This is going to be a bit of a long story, so hold on tight!
I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was 16, The test results showed elevated levels of androgens, I had cysts in my ovaries, and my period was irregular. I always thought this was the result of the medication I take to treat my epilepsy; I take epival. I was told there is a relationship between women who take epival and pcos by both my endocrinologist and my neurologist, so I just always assumed this was a normal thing for me. If I wasn’t taking any medication I would have been much more concerned but I kind of accepted my fate as a young woman with irregular periods because my doctors told me it’s common to have hormonal irregularities. Later on my pcos was resolved, then it came back again. While I was in high school and university I didn’t keep a clear track of my medical records (so young and preoccupied with other things) so it’s hard to peace it back together, all I know is that I was advised to go on metformin by a doctor I went to see in 2015 to treat the pcos and other blood sugar issues I was experiencing. By the time I really started to become conscientious of my medical records and became empowered by my own research, I was around 26. I hadn’t gotten my period in years, around three years. The only times I would get my period was when my endocrinologist would prescribe me progesterone which would make me feel super anxious and play around with my emotions in such a way that I couldn’t finish the treatments, even though I tried it three times in various life stages – 17, 24, 26. I also went to a naturopathic doctor who prescribed a homeopathic remedy which did induce my period, but also came with the same side-effects as progesterone – mood swings, anxiety… no bueno.
I was 25 when I began to really inform and educate myself to better my health. I delved into the literature all about nutrition and the following year I left my full time job to study Holistic Nutrition. As my diet and lifestyle changed I began to feel way better and my hormones didn’t seem to be so crazy anymore – the pcos symptoms were dying down! Excess hair specially which was a huge plus. I went to see my endocronologist when I was 27 and she confirmed the amazing news – I no longer had PCOS, none of the tests showed results that were relative to this condition. To say I was excited was an understatement, I was freaking amazed. But there was still an issue, I wasn’t getting my period. During another visit with my endo, she told me I most likely had HA or hypothelamic amenorrhea. I was like, huh? So of course I wrote it down and researched the crap out of it. And I found tons of info, but the most interesting thing was the causes of it. My endo said it was due to chronic stress, under eating, and overexercising. I identified with one thing (chronic stress), but the other 2 I had a hard time grasping. It wasn’t until I read other women’s stories online and watched videos on YouTube that it really sunk in, I had HA. It was a strange pill to swallow, but it was true, I was doing HITT and weight training a few times a week, and I didn’t eat nearly enough. I was often told that my portions were way too small, but I refused to acknowledge that my super tiny lunch container made up of mostly veggies was anything but perfect for my stomach size. And then there was another layer; I had a bad habit of eating almost nothing during the day, then stress eating at night. So clearly I fit the bill; I was undereating, overstressing, and overexercising. And suddenly the most powerful realization dawned on me. What if it’s not the pills? What if I really can get my period back, be fertile (I always assumed I wouldn’t be able to have kids), and have hormonal balance? I think the shift happened when I realized that it was a definite possibility, and when I decided I was worthy of getting my period back and being as healthy as I could be. I remember I told my mom about my plan to get my period back and even she commented on it saying, “but isn’t it the pills?”. My mom is my biggest cheerleader, but even she had a hard time understating that this matter could change. Anywhoo! Here are my recovery steps!
How did I recover?
- Started eating more – Like I mentioned, my view of a meal that would actually fill me up was very much misconstrued. I was pretty much having meals that would fill up baby birds but not a young woman in her mid twenties. As I started doing more research into the causes of HA and how I could cure it, the the step that became most pertinent and easiest (for me at least) to address, was just increasing my calories. I didn’t begin to count calories, but I was aware that I was consuming a ton more food. I didn’t want to overwhelm my body by just started to eat huge meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so I gradually increased my meals. I started by eating a bigger breakfast; instead of one egg I would have two, instead of just eating veggies for lunch, I added proteins like beef or poultry. I also started adding more starches; before I would try to avoid having quinoa or sweet potatoes too frequently because I was reversing PCOS and wanted to balance my blood sugar, but now that PCOS was under control, I knew adding more starches was a great way of telling my body it was safe, being fed enough, and getting enough calories.
- Stopped over exercising – I like moving my body and I have always known exercise was good for health. Growing up, both of my parents were pretty active, specially my dad, and the physical activity “gene”, got passed down to me. There were some years during high school were I barely exercised, but once I started University I once again embraced exercise. And during my mid-twenties I was on a roll. I would do HITT maybe 2X a week, weights once a week, and in between maybe yoga and walking. Maybe it wasn’t too much for the average healthy individual, but I was under-eating, taking medication (still am) which further depleted me of nutrients, and would feel tired after going up one flight of stairs. So once I found out I should cut out exercise for the time I was healing from HA, I begrudgingly did so, and after a couple of weeks I got used to way less activity. Eat more and stop working out? And relax? Doesn’t sound too bad!
- Chilled the f out – Ah yeah, this one is huge for HA. Cortisol, the stress hormone released by the adrenals, cause all sorts of havoc on our systems, and stress alone can be a causative factor for amenorrhea. This one is the most difficult one to control for me…well food too but stress is a little difficult because I can only control my environment to a certain extent. But I took a little break from my business, from posting every day on social media, from constantly striving to do more and feel like less if I didn’t. I began to enjoy taking time for me, doing dance classes, yoga at home, walking, just feeling more at home in my body, and not feeling guilty for taking care of me.
- Acupuncture and herbs – I have to thank my endocrinologist for this one. She was the one who originally guided me to acupuncture and said it was one of the alternative treatments that she had seen to be very beneficial/effective for fertility. So of course anything that is good for fertility and is natural I was down with. I also heard about the benefits of acupuncture from girls I went to nutrition school with who got their cycles back with the help of acupuncture. At first I went to a student clinic in which 4 student acupuncturists would each ask a series of questions and then do a 10 minute acupuncture treatment, but I didn’t feel like I was getting the full benefits of the treatment, and I wanted a more intimate relationship with my acupuncturist since this was a pretty personal issue. It was through the badassery of the universe that I actually met my current acupuncturist at the student clinic. I really liked her personality and found her to be extra knowledgeable, so I booked an appointment at the clinic she worked at. She diagnosed me with and began doing acupuncture on me to boost blood and chi. She tried to explain it every time but I was like what (so foreign from what I know of western medicine!). She also strongly advised for me to take herbs which I was opposed to at first because I take medication and I am always so cautious about interactions. However, I finally agreed and this really helped speed things up. At first my acupuncturist couldn’t even feel my pulse, and after a couple of weeks she could finally feel it and my tongue got more colour to it. My complexion improved as did my sleep. I felt a little bit better in terms of my anxiety too which had previously been skyrocketing all the time, every day.
- Affirmations and Visualizations – it sounds kind of strange, but I think this was one of the biggest things I could have done to speed up my recovery. Our minds are powerful things, and the thoughts we think and the words we speak have a definite effect on our mental and physical well being. I always assumed that because I take valproic acid, which is linked to menstrual abnormalities, I was doomed to not have an irregular period, even for years. But then I started to switch my mindset and start thinking that I could have a regular period, that this was in fact a very real possibility, that I could be fertile, that I could have a baby, that by body was safe enough to menstruate and carry life. I visualized every morning that I was getting a regular period, and also did healing affirmations. If it sounds woo woo to you, try it! It might make all the difference.
So that’s what I did, and it took 4 months for my period to finally come. The first time it was very light and lasted only a day, but i was extremely pumped. The second time it was legit a period, and i was beyond pumped! The third time it came it was exactly a month later and i was feeling very proud of my body. I felt so happy and grateful that my body was able to heal, I felt elated, like all the work and time I put in finally paid off. My period is still not completely regular; last month it was 17 days late! Thanks to my acupuncturist I actually got it the same day I went for treatment (did I mention how much I freaking love/am in awe of acupuncture??). The point is we have to be gentle with our bodies and be patient, healing, as you may know, is not linear; it is a jagged and unpredictable journey filled with highs and lows. Overall, I am so proud and happy with what I have accomplished, and I am forever in awe of how our bodies and heal.
Matcha – more than a superfood
Hmm a frothy, delicious matcha latte
You’ve probably heard of matcha, the superfood green powder which has increased in popularity in the West due to its many health benefits. Starbucks can make you a matcha latte, you can find it at most health food stores, and you may have seen people put it in everything from smoothies to baked goods (matcha muffins anyone?). If you’ve ever wanted to know a bit more about matcha (pretty interesting I must say!), then read on. In this blog I’ll talk about:
- The background history of matcha (pretty fascinating! For me at least, I nerd out on history sometimes).
- Five health benefits of this drink.
While reading about matcha I was left in awe of it’s complex history, and realized this is much more than a superfood (not a huge fan of that term anyways hehe). In Japanese, “cha” means tea, and “ma” means powder, so matcha literally means powdered tea (The History of Matcha Tea). matcha was originally brought to Japan by the Buddhist monk Eisai; he took tea seeds back from China and began the practice of grinding green tea leaves into powdered form, creating the matcha drink we have become familiar with (The Origin of Matcha).
This tea was first consumed by Buddhist monks; later on Japanese royalty and samurais would drink it as a status symbol. As time progressed, matcha tea became central to the Japanese tea ceremony, an intricate ceremony which encourages participants to be present, appreciating their surroundings, company, and the tea itself (The History of Matcha Tea). So…I admit that was a very succinct summary, but it’s just to give you a brief idea of the historical and cultural significance matcha has had, and continues to have in Japan. As it’s popularity grows in the West, it’s seen as more of a “superfood” but it’s really so much more! It’s also a way to become mindful and be in the present moment, all the while getting some awesome health benefits.
Most of us are aware that drinking green tea can be beneficial for our health, but drinking matcha is even better. Why? It all begins with how matcha is cultivated. In Japan, the tea leaves used for matcha are shaded for three weeks prior to harvesting. This allows the leaves to turn a deep green, rich in nutrients like chlorophyll and l-theanine (Alban, Deane). After being cultivated, the leaves are dried and then ground up to become a fine green powder known as matcha. Thanks to the grounding up of the leaves, we consume all of the nutrients of the tea leaves as opposed to just steeping the leaves and getting partial benefits.
Which brings us to the second part of this blog: the health benefits of matcha!
Matcha tea can help us to:
- Be alert and relaxed at the same time
Matcha was a drink of choice for Buddhist monks and samurais, and there’s good a reason behind it. L-theanine is an amino acid found mainly in tea which promotes relaxation, but it doesn’t sedate us. It’s a good choice for those of us (me included) who are sensitive to caffeine and jittery or anxious when consuming coffee. While I love the smell and taste, drinking coffee is never worth it for me; however, a cup of matcha provides me with l-theanine, which keeps me alert and calm. L-theanine also increases brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. These guys are responsible for making us feel emotions of well-being, relaxation, and a sense of accomplishment (Alban, Deane).
- Keeps our cells healthy due to high antioxidant content
Free radicals are atoms that have lost an electron and thus look around in the body for an electron they can take from another atom (they like to hang in pairs, not singles). The act of them stealing other electrons causes damage to cells. While it’s true that we all make free radicals and it’s a normal process, too many of them is no bueno since they cause damage to cells. Enter antioxidants! These guys neutralize free radicals, therefore preventing damage to the cells. Green tea is a powerhouse of antioxidants, even beating wild blueberries and goji berries, other delicious and antioxidant rich foods. Dr. Mariza Snyder, author of “The Matcha Miracle”, says in her book that one cup of matcha is the equivalent to 10 cups of green tea! So you’re getting a lot of antioxidants and nutrients in one little cup! (This tea has 10 times more antioxidants than green tea.)
- May help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
Matcha also contains polyphenols, a class of chemicals found in plants (LD, Megan Ware RDN). One of these polyphenols is called EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate, which has strong anti-inflammatory properties, and studies suggest it is effective in reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease (Wolfram, S.). It’s pretty amazing that drinking matcha/ green tea can help maintain our hearts and cardiovascular system nice and healthy!
- Helps with cognition and memory
Like I mentioned, l-theanine is an amino acid which is great for being relaxed yet still alert. This amino acid works synergistically with the caffeine in matcha to helps us get in a more focused state. The combination of the two seems to improve cognitive function (so perfect for studying for exams or getting a project in on time!) (Owen, G N, et al).
- Can help get us in a creative mindful state
Our brains produce different brain waves due to electrical activity which is taking place. Some of these waves are known as Gamma, Beta, and Alpha. One brain wave in particular, Alpha, is associated with creativity, and has been shown to decrease depression symptoms. This is the brainwave which becomes more prominent while we are meditating or daydreaming. Matcha will actually cause an increase in alpha brain waves thanks to that nifty little amino acid I mentioned earlier, l-theanine. So while drinking this delicious powdered green tea, we can get a little more creative and even get into a more optimistic, less negative mode of thinking! (Bergland, Christopher).
So, I don’t know about you, but I’m in total awe of matcha. It has such a rich history and is deeply rooted in cultural traditions. It has amazing health benefits, from protecting our cells, to improving cognition, and helping us be relaxed yet still alert, matcha is a beverage that I have lots of respect for (and I’m so happy to know more about it!).
I hope you feel the same way, and next time you drink a cup of matcha, take a minute to think about the history, how it can help us be relaxed and present, and enjoy your cup, hopefully mindfully 😉
- “The History of Matcha Tea.” Zen Matcha, www.zenmatchatea.com/the-history-of-matcha-tea/.
- “The Origin of Matcha.” World of Tea, 6 Aug. 2017, www.worldoftea.org/matcha-introduction.
- Alban, Deane. “Powerful Brain and Health Benefits of Matcha Green Tea.” Be Brain Fit, 6 Feb. 2018, bebrainfit.com/matcha-green-tea-benefits/.
- “This tea has 10 times more antioxidants than green tea.” Fox News, FOX News Network, www.foxnews.com/health/2015/09/09/this-tea-has-10-times-more-antioxidants-than- green-tea.html.
- Wolfram, S. “Effects of green tea and EGCG on cardiovascular and metabolic health.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906191.
- LD, Megan Ware RDN. “Polyphenols: Health benefits and polyphenol-Rich foods.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319728.php.
- Owen, G N, et al. “The combined effects of L-Theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood.” Nutritional neuroscience., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18681988.
- Bergland, Christopher. “Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 17 Apr. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression.
Vitamin D (The Sunshine Vitamin) and Why you Need it.
Vitamin D was something I only somewhat recently started supplementing with, like in the past six months or so. I was familiar with the general benefits of this nutrient, but in the past week I decided to hit the books (and yes, the almighty Google too), and learn as much as I could about Vitamin D. And low and behold, I was pretty amazed, enthralled, and in awe at all this powerful nutrient does to keep us nice and healthy. In this blog post I’ll give a bit of background info about vitamin D, 5 amazing benefits it has for our bodies, and why we should be taking it. Enjoy!
An intro into vitamin D
Despite being called a vitamin, this nutrient is more like a hormone and can be synthesized in the body through skin exposure to the sun (hence sunshine vitamin). Vitamins cannot be synthesized or made by the body, whereas vitamin D can. Our bodies are really good at making it too; in fact, if you stand outside in the summer (without sunscreen or clothes…if you roll like that) for 20 minutes, you would get about 20,000 units of Vitamin D, which is 100 times more than the RDA (recommended daily allowance)!! (Carr 170).
It is estimated that over one billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient, which is a lot of peeps! (Greenblatt). People living north of the equator are more susceptible to deficiency, since, you know, winter and all. But other factors can also impact how much vitamin D your body can make, such as skin pigmentation, body fat percentage, health conditions, and age. Unfortunately, as we became more cautionary with the sun and started to avoid it and lather our skin with sunscreen, we also began to become deficient in vitamin D. Although I absolutely agree we should be preventing our chances of skin cancer, we can also learn to get a little sun to help our bodies naturally make vitamin D. Exposing our skin to the sun in the spring, summer, and fall, for about 20 minutes should be enough to help us make sufficient vitamin D; we can expose our arms, legs, or face and neck, whichever you choose!
Ok, now that we’re more familiar with vitamin D, let’s talk about 5 benefits!
Strong bones and teeth!
So, most of us are pretty familiar with vitamin D being an important factor for strong bones and teeth, hence why foods like orange juice or milk are fortified with it (although there’s better sources! I’ll tell ya in a bit 😉 ). What this vitamin does is help us absorb calcium through our intestines and thus helps us build strong bones, teeth, and muscle. So if we are looking to avoid osteopenia (bones that are thinner than normal), or osteoporosis, vitamin D is a go to.
Regulates our immune system
It turns out every tissue in our bodies including our immune system, brain, and muscles, has vitamin D receptors, meaning our entire body needs this nutrient in order to function properly. Vitamin D will turn on genes that regulate the immune system, helping us get sick less often (hello flu/cold free winter!) (Greenblatt). Ahh the possibilities, less tissues, runny noses, and sore throats? Yes please!
During the winter we are prone to feeling a little more gloomy as opposed to the summer, when sunshine, warmer weather, and lots of outdoor activities keep us happy and active. Many people will begin to feel depressed in the winter, and this is known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Since during the winter time we are exposed to far less sunshine than the rest of the year, our levels can drop substantially, leading to symptoms such as depression. Like I mentioned before, the brain has vitamin D receptors which release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitter are chemical messengers which allow neurons in our brain to communicate, and are essential for mood and brain health. Serotonin is known as the happy hormone, and dopamine is the pleasure and reward hormone; it also helps us focus and pay attention (Hyman, 102). So if we are feeling the winter blues, vitamin D is definitely one of the best supplements to take! You’re brain will thank you 🙂
Reduces inflammation in the body
Since vitamin D has receptors in all body tissues, researchers have found that it activates genes which will eventually reduce proteins which are known to cause inflammation. Less inflammation in the body means less disease, particularly chronic illness. In fact, researchers say supplementing with vitamin D may be beneficial to patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases such as asthma, arthritis, and prostate cancer (Zhang et al.).
Helps regulate blood sugar levels
Vitamin D seems to help our pancreas create insulin, which then makes it easier for the cells in our bodies to take up glucose, meaning it is beneficial for controlling blood sugar levels (WebMD). Vitamin D is also great for those who already have type 2 diabetes and want to better manage their condition, plus research has shown supplementing with this vitamin can lower chances of developing type 1 diabetes (Medical News Today).
So, this vitamin (well, hormone), is amazing and my current obsession. Every time I take it I am amazed that the 3 drops I take could be helping my body out in so many ways. If your looking for dietary sources of vitamin D, salmon, sardines, and eggs are great sources, however, they will not supply you with very high amounts, so I would recommend supplementing, particularly in the winter. It’s been shown that a vitamin D deficiency can lead to diabetes, hypertension, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis, and even Alzheimer’s disease! (NCBI). And that is more than enough reason for me to supplement, plus, I really do feel like it gives my mood a little boost 🙂
Hope this is helpful, interesting information!
Much love! Laura
Carr, Kris. Crazy Sexy Diet. Skirt!, 2011.
Greenblatt, James M. “Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 14 Nov. 2011, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-breakthrough-depression-solution/201111/psychological-consequences-vitamin-d-deficiency.
Hyman, Mark. The Ultramind Solution. Scribner, 2009.
Naeem, Zahid. “Vitamin D Deficiency- An Ignored Epidemic.” International Journal of Health Sciences, Qassim University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jan. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068797/.
Let’s Talk Self Care, Baby
What does taking care of yourself mean to you? Is it going to soul cycle and taking a spin class? Making some green juice or a delicious smoothie? Opting for the salad as the side to your burger instead of the fries? Being a holistic nutritionist is of course very much centered around food, but the word holistic in this title makes it key. I have been focusing so much on food and supplements for the past few years, that I sometimes lose sight of things which are also extremely important, such as what we are feeding our mind, bodies, souls, and hearts.
Of course healthy nutritious food is essential for our health and well being, but, at least for me, I can eat all the kale salad and wild Alaskan salmon, but in the end, if I don’t feel loved, cared for, if I don’t do things I enjoy, if I don’t spend time with people I love and service others, if I neglect to listen to my body, and if I don’t follow my life calling, then I feel stumped, and my growth is cut off. I feel almost suffocated, like I am in a very small stuffy room and can’t find the door out.
I’ve been doing mindfulness meditation (almost!) every day now, and I feel much more in tune with what is going on with my body. I am able to listen more now, catch emotions as they develop. And so I began to become more aware of how much I have been neglecting taking care of my heart and soul. I take care of my body well, I eat healthy, take my supplements, exercise; and my mind is also well cared for; I love to read and learn, as I develop my business I am constantly challenging my mind, and as I develop protocols and plan workshops, well, it’s all a workout for the mind. But, my heart and soul have been very much neglected.
My heart – what does it need? What does it pine for? What is it asking for?
My soul – what is it saying? What makes it feel fulfilled? What calms and soothes her?
These are questions I won’t answer here, but they are good to delve into. I feel there are two main reasons I fail to do more soul searching. These are:
I am afraid of what I will find
I feel I have no time // don’t feel like it
In the end, the best advice I can give myself and you if you relate to the above reasons, is there is always enough time, we just have to spend less time doing things which are unfulfilling – social media is the biggest one for me. As for being afraid of what I find, I think even though it is uncomfortable at first, the more you do it, the more you gain insight into who you are, the more you appreciate yourself, and the more you learn how to care for yourself.
Ask yourself these questions more often. Sit quietly in meditation and ask your heart, spirit, and mind what they want. Just for 5 minutes, and see what happens. I will also be doing the same.