Dietary Supplements; are yours making you sick?

A recent survey estimated that nearly half of the US adult population (~114 million people) regularly takes dietary supplements. In fact, last year Consumer Reports estimated that our passion for these products costs us over $15 billion; more than $150 per person and that didn’t even include the amount that we spend on vitamins. Unfortunately, emerging information shows that we’re often not getting what we’ve paid for, or worse, we can be taking in products that can actually impair our health.

In this consumer driven market, products tend to target the most popular problems or conditions including infertility and pregnancy. Unfortunately the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have identified a growing trend of tainted products. Many have been found to be contaminated with toxic plant material, poisonous heavy metals and bacteria that can create various illnesses. Worse still, the supplements that have been confirmed to be problematic are believed to be a small fraction of the growing problem. How did we get to this point? It dates back to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) under which vitamins, minerals, botanical products, amino acids and tissue extracts were all classified as “dietary supplements.” According to this regulation these products are presumed to be safe and can be marketed to consumers with no pre-release testing and very little oversight. The end result has been a growing list of consumer complaints, possible health complications, and uninvestigated claims of efficacy.

In reality, anything that promotes health can also have adverse effects. This is as true for supplements as it is for medications. That’s why as more of these products target men/women wanting to conceive or women that are already pregnant it is important to be your own advocate; both as a consumer and as a patient. Especially since a growing number of supplements are tainted with impurities and unlisted ingredients.

In 2007 the US FDA published a report titled “Survey Data on Lead in Women’s and Children’s Vitamins.” I find it disturbing that the investigators concluded that of the 324 products tested they contained levels of impurities that were considered “safe/tolerable exposures.” Yet, they all tested positive for lead! As a healthcare provider and patient advocate I’m outraged People shouldn’t unknowingly purchase and consume products that introduce toxins into their body. Fortunately there are steps that you can take to protect yourself and your family:

• Go organic—A growing number of studies show that organically produced products are higher in health promoting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. By choosing organic products when you can, you’ll decrease your need to supplement your healthy diet.

• Be an informed consumer—Since most supplement manufacturers don’t voluntarily hire agencies to monitor the quality of their product, investigate the quality of the ones you are using. Independent agencies like Consumer Lab test and report on the quality of many supplements.

• Notify your healthcare provider of everything that you’re taking—A growing number of products have been found to be deliberately tainted with active ingredients including prescription medications not approved for use in the United States. Therefore it is important that your doctor know about everything that you’re taking in case you develop a reaction to your supplement or experience an adverse response due to how it interacts with your other medications.

• Periodically re-evaluate your needs—Most dietary supplements have not been well tested despite the claims to the contrary. I recommend that my patients reconsider each product that they’re using at least once a year by asking themselves two questions. First, why did I start this? Second, is it meeting or exceeding my expectations? If you’re not satisfied with these answers discontinue anything that isn’t specifically recommended by your healthcare provider.

Getting out of a tough position; yoga to boost your fertility and improve your health throughout pregnancy

by Lindsay Brin

“For years, yoga has played an important role in my life. It not only helps me manage the stressful life of a fertility specialist but also assisted my wife and me in having our daughter. Since it’s much more difficult to design research studies to prove the benefits of yoga; I thought I’d share another compelling story with you by introducing you to a friend of mine, Lindsay Brin.

Lindsay is a fitness and nutrition expert as well as a former NFL cheerleader. For over 15 years, she’s been helping women achieve the balance of both healthy mind and body. For the last few years however, she has focused more specifically on helping women with infertility as well as during their pregnancy. She has done this through her books, videos, DVD’s and her website. But even more convincing has been her willingness to share her own experience as a successful fertility patient as well. ” Robert Greene, MD, FACOG

In August 2007 I went through my 3rd IVF.  I knew I had the best doctor and it looked like the odds were on my side.  But still I could not get over the emotional & physical turmoil of infertility.  Why does my sister-in-law hold hands with her husband and get pregnant?  Why did we increase my Gonal?  Why did I fill my bladder too much before ET?  How does my husband put up with me right now?  Why?  Why? Why?

Then I realized I was only in control of one thing, my body.  I couldn’t control the situation I was put in but it was time to take control of my attitude, emotional well-being, stress and physical body.

Having been a pre/post-natal fitness expert for several years I knew the incredible benefits of exercise and yoga.  So why didn’t I apply them through my 1st IVF?  Well, I’m not really sure.  All I know is I was an emotional wreck, 10 pounds heavier and cranky!

But if you’re like me, by the 2nd IVF I was willing to do anything and everything to improve my chances!  I added acupuncture, read Dr. Greene’s book, Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility and got back to my daily exercise regime which included yoga.  And we did better this time around…but miscarried at 6.5 weeks.

This brings us back to August 2007 when I got the best news ever!  Betas 32 @ 11dpo and 130 @ 13 dpo!   I believe that was always the plan but again I could only control 1 aspect of the situation: my body.

Yoga is known for stress relief of infertility and increased blood flow to the uterus.  So of course it’s beneficial!  But if increasing your chances isn’t enough motivation please listen to me when I say that feeling better about yourself is the reason you should try it!

Yoga is a series of postures and exercises that promote control of your body, spiritual well-being and a connection with your body.  You can use safe yoga postures to build strength and flexibility along with relaxation to develop or enhance calmness and confidence.

Here are some known fertility yoga poses.

  1. Start in butterfly, sitting with bottoms of feet touching and knees bent;
  2. Twisting butterfly, first place your right hand on the outside of your left knee and look over you left shoulder as you twist, switch sides;
  3. Goddess pose, lie on the ground with bottom of feet still touching;
  4. Butterfly rest, from goddess pose pull your feet towards your center, knees still bent in butterfly, look to the right for 5 breathes, look to the left for 5 breathes;
  5. Bridge pose-place feet on the ground about 12-18 inches form buttocks, place hands on the ground at your sides, lift your hips and do a series of pelvic circles;
  6. Savasana- corpse pose, lie with feet falling open and hands to your sides, breathe so deeply the back of your rib cage expands into the floor, relax until the point your feel your limbs getting heavy.

Now I am blessed to be pregnant with baby #2 after IVF #4.  And the only thing that keeps the swelling away and the energy high is exercise and yoga!  I do my prenatal DVDs which have both exercise and yoga on them (although I have to mute myself).  So once you do get pregnant continue your yoga program to benefit your body and your baby!

If you’d like to know more about my fertility journey please visit my blog www.lindsaybrin.com.  You’ll also get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of getting rid of the fertility lbs. and pregnancy weight gain!

Do your hormones feel out of balance?

Hormones represent an integral communication system. They are chemical messages that are made in one part of your body and sent through your blood stream to coordinate everything from digestion to ovulation. They even make it possible for you to sleep. They are essential to your health and wellness. Yet most people don’t realize that they also impact how you feel. Your energy level, your hunger even your physical attractions are profoundly impacted by what is happening in your body hormonally. Although we may not think of this delicate balance when we’re at our peak of fitness; people often have a strong sense of “imbalance” they’re not doing well. Yet these symptoms are often overlooked when they can actually provide tremendous insights into what’s going wrong as well as provide strategies to improved health and quality-of-life. By paying attention to your symptoms, you can feel better while boosting your chances of conceiving as well as improve the health of your baby. Here’s how it works.

There are over 200 hormones that can be circulating through your blood stream at any given time and new ones are being discovered every month. I like to think of these hormones in groups according to their function. Most people have heard of the fight-or-flight hormones associated with the stress response. The other groups to consider are tend-and-befriend, rest-and-digest, mate-and-relate. Think of them as if they are different elements on a mobile in a dynamic state of equilibrium; an imbalance in one group can cause an imbalance in another.  If you have too much stress hormone for instance, it can cause digestive problems, difficulty with sleep and infertility problems.

Some of the most exciting research in this field is shedding light on the dual role some hormones can play. For instance, one study recently demonstrated that the same hormone—called oxytocin—which is responsible for promoting feelings of love and affection can also contribute to jealousy and envy. Some imbalances can be ominous. For instance, another recent study demonstrated that women with even slightly reduced levels of thyroid hormone during pregnancy are associated with blood pressure problems during pregnancy.  That’s why I feel it is so important to consider how hormones interact with one another.

I’ve spent a decade and a half now studying symptoms and how they relate to hormone balance. In my books, I’ve tried to use questionnaires in order to help people gain insight into their own hormone milieu as well as provide practical tips on how they can restore harmony when problems occur. I encourage you to check out PERFECT HORMONE BALANCE FOR FERTILITY and PERFECT HORMONE BALANCE FOR PREGNANCY in order to learn more about how you can optimize how you feel as well as maximize your chance of success. And please check back here as I update this blog with the latest research in this exciting field.

Why didn’t my IVF cycle work?

The most common and unanswerable question posed is that which follows one failed IVF cycle.  Although our success rates continue to improve, on average about 1 in 3 couples is successful after one IVF attempt. However there are a growing number of studies that show that that success rate at least doubles when couples undergo at least 3 cycles. This is according to a just released report out of Sweden. A larger study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year was even more optimistic. In a study which followed more than 6,000 women through nearly 15,000 IVF cycles, they found that the live birth rate on the third attempt was between 65% and 86% in younger women and between 23% and 42% for women beyond age 40. Yet despite these advances in success rates, many couples drop out after only one attempt.

I regularly counsel my patients that a single IVF cycle can provide valuable information that can be used to plan future treatment; yet rarely does a single cycle serve to definitively identify those that will not conceive with one or more additional attempts. As a former IVF patient I personally understand the frustration at receiving a negative pregnancy test. That’s why I feel it is essential that good communication occurs throughout the treatment process.

Current estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that over 6 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 are affected by infertility. Yet many either never seek treatment or don’t complete enough therapy to be certain of their potential benefit. As our treatment attempts become increasingly more successful, I think it’s important to realize that a single cycle of IVF might only be the beginning of treatment and should only rarely be considered the end of the line.

What should “he” be doing to boost our pregnancy rate?

Although most fertility treatment focuses on women; at least 1/3 of couples have a male factor contributing to infertility. Newer studies even show that subtle changes in sperm quality—that aren’t detectable by standard testing—can contribute to poor fertilization, abnormal embryo development and even recurrent early pregnancy loss.  That’s because the sperm contributes half of the genetic material to the developing embryo as well as factors that contribute to normal fertilization and early development. But they are easily damaged.

Sperm are particularly susceptible to free radical damage—the charged particles that are a normal byproduct of oxygen metabolism. They are so compact, that they contain very low concentrations of the scavengers that neutralize these damaging little sparks of energy. When a free radical encounter DNA—which the mature sperm is loaded with and ready to contribute to the awaiting egg—the genetic material can be damaged; a process called “fragmentation.” Sperm lack the ability to repair this damage when it occurs. As a result, seemingly healthy looking sperm can prevent a pregnancy from getting off to a healthy start.

The good news is that there are steps that men can take to minimize the naturally occurring damage to sperm and markedly improve your chance of having a baby together. Here’s what he can do:

  • Avoid exposure to tobacco and other products that promote free radical formation (more about this in future posts).
  • Eat foods rich in the following antioxidants:
    • β-carotene (i.e., spinach, carrots, tomatoes, cherries, melons, peaches)
    • Vitamin C (i.e., citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, berries, mangos, pineapples)
    • Vitamin E (i.e., peanuts, almonds, soy, olive oil, wheat germ, cereals)
    • Zinc (i.e., asparagus, eggs, potatoes, fish)
  • Consider a “preconception supplement.”

A recent study confirmed that making these healthy changes can improve pregnancy rate while also reducing the risk of miscarriage. I know when my wife and I were going through fertility treatment; I took the product called Conception XR despite my healthy diet and normal semen analysis. Not only did I feel it was the least I could do but I do believe that it helped us to conceive our daughter.

New Hope for Couples with Recurrent Early Pregnancy Loss

Greene Guide LogoFew disorders can be more difficult to diagnose or more frustrating to treat then recurrent early pregnancy loss (REPL). Traditional diagnostic criteria call for at least three pregnancy losses prior to evaluation and treatment of this vexing problem. With more women choosing to delay pregnancy until their thirties or even their forties, REPL can create an additional burden on their already limited opportunities to achieve a successful pregnancy. Ironically, as women age they are more likely to experience a miscarriage when/if they do become pregnant. A new technique called comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) offers couples some reassurance.

Studies show that most pregnancy losses (50-70%) are due to genetic abnormalities. In fact, the earlier that miscarriage occurs the more likely it is to be due to abnormal changes in the DNA. These are not typically abnormalities that are detected by testing the parents but rather spontaneous mutations that occur during early development. Moreover, they often go undetected by the most commonly used technique for genetic assessment, called G-banded karyotype analysis. That’s because karyotype analysis has limited resolution. It is only able to detect the addition or deletion of relatively large portions of the genetic code. By contrast however, CGH is able to detect genetic changes that are far smaller. In fact, this technique has been reported to identify genetic causes for unexplained mental retardation in about 10% of patients that had previously had a “normal” conventional genetic karyotype. Moreover, a study in the current issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that CGH was able to identify genetic abnormalities in 13% of miscarriages that were missed using conventional genetic testing. More exciting still is the potential of CGH to detect certain abnormalities before birth.

Maybe the best use of this technique however is when testing is performed on embryos prior to becoming pregnant. Combining CGH with in vitro fertilization (IVF) allows us to perform a biopsy upon an embryo for genetic analysis prior to transfer into a woman’s uterus. Early data using IVF with CGH has been very reassuring. We’re finding that by identifying and transferring only the embryos that are determined to be genetically competent—meaning without identifiable deletions or additions to the genetic code—we may be able to double or even triple the chance of a healthy live birth. Since this technique is still relatively new, more studies are needed before it is widely accepted but it is already revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of couples seeking fertility treatment.

Although we still recommend prenatal screening once pregnancy is established, CGH can dramatically reduce the anxiety of couples during those critical weeks of the first trimester; especially those with a history of recurrent early pregnancy loss. Remembering when my wife and I conceived—both of us are in our forties—I know that we would have had fewer sleepless nights early  in our pregnancy had we been able to have CGH as part of our fertility treatment. There is certainly an additional therapeutic benefit of that stress reduction as well!