Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Health Updates

Hi everyone, I'm sorry I haven't blogged in a while, but I have been swamped with work and that's usually when I take time to blog. (Yep, that's right, during's that for productivity?!)

I'm still planning to write a 5-part blog series, but the time frame is going to be a bit longer than I originally planned. Again, way too busy to work on it, and I'm also giving some special contributors enough time for them to send me some thoughts. I'm sorry to keep dangling this carrot, but I promise I will eventually post it!

Other updates...

As I mentioned in my previous post, we have begun a new diet. Now, when I say diet, I do not mean a temporary way of eating with the purpose of losing weight. I mean a way of eating, a lifestyle. What originally started off being, "Let's try this for one month and see how it goes" mindset, has transitioned into a fully committed decision to stick with this new lifestyle for, well, life!

I also want to clarify the details of the diet, because I actually mis-spoke a little bit in my previous entry. Our new eating plan is a whole foods, plant-based diet. The closest description of how we are now eating is vegan, but it's not exactly like that because with our diet, we can still eat meat, just in much smaller quantity than your average American. The main dietary elimination is all dairy, because it has been linked to causing heart disease, cancer, and several other serious conditions. In my case, it has been causing me to have too high of estrogen levels. I'll explain more about this in a little bit. Our diet also recommends eating no more than 2-3 servings of meat per week (as opposed to per day, America). The diet also suggests reducing significantly the amount of fat in your diet, as well as processed foods. So that means avoid oils, high-fat foods (nuts, avocado), and enriched processed foods (most cereals, breads, pastas...and a whole lot more!)

We became members of The Wellness Forum, lead by Dr. Pam Popper. Pam was featured in the Forks Over Knives documentary that I mentioned in the previous post. She has become a wonderful leader in improving the health of her clients, by practicing what she preaches. She's been eating this diet for close to 20 years. And when you see her pictures on the website, note that she's in her upper 50's...and looks, in my opinion, in her 30's. And she doesn't wear makeup. Yes, seriously.

When you become a member of The Wellness Forum, they send you a video series and course booklet for their Wellness 101 class. (If we lived in Columbus, Ohio, we could have attended in person, but obviously that would be a little out of our way.)

The video series and booklet are so helpful in teaching you the basics of the recommended lifestyle, including a new food pyramid, how to read nutrition labels, and much more. The recommended food pyramid has the following hierarchy (#1 being most important):

  1. 64-ounces filtered water
  2. legumes, whole grains, potatoes, corn
  3. vegetables, sprouts
  4. fruit
  5. breads, cereals, minimally processed grains
  6. higher-fat plant foods, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, nut butters
  7. organic animal foods 2-3 times per week (optional)
  8. occasional treats

Her recommendations for how to read food labels is so informative and helpful when shopping at the store. The key is to read the ingredients list, as opposed to focusing on the nutrition table. The greatest quantity ingredients are listed first, ending with the least quantity. She explains that food manufacturers have gotten clever about this. Take most cereal for example, even "healthier ones" like Honey Bunches of Oats. Manufacturers have learned that because they have to list the greatest quantity ingredients first, it wouldn't look very healthy to consumers to see sugar as the first or second ingredient. So they got crafty and started using multiple forms of sugar, technically different ingredients, so that those multiple forms could appear lower in the ingredients list. Another rule of thumb is if you can't pronounce it, or don't know what it is, then it's probably not good for you. Red 40 and yellow 5...what kind of tree grows that!? :)

Oh and the phrases "All natural", "100% natural", "Great source of [insert whatever]!" etc. mean absolutely nothing. There's no organization that goes around inspecting products containing that claim. But you can trust the USDA Organic seal.

She also makes the point that you may find yourself liking one particular brand of products, and 4 out of 5 products they make will be okay, but the 5th one might contain something bad. So she stresses the importance of always reading the label, even if it's a "trusted" brand.

In one of her videos, she explains about vitamins and supplements. If you recall, I was swallowing about 8 pills a day, for various nutrients. And I hate swallowing pills. But that's how much I cared about being healthy, in hopes of conceiving a child. But Pam explains that vitamins and supplements are all processed. Even though they, correctly, claim that the vitamins and nutrients come from food, it's not the same as getting the nutrients from food. She explains that our bodies are adept at extracting exactly the nutrients it needs on any given day, and those needs change from day to day. So force feeding your body the processed vitamins and supplements, forces your body to deal with the nutrients you've given it...and you're giving your body nutrients in a form that's not easily broken down by your body. And if on a particular day you have no need for extra vitamin A, then you're body just passes that nutrient quickly to waste. The best way to absorb nutrients is from actually eating food...not swallowing pills. Specifically from eating a well balanced, varied, plant-based diet. Because whatever your body needs on a particular day, your body will seek out those nutrients from the food you eat. Sure, there may be a legitimate need to temporarily supplement your body with extra nutrients, for a specific reason, but no one needs those supplements every day of their life.

Whoo! You mean I can stop taking all my vitamins? Whoo!

As we were watching that video section, she said something that made me realize it's what I had been doing. She said that she, before making changes in her life, was taking various vitamins and supplements because it was just sort of the last thing that someone had recommended to her. Like she didn't really know why she was taking those pills, but they sounded like an okay thing at the time. That described me pretty well too.

I then made the decision that I wanted to schedule a phone consultation with Pam, to specifically address my health issues (including infertility). I decided to stop taking Clomid and using progesterone cream, and to just take a break from it all. No LH surge strips. No stress.

I had my phone consultation with Pam on December 6th. In preparation for the call, I had to keep a food journal for at least 5 days. I must admit, I was a little nervous going into the call, because Pam has been doing this for so long. I was fearful that she'd look at what I've been eating, and even though I think it's on par with her recommendations, she might see things like "too many fruit smoothies" or "eat more {whatever}".

But from the very start of the call to the very end, I (and Michael too) felt so much peace. It has never been more clear to me that God was leading me to this change in our lifestyle. I mean, giving up dairy and restricting meat, oils, fats, etc. was not easy. It still is not easy. It was not something I ever expected Michael to suggest and strongly and boldly take the lead on. He is so passionate about sticking with this, and now trying to help our family and friends become healthier if they desire. But it's worth it. I can see now, looking back, that God was really preparing our hearts to make these seemingly drastic changes in our daily lives.

This phone call was no exception. I don't know if Pam is a believer, but I feel like God totally used her that day to speak volumes of hope and peace straight to my heart. I'm so thankful for that, Lord!

After asking me some questions about my female history (consists of 7-day long periods, with heavy bleeding, large clots, and painful cramps, and when I was early in adolescence, periods were accompanied with migraines), and my present situation (progesterone cream helped relieve the painful cramps, and somewhat with the heavy bleeding), she explained that my symptoms are consistent with too high estrogen levels. Explaining that's why the progesterone seemed to help. But artificially using hormones like the cream is only treating the symptom, not the root cause. She explained that eating dairy, which is very high in estrogen, no matter what they say, is likely the culprit. And she said she was so thrilled to be talking to me now, at 28 years old about infertility, as opposed to much older and diagnosed with a condition that results from too much estrogen (breast cancer, to name one).

She said we are well on our way to improving our health, and I'm on my way to having my hormone levels balance out to where they should be. She said it could take a few months for my hormones to balance, so to try not to worry about trying to conceive for about 5 or 6 months. She also said I should notice my menstrual periods get shorter, and my cycles may increase in length slightly.

It was just so comforting talking to her, because she sounded so confident that we're well on our way to conceiving by improving our health and eliminating the dairy. She said things like, "You'll have to send me a picture of your baby, because that's the deal I make with everyone up front" and "you'll have a very enjoyable pregnancy" and "Just focus on your health for a few months and then I'm confident nature will take its course".

She also recommends that I take probiotics for two years, due to my history of IBS-like symptoms and frequent UTI's. Apparently, 50% of your immune function is in your gut, so if your body's beneficial bacteria reserves are in danger, or depleted, your immune system is compromised, making you more prone to getting recurrent infections.

I am just so thankful that God created people like Pam who are so passionate about helping people be healthy. In my case, I feel like God spoke through her and reassured me that we're on the right path. I hope and pray that God continues to improve our health, and that He might bless our efforts to honor the temples He gave us by allowing us to conceive. Your continued prayers are greatly appreciated!

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