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testosterone

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — A FUNNY thing has happened in the United States over the last few decades. Men’s average testosterone levels have been dropping by at least 1 percent a year, according to a 2006 study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Testosterone appears to decline naturally with aging, but internal belly fat depresses the hormone further, especially in obese men. Drugs like steroids and opiates also lower testosterone, and it’s suspected that chemicals like bisphenol A (or BPA, commonly found in plastic food containers) and diseases like Type 2 diabetes play a role as well.

Men feel the loss. Clinical testosterone deficiency, which is variously defined as lower than 220 to 350 nanograms of testosterone per deciliter of blood serum, can cause men to lose sex drive and fertility. Their bone density often declines, and they may feel tired and experience hot flashes and sweats.

But “low T,” as the condition has been labeled, isn’t nearly as common as the drug ads for prescription testosterone would have you believe. Pharmaceutical companies have seized on the decline in testosterone levels as pathological and applicable to every man. They aim to convince men that common effects of aging like slowing down a bit and feeling less sexual actually constitute a new disease, and that they need a prescription to cure it. This is a seductive message for many men, who just want to feel better than they do, and want to give it a shot, literally.

The problem is that prescription testosterone doesn’t just give your T level a boost: it may also increase your risk of heart attack. It can add huge numbers of red blood cells to your bloodstream and shrink your testes. In some men, it increases aggression and irritability. Children who accidentally come in contact with the hormone can develop unwanted pubic hair and genital changes. Last week, a large study published in the journal PLoS ONE found that, within three months, taking the hormone doubled the rate of heart attacks in men 65 and older, as well as in younger men who had heart disease. The Food and Drug Administration has begun an investigation.

The number of testosterone prescriptions given to American men has tripled since 2001. Used clinically since 1937 and approved by the F.D.A. since 1953, testosterone is now administered in at least five forms, including patches, gels and injections. Three million prescriptions were written in 2012 for the market leader AndroGel alone. Sales of all testosterone-boosting drugs are estimated to have been $2 billion in 2012, and are projected to hit $5 billion by 2017.

Too many doctors are now writing testosterone prescriptions without even measuring the patient’s hormone levels, much less re-testing for confirmation and adjusting the dose after prescription. Up to a quarter of these prescriptions are dispensed without a blood test.

From a psychological perspective, this isn’t helping men. From a medical perspective, it’s devastating. In addition to the cardiac risks, prescription T can mean a permanent shut-off in men’s own, albeit diminished, testosterone production. In other words, once you start, you may well be hooked for life.

Instead of heading to the pharmacy to get their fix, men should address the leading cause of the problem. Losing weight is a tried and true way to naturally boost testosterone levels. According to findings presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in 2012, obese men who lost an average of 17 pounds saw their testosterone levels increase by 15 percent. In general, a man’s waist should be half his height.

Some diet changes may be useful for reasons other than just weight loss. If you drink too much booze, switch to water — alcohol lowers testosterone levels. Eating more cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and collard greens can also help, by blunting the effects of estrogen in a man’s body. At the end of the day, eating more of the right foods and fewer junk foods improves mood and energy — which may be the only fix many men need.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, middle-aged women went through their own hormone trial, taking synthetic prescription estrogen and progesterone to treat the symptoms of menopause, among other reasons. But by 2002 we knew that those hormones raised the risk of stroke, heart disease, life-threatening blood clots and invasive breast cancer in healthy women.

Luckily, we don’t have to wait 12 more years to learn about the risks of testosterone in healthy men. Men have been drugged by overprocessed foods and gender-bending chemicals like BPA. The last thing they need now is a prescription for a risky drug to treat a trumped-up disease.

John La Puma is an internist and the author of “Refuel: A 24-Day Eating Plan to Shed Fat, Boost Testosterone, and Pump Up Strength and Stamina.”

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elderly meditating

Meditation in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may slow progression to Alzheimer’s disease (AD), new research suggests.

A small, randomized pilot study of adult patients with MCI showed that those who received mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) therapy for 8 weeks had a greater increase in functional connectivity between brain regions related to both MCI and AD than those who received usual care.

These regions included the posterior cingulate cortex, the bilateral medial prefrontal cortex, and the left hippocampus.

In addition, there was “a trend” toward less bilateral hippocampal volume atrophy in the patients who received MBSR compared with the usual-care group.

“This study suggests that an intervention with meditation and yoga may impact the areas of the brain that are most susceptible to developing dementia,” lead author Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, who was at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, at the time of the study, told Medscape Medical News.

Dr. Wells, who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, noted that although this was a small, preliminary study, she is “very excited” about the findings.

“MBSR is a relatively simple intervention, with very little downside, that may provide real promise for these individuals. If [it] can help delay the symptoms of cognitive decline even a little bit, it can contribute to improved quality of life,” said Dr. Wells in a release.

The study is scheduled to be published in the November 27 print issue of Neuroscience Letters.

No Current Treatment

The investigators note that patients with high stress levels are at increased risk of developing MCI and AD, and more than 50% of those with MCI will go on to develop dementia within 5 years.

“Despite the clinical and public health significance of MCI, there are no known therapies preventing progression to dementia,” they write.

“While meditation may reduce stress and alter the hippocampus and default mode network (DMN), little is known about its impact in these populations.”

Investigators conducted a proof-of-concept study to determine whether MBSR could actually “improve DMN connectivity and reduce hippocampal atrophy” in patients with MCI.

“We were particularly interested in looking at the DMN, the brain system that is engaged when people remember past events or envision the future, and the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for emotions, learning, and memory,” said Dr. Wells.

She added that they wanted to investigate whether MBSR could attenuate the decline of individuals already experiencing memory problems.

A total of 14 adults older than 54 years with MCI were enrolled between 2010 and 2011 and were randomly assigned to receive either MBSR (n = 9; mean age, 73 years) or usual care (control group; n = 5; mean age, 75 years).

MBSR teaches both mindfulness meditation and yoga. Those who received this arm of treatment underwent 8 weekly 2-hour sessions plus 1 “mindfulness retreat day.” In addition, this group was encouraged to spend 30 minutes a day listening to guided audio recordings in their own homes.

All participants also underwent resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at baseline and at the 8-week mark to measure connectivity changes in areas of the DMN. And MRIs were conducted to measure volume changes in the bilateral hippocampus.

This is “the first study to our knowledge reporting the impact of MBSR on fMRI among patients with MCI,” the researchers write.

Increased Connectivity, Less Atrophy

Results showed that, compared with the control group, the MBSR group had a significantly greater increase in functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and the bilateral medial prefrontal cortex and between the PCC and the left hippocampus, as shown by fMRI scans.

Both treatment groups showed bilateral hippocampal atrophy from baseline to the 8-week follow-up, as shown in the MRI scans. Still, although not statistically significant, there was a trend toward less volume atrophy in the MBSR group (P = .07).

No study-related adverse events were reported by either group.

“MBSR may affect the region of the brain most sensitive to MCI and AD,” write the investigators.

“If some component of cognitive decline is a function of stress-induced hippocampal changes, then meditation may impact the hippocampus as a stress-reducing technique thereby improving cognitive reserve,” they add.

The researchers note that more studies with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up periods are now needed, but they voiced optimism in the findings of their small trial.

“For a condition without a standard treatment and with potential progression to AD, this study provides preliminary evidence that an intervention with limited side effects may be of potential benefit to patients with few other options for improvement,” they write.

Dr. Wells noted that researchers at both BIDMC and Wake Forest are continuing to examine these issues.

Durable Effect?

“I think this study offers a very useful component of therapy for these patients, for several reasons,” David Geldmacher, MD, professor and Patsy and Charles Collat Scholar in Neuroscience in the Division of Memory Disorders and Behavioral Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told Medscape Medical News.

“First, we know that it’s a stressful experience for people with the illness, especially in the early stages. So anything that can help to address that frustration on a symptomatic level is important,” said Dr. Geldmacher, who was not involved with the study.

He added that a sense of control and self-direction “is crucial” in this patient population.

“This is an illness where people often feel that someone else is starting to drive the bus and that the disease is starting to take away their rights and privileges. So the ability to do something themselves that may potentially alter the course of their illness is important,” he said.

Dr. Geldmacher noted that the physiologic part of this study was also interesting.

“What we don’t know in as much detail is whether this intervention could have an ongoing, clinically meaningful effect or not. Obviously there’s going to be very little harm, if any, to doing this, and we get the psychological benefits,” he said.

“So even if meditation did nothing to the hippocampal structure, it may help to reduce the symptom burden of the illness as a whole.”

Can’t Hurt, May Help

Thaddeus W. W. Pace, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, told Medscape Medical News that he had some concerns with the research, including that it was a pilot study and that there were so few participants.

“Even for an imaging study, the number was on the lower side. Also, the overall design could have been a little stronger,” he said. For example, he questioned the use of treatment-as-usual for the control condition instead of an active control condition in which participants would also meet with others during the course of the study.

“This would account for the social contact that happens during meditation training. One of the most important challenges we have in our research is how we design the control condition that we’re comparing everything to.”

Dr. Pace, who was not involved with this study, has conducted previous research examining the effects of meditation on the brain’s response to emotional stimuli.

He went on to note, however, that the current study “does have some exciting points.”

“The findings themselves are pretty cool, and the outcomes make me want to know more. The big finding was about the [DMN] areas and how they’re all working together. And that was quite fascinating,” said Dr. Pace.

“The hippocampal volume outcome, even though it was a trend, was also pretty exciting to me, especially because my interest is in stress and health. We know that stress response and inflammation have an impact on chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s,” he explained.

“When the hippocampus atrophies, it may lead to inappropriate regulation of the stress response systems, which can then further the illness process. So it was very interesting that MBSR had an impact, or at least a trend, on hippocampal volume in these folks with MCI.”

Overall, Dr. Pace said that it appears that MBSR could be beneficial to this patient population.

“As long as you tell patients that this study’s findings are preliminary, I would be comfortable recommending to clinicians that they recommend MBSR to their patients,” said Dr. Pace.

“It can’t hurt, and as a program, it could only be helpful. If a patient has enough time to devote to it, why not try it? And then clinicians should also keep an eye out for the next-generation study.”

The study was funded by several grants and sources, including the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. A full list of funders is available in the original article. The study authors and Dr. Pace have disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Geldmacher also has disclosed no relevant financial relationships, but he did report that Dr. Wells was a former student of his.

confused

LONDON — SIX years ago I was struck down with a mystery illness. My weight dropped by 30 pounds in three months. I experienced searing stomach pain, felt utterly exhausted and no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t gain an ounce.

I went from slim to thin to emaciated. The pain got worse, a white heat in my belly that made me double up unexpectedly in public and in private. Delivering on my academic and professional commitments became increasingly challenging.

It was terrifying. I did not know whether I had an illness that would kill me or stay with me for the rest of my life or whether what was wrong with me was something that could be cured if I could just find out what on earth it was.

Trying to find the answer, I saw doctors in London, New York, Minnesota and Chicago.

I was offered a vast range of potential diagnoses. Cancer was quickly and thankfully ruled out. But many other possibilities remained on the table, from autoimmune diseases to rare viruses to spinal conditions to debilitating neural illnesses.

Treatments suggested ranged from a five-hour, high-risk surgery to remove a portion of my stomach, to lumbar spine injections to numb nerve paths, to a prescription of antidepressants.

Faced with all these confusing and conflicting opinions, I had to work out which expert to trust, whom to believe and whose advice to follow. As an economist specializing in the global economy, international trade and debt, I have spent most of my career helping others make big decisions — prime ministers, presidents and chief executives — and so I’m all too aware of the risks and dangers of poor choices in the public as well as the private sphere. But up until then I hadn’t thought much about the process of decision making. So in between M.R.I.’s, CT scans and spinal taps, I dove into the academic literature on decision making. Not just in my field but also in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, information science, political science and history.

What did I learn?

Physicians do get things wrong, remarkably often. Studies have shown that up to one in five patients are misdiagnosed. In the United States and Canada it is estimated that 50,000 hospital deaths each year could have been prevented if the real cause of illness had been correctly identified.

Yet people are loath to challenge experts. In a 2009 experiment carried out at Emory University, a group of adults was asked to make a decision while contemplating an expert’s claims, in this case, a financial expert. A functional M.R.I. scanner gauged their brain activity as they did so. The results were extraordinary: when confronted with the expert, it was as if the independent decision-making parts of many subjects’ brains pretty much switched off. They simply ceded their power to decide to the expert.

If we are to control our own destinies, we have to switch our brains back on and come to our medical consultations with plenty of research done, able to use the relevant jargon. If we can’t do this ourselves we need to identify someone in our social or family network who can do so on our behalf.

Anxiety, stress and fear — emotions that are part and parcel of serious illness — can distort our choices. Stress makes us prone to tunnel vision, less likely to take in the information we need. Anxiety makes us more risk-averse than we would be regularly and more deferential.

We need to know how we are feeling. Mindfully acknowledging our feelings serves as an “emotional thermostat” that recalibrates our decision making. It’s not that we can’t be anxious, it’s that we need to acknowledge to ourselves that we are.

It is also crucial to ask probing questions not only of the experts but of ourselves. This is because we bring into our decision-making process flaws and errors of our own. All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with the outcome we want.

We need to be aware of our natural born optimism, for that harms good decision making, too. The neuroscientist Tali Sharot conducted a study in which she asked volunteers what they believed the chances were of various unpleasant events’ occurring — events like being robbed or developing Parkinson’s disease. She then told them what the real chances of such an event happening actually were. What she discovered was fascinating. When the volunteers were given information that was better than they hoped or expected — say, for example, that the risk of complications in surgery was only 10 percent when they thought it was 30 percent — they adjusted closer to the new risk percentages presented. But if it was worse, they tended to ignore this new information.

This could explain why smokers often persist with smoking despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s bad for them. If their unconscious belief is that they won’t get lung cancer, for every warning from an antismoking campaigner, their brain is giving a lot more weight to that story of the 99-year-old lady who smokes 50 cigarettes a day but is still going strong.

We need to acknowledge our tendency to incorrectly process challenging news and actively push ourselves to hear the bad as well as the good. It felt great when I stumbled across information that implied I didn’t need any serious treatment at all. When we find data that supports our hopes we appear to get a dopamine rush similar to the one we get if we eat chocolate, have sex or fall in love. But it’s often information that challenges our existing opinions or wishful desires that yields the greatest insights. I was lucky that my boyfriend alerted me to my most dopamine-drugged moments. The dangerous allure of the information we want to hear is something we need to be more vigilant about, in the medical consulting room and beyond.

My own health story had a happy ending. I was finally given a diagnosis of a rare lymphatic vessel condition, and decided that surgery made sense. Not the five-hour surgical intervention that would have left me in bed recovering for more than three months, but a much less intrusive keyhole surgery with a quick recovery. I chose a surgeon who wasn’t overly confident. I’d learned in my research that the super-confident, doctor-as-god types did not always perform well. One study of radiologists, for example, reveals that those who perform poorly on diagnostic tests are also those most confident in their diagnostic prowess.

My surgery went well. The pain subsided, the pounds gradually came back on. I am now cured.

With brain switched on and eyes wide open, we can’t always guarantee a positive outcome when it comes to a medical decision, but we can at least stack the odds in our favor.

DNA 4

Do you need to use one of those tools that helps you reach the canned peaches in the back of the tall cabinet? Beware! According to the information in the online article “Your Body’s Ten Weirdest Health Clues,” if you’re not a long-armed lucky, you may be at risk for Alzheimer’s:

“Have a hard time reaching the top of your kitchen cabinets? Women with the shortest arm spans were 1 1/2 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with longer reaches, found a recent study. (Find yours by spreading your arms parallel to the floor and having someone measure fingertips to fingertips; the shortest spans were less than 60 inches.) Nutritional or other deficits during the critical growing years, possibly responsible for shorter arms, may also predispose a person to cognitive decline later in life, say Tufts University researchers.

Prevent it: Put your appendages to good use with a hobby such as painting or pottery. A five-year study from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center found that adults who spent the most time engaged in engaging leisure activities were more than two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who spent less time challenging their brains.”

Eden Energy Medicine offers plenty of techniques you can do to support brain functioning as well. Stress can play havoc with our memory, for instance, because when we are “fightin’ it or flightin’ it” our brains are robbed of most of the blood and oxygen that helps us to think clearly, problem solve, take in information and remember things.

Here’s an easy exercise from Eden Energy Medicine that will help improve your memory while reducing the symptoms of stress.

How to Keep Your Memory Sharp

For your memory to stay intact over the years, it is necessary for energies to flow freely through the suture lines in your skull. While these junctures tend to become less flexible with age, a simple procedure that will take about a minute each day can keep oxygen and cerebral-spinal fluids, as well as subtle energies moving through them:

1. Place your left hand over your heart and your right hand on the right side of your head, palm next to your right ear, fingers extended upward over your head.

2. Breathe deeply four times while holding this position – in through the nose, out through the mouth. Raise your body with the in-breath, relax it with the outbreath.

3. Move your right hand to the back of your head, and repeat the breathing.

4. Now place your right hand over the right side of your chest, your left hand by your left ear, and repeat the breathing.

5. Finally, place the palm of your left hand on your forehead with your fingers going up onto the top of your head and again use the same breathing.

Do this daily, perhaps when you first sit down at your desk, computer or TV, or while you are warming up the car, and you will not only be helping to retain your memory, you will be maximizing its effectiveness.

Another exercise that supports the flow of energy across the midline of your brain is the cross crawl. The cross crawl eradicates brain fog, muddle thinking, short-term memory loss, word-finding difficulties, word-reversals and even clumsiness! It’s simpler than pie to do and can give you a burst of energy and clarity during the middle of your day.

You can do it standing or sitting. If you stand, march in place for thirty seconds. If you sit, make sure it’s in a chair with a firm seat to give you adequate support. You can make sure you are doing it right by tapping the opposite knee with the other hand.

Last but not least, the Crown Pull is another way to bring blood flow to the brain (always a plus when you’re trying to think clearly!), open your mind to new ideas and inspiration and rid yourself of a headache.

Begin by placing your fingers in the center of your forehead. Now push in and pull your hands apart from each other towards the temples. Lift your hands away from your head and shake off the stagnant energy. Repeat this “push-in/pull apart” pattern all the way across the crown and down the back of your head and neck, until you can easily rest your hands on your shoulders. Let them hang there for 20-30 seconds. Now drag them across forcefully, given your shoulders a good massage as well. Let your hands drop into your neck. Breathe in deeply and exhale through the mouth.

Alzheimers is a complex issue that may be helped or prevented by these exercises. However, you don’t need to wait for extreme problems such as Alzheimers or dementia. These three exercises are just as useful for the daily struggles we all have with occasional short-term memory loss, concentration, clear thinking and learning. In addition, they can be used to improve dyslexia and menopause-related memory problems.

Symptoms_of_fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic, painful condition that has few effective treatment options. The majority of individuals with fibromyalgia are women, many of whom experience depression and/or anxiety in addition to the widespread pain, fatigue and stiffness common in fibromyalgia. With this knowledge, researchers have begun evaluating psychotherapeutic approaches to fibromyalgia treatment. In particular, hypnosis and guided imagery may be able to improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

The prevalence of comorbid psychological symptoms in individuals with fibromyalgia has led many health care practitioners to look for guidance on the use of psychotherapeutic treatment options in fibromyalgia. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and operant behavioral therapy (OBT) are known to have benefit in fibromyalgia patients. However, these time intensive and costly therapies may prohibit their use in many people with fibromyalgia.

In addition to these more traditional psychotherapies, current research suggests that hypnosis and guided imagery may have a role in treating fibromyalgia. This interesting treatment option was discussed in a recent review of the literature investigating the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic treatments in fibromyalgia.

The review focused on two randomized controlled trials evaluating the use of hypnotherapy and three studies evaluating the use of guided imagery in people with fibromyalgia. These five randomized controlled trials, the gold standard experimental design in clinical research, found consistent positive results in the treated patients as compared to the control patients.

In one study, 40 patients with fibromyalgia were treated with eight hypnotherapy sessions over the course of 3 months. These hypnosis sessions focused on sensory and affective (emotion-based) approaches to fibromyalgia pain control. The results show that pain intensity was reduced, there was less fatigue on awakening, and the participants sleep patterns were improved.

A second study evaluated the effect of up to five hypnosis sessions on 53 fibromyalgia patients. This study also found that hypnotherapy improved sleep quality in the fibromyalgia patients. In addition, participants who received hypnosis had less morning stiffness.

The three studies which evaluated the effectiveness of guided imagery in treating fibromyalgia found that pain was reduced in intensity and anxiety was lessened. In particular, one study compared guided imagery that used pleasant imagery with guided imagery focused upon the “active workings of the internal pain control systems”. The pleasant guided imagery was significantly more effective in reducing fibromyalgia pain.

Individuals with fibromyalgia have precious few effective treatment options. Fortunately, research is beginning to discover the effectiveness of certain psychotherapeutic treatment options. Hypnosis and guided imagery may be one effective option to improve the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms of fibromyalgia.

pregnant woman

Whether you want to get pregnant now or down the road, many recommend clearing out toxic chemicals—especially the ones that disrupt hormones—before conception.

If you opt for a preconception visit with an integrative medicine specialist, like a naturopath, you may get tested for levels of environmental pollutants and heavy metals in your blood, as well as whether you have any nutritional deficiencies. (Getty Images/Mladen Mitrinovic)
Whether or not you’re baby-minded right now, it can sometimes be hard to summon up huge excitement at the idea of bringing a child into a world far more toxic than the one into which our parents—not to mention our grandparents—brought us. You know the litany: There are pesticides in food, flame retardants in clothing and furniture, and pollution in the air we breathe.
But once you’re pregnant—or even just thinking about trying—you may well wonder if the toxins we all absorb might have an effect on your fertility or on having a healthy baby. The truth is that because conventional medicine doesn’t routinely test the “body burden” of chemicals we carry around all the time in our bodies, no one knows for sure how many we typically absorb. A small 2008 study of teenage girls, led by the Washigton, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) detected 16 hormone-altering chemicals from common beauty products. Every girl in the study tested positive for parabens, which are used as preservatives in cosmetics and have been linked to cancer and hormone disruption. These and other chemicals can be passed along to a child in utero.
Other research by EWG found that infants are typically born “pre-polluted,” with over 200 toxic industrial chemicals circulating in their bodies, which they’ve obviously absorbed prior to being born. It doesn’t matter where parents live, either, because consumer, food, medical, and industrial chemicals circulate via air, water, soil, and food, and they’re found all over the world. And Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a nonprofit advocacy group, says that the earlier in life that toxic exposure occurs, the more powerfully these chemicals affect a child’s development ongoing from that day forward.
Infants are typically born ‘pre-polluted,’ with over 200 toxic industrial chemicals circulating in their bodies.
“Mercury is one of the most damaging toxins, affecting both parents and baby. It affects the brain, the nervous system, and hormonal functions, [possibly] causing symptoms like ADHD, pain, attention problems, and fatigue,” says Andreanna Rainville, R.N., a holistic nurse at the Holistic Healing Arts clinic, in Seattle. In addition, “gasoline and many cosmetics contain toluene, which can disrupt hormones and cause kidney and liver damage.”
Concern over toxins is why more people who are intending to start families—whether immediately or later—are getting their health checked out “pre-conception” so their kids get as healthy a start as possible. At a pre-conception medical checkup, a physician will advise that you stop smoking, using recreational drugs, and drinking alcohol, and she may want to review your prescriptions, since some medications can cause birth defects.
A preconception visit to an integrative medicine specialist, though, may involve testing hormone levels to ascertain whether both parents have the right endocrine balance to conceive, says Rainville. A naturopath or another kind of integrative specialist may also look at the levels of environmental pollutants and heavy metals in your blood, as well as essential nutrients to ensure you don’t have any nutritional deficiencies that could lead to birth defects.
For women, while having a child does carry some risk, when it comes to toxins, pregnancy actually lowers your risk. Why? Because through both pregnancy and breastfeeding, mothers download a portion of their bodily load of toxins into their children. Most women aren’t happy to hear that, of course.
The simple math is this: Toxins will continue to compound over your child’s lifetime, once he or she is born, but since the earlier the exposure the more harmful it is, one of the best things you can do is to lower your own levels before you get pregnant. Rainville says there are two ways to do this: avoidance and detoxification. Although many toxins cannot be eliminated, some can be better avoided. Try to follow the tips below for a minimum of six months prior to conception (ideally, both parents should try to detoxify because toxins can also impact a future father’s sperm):
• Avoid the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables such as peaches, strawberries, apples, peppers, and celery. Eat organic ones instead.
• Steer clear of cosmetics and beauty products that contain toluene, phthalates, xylene, and parabens. (EWG has a comprehensive list.) Parabens have been found in cancerous tissue, and phthalates have been linked to abnormal sex organ development in males.
• Eat organically raised meat and dairy to limit exposure to hormones and antibiotics. Hormones given to animals can alter both fetal and child development, as well as contribute to cancers, says the American Public Health Association, and pesticide exposure in utero is linked to lower IQ levels.
• Eat fish rarely. In January 2013, the Biodiversity Research Institute found that 84 percent of fish was found to have unsafe mercury levels.
• Limit use of nail polish. Even “three-free” brands aren’t ones you can trust. These lines of nail polish are so-named because, after pressure by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, many brands (including the popular OPI line) began to omit the “toxic trio”—ibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, and toluene—but these polishes still contain some toxic chemicals, such as xylene, which in animal studies delayed fetal growth and development, and acetone, which has produced kidney and liver damage in animal studies.
The second part of Rainville’s recommendation for anyone wanting to become a parent is to detox for at least six to 12 months prior to conception. Here’s how to get started on a detoxification program:
• Stick with a healthy, whole-foods diet. Rainville recommends eating organic fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins at every meal. Amino acids, which are found in proteins, are essential for tissue repair and heavy-metal detox. Avoiding sweets, soda, fast foods, additives, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners is also advisable.
• Take probiotics to support your digestion (this helps release built-up toxins); vitamin C for energy; and essential fatty acids for brain and cellular support.
• Use herbs and teas that help other organs release toxins (like dandelion tea for the liver); Ashwagandha and Rhodiola for the adrenals; and red root for the lymphatic system.
• Drink lots of water, with a dash of Himalayan or Celtic sea salt for mineral balance.
• Use saunas to release toxins via sweating (make sure you’re definitely not pregnant if you’re using a sauna).
Detox is important because even if you live a saintly life, there are still some chemicals, like xylene, that cannot be avoided. “Xylene is an ingredient in air pollution and smog,” explains Rainville. “It’s been shown to increase the risk of miscarriages as well as causing birth defects, but both parents can detoxify from it. Alcohol decreases the ability to excrete xylene, which is why it’s important for couples planning to conceive to cut out alcohol.”
If you want a more personalized plan with an integrative medicine bent, you can consult a healthcare provider like Rainville or a naturopath. These specialists typically make it easy to get tested for toxins, chemicals, heavy metals and anything else adding to your “body burden.” Plus they may also be able to help couples with problems conceiving and recurrent miscarriages.
And if you’re ready to take your detoxing to the next step, to help others and the planet, you can work with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families to ask the government to study and regulate 80,000-plus chemicals currently in use—most of which are currently untested.