Friday, May 27, 2016

Fertility basics: Your ovulation cycle

Now that we covered how aging effects your eggs, lets talk about how this whole egg meets sperm thing works. Before the egg and sperm can have a romantic interlude, the egg needs to make its way down from the ovary, where it is stored. Ovulation is that process of getting the egg from the ovary, through the fallopian tube, and down into the uterus where it can meet the sperm. Here is a diagram of the inner workings of your lady parts in case you need a refresher.

This process happens once a month and is regulated by different hormones. Some birth control pills work by changing up those hormones so that you don't ovulate. But for those trying to get pregnant, here are some hormones that you should get to know: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and lutenizing hormone (LH). The first hormone, FSH, is in charge of getting the egg nice and ready to be released, just like you may get primped up before a big date. The second hormone, LH, is what signals to the ovary that is is go time, and that the egg should be released. 

Why is it important to know this? Because when you are trying to get pregnant it good to monitor your ovulation cycle. There are plenty of over the counter fertility tests ( these do the trick) that test for your LH level to surge and that the egg is about to be released (and that it is a good time to plan a date night). It is also a good idea to have your lady parts doctor test these hormones before you try to get pregnant, since if they are not at the right levels you may have some trouble. 

While many have been led to believe that we ovulate smack dab in the middle of our cycle (so around day 15), every body is different and you can ovulate much earlier or much later. Some women get a sharp pain when they ovulate (known as mittleschmerz), or a strong sense of smell, or can just sense it. My mittleschmerz is so strong that it makes me double over in pain. It lasts all of 30 seconds, but man does it hurt! Your cervical mucus (or vaginal discharge), also changes (read all about it  here), and is a great indication when your body is ready to get pregnant. 

So if you are trying to get pregnant, start to get to know your own ovulation cycle. And don't forget that every body is different, and sometimes, every month is different (this may or may not be how I got pregnant by accident with my second child, but that is a story for another day). Start paying attention to the signals your body gives you to let you know that it is ready for some baby making. And then let the fun begin!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Fertility: the basics

This will be the first post in a series on fertility, a series that is very much needed. So many of us have struggled with issues in fertility, and similar to miscarriage, it is something that no one addresses. Trying to have children when it doesn't just "happen" is so emotional, so isolating, and so misunderstood. I am hoping that by providing some basic information, clearing up some myths, and shedding some light on the process, you lovely readers will feel more empowered, informed, and confident.

First lets start with eggs. Women are born with all the egg cells (or oocytes) they will ever have - they do not produce any after (unlike men, who produce sperm throughout their life). While women are born with 1 million egg cells, less than 500 of these will become actual full-fledged eggs over their lifetime. Even of the eggs that do survive, about half of all eggs have genetic problems, and the number only increases as we age. So it's not just a quantity issue, but one of QUALITY too. 

While you can get pregnant from the time of your first period (menstrual cycle), you are most fertile in your late teens through late 20s. By the time you are 27, your fertility starts to decline. Yes, you read that right, 27.  Around 31, fertility really takes a hit and starts to decrease faster, until the age of 35 where it starts to take a nose dive. About 1 of every 4 women older than 35 have trouble getting pregnant.

The average woman can get pregnant until the age of 41, but that isn't the case for many. You are able to conceive (get pregnant) about 10 years before menopause, but everyone goes through menopause at a different time (some as early as 45). 

That's not to say its all about the eggs. Next post will cover what other issues come into play when determining fertility. Stay tuned. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Magnesium and Migraines

Like many women (and men), I suffer(ed) from migraines. I used to get them chronically, and then they somewhat subsided to a couple times a  month. One primary care doctor recommended that I start taking magnesium supplements to help prevent them. And thus started my love affair with magnesium. After a nasty vestibular migraine (that took over a month to diagnose) that was totally cured with a magnesium infusion (thank you Dr. Mauskop for the proper diagnosis and treatment!), I was a total magnesium convert.

But of course, I am a scientist as well, so I needed to do my due diligence into this magnesium-migraine association. And there is quite a bit of science to back up the use of magnesium as a way to prevent migraines. Turns out, a lot of us migraine sufferers are deficient in magnesium. If you have cold hands and feet, leg and foot cramps, bad PMS, and brain foginess, insomnia, you might be deficient in magnesium too.  A magnesium infusion (through an IV) has been shown to help treat a migraine just about as well as some migraine medication, and taking a daily magnesium supplement has also shown to reduce the number and severity of migraines.

There are various forms of magnesium and some are better tolerated by the belly than others. It is recommended you start with 400mg of magnesium and see if it helps. You may have to take a little more, or you may have to take a little less, or you may have to try different type (magnesium glycinate vs. magnesium oxide, for example). Definitely check in with your doctor and see what they think. I for one, have never felt better!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Do underwire bras cause breast cancer?

Last week I was out with my mama friends and of course our boobs came up in conversation (apparently one drink in and we start talking about lady parts). One friend mentioned that she only wears bras without underwire because she had a breast cancer scare a couple years back and was advised to not wear underwire bras.  Which of course led me to wonder whether there was any science behind this.

I've been wearing underwire bras forever, and was told that if I wanted to keep the girls up, proper undewire support was the only way to go. Was I causing myself to be at higher risk for breast cancer?

After doing some research I found that this was quite the contentious topic and that neither my friend nor I were quite right.

While there are quite a number of websites that claim that tight fitting underwire bras clog our lymphatic drainage (our lymphatic system runs through our body carrying infection fighting cells and removing "debris"), increasing risk for breast cancer. This claim was based on a study that showed that women who wore underwire bras were at a much higher risk for getting breast cancer, and that in cultures where women didn't wear bras, they had very little breast cancer risk. Sounds compelling right? Ah, if only we could just let our boobs hang out and not get breast cancer. Too bad what the study didn't take into account were things such as genetics, fat, diet, age, or any of the other things that have been shown to increase breast cancer risk. All in all this study was good at showing correlation  (bras and breast cancer are associated with one another), but  NOT causation (bras actually breast cancer). A much more robust study published in 2014 found that there was NO association with bra wearing and cancer in women that over 55 years old.

And then there is the whole issue of whether wearing these contraptions even helps keep the girls up. Not so much, since there is this thing called gravity and age. And let me tell you, there isn't much to do about that. Weight fluctuation, breast feeding, and aging all take their toll on breast tissue, and wearing a bra doesn't actually change that.

Bottom line,  do what is comfortable for you and what makes you feel good. If wearing an underwire bra gives you the support you need, great. If you are more comfortable with a soft cup or no cup, that's wonderful too!

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Zika Virus: Fact, fiction, and the unknown

Hello lovely readers, 

Welcome to the new and improved, and much more fancy website! Despite my absence, I have been busy making babies, editing textbooks, teaching and advising students, and trying to enjoy life in the crazy city I call home. 

Speaking of craziness, let's talk Zika. You've heard it all over the news, you've seen the viral Facebook  posts about it, but what exactly is going on? Should you be freaking out, or is this all hype?

Well I am here to tell you to take a deep breath and not freak out just yet. Because, quite frankly, not much as been scientifically confirmed. There has been a lot of speculation and possible links, and not all that much sound evidence. 

What do we know:
  • The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes, who then bite humans, and give them the disease. 
  • Most people who become infected with the virus have no symptoms and feel nothing. Only 1 out of 5 people (20%) who are infected with Zika have symptoms and they are pretty mild - you feel kind of crappy for a couple days with some body aches, red eyes, and a rash. You are supposed to take some Tylenol, get some rest, and wait for it to pass. (More info from the CDC). 
  • The Zika virus was first identified in humans in 1952 in Nigeria. It was identified in the Pacific in 2007 and in 2015 in the Americas. This virus has been around a while and around the block. 
  • One particular kind of mosquito has been found to carry the Zika virus, Aedes aegypti while Aedes albopictus is thought to be a possible carrier as well. They both have black and white legs, and black and white bodies (although they vary on the pattern).
    What is going on:
    • Women in Brazil have been giving birth to babies with smaller heads (microcephaly). 
    • There is a good amount of overreporting of these cases, as the government in Brazil set a broad definition of what a "small" head means (according to their definition, both my boys would have had microcephaly, which they do not) and more doctors are now looking out for this.
    • Out of 404 confirmed cases of babies with microcephaly (there are still over 3,600 babies waiting to be properly tested), the Zika virus was found in 17. 
    • It appears that Zika could be spread through sex.

    What does this mean all mean?? Right now, there are a lot of unknowns and the data is all over the place. Scientists are trying to figure out the actual CAUSAL link between Zika and microcephaly, which is difficult to do.  Government agencies are freaking out and staying cautious, telling all pregnant woman to avoid travel to countries with Zika, and to use protection if they have a partner who traveled to a country with Zika. In general, just be careful if you are in a place with mosquitoes - use bug spray (use it all over your body. Those suckers are sneaky and can get under clothing), wear long pants and sleeves, close doors and windows,and make sure there aren't holes in any window or door screens. These particular mosquitoes bite during the day too, so use bug spray at all times. My family and I just came back from the Caribbean and we didn't get a single mosquito bite - we were just that careful. 

    I'll keep updating and parsing through the media hype as news trickles in. Stay tuned. 

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