Massage + Menopause: How Feeling Good Is Good For You

Massage for Menopause in Boulder

Do you have whispered conversations in the corner of parties about your menopause symptoms? Do you wear a fan around your neck for those incessant hot flashes? Are you struggling with insomnia, stress or migraines? Regular massage could help ease your symptoms! With the National Institutes of Health suggesting that up to 76% of women are seeking Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) solutions to menopause through acupuncture, diet, yoga, herbs and exercise, we deserve to know more about the positive benefits of massage therapy. Well Woman Acupuncture specializes in massage for menopause in Boulder. 

 

Despite the increase of women seeking solutions from CAM, there are virtually no evidence-based studies on massage for menopause. Perhaps this is because of the general confusion on how to best approach menopause in general? Menopause symptoms range in complexity: you might not have the same symptoms as your mother, sister or friend; you may start experiencing changes anywhere from age 35-50; you may have other health concerns that get added to the mix. It makes sense that there are not a lot of universal answers. Even in the 1940’s, in some of the earliest published articles about treatment of “The Menopause” as doctors called it, they were unclear in their approach to menopause—Are there possible dangers of long-term hormone therapy? Are medications that help regulate the nervous system better when paired with psychotherapy? 1However, one symptom noted in many studies as significantly debilitating is insomnia…and up to two-thirds of aging women experience insomnia.

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Improving IVF Success Rates Through Acupuncture

Whatever your reasons for electing to try IVF (In Vitro Fertilization), you probably didn’t start out with visions of blood tests, ultrasounds, and daily self-administered shots as part of your future child’s conception story. Most couples don’t arrive at IVF until they exhausted all other options after years of grappling with infertility. The quest to have a child can feel like being on a never-ending and demoralizing emotional rollercoaster, and this is where many couples are coming from as they begin the process of IVF. To make matters worse, IVF is overwhelmingly expensive, time-consuming, and can, itself, be an emotional rollercoaster.

So no matter what your story, it is a given that you desperately want your IVF cycle to be successful and are probably looking to do whatever you can to make that happen. Beyond choosing the best IVF clinic in Boulder and building good lifestyle habits (healthy diet, adequate sleep, moderate exercise, etc.), what more can you do?

Acupuncture & IVF

A number of research studies demonstrate that acupuncture improves fertility parameters and boosts pregnancy rates. For example, a landmark research study in 2002 followed 160 IVF participants and showed that patients who received acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer had a 42.5% pregnancy rate (judged by ultrasound at 6 weeks’ gestation) as compared to a 26.3% pregnancy rate among the control group who did not receive acupuncture (1).

In fact, the research on acupuncture is so compelling that many IVF doctors encourage their patients to get acupuncture treatment and many IVF clinics even offer on-site acupuncture for the day of embryo transfer.

How Acupuncture Helps Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant

Acupuncture enhances fertility and supports the IVF process because it:

  • Increases ovarian and uterine blood flow
  • Regulates hormone balance
  • Lowers cortisol levels
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Calms the central nervous system
  • Soothes stress and anxiety
  • Alleviates side effects caused by the IVF medications

As a result of these wide-ranging effects, acupuncture has the unique ability to benefit egg quality, support the development of a robust endometrial lining, and aid in embryo implantation while simultaneously fostering a state of emotional, physical, and mental well-being.

How to Schedule Your Fertility Acupuncture Treatments

Your exact recommended treatment schedule will vary according to your individual case, but there are general guidelines that more or less fit most situations:

Egg Retrieval Preparation

  • 8 weeks prior to egg retrieval: begin weekly acupuncture
  • Approximately 2 weeks prior to egg retrieval (during ovarian stimulation): begin twice-weekly acupuncture
  • 3-5 days after egg retrieval: recovery treatment

Frozen Embryo Transfer

  • 8 weeks prior to FET: begin weekly acupuncture (for a total of 8 pre-FET sessions)
  • Alternatively: 4 weeks prior to FET: begin twice-weekly acupuncture (for a total of 8 pre-FET sessions)
  • Day of FET: Acupuncture pre- and post-FET. The FET treatments are ideally performed on-site at your IVF clinic.

Acupuncture to Support the Pregnancy

In the event of a positive pregnancy test (congratulations!), we recommend maintaining a regular schedule of treatments through the first trimester to help support your pregnancy through those vulnerable first few months.

Our recommended pregnancy acupuncture treatment schedule is as follows:

  • First Trimester: weekly acupuncture. Regular acupuncture during your first trimester will continue to facilitate optimal uterine blood flow, which is important for placental and fetal development. This is also the period of pregnancy when many women experience nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and anxiety, and fortunately acupuncture can help alleviate all of these symptoms.
  • Second Trimester: monthly acupuncture or as needed. Once you arrive at your second trimester, your pregnancy will be well established and frequency of acupuncture treatment can be reduced as long as you aren’t experiencing any pregnancy complications. We recommend switching to monthly maintenance treatments as long as you are feeling energetic and symptom-free.
  • Third Trimester: weekly or bi-weekly acupuncture starting at Week 32. Pregnancy Acupuncture treatments are effective for encouraging breech babies to move into the proper position, alleviating pelvic and low back pain, reducing swelling and carpal tunnel pain, and generally preparing the body for labor.

One Day at a Time

If the IVF process seems daunting, you are not alone, but it’s important not to let yourself get swallowed up by overwhelm. You can absolutely do this, and you can make the process easier on yourself by letting go of the weight of the whole process and instead focusing on one day at a time. Do maintain your regular self-care practices, and if you don’t already have any, now is the perfect time to create some. Yoga, meditation, nature walks, and warm foot soaks are some of our patients’ favorites.

Along the way, we hope you will take advantage of the immense power of acupuncture to support you in reaching those goals, and we are here as a resource should you have questions or wish to schedule a course of treatments. And, above all, we wish you the best with your fertility journey and sincerely hope that you complete the IVF process having created the family you desire.

Visit one of our two clinics to serve you: Acupuncture in Boulder | Acupuncture in Longmont

References:
Wolfgang, E. P., Zhang, M., Strehler, E., El-Danasouri, I., Sterzik, K. (2002) Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fertility and Sterility. 77(4), 721-724.

Treating Menopause Naturally With Acupuncture

Navigating the Menopausal Transition: How to reduce menopausal symptoms and feel better naturally with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.

One question we often receive at Well Woman Acupuncture is “does acupuncture work to relieve the symptoms of perimenopause & menopause”? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Many women don’t realize that Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are powerful tools for reducing many of these uncomfortable symptoms in a natural and effective manner, and can be safely done without the use of hormone replacement therapy.

This topic is one that I am very passionate about. Having been in the throes of menopause since my late 30’s, I understand how difficult the transition can be, how uncomfortable the symptoms of menopause are, and I have great compassion for the multitudes of women who find this part of their journey disconcerting at best.

What are the symptoms of the Menopausal Transition? And what causes them?

So, let’s lay some groundwork. First of all, menopause is not just hot flashes and night sweats. And it doesn’t just begin with the cessation of your menses. Perimenopause, or the menopausal transition, often begins years before you stop having periods, sometimes spanning up to ten years. This is why it is called a transition. What many women don’t realize is that during this time, they can begin having symptoms that they don’t even realize are due to this multi-year hormone party.

During perimenopause, one of the first things changes to occur is a reduction in ovulatory cycles, or sporadic anovulation. This is because there are fewer follicles available as the ovaries begin their natural decline away from conception. With the decline in follicle count, ovulation becomes more sporadic, leading to lower progesterone levels and erratic pulsations of follicle-stimulating hormone and estrogen. These erratic hormone levels cause symptoms that often precede the hot flashes and night sweats that we commonly associate with menopause. This is called the “early menopausal transition”, and symptoms can include:

  • Short menstrual cycles, irregular periods or skipped periods
  • More severe and/or prolonged PMS symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and/or weepiness
  • Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
  • Hair loss
  • Digestive upset, constipation, bloating
  • Headaches
  • Lower libido
  • And just generally not feeling like yourself…

As time goes on, follicle counts continue to decline and hormone levels become more erratic. Eventually, the periods become more spread out and the above symptoms can worsen. And we can also start to see hot flashes and/or night sweats, which are associated with worsened mood and more severe insomnia. Interestingly, many women often report that these perimenopausal years are often much more uncomfortable than true menopause.

Perhaps even more important than this decline in ovarian hormones is a change in adrenal function. The adrenals are an important source of progesterone and DHEA in post-menopausal women, which helps create regulation in the body as a whole. So, as ovulation begins to go by the wayside, we call on the adrenals more and more to provide the progesterone and other hormones that we need to feel balanced.

However, here is the rub. More and more women in our modern era suffer from some degree of adrenal fatigue related to STRESS. When the adrenals are taxed by persistent, high cortisol levels, progesterone levels fall even further, and hormonal fluctuations are much more pronounced. And when the adrenals are taxed in this way, our stress threshold is lower, menopausal symptoms become amplified, and our bodies respond by becoming even more stressed, creating a vicious cycle of fight-or-flight response.

Menopause sounds like a walk in the park, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it isn’t. The menopausal transition can leave women feeling like they are on a roller coaster, no longer inhabiting the same body they’ve come to know and rely on for decades. Suddenly what was once a well-oiled machine based on regularity and predictability starts to resemble this:

So, what can we do?

This is the part where I become a bit of a personal crusader against the woes of menopause. I know firsthand how it feels to come apart at the seams and to find tools that help me put the pieces back together again.

How Acupuncture Can Help During Menopause: Steps You Can Take to Regain Control

There are certain recommendations I make to my patients to address the hormonal, adrenal and stress components of menopause. Following these simple steps can make a huge difference in how smoothly a woman moves through these transitional years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some variation of  “Thank you! I feel like myself again!” after patients adopt these changes.

Acupuncture

Of course, acupuncture is the first thing I recommend. And I’m not trying to make a sell here…I’m speaking from personal experience. At 38 years old, I was having many brutal symptoms. I was still having periods, but they were starting to become erratic—sometimes early, sometimes late. They were shorter, lighter and I lived in a state of perma-PMS. I had my hormone levels checked and learned that my FSH was already in menopausal range. I was absolutely unwilling to go into true menopause at 38 (as my mother had), so the first thing I did was begin a weekly acupuncture regimen. Because I do what I do, I knew that it would make the most sense to start with acupuncture.

Within a few weeks, my periods had regulated and my symptoms reduced. At that point, I felt comfortable decreasing my acupuncture frequency to more of a maintenance level (once every 2-4 weeks, depending on my schedule). I also took Chinese herbs and supplements (which I’ll talk about in a sec) and continued this for 2 years or so.

Then life happened. I got busy, and because I was doing relatively ok, I decided to let the acupuncture sessions go. Weird to say as an acupuncturist, but there you have it. After 9 months without any treatment, guess what happened? My periods stopped altogether, hot flashes came on full force and I stopped sleeping. I learned my lesson and started back over with weekly acupuncture sessions for a bit until I felt things were more under control. I’m now back to a maintenance routine and while I am truly post-menopausal (it has been more than 12 months since my last period), I feel like my symptoms are much more manageable.

So, for women are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, I recommend a series of weekly acupuncture sessions for menopause. This is because we are trying to reestablish a sense of equilibrium in the system and the body thrives on the regular input from acupuncture. We are building up a reservoir tank of internal resources, if you will, and spreading those initial treatments out too far can keep the tank from filling. Once improvement is noticeable, then we spread sessions out to a maintenance level, which will vary from patient to patient.

Herbs & Supplements for Menopause

Acupuncture is just a piece of the puzzle when it comes to treating menopause effectively. Chinese herbal medicine is another piece that, when combined with acupuncture, offers a powerful one-two punch. We house a full herbal pharmacy in our clinic and custom blend herbal preparations for our patients based on symptoms and where they are in the menopausal transition. We find that using both acupuncture and herbs helps them feel better much more quickly.

In addition to herbs, we recommend a few key dietary supplements. There are aimed at regulating hormone fluctuations, improving mood and reducing hot flashes. Some of these are:

  • Evening Primrose Oil
  • Vitamin D3
  • Fish Oil or other EFA’s (if vegetarian)
  • Adrenal Support

Nutrition in Menopause

Diet also plays a key role in determining how smooth the menopausal transition is. Adopting dietary changes is certainly individual and there is no one-size-fits-all regimen that we recommend. But there are some basic changes that are helpful, some of which are based on Chinese medicine theory. These include:

  • Avoiding processed foods (especially those containing high sodium and that are laden with processed carbohydrates)—these foods contribute to bloating, water retention and weight gain, as well as increasing systemic inflammation, none of which help your hormones—and mood—be regulated.
  • Have the majority of your meals consist of protein, fats and vegetables.
  • Consume organic food as often as possible.
  • Avoid sugar in all forms, but especially processed, refined white sugar. Sugar increases inflammation, causes hormone dysregulation and taxes the adrenal glands, all of which have negative consequences for Perimenopausal symptoms.
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine to no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per week and 1 serving of caffeine per day (if at all)
  • Reduce intake of acidic foods, as these contribute to hot flashes.
  • Drink 80-100 ounces of water per day.

 Exercise during Menopause

Regular exercise is an imperative part of any perimenopausal regimen. Exercise does all of the following:

So, what kind of exercise is beneficial? Studies show that all exercise is beneficial for menopause symptoms, but that the most benefit comes from 45 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise 3-5 times per week, coupled with moderate strength training (a total of 2 ½ hours of exercise per week)

However, it is important to add that Chinese medicine views the menopausal process a bit differently than these guidelines suggest. In our thinking, it is important to honor the “yin” aspect of the self as you move through menopause, which is important for bringing balance to your reproductive hormones. Yin is represented by slowness, gentle breathing, quiet introspection. So, while exercise is absolutely imperative, it is also good to incorporate more “yin-style” exercise into your daily regimen. Things like gentle yoga, walks in nature, qi-gong, tai-chi are all types of exercise that fit this description.

Moving through Menopause with Grace, Humor and Ease

Finally, we come to our final point for helping make this time one to celebrate, rather than one to hate. And this may be the most important tip of all. It is this: do what brings you joy and allow time for creativity and communion (with self, with others, with nature, with Spirit).

This could be a blog in and of itself (and, in fact, is interconnected with the theme of this one. It is so deserving of more air time that I may well expand on it at some point. But here is the basic introduction for now.

As our internal resources move away from procreation, there is more available for a different kind of creativity—personal expression, connection to beauty and sharing the wisdom we have accumulated through our lives with next generations. In response to this shift, our physical/mental/emotional energy becomes more inward-focused and our rhythms become slower. I believe that much of our suffering through menopause comes from being out of rhythm with ourselves, trying to keep up with the fast-paced nature of the world (which is continually gaining speed), while our bodies want to tune in to our natural processes. The more we resist these internal cues, the push-pull creates internal chaos, manifesting in worsening symptoms.

In essence, it is important to do more of these things:

  • Spend time in nature
  • Take up creative projects
  • Commune with other people who share your vision and dreams
  • Watch funny movies. Laugh. Dance.
  • Embrace joy and share it with others!

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to know that, yes, you can move through menopause with yourself intact. It is possible! By adopting these simple strategies, you can feel more alive, more yourself, and enjoy the next stages of your life in a way you didn’t even know was possible. Think about what lies ahead: a you that is present and aware, guided by the wisdom of all of your previous versions of Self. It can’t get any better than that!

Interested in exploring acupuncture further? Contact us for a free consultation!

 

Acupuncture as an Alternative to the Flu-Shot to Stay Healthy Through Cold & Flu Season

Did you know that acupuncture is a natural alternative to preventing cold & flu? For instance, many of our patients (the majority of whom are coming in for women’s health related issues ) mention that their immune systems seem stronger than they have in years, even though we are focusing on hormones. Everyone in their house had a cold or flu, but they stayed strong and didn’t succumb to the virus.
Coincidence? We think not.
Because Chinese medicine works on the whole body, it strengthens the entire system, not just the issues we’re targeting at the time. This is a powerful argument for the benefits of receiving regular acupuncture, even if that is just a seasonal tune-up. It really does keep you healthy in ways you can’t imagine. We call it the “acupuncture flu-shot”.
What better time than in the fall, when we direct our focus inward, to begin taking stock of your health? And as cold & flu season kicks into high gear, this internal reflection may just mean that you stay healthier along the way!
Here is a little list of other things we treat besides women’s health:
  • Pain (of any kind, any location): pain creates systemic inflammation that wears on your immune system.
  • Stress: chronic stress taxes the adrenal system and plays a role in systemic inflammation, both of which strain the immune system.
  • Anxiety or depression: these do the same as stress
  • Insomnia: sleep deprivation also taxes the adrenal system and reduces the body’s ability to fight disease.
  • Digestive upset
  • Frequent illness
  • Allergies
  • And so much more…
And while our name implies that we work on women only, that’s not true! We welcome everyone here…the fellas, the kids, everyone but the family pet (and we would do that, too, if it were in our scope of practice to do so).
Book an appointment now to receive your acupuncture flu-shot!  Your body will thank you for it.

Heal Neck and Back Pain Naturally with CranioSacral Therapy

Do you have neck or back pain? Does Deep-Tissue Massage leave you feeling like you’ve been run over?

If so, CranioSacral Therapy may be the right fit for you.

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on therapy that releases tensions and restrictions in the tissues around the central nervous system in order to relieve pain and improve overall health. Although its name relates to the cranium and sacrum of the body, the craniosacral system also consists of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, as well as the fluid that nourishes and protects these structures. Everyone has a craniosacral system that is rhythmically moving all the time. Craniosacral therapists monitor this craniosacral rhythm with their hands. When the craniosacral rhythm is compromised, this suggests there are areas of tension or dysfunction in the surrounding tissues.

How does CranioSacral Therapy work?

CST works directly with the central nervous system, and in turn, the central nervous system influences many systems of the body, including the endocrine, immune, lymphatic, vascular, and digestive systems. When disease or dysfunction occurs in one part of the body, it
can affect the body as a whole. For example, after an injury such as falling on the sacrum (tailbone), damage or scar tissue can occur in the membranes surrounding this area, which would likely present as feeling sore from the injury. However, since this membrane system is
continuous from the spinal cord to the cranium, additional issues such as neck pain, headaches, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction often accompany these injuries. When the damage to the membranes is addressed, the craniosacral rhythm is addressed as well, and the body is in a much better state to correct these restrictions and rebalance itself.

What does the Research say about CranioSacral Therapy

In cases of neck and back pain, CST has been shown to be a useful treatment. In a 2016 study from The Clinical Journal of Pain researched compared two groups with chronic neck pain. The group receiving CST reported significant and clinically relevant effects on pain intensity in just a few weeks, compared to the other group receiving a light-touch ‘sham treatment’ meant to mimic CST.

Another study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2016 found that patients receiving CST experienced greater improvement in pain intensity than those receiving classic massage.

So, what does a CranioSacral Therapy session look like?

Unlike massage therapy, clients remain fully clothed during CST. Extremely light touch is applied to certain areas to evaluate for tension patterns and imbalances. This light touch is essential for working with the body tissues and not against it. Many clients report craniosacral therapy treatments as a deeply relaxing and restorative experience, even though it is very subtle work. A typical treatment session lasts
anywhere from 45-90 minutes, depending on individual needs and preferences.

Craniosacral Therapy is a wonderful modality to add to other body work and holistic health services for the treatment of neck and back pain, as well as many other issues, such as headaches, migraines, TMJ dysfunction, and fibromyalgia. At Well Woman Acupuncture, we are proud to have Lauren Braaten, a CST practitioner, share our space. If you’d like to schedule a session or receive more information on how CST could help you, contact Lauren directly at 303-587- 9361 or email her at: laurenbraatenOT@gmail.com.

Insomnia In the Summer: Natural Tips to a Better Night’s Sleep

Insomnia can plague all of us at any point in our lives, at any time of year.

At our clinic, we often see a steady uptick in the number of patients who complain of insomnia and poorer sleep during the summer months. Believe it or not, there is actually good reason for this change! And, better yet, there are positive steps you can take to help get a better night’s sleep. 

The reasons for worsened insomnia in the summer are many, but the biggest culprits are longer daylight hours and hotter temperatures. Here is what we know about these things from a scientific standpoint: First, your pineal gland turns on when exposed to daylight and this causes the brain to wake up. So, unless you sleep in a deep, dark cave (ooh, doesn’t that sound great right about now?), you will likely find it harder to sleep as late as you do during the winter months, simply because the sun begins to rise so early in the day. 

As for the hot weather, studies show that there is an important relationship between body temperature and room temperature, which creates a temperature gradient that promotes restful sleep. If the room temperature is too hot, this gradient is skewed and you lose sleep. For menopausal women experiencing hot flashes, this can be even more troublesome because their gradient is already out of balance due to higher body temperatures. This can be very uncomfortable, and that deep, dark cave can sound like a perfect hideaway. 

Interestingly, these explanations find a perfect crossover in Chinese Medicine and go far in explaining how acupuncture can help insomnia. According to Chinese medicine, insomnia is often related to an excess of heat in the body. This heat is then said to rise upward and harass the Heart, which is one of the primary organs responsible for getting quality sleep, thereby causing insomnia. This heat can arise from an imbalance in your body’s internal ecosystem (which is what acupuncture is always seeking to correct) or from exterior influences, such as hot weather. 

Why is all of this so important? Isn’t a summer of less sleep part and parcel for the season? Actually, no. Studies show that sleep deprivation has wide-ranging effects, from physical ailments to decreased success at work. (Huffington, 2016) The occasional night here or there may go unnoticed. But several weeks of poor sleep can take a significant toll on every area of your life. And as our under-functioning selves become habituated to this new way of being, we may not even be aware that we are operating at about 40% of our potential, and so continue in this fashion thinking it is our new norm. Yikes!

So, what do we do to treat insomnia? 

At Well Woman Acupuncture, we utilize acupuncture and herbs to help clear heat and bring the body back to a state of internal homeostasis. But there are a plethora of lifestyle tips that you can follow to help support your body and your sleep cycle:

  • Avoid alcohol in the summer months! As tempting as a cold brew sounds at the end of a hot day, alcohol is actually quite warming and creates unnecessary internal heat. And while its sedative properties lead us to believe it will help with sleep, that plan can backfire later in the night when your body heats up.
  • Avoid eating too late at night. With the longer days, it is easy to have dinner later in the day as well. However, the process of eating turns on our “metabolic fires” and, you guessed it, creates more internal heat during sleep. To prevent this, have your last meal of the day by 7:00 pm.
  • Avoid spicy food and sugar, both of which can cause higher body temperature.
  • Keep your bedroom cool or sleep in the basement. The best sleep happens when your room temperature is between 60-70 degrees (reference #2). You can accomplish this by keeping the blinds closed, adding a dehumidifier or fan, sleeping with a cooling gel towel (I like Frogg Toggs!) or adding a cooling system to your bed.
  • Keep your bedroom dark. Use blackout shades or wear a soft eye mask.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet! Foam earplugs are a blessing. Wear them!
  • Stay well hydrated. Drink at least ½ of your body weight in ounces of water per day, evenly spread out throughout the day.
  • Eat foods that are naturally cooling to your system. These include:
    •  Pear, watermelon, blueberries, lemon, lime, mango (here’s a fantastically cooling Watermelon Soup with Mint recipe!)
    • Tofu
    • Celery, cucumber, asparagus, cabbage, lettuce
    • Mung beans, kidney beans
  • Read this book!
  • Consider acupuncture and herbs to help balance your system and clear any internal heat that may be interfering with your sleep.
Remember to keep your cool over the hot summer months and you’ll find yourself resting and feeling better as a result. And if the steps above don’t do the trick, just let us know. We are always happy to help!
References
1. Huffington, A. (2016). The Sleep Revolution. New York, NY, USA: Harmony Books
2. Osmun, R. (2015, May 22). Retrieved July 17, 2017, from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosie-osmun/sleeping-with-the-seasons-see-how-weather-influences-your-sleep_b_7269960.html
3. Steelman, L. (n.d.). Retrieved from Real Simple: https://www.realsimple.com/health/preventative-health/sleep/summer-sleeping-heatwave

Acupuncture and Male Factor Infertility: 4 Lifestyle Habits to Dramatically Improve Your Sperm Quality

This article is chock-full of research-supported tips and tricks that will help you make quality, healthy sperm AKA World Champion Sperm! 

You have a lot more control over your fertility than you think, and I’m going to lay out some basic concepts that you can use to your advantage, whether your goal is simply to boost your sperm count or to take your sperm to the next level, from being merely acceptable to being totally awesome. Along the way, watch out for an Oopma-Loompa, the coolest thing to wear in your boxers, and my favorite high that doesn’t involve drugs.

You may have already heard of some of the great sperm killers, like hot tubs and long bicycle rides, but if you’re under the impression that you can avoid those few things and call it good, you’ll want to keep reading. There are SO many lifestyle tweaks that you can make that will have an immense impact on the quality of your swimmers, so if you are determined to improve your fertility, this article is for you.

This article is also for you even if:

  1. You already know you have awesome sperm counts, morphology, and motility based on a recent semen analysis.  In fact, semen analysis doesn’t tell the whole story, as I will explain in a bit.
  2. You believe that you are unlikely to have fertility issues because male infertility is much less common than female infertility. Don’t be fooled by this common misconception.  In fact, male factor matches female factor as a cause for infertility. Each accounts for a little over 30% of cases, while the remaining 30% of cases are attributed to either a mix of male and female factor or simply chalked up to “unexplained infertility.”

Before we get to the good stuff, here’s a quick overview of some basic sperm-related terminology you’ll need to be familiar with as you read: (You can jump over this box if you’re already a semen analysis pro!)

    • Semen Volume: The volume of liquid present in one ejaculation. (Normal: 1.5 to 5 milliliters (mL) of semen)
    • Sperm Count/Concentration: The number of sperm in millions per milliliter (M/mL) of semen. (Optimal: 55 to 300 M/mL, Moderate: 15 and 55 M/mL, Poor: below 15 M/mL)
    • Total Count: The total number of sperm present in one ejaculation.
    • Sperm Motility: The ability of sperm to swim forward, rated on a scale of 0-4. (Optimal: 3-4, Moderate: 1-2, No movement: 0)
    • Sperm Morphology: The percentage of sperm with normal shape, size, and appearance.  Sperm with abnormal morphology may be immature or have defective heads or tails. (Optimal: more than 14%, Moderate: 4%-14%, Poor: less than 4%, according to the Kruger (strict) guidelines)

Do Those Semen Analysis Numbers Tell the Whole Story?

While most male fertility research sticks to monitoring changes in sperm parameters to evaluate fertile potential, modern epigenetic research reveals that a deeper layer of sperm quality can be assessed at the level of DNA. As one male fertility expert puts it, “The idea that fertility can be defined by threshold values of semen parameters is a concept that is fundamentally flawed.” [1]  

Epigenetic evaluations of sperm cell DNA methylation—involving compounds that attach to DNA strands and dictate which genes are turned “on” or “off” in terms of gene expression—indicates that even healthy looking sperm may not be carrying the best genetic package inside.  

Age and poor lifestyle habits cause significant aberrations in those methylation patterns, which is problematic because the methylation patterns (and, therefore, changes in gene expression) are inheritable across cell divisions and generations. This means that having large numbers of normal looking sperm is more of a basic requirement than a gold standard for measuring rockstar sperm.

The good news is that researchers have also found that positive changes in lifestyle habits can positively impact sperm DNA methylation very quickly, with large changes apparent in as little as one week after a lifestyle change. [2] Given that spermatogenesis takes anywhere from 60-75 days, the fact that lifestyle changes can affect sperm cell DNA so late in the maturation process is both rather surprising and great news!

So what do I need to do to make healthy, quality sperm?

1) Eat 8 Servings of Vegetables Per Day (DON’T SKIP!)

I am so not kidding about this one, gentlemen! And, no, the number 8 was not a typo. If you are the type of person who thinks that adding a salad and a baked potato to your dinner every night counts as “eating your vegetables,” this one’s for you.

The thing about vegetables is that they are packed with a jaw-dropping array of health-promoting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemical, and bioactive compounds that our bodies need to carry out all of the intricate physiological processes of the human body—including the production of sperm. One meta-analysis concluded that antioxidant supplementation, for example, improved the number, motility, morphology, and DNA integrity of sperm. [3]

Here is a short list of some of the known requirements for building rockstar sperm: selenium, zinc, L-carnitine, CoQ10, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, and Vitamins A, B, C, and E.  

While a few of those (selenium, zinc, and omega-3s) are more concentrated in beans, nuts, and meats, you’re going to need to veggies for the rest, and variety is key. In other words, you can’t just eat 8 carrots a day and call it good. (Plus, you might actually turn orange and the Oompa Loompa look isn’t really in style these days.)

So: how on earth are you going to get in 8 servings a day? I’ll give you a hint: it will be a lot easier if you sneak some into your breakfast. How about something like this: 2 veggies with breakfast (example: scrambled eggs with grated zucchini and a big handful of spinach), 3 with lunch (soup with a side of sautéed green beans and a kale salad with cherry tomatoes) and 3 with dinner (entrée with sides of steamed chard and roasted beets and carrots).  

If you’re not a vegetable person, the key for you will be to dress them up with delicious flavors. Try a garlic-ginger-tamari sauce on your green beans or sprinkle ground coriander, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt on your beets (so delicious). And if you’re new to this kind of thing, I advise against over-cooking: there’s nothing less appetizing than a bowl of broccoli that’s had all the life steamed right out of it.

Next up:

2) Chill Out (Your Scrotum)

We all know that scrotal temperature should be a few degrees under body temperature, but just how important is the correct temperature in maintaining great quality sperm?  

Very important.

Genital heat stress is a sperm obliterator. One study demonstrated a mean rise of 491% in participants’ motile sperm count after cessation of heat exposure in the form of hot tubs and hot baths. [4] Another study demonstrated that sperm count nearly tripled in men diagnosed with oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (translation: low sperm count, motility, & morphology) after 12 weeks of testicular cooling via cool airflow during sleep. [5]

What are some examples of activities that heat up your scrotum? Hanging out in hot water (hot springs, hot tubs, saunas, hot showers), sitting for extended periods of time (at work, watching TV, surfing the web on your phone), cycling, typing with a laptop on your lap, and wearing tight-fitting clothing.  If any of these describe your daily habits, it’s time to turn the tables and make some habits that won’t heat you up. Switch to cold showers, use a standing desk, trade in your daily 50-mile ride for a 10-mile run, and trade in your skinny jeans for something a little looser like slacks. Or a kilt. (Those Scottish men knew what they were doing!)

For some men, the cause of genital heat stress is structural. One common culprit is a varicocele. Varicoceles are enlarged, twisted veins in the scrotum that raise the temperature of the tissue because of the increased blood flow they allow.  You’ll want to get checked for possible varicoceles if you have a dull, heavy sensation in your scrotum, a testicular lump, or your tissue resembles a “bag of worms.” The corrective surgery for varicoceles is simple, and that may be all it takes for you to correct your thermal imbalance.   

Some men go so far as to make a habit of testicular cooling, which means reducing testicular temperature by at least 5 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time.  This tactic may sound odd, but it’s effective. How is this done? There’s always the ol’ bag-of-frozen-peas-down-the-pants method for do-it-yourselfers, or you can get a little fancier and order yourself a pair of Snowballs to drop into your drawers.

Once you’ve got that piece sorted out, you can move on to the next step:

3) Chill Out (Your Mind)

Stress doesn’t just ruin your mood; it ruins your sperm production.

Evidence suggests that high levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” negatively impact testosterone levels, which in turn decreases sperm production. A study on the semen parameters of medical students demonstrated a drop in mean sperm concentration from 55 million/mL at the start of the semester to 39 million/mL during a stressful period of exams. [6] Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense: a time of high stress is not the optimal time to make a baby, and the female reproductive tract isn’t immune to stress either: periods of high stress can disrupt female hormones leading to delayed ovulation.

If you are chronically stressed out, over-worked, and under-slept, it is essential that you rein it in.  When you are operating on overdrive you may feel like you are conquering the world, but the strain will inevitably catch up with you, taking a toll on your health as well as your reproductive system.  

Here are a few action items to get you on the right track to wrangling your stress levels into submission:

Set a Bedtime Alarm

Drop the attitude of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Sleep hygiene is all the rage right now because consistent deep and restful sleep has the power to drastically improve quality of life. It will make you more productive at work, more calm in the face of adversity, and, most importantly, it will help ensure that your sperm will look and swim like champs.

Researchers in Denmark demonstrated that lack of sleep has a deleterious effect on numbers semen parameters, including sperm concentration, total sperm count, motility, and morphology. For example, sperm concentration in men with a high level of sleep disturbance was 29% lower than men with better sleep. [7]

Not only that, but their testes size was reduced!

One reason for this phenomenon is that hormone production is tied into your circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. To optimize your biological hormone clock, make sure you are asleep by 10:30pm. If you’re the type who forgets to go to bed because you’re a workaholic or because you get swallowed up the delightful internet fairyland of Facebook or fail videos or Netflix, you’ll want to set a bedtime alarm on your phone.

And because blue light from screens scrambles your circadian rhythms, I suggest setting your bedtime alarm an hour in advance at 9:30pm and committing to turning off all screens at that time. (If possible, shutting down screens 2 or 3 hours in advance is even better.) If you absolutely MUST look at a screen in the hour leading up to your bedtime, you’ll want to snag a pair of blue light blocking glasses

Set Out Your Workout Clothes Before You Go To Bed

Regular exercise is a one-stop-shop for enhancing your circulation, keeping your heart healthy, blowing off steam, and building awesome sperm. And it makes you feel like a superhero!

One study on the effects of exercise on male fertility found that men with the highest activity level (who engaged in weightlifting and outdoor activities) had 42% higher sperm concentrations than men with the lowest activity level. [8]  One reason for their stellar sperm count could be that exercising large muscle groups can raise testosterone levels.  Just remember, cycling in any significant amount is out. The same study discovered that men who cycled just 1.5 hours or more per week had 34% lower sperm concentrations than men who didn’t cycle.   

According to sleep hygiene guidelines, the best time to exercise is first thing in the morning, and experts on follow-through suggest setting out your workout clothes at bedtime. Why? Because seeing your running shorts first thing in the morning greatly increases your chances of actually putting them on and hitting the pavement as you intended.

And, by the way, discontinue any anabolic steroid use immediately. Steroids decrease your sperm count and shrink your testicle size. (Yikes!)

Put Your Fork Down Between Bites

This one is all about squeezing a little mindfulness into your day.

You’ve probably heard that meditation is the ultimate stress-reducer. If you haven’t tried it, there’s no time like the present. And you are lying to yourself if you think you don’t have time to meditate, because mediation can be as simple as breathing and eating.  

A simple breathing meditation is nothing more than paying attention to the feeling of your lungs expanding and contracting. It can be done while driving, brushing your teeth, waiting in line, sitting at your desk, mowing the lawn, watching your favorite team win (or lose) the championship game…You get the point. Basically anywhere and everywhere.  

My other favorite meditation-on-the-go is eating meditation. Most of us eat too fast or on the run, which tends to increase the stress level in our bodies. Try putting your fork down between bites, resting your hand in your lap, and chewing and tasting your food until it becomes fully liquefied in your mouth. I’ll bet you a hundred dollars that you’ll chew 2 or 3 times as much as usual and that you will digest your food better too. You’ll also probably be less inclined to overeat, because your brain is a bit slow in registering nutritional intake, and leisurely dining gives it a chance to send out a signal of satiety in time to prevent you from taking a third helping of sautéed green beans. (Because you’re eating those for lunch, right?)  

Once you get your stress under control, you can move on to a cleanse of sorts:

4) Ditch the Sperm Sabotaging Substances

We’ll discuss the recreational substances soon, but let’s start with a substance that you are probably less worried about.

Sugar

What you may not know about sugar is that it causes a hormonal domino effect in your body that results in lowered testosterone levels.  Studies show that sugar consumption reduces semen volume, sperm count, and sperm concentration. [9]

It works like this: you eat a doughnut and your blood sugar spikes. Blood sugar is physically damaging to blood vessel walls, so your body releases a flood of insulin ASAP which opens the gates for cells to take in that glucose. Unfortunately, the insulin released also upregulates aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen, thereby increasing your estrogen levels and decreasing your testosterone levels.  

Not a pretty picture.

By the way, this insulin-aromatase-testosterone link is believed to be the reason why diabetes is associated with estrogen-related problems in males, such as increased breast size (a.k.a. gynecomastia), swelling of the prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy), and prostate cancer.  

Don’t go down that road, my friend. Sugar may give you the warm-and-fuzzies, but it is not an innocent little bunny.

Recreational Substances

If you are serious about becoming a father, you will need to take a serious look at your substance use, because there is strong scientific evidence that it can wreak havoc on your sperm.

Cigarette smoking, for example, is associated with significant reductions in semen parameters. In one study of over 1700 smokers and non-smokers, smoking was associated with a 15% reduction in sperm concentration, a 17% reduction in sperm count, and a 17% reduction in total motility. [10]

Habitual drinking is similarly problematic. While a couple of drinks a week may not have a huge impact, you should know that ethanol alters testicular function, disrupts testosterone levels, and is toxic to sperm. [11] One study of men demonstrated adverse effects at only five drinks per week. [12] Furthermore, a study on mice demonstrated that ethanol consumption not only resulted in reduced sperm count, but that it disrupted DNA integrity and lead to increased sperm cell death. [13] (Not to mention that alcohol can lead to erectile dysfunction!)

Finally, marijuana dramatically reduces sperm production. In one study of 1,215 young men, regular marijuana use (more than once a week) was associated with a 28% decrease in sperm concentration and a 29% reduction in total sperm count. [14] And to make matters worse, cannabinoids may disrupt the process of egg fertilization. [15]

If this information is seriously bumming you out, maybe it’s time to find a natural high… Ever think about trying acupuncture? The bliss is real. We joke that patients are “acu-stoned” when they walk out of an appointment, and it’s because acupuncture so deeply resets the nervous system. But more on that later.

Plastics & Other Toxins

It is also important to note that there are a number of toxins out there that can seriously squash your mojo, not to mention cause you other health problems.

Chances are that some of them are lurking innocently in your home.

Bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastics, is a prime example. BPA is a widely studied endocrine disruptor present in plastic food containers, water bottles, and food cans. It leaches into our leftovers, bottled drinks, and canned beans and tomatoes, and it is wicked. In one study, workplace exposure to BPA was associated with more than quadrupled risk of low sperm count and double the risk of low motility. [16]

The weed-killer Roundup is another common offender, as are most herbicides and pesticides. Roundup contains glyphosate, which is highly disruptive to hormone signaling and toxic to the nervous system. DO NOT USE IT. Pick the weeds in your garden by hand, or hire someone else to pick them. And for heavens sake, choose vegetables and fruits that are organic or that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals! 

Both BPA and glyphosate are categorized as endocrine disrupting chemicals. The really bad news is that endocrine disruptors can have significant impacts on your hormone levels, even at infinitesimally small exposure levels (we’re talking parts per million and parts per billion).  Pharmaceutical hormones like birth control pills and bovine growth hormone are also considered endocrine disruptors when they enter the environment, and these drugs end up in our water supply at the aforementioned concentration levels. So, if you get really serious about cleansing your life of endocrine disruptors, you’ll want to get a carbon filtration device for your drinking water. 

And we haven’t even touched on the workplace hazards linked with male infertility and reduced sperm count, which include chemicals like organic solvents (especially glycol ethers), benzene, toluene (in paint thinner), agricultural pesticides, and heavy metals like cadmium and lead.  If you know that you are in contact with any of these toxins at work, you may have a bit of soul searching to do.

In any case, the bottom line is this: do whatever it takes to strictly limit your exposure.

5. In a Hurry? Fast Track Your Efforts with Acupuncture Treatments

If you want to supercharge your efforts to boosting sperm quality, you’ll want to see an acupuncturist. Acupuncture is a safe and natural medicine that will give your sperm a boost while also relieving stress, improving your digestion, and increasing the quality of your sleep.

If the idea of acupuncture for male fertility is making you nervous, let’s clear one thing up right away: no, the acupuncturist is NOT going to put a needle THERE.  

He or she will primarily use points on your lower arms, lower legs, back, and abdomen. The beauty of the energy pathways in the body is that treatment on one part of the body can produce an effect in a different area of the body. Not only that, but Chinese Medicine aims to resolve symptoms (e.g. poor sperm count, erectile dysfunction, etc.) by correcting larger imbalances in the body ecosystem as a whole.

How many visits will it take?

This “ecosystem rebalancing” is best accomplished through a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, and it requires a series of treatments—usually once or twice a week for 2-3 months. This may seem like a lot of treatments, but it is absolutely required if you want to reap true benefits.

Think of it this way: Chinese Medicine works by retraining your nervous system, coaxing it back to a state of health and balance.  This process can involve promoting circulation, enhancing organ function, facilitating hormone metabolism, and supporting proper hormone signaling. If you had a goal of doubling your lifting capacity at the gym, you wouldn’t expect to achieve your desired results after only a few trips to the gym. You would lift regularly, strengthening your capacity over time. Similarly, retraining your body through Chinese Medicine cannot be achieved overnight, but instead requires the repeated messaging of daily herbal medicine and weekly acupuncture over a period of several months.  

What does the research say?

A number of studies have demonstrated the benefits of acupuncture on sperm quality:

  • When a group of infertile men received twice weekly acupuncture for 5 weeks, there was a general improvement in the sperm’s structural integrity and a statistically significant increase in the percentage and number of sperm with no structural defects. [17]
  • Another group of infertile men was divided randomly into an acupuncture group and a control group. The acupuncture group received 10 treatments over 5 weeks and demonstrated improved motility and morphology as compared to the control group. [18]
  • A study of acupuncture on infertile men—in fact, men with such extremely low sperm counts (or no sperm) that testicular biopsy would have been required to collect sperm for ICSI (intercytoplasmic sperm injection, sometimes used in IVF)—demonstrated  the efficacy of acupuncture in boosting sperm counts. After 10 treatments, the men who initially produced no sperm were able to produce sufficient sperm to no longer require testicular biopsy. [19]
  • A before and after study looked at the change in fertilization rates for IVF/ICSI procedures involving men with semen abnormalities and at least two previous poor outcomes with IVF/ICSI. After 8 treatments of acupuncture, fertilization rates increased from 40.2% to 66.2%. [20]
  • A randomized trial of 57 patients with very low semen parameters found that those who received twice weekly acupuncture for 6 weeks had significantly improved sperm motility as compared to the sham acupuncture group. [21]
  • A study on testicular blood flow demonstrated that 5 minutes of electro-acupuncture applied to a point on the lower abdomen about 1 inch above the pubic bone resulted in increased arterial blood flow in the testes. [22]
  • A prospective, controlled and blind study of infertile men married for between 3 and 11 years studied the effect of acupuncture and moxa treatment on semen parameters and found a significant improvement in morphology as compared to the control group. [23]

What to Expect At Your First Acupuncture Treatment

When you arrive for your first treatment, your acupuncturist will most likely perform a thorough intake and ask detailed questions about your energy, exercise, sleep, mood, diet, elimination, and, of course, your reproductive health. He or she will feel your pulse at each wrist and take a look at your tongue.  After needle placement, you will rest for 20-40 minutes and very well may fall asleep.  As I mentioned before, many people are so deeply relaxed after their acupuncture treatments that they practically float out the door when they leave.  Call it what you will—a state of acu-bliss or being acu-stoned—it will transform your life, one treatment at a time.

Your practitioner will also likely send you home with a custom herbal formula, specifically matched to your constitution and symptom picture.  They may also suggest a list of supplements to take.  Common male fertility supplements that we recommend at my clinic include:

  • Ubiquinol (supports energy production in reproductive cells)
  • Pycnogenol (benefits sperm morphology and improves erectile function)
  • L-Arginine (benefits sperm formation and motility)
  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine (benefits sperm formation and motility)
  • Omega 3s (reduces inflammation & supports health cell growth)
  • Vitamin C (supports healthy cell growth)
  • Vitamin E (improves sperm motility and overall quality)
  • Selenium (lost in semen and deficiency is linked to poor sperm count, motility, & morphology)
  • Zinc (supports sperm production and testosterone metabolism)
  • Vitamin B12 (promotes healthy cell replication)

Go forth and knock it out of the park!

If you take the process of boosting your sperm quality seriously and follow the guidelines outlined in this post, you will generate huge benefits for not only your sperm, but also yourself and your future child.  

And, should you live in the Denver/Boulder area and wish to engage the support of Chinese Medicine, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Though our clinic is called Well Woman Acupuncture, we commonly treat our female patients’ male partners, and we would be delighted to help you reach your fertility goals.

Wishing you all the best!

Julie Johnson is a licensed acupuncturist who practices at Well Woman Acupuncture in Boulder, Colorado. She is passionate about helping couples achieve optimal health and maximize their fertility so that they can create the families they desire.  

References

[1] Horsager, A. (2017, March). The Interplay Between Epigenetics, Environment and Behavior in Male Fertility. Paper presented at the Integrative Fertility Symposium.

[2] Obesity and Bariatric Surgery Drive Epigenetic Variation of Spermatozoa in Humans Donkin I et al.  Cell Metab. 23(2):369-378, Cell Metabolism

[3] Antioxidant supplements and semen parameters: An evidence based review. Ahmadi S et al. Int J Reprod Biomed. 14(12): 729–736, International Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine

[4] Wet heat exposure: a potentially reversible cause of low semen quality in infertile men. Shefi S et al. Int Braz J Urol. 33(1):50-6, International Brazilian Journal of Urology

[5] Improvement of semen quality by nocturnal scrotal cooling and moderate behavioural change to reduce genital heat stress in men with oligoasthenoteratozoospermia. Jung A et al. Reprod. (2001) 121:595-603, Reproduction

[6] Variation of semen parameters in healthy medical students due to exam stress Malawi Med J. 21(4):166-7. Malawi Medical Journal

[7] Association of sleep disturbances with reduced semen quality: a cross-sectional study among 953 healthy young Danish men. Jensen T et al. Am J Epidemiol. 177(10):1027-37, American Journal of Epidemiology

[8] Paternal physical and sedentary activities in relation to semen quality and reproductive outcomes among couples from a fertility center. Gaskins A et al. Hum Reprod. 29(11):2575-8, Human Reproduction

[9] Aromatase up-regulation, insulin and raised intracellular oestrogens in men, induce adiposity, metabolic syndrome and prostate disease, via aberrant ER-α and GPER signalling. Williams G. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 351(2):269-78, Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology

[10] The Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Male Fertility. Kovac JR et al. Postgrad Med J. 137(3):338-41.

[11] Does alcohol have any effect on male reproductive function? A review of literature. La Vignera S et al. Asian J Androl. 15(2): 221–225, Postgrad Medical Journal

[12] Habitual alcohol consumption associated with reduced semen quality and changes in reproductive hormones; a cross-sectional study among 1221 young Danish men. Jensen T et al. BMJ Open. 4(9): e005462, BMJ Open

[13] Effects of different doses of ethanol on sperm parameters, chromatin structure and apoptosis in adult mice. Rahimipour M et al. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 170(2):423-8, European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology

[14] Association Between Use of Marijuana and Male Reproductive Hormones and Semen Quality: A Study Among 1,215 Healthy Young Men. Gundersen TD et al. Am J Epidemiol. 182(6):473-81, American Journal of Epidemiology

[15] Leutwyler, K. (2000, December 12). Marijuana Firmly Linked to Infertility. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/marijuana-firmly-linked-t/

[16] Harmon, K. (2010, October 28). Everyday BPA Exposure Decreases Human Semen Quality.  Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bpa-semen-quality/

[17] Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility. Pei J et al Fertil Steril. 2005 Jul;84(1):141-7, Fertility and Sterility

[18] Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from subfertility related to low sperm quality. Siterman S et al Arch Androl. 1997 Sep-Oct;39(2):155-61, Archives of Andrology

[19] Does acupuncture treatment affect sperm density in males with very low sperm count? A pilot study. Siterman S et al Andrologia. 2000 Jan;32(1):31-9., Andrologia

[20] Influence of acupuncture on idiopathic male infertility in assisted reproductive technology. Zhang M et al J Huazhong Univ Sci Tech Med Sci. 2002;22(3):228-30

[21] A prospective randomized placebo-controlled study of the effect of acupuncture in infertile patients with severe oligoasthenozoospermia. Dieterle et al Fertil Steril 2009 Oct; 92 (4): 1340–3, Fertility and Sterility

[22]  Point- and frequency-specific response of the testicular artery to abdominal electroacupuncture in humans. Cakmak Y et al, Fertil Steril 2008;90:1732–8, Fertility and Sterility

[23] Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities. Gurfinkel E et al Asian J Androl. 2003 Dec;5(4):345-8., Asian Journal of Andrology

Curing Postpartum Depression Safely and Naturally

 

by Julie Johnson, L.Ac.

If you find the joy of motherhood eluding you in the months postpartum, you are not alone. Mild feelings of sadness and depression are so common they have earned the nickname “the baby blues.” However, an unfortunately large number of women endure the more serious mood disorder known as postpartum depression (PPD). According to the American Psychological Association, 1 out of 7 women experience PPD after childbirth. And the other unfortunate truth is that these feelings of depression and anxiety don’t always clear up on their own, but instead have a nasty habit of lingering or even worsening over time. The bottom line is this: if you are experiencing waves of dark feelings or anxiety, SEEK HELP. Now is a time to lean on your support network of friends and family, and it is also a time to get help from healthcare professionals. In terms of healthcare, in this article I will be specifically focusing on a valuable resource that many women may not think of for PPD, which is Traditional Chinese Medicine.

What are the signs and symptoms of Postpartum Despression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are as follows:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
  • Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
  • Worrying or feeling overly anxious
  • Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
  • Oversleeping, or being unable to sleep even when your baby is asleep
  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Experiencing anger or rage
  • Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
  • Suffering from physical aches and pains, including frequent headaches, stomach problems, and muscle pain
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding friends and family
  • Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with your baby
  • Persistently doubting your ability to care for your baby
  • Thinking about harming yourself or your baby

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, you can reach the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby may also be a sign that you are experiencing postpartum psychosis, which can present with racing thoughts, mania, hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Postpartum psychosis is a very serious condition that warrants emergency medical care.

Why does postpartum depression occur?

 Physiologically, there are a number of compounding factors that can predispose women to a state of depression after childbirth, including hormone fluctuations, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and trauma surrounding childbirth. First of all, there is a significant rebalancing of hormone levels that occurs as the body adjusts back to a non-pregnant state. During pregnancy the body is awash with elevated levels of both estrogen and progesterone, for example, which are secreted by the placenta. After delivery, the abrupt drop in these and other hormone levels can cause a sudden, unexpected crash in mood at the very moment when women have anticipated feeling overjoyed and blissfully happy. The stark contrast between women’s expectations of bliss and the bleak reality of their sadness or despair only serves to heighten the distress caused by the situation and can furthermore trigger feelings of shame and inadequacy.

Another contributing factor to postpartum depression is physical exhaustion. Even with the best possible nutrition, nurturing a child in utero taps the body’s resources, and the already taxing experience of pregnancy then culminates in the further taxing experience of childbirth. A range of elements can contribute to physical exhaustion after labor and delivery including protracted labor, high physical exertion coupled with low caloric intake, sleep deprivation, major blood loss, and surgical intervention. Even after the smoothest of deliveries, a woman’s physical resources will be low, and this state of vulnerability is her starting point for the marathon of caring for a newborn. Without deliberate care and rest, women are at risk of becoming further depleted as the weeks and months pass.

Communities in many cultures around the world honor the necessity of proper postpartum care, lavishing mothers with support, vitality-boosting meals, and ample opportunities to rest. According to Heng Ou of The First Forty Days, this rest period typically spans the first 3 to 6 weeks postpartum, and it plays an essential role in ensuring a mom’s return to physical strength and mental wellbeing. However, many of us are not so lucky to have this built-in culture of family and community support. We may instead find ourselves more or less alone, possibly harboring a belief system that we should be able to do it all without much outside input. And the result is overwhelming.

What should I do if I am experiencing PPD?

 If you are experiencing postpartum depression, self-care is essential, and it starts with reaching out for help. Engaging a support network of loved ones, caregivers, and medical professionals is a vital step toward ensuring that your basic needs are met for sleep, sustenance, emotional support, and mental wellbeing. Any expectation that you can or should be able to take care of yourself and your infant without help and not deplete your emotional and physical resources is unrealistic.

Enlisting family and friends to bring home-cooked meals, wash your dishes, and cradle your infant for 30 minutes (or a few hours) may seem difficult if you are unaccustomed to asking for help, but it is a powerful acknowledgement to yourself that you deserve support, and, ideally, it reduces the obstacles to daily self-care. Initiating self-care activities can be a huge challenge when you are feeling depressed, not to mention the fact that there is little time for self-care when you are responsible for a newborn. So getting some outside support may at least open the door for you to get back to neglected necessities like napping and showering, or even to indulge in luxuries like listening to a guided relaxation or soaking in the tub with your favorite essential oils.

Another resource to consider is a postpartum doula. Hiring this type of caregiver is an excellent way to lighten your load as a parent while easing the inevitable anxieties surrounding infant care, especially if it is your first child. Doulas can coach you through breastfeeding issues, assist with childcare, run errands, and even help with household chores. They can also help talk you through any parenting worries or concerns that you have and point you toward other community resources that you may need.

Finally, you will absolutely want to engage the support of medical professionals. This may mean reaching out to your obstetrician or midwife, your primary care provider, a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist, and/or a Chinese Medicine practitioner. Given that the causative factors in postpartum depression are varied and each woman’s situation is unique, I am a proponent of an individualized approach to care. Pharmaceutical antidepressants and psychotherapy may be appropriate initial treatments for women experiencing PPD who have a history of mood disorders or a family history of mental illness. If you fall into these categories or are experiencing a severe case of PPD, it is important to alert your physician and therapist right away. Moreover, as previously stated, any symptoms suggestive of postpartum psychosis warrant emergency medical care. However, in a large number of cases, Chinese Medicine is an appropriate first line of defense that delivers a satisfying resolution of symptoms. It is a non-invasive, holistic approach to wellness that is designed to restore balance to the body.

Why is Chinese Medicine + Acupuncture so successful in treating and preventing Postpartum Depression (PPD)?

Whether being used to alleviate acute Postpartum Depression, treat chronic PPD, or prevent the development of PPD, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective treatments due to their unique ability to target the root cause of the disorder. Practitioners are trained to perceive subtle changes in a patient’s physiology and symptom presentation which reveal the underlying physical imbalances responsible for postpartum mood changes.

This ability to treat the root cause also explains why Chinese Medicine is such effective preventative care for PPD. Small imbalances can be caught and corrected before they have the chance to magnify to the point of manifesting as serious symptoms (e.g. full-fledged postpartum depression). Indeed, herbal medicine—in addition to proper rest and nutrition—is widely used in China as an integral element of care during postpartum convalescence to ensure that women stay mentally and physically healthy after childbirth. Postpartum herbal formulas are made of synergistic combinations of herbs that produce strongly restorative physiological effects by replenishing micronutrients, promoting tissue repair, enhancing circulation, and boosting cellular metabolism.

Recommended treatment plans typically include daily herbal medicine coupled with weekly acupuncture visits. Your full course of treatment may range from a few weeks to a few months depending upon the severity of your presentation and duration of symptoms. In any case, you should begin to see positive changes within the first few weeks of your treatment. If your condition is not responsive to treatment with Chinese medicine, your practitioner may refer you to your physician or therapist to explore other treatment options, one of the most common being selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medication (SSRIs).

Cultivating Patience & Compassion

 Have patience and compassion for yourself if you are going through postpartum depression. It can be an incredibly disorienting and frightening experience, and it is all too often compounded with feelings of isolation, shame, and guilt. Know that PPD is a genuine medical condition with distinct physiological causes. It deserves prompt medical treatment and it often signals a need for increased community support and self-care. Many women also benefit from joining postpartum support groups, which provide a safe space to share experiences and connect with other mothers.

For more help navigating PPD, including a list of resources in your area, check out Postpartum Support International. To schedule an appointment at Well Woman Acupuncture in either our Boulder or Longmont office, call us 303-499-1965 or schedule online. If you would like to work with us but don’t live in Colorado, we also offer herbal consultations by phone and we will mail your custom herbal formulas right to your doorstep. Finally, if you are uncertain if Chinese Medicine is a good fit for you, we would be happy to answer your questions during a free 15-minute phone consultation.

 

References:

National Institute of Mental Health

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

American Psychological Association

http://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-depression.aspx

 

Pathway to Pregnancy, Part III: Postpartum & the 4th Trimester

by Julie Johnson, L.Ac.

 

In this final installment of our series, The Path to Parenthood, we will discuss the POSTPARTUM period with a focus on self-care for mamas.

So. You are having a baby!

Your approaching due date brings with it much anticipation and excitement. The to-do list is bursting with supplies to buy (Diapers! Breast pump! Baby Bjorn!) and tasks to complete (Paint nursery! Hang mobile! Decorate with butterflies/dinosaurs/giraffes/something adorable!)

For many new parents, the nesting instinct comes on strong: Let’s make sure that we have everything we need to meet our little one’s needs and welcome him/her into the world. It’s fun and easy to focus on these details, because the fun part of having a baby is, well, the baby!

 What may not make it on to your to-do list, however, are preparations for postpartum self-care that go beyond enlisting Grandma for baby-sitting help or asking your best friend to bring over a few meals in the early weeks.

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Our New Acupuncture Location in Longmont

Well Woman Is Expanding to Longmont!

I am so excited to announce the opening of our 2nd location, Well Woman North, located in Old Town Longmont! We will begin seeing patients on November 16th.

Why Longmont? Shortly after my family and I moved to Longmont in 2015, I recognized a need for a women’s health practice in this community. While Longmont boasts several outstanding acupuncture clinics, it became apparent that the growing demand for quality health care warranted the addition of another acupuncture practice. And one that is focused solely on women’s health seemed a necessity.

I also wanted to build something closer to home, to settle in and establish deep roots in this town I’ve come to love, and to contribute to the economic prosperity of our thriving community. Well Woman Acupuncture is in a position to do that, having achieved tremendous success in Boulder over the past 10 years.

I attribute this success to our unwavering commitment to knowledge and innovation in the field of Chinese medicine, as well as a deep compassion for our patients that drives us to go above and beyond the standard of care. It is my mission to provide this same level of care at our 2nd location, and to give patients the expertise and authentic support that they deserve and have come to expect from Well Woman Acupuncture.

Patients have already been asking how it will work. Here is the break down of the logistics:

  • The Boulder office will continue to serve as our main clinic, with a full in-house pharmacy and staff. The Longmont location will be smaller initially, as we look for our permanent clinic home (we are temporarily going to be located in Community Roots Midwife Collective, as we search for a larger clinic space), and will not have an in-house pharmacy. Longmont herb orders will be sent by courier.
  • Longmont hours will be minimal until early 2017, with appointment availability on Wednesdays only.
  • We are welcoming a new acupuncturist, Krystal, in January! After she is all settled into her new role, she and I will be dividing our time between the two clinics so that each location has full-time appointment availability! We will also be adding amazing massage therapy at the Longmont clinic as well.
  • Online booking is available for both locations. Simply choose your desired location from the drop-down menu on the Book Now page. Appointments are available for Longmont starting on Nov 16th.

If you have any questions or need help booking an appointment, don’t hesitate to call us. And pass the word on to your Longmont friends! We’d love to see you there.