Fertility and hormone balance are intimately connected with overall health and wellbeing. In order to achieve optimal health, these topics need to be considered in concert with everything else that is going on in the mind and the body. The dance of the brain and body in regulating hormones, is complex; it doesn’t make long-term sense to look only at numbers on blood tests without considering the context in which the body is living.
A holistic approach to fertility and hormone balance takes everything into consideration. Studies have shown that stress-reduction techniques change the very chemical makeup of the body in the way they affect the production and circulation of neurotransmitters. There are many avenues toward optimal health, and some work better for some people than others.
These are some of the avenues to consider when attempting to get a handle on fertility and hormone balance. Created for a talk given to Moms of North Arlington this post will have additional links added soon. It is an expanded version of an earlier post on my personal blog: Top Ten Natural Strategies for Conception (AKA How to get pregnant!)
1. Know thyself, know thy body: Fertility Awareness (FA) and Natural Family Planning (NFP)
Whether you are planning to have children or not, getting to know your cycles is the first step toward understanding what is going on in your body. Many of us (including yours truly) have enjoyed being steps removed from our bodies by taking The Pill for years. But, as “The Natural Pharmacist” Ross Pelton has shown in his book The Pill Problem, this manipulation of our hormones can come at a great cost, including mineral depletion.
If knowledge is power, turn instead to resources that will help you understand what is going on in your body when it is functioning on its own terms.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and Garden of Fertility (and Honoring Our Cycles) by Katie Singer are great resources. Learn not only how to use Basal Body Temperature (BBT) and cervical position and fluid to predict ovulation but also what it means when you are having short at long cycles, how the light in your bedroom might be affecting sleep and your cycles, and much more.
2. Nutrition and detoxification
So much of our food supply these days is so contaminated with chemicals, from pesticides to manufactured oils that our bodies don’t recognize as food, to factory-created sweeteners and flavorings. Unless you have been eating largely a whole foods diet from birth (and have only just moved to DC from a place with really pure air and pristine well water lacking chlorine and fluoride), you probably have toxins stored in your cells. These toxins go into our babies in utero and also, as Sandra Steingraber discusses in Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood, into our breastmilk.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), studies have shown that babies are born with an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in their umbilical cord blood. If they are so contaminated even before they get into the world, it’s crazy to imagine that we, their parents, are not.
So what to do? Ideally, get less toxic before you get pregnant. The easiest way to do this is by cleaning up your diet, which means avoiding processed foods – foods in boxes, cans, packages – as much as possible. Put simply: buy individual ingredients, and cook them, or eat raw foods. Do whatever you can to eat organic or as close to it as you can, to eat locally-sourced ingredients when possible, to enjoy what is in season, and to avoid genetically modified foods. Holistic health coaches can assist you in taking this on if it feels overwhelming and can help you prioritize where to start.
For many people, the first thing to go out the window is sugar. Not only can sugar create inflammation and wreak havoc on your stress hormones (which then affects your reproductive hormones), but it can also contribute to candida/yeast overgrowth, adding to digestive troubles.
Many health coaches recommend to patients in pain or with chronic complaints to try an anti-inflammatory diet that eliminates sugar, caffeine, gluten (the protein found in wheat and some other grains) and other potential allergens like dairy (especially pasteurized milk) and that incorporates broth and fermented foods.
Some people do well to include a lot more raw foods including green juices and other alkalizing foods. Juicing — with organic vegetables — can be a powerful component to introduce packed nutrition and to encourage detoxification.
Some people find great improvement on a Paleo-inspired grain-free diet it including local parents Matt and Stacy who authored the kid-friendly Eat Like a Dinosaur after founding their widely popular PaleoParents.com blog. Others with more serious conditions or with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) might do well to consider the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, which eliminates all grains and also all starchy vegetables, beans and anything that is not a mono-saccharride, and incorporates healing foods like broth and healthy, natural fats like coconut oil and lard.
If you can do one thing, I recommend making broth from the bones of an organic chicken. If meat is not in your vocabulary, I will simply say that I’ve been there and know a lot of other folks who were but who had to make changes in order to heal their bodies. Vegetarianism can lead to depletion of minerals and the adrenal glands if one is not careful, and processed soy can wreak havoc on hormones with its phytoestrogenic properties. My own healing began only when I gave up vegetarianism and moved toward a more traditional diet, as described by the Weston A. Price Foundation.
I could rattle off some suggested foods and supplements, like cod liver oil, but people have literally written books on this topic. So go read some of those! Some great resources include are Nina Planck’s book Real Food for Mother and Baby, Sally Fallon Morrell’s Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care Donielle Baker’s Naturally Knocked Up and her website http://www.naturalfertilityandwellness.com
You have to start where you are, so enlist some help or do some research and figure out what you can improve first most easily, and move on from there. Some people like the simplicity of The Whole 30 as a way to make what might be dramatic changes for 30 days and then see what is easily incorporated into everyday life.
There are plenty of blogs that promote healthy living with whole foods, including Nourished Kitchen, Mommypotamus, The Healthy Home Economist, Food Renegade, Cheeseslave,100 Days of Real Food, Homemade Mommy.
Locally, in addition to a plethora of holistic health coaches, healing centers like National Integrated Health Associates in Friendship Heights and Roselle Center for Healing, there are D.C.-area meetups for Paleo families, whole foods nutrition, clean eating, and more. Spending time with other people can be a big help when you are just starting out, and many of the Meetups are free. Local chapters of Holistic Moms Network also often have presentations by holistic health care providers and nutrition-minded people at their monthly meetings.
Eating clean is an essential step toward lessening that toxic burden I mentioned earlier. Doing an intense 3-day detox protocol is not going to undo 30 or 40 years of living in a processed food world, especially if your liver has had to process lots of medications or alcohol or unhealthy fats. As described in the new (October 2013) issue of Alternative Medicine magazine, a too-quick, too-intense “cleanse” can simply release toxins into your bloodstream too quickly and cause the toxins to simply resettle in your organs. For most of us, the liver has its limits on how much it can flush out in a short period of time. That’s why gently supporting the liver with supplements and teas and a healthy diet and lifestyle is so important.
I’ll soon add a post on “Detox Strategies” with more information and will add that link here.
3. Bodywork and Stress Reduction
If you’re trying to heal your body or convince your body to work with you, it’s nice to also treat it well. Some modalities to consider are chiropractic, osteopathy and craniosacral therapy. These modalities can all help with structural alignment, which can be a game-changer if something has been restricting something important, but more subtly, they can help the balanced flow of energy and increase the body’s ability to self-correct and find balance. I turn to chiropractic more when I know that my alignment is the first order of business to address.
For more chronic issues or to address organ systems more intimately, I have gotten a lot out of working with osteopaths and craniosacral therapists. During this work, the body often goes into the healing and calming parasympathetic mode, which should be our norm, but in our current frenzied lives (especially in the high-stress D.C. area), we are spending more time in the fight-or-flight sympathetic mode that used to be reserved for unique times of crisis, like running away from a bear.
The stress hormone profiles of bodies in these two states are very different, as you can imagine. When you are prepared to run at any moment, your body is not caring about digesting food and certainly not about reproducing. So if you find you are often in high-powered go-go-go mode as though there are bears lurking around every tree, you are not sending a signal to your body to slow down and set the stage to have a baby. A few craniosacral therapists that serve lots of moms include Sally DiCesare, practicing at Vital Mind/Body Therapies in Del Ray (Alexandria), Nishanka Lahr, practicing out of The Teal Center in Ballston (north Arlington), and Connie Hambrock at Hambrock Holistic Healing Center in Herndon
One of the reasons acupuncture works well is because it helps bring our energies into balance and helps us find that calmer space within. Additionally, a skilled acupuncturist knows how to draw chi or energy toward the uterus and reproductive organs. There are many local acpuncturists who work specifically on issues of fertility and women’s hormones, including Stephanie Simmons of Acupuncture in Del Ray, Sarah Schupe of Acupuncture Alexandria, and Allison Kitchen of DC Mind Body, to name a few.
Bodywork can also assist with detoxification. All massage can help move energy and should be followed by drinking lots of purified water, but manual lymphatic drainage massage in particular helps the body release toxins. I’ve recently learned about an herbal massage with poultices that are supposed to help draw out toxins being offered at TRUE Health and Wholeness in Arlington.
Bodywork can also be, well, work: work to help promote healing from surgery, scars and trauma. Not until after my homebirth with my second child did I start to experience discomfort with my c-section scar from four years earlier. One adjustment from Chicago-based chiropractor Jennifer Mercier, in D.C. for a conference, made a huge difference that lasted until I started ovulating two years later. Since then, as I set out to find local support, I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of how surgery disrupts the body’s energy flow and affects the body structurally.
One approach to healing scar tissue is the use of detoxifying herbal packs made by the Premier Research Lab company. This medi-pack mudding protocol is offered by Dr. Kim and Dr. Fuller at their Annandale practice, HealthBuilders. Some physical therapists, including Marisa Alonso of DC’s Body Connect Health and Wellness, perform visceral manipulation to help heal scar tissue. Marisa is also a pelvic floor specialist who will be speaking at the November 21 Arlington/Alexandria chapter meeting of Holistic Moms about how the health of the uterus, bladder, and digestive organs all work together.
Issues in our midsection can affect fertility cycles and overall health; these include shifted organs after a pregnancy, abdominal separation (diastis recti), scar tissue after a c-section or other trauma, or just weak core muscles. Another great resource and midwife favorite for treatment of postpartum issues is the practice of Dr. Luke and Michelle Pietrentone in Ashburn . In Arlington, osteopath Dr. Michael Porvaznik serves many mothers and their children.
Exercise and yoga are certainly also important avenues toward health. For one, sweating and deep breathing help to release toxins. Exercise can help promote a healthy balance of hormones, as long as it doesn’t kick over into creating adrenaline such that the body gets too revved up for too long, thus creating more stress. Yoga can increase mindfulness, which helps the body calm and function in a lower, more sustainable gear.
In addition to the many studios throughout metro DC, there are several local resources that specifically offer family-friendly yoga opportunities, including lil omm in NW DC, Mind the Mat in Del Ray/Alexandria, Local Motion Studio in Old Town Alexandria, and Beloved Yoga in Reston. We’ll be working on a comprehensive list in the near future, so be sure to comment with your favorites.
Dr. Claudia Welch is a practitioner of Chinese Medicine and also of Ayurveda, an ancient healing system originating in India. She lives in Vermont but traveled to Beloved Yoga in January to present a workshop in January based on her book Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.
For Dr. Welch, stress is really the key to health, and one cannot expect to achieve wellness without addressing stress. Her book includes recommendations for regular routine, diet, herbs, yoga, and breathwork or pranayama, including alternate-nostril breathing, which she recommends be done every morning.
4. Other Approaches to Stress Reduction and Healing
In addition to physical modalities that can bring your body closer to a state of balance, there is much to gain by working with the mind itself.
Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s new book, The Last Best Cure, does a wonderful job of explaining how the brain-body connection works. By sharing her own story healing from debilitating conditions and presenting scientific research like the journalist she is, she makes a very compelling case for considering our childhood traumas and our response to stress as important components of adult illness. Like Welch, she finds great benefits in meditation.
Sometimes it can be a challenge to sit with ourselves if we have what feels like a road block in the way, and in those cases, other interventions might help. For tough emotional issues that have not been resolved through traditional talk therapy or counseling, hypnotherapy is one avenue to explore. Monica Maruseac is founder of NoVA Birth Network and, as a hypnotherapist working at NoVA Hypnosis and Wellness in Vienna, has specific training in using hypnotherapy for fertility-seekers. Lindsey Vick of Sunflowers Healing in Del Ray also works with lots of using hypnotherapy, HypnoBirthing and Reiki.
There are also plenty of other energy work modalities to explore. Meridian tapping techniques can be effective in allowing the negative charge of a trauma or even a relationship squabble to dissipate with targeted tapping on specific acupressure points. These modalities include Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and TAT. Jan Steele is a licensed clinical social worker in McLean who teaches these techniques and uses them in her practice.
Other practitioners use tapping techniques to “clear” the body of blockages and imbalances. In her practice in Annandale and Woodbridge, Margie Hasley of Highest Health uses Total Body Modification, a technique that combines muscle-testing and the rubbing of acupressure points to determine what stressors are to reset the body. Sometimes the issues could be related to foods or chemicals, and sometimes a patient is having a blood-sugar related response or a problem with a hormone or neurotransmitter.
Another similar technique is NAET, an allergy elimination technique. Dr. Venus Seleme in Fairfax is an excellent resource on allergies has worked with many families and children using NAET. Another allergy elimination protocol is BioSET, developed by Dr. Ellen Cutler, the author of The Food Allergy Cure. It incorporates the use of enzymes as well as clearings of sensitivities. Some practitioners, like Sharon Fan of the Center for Natural Cures in Bethesda, incorporate BioSET into their healing protocols.
Often times, emotions are tied up in whatever the sensitivity is, and the freeing results from a clearing can be quite a surprise. Molly Himes of A Center for Wellness in Silver Spring uses a technique called NeuroModulation Technique (NMT) that can address emotional and physical issues, even over the phone. Reiki practitioners like Amy Arnold of Vital Self in Arlington can help clear out negative energies as well. It’s amazing what someone else’s intention and openness can do for another person.
It might take a bit of a leap of faith to try an energy healing modality like these, but when the time is right, the opportunity will likely arise. A cleared mind is wonderful for the parent, and it can also do wonders for children, current and future. Not only can an open heart help us be better parents, but experiencing healing modalities can open the door for us to help our children as issues arise for them.
Homeopathy is another energetic approach that helps the body heal itself. While some applications address acute problems, constitutional remedies can sometimes cause dramatic shifts that can lead to a clearing of many symptoms. Andrea Kraft in Fairfax is a classical homeopath, and naturopathic doctor and craniosacral therapist Dr. Marie Rodriguez in DC has worked with families using homeopathy.
5. Hormone Counseling
Finally, the topic you thought we’d probably start with: hormones. Standard blood tests ordered by most doctors are done at one moment in time. Many holistic practitioners who look to labwork prefer to include in their analysis saliva tests that can show what is going on at multiple times during the day (to see how stress hormones peak and fall) and at points throughout the menstrual cycle, to see the relationship between hormones at different times.
Don’t try to self-diagnose and treat yourself with things like DHEA you might find at the health food store. Get tested to know exactly where things stand.
DiagnosTechs is a lab used by many practitioners for adrenal tests and female hormone panels, among other tests. Some of these local practitioners include the following:
Dr. Cindy Durakis, DC, of the Healing Tree in Alexandria has been a chiropractor for over 18 years. Recently she has incorporated nutrition counseling, herbs, and bio-identical hormones into her practice.
Shep Saltzman of Vienna Complementary Medicine is an R.N. who uses muscle-testing, Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbs and more in his practice. He also works out of Vital Mind/Body Therapies in Del Ray by appointment.
Dr. Hai Jin Kim is an M.D. who integrates muscle-testing and a wide variety of supplements into her practice at HealthBuilders in Annandale
The Steinmetz Center for Integrative Medicine group in Alexandria has several practitioners on staff for a holistic approach.
Dr. Tracy Freeman is an MD focusing on children’s and women’s health at the National Integrated Health Associates in Friendship Heights.
Disclaimer: As with all information on this website, the above information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any ailment. Readers should consult their physician for guidance on their health concerns.