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How to Stay Cool in Extreme Heatwaves

Don’t Panic – There’s a Red Warning for Extreme Heat in the UK this week

It’s all we’re hearing on the news right now, and if you’ve missed it I will be amazed!  However, there’s no need to panic, I have collected my top five tips on staying cool and hydrated, so you can keep well.

Cool Down First

Start your day with a short cool shower, a tepid bath or even a cool strip wash.  This really helps, especially if you’ve had a hot and restless night.  Make sure that you are keeping the water at a temperature low enough to cool you down, and remember to get your head wet if you can.  This helps your whole body to cool down.  You can also run a bowl of tepid water and just soak your wrists for 5 minutes, or even one for your feet and ankles if you have any mobility issues.

Fruits and Vegetables

Eat plenty of fruits and veggies that contain water, like watermelon, cucumber, kiwis, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes – you get the idea.  This is a super easy way to add easy fluids, especially for younger children, or to pack out your lunchbox.

Up Your Hourly Fluid Intake

This might be obvious, but you will need to drink plenty of fluids – at least one drink per hour throughout the day.  Aviod alcohol and caffeine as they can make you more thirsty. Remember to bring a water bottle if you are out and about, and top it up whenever you can.

Add Fluids from Food

MORE fluids in your food.  Choose to add things like soup, hummus, yoghurt and dips, smoothies made with water to easily add even more hydration into your diet.  Whizz up frozen fruit mixes half and half with water and freeze into small ice lolly moulds for a tasty, thirst-quenching cooler.

Stay Shady!

Keep the sun out.  Close curtains and blinds on the sunny side of any rooms, and remember to move around and open them when the sun has moved away.  Open windows to allow any cross-breezes, but keep in the shade as much as possible.  Avoid the sun between 10am and 5pm.  If you have a garden with shade, remember it may sometimes be cooler OUTSIDE (especially under large, shady trees).  Finally, sleeping may be more comfortable in ground floor rooms – be prepared to be flexible over sleeping times and places whilst it’s very warm overnight.
I hope these tips will help you to stay cool, hydrated and safe – please share them if they have.
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Three Most Popular Myths About Reflexology – Busted!

There are many more myths surrounding reflexology treatments, but these three are the ones that I get asked about the most.

Whether I’m treating people for fertility, pregnancy, or menopause issues, or aiming to improve their overall wellbeing, reflexology is a powerful tool that can make a big difference to how they feel on a daily basis.

Many people turn to reflexology when they are trying to conceive, or looking for help with other conditions like fibromyalgia, migraine, sleep issues or joint pain. Often people will receive reflexology to help them relax and unwind.

Reflexology has been around as a holistic therapy in various forms for over 5,000 years, but many people still   know very little about the practice, or make assumptions about reflexology that are just wrong. In this blog, read about the top three myths that people usually have about reflexology.

Myth 1 – It Hurts

Perhaps the biggest myth about reflexology is the idea that it’s painful, I promise you that this is simply not true! Reflexology relies on communication between the practitioner and the client, paying strong attention to what your body needs. As a result, the process is gentle, peaceful, and satisfying. There may be some moments of discomfort when certain areas are worked on, but these are usally fleeting, and indicate that a particular zone, system or organ may be out of balance. If you are experiencing pain, tell your therapist – they should stop or assess their technique to ensure your comfort.

Myth 2 – Reflexology Cures Diseases

Due to the fact that people turn to reflexology as an alternative to seeing a GP, it is often wrongly assumed that reflexologists can diagnose or cure illnesses and conditions. Your reflexologist may have clues to how your body is feeling, but will not make any diagnosis based on what they see or feel on your feet.

The truth is that reflexology does not deal with conditions, but stimulates the nervous system throughout the body and brings it back to a state of homeostasis.  This helps to promote your body’s healing as well as sense of general wellbeing.  Reflexology is not a substitute for conventional medicine, however it can be used effectively alongside conventional medical treatments, including recovery from surgery, cancer therapies, IVF cycles etc.

Myth 3 – It’s Just a Massage

For people seeing treatments taking place, reflexology may look like a foot massage!  It is so much more than simply stimulating the skin and muscles to promote relaxation. Reflexology treatments are based around gently manipulating specific reflex points on the feet that link to organs, muscles, and systems around the body.

Working on these zones around the foot activates the nervous system and can help areas of imbalance and tension, leading to boosted circulation, reduction of pain, and more energy throughout the body. Put simply, reflexology therapy is much more than a massage.

If you are looking for wellbeing or fertility support in Weymouth, I am here to provide personalised reflexology treatments that leave you feeling more grounded and less stressed, allowing you to heal and rest.

Please get in touch to ask any questions or arrange an appointment, or use the ‘book’ button to schedule a call.

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How Avoiding Toxins Can Improve Your Fertility

As someone who works with TTC, fertility, and wellbeing clients in Weymouth and online, I often find people worry about how exposure to toxins can reduce their chances of conceiving and how they may affect a healthy pregnancy. Both males and females can be affected. We do indeed encounter all kinds of toxins in today’s rapidly built-up, constantly-overheating world, and some of them are hard to avoid.

There are ways to reduce your exposure to toxins to a certain extent. Eliminating toxins to enhance fertility can be looked at from a two-tier perspective: the surface-level/easier to avoid toxins and then deeper level (more effort required) toxins. This post walks you through both kinds and what you can do about them.

Surface-Level Toxins

There are a number of every-day toxins that you may encounter on a daily basis, and generally they don’t do too much damage. However, in the case of fertility and when you’re trying to conceive, continual exposure to them can have a negative effect. One obvious source of toxins is smoking and smokers; quitting smoking, and staying away from exposure to smokers as much as possible is a must. Other things you can do include using more natural cleaning and personal care products – these will usually have higher environmental credentials, look for labels like Bio-D, SESI and eco-leaf.   Avoid highly scented air fresheners, candles and washing products. Avoid dry cleaning your clothes, if possible, as this also reduces your exposure to toxins.

Complex Toxins

The above toxins are what you would call superficial toxins – chemicals that can be avoided with lifestyle changes. However, other toxins are more deeply rooted and harder to avoid, and can negatively affect the body’s hormone balance, and therefore affect fertility by interfering with egg and sperm formation, as well as the internal evironment. These are the toxin esposures that you would discuss with me in greater detail.

An example would be Bisphenols – they are widely used in plastic products, can linings, and sales receipts printed on paper with a glossy sheen. Another plastic-based toxin group are Phthalates, which are often added to toys, footwear, food packaging, and care products as a way of making them more flexible. You should also be careful about pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides, which can sometimes be found on packaged food or in garden sheds.

There are other potentially damaging toxins out there, such as parabens, POPs, and heavy metals. Knowing what to do about them is not easy, but I am here to help you. My fertility, TTC, and wellbeing advice in Weymouth and online gives you the chance to outline your lifestyle and potential exposures, which in turn allows me to recommend a personalised treatment plan that may include diet, lifestyle changes, and reflexology.

Together, we will come up with a solution that ensures you stay away from as many toxins as possible and have the best possible chance of conceiving. Feel free to get in touch to arrange your initial consultation, or to book a free call.

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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 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, 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.