Is there a link between hunger – fullness hormones and fertility?

Ever wondered why you feel hungry or full? There are a number of systems that work together to tell you when to seek out food, with the key players being Leptin and Ghrelin.

Our fat cells produce leptin, which regulates food intake and energy expenditure. Leptin levels correlate with your fat mass; if your fat mass is lower than your genetics would like it to be, the brain will sense the lower leptin levels and stimulate your hunger. In women, low leptin levels will also mean reduced fertility and/or amenorrhoea (lack of periods). The rationale for this is: if your body is low in energy stores, it’s not safe to start growing a baby!

It doesn’t only matter how much ‘padding’ we have, but also the pattern of our eating. Our gut cells release a hormone called Ghrelin in response to lack of protein in our diets or irregular meals. Ghrelin has a direct impact on the hormones that regulate our menstrual cycles (talking to the ladies here): it suppresses the luteinising and follicle stimulating hormones, which in turn impairs follicle maturation and ovulation..

Being ‘within the healthy BMI’ range does not necessarily mean that your body will be ‘ready’ to have a baby. You need to be at a weight that is genetically set for you as ‘healthy’ and eat regular, and balanced meals. Other factors that are important include exercise (not too much!) and avoidance of too much stress. The latter two increase cortisol levels, which also tends to suppress those all important menstrual cycle hormones...

Should you take a probiotic alongside a low FODMAP diet?

This question comes up in my clinics all the time and I thought I'd share my thoughts on this here...It is not yet known whether it is better to take a probiotic alongside a low FODMAP diet or not. In 2016, Staudacher and colleagues published a randomised controlled trial looking at the effects on IBS symptom improvement and faecal bacteria with a low FODMAP diet and probiotics (VSL#3) versus a low FODMAP diet alone. IBS symptoms improved to the same extent in both groups, suggesting that VSL#3 did not add any further benefit. However, VSL#3 in combination with low a FODMAP prevented the decline in the numbers of bifidobacteria (beneficial bacteria) that is usually seen in those following a low FODMAP diet. We do not yet know whether the beneficial bacteria comes back with the reintroduction of high FODMAP foods at the later stages of the diet or whether this can only be achieved by adding in a probiotic...

 

Widen your focus

With the first days of summer, for some, comes the dread of having to strip off the layers and have their body visible to the world.. so many of us suffer with negative body image or even body image dysmorphia..

We all have the tendency to focus on the things that make us feel shame, or the things that make us feel the most vulnerable. I hear similar sentiments echoed by my clients when they speak to me about having negative body image, or experiencing distress in relation to specific parts of their bodies.. They often describe this sense that they should be doing more/ not feeling stuck in the spot they're in. And they literally stop being able to move beyond whatever they’ve hyper-focused on.This perverse focus on their ‘faults’ disables them from being able to immerse in the things that are truly important.

I help them learn to focus on a broader picture and explore the futility of trying to ‘catch and hold’ happiness by trying to change their physical body. It’s freeing to get rid of this.

Let’s talk about caffeine (& enjoy our morning coffee)

Caffeine is often unfairly criticised by some, but this is not justified when the evidence from research studies on moderate intakes is considered.In fact, moderate caffeine intake has been associated* with a reduced risk of heart disease in adults. Caffeine also has desirable short-term effects, such as improved alertness, concentration, and reduced perception of fatigue and pain.

Safe upper levels for caffeine consumption for healthy adults (report by EFSA**) have been defined as no more than 200mg as a single dose, and no more than 400mg as a daily dose.

Caffeine content of common drinks (per serving):

  •  espresso: 140mg
  •  filter coffee: 90mg
  •  black tea (teabag): 50mg
  •  decaff coffee: 15mg

Based on the above, up to 8 cups of tea or 2 cups of espresso, can be safely consumed as part of a balanced diet. However, what caffeine should not be used for, is to compensate for inadequate food intake or lack or sleep. Although it may feel like it's helping short-term, it may mess up your hunger signals, make you feel anxious and further disrupt your sleep..

*association studies do not suggest cause & effect, but merely a link, therefore, evidence from these studies need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

**(EFSA) European Food Safety Authority

Is exercise always good for you?

Excessive exercise can have significant negative effects on your body, i.e. worsen inflammatory state if you have PCOS or even lead to irregular periods and fertility issues.. It’s important to recognise if you have crossed over the line into an unhealthy pursuit of compulsive exercise, which could also be a sign of an underlying problem, such as body image dysmorphia, an eating disorder or dysfunctional regulation of emotional states.

Some warning signs that your relationship with exercise may be ‘unhealthy’:

  • You decline engaging in social activities in order to exercise
  • You feel restless/ irritable if you take a day off or try to cut down your exercise
  • You increase the amount of your exercise if you think that you are ‘too much’
  • You continue to work out even when you are sick…

What is YOUR relationship with exercise?

Happy Easter

Easter means different things to people and to me it’s about celebrating spring, new life and and embracing family traditions, which revolve around painting eggs, baking cinnamon buns and spending half of the day eating Easter lunch... The egg is a symbol of fertility and of renewed life that goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians. It’s thought that they are the ones who started the custom of colouring and gifting eggs during their spring festival... I’ve gone off on a tangent here a little talking things not really diet related...

To get back on track, I will share a ‘fun fact’ on male fertility. Male sperm contains lots of antioxidants, including vitamins E & C, carnitine, carotenoids, zinc, selenium and folate. They protect semen from the damage of reactive oxygen damage, which could otherwise cause fertility issues by damaging sperm and changing the sperm DNA. Dietary intake of antioxidants (both from food and supplements) has been shown to be strongly associated with semen quality (aka fertilisation potential). On the contrary, alcohol and smoking (even being exposed to cigarette smoke) have negative effects on fertilisation potential because these tend to reduce sperm count and slow down its speed... Bottom line is, when it comes to fertility, diet and lifestyle choices matter! Happy Easter everyone!

Can you improve your body image without changing your body?

In the culture that we live in, we are surrounded by images of cisgender, white women in thin bodies. This is not representative of the population and leaves A LOT of people feeling invisible and ‘imperfect’. Research has shown that seeing those images of thin bodies maintain the female ideal and programme the mind to strive for it. Here are some tips on the first steps towards improving your body image: Reduce imagery of very small women from your media feed. Only 2% of the images we see on a regular basis are plus-size women (size 14+). This distorts our perception of body size distribution in our society. Images of smaller women are absolutely fine as plenty of people are naturally thin. Your goal is not to demonise small bodies, but to make your image intake more balanced. Whichever social media platforms you use most frequently, find people to follow that are different to you. Whether it’s their body size, skin colour, ability or sexual orientation. Let your social media represent the world you live in rather the skewed picture that we are being ‘fed’ every day by the mainstream media. Expose yourself to the new images on a regular basis. The more you see, the more normalised different body shapes will become.

International Women’s Day

To mark the international women’s day, I’d like to share some thoughts on Sexual Objectification (SO) Theory. It proposes that SO contributes to mental health problems and disproportionately affect women (i.e. Eating Disorders, depression and sexual dysfuntion) via two main paths: SO experiences and self-objectification.

When media presents women in body parts rather than thinking and feeling humans, we, women, learn to turn that gaze upon ourselves. We internalise this outsider view and begin to self-objectify by treating ourselves as an object to be looked at and evaluated on the basis of appearance (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). This takes away from everything more important that we could be focusing on, such as good friendships, talents, hobbies and dreams...  To all girls out there, I wish the power to overcome self-objectification and start living your life to the full.

Loving your body – self compassion

Many struggle with the concept of loving their body unconditionally, and allow it to depend on how many calories they’ve eaten/ burnt that day or how many compliments they received.. Years of dieting and being soaked in messages and images of ‘perfect bodies’ can make loving your body feel unachievable. Working on self-compassion and recognising that you are an imperfect human with strengths and weaknesses that don’t define your worthiness is the way forward

Do you suspect a food intolerance?

If you suspect you have any other food intolerances, you should see a dietitian who will be able to support you in identifying the culprit for your symptoms. A dietitian’s role is to carefully assess your diet, eating patterns and other potential factors that may impacting on your symptoms and propose dietary/ lifestyle manipulations.
If you are likely to have food intolerance, you may be offered to complete an elimination diet. They require dedication and time, but if done properly, can be invaluable in helping you to find out whether you have any particular food intolerances and how to best cope with these. your digestive symptoms may arise from years of dieting, in which case elimination diets may make things worse, not better. Make sure you see a dietitian with experience in gastroenterology and disordered eating to receive the support that you need.

Exercise

My clients often ask me what exercise they should be doing and for how long for ‘optimal health’. The truth is that you could have the most ‘perfect’ exercise prescription, but you won’t be able to sustain it, unless you ENJOY it... A growing body of research shows that getting pleasure from physical activities may be one of the most important factors for sustaining consistent exercise. So it’s not the frequency, intensity and duration that you need to be thinking about, but what you FEEL LIKE and WHAT FEELS GOOD... This concept of engaging in activities that you enjoy or that give you increased energy or an improved mood is based on the Hedonic Theory of Motivation. This theory basically says that people will repeat activities that feel good. Conversely, activities that cause pain or discomfort will wane or be avoided. Discover physical activity that you truly enjoy and ditch all exercise that feels like punishment/ something that ‘you should be doing’. So what do you enjoy?

STOP the plastic tide

Today, Marine Conservation Society published beach litter report, which reveals the tide of plastic has risen to a whopping 70% of all the rubbish that is found.

We mustn't let drinks cups, plastic cutlery, straws, plastic bottles, lids and stirrers replace sea life. They're used for a moment but last a lifetime in our oceans.

Join their their call to get levies introduced across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on single-use plastic items such as plastic cups and lids, straws, plates and cutlery.

To sign the petition:
https://www.mcsuk.org/appeal/plastic-levy

What are probiotics?

Defined by the World Health Organisation as “Live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. Probiotics are described first by genus, then species and then by strain (i.e. Bifidobacterium infantis 35624).

There are significant differences in their functions even at the strain level; therefore, for example, only because this specific strain (Bifidobacterium infantis 35624) was shown to benefit people with IBS (human trials), it does not mean that all other Bifidobacterium strains will have the same effect!

Diet & climate change

1/3 of our influence on climate change and land use is related to our diet and the food chain.

It can be uncomfortable to reflect on own dietary habits in view of how sustainable they are. We are used to the idea that we can eat what we like, when, and as much as we like with no consequences to anyone else, except, perhaps, ourselves.

Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is the only vitamin that can be made in our skin in with the help of sunshine, more specifically, the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. During the summer months, we get most of this vitamin through sunshine-skin collab. But from October through to early March, UK sunshine isn’t UVB – rich enough, so we aren't producing any significant amounts..

A recent report carried out by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), suggests that everyone over the age of 1 needs to consume 10 micrograms (400IU) of vitamin D each day… This advice also applies to pregnant and breastfeeding ladies. You should avoid consuming more than 25µg (1000IU) a day, unless recommended by a doctor or a Dietitian.

NOTE: it's a fat soluble vitamin, so best if you take your supplement with a meal.