About three years ago a woman, whom I’ll call Jenny, came to see me looking for help getting pregnant, here’s her story.
Jenny was 35 Years old (pushing it..I know!), she worked as a hairdresser, was married for 5 years, but only began TTC’ing seriously over the previous year. From the beginning there was little mention of her DH so I was suspecting some relationship issues may be at play – which indeed turned out to be the case!
Jenny had been on the pill for 18 years and only came off it a year earlier to begin a family. As an aside, this is common but not really a good plan IMO, it takes a while for the body to readjust it’s hormones after years of forced dysregulation, so you really need to come off the pill well in advance of TTC’ing.
(Whether or not going on the pill is a good idea or not is a different debate!!)
She was a really nice person to work with, open to ideas and in obvious need of nutritional but also emotional support. It seemed she couldn’t talk openly with her husband about the whole idea of there being ‘a problem’ and was even reluctant to talk to her friends about it as they all had kids, plus she felt they’d give her the “ya left it to late girl” speech.
She was perhaps half a stone overweight – nothing too serious – and showed evidence of early skin deterioration for her age, basically there was a story of struggle in her face. To me this means she was living with a degree of stress and thus experiencing chronic inflammation in her body, which is ultimately the thing that messes up hormone cycles, and mood, and all the other ‘stuff’ we tend to not value until it’s too late.
Her diet was far from ideal: Boxed cereal for breakfast for as long as she could remember, with skim milk, toast and coffee. At the weekends she would eat a fry up with sausage, rasher and scrambled eggs or else she would leave off breakfast entirely. This is a pretty common breakfast for sure but in terms of using food to support your health and prepare for pregnancy this is a horrendous way to start most days of your life. Some of you might be shocked to hear that it was probably the weekend breakfasts that were keeping her afloat!! Jenny’s weekday breakfasts were a deal breaker for fertility because from this foundation alone it is well nigh impossible to get your body to where it needs to be to support the huge task of pregnancy. For lunch Jenny might have a salad roll or a sandwich, which was eaten usually quickly in the small canteen at work. Fast eating means poor digestion I’m afraid – not because of the fast chewing and swallowing per se – but rather it reflects the underlying state of the nervous system being active – or in what we call ‘sympathetic mode’, whereas what you really want is to be in parasympathetic mode to have proper digestion.
The rolls Jenny ate contained margarine (another deal breaker), white or brown bread (which is neither here nor there in terms of nutrition), ham or turkey slices, cheese, some salt and some lettuce.
She would eat a bar for an energy pickup later on in the afternoon and on getting home might have a beef stew, or spaghetti bolognese, or shepherd’s pie or chops, or steak or some fish…with spuds and broccoli, or some variation of the above.
Those of you who know me and my work with the Weston A Price Foundation will know that I aim to achieve far higher levels of nutrition than promoted by the standard food pyramid with its so called 5-a-day rule etc., but honestly Jenny’s diet fell far short of even the basic government recommendations for most nutrients.
Jenny was taking Folic Acid in a multivitamin recommended by her doctor. For me, whilst this may be better than nothing and will help prevent neural tube defects, multivitamins dont come even close to supplying your body with solid nutrition. Plus, the form of folic acid recommended for pregnancy is, well, better than nothing but a long way from optimal. Optimal health should be the goal in advance of pregnancy.
Jenny was displaying symptoms of irregular cycles with some pain leading up to, and again during, her period. Now for sure it is not essential that a woman have regular periods in order to conceive, but it really does help, so period regularity is a common target I aim for with clients. On questioning it transpired that Jenny and her hubby didn’t really know when the best window was to baby dance (bonk – for those of you still getting to grips with infertility speak!). They were guessing based on partial understanding of timing, so the first thing I suggested was for them to begin tracking Jenny’s cycle properly – which I helped them do. (The word ‘them’ is not a mistype – although ultimately it is the woman who tends to do all the tracking, I always encourage both to get involved because it enhances a sense of respect for each other. Interestingly – couples who understand and appreciate the ebbs and flows of each others moods and cycles and the reasons for them tend to have far lower levels of relationship break up!)
Cycle tracking is often the thing that gives couples the biggest confidence boost of all – it can be deeply enlightening.
I considered running a saliva hormone panel across Jenny’s cycle to get a more detailed picture of how her body was producing hormones daily over a month, but figured there was a lot to clear up first so I put that on hold. This test involves collecting 11 samples of saliva spread out over the month and it shows you the exact hormonal pattern your body is working to – which is most definitely NOT what a blood test for hormones do. Blood tests for hormones are used as a basis to take a guess at what your hormones are actually doing, but a saliva test like this actually shows you the truth.
Jenny’s DH had never actually been checked out for sperm quality, yet here she was assuming the problem was all her! I have an issue with this because it is now pretty easy for a man to get his seed tested so I always advocate that he should do so at the first inkling of doubt! With the rising rates of infertility worldwide I advocate that all men should have their sperm quality tested. Why? Because it’s only a few hundred quid and if something is found then it can save a lot of time and angst. Men are so much simpler to test than women so they might as well get it done and if problems show up then well and good, don’t waste another day worrying about it…let’s get to work fixing them! Sperm problems can sometimes be cleared up in three months all going well. For sure some problems are more complex and need more specialist intervention but most are just ‘functional’ issues whereby some function needs support and then the whole system comes into balance.
Anyway I suggested to Jenny that her DH’s sperm should be tested but for whatever personal reason he refused, and so my original suspicions began to take shape. Indeed it transpired there was a communication problem in their marriage (isn’t that always the case?? I hear you say), but I wasn’t in a position to broach this with her just yet.
We decided to work on her diet first as she was all on for this, she was also on for the occasional eating of lamb’s liver – which a lot of women balk at. This is thee power food, a sacred food in many cultures and an intervention that can sometimes make the difference all on its own. I prescribed a nutrient dense diet with lots of good healthy fat, organic sources of meat and eggs, I trebled her intake of a diverse range of vegetables and made sure she include at least a small amount of rice or spuds for carbohydrates. I advocated that she use butter liberally and throw out the margarine. She would later say to me that she was worried about eating so much food as she reckoned it was perhaps three times the volume she had been used to eating – yet as time went on she actually lost weight. It is possible she was eating more food but less calories overall, visual quantities can be deceptive…Go figure!!
Once I saw a change in her eating habits and confirmed a beneficial change in her bowel habits from once every two or three days to once a day I knew we were making progress. I stepped up the program to include some herbs that are known to help the brain manage hormone levels. Lot’s of people don’t get this idea but it is the brain that regulates our hormone patterns, so supporting your hormones doesn’t just mean feeding the glands, it means clearing stress out of your brain and then nourishing it, as well as nourishing the glands directly.
I advised Jenny to enjoy a massage once a week for 6 weeks to relieve tension in her body. Looking at her from the front it was possible to see that her left ear was slightly lower than her right ear – a posture imbalance often due to the body being torqued out of alignment by chronic stress, and which also indicates a pelvic imbalance. It is plausible that such a posture imbalance has a knock on effect on ones ovarian cycle by compromising nerve conductance and or blood flow to the ovaries and or womb. I figured there are numerous ways to address this but the massage idea resonated with her so we went for that! Acupuncture or osteopathy would also have been good options.
I was concerned about the potential for toxic build up in her body as a result of constant exposure to hairsprays at work, and coupled with the fact that her diet had been poor with generally low levels of fat, protein and minerals. Basically I figured Jenny’s detoxification ability was compromised so I suggested we run a test on her urine (called an organic acid test) to look for evidence of compromised detoxification and systemic inflammation. She declined this fearing bad results would only stress her out – which is a good reason not to do it I admit. In the absence of this I recommended a product that promotes liver detoxification, as the liver is where it is all at when it comes to detoxification. (Well…mostly!) It contained whole food B-Vitamins, milk thistle extract, N-acetyl-Cysteine, and turmeric extract. All of these activate various pathways of detoxification in the liver and can often have a very strong noticeable effect on some people.
After a few more months it was clear that there was still some pain leading up to menstruation so I recommended Jenny take a magnesium supplement, which has many uses – one of which is to assist with muscle cramping. This worked a dream and the pain stopped completely. I love magnesium, it’s such a useful product and quite reliable (when you are using the right form of it), yet I sometimes kick myself for not suggesting these things sooner. The truth is though, that I rely on feedback from my clients to know how far and how fast to push things, so I tend to go slowly and ‘suck-it-and-see’.
10 months after contacting me Jenny was pregnant and 9 months later had a beautiful boy. As Hannibal Smith says…”I Love It When A Plan Comes Together”.
Sometimes plans don’t always work out perfectly…sometimes they work out a lot sooner…it’s a very personal journey and so it’s hard to compare between different people.
Buried within these case studies lies a deeper analysis that would take too long to share. It can get seriously complicated when analysing hormone patterns, detoxification pathways, toxin accumulation and dietary adherence, but it’s a job I love doing and when it works out the satisfaction is really powerful!
I hope to share more of these case studies with you all regularly now that my website is finally working properly!!
Thanks for reading and please feel free to pass this link on to who ever you feel would be receptive to them and may be in need of guidance.