Ovulation and egg quality.

An illustration of sperm moving towards the egg.

I’ve been talking to lots of people this week about egg quality and ovulation. I thought I’d give some thoughts from both a Chinese and Western medical perspective.

In Chinese Medicine the quality of a woman’s eggs is determined by a combination of factors; The health of that particular woman’s own mother and father and how her pregnancy went and also the diet and lifestyle of the same woman growing up. These form a baseline which is then influenced by how that women lives her adult life on a day to day basis.

This is echoed by modern Western medical evidence. Genetics play a large part in the number and quality of a woman’s eggs, but the environment the eggs develop in can be affected by lifestyle factors, and this in turn can impact on the egg itself.

The right hormones are needed in the right amounts at the right time during a woman’s cycle for an egg to grow, ripen and be released from an ovary. Stress, lack of sleep, exhaustion and unbalanced blood sugar all impact badly on hormonal balance and research shows that increased stress hormones can be detrimental to egg health.

In Chinese medicine a balance of rest, gentle exercise, good sleep and regular good quality nutrition helps fertility. A general principal is to aim to go to bed with a little bit of energy still left in reserve.

Drinking alcohol, smoking and having a poor diet increases a persons free radical load and free radicals damage both eggs and sperm. A diet rich in antioxidants helps to neutralise free radicals, so brightly coloured fruit and veg are really helpful in protecting vulnerable eggs and sperm.

Studies have shown that acupuncture can help increase blood flow to the pelvic area and the ovaries. A good blood flow allows more oxygen and nutrients to get through and helps boost the health of the eggs as well as helping thicken the developing endometrial lining ready to receive a fertilised egg.

The anti-inflammatory diet that I’m writing about at the moment contains some good principals for a healthy way of eating. Try it out!

The anti-inflammatory diet and Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

A photograph of a woman holding a glass of milk.

Just a quick note for people with poly cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

These anti-inflammatory dietary recommendations are perfect for you, especially in relation to stabilising your blood sugar levels, increasing your intake of high quality protein and keeping control of weight gain. This definitely isn’t a diet which aims at weight loss. You probably will find that, if you have a bit of weight to lose, it will gradually drop away, but don’t restrict your food intake – you’ll probably find that you need to eat much more than you’re used to.

There is lots of research showing that protein is important for egg development and quality. Milkis often recommended because the whey protein has the added advantage of boosting glutathione production (an important antioxidant). If you find that you don’t react to cows milk then you could try a small glass of milk a couple of times a day as part of a between meal snack, or you could try whey protein powder. I tend to prefer using foods as close to their natural state as possible, so perhaps try the milk first.

Anti-inflammatory breakfasts!

A photograph of porridge with dried fruit and nuts.

Anti-inflammatory breakfasts! Sounds very unappetising but actually they are one of the easiest to make and the ingredients which are best to aim towards suit breakfasts really well!

Perhaps the first thing to say is: “Have some breakfast!”

And that would almost do, except that it would be great not to just reach for toast and jam or most packet cereals!

I’ve made some kedgerees at weekends, (I’ve always loved kedgeree!), but most weekdays I wouldn’t have enough time so I opt for porridge, muesli or granola.

I’ve really struggled finding commercial muesli or granola which hasn’t got a depressing amount of added sugar hidden in it. Look out for malted flakes, puffed sweetened rice, crystallised of syrup enhanced dried fruit. These add up to a really high percentage of the overall carbohydrate content in many cereals.

Rude Health do a granola which is better on this front than most if you want a back up in the cupboard. The Dorset Cereal Company looked so good, but really let me down when I looked at the ingredients!

So I’m making my own or opting for home made porridge which is much more straight forward.

I’ll post a muesli and granola recipe next time but for now here’s my morning porridge recipe:

For just me I use half a mug of oats with a mug of water and a tiny bit of salt.

In the same saucepan and at the same time i put a handful of a dried fruit mix that I make myself.

This dried fruit mix lasts me for a week or so after I’ve made it. I chop up into largish bits, dried apricots (unsulphured), dried dates, figs, mango, peach, coconut, prunes and a few raisins, and anything else that hasn’t been treated with sulphur, syrup or glycerine and still looks nice!

I chop a fresh apple into the porridge mix (I’ve got a fantastic apple tree called Irish peach which produces perfect apples for this!) and cook everything until it starts bubbling and thickens up.

Admittedly this makes a huge portion but I almost always manage it, and if I don’t then the saucepan scrapings go to my hens who turn it into eggs – fantastic!

Which brings me to another perfect breakfast food of course – eggs!

Have lots of them, they’re lovely!

For my clients who might be pregnant, go carefully with eggs – just make sure they’re cooked through.

Happy breakfasting!

ps. Don’t drink a litre of water after this or you’ll explode, all you 2 litre water-drinkers!

Anti-inflammatory Diet

A photograph of turmeric root.

Here it is at last!

An anti inflammatory diet that anyone can do with a bit of planning ahead!

I’ve seen an increasing number of clients recently who would love to try to make some changes to help themselves, but are out-faced by the mountain of conflicting dietary advice there is out there.

Chinese Medicine has a fantastic approach to how and what we eat.

As always with Chinese Medicine, it’s very individually tailored; taking into account the time of year, climate, constitution and individual health needs of each person. But at its core it has the same basic principals for making food as easy to digest as possible, so that we can extract the energy that we need and love to make our lives as fulfilling as possible.

So I’ve taken Chinese Medicine principals and merged them with the best researched and recommended dietary advice for helping reduce inflammation in the body.

Just to prove how determined I’ve been to make sure this is achievable while keeping up a busy lifestyle and a love of good food, I’ve been eating this way for two months now and its just felt easier and easier!

So…here we go…..

First of all who would this be good for?

Well anyone with any level of inflammation!

That would include sports injuries, arthritis and general aches and pains, autoimmune problems for example rheumatoid arthritis and MS, hay fever and other conditions causing sinus inflammation, menopause or other problems relating to a drop in hormone levels for example PMT, and anything else where inflammation is causing problems.

Inflammation often causes pain and a need for our bodies to try and repair things and that can be a cause of tiredness, low energy and not recovering or feeling as well as we feel we should, so I’d give this a try if any of that fits the bill too!

What to have lots of:

– Vegetables. You can limit tomatoes if you like. I’m eating tomatoes because they have so many health benefits, but I’m limiting concentrated tomato paste.

– Fish. Especially fish that live in cold water. I’m avoiding farmed fish and most tinned fish, although I’m having Fish 4 ever sustainably caught, tinned fish.

– Fruit. Lots of delicious in-season fruit around at the moment. I’m avoiding unripe fruit including fruit that’s imported and will probably never properly ripen. This isn’t such a problem at the moment but for example, in Winter I’d avoid strawberries.

– Nuts and seeds. I’m making a big mix of hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, linseed, poppy seeds, un-hulled sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds. Lightly toast them and keep them to add to things in handfuls, or just snack on when you’re hungry.

– Healthy oils (pumpkin oil, hemp oil, olive oil).

– Pulses (I love adding cannellini beans, butter beans, chick peas and lentils to vegetable casseroles and tagines.

But don’t panic!

I think it’s important not to get too focussed on the things that are best limited. I’m relaxing things at weekends and having a big cappuccino and croissant for breakfast for example!

An excellent Chinese Medicine principal is that whatever we do shouldn’t feel too forced, unnatural or stressful. In dietary terms this includes fasting, drinking lots of cold water at meal times, only having juices or smoothies as our nutrition and on and on.

I see so many people who have ended up restricting their diets so severely and fearfully that food becomes primarily stressful.

Not what we’re after with this at all!

Bearing this in mind I think I’ll launch this just in its present format!

Anyone who wants to have a go or join me on this dietary adventure, start off working on the list of things to have lots of!

Keep that up for a week and then get going on the things to limit; I’ll write about these on Friday!

Good luck!

Seasonal Affective Disorder

A photograph of a Paper White Narcissi

Its been a really busy week, so sorry for not updating earlier! Here’s some thought’s about SAD from a Chinese Medicine point of view as promised.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is something I’m already seeing a lot of this year as a result of our disappointingly cold, wet Summer.

As the year closes down, the hours of daylight decrease rapidly and the intensity of the sunlight diminishes too.

It’s a time of year that really does separate people out into two very different responses, both physically and emotionally.

For some of us it’s a time of accelerating, creative, social activity. We look forward to evenings of fires and cosy pubs, pulling on woolly scarves, hats and wellies and settling into finding the perfect sloe gin recipe.

For the rest of us it’s a depressing time of short, muddy days, with birds migrating, colds and coughs starting in earnest, and the worry of difficult family members all coming together in an overheated room.

SAD syndrome is, of course, in the latter camp.

This is Yang deficiency in Chinese Medicine. It’s a lack of the natural, warm, dry, upliftingbright energy that is Yang in Chinese Medicine.

The thought of losing it for all those months that lie ahead, as well as the subliminal, day shortening messages that tell us it’s going, send us into a downward spiral of de-energised  depression.

Here are some ways of combating it or, at least, lessening its impact.

Daylight simulating bulbs are available which help our senses feel that the sun might still be shining somewhere! Have a look online.

Its also a good time to start going to the gym in the late afternoon or evening, or finding an evening class somewhere warm, well lit and stimulating!

Another helpful thing is to do some preparatory work for the Spring. This could be planting some bulbs in pots or in the garden. I love the scented Narcissi like paper white and Winston Churchill. Hyacinths are good too; in fact all of the lovely, early scented bulbs are good for promising ourselves that the Spring will come and our senses will be woken up again!

Rake up leaves when the weather is at its kindest, and make some compost for the garden. When its cold and wild outside, tuck up and look through some seed catalogues.

Cooking can be good, too. Look through all your cookery books and try out recipes that you haven’t tried before. Especially those for warming, spicy soups, casseroles and slow cooked, root based dishes.

Make a decision to look after yourself this Winter, so when Spring comes, as it will, you’ll be ready for it!

Of course this all still needs to be balanced by earlier nights to give us our increased need for rest at this time of year.