Tag Archives: infertility

Tabletop Tuesday: Introduction to Oestrogen

We have learnt before that all hormones are chemical messengers. Hormone balance is essential to nearly all functions in the human body. When everything is in balance you feel great, look good, have sustainable energy, a healthy appetite and a healthy sex drive. On the other hand, when they are not in balance you feed the opposite and might struggle with development of other bodily changes like uterine fibroid tumours, fibrocystic breasts or hormone positive cancers.  Let’s take a look at oestrogen…

Oestrogen dominance

Oestrogen dominance is a common hormone imbalance among both women and men. It occurs when the ratio of oestrogen to progesterone sways too much to one way. Often one could recognize excess oestrogen in relation to low levels of progesterone.

The mighty oestrogen

There are three forms of oestrogen: estradiol, estrone and estriol. Estradiol is the most potent form and estriol the least. The primary role of oestrogen is to maintain the growth and function of the uterus so that the sex organs can become adult sized, and to prepare the uterine lining to receive a fertilized egg. In both men and women, it affects skeletal growth, skin, fat and protein deposition.

Maintaining a healthy balance of oestrogens can be difficult as there is more and more factors today that can throw off oestrogen balance, including exposure to xeno-oestrogens, phytoestrogens and poor oestrogen metabolism.

The humble progesterone

Progesterone is the building block for many other major hormones including corticosteroids, which are essential for stress response, electrolyte balance, blood pressure and survival. Cortisol, DHEA, testosterone and oestrogen are all made from progesterone. Progesterone is a primary hormone needed for fertility and pregnancy. It is essential to the survival of the fertilized egg, the embryo and the foetus.  A decline in progesterone levels can result in a miscarriage.  In its natural form, progesterone is considered a very safe hormone. However, the synthetic form, progestin, can have greater health risks.

Symptoms of hormone imbalances

Symptoms of an imbalance of oestrogen in relation to progesterone include premenstrual breast tenderness, mood swings, fluid retention, weight gain, headaches, menstrual cramps, thyroid dysfunction, adrenal gland fatigue, heavy periods with clotting, joint and muscle pain, decreased libido, insomnia and restless sleep, irregular cycles, anxiety, endometriosis, fibrocystic breast, polycystic ovary syndrome and breast tumours.

What in your lifestyle can cause this hormonal imbalance?

A low-fibre diet can lead to higher oestrogen levels in the bloodstream. How so? Excess oestrogen is excreted in the bowel. Being constipated means that there is not adequate clearance of excess oestrogen and possible reabsorption. Therefore, a good quality diet with adequate fibre intake is protective of oestrogen related cancers.

If the body is overloaded with synthetic ingredients, chemicals, elements in food, environmental toxins and other factors, it can slow down our detoxification capabilities. A high burden on the cofactors and enzymes, responsible for these detoxification processes, coupled with a nutrient poor diet, will lead to elevated oestrogen. Improvements in the diet with green leafy vegetables and the ‘cabbage family’ (cruciferous vegetables) can improve the detoxification processes as well as sulfarophane supplements, which is obtained from cruciferous vegetables.

We live in an estrogenic or feminizing environment. Xeno-estrogens, such as PCBs, phthalates, pesticides and DDT, cause estrogenic effects. Although banned in 1972, DDT, like its breakdown product DDE, is a xenoestrogen, which is still present in the environment. Chlorine and hormone residues in meats and dairy products also can have estrogenic effects. In men, the estrogenic environment may result in declining quality of sperm or fertility rates. In women, it may lead to an epidemic of female diseases, all traceable to excess estrogen/deficient progesterone. It is critical to incorporate a pure, clean diet consisting of organic foods whenever possible in an effort to decrease exposure to harmful xenoestrogens

How to reset the balance

  • Increase your dietary fibre
  • Dietary supplements with lecithin or choline and sulfur-containing L-taurine and L-methionine amino acids can improve bile flow
  • Consider an inositol supplement
  • Take part in physical activity to get the lymph drainage and blood flow going, so GET MOVING!

 

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Foodie Friday: Coconut to the Rescue

I posted our concerns about dairy and today Heidi is giving us an alternative…  Take a look and let us know what you think?  Are you willing to try?

Let’s briefly continue our chat about dairy and then I’d like to introduce an alternative…  Have you given dairy up yet? Or tried to consume less dairy?  Do you feel any differences?

To recap from last week, diary is a great low carb fat source and makes cooking and prepping a whole lot easier and leaves you with a variety to choose from.  However, dairy doesn’t play nicely with everyone and particularly if you battle with PCOS or other fertility issues.  Dairy could also have an effect on weight loss (although published articles in peer reviewed journals are contradictory).

But how easy is it to actually give up dairy?  I’d like to introduce a major player in the LCHF lifestyle – and that is coconut.

Introducing Coconut

Coconut can be used in many forms and it’s an excellent source of healthy fat. In fact, coconut fat is 92% saturated fat and contains very little inflammatory Omega 6, which is what you want!

  • Milk:  Coconut milk and cream can be used as a substitute for dairy in a lot of recipes and even in your coffee!! It’s great in desserts too!
  • Oil:  Coconut oil is an excellent oil to use in cooking, as it is very stable at a high heat and will retain its structure and health benefits.  Most other oils break down into harmful components when exposed to very high heat.
  • Meat:  Coconut meat – dried or fresh – makes for a great snack and is mostly just fat and fibre.
  • Flour:  Coconut flour is a great baking substitute and can be used in many different ways.  {See previous Foodie Fridays post on baking substitutes}

Coconut Benefits

Coconut oil is high in Medium-Chain Triglycerides {MCT} which is basically fat that is very easily digestible and doesn’t need to be broken down to be used for energy. It’s instant energy.  It also aids in weight-loss by increasing your metabolic rate – yes please!  People with gallbladder problems can easily digest coconut oil too, because of these MCT’s.  Coconut oil is also shown to enhance thyroid function. This in turn stimulates the conversion of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol into the anti-aging hormones pregneonolone, progesterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). These valuable hormones not only aid in weight management, but also in preventing heart disease, senility, and other degenerative diseases. It is believed that coconut oil helps convert thyroid hormone T3 to T4, a big bonus for the thousands of people who have sluggish thyroid function that causes weight gain and inhibits weight loss.  Coconut fat is very high in antioxidants and even though it doesn’t contain any micronutrients, it does aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.

Read your labels!

Beware though, that as with anything, not all coconut products are what they claim to be!  Read your labels.  Watch out for additives and stabilizers in tins of coconut milk and coconut cream – you want the purest form and please stay away from the ‘low fat’ varieties – because heaven knows, why would you go that route?!  When buying dried coconut, make sure it’s not sweetened. It should just be pure dried coconut.

Coconut oil…  There are many different varieties and brands out there and it’s really important to know the differences:

  • Organic Virgin Coconut Oil is your best bet and is very rich in antioxidants, but has a strong coconut taste.
  • Refined coconut oil has been processed to remove the coconut taste and doesn’t contain any antioxidants. It’s still a great cooking oil and stable at a high heat, it just doesn’t give you the added antioxidants…

I use both, because some food just doesn’t go well with a coconut taste.  Scrambled eggs for example…

Downside

So – yes, coconut is great but there are also a few downsides:

  • Additives in coconut milk: if you’re reacting to coconut milk with guar gum or carageenan in it, it might not be the coconut at all.
  • Coconut allergy. It’s always possible to be allergic to the stuff. Coconut isn’t a “nut” so many people with nut allergies can actually eat it just fine. But some people also have a particular allergy to coconut specifically.
  • Fat causing digestive problems. Yes, the same fats that have so many health benefits can have drawbacks too. Coconut oil in particular can cause diarrhoea if you suddenly start putting back a lot of it when you hadn’t been eating much before. If this is you, it often helps to start slowly and gradually work up to a higher consumption level.
  • Salicylates. Coconut is rich in salicylates, and some people react to them. Compared to cosmetics and medications, food provides a relatively small dose of salicylate exposure, but for people who are very sensitive, it might be enough to trigger symptoms.

I’ll end off with my recipe for a great morning cuppa – Bulletproof Coffee!  It will keep you full and provide a good dose of healthy fats to start off your day – get the recipe here… And remember, you can leave out the cream to make it dairy-free, and blitz it up with a stick blender – pure magic!

Bulletproof Coffee

Heidi Visser

 

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Magnesium Moment

This new journey of mine also includes researching any general symptoms that I experience. One of these symptoms is struggling to sleep. This obviously really bothered me since people always tell you that insomnia negatively influences your fertility.  I usually just blamed my work and the environment that I have to work in.  BUT could it be the other way around?  Could my infertility be influencing my sleep?  Studies have shown that there is a strong association between PCOS and sleep-disordered breathing and PCOS patients with sleep-disordered breathing actually do have more male hormones (Bidisha Chatterjee, 2014).

Either way, I wanted to sleep better, so I started researching this.  I’ve found that most people who struggle to sleep mention either magnesium or melatonin supplements.  As far as I can gather, melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland, which controls our sleep and wake cycles. Very small amounts of it can be found in some meats, grains, fruits and vegetables.  Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours.  In most studies, the one single thing that has the most profound effect on melatonin production is “light vs. dark”.

But then I read that zinc and magnesium are supposed to enhance the formation of melatonin (Katri Peuhkuri et al, 20 July 2012).  In my opinion, if magnesium influences melatonin production, taking melatonin is only going to treat the symptom, but will not cure the cause.

That is how I started reading about magnesium and what I found was actually shocking!! Remember, I started on a journey that consists of a high fibre diet and inositol supplements. Now, magnesium is absorbed in the small intestines by both active and passive processes (Greger et al 1981). High fibre intakes (40-50 g/day) actually lower magnesium absorption, probably because of the magnesium-binding action of the inositol, associated with the fibre (Kelsay et al 1979).

Take a moment with this…  It basically tells me that my high fibre diet and my additional inositol intake is negatively influencing my magnesium balance.

At this point I should mention that there are other causes for magnesium loss as well.  A very high intake of zinc (>142 mg/day) and protein intake less than 30 g/day or more than 94 g/day.  The kidney plays a central role in magnesium equilibrium through active reabsorption that is influenced by the sodium load in the kidneys and possibly acid/base balance (Quarme 1986). Therefore high dietary calcium intake (> 2,600 mg/day) with high sodium intake will also cause a loss in magnesium.  {This is an extract from: Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, including Recommended Dietary Intakes ENDORSED BY THE NHMRC ON 9 SEPTEMBER 2005.  The Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs) was a joint initiative of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the New Zealand Ministry of Health (MoH)}

In most articles (maybe because I was looking for exactly that) the magnesium balance is associated with insulin sensitivity and a low magnesium intake predicts the development of type II diabetes in most studies. At least 3 trials have shown that magnesium supplementation increases insulin sensitivity in insulin resistant diabetics and nondiabetics.  In type II diabetics, 16 weeks of magnesium supplementation improved fasting glucose, calculated insulin sensitivity and HbA1c (a form of hemoglobin that is bound to glucose, measured primarily to identify the three-month average plasma glucose concentration).  HbA1c dropped by 22%!  In insulin resistant volunteers with low blood magnesium, magnesium supplementation for 4 months reduced estimated insulin resistance by 43% and decreased fasting insulin by 32%.  Another interesting find was that magnesium improved the subjects’ blood lipid profile remarkably and that total cholesterol decreased (read about it here).

Another study proved that dietary magnesium supplementation brought about statistically significant increases in sleep time, sleep efficiency and melatonin.  It also showed a decrease in sleep onset latency and cortisol (“stress hormone”) concentration. Supplementation also reduced early morning awakening.  (Behnood Abbasi et al, Dec 2012)

In summary, magnesium can decrease cortisol (“stress hormone”), it helps muscles relax, it also shows potential as a therapy for depression and other mood disorders and I’ve already explained that it shows promise for helping maintain insulin sensitivity and even improving your blood lipid profile.

It is also interesting to note that articles refer to the following groups as more likely than others to be at risk of magnesium inadequacy since they could be taking medications that reduce magnesium absorption from the gut or increase losses from the body.

  1. People with gastrointestinal diseases: Crohn’s disease, gluten-sensitive enteropathy (celiac disease), and regional enteritis can lead to magnesium depletion over time. Bypass of the small intestine, typically leads to malabsorption and magnesium loss.
  2. People with type 2 diabetes: Magnesium deficits and increased urinary magnesium excretion can occur in people with insulin resistance and/or type 2 diabetes.

How to get Magnesium

Obviously by now I have established that I’d rather take magnesium than melatonin (my own decision, without consulting a doctor).  I would love to consume both of these naturally and this table should give some guidance to natural resources…

 

(I’ve gathered the magnesium sources from a few articles, but the melatonin was found in Food & Nutrition Research, 2012, 56: 17252)

I really want to keep it natural, but more than one doctor confirmed that there are reasons why supplements may be needed (www.paleoleap.com/magnesium):

  1. We have to recover from diseases induced by our current lifestyles. In my own opinion that relates to quick and easy nutrition choices that are usually grain-based and leads to malnutrition
  2. Also linking to quick and easy food choices, our food processing methods no longer produce food as micronutrient-rich as it used to be.
  3. And then environmental elements: air pollutants, factory runoff and hormones in our water, toxic cleaning supplies, etc.

I have no way to prove these points, since I wasn’t around a 100 years ago, but I do believe that in my own life I have often chosen the quick and easy way, which was a choice high in sugar, high in caffeine and mostly based on carb loading.  As I’ve described on my blog, this had a very negative impact on me, my body and my life.  Now I’m starting to do things differently and more naturally, but I do believe that I have to help my body with magnesium.  (At this stage I need to note:  there is definitely proof out there that on a diet of whole, nourishing foods, especially organic or grass-fed foods, you should be able to get everything you need.)

Magnesium Supplements

We should be taking 310mg of magnesium if we are between 19 to 30 years old and 320mg of magnesium if we are between 31 to 50 years old.  Even with an adequate supply of magnesium in our diets, it has been noted that sometimes our digestive system struggles to take full advantage of magnesium, absorbing only 50% of the magnesium we consume.  Absorption of magnesium from different kinds of magnesium supplements varies. Forms of magnesium that dissolve well in liquid are more completely absorbed in the gut than less soluble forms.  Small studies have found that magnesium in the aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms is absorbed more completely and is more bioavailable than magnesium oxide (only 4% is absorbed) and magnesium sulfate.

Chelated magnesium (magnesium glycinate) is magnesium bound in a complex of glycine (It is the smallest possible amino acid) and lysine. It is easily absorbed and highly bioavailable.  Magnesium orotate contains only 31 mg of elemental magnesium per 500 mg tablet, but it is well absorbed and has been found highly effective in daily intakes of 3000 mg (186 mg elemental).  Magnesium citrate (occurs naturally in citrus fruits) contains 80 mg of elemental magnesium per 500 mg tablet and it is far better absorbed than is magnesium oxide. Magnesium gluconate contains 27 mg of elemental magnesium per 500 mg tablet. It is easily absorbed and quick acting.

All forms of oral magnesium supplements are better absorbed when taken with a meal.  I’m currently using magnesium glycinate, more specifically, the Sleep Naturally product from Solal.

I believe this product is working for me, I fall asleep more quickly and I don’t have a “sleep hangover” in the morning.  I do have to mention that I still get those early morning wake ups, which are extremely frustrating, but those have become few and far between.  I would love to know about your experiences, so please drop me a comment below!  And if you have tried magnesium, let me know if it works for you!

 

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Intro to Tabletop Tuesdays

Yes, I struggle with fertility.  I have a disease that I’ve been trying to hide.  For the past 4 years I’ve struggled through numerous failed IVF’s, in silence.  The last failed IVF completely broke my will, my heart, my hopes and my dreams.  I just had enough of hormones, pills, injections, invasive examinations, sleepless nights and sugar binges.  Everything just had to stop!  The decision was rather easy, but then what?  I had no idea what next!  Then I phoned a friend who said we’ll find the hand of God in this.  It was a reminder that I am loved.  I am special.

I have this beautiful body and I have a responsibility to nurture this gift.

The person who reminded me of this is Marenel Pansegrouw.  She is a registered dietician and an associate dietician at Midstream Hill Dieticians.  She has armed me with knowledge and she is helping me to understand my body!  She will be helping you too with a series called Tabletop Tuesdays and I am inviting you to join us on this journey!

Our first topic will be Insulin Resistance… If you have any questions on Insulin, drop a comment below and we will answer!

 

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The start of the journey

I’ve started this blog with very little of my family, friends and colleagues knowing about our struggles with fertility. So in a way, this is my “coming out” party.  For me it’s very tough to admit that I have a disease (as per WHO), that I’m struggling, that my body is broken, that I’m simply not coping.  Now I am being vulnerable and I’m hoping everyone that I’ve not yet told will honour that as courage.

My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy… – Brene Brown

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound…  To explain the need for a new dream, I have to explain why my BIG dream of having a whole bunch of children failed.  Here goes…

I first found out I had endometriosis in 2010 and I remember thinking “great, let’s just quickly do a lap.”  Then I met Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (the dreaded PCOS and AFTER having ovary drilling in 2010, I found out in 2016 that that is not really the way to go at all).  So I just took a deep breath, looked PCOS in the eye and tried, tried, tried again, until we found out my husband has a brain tumour that kills his sperm.  So after all that, IVF was the answer.  And even when the eggs received great reviews and the sperm won gold medals in the Olympics, my “environment” was not always healthy and my lining was always too thin.  After our first attempt at IVF, I developed an abscess on my right ovary.  I became very ill, but the doctors couldn’t find the cause (in fact, I remember an incorrect haematoma diagnoses).  I became so ill that I couldn’t eat anymore and I couldn’t pass urine at all.  When we went on our third trip to the emergency room, they decided to call in an expert.  When he opened me up, the abscess burst.  Needless to say, I lost my right ovary and I spent a considerable amount of time in the high care unit.  But this doctor saved my life and after 3 rounds of IVF with him, God blessed us with our little girl.  (Only now do I understand what an absolute miracle my little girl is.  For the first time I understand that God is mighty and will find a way.)

When our little girl was 9 months old, we started trying again, but doing 8 rounds of IVF in under 4 years took its toll on my body, not to mention our finances.  I started at 57kg and at “the breaking point” I weighed 63kg.  I constantly had stomach cramps, pains and extreme discomfort.  I was constantly depressed, to the point where I cried in the loo next to my office on a daily basis.  At “the breaking point” I was using prescribed Urbanol and Aterex just to sleep and not constantly think about possible treatments for my “disease”.  I was surviving on prescription drugs, carbs and caffeine.  I was an awful person.

And then I phoned a friend, who is also a dietician (and found out she actually works with doctors, who treat women with PCOS).  I remember saying, “I am SO tired of this.”  Her reply was, “we will find the hand of God in this.”

I know this answer might seem dramatic, maybe even “theatrical”, but what it meant for me was I need to go back to being natural, to being well and to being whole.  I need to go back to being meaningful and not have this “disease” define who I am.  There is so much more to life!

Like what, you may ask?

Well, I’ve started researching the specific combination of all our unique problems and I found a few key things that I can naturally manage to improve our situation.  In doing this, in doing research and shifting my focus to more natural remedies, I have found new goals in life.  I have started loving my body again.  I’ve started listening to my body again.  I think the most important thing of all is, I’m rediscovering who I am.

These key things have become the starting blocks for my new journey:

  1.  Obviously everyone knows diet will make it to the top of the list!
  2.  And we all hate to admit exercise also has to be at the top! (Or maybe it’s just me?)
  3.  I also found some natural supplements that helps me with insulin, stress management and specific stomach problems
  4.  Building my faith and rebuilding a relationship with God (more on that topic later)
  5.  Mechanisms to manage stress (and just wait until you hear the drastic measures I took here)
  6.  Going organic (cutting on hormones in my food, containers, water, etc.)
  7.  Finding new hobbies (easily said, but I had no idea how to actually find new hobbies)

The changes I’ve made are not profound.  Honestly, I cannot understand why it took me so long.  I have to admit, it wasn’t easy at the beginning and I think educating myself was the most difficult part of my journey.

My focus is no longer on how my body failed me, but what I can do to nurture the body that I have been given.  I have made the choice to not be a victim of infertility, but to be a victor in life.

I’m very excited about my progress in all of these areas (even exercise) and I will be telling you all about how I started, how it’s going and how the change in each area is influencing my life.  I will try to give you an idiot’s guide on being whole.  (If you have specific experience in any of these areas, please drop me a comment below!)

 

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Now I know

If you’ve read my About page, you will now know that I already have a beautiful little girl.  God finally gave me this precious gift and I am truly thankful.  I cannot describe that feeling when you are so grateful AND so scared of losing her, all at once.

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” – Elizabeth Stone

You might be asking, if I have this beautiful little girl, why didn’t I just stop?  Why have I weathered a 4 year storm of 8 failed IVF treatments?  As a colleague so appropriately asked me:  “you have a child, why do you want more?”

There are obvious reasons, for example, you want a sibling for your child or you always wanted a big family or you want to be “fruitful and multiply”.  All of the above for me.  I can tick all those boxes.  I wanted it all.

But there is a far bigger reason.  I have felt my baby move inside of me, I’ve seen her being delivered and put into my arms.  I’ve watched her latch on and I’ve seen my body’s ability to provide food for her.  I’ve held her in all hours of the day, just staring into her eyes.  I’ve sat with her through fevers, nightmares and lightning storms.  We’ve shared laughter, arguments, baths and even make-up (that she stole from my cupboard, on the second shelf, heaven knows how).

 [Her] whole body bore the imprint of the little girl; her fingers knew the smoothness of her hair as she brushed it; her hips remembered the weight of her, and the tight locking of her legs around her waist; the warm softness of her cheek. – M.L. Stedman, The light between oceans

Now I know what I’m missing.  My whole mind, body and spirit longs for another child.  How do you still this longing?  Please, tell me!  How do you cope when you have no control over a situation and your body has failed you and there is literally nothing you CAN do?

I have decided to shift my focus…  I’m setting new goals…  I’m changing my dream!  Keep an eye on this journey, I’m going to tell you all about it!

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