It is the Autumn Equinox, here in the Northern hemisphere.
The sun lies briefly over the equator creating a moment of perfect balance where night and day are of equal length.
After today, the North Pole will tilt on its axis slightly forward, away from the sun, favouring the south pole for the better, warmer weather. Autumn will begin.
Today the astrological calendar moves from Virgo to Libra, the weighing scales, also representative of perfect balance.
If ever there was a period of time that could be represented with the image of Yin and Yang, it would be now. This time of year, also known as Mabon in the pagan calendar is a time of meloncholly and duality. There is perfect balance between positive and negative... The fields are bare, but the larders are stocked. Harvest festivities are tinged with the sadness of the coming winter. Animals are stocking up their food stores, ready for their big sleep, and many, like the female honey bee have reached the end of their life cycle and wither away.
In Greek mythology, this was the point where Persephone had to go down to the underworld for her three month stint with her husband Hades, much to her mother, Demeter`s dispair. Demeter was the Goddess of the harvest and crop growing and in her anguish, she refused to use her powers over the winter until Persephone was returned to her.
The image above shows Persephone and her pomegranate, for they were the food of the underworld. They are also in season right now and are so good for male health, especially prostate care. Unsweetened pomegranate juice makes a great tonic for keeping the prostate gland healthy.
Autumn comes with a noticeable energetic shift. Not only do we see the shadows changing around us as the sun`s position alters over the forthcoming weeks, but mentally, Autumn can be a challenge as we adjust to the amount of seratonin that we make in response to the altered light levels.
For this reason it is important to slow down and take care of ourselves.
It is a time to nourish ourselves not only with hearty soups and foods but mentally prepare and support ourselves with self care rituals that make us feel comforted.
It is a time to adopt the scandanavian way of life and take great pleasure in all things cosy... candles, blankets, cosy pyjamas, wood burning stoves, favourite jumpers or whatever makes you rub your feet together with contentment.
Physically, it is so important to start thinking about building and maintaining a healthy immune system. One of the best and most effective ways of doing this is to supplement with Vitamin D.
Here in the UK,our national health service recommends that every person supplements with Vitamin D, although this is not widely known.
During the winter, from around the 14th of October, the way that the earth tilts makes it physically impossible for the UVA rays to enter our skin in order to synthesise Vitamin D. Hence the reason that coughs and colds begin through this time. This period of lack of vitamin D will last until the spring solstice (roughly) so it is a long stretch.
Please look into supplementing with vitamin D, especially if you are a person of colour as you are more vulnerable to having lower vitamin D levels.
Other ways that you can really nourish your immune system are to look into reishi mushsrooms, which are available in capsule and tincture form as well as dried mushrooms. They are an amazing immunostimulating tonic and are well worth using over the winter months. Elderberry is also available in many forms and has an affinity for caring for the lungs in particular. Garlic is a go - to supplement for our family at this time of year and Vitamin C is now more important than ever.
Eating wholesome, home cooked foods and soups will nourish you and your families, as will tasty teas. I particularly like to use berries, citrus peel, thyme, calendula and ginger in my teas at this time of year.
There`s so much to enjoy during this first part of Autumn, that I call Libra Autumn, before the wet and windy Scorpio Autumn comes and knocks us sideways. The weather is generally still mild and mother nature really puts on a show in the hedgerows. Walk as much as you can and notice the small changes around you. I have a holly tree at the bottom of my garden and I have watched the tiny buds turn to white flowers, to green berries and now they are a lovely orange colour before their deep ruby display over winter. It is lovely to watch these small changes and really gives you a sense of belonging to the earth in a cyclical way.
Feasting with friends where everyone brings a dish is a great thing to do at this time of year and if you can do it outside before the weather turns, all the better... light a bonfire or a BBQ and enjoy these Libra evenings.
Planting bulbs is best at this time of year. Maybe you could plant some miniature iris or daffs and have them inside to monitor their progress. Hopefully they will bless you with a beautiful display over winter.
Eat pomegranates, make hedgerow jam, autumn wreaths and corn dollies. Drink apple cider, donate food and plant a tree or a bush.
Children can enjoy leaf rubbing, nature crowns and all sorts of autumnal activities.
I`ve just brought our Libra Autumn books down out of the loft for my little girl to enjoy tonight. Our particular favourites are:
Bramley Hedge - Autumn by Jill Barklem
Foggy Friday by Phyllis root
Harvest by Kris Waldherr
and my absolute favourite .... Wild Child by Lyn Plourde
So, a couple of questions for you to think about or journal over...
Is there anything that you would like to complete by the winter solstice?
How can you practice self care over the darker months?
Stay well and happy,
Are you absorbing your iron? Without enough iron, you will feel, well... pretty terrible. Tiredness, fatigue, low mood, low endurance, pale skin, sore mouth, dizzy... the list goes on...
You could be eating platefuls of iron rich food, but not actually absorbing much of it. Sound familiar? Read on...
Dietary sources of Iron can be categorised as Haem iron and Non- Haem iron.
Good sources of Haem iron are: Red meat, organ meat, poultry, fish and shellfish
Non - Haem iron foods are plant based - broccoli, pumpkin, beetroot, nuts and seeds, dark green veggies, eggs, whole grains, legumes, dry fruits, tomato, guava, paw paw and citrus.
When haem iron is consumed (the meaty one), its absorption is much better than non-haem iron. Non-haem iron is less easily absorbed and its absorption is often affected by the other food components which are eaten alongside it.
Non- haem iron (plant based) provides the largest amount of dietary iron, but only an estimated 10 - 20% of non-haem iron is actually absorbed, because it is inhibited in its absorption by so much.
Phytates, oxylates and polyphenols all prevent non-haem iron from being absorbed. Many “healthy” foods such as spinach, kale, beets, wheat bran, rhubarb, strawberries and nuts contain a high amount of oxylates.
Polyphenols are found in apples, peppermint, herbal teas, spices, walnuts, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries along with cocoa. Polyphenol rich food can reduce your iron absorption by an estimated 60%.
Phytates are found in walnuts, soy, almonds, sesame, beans, lentils, peas, cereals, protein and fiber. Phytates can reduce the absorption of iron by an estimated 50 - 60%.
Along with this, milk is also known to inhibit absorption of iron .
It has also been found that drinking polyphenol rich beverages within an hour of a meal will reduce the iron absorption of that meal by 79 - 94%. This includes tea, coffee, red wine, cocoa and herbal tea.
This has an obvious impact on the average vegetarian/ vegan diet. Whilst the raw constituents of a vegetarian or vegan diet looks to contain a huge amount of iron, the effect of the inhibitory components listed above has massive implications on iron absorption.
So what to do? You`re trying to be be healthy, but the healthy foods you are eating are inhibiting your iron absorption! That`s annoying!
Mmmm... Don`t despair...
There are certain promoters of iron absorption. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) helps chelate the iron molecule, transporting it across the intestinal lining. Squeezing lemon over food, or drinking freshly squeezed orange with a meal can help your iron absorption.
You definitely want to avoid those dastardly polyphenol drinks and limit beverages with food to water, or freshly squeezed orange.
Have some iron rich snacks away from other foods each day. Cooked meats if you are a meat lover, or dried fruits are a good source for veggies. cook some beetroot up and leave it in the fridge to snack on. You can literally smell the iron in beetroot, it`s such a good source.
I would advise every vegan or vegetarian to take a mulitvitamin WITH minerals every day. Look carefully at the nutrient information. Multi vitamins are often just that ... vitamins. You want the minerals alongside them.
I don`t advocate iron supplements unless you are under the guidance of a professional GP or nutritionist. Unless you have had your iron tested, taking iron supplements on their own can be a dangerous thing to do.
I thought I would share a really simple and traditional recipe for a great immune-boosting tonic to have to hand. Although it has to sit for 6 weeks before you strain it, it`s worth doing, whether you have it ready for the school kids returning back to school or just to have to hand in 6 weeks time.
You need a horseradish root - i just got mine with my online shop.... turmeric roots, ginger, chillies, garlic and an onion. I add in cinnamon and echinacea root also. You need a really good quality apple cider vinegar and some honey when you are ready to strain it, to mix it into a vinegar/honey solution called an oxymel.
This tonic is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, circulation stimulating and a great digestive tonic. It`s great to take daily to keep you and your sinuses in good shape! Horseradish is the ultimate sinus clearer!!
So take a look and get chopping!!
It`s March and there`s so much to see!
Out and about in the wild, there`s early edibles to be had and plenty to look at and admire.
Everywhere is full of potential and optimism in nature right now, from the beautiful daffodils to the edible leaf buds of my favourite tree - the Hawthorn.
If you would like to learn about what to look out for in nature and a little about what the UK wildlife is up to this month then have a watch.
I`m a total nature geek. Always have been... always will be!
I think it comes from fond memories of my mum sending us out with empty egg boxes as kids and a list of things to find to put in them. I also think it is in my genes, deeply encoded in the very fabric of my cells somewhere from hundreds of years ago.
There`s something deeply satisfying and enriching from being out in nature. It invigorates and soothes at the same time. I remember when my little girl was a tiny baby and would get the typical tea time whingey hour... All I had to do was wrap her up and take her a walk around the garden. I`d see her eyes relax as she watched the shapes of the trees blowing against the sky and within minutes, even seconds, she would calm down.
I don`t think that ever leaves you really. There`s nothing like taking a warm, comforting drink outside on a sunny day when you are feeling overwhelmed or just need to have a break from it all.
Back in June, last year, I decided to document what was happening around me in nature.
I`ve always been fascinated by the small changes around me. I tend to feel restless if I can`t connect with the cycles of the seasons. I decided to make videos to record what I saw each month on my walks through our local area. I gave myself the target of doing it for one calendar year.
I haven`t shared these videos on here yet, but I thought I would. There is generally a lot of chatter from myself - sorry about that... I do tend to get enthusiastic about just about everything! And there`s some pearls of wisdom about what you can forage from the land around you and how it can benefit you medicinally.
So here is February`s video... only 3 left for me to do until I have completed the year.
If you are interested in the others, they are on my YouTube channel.
"Before you heal someone,
Ask him if he is willing to give up the things
that are making him sick."
There's so many quotes from Hippocrates, the father of medicine, that resonate deeply to those of us in the natural health field. This one strikes a chord on so many levels with me.
Professionally, this is what we see everyday in the field of natural medicine. It`s what every naturopath`s ethos is all about. When we meet somebody struggling with their health and feeling depleted, it's what we are trying to get to the root cause of… what is it that is making this person sick?
Is it a food intolerance? Is it a hormonal imbalance? An inability to absorb nutrients efficiently for some reason?
Looking again at that quote, it goes deeper than that…
On a global level, the message is loud and clear. There's too much unexplained illness that just wasn't there in the past in the numbers that it is today.
Every year, in the UK, we have a fundraising programme called “stand up to Cancer”. It's a worthwhile cause, but every time there is a commercial break we are faced with an infographic telling us in no uncertain terms that 1 in 2 of us will get cancer. I can remember only two or three years ago, this number was 1 in 4. What's going on?
I can't help but get so frustrated at this. It feels like we are all being brainwashed to just accept this figure. It's inevitable. Live with it… Except it's not!
Cancer is just one example. The amount of autoimmune disease is massive across the world. Not to mention diabetes, heart disease, alzheimers, autism… the list is endless.
What is going on!?
Our bodies ability to detoxify the amount of toxicity we are faced with on an everyday scale just can't keep up with the demand. Evolutionary, we just can't keep up.
Our foods are covered in chemicals to enable less insect damage, less weeds and more growth. The animals we consume are fed antibiotics to enable a faster growth rate, and to deter disease spreading amongst them. Our water has chemicals added to it that are disruptive to our endocrine systems (our hormones), not to mention the effect of fluoride on our brains. Our homes are flooded with electromagnetic frequencies, we apply chemical laden products to our skin and our air is polluted.
It is a fact that a newly born baby has more than 200 chemicals in it`s placenta, before it even takes it`s first breath. Source: Environmental Working Group analysis of tests of 10 umbilical cord blood samples conducted by AXYS Analytical Services (Sydney, BC) and Flett Research Ltd. (Winnipeg, MB)
Every time I see that statistic on the commercial break - 1 in 2 will get cancer… I always want to take to the streets, make petitions and raise awareness that actually, our governments that are supposed to be protecting us, need to do something about this!
It feels like that is pretty huge though, and I`m not sure I would be taken seriously, so instead, I thought I'd try to bring the information into your homes that you can protect yourself from the flood of toxicity that envelopes the world at the moment.
There`s something called the environmental working group.
It's a really good place to start. They have a list called - the dirty dozen and clean 15. The dirty dozen are foods that are laden with chemicals and that if you want to minimise your health risk of toxicity then you should buy organic wherever possible. The clean 15 are foods that are generally safer to buy as non organic.
If you could familiarise yourself with this list then you are already protecting your family from a huge amount of toxicity.
There's loads of information about how to live a more toxic free life… from cleaning products to personal body care, to what you eat and drink. I urge you to familiarise yourself with the process as that statistic isn't going anywhere unless we all do.
What we are being brainwashed to believe is that we are dependent on the pharmaceutical industry to put right the illnesses that we develop. But what if we do our best to not get them in the first place?
My mum always taught us as children - “prevention is better than a cure” and she was right.
Your body is amazing. It isn`t the vulnerable, fragile vessel that we are led to believe. It is capable of massive improvements and regeneration of its health. We just need to help it by removing as many obstacles as possible.
Imagine a Ferrari, with the wrong tyres, faulty brakes, diesel in its engine instead of high performance fuel, a worn out clutch, faulty turbo and power steering that isn't working. Maybe it won't ever be perfect, but some of those issues can be removed and replaced to get that beauty back on the road again. Nobody at the garage puts a pill in the fuel tank to rectify all those faults. They deal with the root causes.
I urge you to look deeper at what's causing your symptoms and if you are under consultant care to keep pressing to find out.
I know that this sounds like a huge overhaul and a mountain to climb, and I understand the enormousness that it feels like it involves. I understand because I`ve been there when my health was on the floor. I`ve been the one with the bin bag, madly emptying the cupboards and freezer in desperation of anything that I didn't recognise ingredients of.
I also know from first hand experience how you can turn your health around and feel more alive than you can ever remember feeling.
So… “Yes, Hippocrates… some of us are willing to remove what is making us sick, thanks for pointing that out”.
So, you`ve probably heard a lot of talk about microbiomes lately. There`s mention of them everywhere at the moment… from adverts about skin cream to all sorts of food advertising the benefits of probiotics.
So what is a microbiome?
A microbiome is an area of your body that houses hundreds of trillions of friendly, efficient and protective bacteria that we need to function optimally.
You actually have several areas where you have a microbiome. The main one that is of supreme importance, is in your digestive tract, often called your gut microbiome. You also have them on a smaller scale in your mouth, your nose, your genitals and upon your skin.
When your microbiome isn't as good as it should be, we get issues. We can get eczema, infections down below, strep throat and many uncomfortable digestive related symptoms. We can suffer with brain fog ( you know… that moment where you just can`t remember why you walked in to the kitchen and generally struggle to retain information)
We are prone to depression and anxiety, inflammation in our joints and muscles, hormone problems, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies, food intolerances, asthma, an inability to lose weight- no matter what you do, intense food cravings, headaches… the list goes on…
These organisms have a profound impact on how we absorb the nutrients from our food, how we detoxify and eliminate everyday toxins and the health of our gut lining. When your microbiome is balanced, you stay healthy. You fight off infections more easily, you are more energised and have a better mood. That's because 80% of your immune system is in your microbiome.
Your immune system is responsible for fighting off those pesky bugs that make us feel so unwell, but also for finding and destroying cells that are growing a little weirdly. Every single day, we have cells that grow a little weirdly. Our immune system seeks them out and orders them to die. They then get eliminated, and we are ok. When our immune system doesn`t order these cells to die, they get out of control, multiply and can become the start of a cancerous situation.
So you see how important our microbiome is.
The trouble is, these little guys are quite fragile. Their health relies upon the way we treat them in our everyday lives. Too much sugar in our diet causes our gut to acquire a host of bad bacteria. These bad guys are the bullies that gang up and take over the digestive tract. When they outnumber our defenders then we have a problem called ‘dysbiosis’ and a whole host of the symptoms I mentioned above to go with it. More about sugar later….
Our gut health also goes right back to when we were taking our first breaths in the delivery ward ( or where ever you were born)
The adult microbiome that we have today, began in the womb of our mothers. If they consumed beneficial bacteria, it would find its way to us. It then continued to form through the actual delivery of the baby. The age of 0 - 2 years also has a huge impact on how your microbiome develops, so listen up if you have little kids.
Now, before I say this next bit… Those of you who know me will vouch for the fact that I am the least judgemental person ever. I`m not saying this next bit to mum-shame anyone or make you feel bad about your delivery if you have had children. I`m saying it with love so that you can consider how this may have impacted your kids immunity in order for you to have the knowledge to boost it from this point on. I`m also mentioning it so you can think about your own birth and early childhood and its impact on your immune system and so that those of you who are pregnant or are considering pregnancy can have some food for thought.
In an ideal world, a baby is born vaginally and breastfed.
Now life isn`t always that simple though. Things happen. Birth is a complex and potentially dangerous situation for both mum and baby. If you`ve had a C- section, then you did the right thing under the guidance of some very clever and experienced doctors. Breastfeeding doesn't always work out either and if you had the distress of it being difficult, then I really do sympathise with you and you know what? … It's ok. Your baby was fed and nourished and loved and is perfectly happy. Read on for the facts, but don't beat yourself up.
A vaginal delivery exposes the baby to a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria as it leaves the vaginal canal. This bacteria is unique and through a really complex system of the gut - brain communication (did you know our tummies have their own nervous system!) it sets the tone for the immune system and the mental health of the child from that point onwards.
When I say the mental health of the child, what I mean by that is this-
Our lack of exposure to certain beneficial bacteria can shape our predisposition to anxiety, depression and how we handle the stressful situations that life throws at us. This predisposition can carry on into adulthood.
If we were exposed to these bacteria then we have a different coping mechanism and can be more stress resilient. This isn`t always the case though.
In the days after birth, if we were given antibiotics, or our mothers were, and we were breastfed, then this also had a huge effect on our microbiome. Antibiotics kill bacteria. That's the reason we use them!
The problem is that the pill you take cannot differentiate between the bad guys that are causing your illness and the good guys that are trying to protect you. It has a sweeping effect and kills off everything. It's one of the reasons why the medical community are trying to raise awareness about not having antibiotics. Every time you take them, you destroy a large section of your immune system. You probably know of someone who takes them regularly and ends up catching every bug that is flying around. If you need antibiotics, then please purchase a good probiotic supplement (that's what the beneficial bacteria are known as) to take alongside it.
So if you were a child that was born by C-section, you already had a different start to life in terms of your immunity. Your mum was possibly put on antibiotics because of the risk of infection (I`m going back a few years now when they used to dish them out more readily) and she may or may not have breast fed you. If she did, you were getting drip fed the antibiotics too.
Your microbiome was not up to scratch and may have been the start of your tendency to catch infections and have childhood conditions like asthma and eczema. On top of this, there are statistics that say children under 2 have probably had at least two lots of antibiotics. Now think about it… You already had a lowered immunity from your birth and so you caught nasty bugs, like - ear infections and tonsillitis repeatedly. You were given more antibiotics and the cycle repeated over, and over again. Here you are now with a host of issues because your immune system never really recovered.
Back to sugar…
So as an adult, here you are with a microbiome that is really low in numbers of the good bacteria that keep you feeling tip-top and energised. You are fatigued and achy, have some digestive issues and probably some skin problems along the way. The bad guys largely feed on sugar and they are clever! Really, really clever. And, Sneaky!
You know I mentioned earlier that our tummies have their own nervous system?
These bad guys are like computer hackers… They can manipulate your thoughts and cravings by hacking into that nervous system and literally can get you to crave the sugar that they are desiring so badly to keep themselves alive.
It's like you are being brainwashed as you rise off of the sofa to get that packet of M & Ms that you have in the cupboard! You went to the gym today, or maybe did a nice walk… you are trying your hardest to drink plenty of water and make some really great steps in recovering your health, but you just can't stop that overpowering urge for a sugary treat. The hackers have got you! You are their puppet.
Just knowing this information can really help you control those urges. Knowing that eating the sugary snack will strengthen the bad guys and cause you more problems can really help you understand that you are never going to win this war while you strengthen your opponent! It also helps you understand that it isn't some flaw in your personality where you can`t resist the sugar, you are being controlled!
So the first thing you need to do is cut the sugar right back. Have some back-up plans of other foods that you like pre-prepared and ready to go in the fridge for when you get cravings. Protein is good for keeping them at bay… some shredded roasted chicken pre-prepared can hit the spot, or, if you're veggie then some hummus and dips are good.
Try to avoid starchy snacks like crackers as unfortunately, that converts straight into glucose (sugar) and will feed the bad bacteria what they are craving. Unfortunately, fruit does this too and whilst you are trying to kill off the bad guys, it's best to avoid them. Berries are good, as are nuts. I can't emphasise it enough - be prepared… have some items pre-chopped or ready to handily grab.
Now there's an old saying that ‘a candle burns its brightest at the end’ and here is where being forewarned is being forearmed. As those bad bacteria die off, they will be that bright burning candle. They will be louder than before and your cravings will feel pretty intense. This is because they are desperate. They know they are dying off and they are screaming like a baby that's not had its milk!
This isn't going to last long, the whole process is largely better after a couple of weeks and after a month you will notice that you just don't get sugar cravings, so stay strong!
The other thing that may arise is something called the herxheimer reaction (google that one)
It is a harmless but annoying process that the body has to go through when it is trying to rid itself of bad bacteria or toxins.
As the bad guys die off, they decay and let off nasty gases and toxins that can make you feel pretty yucky for a few days. It can disrupt your sleep, give you headaches, cause break-outs or dry patches, cause inflammation in your joints or muscles and a few other annoying symptoms.
It doesn't last long and is actually a really good sign that your body is healing itself. You need to drink plenty of water or herbal teas to flush it all out and eat plenty of veggies to get your colon working efficiently so you can release it all down the loo. If you don't eat the veggies and drink the water, it will be worse. It's also best to avoid alcohol and caffeine if you can.
There`s a whole topic of other reasons why your sugar needs to be lower in general. It really does have a nasty effect on the body in many, many ways… that's another blog post though.
What can you do to help the situation?
Well, you could supplement with beneficial bacteria. Now the old saying is - start low and go slow. Don`t go racing to get the brand with the most billions of live cultures in it (that`s the figure they are measured in… I`m not just going all exaggeration mad on you)
What is more important is the variety of bacteria that the supplement contains. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most common strain of probiotic but try to get one which also contains bifidobacteria. A lower dose to start with will be better in the long run as if you are very out of balance in the tum department then too much too soon can cause gas and bloating.
So what about those of us with children? Probiotics are very safe and there are many brands specifically for children. There's also studies that prove that a regular probiotic is more effective at deterring the flu virus in children than the flu vaccine.
I`m not allowed to suggest certain products, but your nutritional therapist or health food shop clerk could help you decide upon this. Of course it's important that kiddo has less sugar too. Stay strong on that one as they can put up quite a fight! Know that you are doing this for them to help them be healthier for the rest of their lives. Know that you are improving their immune system and their body`s whole nourishment. In general, kids get over the cravings quicker than adults but can be a whole lot noisier about it.
Another really great source of beneficial bacteria is found in certain fermented foods. Kimchi, sauerkraut and Kefir are all good sources and readily available from supermarkets. If you are lactose intolerant or avoid dairy then get a coconut based kefir (my personal favourite). Kids also like kefir as it is quite yoghurty in texture.
In conclusion then,
You`ll be surprised by what a difference you can make to your life by getting your microbiome up to scratch and functioning strongly.
The symptoms that restrict your life may have a root cause in the demise of your microbiome over time and can be turned around with a little self-nurturing.
Avoid antibiotics wherever you possibly can and try to avoid your children having them unnecessarily.
If you or your children need an antibiotic, supplement with a probiotic at the same time.
Cut back on the sugars and stock up on healthy snacks.
Supplement with a good quality probiotic.
I`ve only just scratched the surface of a very complex subject here. Look out for news articles in the press over the next decades about the use of probiotics and the microbiome in the treatment of serious diseases. It's being heavily researched as we speak as scientists discover more amazing things about them every day.
I wish you luck and send you love,
The earlier you start to prepare your body for future pregnancy, the better. Even if babies aren`t on your agenda for the next ten years, if you know that you would like to raise children one day then you need to listen up and get your nutrients store tip top.
If you have recently come off of hormonal contraceptives then it`s even more important to pay attention. Those pesky synthetic hormones have been studied to show that they are responsible for all sorts of minerals and vitamin depletions that are essential for fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
This advice isn`t just for your health or to achieve optimum fertility, but for the health of the baby you are going to bring in to this world. Simply put, your baby is made of… well… YOU!
What you have in your nutrient stores will affect the long- term health outcomes of the baby that you grow. Ensuring that your body is well-nourished will help you to have the healthiest children that you possibly can.
It`s easier to stay nourished than fix deficiencies further along the line. The amount of nutrients stored in your body up to a year in advance of pregnancy will affect the type of pregnancy that you have.
Here I go with my analogies again… think of baking a cake. You need eggs, milk, flour and butter. If you don`t get the mix right, your cake can flop, be a slushy mess or just taste pretty bad.
The cake is the baby (you`ve heard the old saying a ‘bun in the oven’ right?!) and the ingredients are what you are using to grow this baby. It needs to be right.
Long-term nutrition will help to ensure that the child is neurologically as developed as possible, whilst also limiting the risks of autism, ADHD, obesity and heart disease amongst other conditions. Your baby treats your nutrients as a pantry whilst it`s growing inside of you. What you have stored up in your there will affect how much nutrition the baby will be able to extract from you.
The other reason to plan ahead and replenish your nutrients is for your own sake. Mother Nature knows that the most important thing is to focus on the procreation of humanity and will put the baby’s needs before the mother. You are the lowest priority in her book. The baby will get as much as it possibly can at the detriment of the mother, if you aren`t stocked up enough to provide for the both of you!
This can mean that the baby will take vital nutrients and leave you very depleted after pregnancy. Think about it… how many women have you heard say that they had no health problems until they`d had a baby? Sound familiar?
Pregnancy is very taxing on the mother and nutrient deficiency will show up in all sorts of chronic fatigue symptoms and autoimmune disorders post pregnancy.
So if you have come off of birth control, or are just wanting to maximise your fertility, then read on…
First and foremost…
Yes, I can see you cringing at the mere mention of the word fat. Some of you may even have shut the laptop or closed the page but it`s so important.
You know that your body doesn’t just pop out hormones whenever they are needed… it has to MAKE them. Like the aforementioned cake, hormones are made of a list of ingredients. One vital ingredient is Cholesterol and where do we get cholesterol from?
You`ve probably heard of runners and athletes losing their periods. One of the reasons is that the intake of fat that athletes have in their diet is so low that they just can`t make the hormones that are responsible for a healthy reproductive system. Under-eating and over-exercising creates an environment where your body is stressed on a physical level and perceives a threat. Something called hypothalamic amenorrhea can occur - where your body will stop menstruating as it feels it is unsafe to become pregnant.
Now, not all fat is created equal and some of it is in my opinion the single most probable cause for cellular inflammation in the body. I`ll do another post all about good fats and bad fats at another time but for now, the message that goes with this is that saturated fats in the form of butters, coconut oil and fats from grass-fed animal products are the most stable and nutrient dense fats that we consume. For decades, this type of fat has been hailed as unhealthy, but the evidence points in the opposite direction.
For healthy fertility and pregnancy, your body needs fat. Fat not only makes the cholesterol for hormones, but is a fuel for energy and is needed to coat every single cell in both the mother and the babies body. Every single cell in your body is made of a phospholipid membrane. They are 50% fat! Your brain and that of your baby is also dependent on fat. The highest concentration of cholesterol is found in the brain, where it plays an important role in memory and serotonin regulation. Low cholesterol levels are associated with depression and anxiety.
Zinc and Magnesium
Most of the population has far less magnesium and zinc in their diet than they should have. Both of these two minerals are vital for achieving pregnancy, and maintaining it.
Magnesium is mostly found in plant matter and the amount that is consumed is far less than it should be. That coupled with the fact that our soils are massively depleted in magnesium these days due to modern farming methods, puts most of us at risk of deficiency. Magnesium can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole meal grains.
Zinc can be found most plentifully in shell fish, an acquired and expensive taste. Not many of us will have a regular amount of oysters, muscles or clams each week. Zinc is available in red meat and poultry and as a plant based option, in pumpkin seeds. The problem is that plant based zinc is hard to absorb and so vegetarians and vegans are more at risk of a zinc deficiency and would benefit from supplementing. If you are happy eating liver, then a piece of liver each week will offer you a great serving of zinc to meet your needs.
It has been well-researched that contraceptive hormones deplete the body’s natural stores of B6. B6 is needed for a regular cycle and for the development and functioning of the nervous system. There has been research that suggests that B6 might play a role in the prevention of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy. It may also play its part in preventing pregnancy nausia. B6 is available in lots of foods, including meat, poultry, starchy vegetables and non citrus fruits. The problem is that unless you are eating a good amount of raw food then you are probably not getting enough as B6 is very sensitive to being heated in the process of cooking and becomes less viable.
Vitamin A and D
Vitamin D is critically important in forming your baby’s bones, teeth, kidneys, heart and nervous system. It helps us absorb the right amount of calcium and phosphate.
The problem with Vitamin D is that it is not readily available in food. It is only in small amounts in certain foods (oily fish and eggs are one of the best sources). We get most of our vitamin D from the sun but if you live in the Northern hemisphere like me, during October until March, it is almost impossible to absorb vitamin D, even on the sunniest of days. This is due to the way that the earth tilts, blocking the amount of UVB rays that can actually reach us.
Vitamin A is essential for conception. It is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in nutrient dense animal fats, especially liver, cod liver oil and egg yolks. It is needed for fertility and for foetal development but be careful… once pregnant, excessive amounts of vitamin A can be damaging to the foetus, so always check with a professional regarding this vitamin. Beta Carotene is the plant based version of vitamin A. It is less absorbable than animal based vitamin A though, so again, vegans and vegetarians are at risk of deficiency and should consider supplementing.
Vitamin A and D work together as a team. One without the other in adequate amounts will affect the absorption of its co-partner. It is important to have both in your diet or supplement at the same time.
Folate is a type of B vitamin that your body needs to make DNA and other genetic material. It also needs folate for your cells to divide and to make red and white blood cells in your bone marrow. During periods of rapid growth, it`s essential to have adequate amounts of folate. This is especially true of pregnancy, both for the mother and the baby.
Folate is the food version of folic acid. It is available in leafy green vegetables, lentils, eggs and certain fruits. If possible, it is better to eat natural folate as certain individuals struggle to process folic acid and you may not know if this is you! By all means supplement with folic acid but at the same time, increase your food sources of folate to cover your odds in case you are someone who can`t metabolise folic acid.
If you aren`t getting regular cycles at the minute then one of the reasons may be that your body doesn`t perceive that you are ready for pregnancy.
If you haven`t got all the ingredients for the cake you are baking, you wouldn’t turn the oven on! It`s the same principle. Your body doesn`t want you to have an unhealthy pregnancy. It wants to ensure the survival of the human race and wants to create a healthy offspring. If its surveillance systems detect a lack of nutrition, then it won`t allow you to be fertile.
If you are in a place where your cycles are irregular or missing then I urge you to have a think about your diet, lifestyle, exercise habits, stresses and sleeping patterns and stock that pantry of yours up with as many nutrients as possible.
It goes without saying that if you intend on taking any supplementation then you should seek the advice of a qualified professional first.
So many people I know, including myself, were given the hormonal contraception pill at a young age as a “catch all” remedy for problematic menstrual cycles.
It must be very frustrating as a G.P to know that possibly something deeper is going on with the hormones of the young girls sitting in front of them, but being unable to contravene the regulations they are given.
Unfortunately, all over the world, the simple solution is to put the patient on the pill and hope that masking the symptoms will be enough.
This is so true for so many conditions… got reflux? Here – have a proton pump inhibitor pill to lower your stomach acid. Got high blood pressure? – Here – take this to keep it down.
Don`t you think that this is a bit like having an engine warning light flash up on the dashboard of your car and instead of getting the problem fixed, you put a bit of masking tape over the light so you can`t see it!
As a 16 year old, this felt perfectly fine back then. After all, we have been conditioned in so many ways not to question authority and certainly not a G.P. My menstrual discomfort eased and my flow was so much lighter… life was peachy once again!
What I didn`t know and what young women and their mothers don`t realise is the darker side of being on the pill and hormonal contraception.
What I mean by hormonal contraception is anything that you take that contains synthetic (chemical) hormones to stop pregnancy occurring. This isn`t just about the pill, but the now hugely-popular hormonal coil, contraceptive injection, implants, vaginal ring and hormone patch.
I was told and was lead to believe for many years that taking a hormone contraceptive tricked your body into thinking that it was pregnant. This didn`t feel too bad to me at the time although as time went on over the next ten years of taking it, I did wonder if a ten –year pregnancy seemed ok!
It turns out that this information was completely wrong.
When you`re pregnant, your body continues to make its own beautiful hormones, just in a different way to when you`re not.
When you take hormonal contraception, your reproductive hormones are in a word – shut down.
Your ovaries are closed for business.
Forced to go to sleep…
Usually, for a Very.Long.Time.
In fact, your own hormone levels that you produce are more closely akin to the way they would be in menopause. The difference here would be that in Menopause, the hormones you produce are more beneficial to the rest of your body.
So what`s the big deal? Why does it matter so much that your ovaries are sleeping? Surely it`ll be ok if they just rest for a little bit?
Mmm… Here is where the problem lies.
The Oestrogen and progesterone that you produce naturally are not only vital for your reproductive health but for the health of your organs, your mood, metabolism and your bones. The chemical hormones that you are taking don`t have the same beneficial effect. In fact, they have the opposite effect.
Your metabolism is slowed down and they actually deplete your body of essential nutrients and vitamins. The worsened metabolic issues effect insulin resistance and before you know it, the vital communication system between the pituitary and the ovaries gets ‘stuck`. Insulin resistance is something that a woman with PCOS really needs to avoid, so if you are on the pill because of PCOS, be extra careful with your diet.
Many women suffer with depression and anxiety on hormonal contraception, due to not having their own oestrogen and progesterone which is so important for our mood. It`s also so very common to suffer a loss of libido which kind of defeats the benefits of the contraceptive part of the prescription!
Over time, this communication system between the ovaries and pituitary really suffers and when you choose to come off of the pill, you are left to sort out the whole backlog of problems that have built up over time.
Think of it this way, if you left your car on your drive without starting it up or moving it in any way for over ten years, it`d have a few functioning problems when you finally put your key in the ignition and want to go somewhere!
After coming off of the pill, some women barely notice the shift and go on to regulate their menstrual cycle pretty quickly and successfully become pregnant. Others (myself included in all of this) are not so lucky.
It can take a long time for those sleepy little ovaries to get going again. The pituitary – ovary communication needs to get up and running. The Ovaries need to start producing their own hormones once again and their function is a little rusty! The body is depleted of certain B vitamins and nutrients and often there is a mineral imbalance that needs help, along with an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
It can be really difficult getting your cycle regular again when you come off of the pill. It can take around a year to get things normalising once again, and longer if you`ve had the contraception injection or implant.
One hormone may come back quicker than the other and an oestrogen dominant situation can arise. Progesterone is vital for trying to conceive and maintain a pregnancy but is often not in balance with its co-partner - oestrogen.
It is vital to build up your body again after coming off of hormonal contraception, whether your cycles return regularly or not. You might not realise it but your vital nutrients are probably depleted and need to be regained to grow that little human inside of you into a healthy person themselves.
We strongly advise planning ahead and coming off of the pill a year in advance (at least) and thoroughly nourish yourself in that year before even trying to conceive. Think of the car on the drive again… it`s probably going to need new brake pads and discs, a fresh batch of oil and goodness knows what else (mechanical knowledge ends here!)
Your body is the same. A nutrient rich diet, low in sugar and stimulants, with plenty of saturated fats, minerals and vitamins. Yes … I did say saturated fats! That`s a whole different blog post though…
If you keep turning the key on that car that won`t start, you`re going to cause more problems…
Trying to conceive when your body is nutritionally and hormonally weakened will feel very disappointing if you get negative test results month after month. All that stress of going through that disappointment will cause further havoc on your adrenal glands and stress hormones will just complicate the whole tangle further, not to mention the stress that this can put on your relationship.
Wouldn`t it be better to get that car in good working order before you try to drive it? Take the pressure off of yourself and don`t even bother trying to conceive until you are in a better place physically.
So to wrap this up, what is my main message in this blog post?…
It`s a difficult decision to make and a journey that can be very bumpy. I know… I`ve been there.
If you need any help navigating all of this then please reach out…I can help you.
A woman`s menstrual cycle is like a barometer of her general health. We can tell a lot about how a woman is doing both physically and mentally through her menstrual symptoms.
Our bleed time is a time of release. We not only release our endometrium (our outer layer of womb lining) but we release all the emotional build-up of the month leading to that period.
If the month leading up to your period has been very hectic, demanding and emotionally taxing, you will feel it more at your bleed time. You may have an increase in cramps and discomfort, a heavier flow or indeed a missing bleed if it`s been particularly stressful. You may have more irritability in your pre-menstrual phase or feel more low in mood.
This is because when we are overwhelmed, the stress hormones that we release cause havoc with our reproductive systems and hormone health.
Think about it for a moment… If you were running away from a bear, your body wants to get your heart pumping strongly and your respiration to keep up. It wants you to move those legs as fast as you possibly can. It wants you to be alert enough to outwit the bear. The last thing it wants you to do in that situation is make a baby or sit down and eat a meal.
Your body diverts all its attention away from your reproductive hormone health, and your digestion. That`s why when you are living in a state of anxiety or overwhelm, you suffer from digestive problems and your menstrual cycles go a little wonky.
Yes, it`s most unlikely that you are going to come across a bear and need to run from it, but substitute that bear for anyone of the following and you are in the same situation :
Many of us encounter some or all of the above regularly and it has exactly the same effect. Your body will prioritise dealing with the situation that needs addressing and you will be living in a state of heightened adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that you don`t want whizzing about in your body for too long because of their long term damaging effects on your health.
If you are not on any synthetic hormonal drugs (the birth control pill or the hormonal coil) your period will show you how you have been dealing with the previous month. It is a really valuable tool for your naturopath to discuss with you to assess how things are going. You can also be aware of this yourself and make changes to your lifestyle if you get a particularly uncomfortable bleed time.
When you do have your bleed, take a moment to mentally say goodbye to the stresses , arguments, self-doubts and emotional issues you have gone through in that month. Treat each cycle as a fresh start.
The way we think and focus has a massive effect on our hormonal health. Mindfulness is so popular because of the benefits it has on our adrenal responses. Whilst we are undertaking mindfulness activities, our attention is away from what has been bothering us and so we are giving our hormones a much needed break from all that cortisol and epinephrine that has been disrupting them.
So treat each period as a chance to re-birth yourself, to grow a new mind-set, to assess problems that need addressing and make important lifestyle and dietary changes. To distance yourself from anyone that has been causing you emotional upset or to lessen any burdens that have been put upon you.
There`s a reason why there`s an old saying about people “bleeding you dry”… Our periods are one of the first things that will show how we are allowing ourselves to be treated by others.
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