Category Archives: fertility

Fertility! It’s a big deal. Let’s make some healthy babies.

MTHFR and Birth Control Pills. Ugh.

Naturally, MTHFR and birth control pills interact – it’s not like this is an easy mutation to live with in other senses, why would it leave our contraceptive options untouched? Complaining aside, I could have saved myself years of miserable experiences with the pill if I had known this.

MTHFR and birth control pills is a bad combination. Photo by Bryancalabro.

MTHFR and birth control pills is a bad combination. Photo by Bryancalabro.

Birth Control Pills Deplete Folate in Your Body

If you’re familiar with MTHFR mutations, then you’ve probably already figured out why this is a no-win situation for us MTHFR gals, but if you’re not then read on. Birth Control Pills are known to deplete folate levels in women and have been known to do so since the ’80s.  This is a problem for all women, but especially those who have compromised folate metabolism in the first place (ahem, that’s us MTHFR folks). This folate depletion is part of the reason for some of the most common side effects of birth control pills – fatigue, mild depression, even acne.  It’s also linked to an increased risk of neural tube defects in babies born to women who have recently stopped using birth control pills.

Due to the risk of neural-tube defects in women who become pregnant after recently stopping birth control pills, a new folate-fortified pill called Beyaz ® has been developed.  In good news, it is supplemented with an active form of folate so if you’re an MTHFR gal and you absolutely must take oral contraceptive pills, this one might be a good option for you.

If you don’t tolerate birth control pills and can’t figure out why, it could be because you have an MTHFR mutation – especially if you have signs of a folate deficiency even though you’re taking your birth control pills WITH a multivitamin or folate supplement.

Birth Control Pills also deplete B12, Magnesium and other nutrients

Not only is folate depleted, but its partner-in-crime B12 is depleted too.  B12 is also highly involved in the methylation cycle, and again this can be an issue for MTHFR folks (especially those with the related MTRR mutation) as well.  Nutrients to watch when taking birth control include:

  • Folate
  • B12
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C
  • B2 – Riboflavin
  • B6 – Pyridoxine
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium

Of course for MTHFR folks the folate is the biggest factor, but folate always works in tandem with other B vitamins so make sure you’re getting a good B complex supplement if you do choose to take birth control pills.

Birth Control Pills May Also Affect Serotonin Metabolism

In related bad news, Birth control pills may also affect your Serotonin metabolism (which might also be compromised in MTHFR folks because of this.)  This study, published in the Journal of Ayub Medical College, showed that there was a difference in serotonin levels between non-contraceptive users and oral contraceptive users that was statistically significant in pre-analysis but not statistically significant in post-analysis. That means that although there was a difference in the two groups, it wasn’t large enough that we can say with confidence that it wasn’t chance.  There was, however, a significant difference in serotonin levels for those using injectable contraceptives. Injectable contraceptives are a bad idea on so many levels, but let’s add this as another reason not to use them.

What Type of Contraceptive is Best for MTHFR Mutants?

Completely safe relative to MTHFR mutation types (other risks though – do your research!):

  • Condoms, Female Condoms
  • Copper IUD (non-progesterone secreting)
  • Vasectomy or tubal ligation

If you feel you must take hormonal contraception:

  • Use the lowest dose of hormone possible and make sure you’re adding extra supplements to counteract nutritional deficiencies. Consider Beyaz® but remember if you’re an MTHFR mutant you might still need additional active folate, and it doesn’t supplement any of the other nutrients it depletes so you’ll also need those.
  • Avoid using injections, pellets or implants simply because once they’re in you can’t get them out.  That means if your body doesn’t tolerate it you’re stuck with the side effects until the dose wears off.
  • If you’re considering getting pregnant, please stop all oral contraceptives at least a year before you start to try and make sure you work diligently during that year to boost your levels of all of the nutrients that may have been depleted.

 

PCOS infographic. Because it’s awesome.

I love love LOVE infographics. Seriously. So here’s an awesome PCOS infographic, made by yours truly. Please share this with sisters, mothers, daughters, wives and besties.  Women need to know how common PCOS really is and how many women are struggling but don’t know it. Men should know too – maybe she’s actually doing everything she can but still struggling with weight because there’s an actual medical condition.  Maybe she needs a little more support right now. Send it to your guy friends too, because men you can hand down the tendencies for PCOS to your children and there is growing evidence that men can be affected as well. So pass it on my friends! Pass it on.

PCOS infographic from dramyneuzil.com

PCOS made pretty. Pass it on folks – women need to know.

 

Want to share this on your own website?  Please do!

Link it back to me if you can. Here’s the code:

<iframe width="600" height="2406" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="overflow-y:hidden;" src="https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/3914122-pcos-from-dramyneuzilcom"></iframe>

OR:

<div class="piktowrapper-embed" pikto-uid="3914122-pcos-from-dramyneuzilcom" style="height: 300px; position: relative;"><div class="embed-loading-overlay" style="width: 100%; height: 100%; position: absolute; text-align: center;"><img width="60px" alt="Loading..." style="margin-top: 100px" src="http://dramyneuzil.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/loading-1.gif"/><p style="margin: 0; padding: 0; font-family: Lato, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-weight: 600; font-size: 16px">Loading...</p></div><div class="pikto-canvas-wrap"><div class="pikto-canvas"></div></div></div><script>(function(d){var js, id="pikto-embed-js", ref=d.getElementsByTagName("script")[0];if (d.getElementById(id)) { return;}js=d.createElement("script"); js.id=id; js.async=true;js.src="https://magic.piktochart.com/assets/embedding/embed.js";ref.parentNode.insertBefore(js, ref);}(document));</script>

 

MTHFR Basics Podcast

This week I had the lovely opportunity to be on Blog Talk Radio with Erin Chamerlik, The Real Food Revivalist- see getbetterwellness.com. Her listeners wanted to know a little bit more about MTHFR mutation.  You can listen to the recording here:

MTHFR Basics Podcast with Dr. Amy Neuzil, ND on The Real Food Revivalist Show

Tune in now to listen to this MTHFR basics podcast.

Tune in now to listen to this MTHFR basics podcast.

Listen for answers to questions like:

  • What is the MTHFR mutation?
  • Is it Common?
  • What are the implications for fertility and mood?
  • What sort of testing is available for MTHFR?
  • How do you start supplementing with 5-LMTHF?
  • Doesn’t this have to do with detoxification too?

 



I hope you enjoy this free podcast and if you have any questions for me please feel free to post them as comments. 🙂



I Have MTHFR A1298C Mutation – What Does That Really Mean?

MTHFR mutations are just starting to be recognized as an issue and so more and more doctors are testing, but what happens if your doctor tells you that you’re homozygous for MTHFR A1298C? They might as well be speaking Greek! So here’s the skinny on what that really means. Also here’s a post about MTHFR mutation basic in general.

MTHFR A1298C Terminology Basics (or as basic as we’re going to get with genetics).

The simplest level of information here is just the plain genetics.  Here are some quick factoids to get us started:

  • MTHFR is the short name for the genes that code for the enzyme that changes folic acid to the active form that your body uses (the long name is methylfolate reductace).
  • 1298 is the marker for one particular MTHFR gene.
  • The official genetics labeling of this gene is Rs1801131. Sigh.
  • You get one copy of this gene from your mother and one from your father, so there are two possible copies that can be either “normal” or “mutant”
  • If you inherited one good copy and one bad copy that’s called “heterozygous A1298C”
  • If you inherited two bad copies (one from each parent) that’s called “homozygous A1298C”
  • A…C stand for the bases that you actually have.  A = adenine C = cytosine.  Bases are essentially the letters that spell out your genetic code.  There are four of them commonly (C, T, A and G).
  • When this gene is “normal”or “wild type” (I love that name) it looks like MTHFR A1298A.
  • Heterozygous mutations (one good copy and one bad) are MTHFR A1298C because there is one normal A and one abnormal C Also occasionally written 1298AC.
  • Homozygous A1298C (two bad copies) can also be written as C1298C (because there are two abnormal copies with C instead of A). Occasionally you’ll also see it written 1298CC

Phew! So the take-away there is MTHFR A1298C means you have at least one bad copy of this gene, and if it’s called homozygous, or C1298C then you have two bad copies.

How Much of a Problem Is This?

The MTHFR A1298C mutation is considered less serious than the C677T mutation because it seems to cause less impairment to actual methylation function than C677T.  That doesn’t in any way mean that it isn’t an issue. This mutation can still be a significant problem If you don’t have a good diet, don’t take supplements or burden your body with a lot of stressors like smoking, alcohol, drugs, sedentary lifestyle or high stress. If you get lots of dark green leafy veggies, legumes and other food sources of natural folate – see this post – then you’re probably already getting good methylfolate. If your diet isn’t up to scratch, then supplementation can be useful and here’s a whole post about that.

Heterozygous MTHFR A1298C is thought to have mostly normal MTHFR activity  and homozygous MTHFR A1298C (C1298C) have about 65% normal activity (so 35% compromise). Normal activity refers to the way your body converts folic acid to 5-L-methyltetrahydrafolate (the active form) so that it can be used. Compromise in this case looks like a folate deficiency.

What Are The Health Risks of MTHFR A1298C Mutation?

According to SNPedia, which compiles research on genetics, A1298C mutants have been shown in at least one research study to have an increased risk for:

  • Midline defects such as:
    • Cleft lip
    • Cleft palate
    • Neural tube defects
    • Facial asymmetries
  • Cancers including:
    • Breast
    • Lung
    • Brain
    • Stomach
    • Head and neck
    • Kidney
  • Cardiac-related issues including:
    • Thrombosis (increased tendency to clot inappropriately)
    • High homocysteine levels (a heart risk)
    • Pre-eclampsia (dangerous high blood pressure in pregnancy)
    • Vascular dementia
  • Fertility issues including:
    • Multiple pregnancy loss
    • Low sperm count
    • Birth defects such as down syndrome
  • Neurological issues including:
    • Migraines
    • Autism
    • Alzheimer’s dementia
  • Mood and psychological issues including:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Schizophrenia

You’ll notice that this is quite a list, and it can be a little daunting to think about when you’re just learning about this. Most research doesn’t differentiate between the A1298C genetic variance and the C677T genetic variance so the list is the same for both mutations.  We assume the risk is lower with A1298C because the folate metabolism is less strongly impaired, but that might not be correct.

What Do You Do About This?

Compromise with the MTHFR A1298C gene can have severe consequences so it’s important to work on getting good sources of natural folate from foods, which is generally useable by mutants, or 5-MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) which is already methylated so the genetic compromise doesn’t matter.  As discussed in this article, I feel supplementation should be started slowly because for many mutants who haven’t had active folate very much in their lives it feels really strange when those active forms start showing up.  There can be quite an adjustment reaction  by your body.

Activated folate is used by your body to run enzyme pathways, to aid in some parts of normal metabolism, to help your body detoxify and even to methylate your DNA. The methylation cycle is also a big part of neurotransmitter manufacture, which explains the strong link to depression, anxiety, and mental disorders including addictions and even schizophrenia. If 5-Methylfolate  isn’t there then your body does maintains those functions as best it can, but the things your body can’t do start to pile up. Starting supplementation means your body can start digging in that pile to clear up high priority items.  This is exactly what we want, but if you start with high doses of a supplement then it’s a little like drinking from the firehose.  Kind of out of control and not very pleasant.

A great way to start if you’re unsure, is with a folate-rich diet.  I love this image because it kind of covers what we’re looking for.  Hint – think dark greens and beans. 🙂




Is folate in foods safe in MTHFR mutants? In these foods YES! For MTHFR C677T or MTHFR A1298C mutants. Thanks to exhibithealth.com for the great image.

Is folate in foods safe in MTHFR mutants? In these foods YES! For MTHFR C677T or MTHFR A1298C mutants. Thanks to exhibithealth.com for the great image.

Can Mutants Become “Normal”?

If you’re a mutant (like me) then you’ll always be a mutant, but it doesn’t have to matter. Essentially as long as you’re getting enough of the active form of folate and taking care of yourself for the other consequences of the MTHFR mutation then the mutation doesn’t have to matter.  If you aren’t taking care of yourself, then it matters a lot.

The bottom line is MTHFR A1298C mutations don’t have to mean anything at all as long as you supplement and have a good diet and lifestyle (here’s an article about a folate-rich diet for MTHFR mutants) I always suggest taking a little more care with yourself too.  There are known health risks for things like clotting, fertility and cancers so it makes sense to take some precautions.  Eat your fiber, do your exercises, get your sleep and generally treat yourself with high regard – shouldn’t we all anyway?



Gallbladder Sludge in Pregnancy – What Now?

Go figure that pregnancy with all of it’s rapidly and vastly changing hormones is one of the most common triggers for gallbladder sludge, and it’s also one of the hardest times to do anything about it. Let’s look at why it happens and what you can do about it. If you’re unclear about what the gallbladder does, and what sludge is then read this post first.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Sludge in Pregnancy

Gallbladder can cause a wide range of issues ranging from mild to severe, but any issue is worth discussing with your doctor because untreated disease can lead to complications for the pregnancy. Symptoms include:

  • Itching – on belly, palms and soles or all over. This can happen with or without a rash. If it’s serious, go to your doctor.
  • Right sided digestive pain – at the bottom of your rib cage on the R side or radiating into the R shoulder blade, R shoulder or even L shoulder blade.
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Why is Gallbladder Sludge So Common in Pregnancy?

Gallbladder sludge essentially happens when your gallbladder is overwhelmed by too much cholesterol and not enough bile.  You’ll recall that the bile acts as kind of a “soap” to emulsify fats and make them more water soluble so that they can be both excreted and absorbed in the digestive tract. Just like with dish soap, if there is too much fat or grease and not enough soap you get a sludgy goo that tends to stick to everything and generally get in the way. Hence gallbladder sludge. But why does this happen in pregnancy? Many reasons:

  • Huge hormone shifts – Rapid changes in hormone levels mean that lots of hormones (fat soluble) are being excreted by the liver, and fat soluble toxins are excreted via bile. In fact, below are pictures of a cholesterol molecule and an estrogen molecule – no doubt you’ll notice the similarities (and estrogen along with the other sex hormones is made in your body from cholesterol).

    Estrogen and testosterone (progesterone as well, but it's not pictured) are incredibly similar to cholesterol, which is why gallbladder sludge in pregnancy is such an issue.

    Estrogen and testosterone (progesterone as well, but it’s not pictured) are incredibly similar to cholesterol, which is why gallbladder sludge in pregnancy is such an issue.

  • High Water Use – Pregnancy uses a lot of water – your body is building a human and that’s no small task. It requires that you also create lots of extra blood, extra fluid to protect and support the baby and of course, all the water that goes into the baby.  Not only that but there are thousands of extra metabolic processes happening to make all of this go.  It’s just a big time for water, and so mild to moderate dehydration is incredibly common – especially in early pregnancy before mama’s intake has adjusted sufficiently to cover it all.  Dehydration is also a risk factor for gallbladder sludge just because all bodily fluids, including bile, get a little thicker and sludgier if there is less water to go around.
  • Estrogen – High estrogen is a risk factor for gallbladder sludge, or cholestasis, independent of pregnancy as well (at least it is in animal studies). In fact, the risk factors for gallstones are called the five F’s – Fair, Female, Fat Fertile and Forty. Lovely.
  • Genetics – There are some genetic conditions associated with gallbladder sludge (more specifically with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, or ICP). So chances are if your mother, aunties, sisters or grandmother had troubles, you may be at greater risk.

Are There Natural Ways to Help Gallbladder Sludge in Pregnancy?

Yes and no. Pregnancy is a risky time to use any natural or medical treatment and many drugs and supplements are off limits because they may cause harm to the baby. If you’re not pregnant, then here’s a whole post about gallbladder sludge and stones. If you are, then here are the things you can do:

  • Diet – Pregnancy is a great time for a healthy diet anyway, so might as well do a healthy gallbladder-friendly diet. This means:
    • No fried foods
    • Lots of fruits
    • Limited red meat, butter, shellfish and eggs
    • LOTS of veggies – especially dark green leafy veg
    • Good lean meat, poultry and fish
    • High fiber foods – aim for 30 – 50 g per day – some examples below
      • Split peas – 16.3 g per cup cooked (split pea soup. Yummy.)
      • Lentils – 15.6 g per cup cooked
      • Black beans – 15 g per cup cooked
      • Artichokes – 10.3 g each and also gently boost liver function
      • Broccoli – 5.3 g per cup boiled
      • Raspberries – the yummiest 8 g per cup ever
      • Bran flakes – 7 g per cup
      • Avocado – 12 g each



  • Water – Bump the water WAY up. Aim for 12 eight ounce cups with 8 eight ounce cups being the absolute minimum. This will suck because pregnancy makes you pee all the time anyway and drinking this much water will have you running to the bathroom constantly. Sorry! It’s better than a gallbladder attack, believe me.
  • Lecithin – Lecithin is safe in both pregnancy and nursing because as it turns out, one of it’s major ingredients, choline, is great for baby. Typically midwives and doctors suggest 1200 mg 3-4 times per day with lots of water, but here’s more information about lecithin and it’s use in gallbladder issues. It’s also great for blocked ducts when you’re nursing and gallbladder sludge even when you’re not preggers.
  • Gentle Exercise Regularly – Exercise is good for everything in the human body, including the gallbladder. For many women this will actually eliminate mild symptoms.
  • Castor Oil – Topical (NOT INTERNAL) castor oil over the right side of your abdomen and back can help your body to deal with some of the sludge in a gentle way. Here’s a whole post on it with more detailed information. And Here’s info on a great lazy method of doing a castor oil pack. This is both anti-inflammatory and also good for the functioning of the liver and gallbladder.
  • Lukewarm Epsom Salts Baths – The magnesium in the Epsom salts will help to relax the bile duct and allow sludge to pass more easily, and the lukewarm bath can help to relieve the itching.

    Doing all of this in 9 months isn't easy! Great picture from free image.com/Jose Torres.

    Doing all of this in 9 months isn’t easy! Gallbladder is one of the places that fallout can happen. Great picture from free image.com/Jose Torres.

What About Not-Natural Ways to Relieve Gallbladder Sludge in Pregnancy?

If you’re having gallbladder attacks on top of the already uncomfortable state of being pregnant, then sometimes you want a faster option. Also severe gallbladder attacks with protracted vomiting, inflammation or infection can be a serious risk to your baby, so there’s that too.

  • Ursodiol – this prescription drug may be suggested by your doctor to help manage symptoms and increase bile flow.
  • Surgery – It is possible to have your gallbladder removed during pregnancy and sometimes it’s necessary. The second trimester is considered the safest time for both mother and baby to undergo this procedure. Depending on your doctor they  may suggest laparoscopic removal or open gallbladder surgery.

Remember pregnancy is a rough time anyway because your body is doing so much, changing so fast and generally working so hard. Be gentle with yourself, talk with your doctor, and don’t judge – sometimes you can use the natural methods for working with gallbladder sludge in pregnancy and sometimes you really do need something more intense, like surgery.



Seed Cycling and Pregnancy Before, During and After.

Seed cycling is a gentle way to re-establish normal hormonal rhythms for women, but many people have questions about what to do around seed cycling and pregnancy.  If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of seed cycling you can read about the basics here and I’ll add a visual how-to before we get started. Here are some thoughts.

Seed Cycling for hormone balance adds seeds into your diet following the rhythm of your body or the moon. Seed cycling and pregnancy are a natural fit.

Seed Cycling for hormone balance adds seeds into your diet following the rhythm of your body or the moon. Seed cycling and pregnancy are a natural fit.




Seed Cycling and Pre-Pregnancy Fertility Boost

Naturally anything that helps to normalize your cycle will ultimately boost fertility so seed cycling and pregnancy go hand-in-hand.  In preparing for pregnancy your body is trying to create a soft landing space for a fertilized egg, a cushy spot to settle down and take nourishment. That cushy spot is created via the hormones – estrogen to thicken the uterine lining (in the first half of the cycle) and progesterone to ripen that lining and make it ultimately inhabitable for a fertile egg.  Both halves of the woman’s cycle need to be strong for this to occur and seed cycling helps to encourage that balance.  Days 1 (the first day of your period) through day 14 (when you ovulate) are called the follicular phase. They are building uterine lining and also ripening a strong egg. The flax and pumpkin seeds that you take during those days help to bring healthy estrogen levels while blocking conversion to unhelpful androgenic hormones like DHT.

Day 14 and the window around that time (24-48 hours) is your fertile time – the time when you are most likely to conceive.  Strong ovulations need a healthy estrogen spike nurtured by the hormone balance achieved in Days 1-14.

After ovulation through the rest of your cycle is called the luteal phase and is dominated by the hormone progesterone, which is encouraged by the combination of sunflower and sesame seeds. Progesterone is released by the pocket on the ovary out of which that month’s fertile egg came, called the corpus luteum. If the egg is successfully fertilized (meaning you get pregnant) then progesterone levels must stay elevated to help the egg to implant into the uterus and to prevent your body from flushing out the uterine lining (to prevent your next period).

Encouraging good progesterone levels, is in fact one of the most important factors in keeping viable early pregnancies, especially in older women who are trying to get pregnant or women who have unbalanced hormone pictures that are shifted towards estrogen (like PCOS, endometriosis, and many cases of multiple pregnancy loss). Happily in the implanting days women who are seed cycling are already encouraging progesterone with the sunflower seed and sesame combination.  But what to do when you find out you are pregnant?  That depends very much on you.

Seed Cycling and Pregnancy

Once women become pregnant seeds in your diet can still be highly supportive, but it helps to have some idea of your hormone balance before hand, and the “cycle” of menstruating is no longer happening.  In fact, hormonally pregnancy becomes almost a hyper-extension of the luteal phase.

Progesterone in Luteal phase:  1 – 28 ng/ml. Average is 10-15
Progesterone in First Trimester: 9 – 47 ng/ml
Progesterone in Second Trimester: 17 – 146 ng/ml
Progesterone in Third Trimester: 49 – 300 ng.ml

As you can see, progesterone levels are on the rise through the entire pregnancy and logically to support that some women take the theory that they should continue the luteal phase seeds – sesame and sunflower.  Others feel that all the seeds provide support and so choose to do steady amounts of all seeds on a consistent basis.

*One good tip to remember* If you’re trying to get pregnancy it’s important to continue the luteal-phase seeds (sesame/sunflower) until you actually have a period, just in case you are pregnant that month. This gives the egg the best chance at implantation.

Women who have a history of estrogen dominance,  repeated miscarriages, or are “advanced maternal age”:

For these women progesterone support can help to keep the pregnancy viable and often prescription progesterone is given.  Seeds can help as well. Women in this category can use all sunflower/sesame through the pregnancy or a 2:1 ratio of sunflower and sesame: flax and pumpkin.  These seeds are not a substitute for prescription progesterone, but they can be safely used in combination with prescription progesterone. I personally feel that all the seeds are supportive and so taking all of them each day during pregnancy gives the biggest nutritional boost. In this case a good mix would be:

2 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

Young women with typically balanced hormones and normal pregnancy history:

Although pregnancy is still a higher progesterone time, women who have healthy balanced hormones should have no problem maintaining the progesterone levels needed. In these cases equal amounts of all seeds can be used or the ratios can be weighted towards sunflower/sesame if that is your choice. So:

1 – 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 – 2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

This can be continued through the entire pregnancy as well as the early months of nursing (up to about 6 months post-partum). This seems to help many women soften the post-partum emotional changes that can occur because of the huge hormone nose-dive.

Seed Cycling for Post-Pregnancy Restoration of Cycle

After delivery some women have a hard time with the sharp drop of progesterone that happens along with the normalization of estrogen levels. Continuing the steady doses of seeds suggested in the pregnancy section can help to smooth out some of the rough edges, but there will come a time when your body moves more towards reestablishing it’s normal rhythm. Some women have a sense of this, whether it’s from changing nursing habits of their baby to hormonal symptoms like skin changes and some women really don’t feel it happening until they get their first cycle.  If you start to feel changes then I typically suggest re-starting seed cycling then according to the lunar phase. If you don’t particularly feel anything then around 6-9 months or when your baby really starts to be interested in solid foods you can restart (also according to lunar phase).  If your body surprises you with your first period out of the blue, then start seed cycling using day 1 of that cycle as your starting place.

In every phase of pre-, during and post- pregnancy make sure that your maternity care team and doctors are aware of your seed cycling routine and that they don’t have any concerns for your particular pregnancy. Seed cycling and pregnancy is generally lovely, but may not be right for you so do check with your doctor.

Also – here’s the moon phases, just in case you need those.

CURRENT MOON



What is PCOS and is there a PCOS epidemic?

PCOS is entering epidemic proportions with an estimated  6-10% of all women in North America potentially having PCOS. Not only that, but the consequences can be severe and life-threatening including infertility or sub-fertility, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.  Literally millions of women are struggling and really don’t have any information from their doctors other than “you have PCOS.” Let’s go over the basics about PCOS, which stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, and see what can be done about this frankly horrifying condition.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome sounds like it logically should be a situation where there are many cysts on women’s ovaries (that would make sense, right?) and in some cases that is correct, but actually a woman doesn’t have to have cysts to have PCOS. Go figure.  We’re finding out now, that it can also affect men’s health – although there is no equivalent of a PCOS diagnosis for men – but they can still carry the genes and pass it on to their sons and daughters. Essentially this is a whole body condition that is partially caused by genetics and partially caused by environment. It typically starts with an imbalance in your levels of sex hormones, but ends up changing the way your body uses insulin, which can lead to diabetes. Because of this combination there can be cysts in the ovaries, higher than normal levels of testosterone, insulin-resistance, pre-diabetes or actual diabetes, weight gain, and fertility troubles.




Symptoms of PCOS

Not every woman has the same spectrum of symptoms, but all of these can be part of PCOS.

What are the Conventional Medical Treatments?

Conventional medicine combines 4 drug therapies depending on your symptoms:

  1. Estrogen/progestin birth control pills to regulate your cycle, or progestin only if you’re at risk with estrogen use.
  2. Spironolactone (which is actually a diuretic) to decrease testosterone levels and help prevent some of the acne, hair growth and hair thinning.
  3. Metformin to help regulate blood sugars
  4. Clomid or other fertility inducers to help women get pregnant.

All of this is great – provided you’re the type of gal who responds well to medications and isn’t (like me) going to get every side effect ever heard of plus some new ones thrown in for fun.  Also, all of these medications do have risks and some of those risks are pretty serious.  This isn’t the format to talk about them but if you’re taking any of these medications do a little research on the nutrients they deplete as well as the long-term consequences please!

Natural Therapies for PCOS

This is an emerging field because so many women are unhappy with the way their situation is progressing.  In the coming weeks I’ll do another full blog post on this particular topic because there are diet and lifestyle choices that can have a huge impact. These can include:

  • Paleo diet
  • Grain-free diet (but not fully paleo)
  • Low carb diet
  • Regular exercise and an active lifestyle
  • Quitting smoking (smoking actually increases testosterone levels in women)
  • Losing weight
  • Eating small meals frequently

The biggest thing that I want you to understand is that PCOS is a serious diagnosis and if your doctor tells you that you have it and hands you birth control, please please start looking into it.  Get to the point that you understand what is going on with your body and your health because the long-term consequences are huge.



Seed Cycling for Hormone Balance – Gentle Ways to Restore Normal

Seed cycling for hormone balance is one of those things that seems far too simple to ever work, but work it does! It’s very gentle nutritional support that encourages your cycle to follow it’s natural rhythm and gives the hormones gentle nudges in the right direction.  Best of all, it’s done with whole foods, not with supplements or drugs, so it’s entirely natural, simple, inexpensive and gives you a whole different way to keep in contact with your body. Not only that, it can be helpful in situations that you might not think of right away – like for women post menopause, and for men looking to boost fertility. Yup, men.

What is Seed Cycling?

Seed cycling is a gentle way to help your body balance your hormones naturally by adding different seeds into your diet at different phases of your menstrual cycle. Simply adding seeds like flax, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds to your diet at different times in your cycle can promote healthy hormones by encouraging your body to either produce or detoxify certain hormones. It is literally using foods to either promote estrogen detoxification, in the first half of your cycle, or to increase progesterone production in the second.

Seed Cycling for Hormone Balance – What Does That Actually  Help?

Seed cycling for hormone balance helps your body to smoothly find it’s way to a more normal balance and therefore can help with almost any symptom related to hormones including:

  • Acne
  • PMS
  • Irregular Cycle
  • Infertility or sub-fertility
  • Too light or too heavy bleeding
  • Peri-menopause
  • Post-menopausal hormone symptoms like low libido or depression
  • PCOS
  • Irregular cycle

Now – having said that, seed cycling for hormone balance is NOT a quick fix – you’re working to re-establish the rhythms of your body and that takes time.  Typically you will start noticing changes after 3-4 months (3-4 cycles) but the great news is that because this is simply using foods it is safe to combine with other therapies and can help to enhance their actions.  If you have one of the more serious hormonal issues like PCOS, then probably seed cycling isn’t going to fix it, but it can certainly help other measures to work better and help your body to find it’s rhythm.

Quick Review of Your Cycle and The Moon (And Why  Those Two Things Go Together):

This is how your cycle and the moon go together. Ovulate on full moon (day 14) and bleed on the new moon (day 1)

This is how your cycle and the moon go together. Ovulate on full moon (day 14) and bleed on the new moon (day 1)

At heart, you are all wild animals.  You love to pretend to be civilized and to wear a veneer of the tame, but truly and deeply your body belongs to the forest. In the “wild state” of being you wouldn’t have been exposed to artificial light and so very powerful signals were sent to your brain by the changing light of the moon, and this was one of the ways your body kept rhythms, including your hormone rhythms.  Women’s typical hormone cycles are 28 days, which happens to be the length of a full lunar cycle as well (actually 28 and a fraction days). This is not a coincidence! You are designed to be at peak fertility, meaning ovulation, at the full moon (coincidentally when nights are brightest and you’re more likely to enjoy the sight of a partner). Fertility is lowest, meaning menstruation, at the new moon when nights are darkest.  Men’s fertility follows women’s in this scenario so that we’re all most fertile at the same time – it works best that way for the baby-making.




How Do I Seed Cycle?

Seed Cycling for hormone balance adds seeds into your diet following the rhythm of your body or the moon.

Seed Cycling for hormone balance adds seeds into your diet following the rhythm of your body or the moon.

This is literally eating different seeds for different parts of your monthly rhythm because they help to restore your body to balance.  You’ll recall that for women our hormones change in a predictable way with our cycle.  Men have fewer hormone fluctuations through the month, but their peak fertility still should match with women’s – and everyone’s peak fertility is typically at the full moon (we are wild animals underneath it all).

Day 1 – 14 (Follicular phase):

1 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

Day 15 – 28 (Luteal phase):

1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Eat your 2 tablespoons of mixed seeds every day according to your cycle. The seeds should be ground in a mortar and pestle, coffee grinder or vitamix and added to smoothies, soups, oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, salad or however else it’s easy to get them into you.  Also of those four seeds try not to add them in other times as snacks because it makes things confusing- so snacking on sunflower seeds on your flax/pumpkin days is probably not going to help your body to find it’s rhythm.

If you feel like you need a little extra push in the right direction, then you can also add supportive oils to this picture.  Fish oil, about 1500 mg combined EPA and DHA can be added to Days 1 – 14 and Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) can be added to days 15 – 28.

Why These Seeds?

The pumpkin and flax seed combo is a potent one to help your body detoxify the extra estrogen that can plague this time of the month (the lignans especially from the flax seeds bind to excess estrogen and help your body to eliminate it) High zinc levels in pumpkin seeds prevent the estrogen from converting to harmful forms of testosterone and also prime your body for progesterone production which will happen in the second half of the cycle.

The sunflower and sesame combo used in the luteal phase of the cycle has a much lighter dose of lignans from the sesame seeds, but is rich in zinc and selenium which helps progesterone production.  These seeds are also a rich source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid which can convert to gamma linolenic acid, which also helps the balance between progesterone and estrogen.

The seeds should be organic and raw if  possible and ground fresh every day or two just because the oils in the seeds can go rancid if they’re ground for too long.  You can add the seeds in anywhere that it’s easy for you and if you completely hate eating seeds you can mix them into a small glass of juice and gulp it down.

If you’re working on getting pregnant and need more information about how seed cycling and pregnancy go together then read this post – seeds are a tremendous support to your own little sprout. 🙂

The Big Picture of Seed Cycling

The big picture of seed cycling for hormone balance. Because your cycle follows the moon.

The big picture of seed cycling for hormone balance. Because your cycle follows the moon.

If you want a handout form – it’s right here:  Seed Cycle for Hormone Balance

Also – if you don’t know the moon’s current phase, here’s that info. Thanks reader Zahra for reminding me that this isn’t here!

CURRENT MOON



Is it Your Thyroid or Could It Be Undiagnosed PCOS?

Everyone knows that if you’re tired, sluggish, gaining weight or can’t lose weight, depressed and losing hair that you have thyroid problems – except that in reality it could also be undiagnosed PCOS. So frequently I have women come into my office who are concerned that they have thyroid disease but the blood tests come out normal – even optimal.  This can be so frustrating, because these women aren’t finding help and while they’re searching they continue to gain weight, have irregular menstrual cycles, have a hard time getting pregnant and inch closer to diabetes and heart disease.  An estimated 50-70% of women who have PCOS remain undiagnosed, making this a silent killer.

Normal ovary vs. polycystic ovary from womenshealth.gov

Normal ovary vs. polycystic ovary from womenshealth.gov

What is PCOS?

PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and is the most common endocrine disorder in women, affecting between 5-10% of the female population. Nobody is really sure why PCOS exists, although there seem to be both genetic and lifestyle contributors, similar to obesity or type II diabetes. PCOS affects only women (we being the ones with the ovaries), although men can carry the gene and notice some symptoms. Because of the genetic link if someone else in your family has it, you are more likely to have it too.  This is considered a multi-endocrine disorder because it changes levels of your sex hormones, but can also influence thyroid function and has a strong effect on your insulin. This means that PCOS and other hormone diseases like thyroid conditions or  blood sugar issues go hand-in-hand. There is no one test for PCOS, which is part of the reason it is so commonly undiagnosed.




You Should Be Checked for Undiagnosed PCOS If:

  • Other women in your family have PCOS
  • You have low thyroid symptoms but your thyroid tests normal
  • Your menstrual cycle is irregular, you frequently skip periods, have more than 35 days between periods on average, or have abnormally long periods with either very heavy or very light flow.
  • You have had a hard time getting pregnant
  • Your hair is thinning, especially in a more typically male pattern
  • You have signs of masculinization or excess testosterone including facial hair growth, excess body hair in general, severe acne, deepening voice, or even excessive muscle development in a woman.
  • You are a woman diagnosed with diabetes or glucose intolerance between the ages of 20 and 50 (because according to the PCOS foundation, 40% of the women who meet those criteria have diagnosed or undiagnosed PCOS.)
  • You have easy and excessive weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • You have non-specific symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or pelvic pain
  • You have blood sugar issues including insulin resistance, type II diabetes, or hypoglycemia (meaning if you get overly hungry you get tired, shakey, angry, irritable, sad, or sick feeling).
  • You have strongly decreased or strongly increased sex drive
  • You have other unexplained symptoms such as sleep apnea, skin tags, and darkened skin patches.

Can Men Get PCOS?

Technically no – because you guys don’t have ovaries, but you can still carry some of the genes for PCOS and pass it on to your daughters.  Also having some of the genes may increase your risk for things like early male-pattern balding, high blood sugars, metabolic syndrome and acne. So even though you don’t have ovaries that can become cystic you may still have some of the features of PCOS.

Low Thyroid vs. PCOS

Is it any wonder undiagnosed PCOS is often confused for thyroid dysfunction?

Is it any wonder undiagnosed PCOS is often confused for thyroid dysfunction?

If I Suspect PCOS How Should I be Evaluated?

If this sounds like it might be you, the best thing to do is talk with your gynecologist. They will want to ask you about your menstrual history, probably do hormone and blood sugar testing, and may do an ultrasound to see if they can see any cysts on your ovaries.  PCOS is manageable if you know you have it, but undiagnosed PCOS can be frustrating and is easily confused with other conditions, like low thyroid.  Getting the diagnosis right is a big deal, so try to give your doctor the most accurate and complete picture of your symptoms possible. Keep looking back in the next few weeks for information about what you can do naturally for PCOS.



Natural Fertility: Honoring Your Cycle

Natural fertility is a growing concern – although rates of infertility fell in the last few years from 8.5% of couples in the U.S. to 6%, there are still staggering numbers of people who are struggling to get pregnant and especially to have natural fertility.  Many couples are experiencing “sub-fertility” which means that they can technically become pregnant, but are having a hard time doing so. Also many women experience irregular cycles, skipped ovulation and general hormone wackiness that makes planning for fertility more of a challenge. I genuinely feel that part of the issue with fertility is that women have come to see the rhythms of their bodies as inconvenient, painful, embarrassing or a nuisance. There is a huge disconnect between the powerful things that happen in our bodies and our perception of and regard for them.

In light of all of the emotional, lifestyle and financial burden of infertility there is a movement towards improving fertility naturally, which sounds great, but this whole issue can seem daunting and overly complicated.  Don’t worry – we’re going to make it as easy as possible. There will be many posts on the subject, but we’re going to start with the basics. The first step is to actually begin to understand what is happening in your body during the different phases of your menstrual cycle and why those things are so important. In this post we’ll talk about the whole reason for your cycle, more the spirit behind the thing.  In subsequent posts we’ll talk about the hormone changes in more detail, fertility tracking and general steps towards boosting your fertility naturally.




Step One to Natural Fertility: Honoring Your Menstrual Cycle

Anyone who has ever known a woman can tell you that a woman’s cycle is a powerful driving force in their lives. This is a huge part of what makes the experience of being a woman entirely different from the experience of being a man. We have a rhythm and that rhythm dictates when we are the most sexual, the most vulnerable and for some women the most emotionally labile. To begin with, let’s take a look at a picture of all the things that are happening in your cycle. Remember “day 1” is counted from the first day you bleed each month:

Natural fertility and your monthly cycle - Look how much your body does every month!

Natural fertility and your monthly cycle – Look how much your body does every month!

First off – I just want to stop for a moment and appreciate just how much is happening here. Your body is doing all of this without any particular input from you – it is following it’s own rhythm. To me, that seems like an awesome kind of miracle and a tremendously beautiful part of being human. Strong natural fertility is in our blood, or psyche and our DNA. Your body does this – on it’s own – with no conscious direction.  That is completely mind blowing. To me, this is a natural cycle that must be honored in our daily lives. Your natural fertility and the tides of your body can be made into an almost spiritual awareness of the way life itself moves within you.

Understanding the Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle

Natural Fertility Week 1: Eliminating the not-needed and selecting the best hopes for the future. (Follicular phase)

This first week of your cycle is the section that most women stay connected to, simply because it’s the most obvious. This is the week you bleed, the week you shed the uterine lining that you built up last month because there was no fertilized egg to nourish with those tissues.  In this season, the spring of your four-phase cycle, you are doing two things. One is the literal spring cleaning that you might think of – the sloughing off of the cushy landing spot that your body made for last month’s egg.  Clearly the egg didn’t need it so you are free to release that tissue so that you can start the process over again and build a fresh place for the next egg to land.  Simultaneously you are selecting the healthiest follicle from those which are starting to mature this month – you’re selecting your best egg, so to speak.  This is a literal process of letting go of what is no longer needed and selecting the best starting place for your path forward – this is the death and rebirth phase of your rhythm.  Emotionally too this is a wonderful time for self-reflection.  Using the week of your menses to actually look at your last month, to see what has been serving you in your life and what might be eliminated. Typically this is a more inward time for women with less desire to be out in the world and more time for quiet and inner peace.

Natural Fertility Week 2: The ripening (Follicular phase)

This week of the cycle is the one I hear most women report as their most peaceful, when energy is building and it is easiest to turn out towards the world – culminating with our social peak at ovulation.  Your body is ripening the chosen follicle to become a healthy viable egg.  You can see on the menstrual graph that all of our hormones take a sharp rise right before ovulation, when you are at your peak of fertility as well as your peak sexuality. This is the ripening phase of your cycle when your body is literally preparing to bear fruit – this is your summer. Your physical, sexual and creative energies are all increasing and most women are more likely to focus more on their outward appearance during this time because our hormone drives are pushing us to be more desirable to a mate.

Culmination: Ovulation

Right around Day 14 of your cycle (which often corresponds with the full moon – we’ll get to that in another post) your body’s energy builds, your hormones peak, your sexual drive reaches it’s highest point – according to market research this is the time when women are most likely to dress provocatively, to be more socially active and to buy sexy lingerie. The end result is that your body releases a fertile egg, and gives you the drives to do something about it.  Some women feel the ovulatory release with a sharp pinching or stabbing pain on the ovary that is releasing an egg (called middleschmertz – great word!!), some women have a dull ache over that ovary and some women don’t feel ovulation at all.




Week 3: Letting Down (Luteal Phase)

During this week the frantic energy that happens around ovulation begins to dissipate, and the ruptured follicle where your egg was released turns into the corpus luteum, which secretes progesterone. If fertilization occurs, then in this week the fertile egg journeys through the fallopian tube to implant in the uterus around day 21. In this week the uterine lining fully matures so that it is at it’s peak for implantation. This is the fall of the cycle, the journey to find a place to settle down. This is a more calm time in your cycle and many women feel a continuing stability from week 2 (with that brief, frantic ovulation instability in the middle).

Natural fertility implantation diagram. Week 3 of the cycle

Natural fertility implantation diagram. Week 3 of the cycle. Thanks to wikimedia commons for the great pictures!

Natural Fertility Week 4: A Look at What Needs to be Let Go (Luteal Phase and Possibly PMS)

This final phase of your cycle is when your body either transitions into viable pregnancy, or switches gears accepting that a pregnancy hasn’t happened and so prepares to shed the uterine lining for another cycle.  The Uterine lining is now fully mature, and if implantation doesn’t occur then we see an over-ripening in preparation for break down. Clearly the winter of your own personal cycle, this is when a lot of women begin to look back at what might not have worked this past month or dealing with any sadness, losses and irritations. It is the time when emotions can run closest to the surface and the premenstrual hormone shifts only amplify what is already there. Just like actual winter, this is a great time to notice the issues that are coming to the surface – contemplate and reexamine in preparation for the next cycle (or the next spring fresh start).

This is perhaps a little bit different way of looking at your menstrual cycle, which we often dismiss as annoying or irritating or inconvenient.  If you are working to normalize your hormone balance or to boost your fertility naturally then it’s time to start maintaining a daily awareness of the vast changes that are going on in your body every day and the staggering number of things your body is doing to help you prepare for the possibility of a baby. By bringing some awareness to this process every day you are making a conscious shift towards valuing this part of you as a woman, to actually honoring your menstrual cycle for the miracle of natural fertility that it is. Today, say thanks for your natural fertility. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman of reproductive years, if you’ve already had your babies, or even if you’re a man and this is the first thought you’ve given to a women’s menstrual cycle – you are still connected intimately to this cycle that occurs in the human world.  Today is the day to give it some thought, to pay a little bit of attention to a truly awe-inspiring human phenomenon.