Summit on Environment, Reproductive, Nutritional and Genetic Factors Affecting Reproduction

In my acupuncture for fertility practice I have been talking with patients for years now about the hormone disruption caused by environmental chemicals, as well as how nutrition affects reproduction. So I was eager to attend the March 5th Environment and Reproductive Science Summit 2016  in Dallas and to share what I learned.

This conference was sponsored by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, The Society for the Study of Reproduction, and the Society of Reproductive Biologists and Technologists. The presenters and the attendees were MD’s who do IVF, as well as accomplished researchers in the area of reproductive biology and technology.

I thought that I might be the only practitioner who does acupuncture for infertility at the conference, but I was delighted to see MD and mentor, Dr. Sadhna Singh, who was trained in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and practices acupuncture for fertility in Houston , Texas.

I knew that I would return with more questions than answers, and with frustration that many of the findings cannot yet be clinically applied. Indeed, much of the research has not been published yet. But the direction of the data definitely supports the dreadful fact that as a species our fertility may be declining and we are possibly headed toward the need for more assisted reproduction. Attending the conference also validated my efforts for the last twelve years at educating my patients in regard to limiting exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Researchers from Harvard, UCLA, UCSF, etc., and the National Institute of Health presented information on male and female fertility that was gathered from original research in humans and animals, as well as from surveys and retrospective studies. The focus for all of the studies was Environmental, Nutritional, and Genetic Factors Affecting Reproduction. The endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDC’s that were discussed included those that come from plastics, pesticides, polluted air, and personal care items.

Scientific “pearls” and notable information included:

  • Components of plastics are “covalently unstable” which means they do indeed leach out of items and enter the human body.
  • Organic diets significantly reduce levels of pesticides in our bodies.
  • Some endocrine disruptors such as the fungicide vinclozolin causes “Transgenerational epimutations”. This means that the negative affects of the fungicide are passed on to at least three generations of offspring.
  • Phthlates, used to soften plastics, caused a decrease in sperm and genital malformations in mice.
  • BPA (bisphenol-a) used to harden plastics, caused meiotic (cell division) errors and spermatocyte (early sperm cell) loss.
  • Endocrine disruptor exposure in mice affected timing of puberty, weight, and gene expression in mice.

Information from surveys included a presentation from a researcher at the National Institute of Health who profiled the ENDO, Life Study and the Oxford Conception Study which show a connection between stress and fertility. It is important to remember that showing an association is not the same as showing cause and effect.

In an effort to present balanced information, I must tell you that not everyone in the scientific community believes that there is enough evidence to supporting a clear connection between exposure to environmental chemicals and endocrine disruption that impairs fertility. But better safe than sorry, and if we cannot eliminate all of the exposure around us, why not limit our exposure as best we can? Drink, cook, eat, and store in glass and stainless steel. Use lotions, potions and personal care products that do not have endocrine disrupting chemicals in them. Reach for the baking soda and vinegar for cleaning. I have shared with all of you that have come to my office for fertility acupuncture, the literature from the UCLA Center for Reproductive Health and the Environment.  Their pamphlet will give you information on finding products without potentially dangerous chemicals in them.

The speaker I truly wanted to hear was Dr. Jorge Chavarro, from Harvard. He is an MD and a nutrition researcher, and I have lent many of you the book he wrote with Dr. Walter Willet, The Fertility Diet. He presented data on the association between high pesticide exposure and low sperm count and plastic exposure and low birth weight. But finally there was some good news (and things we can do) from a presenter: Omega-3 fats from fish result in higher sperm counts and higher mono-fat intake  (olive, peanut, almond, sunflower, safflower oil, avocados) is associated with higher birth rates. He did add that he was disturbed by one of his recent findings: evil “transfats”, aka, partially hydrogenated fats can still be found in men’s sperm even though it has been largely eliminated in the food supply.

Attendees asked many hard questions of the presenters, such as does the IVF process expose embryos to potentially harmful chemicals, and if so, what is the affect ?  Of course you can imagine that the answer was a big fat “We don’t know”. However some researchers are looking at epigenetic, chromotin, and mitochondrial dysfunction (things related to gene function) in regard to the IVF process. If all this seems alarming or confusing, remember that it is a good thing that these issues are being looked at, because it ultimately may be a step to improving the process, safety, and outcomes of IVF. And the bottom line is that every year I get amazingly beautiful Christmas card photos of perfect, beautiful babies.

If any of you would like to talk with me about the conference, do not hesitate to call or e-mail.  

Jane Gleeson 

Jane Gleeson Infertility Acupuncture Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Jane Gleeson Infertility Acupuncture Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Importance of a Father’s Diet

CheeseballsWhen I meet with a woman seeking acupuncture for infertility, I emphasize the importance of including her spouse or male partner in our two hour session. This is because in addition to information about acupuncture and infertility, I share a lot of information about nutrition and how the nutritional status of both the man and the woman affects fertility and the health of the baby.

Scientific studies have shown that the offspring of male mice who were fed low nutrition diets had more neurological, developmental, and psychological disorders than the control group who were fed a more nutritious diet.

Human studies on pre-conception and pre-natal nutrition are equally interesting. Although it has been shown that a women’s lack of folate (B9) may be responsible for brain and spinal cord defects in a baby, research indicates that a man’s lack of folate can result in passing on damaged DNA and RNA via his sperm. “We should be looking carefully at the way a man is living his life”, said study author and reproductive biologist Sarah Kimmins of McGill University.” “Environmental exposure is remembered in the developing sperm and transmitted to offspring.”

Other things in a man’s life, such as high fat and stress, have also been shown to possibly affect fertility and the health of a child.

Sharing information on some of these issues has been rewarding in my acupuncture and infertility practice, as I see so many women who feel that because they “carried” the baby, they are solely responsible for any miscarriages or defects.

We all know of people with unhealthy lifestyles who break all the rules and become pregnant anyway. This is because conception, like birth, is complex and miraculous. In my acupuncture practice I try to help couples struggling with infertility to embrace this fact and just keep going forward, not trying to achieve perfection, but doing the best they can.

 

A Fresh Look at Old Statistics

I was intrigued and excited for my acupuncture and infertility patients when I read  Dr. Jean Twenge’s article, “How Long Can You Wait To Have a Baby?” in the July issue of the Atlantic Magazine.

Dr. Twenge, who is a Phd. in Psychology at San Diego State University who dealt with “baby panic” in her thirties, states that, “The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying….is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal of Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data:French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless–30 percent–was also calculated on historical populations”. Twenge goes on to say that she could not get a citation (source) from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s for their published guidelines that state only 20 percent of 30 year old women and 5 percent of 40 year old women will get pregnant each cycle.

More optimistic research she highlights was done by Dr. David Dunson of Duke Uiversity and published in Obstetrics and Gynecology (2004). It showed tat in 770 European women who had sex at least twice per week, 82 percent of 35 to 39 year olds conceived within a year, compared with 86 percent of 27 to 24 year olds. In a recent Danish study published in Fertility and Sterility, “…among women having sex during their fertile time, 78 percent of 35 to 40 year olds became pregnant within a year, compared to 84 percent of 20 to 34 year olds”.  I did wonder if averaging 35 year olds with 40 year olds is misleading, but that gets back to what can be done with statistics. Dr. Twenge goes on to say that Dunson’s research reveals that if couples in their late thirties time intercourse more closely to ovulation, their chances of conception are the same as couples in their late 20’s who seem to have a longer window of fertility each month.

The statistics Twenge reports are very positive and helpful to me as I try to support couples who are trying to conceive naturally or through IVF.  However, the fact remains that fertility does decline with age, and the number of eggs a women can produce through IVF at a later age is often reduced. Fortunately , the biomedical options for women in this situation, such as egg and embryo preservation, continue to expand and improve.

Mayo Clinic Complementary and Alternative Medicine Conference

7/11/2013

Syllabus photo

Last weekend I attended the Mayo Clinic Complementary and Alternative Medicine Conference. Along with about 29 other major medical centers that include Harvard, Yale, Duke, Cleveland Clinic and Georgetown, Mayo has a department dedicated to Integrative Medicine. A broad range of topics were presented at the conference including Integrative Medicine for Women’s Health, chronic pain, headaches and weight loss. There were sessions on acupuncture, Taiji, Qigong, and Laughter, as well as updates on nutritional supplements and hormone replacement . Although I would like to share all of the conference information with you, I have put just a few facts in the “We already kind of knew that but it’s nice to be reminded category and a “Really? category. The goal of the Mayo physicians was to present e research based information.

“We already kind of knew that” category:

1. Acupuncture has been shown to decrease dysmenorrhoea.

2. Tai Chi improves balance and decreases falls in the elderly.

3. Flaxseed and fish oil lower triglycerides.

4. Probiotics can positively impact gut health

5. The Mediterranean Diet (olive oil, whole grains, fruits and vegetables) can result in a 75% less chance of death over the first 5 years after a myocardial infarction.

 “Really?” category:

1. Metformin (a type II diabetes drug) “results in vitamin B12 deficiency in 30% of patients.” This was of interest to me because many of my infertility patients with PCOS symptoms have been put on metformin by their physicians.

2. 90% of women have inadequate intake of folate and vitamin E from food. This has important implications for women in their reproductive years, as it has been well established that folate and its cousin folic acid are key players in healthy formation of the spinal cord in babies.

3. 73% of women do not eat more than three servings of vegetables per day. Five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables (combined) is considered essential to obtain needed nutrients. My opinion is that women struggling with infertility or who are already pregnant need even more.

4. 55% of people do not tell their physicians what supplements they are taking.

5. Patients electing to have “food allergy testing” should know that most of the companies doing expensive testing look at the blood “Igg” response which is not definitive. Measuring “Ige” response is more accurate. Dr. Larry Bergstrom from the Mayo Clinic said people should simple eat a food, “and see how it makes them feel”.

6. In a study done with Topirimate vs. Yoga for migraines, more patients improved with Yoga. Their anxiety and depression scores improved more also.

7. Laughter makes our bodies relax and the effects can last up to 45 minutes.

Although these “take aways” seem to cover many different topics, the conference was indeed broad in scope. As always, I will be discussing more information from the conference with each of my patients, as indicated.

Acupuncture and Synchronizing Conception

Jane Gleeson Infertility Acupuncture Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Jane Gleeson Infertility Acupuncture Wisconsin, Milwaukee

I have written in the past about how I am continually amazed at all of the events in the human body that must occur in a definite sequence in a definite window of time for conception to take place. When a patient has done all of the appropriate tracking of fertile mucus, temperature, LH surges, etc. and combined that with the most important part–intercourse, I am at a loss to explain to them why another month will go by without a positive test. After seeing how a patients cycles have become regular and normal in every way  (including proper luteal phase) after coming to acupuncture,  I am often frustrated and disappointed right along with my patients.

Although the timing of intercourse does indeed need to be synchronized with ovulation, I am intrigued by some scientific evidence that men’s semen may indeed contain a hormone or chemical that encourages ovulation and helps regulate a woman’s cycles. So for women with irregular or anovulatory cycles, it may be good to have relations throughout the month, as opposed to waiting for fertility signs. This can also be a more relaxed approach to becoming pregnant, which could be good for a relationship.

 

To Bean or not to Bean…..

I recently returned from Japan where I consumed a lot of soy, which made me think about how many of my patients have asked me about whether soy is good or bad for health. Some of my patients have heard or read that soy is “good” and so consume a lot of it.

The fact is, whether eating soy and soy products is good or bad for our health depends on which research studies you read. However there are some facts you can ponder.

Soy plants contain “phytoestrogens”, or plant based estrogens, which in theory can affect our bodies the way that our own endogenous estrogens, or synthetic estrogens can.

Some studies seemed to show that intake of soy could block the effect of our own estrogen by attaching to estrogen receptor cells in the breast, thereby reducing the growth of estrogen sensitive breast cancers. However a recent study in the Journal of Cancer Prevention Research casts doubt on this theory. Some studies have shown that menopausal hot flashes are reduced for some, but not all people taking soy supplements.  A POSSIBLE link between soy and increased cognitive impairment in older people has also been observed, but other research has come to the opposite conclusion.

So what is a person to do ? So much that I advise patients about always comes back to what I call the “Goldi Locks Principle”.  Not too much, not too little. Everything in moderation.

I always have new patients keep a food journal for a week. One of my patients who came for help with irregular periods recorded that she had soy milk on her cereal for breakfast every morning, followed by soy yogurt for a mid morning snack, and frequently ate soy cheese as an evening appetizer.  She liked cheese and thought soy would be better than dairy based cheese.

I would say this is probably too much to have everyday, especially since the above products may contain a lot of “processed soy” which contains large amounts of soy “isoflavones” that may be a culprit in some of the possible negative effects of soy.

There may be something about whole soy beans and fermented soy that is healthier for us than soy supplements or soy isoflavones. So unless your physician advises you to avoid all types of soy for a specific reason, you should enjoy edamame (whole soy beans), tofu (preferably pickled or fermented), tempeh (a form of fermented soy), and miso (fermented rice, barley, and soy combined).  Maybe just not three servings per day, seven days per week.