Tag Archives: fertility

The Shocking Risks of Being Skinny

As a culture, we fall into a pattern of focusing on the dangers of being overweight. Supplement companies and exercise brands play on heartstrings as they dangle images of lean, fit individuals in trendy fitness apparel racing down the street or pleasantly sipping a shake. Many people (women AND men) quest after that “fit” look and think the skinnier, the better. But this is a delusion. There are some major pitfalls of being really skinny, both for people who have achieved this through diet and exercise and for people who are naturally slender.

 

 

When a woman’s BMI is less than 18.5 she is at a heightened risk for numerous ailments and chronic conditions…we’re even talking death. Skinny isn’t always healthy! So think again the next time you’re feeling envy monsters growling and baring their teeth inside you when your super skinny friend constantly eats junk food or skips the gym “without consequence.” I’m telling you, there’s more to the story underneath. It will eventually show up.

Oh – another kind-of-crazy note is that those friends of yours who can eat a ton and never exercise (while staying rail thin) might have a genetic deviation from the general population that makes it harder for them to absorb nutrients. In other words, they’re eating a ton and their body isn’t gleaning the stuff it needs from all that food, putting them in a position of greater susceptibility to internal health problems. Suddenly, those friends aren’t as enviable. Am I right?

 

Here are the top (very serious) risks of being too thin:

 

Osteoporosis

Low-calorie diets are associated with bone loss because of a lack of nutrients to support estrogen. When estrogen takes a major dive, bones can become brittle and experience density loss. Also, if someone is on a low-calorie diet because of the desire to be skinny then they’re less likely to be incorporating healthy weight training out of the misplaced fear of being “bulky.” Weight training can help prevent some bone less plus it won’t make women bulky.

 

 

Fertility

Women at a low BMI are more prone to amenorrhea or irregular cycles which means they’re either not ovulating regularly or may have trouble with their uterine lining. Additionally, they may be more likely to experience miscarriage. Science Daily says, “Women who have a low body mass index before they become pregnant are 72 percent more likely to suffer a miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy, but can reduce their risk significantly by taking supplements and eating fresh fruit and vegetables.”

This is pretty upsetting stuff. As a woman who has one child and in the process of trying for a second has suffered a miscarriage, I wouldn’t wish this loss on anyone. It’s extremely devastating even though the vast majority of cases of early pregnancy loss are for reasons that can’t be identified. One doctor explains, “The majority of the time miscarriage is a random, isolated event and we can’t pinpoint a cause.” That said, if you know that you have a risk factor while TTC (including low BMI, an immunologic disorder, uterine or cervix abnormalities, current smoker and/or PCOS, to name a few), it’s worth speaking to a health professional about how you can help your body and reduce your risks.

If you think fertility at a low BMI is only a female challenge then you’re mistaken – men with low BMIs are 22x more likely to have a sexual dysfuntion than their healthy-weight peers. Eeerr…you can read here about more of those details.

 

Anemia

When someone isn’t consuming enough nutrients they become more susceptible to anemia, a condition of red blood cell and/or hemoglobin deficiency. When the red blood cells don’t have enough iron, B-12 and folate to do their thing (i.e., support oxygen transport throughout the body and carbon dioxide transport to the lungs), a person’s entire body suffers. For obvious reasons. Anemia is marked by low energy and fatigue and routinely goes hand in hand with amenhorrea. Making sure your body is getting REAL nutrition is key no matter what weight you are.

 

Lowered Immune System

A lack of nutrients due to low-calorie diets and/or inadequate absorption means that a person is more likely to become immune compromised. A steady, strong supply of nutrients helps support gut health and immune function. People with lowered immune systems are more likely to contract seasonal viruses and bacteria and may also be at a heightened risk for serious illnesses such as cancer.

NOTE: People can also overeat but still have poor nutrient density in their diets – so lowered immune function isn’t just a consequence for people who are too skinny. This applies to everyone making poor dietary choices. Our bodies need fresh, nutritious, quality foods to thrive!

 

 

Heart Disease & Diabetes

Kind of surprising that the risk for heart disease and diabetes is high for really skinny people in addition to obese individuals, right? The tricky thing about being thin is that it can give people a false sense of confidence in their health, especially in cases where they’re not taking care of themselves through a healthy lifestyle. Some skinny people may assume they’re healthy thanks to their weight and continue to eat unhealthy foods, skip medical checkups and opt out of the gym. All of this can make for a silent, raging storm under the surface.

Also, there’s a genetic variant that causes some lean people to store more fat directly around their organs, giving them the appearance of being healthy while hiding their heightened risk for heart and organ issues:

“A new study hints that being lean doesn’t get you entirely off the health hook either. In a genetic analysis involving more than 75,000 people, an international group of scientists led by Ruth Loos at the Medical Research Council in the U.K. found that lean people with a specific genetic variant were at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease despite their lower body fat.”

 

As you can see, being too skinny can carry some risks with it. What’s important is that we’re tuned into our internal health instead of relying on our external health as the only indicator of what’s going on in our bodies. Our weight is only a piece of the puzzle. Only a fraction of what makes us truly healthy.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

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Balancing Female Hormones with Food

Perhaps it’s TMI…but this past summer after weaning my son, my hormones went bonkers. Not just for a month or two. For a while. And it drove me INSANE. Per usual, frustrating experiences with my health cause me to dig my feet into the ground a little harder and push like a bull-headed Taurus (which I am) to find information and natural remedies to help my body. The experience catapulted my understanding about several female hormones and how we can help them normalize.

Upon opening up about my own experiences, I discovered a trove of women dealing with equally pesky ups and downs with female hormones. And not all of them were moms who had recently stopped breastfeeding. Some of these women were trying to conceive and others were simply adjusting to new norms as they inched closer to 40 or 50 years old. Still others were feeling the uncomfortable symptoms of severe menstrual cramps, bloating and acne every month, or extremely long and heavy menstrual cycles. All of these women, in different walks of life, made me realize that very few of us actually know how to help our bodies find hormonal balance and wellness. While it’s true that we can’t control every aspect of our hormones, there’s still a lot we can do to take over the reigns. (Frequently, this kind of holistic advice isn’t readily available or discussed. We have to go hunting for it.)  

So, here are the three hormones that can cause us woes and foods we can eat to help them find balance in our bodies:

 

Prostaglandins

These hormones play a major role “in a wide range of body functions such as the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle, the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, control of blood pressure, and modulation of inflammation.” Prostaglandins are also involved in the start of labor for pregnant women, causing the uterus to contract. In fact, semen contains a lot of prostaglandins in it and may be one of the reasons that sex around the timing of one’s due date is said to jump start labor for some women. Forgive me, I had to throw out that weird but interesting factoid. Lastly, prostaglandins play a major role in inflammation in the pelvic region, especially. An imbalance of the different types of prostaglandins (PgE1, Pg E2 & PgE3) can lead to increased local inflammation and heavy menstrual cramps.

Prostaglandins can become out of balance and cause pesky, painful PMS symptoms when fatty acid supplies are too low. Essential fatty acids include both Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids, and they operate best in our bodies when they’re in balance with one another. When fatty acids are available within the body, The Center of Genetics, Nutrition and Health (based in Washington, DC) has found additional benefits for the reduction of breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma! This is pretty mind-blowing and awesome (to me). So, even if your menstrual cycles are pain free and regular, there are still many benefits to eating a diet with plenty of fatty acids of both kinds. But note: Most people are deficient in Omega-3s and need to eat more foods chocked full of them. This begs the next question; Where can we find these foods?

 

Omega-6 Fatty Acid Foods

  • Flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, flaxseed meal
  • Hempseed oil, hempseeds
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Seeds such pumpkin seeds and raw sunflower seeds
  • Nuts, including pignolia (pine) nuts and pistachios
  • Borage oil, evening primrose oil, black currant see oil
  • Acai
  • Corn
  • Sunflower
  • Soybean
  • Cottonseed oil

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Foods

  • Salmon Fish Oil and Alaskan Salmon (wild-caught)
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Walnuts
  • Chia Seeds
  • Ground Flaxseeds
  • Albacore Tuna
  • Hemp Seeds
  • White Fish
  • Anchioves
  • Egg Yolks

If you’re hesitant about adding any of these important Omega-3 foods to your grocery list then you can check out one of two convenient options for an Omega-3 boost to your system:

  1. Oatmega – a protein/snack bar full of fish oils that comes in a variety of flavors (don’t worry, you can’t taste the fish oil)
  2. Daily Harvest – a monthly, smoothie-delivery company that has creative, delicious and healthy ingredients, and several smoothie flavors that include omega-rich foods (I’m debating stocking my freezer full of these yum-yums)

 

 

Estrogen

For a long time women have naturally assumed that the aging process is accompanied by a precipitous decline in estrogen as we creep towards menopause (or sometimes fall headfirst into it). We hear that the older we get the less estrogen we have. In fact, by about 50 years old, women have approximately 35% less estrogen than they did in their “younger years.” But that’s not the full picture of what’s happening in our bodies…

As the female aging process begins around 35 years old (i.e., when fertility shifts due to changing hormones), women experience a much more dramatic dip in progesterone than estrogen. Progesterone actually drops by approximately 75% (!!!!!!) in the same amount of time that estrogen drops by 35%. This creates an imbalance in the two hormones that unfortunately leads to estrogen dominance. And “ED” isn’t any fun. Trust me, after weaning my son my hormones swung hard one direction (low estrogen) and then right back the other way (high estrogen). Both ends of the spectrum feel pretty crappy. Let’s just be honest.

You see, estrogen is kept in check by progesterone, especially in the latter half of our menstrual cycles. When estrogen is allowed to “run rampant” it likes to take our bodies on a wild ride. Large spikes in estrogen (both right before ovulation and a handful of days after) can leave us experiencing all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms.

*Some* Signs of Estrogen Dominance:

  • PMS
  • Hot Flashes
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased libido
  • Increased weight gain, especially around the middle
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Headaches
  • Excessive/heavy/long menstruation
  • Thyroid problems
  • Depression
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances

*Other Conditions That Science Suggests May Be Caused (in part) by Estrogen Dominance: Endometriosis, Fibroids, Fibrocystic Breasts, Cervical Dysplasia, Breast/Uterine/Ovarian Cancer.

Foods That Can Boost Estrogen

(*remember, this is typically the opposite of what people need)

  • Farm-raised, non-organic eggs, meat, fish and dairy products
  • Sugary and processed foods – caloric overload in our diets increases fat mass in the body which leads to estrogen overload (same applies to overeating any foods but sugar and processed foods often have “empty calories” that add up quickly)
  • Produce that has been sprayed with heavy pesticides
  • Soy products, especially when processed
  • Drinking from plastic water bottles – a recent widespread study was conducted investigating major brands like Aquafina, Dasani and Nestle, and found on average 15 free-floating plastic particles in each bottle (I don’t want to drink plastic! If only I could find a crying emoji to put in here…)

For foods that help keep estrogen in check, read on to the next section…

 

 

Progesterone

If you read the section about estrogen, it becomes glaringly apparent why progesterone is so important for women’s health. You’ll also remember that we discussed how much progesterone drops at a ridiculous rate as we women age. Why must every stage of life be complicated as a woman? Seriously. But the good news is that there are LOTS of foods that can help boost progesterone – and they come with a plethora of other health benefits, too.

Please note that progesterone can be too high for some women, although this is a bit less common than estrogen dominance which afflicts many women who are overweight, over-stressed and/or between the ages of 35-60.

A few signs of progesterone dominance include:

  • Weight fluctuations
  • Feelings of sadness or anxiety
  • Sleepiness
  • Bloating
  • Dizziness
  • Waking up feeling groggy
  • Not feeling like you

Foods that Boost Progesterone:

*Note: None of these foods contain progesterone per say, but they have the nutrients required for supporting the hormone’s production in the body, and many of us could use MORE of this particular hormone.

Meats:

  • Red Meat
  • Turkey
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Tuna
  • Shellfish

Fats:

  • Olive oil & olives
  • Coconut oil or butter
  • Eggs
  • Avocado – also on fruit list

Veggies:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Leafy greens
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Swiss chard
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Russet potatoes

Fruits:

  • Avocado
  • Kiwi
  • Banana
  • Prunes
  • Lemon

Nuts, Legumes & Seeds:

  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Walnuts
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Flaxseeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Grains:

  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Millet

Misc:

  • Cacao
  • Yogurt

 

I hope this is helpful information for you whether you’re a woman hoping to be expecting some day or a woman trying to understand the yo-yo of hormones that IS perimenopause. Godspeed to us all! 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie