Health trends come and go, they can be challenging to implement long-term, or carry a high price tag that isn’t manageable for most.  But one trend for improving health that likely has staying power is mindfulness. Why?  Because it’s easy to try, free or low-cost, and it now has plenty of evidence-based research backing it.  Here are six ways that mindfulness has been shown to improve health.

Less Stress

Studies have shown that mindfulness-based stress reduction can be helpful to reduce symptoms associated with stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Heart Healthy

A regular mindfulness practice can help to lower blood pressure and has been recommended by the American Heart Association as an adjunct treatment for heart disease.

Improved Immune Function

Regular meditation may help your body heal and fight disease.  Studies have shown meditation to have a positive impact on immune response.  

Mental Focus

Meditation can reduce reactivity to stress or challenging situations, at the same time, it makes it easy to draw your attention back when distractions happen.  This is why proponents of meditation say they experience a clear, focused mind is a benefit of the practice.  

Increased Emotional Regulation and Self-Control

Mindfulness trains the practitioner to slow down and be in the present moment.  By developing the skill of self-awareness and observation, you are able to be less reactive and more in control of emotions.

Slows Cell Aging

Cell aging occurs naturally over time and can increase with stress and disease. Research has shown that meditation could help slow this process.

Now that you know some of the physical and mental benefits of mindfulness, it’s time to integrate it into your life.  Building a mindfulness practice can happen over time.  You can start small with just a few minutes of meditation each day.   Begin by sitting calmly and breathing slow with your eyes closed, for just a few minutes.  Add this into your morning routine or a time of the day that makes sense for you.  If you need more guidance, try a yoga, tai chi, or qi gong class to adopt mindfulness techniques.  Practice builds consistency, but for most people, it will take time to build your practice, so be patient with yourself.  Even 20 minutes a day can have a huge benefit on your overall well-being.  

If you want to learn more about mindfulness-based stress reduction, check out our videos page or reach out to Dr. Shala for more information.

What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

As a doctor who works with patients seeking integrative fertility support, I am often asked if there are specific foods the couple can eat to improve their chances of conception. Many of my clients have had success following The Mediterranean Diet for fertility. 

An integrative approach to health takes into account the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. How and what we eat plays a crucial role in the body’s ability to heal and function optimally. While nothing can guarantee a couple’s success in conception, the Mediterranean Diet is a sound way of eating that can be sustained throughout a lifetime for good health. 

What Foods Are Included?

The Mediterranean Diet has its roots in ancient times. Farmers in the area known as the Mediterranean basin commonly ate foods like sheep cheese, vegetables, olives, nuts, fresh fish, and very little meat or bread. 

To incorporate this way of eating into your lifestyle, focus on eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, healthy fats such as olive oil, moderate amounts of fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, and poultry. Red meat and simple carbohydrates are limited. You can find some resources about getting started here

Choose Fresh, Whole Foods

One of the most important things to remember is that the Mediterranean Diet features fresh, organic, minimally processed foods. When fresh foods are not available, opt for foods that have been flash-frozen to retain most of the nutrients.

A typical “western diet” full of highly processed foods is usually unfavorable to conception. Processed foods are likely to contain trans-fats, sugar, pesticides, BPA, and other ingredients that have been found to adversely affect metabolism and ovulation. 

Enjoy Your Meals

The culture of the Mediterranean is also important to mention. Imagine the pleasure of enjoying fresh, healthy meals, eating slowly, and spending time in the company and conversation with friends. This is the type of mindset you will want to have while eating. Allow yourself to taste each of the flavors on your plate and take time between bites. 

Having a slow, leisurely meal is unlike the way most of us Americans tend to eat. We are much more likely to grab a bite and eat while working or eat a take-out meal in our car while running errands.  By slowing down during mealtimes and reducing stress you begin an integrative approach to fertility.  

Benefits of The Mediterranean Diet for Fertility

Health Benefits for Women

Foods like broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and eggs are all rich in folate and B6. These minerals and vitamins have a positive relationship with the possibility of conception. Vitamin D is also essential when trying to conceive. Vitamin D helps to increase both progesterone and estrogen levels, which regulate menstrual cycles and ovulation. Dietary sources like oily fish (salmon, herring, sardines), egg yolks, and mushrooms are rich sources of Vitamin D. 

The Mediterranean Diet is high in antioxidants because of the large number of fresh vegetables and fruits recommended. This creates a healthier endometrium; or mucus membrane of the uterus, preparing it for embryo implantation.

Health Benefits for Men

Women aren’t the only ones who benefit from monitoring their eating habits while trying to conceive. Men’s dietary choices play a role in conception as well. In men, Vitamin D supports both the semen quality and semen count. It can also increase their levels of testosterone, which boosts libido. 

Stress and Vitamin and Mineral Levels

Trying to conceive or facing infertility treatments can be stressful for couples. Stress is known to deplete essential vitamins and minerals within the body, which can hinder pregnancy efforts. The B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, and iron are the most common nutrients affected by stress. 

All of these play a vital role in fertility, as well as overall wellness. Remember, part of the Mediterranean Diet is slower, more leisurely meals. So being less stressed during meals will hopefully have a ripple effect throughout your day and allow you to retain some all-important building blocks within your body. 

The Mediterranean Diet has numerous health benefits, and they reach far beyond improving fertility success. It’s never too early for men or women to adopt this lifestyle, but it is recommended to be more intentional about your choices at least three months before trying to conceive. 

If you find you need additional support with your integrative fertility journey, please reach out to us online, by phone, or through one of our offices

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient technique practiced in Traditional Chinese medicine. According to the practice, there are over 2,000 acupuncture points each connected by different pathways or meridians. Energy, or qi, flows through the pathways promoting overall health, but when the paths become blocked, this can lead to poor health or disease.

Acupuncture seeks to reopen the pathways and stimulate the energy flow by inserting thin, metallic needles into the points and then stimulating them manually or electronically. The stimulation is sometimes augmented by heat, pressure, or friction. Chemicals from the body’s central nervous system are released into the bloodstream, muscles, spinal cord, and brain, triggering the body’s natural healing abilities. 

Many diagnoses, including digestive, neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory, emotional, and gynecological conditions, may benefit from acupuncture. Some studies have shown that acupuncture, when used in conjunction with other fertility treatments, may increase success.

Acupuncture and Infertility Treatments

Acupuncture may help with infertility treatments by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs, balancing hormones, and reducing stress. It appears to be most beneficial when started in the three months before beginning other treatments, such as IUI or IVF, and while couples are undergoing supplemental care.  

Acupuncture appears to support a variety of conditions that appear to play a role in infertility. These include hormone imbalance which affects the uterus and ovaries, thyroid issues, irregular menstruation, ovarian cysts, fibroids, blood stagnation, endometriosis, problems with the fallopian tubes, obesity, stress, and low sperm count and sperm motility.  

Increased Blood Flow

For patients who may be preparing for in-vitro fertilization or embryo transfer, acupuncture can be used to increase endometrial blood flow. The additional blood flow to the uterus helps the lining develop and thicken, preparing it to receive the embryo and increasing the chances of a successful transfer.  

Hormone Balancing

Acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system and triggers the release of neurotransmitters, endorphins, and insulin sensitivity. This can help patients diagnosed with PCOS or who might need support in normalizing reproductive hormones and ovulation. 

Patients who may have hypothyroidism or high FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels and receive acupuncture benefit from improved egg quality.  

Acupuncture has also been found to be very useful in the treatment of insulin sensitivity. Patients who are insulin resistant and obese may experience difficulty with fertility due to irregular ovulation or no ovulation. 

Acupuncture and Infertility in Men

Men may also play a role in the fertility success of a couple. If this is the case, acupuncture may support the sperm count, sperm motility, and sperm morphology. Improving blood flow and balancing hormones through acupuncture can positively affect these areas, increasing the likelihood of conception. 

Stress and Anxiety Relief

For many couples trying to conceive and pregnancy can be a stressful time. This can be especially true of couples experiencing infertility. Stress has been found to contribute to additional difficulties in conception. Stress plays a role in lowered libido, a reduced immune system, decreased sperm quality, hormonal disruption, and disordered eating. 

In the same way, acupuncture balances hormones through the release of endorphins, it also serves to reduce stress and anxiety. Endorphins act as natural pain killers within the body. They work with the body through the central nervous system to decrease reactions to stress and regulate body systems like the immune system, digestive system, emotions, moods, and sexuality.

Additional Resources

For some additional reading, I have linked these articles from my site:

https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/acupuncture-and-infertility-treatment/

My goal is to support you as a whole person focusing on your mind, body, and spirit throughout your fertility journey. Acupuncture may work best when used alongside our other modalities. Please contact us for a treatment plan designed especially for you. 

A fertility journey can feel like a lot of uncertainty. You may feel a lot of anxiety with the ups and
downs. Many couples find it stressful and overwhelming. The good news is that decades of
research have shown that there is a lot you can do lifestyle-wise to boost your chance of
success with fertility treatments. Here are some simple and evidence-based tips.


1) Eat healthier
Nutrition is one of the best building blocks for a healthy pregnancy, so you want to prepare your
body by improving your overall diet. I encourage home cooking as often as possible to ensure
that you always have healthy and nutritious meals. I also advise cutting back on sugar, alcohol,
and processed foods in favor of more whole and nutrient-dense foods, such as vegetables and
fruits.
Eat more of
● Colorful vegetables and fruits. Even better if you can get them fresh and local.
● Whole grains and legumes
● Clean and organic meat, poultry, and fish
● Nuts and seeds
Eat less of
● Fast foods
● Pre-packaged foods, such as canned or frozen foods
● Packaged snacks like chips and crackers
● Candies
● Sugar and sugar-containing foods


2) Use clean cosmetic and household products
Hormone disruptors are chemicals that can throw off your hormones and reduce your fertility.
These include parabens, phthalates, BPA (bisphenol-A), perfumes, and triclosan, to name a
few. You can find them in typical cosmetics, soap, shampoo, sunscreens, and cleaning and
laundry products.
Since consumers have become more conscious of these hormone disruptors, you have a big list
of clean options to choose from nowadays. A great resource for this is the Environmental
Working Group at ewg.org. You can check the products you already have around the house on
there and shop from their safe EWG-verified list .


3) Eat the rainbow
I emphasize eating the rainbow—as many colors of plants as you can. Also, eat more plants.
The pigments that give plants their colors are antioxidants that protect your cells and DNA from
oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress, or having more free radicals than antioxidants, is a fact of the modern lifestyle.
In healthy doses, such as from exercising and getting the sun (without burning), free radicals
improve your ability to fight off more oxidative stress. However, too much oxidative stress, such
as from mental stress or toxic exposure, can damage sperms and eggs.
Fortunately, the solution is rather delicious. This summer, visit a farmer’s market to pick up your
local produce or sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture box. Try as many new
vegetables and fruits as you can. Learn to make new salads and cook your vegetables in
different ways.


4) Chill out
Your reproductive functions work best when you are in rest and digest mode. Yet, it is too easy
to be constantly on and always have so much expected of ourselves. We have all gone to
school to learn and accomplish things, but we are not taught enough about how to wind down,
turn off, and just be.
If you are gearing up for fertility treatment or preparing for pregnancy, now is a great time to
develop a stress-busting routine. Meditation, yoga, dancing, or walking in nature are excellent
(and free) ways to reduce your stress. Regular spa or acupuncture treatments are also amazing
ways to recharge. It is also a great time to revisit your priorities, eliminate stressors, and
establish healthy boundaries.


5) Get sun and vitamin D
Summer has arrived. It is a great time to enjoy being outside, from gardening to hiking. Although
the sun gets a bad rep because it is associated with skin cancer, getting sun can actually boost
your fertility. Healthy levels of sun exposure (without getting sunburns) can reduce inflammation,
balance your immune system, and promote blood vessel health, all of which are important for
pregnancy.
Many people only think of vitamin D as important for bone health and calcium absorption. But, in
fact, vitamin D is also essential for fertility and pregnancy. Studies have confirmed that healthy
vitamin D levels increases the odds of a successful pregnancy following IVF.
If you burn easily, be sure to use a non-toxic sunscreen. Also, the Dminder app has alarms that
can warn you to cover up before you burn. If you need to supplement, vitamin D3 form is better
than D2.


6) Get your shut-eye
Getting enough rest is an important part of preparing your body for a pregnancy. It can be hard
not to work, surf on social media, or watch TV late into the night, especially if you struggle to get
your “me” time during any other times of the day. But prioritizing sleep and your bedtime routine
is a worthy time investment. Restorative sleep helps reset your stress response and keep your
hormones balanced.
Allocate 1 – 2 hours to prepare yourself for bed. Create a sacred and relaxing bedtime routine.
You can spend this time taking a candlelit hot bath, reading a relaxing book, journaling, or
having sex (unless your doctor tells you not to). If you need to be on a screen or watch TV, use
blue-blocking glasses. These routines will help you get the most restorative sleep that will
support your fertility journey.


Getting fertility treatments and starting a family is an exciting, although very uncertain, journey.
You want all hands on deck to boost your chance of a successful pregnancy, and studies have
shown that the basics like these are very impactful.

If you are interested in learning more about integrative fertility, Dr. Shala Salem is an integrative fertility specialist who can help.


References:

  1. Rattan S, Zhou C, Chiang C, Mahalingam S, Brehm E, Flaws JA. Exposure to endocrine
    disruptors during adulthood: consequences for female fertility. J Endocrinol .
    2017;233(3):R109-R129. doi: 10.1530/JOE-17-0023
  2. S CM, Elmas C. The Effects of Oxidative Stress and Some of the Popular Antioxidants on
    Reproductive System: A Mini Review. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences . 2016;06(02).
    doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000464
  3. Fung JL, Hartman TJ, Schleicher RL, Goldman MB. Association of vitamin D intake and
    serum levels with fertility: results from the Lifestyle and Fertility Study. Fertil Steril .
    2017;108(2):302-311. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2017.05.037
  4. Zhao J, Huang X, Xu B, Yan Y, Zhang Q, Li Y. Whether vitamin D was associated with
    clinical outcome after IVF/ICSI: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Reprod Biol
    Endocrinol . 2018;16(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s12958-018-0324-3
  5. Hollis BW, Johnson D, Hulsey TC, Ebeling M, Wagner CL. Vitamin D supplementation
    during pregnancy: double-blind, randomized clinical trial of safety and effectiveness. J Bone
    Miner Res . 2011;26(10):2341-2357. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.463

Deciding to grow your family is an emotional, personal decision, but can sometimes met with challenges in the conception process. Traditional medicine has allowed for many advances that can assist women in this journey, but often fails to recognize the individuality of a woman. The practice of integrative medicine is a specialty practice that combines conventional medicine and select fields of natural medicine, and focuses on treating the whole person in mind, body, and spirit for optimal health. You may choose this approach in your fertility journey because it is more aligned with your beliefs, values, and philosophies about health. 

It’s a Partnership Between the Patient and the Practitioner

Integrative medicine seeks to work together with the patient in their current state toward common goals. There is open dialogue about any obstacles to lifestyle changes and the likelihood of complying with treatment guidelines before making recommendations. Sometimes, it’s agreed upon that certain conditions may be managed rather than cured as a goal. Both parties agree on the next steps, possible outcomes, and the likelihood of achieving various goals.   

Wellness for Fertility includes Mind, Body, and Spirit

Integrative medicine looks at the whole person. We are multidimensional, dynamic beings and all of our systems affect each other in profound ways. As an example, fertility issues might be caused by diet. Instead of approaching the treatment of a symptom, like anovulation perhaps which of course can be a factor, integrative medicine might explore outside influences of diet. Recommended practices focus on nutrition to help support ovulation. 

Conventional and Alternative Methods are Used to Help Your Body

Using a combination of therapies allows for integrative medicine to be as personalized as possible. Offering both traditional medicine and integrative techniques, affords patients the best options for them, their needs, and their lifestyle. 

In this collaborative relationship, patients are provided with education about how and why different systems work together and benefit from various therapies to continue making choices in their best interests and maintaining health. 

Integrative Medicine Based on Inquiry and New Paradigms

The practice of medicine is dynamic. It’s essential to have an innate sense of curiosity, observation, and investigation in integrative medicine. If something does not appear to be working as expected, other possibilities can be explored. 

We Use This Model to Support Your Journey 

My approach to integrative fertility is born out of my fellowship training in integrative medicine. Once put into practice these natural methods such as yoga, acupuncture, and healing foods supported my own pregnancies. My medical training lacked so much of the information about nutrition, mind body techniques, toxic exposures and how all of these things affect body functions.  I made it my mission to bring all of these disciplines together to help women achieve optimal wellness healing their minds, bodies, and spirits. 

A list of resources and their benefits is included here on our site. Additional articles are included within the blog to provide information on how each discipline can complement traditional medicine and your fertility journey. 
Remember, any of these steps alone may not lead to pregnancy success in a person struggling with infertility. Each and each set of circumstances is unique. We focus on integrative practice, weaving together the best options for you, your goal, and your lifestyle. If you are interested in a consultation to see if integrative techniques can further support your fertility journey, contact me at Shala Salem, MD