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Online or In Person – Which Option is Better For You?

Along with providing specialist reflexology that supports TTC, fertility, and wellbeing for those in the Weymouth, Poundbury, and wider Dorset area, I offer consultations, assessment, and self-care routines based around your needs and particular situation. This can be done in person or online over Zoom. If you are seeking fertility advice for the first time, you might be wondering whether it’s better for you to see me face-to-face or online.  To help you out, this blog post walks you through the merits of each choice.

Online

I understand that some people may feel anxious about going to a new physical location for advice on fertility and TTC. It is normal to feel a bit daunted by the whole prospect. In which case, you may prefer to start by speaking to me online. Having these sessions from the comfort of your own home can make the process a great deal easier, along with providing that valuable extra layer of privacy.

Perhaps a greater benefit of working with me online is that it provides flexibility and convenience. You are saved from unnecessary travel expenses and spending time travelling to and from my practice. And if you wish to attend these consultations with your partner, or another loved one, it is much easier for both parties to be present when sessions are on online. Work/life commitments often get in the way of each individual being able to attend a specific place at a designated time. If you have a busy schedule, working with me online is the way to go. You can receive personalised fertility and TTC advice from anywhere in the world, provided you have an internet connection.

In Person

Working with me online may be more convenient, but for many, in-person sessions are the only way to get the absolute most out of each session. Some people feel more comfortable being able to build up a relationship with me in ‘real life’. When it comes to issues like fertility, TTC, and general wellbeing, it can feel more natural to visit a dedicated clinic to discuss these matters, as opposed to sitting in front of your laptop.

And while many people feel most comfortable working with me from their own bedroom or office space, others might not have a peaceful home life at all. My Weymouth practice may be the safe and reliable space you need for accessing professional fertility treatment. Visiting the same place on a regular basis can become an important ritual on your TTC, fertility, and wellness journey. In addition, you might not have a dependable internet connection or the right equipment, space, or facilities for a truly private Zoom call.

If you are looking for consultations, assessments, and personalised self-care routines for fertility, trying to conceive or IVF support in Weymouth, Poundbury, or in Dorset, or online – give me a call or drop me an email. I am always happy to answer any questions you may have.

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What Are the Differences Between IVF, IUI, and ICSI?

As a specialist in providing reflexology designed to assist with TTC, fertility, and wellbeing for people in the Weymouth, Poundbury, and the wider Dorset area, I spend a lot of time discussing different fertility treatments with clients. These include IVF (In-Vitro Fertilisation), IUI (Intra-Uterine Insemination), and ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection).

Of course, most people know about IVF, but if you are seeking reflexology as part of your fertility treatment, or just want general advice regarding fertility support, you might be unsure about which specific fertility treatment is most suitable for you. It can feel a bit intimidating to decide. To help you choose the right course of action, this blog post walks you through the differences between IVF, IUI, and ICSI.

IVF

The most commonly employed fertility treatment, IVF involves using fertility drugs to produce mature eggs that are then fertilised in a laboratory with sperm from your partner/a donor. The sperm and eggs are placed in a special dish, with the highest-quality resultant embryo being placed into the uterus to grow for pregnancy.

IVF is used to assist with TTC processes of all kinds, but is particularly useful for women with certain fertility problems, such as damaged Fallopian tubes or low egg counts. It can also be used when working with a surrogate or after several unsuccessful rounds of IUI.

IUI

Couples who are trying to conceive may start with IUI before turning to IVF treatment. The process involves inserting a sperm sample into the uterus at peak ovulation. Fertilisation naturally occurs once ovulation occurs, and this reduced travel time for sperm can increase the chances of successful pregnancy.

IUI is essentially designed to give the sperm a better chance of reaching the egg compared to sexual intercourse. The treatment is usually recommended to couples who have had difficulty conceiving but aren’t experiencing any structural fertility problems, or for those who require donor sperm.

ICSI

ICSI serves as part of the IVF procedure and entails extracting the best single healthy sperm from a sample and injecting it directly into the egg for fertilisation. In this sense, it is a more precise form of treatment – aimed primarily at helping men with fertility issues such as low sperm count or substandard sperm mobility.

If you are considering holistic support alongside IVF, IUI, or ICSI as part of your fertility treatment, I would be happy to help you. I offer professional guidance for those needing help with TTC and fertility issues in Weymouth, Poundbury, and Dorset, as well as in other areas using virtual consulting. Feel free to reach out at any time, I’d love to hear from you.

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How to understand sperm test results and what is ‘normal’?

What do your ‘Normal’ Semen Analysis Test Results Mean?

You’ve just had your initial semen test results back, and the doctor/receptionist will says ‘yes it was all normal’, without actually giving you the report. Please, always ask for a copy of your semen analysis, it is SO helpful to have the actual document to hand and provides really valuable information. Many semen analysis sheets that I review may be ‘normal’ but are not optimal for fertility.

What is a sperm sample?

A semen or sperm sample is the fluid produced when you ejaculate/orgasm, and should contain sperm, which are the male cells that fertilise a human egg.  Samples are collected into a pot, and sent to a lab for assessment. Samples are assessed using basic criteria, and you can usually have the analysis done via a request from your GP.

These criteria, based on reference ranges for male fertility via semen testing, are usually measured against World Health Organisation agreed levels. These have just been republished as until this year the most recent figures used were from 1999!

The criteria give expected ranges for a viable semen sample, so if your results fall outside those ranges – either below or above, then there may be an issue with your semen/sperm.

A basic sperm test usually give a report on all (or some) of the following measures:

Volume (the amount produced for the sample)
Appearance
Liquefaction
Viscosity
pH
Debris
Agglutination
Motility, broken down into rapid, slow, non-progressive and immotile
Vitality
Anti-sperm Antibodies
Concentration/count per ml and total for the sample
Round/other cells
Morphology, broken down into normal, abnormal, head/mid-piece/tail defects, cytoplasmic droplets

What is a normal sperm sample?

The WHO criteria look specifically at volume, total number of sperm in the sample, concentration of sperm per ml, motility, morphology and pH level, so these are what I am going to discuss in this article.

* There should be a certain volume of semen in a sample, the new range suggests a minimum of 1.5 ml, and up to 5ml is considered within range.
* The total of sperm in the sample should be greater than 39 million, and concentration per ml greater than 15 million.
* Motility will usually be total (all the sperm together) greater than 40%, and progressive greater than 32%.
* pH levels in the sample should be 7.2, anything below this or greater than 8 should be investigated further.
* Finally, morphology or normal forms should be greater than 4%

If a semen sample comes back outside of these ranges you may see notes on the report such as low motility, poor morphology, even azoospermia. These are technical terms which refer respectively to sperm which do not move well, sperm which are not properly formed, and lack of sperm observed. Observations about the pH might indicate infection or urine contamination of the sample, and issues with volume could be indicative of an issue with sperm production including physical obstructions, heat damage from varicoceles etc.

The above are all common, although as I’ve said before, not necessarily addressed, because male factor issues – despite being 50% of the base material for embryos – are not considered until last resort in many cases.

What might be wrong with a sperm sample?

Below I have listed some common causes of poor quality sperm samples.  Hopefully, this article will help you understand the issues surround male fertlity better. My job as a reproductive reflexology specialist is to guide you to understanding what’s happening with your sperm, by interpreting your specific results, and then a) use targeted reproductive reflexology (and a holistic approach) to see if we can make changes which may sustain improvements to sperm quality, and/or b) refer you for further testing as necessary, with continuing reflexology and holistic support.

  • Causes of low semen volume

You might see a low volume (called hypospermia) if some of the sample missed the collection pot, however, other causes can be linked to ejaculation problems such as retrograde ejaculation where semen travels backwards into the bladder, prostate gland cancer treatments, medications, diabetes and hormonal issues. Blockages in the seminal vesicles which deliver the sperm to the penis can be caused by varicocele, infections can also be a cause.

  • Causes of low sperm in semen samples

Low quantities of sperm in a sample can cause problems with conceiving a child. The reasons for fewer sperm in a sample can include problems with sexual function (low libido, erectile dysfunction), pain or swelling in the testicles, hormone abnormalities, previous injury to the testicles or penis, infections, varicoceles, anti-sperm antibodies (an immune system problem), blockages in the tubules anywhere in the male reproductive system and undescended testicles. Celiac disease, prior surgery and chromosome defects can also be the cause of low sperm counts. Many of these issues can be resolved, discovering them initially may be the hardest part of the problem.

  • Low motility in semen samples

Causes of poor motility are connected to infections, defects in the sperm DNA, alcohol and drug use, and inflammation. Low motility means that the sperm are not moving well – either going in circles, not moving fast enough or failing to move forward. As with poor morphology, low motility has effects on the ability of sperm to move to the fallopian tubes where the egg is waiting, and thus has a negative affect on male fertility. The corkscrew motion of a well formed sperm is much more effective in the long journey to fertilise an egg, so you can see again that good quality sperm making forward progress are likely to be better at moving through the uterus to their destination. Reducing inflammation, treating infection, and changing lifestyle habits can all have a positive effect on motility.

  • Semen pH levels

Semen is usually slightly alkaline with a normal pH range between 7.2-8.0. The acidity or alkalinity of a semen sample can indicate issues or infections – which are often invisible, additional screening often reveals these and then treatment with antibiotics and supplements can help to improve the levels. High or low semen pH can cause sperm death. It can also impact the ability of the sperm to swim and be able to penetrate the egg.

  • Causes of poor morphology

Morphology issues can be caused by heat damage, which include external heat such as use of saunas, heated car seats etc., or damaged caused by varicocele (lumpy collections of veins on the testicles), infections and lifestyle choices including drug and alcohol use. Some prescribed medications can also have a negative effect on the morphology of sperm, so it’s worth checking that any drugs prescribed are fertility friendly. Well formed sperms should have an evenly formed head, mid-piece and tail. Each part has a job to do: the head contains the genetic material, the mid-piece is the engine and the tail provides the movement towards the egg. If morphology is classed as poor, then the sperm may have missing or partial tails, wonky heads, and mid-piece defects, which can cause issues with actually getting into the fallopian tubes, egg penetration, and then faulty fertilisation, which can lead to poor implantation rates and contribute to chemical pregnancies and early miscarriage.

Red Flags for Sperm Quality and Quantity

Red flags which can contribute to issues of sperm quality and quantity include:
– Smoking
– Drugs (including prescriptions and steroids)
– Alcohol
– Infections (can be invisible)
– Nutritional deficiencies
– Shift work/poor sleep

Next Steps

Being aware of the issues surrounding your sperm sample can help you to understand where you can make positive changes to improve it.  There are of course lots of  things that can affect sperm quality, including physical issues but the above are very COMMON and many can be resolved with the right advice and support.

You may need additional testing or screening, or you may just need to make changes to your lifestyle. I expect to work with you for a minimum of 3 months, as this is when I see the best results for improvements with previous clients.  Are you ready for the next step?  If you have received a less than positive semen analysis, or have been told that you have a normal result but are still having problems conceiving, then book a call with me today.

Further reading

Men’s Health Week 2020

Varicoceles

 

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Fertility Language – What Do All These Abbreviations Mean?

Fertility Language can be very confusing and exclusive if you’re new to the game.

I’ve listed some of the more common abbreviations here that you may come across during your journey to conceive, and hopefully this article will help you to understand them a bit better.  Save it for later, and do share with anyone else who may be struggling!

TTC – Trying To Conceive

This is one you’re likely to know already, as probably it’s where you are right now. People who are trying to get pregnant or preparing to do so!

CD – Cycle Day

Very simple – if your period/bleed starts on Monday 1st Jan, that is your Cycle Day 1. The last day of your cycle is the day before a bleed. Recording cycle length is helpful, as not everyone has regular cycles, and even knowing the length of a cycle can help identify an issue. In co-ordination with charting temperatures, cycle days can be used to record bleeding days, days of fertile fluid observed, days when you have had sex, when/if you ovulate, and the length of the luteal phase after ovulation. It all comes back to data!

AF – Aunt Flo (Period/Bleed)

This somewhat jokey term is often uses as a quick way of referring to the onset of the monthly menstrual cycle. It’s when you start to bleed – shedding last months uterine lining. Bleeds should not be painful, should have a defined start and end, and you should not see spotting after the bleed has ended. Any of these may indicate an issue with hormonal balance, or structural issues with the uterus like endometriosis, adenomiosis, fibroids, polyps and more.

CM (CF) – Cervical Mucus/Cervical Fluid

Cervical Mucus or Fluid (CM/CF) can be a valuable tool in observing your menstrual cycle and its stages. When you wipe, it’s easy to check and see the colour, texture and amount. From the bleed to the end of your cycle, the cervical fluid changes from non-fertile, to fertile (around ovulation) and then changes again post-ovulation to protect a potential pregnancy before reverting to a bleed if not pregnant. Seeing fertile CF is one of the key signs of ovulation, and a great way to start noting how your body works. Download my handy guide to the types of CF here.

FSH – Follicle Stimulating Hormone

Ovarian follicle development is governed by a pituitary hormone called FSH: follicle-stimulating hormone, which stimulates the follicles to grow. You have less FSH when younger, and more as you mature – leading to shorter or irregular periods. FSH levels also contribute to how heavy or light your bleed is – the hormone stimulates estradiol which influences the thickening of the uterine lining.

LH – Luteinising Hormone

As you come up to the time of ovulation (which is the midpoint of your menstrual cycle), your hormones are preparing to release an egg from a mature follicle. Luteinising Hormone (LH) levels reach a peak at ovulation, triggering the follicle to ripen and release into the fallopian tubes, ready to be fertilised. Defects in the hormone balance can affect whether you ovulate or not.

DPO – Days Past Ovulation

This abbreviation is used to indicate how far past ovulation in your cycle you are. It’s used often for charting and fertility apps. Usually, if an egg has been released (ovulation) and potentially fertilised and implanted in the uterus, it will be producing enough hcG hormone to indicate a pregnancy if you tested at 14 days past ovulation. It’s useful to know to identify how long the luteal phase lasts – the time between ovulation and the next bleed. Often also called the Two Week Wait (TWW), see below.

TWW – Two Week Wait

For many people, this is the worst part of the whole cycle.  The two week wait refers to the 14 days post ovulation, when you *could* be pregnant. It also refers to the wait after an IVF embryo transfer.  There’s not a lot to do at this stage – if you’ve got everything right during the cycle, there’s about a 25% chance of a pregnancy. A lot of nail biting and symptom spotting takes places during this period of time. I recommend taking up an absorbing hobby!

BBT – Basal Body Temperature

We use a BBT to chart temperatures throughout a menstrual cycle, as they can help to identify the different phases of the cycle. Using a digital thermometer (accurate to 2 decimal places) and either a paper chart or an online app (I recommend Fertility Friend), you take your temperature under the tongue every day, record it on the chart, and then you can see an overall pattern of each cycle. It’s very helpful to record this information, as it can help to identify ovulation, pregnancy, or if there are potential fertility problems such as not ovulating, spotting, long or short cycles and more. I recommend charting to ALL of my clients, for at least 3 months because the chart data is so useful.

MFI – Male Factor Infertility

Male factor infertility is often not well understood, and can be ignored until female partners have had all sorts of intervention. Issues like poor quality sperm, deformations in the structure, lack of ability to move properly and quantity of viable sperm all have an impact on the potential for a pregnancy and viable embryo. If you have a male partner, ALWAYS get at least a basic semen analysis carried out if you are having difficulties conceiving.  I’ve written more about semen analysis in this article.

This is not an exhaustive list, and you are likely to see many, many more fertility related abbreviations, particularly if you are having IVF support. Please do feel free to ask me anything if you want them explained.  You can book a discovery call with me if you want to chat about your journey to conceive.  Remember to sign up to my newsletter if you want to read my articles first.

Further Reading:

Ovulation
What affects Fertility
When are the best days to get pregnant?

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What Afffects Fertility – And What Can You Do?

What factors can affect fertility – can you do something to improve it?

I am a reflexologist, and part of working with clients trying to conceive means we look more widely – w/holistically at what is going on in their lives. This is going to be a longer read, so do get a drink, find somewhere comfy to sit, and take your time.

Here are four of the most important areas that I have found usually need a bit of work when people are thinking about their fertility or already trying for a baby. They are something you can do for yourselves – remembering that BOTH of you should be reading! – without the need for too much advice, and can have a really big impact on your fertility.

  • Sleep
  • Gut/vaginal microbiome
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Toxin exposure

Why is sleep important for fertility?

Getting enough sleep is as important as anything else you try when you’re trying to get pregnant.

Although not many studies directly assess the impact of sleep issues on fertility, there is already good evidence that shift workers, particularly those working nights have documented changes to their overall wellbeing. These included weight gain which is hard to shift, changes to menstrual cycles, poor mental health, and increased time to conceive, and feeling tired. Never a good place to start when you want to start or add to your family.

Sleep has a regulating effect on hormones – many of them do their work whilst we are asleep. Any disruption or disturbances to a regular sleep pattern can therefore have an impact on hormones, which regulate or influence fertility, including the quality of sperm and eggs. You can see then that having a good night’s sleep isn’t just important for your rest, but also for your long term health and potential your fertility.

What can you do to improve your sleep? Having a bedtime routine is key – you want to give yourself all the signs that it’s time to rest. Here are some ideas that you can start with today.

– Have a regular bedtime and wake time
– Make sure you get morning daylight (preferably outside) on your face to reset your internal clock
– Reduce exposure to blue light in the evening (phone, tablet, computer, tv)
– Turn off blue light emitting devices at least one hour before your bedtime, and keep them out of your bedroom
– Make sure your sleeping place is cool and dark enough – blackout blinds behind curtains help on light mornings and evenings, or if you have to sleep during the day
– Avoid caffeine 4 -6 hours before bedtime (tea, coffee, fizz, and chocolate) as it acts as a stimulant
– If you work nights, see if you can switch to a daylight pattern for at least a three month period before you start trying to conceive

Why is the gut/vaginal microbiome important for fertility?

What is a microbiome? ‘A microbiome is the community of micro-organisms living together in a particular habitat.’ We have these communities throughout our bodies, about 29% of them live within the gut and around 9% within the vagina.

There are good (helpful) and bad (unhelpful) communities of bacteria within these microbiomes, and getting the balance to swing in favour of the helpful kind will contribute to your physical and mental wellbeing, as well as improving the vaginal/uterine environment and your fertility.

Poor gut health can:

– lead to inflammation within the body, affecting the reproductive organs
– lead to nutrient deficiencies which affect all aspects of wellbeing affecting hormones, egg and sperm quality
– affect the hormonal balance of oestrogen – poor gut health can affecting how it’s regulated which may lead to an oestrogen dominance affecting menstrual cycle health and fertility
– lead to insulin resistance, which can lead to a rise in insulin which has a negative effect on egg quality and menstrual cycles

To support a healthy microbiome, try to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables into your diet. The advice to ‘eat the rainbow’ is a great place to start. You’ll find a few ideas on this page from BBC Food to get you started. Eating what’s called the Mediterranean diet can also be a great support to a healthy gut. It includes a broad range of fresh fruit and vegetables that include oils, good fats, slow-releasing carbohydrates and protein. which all support nutrient absorption, blood sugar and rich in antioxidant which help protect cells (including egg and sperm) from damage, whilst the good fats improve cell membrane quality and help protect against inflammation in the body.

A healthy gut biome will also support a good vaginal biome, but you can also consider adding in a quality supplement designed to support specific vaginal bacteria (such as Nua Fertility). Sensible things to help externally include reducing the use of conventional sanitary products as they contain many chemicals which are very unfriendly for a health vaginal environment. Try to choose organic, non-bleached products, or go re-useable for pads, period pants or menstrual cups. I’ll add a few more tips further down in the ‘avoiding toxins’ section.

Why are lifestyle choices important for fertility?

Unfortunately, many of the things you choose to do are likely to have an impact on your fertility – and not always a positive one. The main culprits are smoking, alcohol use, drug usage and weight. Let’s have a closer look – and remember, I am casting no blame, just aiming to educate you on factors that YOU can change to improve your overall health and fertility.

Smoking
Men who smoke have lower sperm counts, poor motility, and higher numbers of malformed sperm. Nicotine also interferes with absorption of vitamins and minerals, causing increased free-radicals, this is damaging to the developing sperm cells and increases the likelihood of DNA fragmentation. The effect of nicotine in women: as well as being highly toxic, it reduces blood flow to the endometrium (the uterus lining); these two things in themselves are a good enough reason to stop smoking. Alongside that it has a direct impact upon fertility, and increases the chances of miscarriage, still births and abnormalities.

Alcohol
This is the most socially acceptable ‘drug’, and is used more and more to manage stress levels in today’s society. However, it can have devastating impacts on sperm morphology (formation) and motility (ability to swim).
The effects of alcohol upon pregnancy and the developing baby are very well documented, but include increased chance of stillbirth, miscarriage and foetal abnormalities, together with prematurity and life affecting debilities. Alcohol has a direct impact upon the quality of the egg. General advice is now to stay alcohol free whilst trying to conceive and during pregnancy because the effects on development of babies has truly devastating effects.

Weight
Male fertility is affected by being either underweight or overweight. Maintenance of a sensible body weight makes sense. Females that are over- or underweight will also see an impact upon their fertility, as this can create changes in hormone levels, which may restrict your chances of conceiving, and your chances of carrying a baby to full-term. Being overweight changes oestrogen levels, interfering with the menstrual cycle. Being underweight will often impact on ovulation and general menstrual health – both will have a knock-on effect on your general wellbeing.

Cannabis/Recreational Drugs/Prescribed medication
Marijuana lowers blood testosterone diminishing libido, and increasing the likelihood of impotence. It also affects sperm motility and morphology. Recovery time from stopping use is at least 6 weeks. For women using any recreational drugs, understand that they are extremely toxic and have negative impacts on your fertility, libido and the ability to carry a baby to term and in good health. Cocaine increases heart rate, suppresses appetite, and raises body temperature, which is unhelpful when trying to conceive. Frequent use also causes depression.  Steroids are used by some men to enhance their muscle strength, but this does not aid fertility and is incredibly damaging to sperm. Unfortunately, many prescribed medications interfere with fertility. Antibiotics/Anti-Depressants/Beta-blockers – these prescribed medications interfere with the production of healthy, functioning sperm and eggs and may also have negative effects on menstrual cycles. If you are taking any prescription drugs, please check with your GP to ask if they are absolutely necessary, or if there are fertility-friendly alternatives available.

Why is toxin exposure important for fertility?

Unfortunately in today’s world, toxins are all around us. Most of them are generally bad for us, some have particularly nasty effects on your fertility. Elimination of as many as possible (within reason, budget and sanity) will add to the overall impact on your bodies – it may seem a lot to digest at first, but my advice is to take it steady, try and change one or two things a week and that way will be less overwhelming. You will be reading labels more carefully!

What to look out for?

Xenobiotics/Phytoestrogens/Oestrogens
Xenobiotics are the chemicals found in cosmetics, pesticides, food preservatives and cleaning products, they affect sperm function, production and testosterone levels. Looking for organic or environmentally friendly products will help here – many of them have had the irritants and preservatives that can cause issues removed. Start with washing liquid/powder (please try to stop using fabric conditioner – it’s full of hormone disrupting chemicals), cleaning sprays and toilet cleaner. Sanitary products can also hide some pretty unpleasant chemicals, and I would suggest that this is an easy place to start making changes (as above), reduce the use of very perfumed, coloured or antibacterial bathroom products – toilet paper, wet wipes for personal hygeine, bubble bath, shower gels, shampoo etc., and try more natural alternatives like hand made soaps or solid products (more likely to contain fewer dangerous chemicals). Storing food and cooking (eg in microwaves) food in plastic can also add to toxin exposure. If you can, use glass or china to store and heat food, reduce the use of non-stick pans and trays, and keep drinks in china, stainless steel or glass rather than plastic bottles.

Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring oestrogens found in foods such as soya. Soya is found in many prepared foods, including pizza bases, and it would be sensible to reduce this as much as possible from the diet. If you’re following the gut health advice above, you’ll be eating fewer processed foods and will hopefully have lower exposure from these.

Oestrogens are a bit more tricky. The oral contraceptive pill has been responsible for allowing higher levels of oestrogen to contaminate our water supplies, creating havoc with men’s fertility by skewing hormone levels, and impacting on sperm production. There is little that can be done about this currently, but remember, tap water is generally safe to drink (in the UK) and bottled water in plastic is much worse for both you and the planet in the wider scheme of things.  It may be worth considering a water filtering jug whilst you are trying to conceive – this one has a glass jug and refillable filters, which are much more eco-friendly than throw-away cartridges.

Anything else to consider?

Yes, of course, there is always going to be more! However, the four factors that can have an affect on fertility that I have outlined above are all things that you can make changes to. The power is within your hands to make a start. Hopefully you don’t feel completely overwhelmed, but better informed.

If you want to make a start on incorporating these changes, but need someone to help you along the way, then please get in touch. I offer differing levels of support depending on what your needs and budget are – ranging from a 2 hour Zoom consultation with advice tailored to your specific situation, up to three month plus programs which include sessions of holistic therapies, lifestyle and nutrition information, tailored natural products and email support, both in person or via Zoom or as a blended version which makes my services easier to access if you can’t visit me in person.  Send me an email to find out how I can help you, book a free discovery chat, or contact me via my social media channels on Instagram or Facebook.

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Do You Have Monthly Cycles with Variable Lengths? They’re NOT Regular

Guess what I heard in my clinic, again!

Here’s something I hear often in my clinic when I’m gathering information on client’s cycles. ‘Oh yes, I have regular cycles, from 28 to 35 days…’

Hmmmm. A cycle with a variable length like this is NOT regular! A healthy cycle can be anywhere between 21 and 35 days, (28 days is only an AVERAGE) but regularity means that you have the same cycle length each month.

Why should my cycle be regular?

If you are not taking any contraceptive medication, a natural menstrual cycle *should* have two definite phases – the follicular – building up to ovulation, and the luteal – post ovulation, with a day for ovulation in the middle. Each phase has a purpose, and each needs to be long enough so your intricately balanced hormones can do their jobs.

What would a regular cycle be like?

Cycle timing is based on a series of events taking place in the ovaries. First, ovarian follicles are at the end of their development – this is the follicular phase, and should last around two weeks (but it can be shorter or much longer). Second, you have ovulation, which lasts about 24 hours. Finally you have the luteal phase – which is usually around 14 days. Adding this together, a healthy cycle can be anywhere from 21 to 35 days.

The follicular phase – what is happening?

The follicles maturing during this cycle started developing months ago – they take 100 days to mature from the dormant/sleeping stage to ovulation. If they become unhealthy during any part of that development process, you are likely to see a period/cycle problem months later – this is why regularising cycles can be a long term (3 months+) project. We can’t fix issues with a snap of the fingers – addressing issues over a period of time is much more likely to have an effect, but it’s not instant!

During the follicular phase, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) rises, which stimulates the ovarian follicles. The developing follicles release an oestrogen (estradiol), which helps to stimulate the uterine lining into thickening in preparation for a baby. It also stimulates the production of fertile cervical fluids, which helps sperm survive and travel towards the egg that should be released at ovulation.

When a dominant follicle finally ripens, luteinising hormone (LH) triggers it to rupture and release its egg – this is ovulation and marks your ‘fertile window’ if you are trying to conceive. The next stage of the cycle is the luteal phase!

Luteal phase – what should happen?

The luteal phase is all about preparing for a pregnancy, and relies on the production of progesterone. Progesterone is magic – it’s made from the empty follicle (now called the corpus luteum) which restructures itself into a gland which secretes progesterone hormone. The corpus luteum is the final stage of the follicle’s 100 day development – so its health is affected by EVERYTHING that affects the follicles during that time.

Progesterone helps increase blood flow to the uterus, making it soft and ready to hold a developing embryo. It keeps the uterine lining intact, in order to sustain a pregnancy. Your basal body temperature rises with progesterone levels. It also balances your oestrogen, and is known as the calming hormone, which can help promote sleep, reduce inflammation, and help you cope with stress.

Problems of short or long cycles

Irregular cycles are an issue, as they are an indicator of fluctuating hormone levels. Of course, our hormones are supposed to fluctuate throughout our cycle, but if they’re doing it at the wrong time, we start to see issues like scanty or heavy bleeds, spotting, PMS and painful periods.

Knowing if you are ovulating or not can be a bit of a mystery, unless you are monitoring signs during your cycle. This would mean charting a basal body temperature every day, observing cervical fluids, positive urine ovulation stick, and having a regular cycle!

Periods are not a sign of ovulation. You can have a cycle without ovulation (anovulation) which is like a follicular phase, followed by breakthrough bleeding, which would again indicate your cycle needs help. They should come every 35 days, otherwise this is irregular, which indicates anovulation or a very long follicular phase. If your period comes before 21 days, this is a short cycle, again an irregular cycle which is anovulatory, short follicular phase OR short luteal phase – which indicates progesterone issues.

What can I do to support a regular cycle?

We can see that not ovulating, spotting, painful periods and variable length cycles can each (or combined) have a potentially negative affect on fertility, because the cycle does not provide optimal conditions for pregnancy, or a smooth transition between one cycle and the next.

Be aware that it can take a few months for anything you do to have an effect on your cycle. My suggestion if you have irregular cycles is to start charting your cycle, not just your period, because this gives you valuable information. You can use that information for the NEXT cycle and those beyond.

With my clients, I recommend using either a digital thermometer and temperature charting app like Fertility Friend (my favourite, for lots of reasons, go and have a look!), or a medical device like Ovusense – who offer an internal or skin-worn monitor, enabling you to chart with very little effort. Doing this, together with monitoring your cervical fluids can help you see patterns, and whether you are ovulating (or not).

* Track your period – is it light, heavy, how long does it last, do you experience pain, sore breasts etc. Remember emotional changes too – irritation, tearfulness and so on are also related to cycle wellbeing. They are all clues to the state of your hormones. If you’ve recently stopped hormonal contraception, expect cycles to take up to a year to re-establish themselves naturally. Yes, it can take that long!

* Simple lifestyle changes can have a massive impact – and they are usually good for your overall wellbeing too. A balanced and functioning menstrual cycle means your life will be more pleasant – hormones working together instead of wobbling around. Look at your stress factors, what can you do to reduce them? Are you taking any time out for yourself – daily walks, a bit of fun etc. Are you eating regular meals with proteins and veggies, to support gut and brain health? Are you taking Vitamin D during the winter months?

* What about sleep? – it’s an important factor in hormone health – for everyone, not just people trying to conceive. Do you have a dark enough room to get to sleep, and are you getting to bed at a sensible time. Are you switching screens off 2 hours before bedtime, excluding them from the bedroom? We live in such a ‘switched on’ world now, it does matter that you take time out and allow your body and brain to switch off.

Next steps

Investigate my website and social media – I have tips, advice and downloads that might help you. Ask for advice – did you know that I offer a FREE discovery call to potential clients who are looking for support?  Book yours here.

Finally, invest in an expert (and yourself!) if you need in-depth and personalised advice. They take a lot of the hard work and uncertainty on for you – that’s why they’re experts! I can work with you, using my unique blend of therapies, specialist knowledge and experience to support your progress towards balanced and regular hormone health. Regular, specific reflexology protocols designed to support hormone balance have proven results in improving cycle issues like those I have discussed in this post (check on the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists page for case studies and data).  Don’t leave it to Dr Google, get in touch with me using the contact form – it’s on every page of this site!

Tell me, are your cycles regular?

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What a Reflexologist Sees on Your Feet


What do reflexologists see when they work on your feet?

These images may help to explain what reflexologists visualise when they are giving a foot reflexology treament.  Many people don’t understand what we’re doing when we knead, press and touch various areas on your feet, and how we can tell ‘like magic’! what might be going on within your body.

We’re not magicians – we’re trained health professionals

A professionally qualified reflexologist is trained in anatomy and physiology so that they understand the underlying structures and systems of the body.  They use that information together with things like the colour, texture, temperature and tone of your skin to assess what they can see and feel going on, and may be able to identify issues from their observations.

How does this knowledge help reflexologists?

The images above show how reflexologists relate to the skeletal, systems and zones of the body as they appear on your feet.

Slide 1 – the skull and spine. These are key areas relating to the parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for what we like to call the ‘rest and digest’ activation that happens when the body is AT REST – which we aim to work on within a reflexology session.  Working the spinal reflexes is often key to beginning a reflexology treatment, as they really help your body to understand it’s time for a bit of a gentle shut-down.  Many of my clients noticeably slow their breath and become quieter as I work up and down the spine on their feet.

Slide 2 – the systems of the body. In reflexology we ‘map’ organs and systems of the feet. Each system can be worked as a whole, individually or together with a related one – the reproductive and digestive for example.
Many maps are available, reflexologists tend to take these as guides, and work with what they can feel.  I use a variety of maps to guide me when I am working with clients.  If you’d like to see how they work, this one from the Association of Reflexologists is fun to use.  It’s important to note that we DO NOT diagnose*, but work alongside allopathic/conventional modern medical techniques.

Slide 3 – Vertical zones of the feet, from 1 – 5 working from the instep outwards. Each zone reflects a vertical ‘slice’ of the body, with organs and systems located in that zone. Working in Zone 1 would stimulate or sedate the trachea, heart, pancreas, bladder and some of the reproductive organs.  Zone Theory orginated with Eunice Ingham, who researched, developed and wrote a book on how the reflexology zones could be used to support health and wellbeing.  You can read more about her work at the Institute of International Reflexology website.

So, what we see on your feet are pieces of a puzzle!

As you may now understand, there are many layers to consider during a reflexology treatment – this article is merely a brief representation of 3 aspects a reflexologist might consider when looking at your feet.  Of course, we haven’t even delved into other factors which as holistic therapists we would also think about – the emotions, your life, family and work, and larger still – issues like worldwide health crises!  They all have an impact on your overall wellbeing – so don’t be surprised if your reflexologist asks you some of those deeper questions within the treatment space – we like to puzzle out all the pieces.

*A professionally qualified reflexologist (in the UK) will have anatomy and physiology qualifications as part of their nationally recognised certification, as well as at least 100 hours of practical experience before they can work.  They will usually be a member of a professional association such as the Association of Reflexologists (as I am), be registered with Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, have Public Liability insurance as a minimum, take part in mandatory CPD (updating their knowledge) and will be happy to show you all their certificates!  Do make sure that your chosen therapist is a professional in their field – you’ll be looked after and have the reassurance of their knowledge supporting your wellbeing.

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When Are the Best Days to Get Pregnant, How Often Should We be Trying?

When are the best days to get pregnant? This question is one that comes up frequently during conversations with people who are trying for a baby. I suspect that any education you may have had around pregnancy was probably about prevention, and not about promoting it! The advice I received at school made me believe that any sexual activity had a high risk of pregnancy – without any discussion of how the monthly cycle is actually designed to prevent it most of the time.

However, what we’ve learned, or been taught in the past often misses out the important point that you can only get pregnant in your ‘fertile window’ – which is just about 6 days per monthly cycle.

In this blog I’m going to help you to understand what the fertile window is, and how you can find out when yours is. What happens next is up to you!

What is a ‘fertile window’?

This is the time in your cycle when pregnancy is possible, and is calculated by adding the maximum life span of sperm (about 5 days) + egg (1 day) together. Thus, technically your fertile window is about 6 days per month. That school ed – not much use, eh?  Not the whole month, two weeks, just six days. However….

Wait! The fertile window is only 6 days?

Yep. Sperm live for about 5 days in fertile cervical fluid, and eggs a mere 24 hours. You can see it’s critical to be able to get sperm in place at least a couple of days BEFORE the egg is mature enough to hatch (called ovulation), to give the best possible chances of them meeting up.

Here’s that however from the last point above… my warning is – that although technically your window could be around six days, the three days including ovulation and the two days previous are likely the best fertile window when you should be trying to conceive.

But how do I know when ovulation happens?

Great question – the answer is you won’t know unless you are tracking your menstrual cycle. In fertility reflexology we need information to see what is happening during your cycle (unless you have a magic window into your ovaries, we have no way of knowing).

We get information by using a combination of tracking basal body temperature (BBT) using a simple digital thermometer and a temperature recording chart (or app), together with noting changes and types of cervical fluids, and keeping track of any significant symptoms (a rise in libido, feeling more energetic, etc.).

Put it all together

Altogether this information really helps as a good guide to the natural ebb and flow of your cycle, as well as helping to pinpoint the most likely time when you ovulate.  This in turn helps you to time when to try for a baby. Remember, ovulation and the 2 days BEFORE are the magic spot in your cycle.

Understanding that you have a fertile window, and being able to see when it is coming so that you can time your baby making activities is likely to dramatically increase your chances of becoming pregnant.

Want more help?

If you want to know more about tracking your cycle to pinpoint ovulation, I’ve made an easy to follow Guide to your Fertile Window which you can download here, together with a bonus file – 4 Types of Fertile Fluid to help you spot ovulation.

If you want to know more about how fertility reflexology can help you prepare for conception and pregnancy, book a discovery call with me now to start your journey.  Support packages start at £90 and can be tailored to YOUR needs.

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Gentle Release Therapy – Working with Three Key Organs

What is Gentle Release Therapy?

Gentle Release is based on the belief that vital energy (qi) flows around the body, allowing us health and balance. This new therapy combines and draws from various different techniques including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles, abdominal massage, Qigong (energy work), cranio-sacral and neck releases, reflexology, and acupuncture.

The aim of Gentle Release therapy is to gently bring focus and attention to the body, and allow the energy to flow freely to and from areas that it may be holding in stagnation, such as muscle tension, or emotions for example, using energy work with hands usually on the abdomen and head.  Sometimes it’s helpful to use the techniques to balance hormones or the lymphatics by working on the feet, it all depends on the needs of the person on the day. This is a therapy where you do not need to remove clothes, and can also be done remotely, allowing you to remain comfortable at home.

What is Energy?

If you’ve ever experienced a person who makes you feel really drained after spending time with them, or had someone make you feel particularly uncomfortable (without actually doing anything), then you are sensing energy. Sometimes you can also get ‘vibes’ (another way of expressing energy) from buildings or places. Energy is made by us, surrounds us and we are sensitive to it in different ways.

Illnesses occur when these energy flows become blocked or stagnant. We cannot see these energies, but like the wind filling the sails of a boat, we can see the effects of energy manifesting as sound, light, emotions, feelings and so on.

Three Key Organs – The Liver, Heart and Kidneys

Why do we focus on these organs? They are key to many of the body’s most basic functions.

The liver is where our blood is made. In TCM when the body is active (daytime) blood flows to the ligaments and tendons, muscles and sinews, and at night, the blood is stored in the liver. If you find that your joints are stiff or achey in the morning it is a sign of liver energy struggling to move blood back round the body.

The liver allows the flow of energy (qi) through the body, in every direction, which can affect the emotional state, digestion and production of bile (important for digestion of fat). Stagnation of the liver qi can therefore have an impact on proper digestion producing burping, reflux, nausea and vomiting.

The liver is associated with anger – and we can store frustration, resentment and rage – which during the past year we may have an abundance of. Repressing anger can cause a stagnation of the qi or energy, blocking the flow.

The heart is the channel to all the energy within your body. The heart governs the blood by transforming food energy into blood and then circulating it. It also houses the mind – as mental activity and consciousness live in the heart. When the heart is strong, and there is plenty of blood, there is balance – emotionally, with clear consciousness, good memory, clear thinking and sleep.

As the energy of the heart governs the state of the blood vessels, the complexion can be affected – a red face may indicate a heart issue. Likewise the heart qi affects the appearance of the tongue (especially the tip, and the taste buds) and influences talking and speech, talking too much and speech difficulties.

If the heart energy is stagnating or blocked, then we often find that stress and anxiety like to collect here, signs include dull thinking, poor sleep and restlessness.

The kidneys govern our physical and mental strength. They are key to many of the processes that keep our bodies functioning, including those for making bone marrow – including the spinal cord and brain, as well as controlling the manufacture of sperm, and eggs.

They are responsible for birth, growth and development. They also impact on our physical and mental strength and our willpower. Blockages or stagnation in kidney energy can show up as poor memory or concentration, poor sight, dizziness and fertility issues. You might experience lower back pain, problems with the knees, or feeling week and tired.

Our kidneys are key to so much of our wellbeing, but they are also where we store up feelings of fear.

As you can see, just focusing on these three organs, there are a lot of processes and flows which help our bodies to function properly, and any blockages to the energy can have significant effects on our wellbeing, both physically and emotionally.

A Gentle Release Treatment

This is just a brief look at how energy affects three organs of the body. A full Gentle Release treatment would focus on more organs, including the lungs, reproductive systems, the nerves of the brain, and the hormone and lymphatic systems. We also work on emotional releases, which can act as blockages as much as those in the physical organs, and can sometimes helps to release deep-seated feelings or beliefs that you may want to shift.

A full Gentle Release treatment is ideal to use when supporting the emotional aspects of a fertility journey, allowing you to focus on unblocking energy all round the body – especially in the reproductive systems.  Working to correct imbalances from the traumatic emotional impact that people often experiences is as necessary as working on the physical aspects that may be affecting you at this time.  Indeed, we can purely focus on an emotional trauma clearing, if that is what your body needs at the time of your treatment.

I look at Gentle Release as a way of heading off any potential issues, before symptoms appear, allowing our bodies and minds to repair and re-balance in a very simple and gentle way.  It also supports your body back to balance if it’s already hanging up the ‘out of order’ sign!

If we think of the body as housing ‘motorways’ of energy, then Gentle Release is there to unblock the traffic jams and allow the the traffic to flow without disturbance. If the energy flows well, it brings vitality and balance, encouraging the body and mind to be as healthy as possible.

Using Gentle Release techniques on  just these three areas can really help to encourage a relaxed state, where you can step away from the stresses and strains of every day life. It can help to improve feelings of mental and emotional peace as well as physical wellbeing.

When I lead guided Gentle Release sessions online, these are the three organs that we initially work with.

Guided Release sessions online have been very welcome for small groups and individuals, especially for the periods of isolating lockdown that we have all experienced during the past year.

Want to know more about guided Gentle Release for groups? Get in touch with me using the contact form, or book an individual Gentle Release full session here.

Summer Slowdown Sessions

During August, I am running a Summer Slowdown online, using Guided Gentle Release for people who want to re-gather after the past year of pandemic stress, supporting you if you are struggling with stress, isolation, or the ordinary day-t0-day busyness of life.

If you want to be able to take time out for yourself, these sessions are ideal – it’s just an hour, every Sunday.  An hour to ensure your mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing are prioritised. I will update a booking link here shortly!

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How reflexology plays a part in reducing symptoms of Migraine

Listen to this blog post

What are migraines?

Migraine is a complex condition with a wide variety of symptoms. The main feature is a painful, often throbbing, headache. Other symptoms may include disturbed vision, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, feeling sick and vomiting.¹

However, the symptoms will vary and people can experience different symptoms during different attacks. Attacks can last from 4 to 72 hours and most people are free from symptoms between attacks. Migraine can have an enormous impact on work, family and social lives.

What are the causes of Migraine?

There is no known cause for migraine, although most people with it are genetically predisposed to migraine. If you are susceptible to migraine there are certain triggers which commonly occur. These include stress, lack of food, alcohol, hormonal changes in women, lack of sleep and the environment.

A recent online article in The Guardian (Australia) newspaper stated ‘despite the Global Burden of Disease study finding migraine to be the sixth-highest cause worldwide of years lost due to disability, migraine is an under-recognised condition that is often treated with the wrong drugs.’³

  • Migraines typically affect women more frequently than men – in the UK, 1 in 4 women, 1 in 12 men experience migraine
  • Most migraine sufferers experience their first migraine in young adulthood, but it is possible for migraines to start later in life
  • 5.85 million people aged 16-65 years experience 190 000 migraine attacks every day and lose 25 million days from work or school each year because of them²

The complex nature of migraine means that the treatments available are varied and differ from person to person. There is currently no cure for migraine.

Can Reflexology help Migraines?

In an effort to answer the question above, and to assess effective alternative treatments to medication (many of which have unwanted side effects, as well as being costly to prescribe), the Association of Reflexologists carried out a research project to detail the potential benefits that reflexology may offer to migraine sufferers.

Professionally qualified AoR reflexologists collected data and case study histories for people with migraine, and treated them with regular foot reflexology for 6 or more sessions. The requirements for clients were:

They had a migraine diagnosis by GP or hospital
They were still experiencing migraines
They hoped to benefit from reflexology
Their migraines were of sufficient frequency to see a difference over 6 treatments or more (e.g. one migraine a year would not be frequent enough)

What the Data revealed

Highlights of the published study⁴ showed that:

Self-funded, self-referred case series using MYMOP can indicate change in migraine patients

90% of the participants in this study resulted in a profile change of more than one point in the 7-point MYMOP scale

This change is recognised as being of clinical significance to the individual

60% exhibited a zero MYMOP score for symptom 1 after six treatments

These results indicate that reflexology has the potential to provide relief from symptoms of migraine. Imagine if reflexology were prescribed as part of the management for migraine symptoms? It is my belief that the burden of costs to the NHS over a migraine patient’s lifetime could potentially be significantly reduced if holistic therapies were considered as a front-line first intervention.

Reflexology Helped this Client’s Migraine

To show you how the study worked in real life, I want to share one of my client’s experiences (shared with permission).

My client Annie* is female. At the time of the study Annie was in the age group 41- 50 and came to me almost in despair, hoping for some help with her migraines. She’d recently had a very scary incident with a severe hemiplegic migraine, which had resulted in a hospital stay, and then a lasting left-side weakness afterwards.

She was experiencing at least 2 migraines EVERY week. On average they were lasting 3 days. She’d been experiencing migraines for at least 25 years. In order to get by, she needed to take fairly strong medication – which she didn’t like (because of the side effects) and wanted to stop taking.

For collection data, we used a MYMOP recording form. This was used to assess two physical or mental symptoms, and rate them on a scale, where 0 was the best it could be, and 6 was the worst it could be. We also had a score for an activity that the problem made difficult, and one for general wellbeing. These criteria were all scored ‘on the day’ when Annie came for her reflexology.

Treatment Notes

Annie found that almost all the points that I worked on her feet during her first treatment were very sensitive.  From my reflexology point of view, this indicated to me that many areas of the body were out of balance.

I worked very gently with each point, particularly those of the head, neck and spine, aiming to soothe the nervous system response.  Over time, at each session, Annie was able to tolerate more touch, with a little less sensitivity.

I worked the same specific reflexes for the head, neck and spine each time, incorporated into a full reflexology routine.  By the time we got to the 12th session, Annie’s feet were normal to touch, were not sensitive to any degree and felt more balanced overall.

The day after her first reflexology session, where Annie was almost unable to tolerate the lightest of touch, I receive this email:

“Wow! I just had to email to let you know I feel absolutely great! I had a slight headache on Monday afternoon (not bad enough to take any tablets) & felt quite sleepy but woke up on Tuesday with no headache, no pressure in my head & just very relaxed about everything. I haven’t felt like that for at least a year. Today I’ve woke up feeling exactly the same. Even my Mum said, it’s like having the old you back!!”

What a great message to receive.  We carried on with the reflexology over 2 sets of 6 sessions (a total of 12) for about a year. We continued assessing the symptoms with MYMOP forms, and although not every session had such noticeable results, we did see a massive change overall.

As you can see from the charts above, the symptoms of migraine scored 0 by the 12th session.  This client showed an amazing progression from non-tolerance of touch, with twice weekly migraines, to being able to experience reflexology in comfort and ease, with ZERO migraines. Annie was able to work without the fear of regularly needing sick leave for migraines. Her life at home was more enjoyable because her wellbeing was better overall. Her migraines disappeared.

I recently got in contact with Annie, to ask if migraines were still a part of her life or not – she replied that she had experienced only one or two, which she recognised were likely responding to extreme life stresses at the time (moving house, divorce etc.)

This pattern has been repeated for other clients with migraines (admittedly less severely affected than Annie) and the data collection overall showed that having reflexology treatments made a statistical improvement for clients treated in the study.

*Names have been changed

** References:

1. https://www.migrainetrust.org/ The Migraine Trust, online
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12950377/ 2003 Sep;23(7):519-27. doi: 10.1046/j.1468-2982.2003.00568.x. The prevalence and disability burden of adult migraine in England and their relationships to age, gender and ethnicity, T J Steiner, A I Scher, W F Stewart, K Kolodner, J Liberman, R B Lipton
3. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/jul/01/i-usually-end-up-calling-an-ambulance-why-migraine-pain-is-not-just-a-bad-headache
4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1744388120311051?dgcid=coauthor&fbclid=IwAR28mZABtyQb1zGWRaO7gWtqup59wImVnVS4kfWbMmw1lWJSuUDr5egrRyY, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Volume 41, November 2020, 101230, A pragmatic case series of clients living with medically diagnosed migraines self-referred to reflexology, Tracey A.Smith, Sarah L.Thurgood²