudable goal and not an easy one to achieve. It requires us to shift our focus from a reactive, treatment-focused approach to health care to a proactive, preventive approach where the patient takes responsibility for her own health, utilizing the medical system for support and guidance along the way. It is important to acknowledge that even with our best efforts, not all disease can be prevented, but by taking an active role in partnering with providers to improve health as much as possible, significant progress can be made. By addressing symptoms early, being informed about family medical history and disease risks, screening for blood pressure, glucose, weight, and nutritional deficiencies, and following recommendations for cancer screening, you can significantly impact your risk for chronic disease in the face of the changing health care landscape.

 

2017 is the year of the fire rooster, a sign of dawn and awakening, of triumph and success, only achievable through hard work and patience. We at Ilumina are committed to prevention and proactive care, happy to help guide you to improve your general health and address specific concerns through our naturopathic and Chinese medicine services with diet, exercise, and supplement advice, acupuncture, massage, and meditation. Together, we can work to make 2017 your healthiest year yet.

Massage Therapy for Breast Cancer Support


“Massage therapy has great potential to aid in the rehabilitation of the patient who has undergone treatment for breast cancer. We actually under utilize massage, and the early institution of that therapy might actually prevent some of the more long-term complications, such as retraction of the skin and lymphedema.”
-Oncologist Frank Senecal, M.D.

    Massage therapy can be beneficial for women recovering from mastectomy, lumpectomy and lymph node removal by alleviating pain, fatigue, and anxiety. Massage therapy can increase range of motion and reduce scar tissue adhesions after surgery and radiation. By gentling stretching tissues surrounding the surgery or radiation site, muscles and ares of tightness can be opened and soothed increasing circulation and improving skin tone.

    Gentle manual lymph drainage, decongestive techniques, and light effleurage help to relieve and prevent lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition that is caused when a person’s lymphatic system is compromised due to fluid retention and swelling. This is a problem because tissues that have lymphedema are at risk of infection.  Also, as part of the diagnosis for breast cancer many women have a large number of the lymph nodes removed through surgery for diagnosis. The greater the number of lymph nodes that are removed the higher the chances are that woman will have swelling that is called lymphedema. Deep tissue massage is contraindicated in areas where lymph nodes have been comprised (removed or irradiated) even if the patient/client is not experiencing lymphedema.

    Other benefits of massage therapy for breast cancer patients include an increase in immune system function. Massage aids the patient’s ability to relax, thus reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing levels of oxytocin, natural kill cells and lymphocytes.  According to one study, breast cancer patients have “improved immune and neuroendocrine functions” following massage therapy [study conducted by the Touch Research Institutes, Department of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology Clinics, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Department of Medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine].
 In the study, 34 women with either stage 1 or 2 breast cancer were randomly assigned to either a massage therapy group or a standard treatment control group. In the massage therapy group, the women received three 30-minute massages per week for five weeks, including stroking, squeezing and stretching on the head, arms, legs, feet and back. Urine tests showed that the massage group had increased serotonin, dopamine, and natural killer cells and lymphocytes. Questionnaires administered in the study showed reduced anxiety, depression, anger, and hostility in the massage therapy group.
  

The decision to receive massage therapy after breast cancer treatment is something to discuss with your doctor and/or surgeon.  He/she can help you decide if and when massage therapy will be of benefit during the treatment process. Post mastectomy massage generally takes place several weeks after surgery. It is important to choose a Massage Therapist who has additional training in treating oncology patients, and specifically treating breast cancer patients.

Resources:
“Breast Cancer: How Massage Aids Recovery”. Yvonne Meziere. Massage Magazine, April 2014.
Massage Therapy and Breast Cancer. Eeris Kallil, Lic. CMT

 

Am I Fertile? 7 Signs to Look For

By Kristen Karchmer

Article Published originally on MindBodyGreen

Being fertile is so much more than just being able to get pregnant.

Whether you're trying to conceive or not, understanding your fertility can give you information about your reproductive health that you have the power to influence.

Fertility isn't black and white, fertile and infertile. Instead, your fertility potential exists on a continuum that is constantly swinging in one direction or the other. That movement is largely dependent on the choices you make.

How do you know if your choices are affecting your fertility? The internet is full of misinformation, and your friends or even your mom won't always be your best guides. Believe it or not, your body and your menstrual cycle are great barometers for your reproductive health — you just need to know how to read them.

Here are a few fertility warning signs to look out for:

1. You're super-skinny.

Being in amazing shape is generally healthy, yes, but six-pack abs may not be your fertility's best friend. A healthy amount of body fat is essential for proper hormone function. If your body mass index (BMI) is too low, your hormone function may not be optimal for reproduction. Research shows that women with a BMI less than 18.5 took longer to conceive than women with a higher BMI (19 to 24.5 BMI). While we often associate thinness with good health, but there isn't necessarily a direct correlation. Listen to your body.

2. You get less than seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

You may feel like you need only six hours of sleep a night, but getting less than seven to eight has been associated with depressed leptin levels throughout the following day. Leptin is in charge of regulating the menstrual cycle. Also, disturbances in leptin concentrations have been linked with poor egg quality. Make sure you get sufficient rest every day to promote fertility in the future.

3. You enjoy more than two alcoholic drinks per day.

A few glasses of wine a week is unlikely to affect your fertility. But daily consumption of alcohol can significantly affect your ability to conceive. Remember, one serving of wine is only 4 ounces — not the 8-ounce pour that the cute guy at the wine bar gives you. Consumption of alcohol can have various effects on fertility including increased time to pregnancy and decreased probability of conception (by more than 50 percent).

A large-scale study in Stockholm, Sweden, found that women who consumed more than two alcoholic drinks per day were on average 60 percent more likely to be infertile than those who did not. That doesn't mean you can't have fun, just that moderation (as always) is the key.

4. You exercise more than five times per week at high intensity.

I love to rock a boot camp as much as the next girl, but high-intensity exercise seems to work against a fertile body. While moderate exercise has been correlated with an increase in fertility, overexercising has also been linked to infertility. Lean women who exercised at high intensity five or more days a week were shown to be 2.3 times more likely to develop fertility difficulties than those who did not. Exercise should always be about becoming a healthier you, not punishing yourself — love yourself with your exercise choices.

5. You have a short or long menstrual cycle (more or less than 28 days).

Most women have no idea how important having a 28- to 32-day cycle is for their fertility. A 28-day cycle allows plenty of time for the egg to mature properly and supports a healthy window for implantation. It also means that a fertilized egg will have plenty of time to implant before your next period starts. Both shorter and longer cycles have been associated with reduced fertility, in some cases decreasing the chance of delivery by up to 50 percent.

6. You have PMS and cramping.

PMS, pain, cramping, and clotting are more than just annoying: They often correlate with more serious issues like polyps, fibroids, endometriosis, or hormonal imbalances. In addition to being a drag, infertile women report these types of symptoms in much higher numbers than their fertile counterparts.

7. You have very light bleeding.

Women are always so happy when they have a short, light period. It may mean you don't have to deal with your cycle for as long, but it is not an indicator of a healthy body. The research shows that five days of bleeding resulted in the fastest time to conception. Why is the volume of blood so important? Healthy menstrual bleeding is the reflection of a healthy uterine lining. When the uterine lining is too thin, not only are bleeding times decreased, but embryo implantation is decreased as well.

What you can do about it:

When the choices we make aren't working for our bodies, it will show up in our menstrual cycles. These changes don't just reduce our fertility but can affect our overall quality of life. The good news is that if you make healthy lifestyle choices, many of these symptoms will improve, and so will your fertility.

Some of the risk factors I identified above are easy to fix. Not getting enough sleep? Commit yourself to getting some more shut-eye! Overdoing it at the gym? Aim for moderation.

But what about those things that are harder to control, something like short periods, for instance? Remember, your menstrual cycle is a reflection of your overall health. One of the best first steps to building a healthy, fertile menstrual cycle is to focus on diet — and a plant-based, whole foods diet is the best way to go. In fact, researchers found that women who substituted plant proteins for animal proteins for as little as 5 percent of their total daily calories had a 50 percent decrease in their risk of ovulatory infertility.

At Conceivable, we’ve researched hundreds of little ways to improve menstrual cycles for women to lead happier, healthier, and more fertile lives. Be sure to check out our blog for more information on how to realize your healthiest, most fertile self. 

ilumina practitioners use Conceivable products as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.