Insulin and Fertility

I have been doing lots of research to back up my presentation slides for the workshop on ‘Hormone Balance’ and it has become very apparent that for this and related issues like infertility and excess weight, which are very common today, there are a couple of key drivers.   By making our lives more and more convenient with convenience foods, transport, labour saving devices etc. we run the risk of losing our natural metabolism and balance, resulting in the many chronic diseases we now suffer.  If the original intention was to make life easier it has not equated to less stress and better health.  What we need are whole foods, fresh air, movement, relaxation, sleep, spending time in a natural environment and doing activities that engage us fully.  Modern life has disconnected us from our human nature and even though it makes perfect sense when we are reminded of the simple and basic needs of the body, we have a hard time believing that addressing these needs can have a significant impact on our health.  We can’t turn back time but we can take more control and make better choices for the sake of our health.

One such example is the overproduction of Insulin produced by the pancreas in response to food we have eaten with a high sugar or (glycaemic load), leading to blood sugar imbalance.  We’re not just talking here about white refined sugar, although it is that too, its also white bread, pasta, potatoes, cakes, processed food containing sugar or flour, sweets, alcohol, sodas and even fruit juices that tend to spike blood sugar and cause excess release of insulin. Historically, people had sugar as an occasional treat.  Today …… it is tempting you everywhere you go!  It’s even hidden in foods you would never have expected to find it in.  And, given that sugar in all its forms is highly addictive, as it fires up (endorphins) the addiction chemicals in the brain, it is little wonder we are hooked and coming back for more!

Dr. Mark Hyman has summed it up in a nutshell in his instagram post below.  I couldn’t have put it better myself so you have it here from the expert!  For the ladies and gentlemen who suffer issues of infertility, take note!

What I love about good nutritional advice is that even if you don’t have these particular issues, lowering the glycaemic load of your diet has health benefits for everyone bar none!  Modern life is set up to encourage us all to lean more towards higher glycaemic load foods and lifestyle factors.

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I don’t believe it’s coincidence that infertility has increased just like diabetes and obesity has. That’s because excess sugar and subsequent belly fat drive hormonal imbalances and create infertility.⠀ ⠀ In women, these imbalances manifest as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is really a nutritional and metabolic problem that adversely affects insulin and other hormones.⠀ ⠀ PCOS symptoms include irregular or heavy periods, acne, facial hair, scalp hair loss, increased belly fat, and increased levels of testosterone. Studies show PCOS affects 8 to 12 percent of all women, which interestingly correlates with the number of couples who suffer infertility.⠀ ⠀ In men, infertility manifests as lower testosterone, which indicates other hormones like insulin are also out of whack. Among the consequences are bellies, breasts (or man boobs), low sperm count, and decreased sex drive.⠀ ⠀ While problems like PCOS and low testosterone need to be properly assessed, diagnosed, and treated to get your metabolism working again, you have far more control over infertility than you might realize.⠀ ⠀ Studies confirm addressing lifestyle factors – including nutrition, weight, exercise, psychological stress, as well as environmental and occupational exposure –could have substantial effects on fertility. ⠀ ⠀ I recommend my patients take a multivitamin and other supplements and eat a whole food, low-glycemic-load, nutrient-rich, plant-based diet. Those strategies alone can have an enormous impact on fertility. ⠀ ⠀ While I ultimately encourage you to work with a Functional Medicine doctor to address and correct these problems, I have found these seven strategies can help anyone (female and male) balance hormones, reverse infertility, and create abundant health.⠀ ⠀ – Go low glycemic. ⠀ – Implement supplements like vitamin D, B vitamins, fish oil L-carnitine, vitamins C and E, N-acetylcysteine, zinc, and coenzyme Q10 ⠀ – Fix your gut by including gut-supporting foods like fermented foods, as well as fiber and probiotics.⠀ – Exercise regularly.⠀ – Control stress.⠀ – Get sufficient sleep.⠀ – Reduce your environmental toxin exposure. ⠀ ⠀ #pcos #hormonalimbalance #insulin #infertility

A post shared by Mark Hyman, M.D. (@drmarkhyman) on

If you click into the post on-line, among the hundreds of comments is one from a woman who states that her 17 year old daughter exists only because she changed her diet and lifestyle after being told she would never have children.  There are many more stories like this in the comments and around us everyday that you don’t hear about.

I have seen for myself in clinic, on a number of occasions, the very real success of balancing hormones for fertility.  It does require dedicated compliance to dietary and lifestyle changes but these are not beyond anyone’s capabilities.

The other driver of hormonal imbalances including infertility is excess ‘cortisol‘ levels in the body.  Cortisol is the stress hormone.  Eating a lower glycaemic load diet will help with overproduction of cortisol too.  Getting some moderate exercise, managing stress levels with mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing or finding a hobby that is engaging enough to reduce stress levels.    Also, getting adequate shut eye (sleep), will really help.

Conditions are more favourable for fertility when the body is in ‘relaxed mode’ or parasympathetic nervous system mode, and not in ‘fight or flight’ or sympathetic nervous system mode.  Our modern high stimulation diet and a lifestyle which is fast paced, indulgent, highly stressful and busy busy busy, sends a message to the body…… “this is not a good time to have a baby, I’m way too busy just surviving”.  The dietary and nutrition suggestions in the post are right on point to aid fertility.  Also, to bring your body into parasympathetic mode instantly, practice deep breathing or tuning in to your breathing on a regular basis.  Start by doing some long exhales (10 in succession) and soon you will be breathing deeply.  Another easy technique to switch your body into parasympathetic mode is to elevate your legs above the level of your heart.  Lying flat on the floor use a chair, the bed or the wall to elevate your legs and relax for 5 minutes in this position.  A daily practice will impact over time and the body will get the message “life is good, I am calm and capable, all is well, I have plenty of resources to reproduce”!

You can follow Dr Mark Hyman on instagram or by searching for ‘Dr Mark Hyman Instagram’ on line.

These strategies are not rocket science but are shown to bring about positive results for those that implement them.   The view that there needs to be a pill for every ill, as if we are machines that need a screw here and a drop of oil there, is being replaced with an integrative approach to restoring health to the body that recognizes us as individual beings, affected by our unique genetics, environment, food, movement, sleep, thoughts, emotions and beliefs.

 

Further reading recommendations:

  • The Low-GL Diet Bible, Patrick Holford
  • The Low- GL Diet Cookbook, Patrick Holford
  • Fat Around the Middle, Marilyn Glenville, PhD
  • The 4 Pillar Plan, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee [Balanced Living]
  • The Hormone Cure, Dr. Sara Gottfried M.D. [Hormone Balance]

 

© Limelight Nutrition 2019

Get these Anti’s

A new born baby has an absorbent mind, like a sponge!  This allows the baby to easily learn the language spoken by the people around them.  It does this learning so effortlessly it might appear that it was destined by its DNA just like the colour of its hair.  But this is not the case!  Language does not grow like hair and teeth.  Acquiring a language is a learning skill that involves lots of interaction between the brain and the outside world.  The child’s mind is particularly suited for this task.  Amazing as this is, acquiring language doesn’t end with childhood.  Have you noticed that when you embark on a new project, interest, area of study or line of work, there is a whole new language that goes with it?  It dawns on me sometimes when I’m happily listing off the health benefits of a particular food, saying it’s anti this that and the other, that perhaps people don’t really get it.  As adults we have a tendency to skim past what we don’t immediately understand.  It’s like a foreign language, you just blank it out.  So, I’d like to pause and explain a couple of very important ‘anti’s’ as they relate to nutrition and health.

Getting the Anti’s

Oxidation, inflammation, cancer, bacteria and viruses etc. are enemies to the health of the body which needs supportive nutrients and other factors to fight back.  Simply put, if you wanted to address a bacterial threat you would choose anti-bacterial properties.  So, in general, ‘anti’ as a prefix is a good thing!  It is pretty obvious what anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-histamine, anti-aging and anti-cancer mean.  Foods, supplements, essential oils, remedies etc. that have these ‘anti’ properties support the body in fighting that particular threat.

Inflammation and oxidation are less easily understood.  We loosely associate inflammation with pain.  We seek out anti-inflammatories at the Pharmacy for this, yet the harmful effects of inflammation go way, way beyond aches and pains!   And, when it comes to oxidative damage, unless you have studied nutrition or biochemistry, you might easily glaze over with this one too.

So, if you want to read on, I will explain a little bit more about the insidious effects of inflammation and oxidation on the body, how it gets there and why we all need the support of anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants.

Continue reading “Get these Anti’s”

We are Eaters

I have always liked the idea that natural foods, plants and nature provide the best medicines for our health and wellbeing.  It makes the most sense as we are all connected to the world around us, right?  We can’t live without food.  Food needs the sun, atmosphere and soil etc. to grow.  Our bodies need what natural foods provide.  How long would we last without air?  We need to interact daily with others.  Like it or not we are all human, more connected and at the same time more vulnerable than we’d often like to think of ourselves as.

Well, I invite you to think about it just a little as you read this post, especially in relation to food and you as an eater.

Since starting my nutrition training I have been a fan and follower of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.  Their stated mission is to re-unite the psychology of eating with the science of nutrition.   I understand this to mean that you cannot consider the body’s needs without considering the needs of the soul.  ‘Soul’ meaning the individual person with their own unique body, needs, wants, experiences, emotions, senses, circumstances and responses to life.  My own observation [not judgement] with clients and people in general, is how our attitude to food and eating completely reflects our attitude to ourselves and life.

My experience is that some people view a nutrition qualification as a personal attribute.  As if acquiring this qualification has transformed one into someone who never lets an unhealthy food pass their lips … And, has now morphed into the role of watching and judging every bite others make, like the ‘diet police’!  Well, on both counts, that’s not me!  You may, of course, come across people who do take on and enjoy such a role.  No, I’m just like you but with an acquired knowledge and interest in the benefits of nutrition which I love to share.   I can be your guide, supporter or educator, but not your judge or savior.  I believe that healthier eating is a life-long challenge, a choice and a personal responsibility.  And, because eating is something you and I have to do each and every day, I see it as an ideal opportunity for growth and transformation.  That said, knowledge of food is for the mind but food and eating as an experience goes far beyond this to the very core of our being.

I came across this Instagram post by the_food_psychology_clinic in the UK.  It speaks poetically about how closely connected ‘eating’ can be to our thoughts and feelings.  For some it can often represent a huge internal struggle.   I have consent from the account owner to share it here.

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I eat because… I’m angry, I eat because I’m sad, I eat because I’m fat anyway (so what’s the point – I might as well be bad)… and have a brownie or five or 10 slices of cake, nobody will notice anyway… I eat because I’m lonely – I’m stressed at work – I’ve had a bad day Sometimes, I eat because I’m bored – I’m going to start my diet tomorrow, I’ll say – so I eat tons of chocolate and sweets…maybe I’ll start the diet another time diets suck – what’s the point – I give up I eat because I don’t get the attention I want – at least I can rely on cake to make me feel good today… But I don’t enjoy it anyway – this eating too much – I feel guilt, I feel pain, I feel shame…and yet I just can’t seem to stop -it is easier to put it off until another time – when I have more time, or less stress, or less work or more money to pay…. for a juice cleanse or a detox – maybe a nice retreat in Spain (I need a quick fix – I’m way too fat) it will be much easier this way Why is it so hard for me to be thin – I hate my body and life I’m a failure – I think to myself – every day But I like those two minutes of happiness I get – when I eat something tasty, something good and maybe I don’t want to give that up just yet because without food, I’ll have to deal with what really is not good in my life, in my world, in my heart, in my mind – and that scares me – to tell you the truth. I eat because… I’m hungry – but not for food that’s for sure Maybe I’m hungry for fun, for love, for companionship, for comfort, for a purpose – maybe I’m just hungry not to be fat anymore. #weightloss #weightstruggles #weightstruggle #weightstruggleisreal #slimdown #weightissues #fat #fatloss #weightloss #binge #bingeeatingdisorder #weightlosshelp #bingeeatinghelp

A post shared by The Food Psychology Clinic (@the_food_psychology_clinic) on

I’ve shared this because even though my qualification is the nutrition science bit and not eating psychology, I have found it is quite impossible in reality to separate the two.  I acknowledge everyone as an eater.  If we were purely physical beings, the knowledge of what to eat in the best interest of our health, would be enough.  Like how to put the correct fuel in your car….. petrol and a little oil in this one, but diesel and lots of oil in this other one.  The reality is we are more than physical beings and often our food choices are motivated by unconscious thoughts and feelings about ourselves.  The above Instagram post is about overeating but it could just as easily be about depriving yourself of food.  The point is, its really about negative thoughts and feelings wrapped around eating.  Yet, eating can be a joyous, satisfying, healthy, creative, not to mention completely necessary experience.

Have a think about what your relationship with food is?  Does it mirror how you feel and think?  If you recognize yourself in any of this, the knowledge of healthy eating will not be enough.  It might even become a stick for you to punish yourself with.  More bad feelings?  That won’t help!  The issue is not a lack of knowledge.  Practicing some mindfulness and self-inquiry around eating, or working with someone that has a greater understanding of eating behaviors, might help.

The food psychology clinic is UK based and you can make contact via the Instagram account. I am only aware of one Nutritional Therapist in Ireland who deals in this particular area of work.  Here: www.straightforwardnutrition.com

Finally, I can’t count the number of times people have told me stories like “Oh, so and so died…… and s/he was so into healthy eating”!  There is no promise of immortality in choosing to eat a healthier diet.  The point of dealing with food or eating issues is that you can feel better today, have a better quality life than if you didn’t and possibly live a little longer.  This is not without it’s challenges but it is within your grasp.  As human beings we know we are affected on many levels by factors other than by what we eat, but this is the one area where we can reclaim some personal power over our own well being.

© Limelight Nutrition 2019

Acne and Diet

Acne is most common in teenagers and young adults but does affect many people to some degree or another, for their entire lives.  Acne Vulgaris is the medical term for this skin condition.  Sounds awful!  You didn’t need to know that, right? 🙂  But, acne means ‘eruption’ and ‘vulgaris’ means common.  These common skin eruptions can take a variety of forms and severity.  Mild acne consists of whiteheads and blackheads, moderate – pustules (pimples) and severe acne – cysts and nodules that may leave scaring.   Whatever the severity, most sufferers feel that this condition, which can affect the face, neck, chest, shoulders and back, puts them in the spotlight of attention, and not in a good way!  We know that beauty is not just skin deep but we also have a tendency to feel very conscious of skin blemishes when they show up. The psychological impact of the condition, especially with the more severe type, may cause anxiety or depression and this should be acknowledged and addressed as part of any treatment programme.  If you take the conventional medicine route with problematic acne, you may not find support for this idea that what you eat matters.  However, science is now showing us that certain foods are a factor in causing and perpetuating acne but there are also foods that can help fight it.

Anatomy of Acne

This is the simplified version just to give some background before we get to the nutrition.  There are a number of physical factors involved in the formation of acne which are, keratin (skin cells), the sebaceous glands (oil producing glands in the skin) that produces sebum, and the hair follicles (from the root up to the surface of the skin).

An overproduction of keratin (forming dead skin cells) and/or sebum (connected to androgen hormones) can clog up the hair follicle at its opening onto the skin.  This can produce mild acne.  If the follicles remain blocked this can lead to overproduction of bacteria deeper down that have nowhere to go and therefore increase in number.  This increase in bacteria is a red flag to the immune system which consequently produces pus (dead immune cells) and inflammation (sore, red inflamed skin – pimples) as a response.

From a functional and nutritional perspective therefore, we would be looking at the underlying systems involved in a) skin production, b) hormone balance, and c) the immune response.   So how come some people get away with eating rubbish and have no acne?  Well, there is of course a genetic element which makes one individual more susceptible to acne than another, but on the bright side we are now discovering our genes are not set in stone.  A new area of study called Epigenetics shows us that our genes can be influenced and modified with dietary and lifestyle changes.

The Hormone Connection

Both male and female bodies make hormones called androgens.  Androgens are known to trigger increased production of both keratinocytes and oily sebum.  They increase during puberty and women’s bodies produce more of them during pregnancy as well as with oral contraceptive use.  Acne is one of the signs of increased androgen production in women with PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome).  Acne often signals hormone imbalance.  There are a number of dietary and lifestyle factors that can throw male/female hormones off balance.  In a complicated series of processes hormones are made, used and eliminated by the body.  Hormones can be considered as ‘messengers’ delivering a message to a part of the body to initiate a response.   An overproduction of two hormones in particular can disrupt normal function, these are cortisol and insulin.  Long term unresolved stress, diet and other lifestyle habits may increase production of both cortisol and insulin.   These two are very much connected to our ‘survival’ response which trumps reproduction every time.

The immune factor

The immune response is also an automatic survival response.  An army of immune vigilante detect an overproduction of bacteria in the skin and the immune system sets to work.   The skin becomes inflamed, swollen and painful.   The white pus from the pimple is a collection of dead immune cells.  This is the body’s way of expelling the infection.  This buildup of bacteria is also why a doctor will often prescribe antibiotics.  It makes sense except it doesn’t resolve the problem long term.  While antibiotics kill pathogenic bacteria they also kill your friendly bacteria which ironically work closely with your immune system to keep you well.  Taking antibiotics may only make matters worse in the long run.

On the Surface

It might seem logical then that ‘unblocking the pores’ would solve the problem entirely but acne is not just a skin deep condition.  That said, exfoliating the surface skin is an important step in removing the keratin layer of dead skin cells.  There are natural ways to achieve this without going to a lot of expense.  For example, mix some baking soda and little water to make a paste.  Add 1-2 drops of pure essential oil of Lavender.  Start with 1 drop.  Rub it into the skin and leave it for 5 to 10 minutes.  Wash it off with lukewarm water.  You can access lots of homemade natural exfoliates for acne prone skin online.   Baking soda has a low pH to sooth inflamed skin.  The Lavender also has a soothing, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effect.   Apply a little Aloe vera gel after exfoliating as a soothing and natural toner.  A little coconut oil will help moisturize and heal the skin.

Below the surface

You might by now accept that a diet high in sugar, processed foods and factory farmed animal products can fuel heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer but you could easily add acne and immune and hormone imbalances, to this list.

Treating only the surface will not be enough to banish acne.  Researcher have found certain foods specifically, dairy [milk, cheese, milk chocolate], white refined carbohydrates, sugary products and fast food contribute to acne.   Dairy promotes the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which may contribute to increased production of keratinocytes, and foods with a high glycaemic load increase the production of insulin, which can stimulate androgens, known to cause an increase in sebum production.

Remove, Reduce or Replace

Dairy:  Where possible remove or reduce especially milk and milk products.  Replace with plant milks and yogurts.  You can get cheese made from nuts, for example, almond, cashews, coconut, soy, hemp and peas.  Or choose different options, like nut butter, hummus or guacamole instead of cheese.

High GL food:   Remove or reduce high glycaemic load foods.  These include white refined products like bread, pasta, rice, cakes, sodas and fruit juices.  Replace with low glycaemic load foods.  A link to a pdf list of common foods is provided below.  Examples of low GL grains are quinoa, millet, barley, oats and buckwheat (which is not wheat by the way)

Fast food:   The problem is you’re never sure what’s in there.  Convenience food is made to taste great with chemicals, highly processed oils, salt, sugar and cheap ingredients.   Increase home cooked meals in place of convenience foods.

Stress:  Stress can come from worrying, rushing around, anxiety, not getting enough sleep, over exercising and large gaps between meals or skipping meals.  Whatever the source, your body responds to stress with increased production of cortisol.  Remember it knocks reproductive hormones off-kilter.  Do a mindfulness or relaxation practice daily.   Make sleep a priority.  Eat regularly.

Nutrients that help flight acne

Now to the good news!  Increasing your intake of plant foods especially vegetables with some fruit, that are rich in antioxidants and critical nutrients, can do a lot to fight acne.  And, whilst restoring beautiful clear skin you’ll have the added benefit of restoring health to every cell in your body.  Here are some specific nutrients and foods that have been widely researched and shown to help clear up acne.

Zinc – top food sources pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, chickpeas, beef, lamb, wholegrains, beans and spinach.  Best supplemental forms zinc acetate, gluconate or sulfate.

Turmeric – add it to soups, curry dishes, golden tea, smoothies or stir-fries.  The supplemental form is called curcumin and is now widely available.  It has excellent anti-inflammatory properties.

Probiotics – Gut health has become increasingly associated with the health of the skin and immune system.  Taking a probiotic helps to increase your army of friendly bacteria to win the fight against infection.   An imbalance in microflora with more pathogens (bad bacteria) resident than good ones, can be a contributing factor to acne.  Probiotics can be found in supplement form or in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, live natural yogurt and kombucha.  Consider taking a course of probiotics especially if you have taken antibiotics to treat acne.

Green tea – The polyphenols in green tea have been shown to reduce sebum production and skin inflammation, even when applied topically to the skin.  Drink it daily for a few weeks to see the effects.

Omega 3s – These fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.  Freshly milled flaxseed or chia seeds are a good plant source.  Oily fish such as wild salmon, mackerel and sardines are also a good source.  It can be taken in supplement form.

Vitamin A, D & E:  These are the fat soluble vitamins that are found to be low in individuals who have acne.  Vitamin A is present in orange, red and yellow foods in particular, for example, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin apricots but also in dark green leafy vegetables.  Vitamin E is abundant in peanuts, fresh seeds like sunflower, broccoli and hazelnuts.  Adequate Vitamin D levels are not so easily achieved through food sources or sun exposure.  This is one you could consider  supplementing for sure.  If you do, choose Vitamin D3.

These nutrients have one thing in common – they have anti-inflammatory properties and the root cause of acne is inflammation by various means.

Finally, avoid using chemical products on the skin as these may irritate and inflame the skin further.  Treat the skin gently and with natural products.

I hope you find this helpful.  If you want to read more about treating acne in a natural way I have provided a link to Dr. Axe’s  website below.

© Limelight Nutrition 2019

Further information:
  • Dr. Axe link to – Home Remedies for Acne
  • Glycaemic Load of Common Foods – link to PDF list  Here
  • Photos Source:  Google Images

Santa, You Better Watch Out

When Santa got stuck up the chimney he began to shout … “you girls and boys won’t get any toys if you don’t pull me out”!  How, how, how… did Santa get stuck up there?  Hmmm.. it looks like he could have Syndrome X.

All grown up now, I can take an objective view of this Jolly ol’ fella who may have added some magic to my childhood memories.  Although I sometimes wonder at the scale of psychological damage inflicted in the name of Santa, on the innocent, who offer only pure belief and love in return.  I know that my own mother made a conscious effort to play down the character of ‘Santa’ with us kids because she was so devastated to find out in her own childhood that he wasn’t real.  And, at our office Christmas celebrations one year, a colleague recalled how, at age 12 and being the oldest child in her family, she got ‘the truth’ along with her Christmas present.  In one swift and traumatic moment she was handed a new pair of gloves and leveled with an instruction to grow up, as she watched her younger siblings open their Christmas toys.  “You better watch out, you better not cry”, even though you’ve been snookered by a lie!   I thank my mother for having the wisdom to save us from at least falling hook, line and sinker for the phantom that is Santa.  Anyway, I digress!

What is Syndrome X ?

There is no direct connection between Syndrome X and Santa or Xmas, the season of stress and over-indulgence, but indirectly it seems like the perfect occasion to talk about this health condition.  Syndrome X is also called ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ [MetS].  MetS is a metabolic imbalance.  This means that how your body metabolizes and stores energy is off balance.  The physical manifestation of MetS is ‘fat around the middle’, also called visceral fat.   Scientists now know that storing fat around the middle of your body rather than anywhere else, has major health implications, and studies show that it increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer.  But, you don’t even have to be overweight to carry fat around the middle.  And, it’s not only about what you eat, your diet is just one contributing factor.

Continue reading “Santa, You Better Watch Out”