Nausea in Early Pregnancy and Acupuncture

Early pregnancy is a strange time. It can bring up a range of emotions – sometimes unexpectedly. I remember finding out I was pregnant with my first child. I was in a good relationship, at a good stage in my life to have a child and although not exactly planned, it wasn’t a surprise either. Nevertheless, I felt shocked and terrified for a good while before I felt happy about it. Once it had sunk in, I still felt adrift and very lonely as I adjusted to my new reality… Then there are the physical changes to contend with I was fortunate enough only to experience mild nausea, but I

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / AndreyPopov
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / AndreyPopov

know plenty of other women and patients who have had it a lot worse. Women can feel sick constantly, not just in the morning. Some just feel sick for much of the time, others are actually sick. I remember one friend telling me how she had vomited in the kitchen sink while doing the dishes!

Acupuncture has been shown to help reduce nausea and calm anxieties. In a large scale study conducted in Australia, traditional acupuncture was found to significantly reduce nausea and vomiting in women less than 14 weeks pregnant. You can read more on the findings of the study in this article from the Daily Mail here, and access the original study here.

There are several hypotheses about what causes nausea in pregnancy. It could be due to the change in hormone levels of hCG and oestrogen, or due to the brain stem’s reaction to these hormones. It has also been suggested that women who were deep down tired and under stress prior to pregnancy can be more likely to experience more nausea (Betts, 2006). This last theory would certainly fit with the Chinese medicine model which recognises that pregnancy can accentuate existing minor imbalances in one’s health. In this model, pregnancy can also  exacerbate emotional confusion or upset and cause pregnancy disorders.

Traditional acupuncture looks to support the whole person mentally and physically. It works to restore balance, bringing a sense of calm and helping to alleviate symptoms. Nausea in pregnancy is viewed as a result of rebellious Stomach Qi (energy) which can be caused either by an underlying weakness in the digestive system, emotional difficulties upsetting the natural flow of energy (Qi), or an excess of heat or phlegm. Sometimes it can be a combination of one or more of these. Acupuncturists treating nausea would be looking to address all the underlying causes as well as using points to address the immediate symptoms. Many women who have received acupuncture for nausea relief find they feel better soon after the needles are in and find coming for treatment twice a week initially, then dropping to weekly helps them get through those early weeks more comfortably. Dietary tips based on your specific Chinese medicine diagnosis may also help to lengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the treatment.

If you’d like to ask me more about how acupuncture could help you or you’d like to book an appointment you can either use this contact form here or call me on 07772 501810

There is an excellent advice sheet from one of the leading acupuncturists in obstetric acupuncture (Debra Betts) available here. This short film clip is also interesting about the use of acupuncture for nausea.

Jill Storstein DipAc, MBAcC is a member of the British Acupuncture Council with clinics in Edinburgh and Portobello.

References:

Betts D, (2006) The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth, The Journal of Chinese Medicine, Hove, East Sussex.

Smith C et al. (2002) Acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Birth, Mar;29(1):1-9.

Eat well to keep well in Winter – Bone Broth and Chicken, Kale and Leek Soup Recipes

winter pic 4

We are into the darkest part of the year and there has certainly been a corresponding shift in the weather. It is important at this time of year to conserve our energy, slow down a bit and wrap up warmly. We tend to do this naturally anyway because our bodies are working that bit harder at keeping warm. In this modern age, we can lose touch with listening to what our bodies’ food needs are and allow generalized public health advice and marketing cloud our natural judgment and food desires. For example, in the supermarket fruit and vegetable isle and we still see a big selection summer fruit and veg such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and even melons. Raw fruit and vegetables are very cooling on the digestive system, which can prevent our bodies working efficiently and in the longer term can weaken digestion, our defenses and leads to a variety of chronic health issues including perennial runny noses, IBS and fatigue. Moreover, these foods are out of season and will have traveled many miles across the globe losing at great deal of vitamins (not to mention the carbon foot print!). So salads and summer fruits are best avoided in the winter.

At this time of year we need warmth and extra nutrients to keep healthy and our immune systems working well. So what can we do help support our health in the winter? Eating warm cooked food is essential. The body’s enzymes involved in digestion need to be at a particular temperature to work efficiently. If we are eating cold foods, our bodies need warm the food up to the optimal temperature – which uses precious energy. In addition to this, the cell membranes of many fruit and vegetables are tougher in their raw form. Cooking helps to break down these membranes so we can get the nutrients out. Soups are perfect winter foods and you can cram loads of nutrients into a soup.

My favourite soup of the moment is Chicken, Leek and Kale soup made with bone broth. Bone broth is a very nutrient dense type of stock and is made by boiling bones as you would a homemade stock but for a really, really long time. This helps to break the bones down and release all the nutrients that are locked away and that can be difficult to get in our natural diets. It contains collagen, glucosamine, calcium and magnesium to name but a few. Collagen and glucosamine are vital for the good functioning of our soft tissues, muscles, tendons and ligaments. They can also help to improve the lining of our guts.

In terms of Chinese dietary therapy, bone broth is wonderful for our Jing which is the core of our being and our foundation. It supports the production of everything else include our blood and bones. The combination of Chicken, Kale and Leeks is warming, good for helping to build the blood and boosts our natural defenses. The leeks also help to keep good circulation of energy and the kale helps to balance bodily fluids. All in all, it is the perfect winter soup, so easy to make and is a great use of the left over roast chicken.

Recipes

Chicken Bone Broth

Ingredients*

Left-over roast chicken carcass

1 tbsp Apple Cider vinegar

1 onion

2 stalks of celery (optional)

2 bay leaves (optional)

bunch of thyme (optional)

2 cloves of garlic (optional)

1 tsp sea salt

ground black pepper

water

Strip all the edible meat of the chicken carcass and keep in a tub in the fridge until the stock is ready to make into soup. Put all the rest of the bones, skin and cartilage into a large heavy based pot (with a lid) or a slow cooker. Cover with water and add the other ingredients. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a low heat and cook for a minimum of 3 hours but preferably about 18 hours to allow the bones to get really soft and the cartilage to dissolve. Check the water levels periodically and add more as necessary – it will boil dry on the stove if you don’t. After a few hours of cooking you should be able to easily break the larger bones either with your hands or a potato masher. Breaking the bones up helps them to break down more quickly.

Chicken, Leek and Kale Soup

Ingredients*

1 large leek, washed and chopped

Coconut oil or butter

150g Kale washed, thick stalks removed and sliced

left over roast chicken

750ml of Chicken Bone Broth

A glug of white wine if you happen to have a bottle open or a squeeze of lemon at the end.

Salt and pepper to taste

Gently sauté the chopped leek in some melted coconut oil or butter for a few minutes add the chicken, bone broth and wine if using. Bring up to simmering and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the kale for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and add a squeeze of lemon if you’ve not used wine.

*Use organic where available and funds allow.

Read more about the benefits of these ingredients here:

Kale http://foodfacts.mercola.com/kale.html#

Leeks http://foodfacts.mercola.com/leeks.html

Bone Broth http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/03/health-benefits-of-bone-broth.html

Sources:

Hartwig D & Hartwig M, (2012) It Starts with Food: Discover the WHOLE30 and Change your life in unexpected ways, Victory Belt Publishing Inc. Las Vagas, NA

Leggett D, (2005) Helping Ourselves, A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics, 2nd Edition, Meridian Press, Totnes, England.

Pitchford P, (2002) Health with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd edition, North Atlantic Books, Berkley, CA

National Fertility Awareness Week 27 October – 2 November 2014

National fertility week
National fertility awareness week

Today marks the start of National Fertility Awareness Week. 1 in 6 couples have difficulty conceiving. Sometimes some simple changes to diet and lifestyle or even a clearer understanding of our reproductive systems can help. However, for others, some form of assistance might be needed.

Acupuncture has grown a solid reputation for supporting fertility for both men and women. So much so that many mainstream fertility clinics recommend and offer acupuncture to support fertility. This article considers what optimal fertile health looks like through the Chinese medicine lens and how divergences from this can give helpful clues to an acupuncturist to help formulate a diagnosis and prepare a treatment plan and inform dietary tips or lifestyle modifications that can help to improve fertility.

Traditional Acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine, which is an excellent model to use to understand fertility. Chinese medicine is based on very simple principles that can be combined and interwoven to understand the very complex reality of an individual’s fertility and broader health.

The Yin and Yang of the Menstrual cycle

One of these sets of principles is the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang. This elegantly mirrors the different stages of the menstrual cycle. Yin is still and quiet, nurturing and moistening – it is the preparation phase. Yang is more dynamic and warming, it is the active growing phase.

Yin and Yang
Daoist Yin and Yang symbol

The Yin phase equates to the oestrogen dominated half of the cycle prior to ovulation. It is the first half of the cycle, and is preparing for ovulation by first shedding the endometrial layer from the previous cycle (the period), building the new layer for an embryo to implant into and ripening the follicles. It is responsible for governing the cervical secretions which need to be rich in potassium to fuel the sperm and loose and slippery for the sperm to swim through easily. The middle of the cycle is dedicated to ovulation when the follicle ruptures and the egg is released. The next phase is the Yang phase, the progesterone dominated half of the cycle. It dries up mucosal secretions to allow smooth passage the fertilized zygote and aid implantation. It facilitates the release of nutrients from the endometrial layer to nourish the embryo. If there is no conception and implantation, Yang is the motive force that builds to get the next period started to begin the new cycle.

Observing the Menstrual Cycle

A very useful fertility to tool to view the health of the menstrual cycle is charting. It can help a couple to know when the most fertile time is, and provide useful information for the acupuncture practitioner to track not only the length of the menstrual cycle, but also the length of the Yin/oestrogen phase and the Yang/progesterone phase. Charting is done based on your Basal Body Temperature (taking on waking at the same time each morning) and recorded on a chart. Below is a typical temperature chart.

Sample BBT chart

It shows that in the first half of a typical cycle the temperature is lower than the second half. It shows that there is a dip in body temperature, a result of an oestrogen surge just in advance of ovulation. Around this time you should also see an increase in cervical mucous. Shortly after ovulation at the start of the Yang phase, there should be a spike in temperature, which should stay relatively constant for the remaining half of the cycle.

Charting is not for everyone, it does take dedication to taking the temperature every morning and paying very close attention to the cycle. However, there are other signs and symptoms that can be very informative – details that may not be considered as particularly relevant by a Western medical doctor – but can provide insightful clues into why a couple may be having difficulty conceiving.

Examples of signs and symptoms of particular relevance are: when and how your period starts and finishes; colour of blood; pain at any time during your cycle; headaches; cervical secretions; sleeplessness; mood. These signs and symptoms and temperature fluctuations help to understand the how the balance of Yin and Yang is in the individual and therefore where the focus of treatment should be.

For example, the first half of the cycle is very susceptible to emotional strain and can cause early ovulation (i.e. before day 14). Emotional strain can cause imbalances resulting in a slightly raised temperature, irritability and a degree of insomnia. Early ovulation can mean that eggs are being released before they are fully ripe and therefore either might not be fertilized or may not implant well if they are fertilized. Acupuncture treatment in this instance would focus on regulating your temperature, calming the mind and reducing stress.

Another example can be where the temperature is too low in the second half of the cycle and this can cause poor implantation or early miscarriage. In this instance treatment would focus on raising temperatures and nourishing the endometrial layer.

Each individual woman’s cycle is different and as such each treatment is personalized for whatever your particular set of circumstances might be. Advice around observing the fluctuations in the menstrual will help to maximize chances of conception and can be provided around diet and lifestyle for each individual’s health.

Male Factor

Acupuncture is not just used to support female fertility but male as well. There are a variety of signs and symptoms that can help to identify areas of treatment to focus on for men too. For example, men who experience feelings of coldness, fatigue and reduced sexual desire may well have sperm with low motility. In this case, treatment would focus on supporting the Yang aspect of a man’s health and advice around eating habits may be appropriate.

Research

There has been research into how acupuncture can help support fertility naturally. Showing that it can:

  • be effective in regulating the hormones involved in fertility (Jin 2009, Huang 2009).
  • It can reduce the stress response, also known as “the fight or flight response” which can have a significant impact on the function of the reproductive organs and can inhibit ovulation (Magarelli 2008, Anderson 2007 ).
  • Increase blood flow to reproductive organs – improving the supplying of oxygen and nutrients to developing eggs in the ovaries and improve the blood supply to the uterus, thus making a healthier, thicker endometrial layer – which improves chances of successful implantation. (Stener-Victorin 2006, Lim 2010, Liu 2008)
  • It can work to counteract the effects of PCOS – balancing hormone levels, increasing ovulation and warming the uterus to improve blastocyst implantation (Stener-Victorin 2000, 2008, 2009, Zhang 2009.

Research into acupuncture for male fertility has shown that acupuncture can help to improve sperm maturation (Crimmel 2001), lower scrotal temperature (Siterman 2009), improving blood supply to the reproductive organs (Komori 2009).

More details on this research and full references can be found on the British Acupuncture Council website at the following links:

Female Fertility: http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/female-fertility.html

Male infertility: http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/male-infertility.html

Springing Forward

Changes afoot this Spring for Jill Storstein Acupuncture
Changes afoot this Spring for Jill Storstein Acupuncture

Its been a while since I’ve written a blog entry and what better time to write one than the start of Spring when the clocks have just gone forward.  Chinese medicine theory developed over the millenia based on observance of patterns of symptoms in people and correspondences of nature with people. Spring is a season of change with the most dominant organ being the Liver which in the 5 elements, corresponds to Wood and is susceptible to Wind. It is also a time of growth and development. Interestingly both of these factors have been demonstrated in my own practice.

A Flurry of Sore Necks and Painful Shoulders

I have had a lot of patients in my practice in recent weeks coming to me with neck and shoulder pain. In Chinese Medicine theory, the Liver is responsible for ensuring flexibility in our muscles and sinews and corresponds to wood, hence its vulnerability to Wind. Trees need to have some flexibility in them to be able to sway and move  in the wind. If they are too rigid they will break in the wind or they will break if the wind is too strong. Wind is the element in dominance in the Springtime and so we need to be careful to protect ourselves against the Wind, by keeping vulnerable areas such as our necks wrapped up – particularly on windy days or in drafty places. If the wind gets in, and our Liver is not functioning as well as it could our muscles and sinews will have less flexibility and so be more susceptible to the wind invading and causing injury. So, it certainly does fit with Chinese medicine theory that I would be seeing more patients with this complaint just now.

Protecting your ‘Liver’

So what can you do to help protect against wind invasions and to help your Liver nourishing your muscles and sinews to keep them supple?

  • The Liver doesn’t do well under stress, whether its personal emotional issues, or work pressures. Make time for yourself to unwind and acknowledge your emotions. Even just closing your eyes for a minute and focussing on your breathing can help drain the tension from your neck and shoulders.
  • Keep the wind out! Seal up drafts in your house or work place and if you are outdoors, wear a scarf – particularly on windy days.
  • Drink plenty fluids – particularly warm drinks on cold days.
  • Get enough sleep – the Liver recharges and builds blood at night which is essential for nourishing your muscles and sinews to keep them supple.
  • Exercise to keep your energy and muscles moving – but don’t overdo it – to much could damage your muscles and sinews too. (And remember to keep your neck and shoulders covered if your outdoors in the wind)
  • Visit your acupuncturist! Acupuncture is great for keeping you energy flowing smoothly through your muscles and can be very relaxing.

Growth and Development for Jill Storstein Acupuncture

I also mentioned that Spring is a time for change and development. Things have certainly been happening for Jill Storstein Acupuncture. My practice is continuing to grow and getting more and more patients coming to me for treatment. It is about to grow even more. I have just joined the KnotStressed team of therapists. KnotStressed is a therapy centre who’s outlook is very similar to my own. They have three main areas they are particularly passionate about:

  • Helping to relieve tension, stress and ongoing chronic issues
  • Supporting women and their families through fertility issues, pregnancy, birth, the postnatal period and the menopause
  • Empowering people to take ownership of their well-being

I am very exited to be affiliated with them – I’ll still be working at my own clinics in Portobello and Clerk Street, Southside, Edinburgh but now have links to them so will participate in open days and you might see flyers with my name on the KnotStressed branding in addition to my own flyers. Find out more about KnotStressed and my practice with them at the following links:

http://www.knotstressed.com/eastern-acupuncture/

http://www.knotstressed.com/fertility-acupuncture/  

http://www.knotstressed.com/jill-storstein/

This is a development and adjunct to my existing general practice where I treat whatever condition you come to me with.

Things are continuing to develop with my new clinic space at Natural Foods Etc. Their new website is due to be launched within the next few weeks and we will have having some promotional events later in the spring/early summer so look out for more updates.

And last but no means least, my practice is continuing to grow in Portobello. I am still based at GW Allans Pharmacy on the High Street every week. I do love working down in Porty – it has such a great community feel and being so close to the beach is just heavenly. I also get to meet all sorts of interesting patients with conditions such as back pain, gynaecological issues, urinary difficulties, insomnia and tendonitis. Its a real privilege to get to work through these difficult health issues that people face and to be a part of their recovery.