Fertility is the New Holy Grail

Resolve to know more about the underling factors affecting conception and alternative family possibilities. * This article was originally written for the February 2015 Digital Issue of Essential Living Maine*

I had two stepmothers who were infertile for various reasons, and have an adopted baby brother. Several of my close friends and family member have used IVF to conceive, and I have my eggs cryopreserved. A few of my good friends have fostered and adopted, and others have intentionally chosen childfree lives. As lesbian and gay marriage has normalized, and divorce rates have climbed, more and more alternative families are being created using sperm banks, surrogates, egg donors, known sperm donors and more. The quest for fertility is all around us, and has been for the past 30 years in ever-increasing numbers.

The Internet has an enormous amount of information available on this topic, as the World Wide Web offers an enormous cross cultural support network for women trying to conceive (#TTC.) Infertility is usually a silent disease without any visible disability associated; however, it draws deeply on the mind/body and soul in underground ways that cannot be explained to those who do not have to undergo its trails and tribulations. Thus, the web is a great way to connect, share information, and do research while maintaining public anonymity.

220px-Sangreal-1Integrative Medicine is key to enhancing fertility. Integrative Medicine combines the best of modern medicine (reproductive technology) with time-honored complementary and alternative medicines (botanical therapies, clinical nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture, and stress management support.) The quest to get pregnant (and stay pregnant!) has been a calling of doctors and midwives since the beginning of time and across all cultures.

After ten years of fertility specialization, here are my Top Ten Integrative Medicine Fertility Fundamentals to know about when mapping your journey:

  1. First, while on oral contraceptive pills, rings, or IUD’s and for at least 6 months coming off them, it is important to supplement with a good quality multivitamin that contains at least 10-20mg of all of the B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, and 800mg folic acid. These are depleted by synthetic estrogens, and a deficiency can cause long term fertility issues down the road.
  1. If you have a family hx of miscarriage, have had a miscarriage yourself, or have any anemia or high homocysteine on lab work, you may want to test for a genetic defect called MTHFR that leads to a folic acid absorption issue. http://www.apothecarybydesign.com/blog/archives/332
  1. DHEA is a fat-soluble antioxidant and hormone precursor produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA is also a key player in egg health, showing improved embryo quality and higher live birth rates than controls. Studies have used 75 mg of DHEA daily. 1 DHEA supplementation also evidenced higher rates of spontaneous pregnancies in long-term poor responders to IVF in another study using 25 mg three times per day. 2 DHEA supplementation slows the aging process by preventing lipid oxidation while improving energy and metabolism.
  1. CoQ10 is imperative to egg health. Egg division from 46 to 23 chromosomes requires effective mitochondrial function. 3. It has been suggested that mitochondrial DNA defects that effect metabolic capacity may be a cause of failure in egg maturation, fertilization, or early embryonic development. 4. Aged eggs have decreased mitochondrial energy which can result in deficient energy to divide properly resulting in Downs’s syndrome and other genetic anomalies. All women over 30 who are still considering pregnancy should be on 100mg of ubiquinol daily to maintain efficient mitochondrial activity.
  1. Test your hormones early, and keep testing every few years for an objective measurement of fertility reserves. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) levels must be tested on day 3 of the menstrual cycle with Anti Mullerian Levels (AMH) levels before beginning fertility protocols. FSH reflects the relationship between the ovaries and pituitary and higher levels indicate perimenopause and poor ovarian function. Therefore, levels of FSH under 10 are best. AMH is also called the “egg timer” as it gives an accurate level of the follicular reserves of the ovaries. AMH levels do not fluctuate throughout a cycle and can be tested at any time. Serum AMH levels decline throughout ones reproductive life cycle, and are undetectable after menopause; therefore, higher levels are more desirable.
  1. Don’t wait too long to consider IVF. If you have been #TTC for more than 9 months and have not become pregnant with regular, timed inseminations, IUI’s or intercourse, make appointments with a fertility clinic and an Integrative fertility specialist. Having a Plan B will decrease stress, and it takes time to consider the financial and medical burdens associated with reproductive technology. However, it is worth it to have that baby in your arms! If IVF is needed, committing to the process earlier in your fertility journey can increase your chances for that #BFP (Big Fat Positive) on your first attempt.
  1. Don’t forget the men! At least 30% of infertility is male factor. Too often one half of the couple is doing everything possible (yoga, clean eating, no caffeine, no alcohol, meditation, support group, acupuncture, etc) while the other half is the root cause of the issue. Getting a sperm analysis is one of the first steps in a fertility evaluation, and can bypass months of angst from non-conception.
  1. Sperm need fertility enhancing supplements too! Omega 3 fats, 15 mg zinc, and stress busting herbs like Maca or Ashwaganda will improve sperm health, tonify libido and boost fertility.
  1. Have your thyroid hormones including TSH, Free T3 and Free T4 and your progesterone levels tested. Low thyroid function leads to low progesterone, which leads to frequent miscarriage in a classic vicious cycle. Some Endocrinologists and Family Docs may have conservative opinions on these levels and may use outdated reference ranges or be unwilling to test for Free T3. Consulting an Integrative Medicine Doc, Naturopathic Doctor or anti-aging Hormone Doctor may give you more information about optimizing your hormone levels rather than operating at a subclinical deficiency.
  1. Consider alternatives to the traditional nuclear family. There are many beautiful babies who want safe, stable, loving homes and need fostering and adoption. I know three amazing families of beautiful fostered babies! There are also women able and willing to carry babies to create families that are not their own. While a biological birth is what we are taught to dream for, this is not the answer for some. Infertility is tragic and real for people who have always assumed they would be able to birth when they are ready. Allow your self to grieve as a couple, but do not close the door on other options even if they seem inconceivable at first.

On another note, childfree living also has many blessings. Our culture is slowly shifting away from the definition of having a (nuclear) family as the ultimate success. Childfree living allows for a more relaxed and abundant lifestyle with more freedom, ability to travel, and heightened romance for a couple. We are an overpopulated planet, and I know from my life, having an auntie that is invested and involved in my life is incredibly valuable. Here are many ways to be a part of a family, and each version needs to be recognized as equally valuable and important!

I could keep typing another ten set of treatments supports, and probably another ten after that,  I am so passionate about fertility! However, as I said earlier the Internet is a rich resource. Some other articles I have written on the topic include:

I wish each of you success on your Holy Grail of Fertility. May your journey connect you to your own Divine nature as you experience one of the great, uncontrollable mysteries of life: Conception!

References

  1. Addition of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for poor-responder patients before and during IVF treatment improves the pregnancy rate: a randomized prospective study. Hum Reprod.  2010; 25(10): 2496-500Accessed September 13 2013
  1. Leonidas mamas, Eudoxia Mamas. Dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation in assisted reproduction: rationale and results. Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology 2009, 21:306-308.
  1. David Meldrum, MD. Aging gonads, glands, and gametes: immutable or partially reversible changes? Fertility and Sterility 2013; 99:1-4.
  1. The use of mitochondrial nutrients to improve the outcome of infertility treatment in older patients. Fertility and Sterility 2010; 93:272-5.

To book an appointment:

http://www.agemanagementcenter.com/contact-amc/  or call 207-774-1356

Clinical Practice:

www.agemanagementcenter.com

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For more information about Infertility see:

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LGB Trans HRT ~ New Program, Fresh Vision, New You

imagesWIDJJQD2The flame of Trans* Health has been burning steadily brighter in my life over the past 3 years. I was keen on the practice while still living and working in Toronto, ON but without a scope of prescribing hormones, my work with the Trans* community was peripheral medicine – acupuncture, restoration of transman fertility, anxiety support etc. I continued to take trainings in the hormone and lab protocols to better understand the medical aspects of transition, without the vision of guiding transition myself.

Once I moved to Maine in 2011, my scope of practice as a ND changed. Naturopathic Doctors have different abilities to prescribe and order diagnostic lab work in each state and province. Most of the west coast states plus British Columbia have full prescribing rights, can do IV therapies, and can act like primary care docs for their patients. In the more conservative middle North America and east coast, Vermont and New Hampshire are the only states/provinces with a full scope of practice. However, for me, from Ontario, the ability to prescribe most hormones and antibiotics was a big change of pace!

I mentored and practice with Dr. Michael Bedecs, an Osteopathic Doctor specializing in hormone therapies for the past  3 years. Under his guidance (plus several conferences on trans health, anti-aging and hormone optimization) I have come to better understand the intricacies of the endocrine system, and how they interrelate through reproductive, thyroid, adrenal, pancreatic and pituitary pathways. All this time, my brain has been making subtle connections in Trans* health, drawing pathways to hormonal optimization the bridges the cultural and gender fluidity required with treating the LGBT community with medical advancements in metabolism, subclinical hypothyroidism, fertility, adrenal exhaustion, cortisol excess, insulin resistance and more.

Dr. Bedecs and I have created a new program called LBGT HRT that includes the dynamic possibilities of gender and hormone variation, bioidentical hormone replacement, transsexual transition and transgender health. We will be offering this through our concierge style practice at Age Management Center in Portland, Maine.

Age Management Center is a cash based practice. We do not accept any insurance plans for visits, medication or laboratory services. Some patients are able to pay for our services through Health Savings Accounts, or get third party reimbursement. Working outside of insurance allows us to provide a standard of care far above  the norm. We offer blood work here in our clinic, at physician pricing. Because we are not limited by the current scope of insurance, we are able to test for and evaluate metabolic parameters that are essential to our complete understanding of hormonal health and wellness.  We spend an average of 90 minutes for first visits, and offer a free 30 minute consult before any commitment is required. Furthermore, within our framework of concierge medicine, each visit is not priced and ticketed; rather, the ongoing support of our doctors, nurses and medical staff is included in the program, allowing you unlimited access for questions, concerns, and follow up until your program is fine tuned and ship shape.

We know this style of medicine is not accessible for all members of the LGB and Trans community. Therefore, I created a monthly sliding scale clinic at Justice in The Body the first Monday of each month from 9am – 12pm to meet the needs of the lower income members of the gender queer and Trans* community here in Portland, Maine, and beyond. This clinic is limited in that a prescribing MD, NP or DO is still required to Rx the Testosterone for FTM and Spironolactone or Cyproterone for MTF; however, I am able to order lab work through insurance in Maine and can work with your prescriber to optimize current hormone protocols and work on supporting the Integrative aspects of general health and wellness that come with transitioning. Many of my patients at the Trans* Health Clinic have been fully transitioned, and we are working on other aspects of preventative medicine and optimized health through the lens of Trans* medicine. I am currently working on expanding the scope of the JITB Trans * Health Clinic by finding a prescriber to work directly with us in house. Stay Tuned!

Follow me on Twitter for Trans* Health @LGBTHRT

Follow me on Facebook for monthly updates about the Trans Health Clinic at JITB

Note: Trans* is a new-ish term. The asterisk denotes that the term is encompassing the entire transgender, transsexual and gender fluid spectrum of individuals without having to write all of that every time.

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5 Steps for Fertility Preservation Over 35

1Rope_Cross. CoQ10 preserves the quality of the eggs mitochondria  – essential for replication and good “egg energy” aka ATP for cell division. 100-400 mg daily prevention, 400 mg twice daily during a stimulation cycle.  ( The use of mitochondrial nutrients to improve the outcome of infertility treatment in older patients. Fertility and Sterility 2010; 93:272-5. )

2. DHEA is a lipid antioxidant and youth-reviving hormone precursor. I suggest 10 mg daily for prevention,  25 mg daily 6 weeks before stimulation cycle. Up to 75mg daily is evidenced to improve egg and embryo quality and enhance spontaneous conception. (Addition of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for poor-responder patients before and during IVF treatment improves the pregnancy rate: a randomized prospective study. Hum Reprod.  2010; 25(10): 2496-500 Accessed September 13 2013)

3. This is your individualized medicine step – what do you need to tonify your specific reproductive patterns and enhance the chances of conception?

4. Fertility Massage is key for addressing muscular and ligament stress lodged deep in the pelvis that could mechanically impair the ability to maintain pregnancy. Concomitant castor oil packs clear debris from the ovaries and fallopian tubes, flushing lymphatic channels for a more balanced local immune response. The self massage/ hands on aspect maintains a connection between the cerebral, medicalized experience of ART and the physical sensations of the lower belly while reducing emotional stress. http://natural-fertility-info.com/fertility-massage.

5. Optimize your nutritional status with: extra leafy greens on a regular basis; superfoods especially in smoothies;daily  fresh vegetables; and choosing clean meat and dairy whenever possible. Reduce or eliminate sugar during high intensity hormone treatments including birth control pills.

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Advanced Maternal Age

IMG_0560I did not think I would be single and 41. I was pretty sure at 25, 27, 33, even 35 that kids were unconditionally on the horizon. I was not concerned that I would have kids later – after all I didn’t even graduate from medical school until I was 27. Then, I broke up with my long term love at 35. A quick trip to the fertility clinic at that time told me I was still good to go, and gave me info on my options.

I have been a lesbian for most of my adult life,  so assisted reproduction was  a necessary part of the planning. I  had considerable time to collect information on the legalities of sperm donors vs sperm bank options, and to become familiar with the insemination options that both gay and straight couples use in the quest for pregnancy. As a fertility specialist, I have supported many people through natural conception, IUI, and IVF. Now, well, lets say it could happen accidentally as I have switched teams. But, at my “advanced maternal age” natural conception is quite unlikely. So, after a second trip to the fertility clinic to confirm my continued fertile-ability, I am 3 days away from cryopreserving my eggs.

What this means, is I am doing the first half of an IVF cycle, and then instead of fertilizing  and transferring them, the eggs are put on ice for a later date. I am choosing to suspend the eggs instead of pre-made embryos, because  as referenced above, I am not in a relationship ready for babies. Its a logical choice for a single woman who is reaching the end of the #fertile years. It is also exciting to foil time, and have the possibility of a young family in the next few years. The miracles of modern medicine :)

Fortunately,  I decided around 33 to become an expert in #enhancingfertility and Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) as an Integrative Medicine doctor. I studied  TCM/ acupuncture and fertility support from 2005-2011, and switched my focus to botanicals, endocrine function and anti-aging medicines in 2012. Read my published article about Integrative Medical support for the follicular phase of #IVF here.

I have quietly been preparing for this date in case I did not end up with a kid on my hip during my rather tumultuous 30’s. I will gracefully accept a child-free lifestyle if that is what is meant to be, as it has a freedom I value and I have wonderful children in my life. I may also choose to foster and adopt locally in Maine. The point of this cryopreservation is not only to end up with a child,  it is to preserve my choice to work towards conceiving within the next few years.

IMG_0672For those in the know, I am on day 8 of a stimulation cycle. I took 450 IU of Gonal-F for the first 6 days, and have ramped down to 300 for the next 2 days. I started 0.25 mg Cetrotide yesterday and will be continuing that for the next few days. Then, the trigger shot and retrieval Tues or Wed. My response is good and side effects minimal, which I am very grateful for. It really does pay to prepare for an event like this even years ahead. (PS. I had 21 eggs collected! 12 mature and 8 immature)

Here are my Top 5 steps for Fertility Preservation in Women over 35

1. CoQ10 preserves the quality of the eggs mitochondria  – essential for replication and good “egg energy” aka ATP for cell division. 100-400 mg daily prevention, 400 mg twice daily during a stimulation cycle.  ( The use of mitochondrial nutrients to improve the outcome of infertility treatment in older patients. Fertility and Sterility 2010; 93:272-5. )

2. DHEA is a lipid antioxidant and youth-reviving hormone precursor. I suggest 10 mg daily for prevention,  25 mg daily 6 weeks before stimulation cycle. Up to 75mg daily is evidenced to improve egg and embryo quality and enhance spontaneous conception. (Addition of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for poor-responder patients before and during IVF treatment improves the pregnancy rate: a randomized prospective study. Hum Reprod.  2010; 25(10): 2496-500 Accessed September 13 2013)

3. This is your individualized medicine step – what do you need to tonify your specific reproductive patterns and enhance the chances of conception?

4. Fertility Massage is key for addressing muscular and ligament stress lodged deep in the pelvis that could mechanically impair the ability to maintain pregnancy. Concomitant castor oil packs clear debris from the ovaries and fallopian tubes, flushing lymphatic channels for a more balanced local immune response. The self massage/ hands on aspect maintains a connection between the cerebral, medicalized experience of ART and the physical sensations of the lower belly while reducing emotional stress. http://natural-fertility-info.com/fertility-massage.

5. Optimize your nutritional status with: extra leafy greens on a regular basis; superfoods especially in smoothies;daily  fresh vegetables; and choosing clean meat and dairy whenever possible. Reduce or eliminate sugar during high intensity hormone treatments including birth control pills.

It is the grit of everyday living that builds the pearl of one’s career. In the process of enhancing my own fertility, I have learned as much from the patients I have treated and supported as they learned from me. This primal biological drive has helped me to become a much better doctor in this field as I experience the nuances of treatment myself. I look forward to continuing to support all patients seeking conception, especially those of us above 35 that have lived full complicated lives and have had to balance the biological desire to have children with the real-life tensions of sex, gender, career, finance, and relationship.

 

 

 

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Using Herbal Medicine in Pregnancy

pregnancy-tonic-tea-220x231There are always questions about which herbs are safe to use in pregnancy. There is considerable historical and clinical information on the use botanical medicine for enhancing fertility, treating common conditions of pregnancy, and supporting postpartum care and lactation. The modern push for evidence-based studies to confirm safety of use is hindered by the ethical issue of conducting clinical trials during pregnancy. Therefore, there are very few if any double blind placebo controlled studies to reference for this population. For this reason, most online and allopathic resources will list herbs as “not safe in pregnancy” even if they have been safely used for centuries as part of maternal medicine. Furthermore, the World Health Organization label requirements for botanical medicines includes information on the use during pregnancy and lactation. As there is insufficient evidence-based studies on botanicals in pregnancy, almost all products will say Not Safe in Pregnancy or Lactation. This is good in some ways, because it protects the fetus from harmful herbal constituents accidentally taken by an unsuspecting parent. On the other hand, it limits many people from accessing safe and effective supportive herbal therapies during this unique time of life.

As a general rule of thumb, almost all herbs are best avoided during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy unless specifically prescribed by an expert in this field. Ginger is one exception to this, as it has significant clinical evidence to reduce nausea of pregnancy. Still, even ginger can be too stimulating and is best taken in moderation. *Dosage for hyperemesis gravidum could be 5-10 drops of a ginger glycerite tincture as needed, up to 70 drops daily. Ginger tea or  chrystallized ginger can be used 2-4 times a day, and ginger candies up to 10 daily. Roobios is another herb that is a safe tea in early pregnancy. This is a traditional pregnancy medicine in Africa, and a very common tea base. Nettles are also very gentle and provide a mineral-rich tonic for the newly pregnant mom. Nettle is a lovely tea base to use throughout pregnancy and lactation for hydration and nourishment. As every person’s body is different, it is sometimes best to stick with what your body knew pre-pregnancy rather than trying new things in these sensitive weeks to avoid unexpected allergic reactions or other physical repercussions.

There are some herbs which must be completely avoided throughout pregnancy as these are known to be harmful in some way. For a complete list see:  http://thewrightdoctor.com/womens-health-2/herbs-not-safe-in-pregnancy/

Herbs with strong alkaloids (identified by a bitter taste) are to be avoided. These often have a strong action on the body, whether digestive or cardiac. There are many gentle herbs and nutritional supports which are safer digestive tonics for pregnancy. Laxative herbs exert their effects through muscular contractions and can stimulate uterine contractions as well. Most herbs with strong hormonal activity are to be avoided completely , as are all anti-parasitic formulas. Certain herbs that are to be avoided in pregnancy can be prescribed by experts in this field in the last few weeks of pregnancy to prepare the uterus for labour.  These are only to be used under the guidance of an experienced midwife or prescribing professional with obstetric training in botanical therapies.

There are many herbs which help pregnant women connect to their body and the environment in a grounding, tonifying way that are safe and effective. Some women will make their own creations from local plants, and others will buy them. When purchasing plant remedies, it is important to buy from reliable brands. Gaia, Apollo herbs, Herb Pharm, Vitanica, Wise Woman and Avena Botanicals are all ethical and responsible manufacturers of high quality herbals. If you are concerned about whether or not a product is safe for you, simply do not use it! Or, find a local Naturopathic Dr, Midwife, or Herbalist to guide you in your pregnancy care.

These are some herbs which are safe to take. * Alfalfa is very high in chlorophyll and rich in minerals and vitamins. This is a great greens powder in smoothies. Burdock can be used in small doses of 20 drops 1-2 times a day after the first trimester. Burdock supports women with blood sugar difficulties or constipation later in a pregnancy. Dandelion greens are a great tonic for women pregnant in the spring. They are robust in vitamins and strengthen the urinary system. Dandelion root can also be used in small amounts like burdock, for sour stomach, nausea and itchy skin. Oatstraw is a soothing tea or tincture which calms an overstimulated nervous system. This is a must have for pregnant moms with other small children! Up to four cups of Oatstraw tea daily is safe or use in tincture form 40-60 drops in water 2-3 times a day.

Rose hips are safe throughout pregnancy. These have abundant vitamin C to support collagen production in skin and help maintain vascular wall integrity.  They have a sour zip, and make a yummy tea with nettle and honey. Saint Johnswort herb is a safe and gentle mood support during pregnancy as well as a safe option to treat herpes outbreaks both topically and internally. It should not be used with other medications, but is a reliable ally for women during this time of life. Red raspberry leaf is very well known as a late pregnancy tonic. This silvery-green leaf strengthens the uterine muscle without stimulating contractions, preparing the body for the adventure of labour. It is rich in iron to support the increased blood volume in later pregnancy. It is best drank as a tea 1-3 cups per day for the third trimester. Finally, Valerian is a safe sleep support. It is best to use the smallest dose needed for therapeutic value, so start with 1 cup tea before bed or 10-30 drops of tincture and increase as needed.

Pregnancy is a time of life when so much is unknown, and so much can go wrong – there is so much responsibility for both parents and care providers. For this reason much of modern medicine has erred strongly on the side of caution when it comes to using herbal medicines in pregnancy. This caution is compounded by the high cost that many IVF assisted pregnancies carry. Every move becomes highly medicalized, and simple acts like a cup of herbal tea are forgotten as effective therapeutics. The bottom line when it comes to using herbs in pregnancy is: if it makes you nervous, dont do it. You cannot rely on the internet, on your OB,  or on labels to tell you what is safe to take during this time of life. However, there are some very reliable books on using herbs in pregnancy, and many Herbalists, Naturopathic Doctors and Midwives have expertise in this area. Enjoy!

http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/d/Jh2945e/9.5.html

http://www.ahpa.org/default.aspx?tabid=70

*ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. M. Blumenthal p. 174

*The Natural Pregnancy Book. Aviva Jill Romm

*Herbal Childbearing Year. Susun Weed p. 19, 51

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