by Kristin Jillian Shropshire
Literature is filled with odes to love and romance everywhere we look. Whether it’s feminist and social theorist Simone de Beauvoir declaring, “She was ready to deny the existence of space and time rather than admit that love might not be eternal,” or famed children’s author Dr. Seuss telling us, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams,” we find evidence of love’s driving force between the pages of literature.
While most of us love “love,” at no time is our cultural fixation on this emotion more poignant and deeply felt than on Valentine’s Day. We dress in festive shades of red and pink, decorate with hearts and cupids and give each other flowers, chocolates and love notes. This sentiment takes the physical form of procreation for many couples. A child is conceived in love and so continues the legacy of a couple’s devotion and tender regard for one another.
Unfortunately, it is a tragic reality that many modern couples experience fertility challenges. It is commonly estimated that roughly one in six Canadian couples is struggling to conceive.
As Canadians, we are blessed by the many assisted reproductive opportunities available to us through our medical doctors. These include in vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination, embryo transfer, surgeries to unblock fallopian tubes or retrieve eggs or sperm to be used in fertility treatments or reverse past surgeries undertaken to prevent conception such as vasectomies and tubal ligations. The Ontario government even offers women one fully funded IVF cycle. And yet, these options don’t feel right for some couples or don’t deliver the desired outcome without additional support.
Many Canadians are surprised to discover that there are other options available to them in their quest to increase their fertility and give birth to healthy children. Acupuncture and nutrition represent two natural options. These can be undertaken individually or in conjunction with medically assisted reproductive technologies.
The purpose of acupuncture in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to balance body energy by increasing or decreasing the flow of Qi, or vital energy, through judicious selection of the appropriate acupuncture points. As we bring the body back into a state of health and balance, natural body processes such as fertility will balance themselves.
TCM requires that each client’s treatment plan be constructed based on their unique health challenges because no two patients, irrespective of their identical medical diagnosis, are interchangeable. To quote Hsu Ta-Ch’un (1757), “Illnesses may be identical but the persons suffering from them are different. Physicians must therefore carefully take into account the differences among people…” Fertility experts such as Jane Lyttleton have devised protocols to help balance the female reproductive cycle using a fusion of knowledge gained through Traditional Chinese and Western medicines but at no time can the unique requirements and health status of each patient be forgotten or ignored.
Acupuncture can enhance fertility in many ways. It can help reduce stress, which is a surprisingly common contributor to fertility challenges; regulate the menstrual cycle; stimulate ovulation; improve sperm quality and improve blood flow to the ovaries. Our understanding deepens as studies emerge supporting acupuncture’s use as an effective means to support not just fertility but also optimal health.
Acupuncture is arguably the best-known pillar of TCM but nutrition is also a fundamental component of its practice. Proper nutrition supports healthful, abundant Qi, which helps acupuncture to achieve optimal results. How can we move vital energy through the body’s energy pathways if the body possesses insufficient Qi? When we combine this more abstract understanding of food energetics with the abundant knowledge available to us via Western nutritional science, we can enjoy the best of both worlds: full-spectrum nourishment for the body, mind and spirit.
While fertility challenges can feel depressing and demoralizing, it is important to remember that there are many avenues that we can pursue to optimize our ability to conceive healthy children. It’s simply a matter of weighing our options and choosing the approach that best suits our unique requirements.
Kristin Jillian Shropshire, MS, ROHP, R.Ac., is a Registered Nutritionist, Registered Acupuncturist and faculty member of The Institute of Holistic Nutrition at Glebe Health House.
Beat the sniffles this winter
by Melissa Johnson
“That’s the goofiest thing I’ve ever heard,” was the reaction I got once when I outlined the home remedy I turn to when I, or my kids, are coming down with a cold or flu. While it may sound goofy, it’s also a powerful tool to stimulate your body’s immune defences, relieve congestion and promote peaceful sleep. What is it, you ask? It’s an old-fashioned treatment affectionately (or not) known as “wet socks.” Here’s how it goes:
- Start on the first day you feel sick.
- Make sure that you are warm to begin. Have a hot shower, or at the very least a hot footbath. Get into cozy pyjamas, because you are headed to bed very soon.
- Make sure that you really are warm. This treatment is not effective if you start off chilled, and could even make things worse.
- Wet a pair of cotton ankle socks in cold water – as cold as you can tolerate. For kids, the elderly or the very depleted, that might be less cold than for adults who are usually healthy. Wring the socks out so that they are damp but not dripping.
- This is the part you have not been waiting for; yes, you put those socks on your feet. It’s only hard for a moment, honest.
- Cover the wet cotton socks with thick, dry wool socks.
- Dive into bed, making sure you stay warm all the way there. Maybe add an extra cover so that you don’t risk getting cold.
- Once you have those wet socks on your feet, you are committed to staying in bed and warm until the socks are dry. Go to sleep. When you wake up in the morning, the socks will be dry and you can take them off.
- Repeat for three days in a row for optimal effect.
For real? Yes, I actually do this. Yes, I do this to my kids. In fact, they will ask for it if they feel “off.” No, this is not an April Fool’s joke – check the date.
With wet socks on your feet, you may find that you sweat more than usual during the night – almost as though you are feverish. That’s OK, it’s the socks at work. You will typically sleep peacefully and deeply, though, because the socks have a mild sedative effect. And in the morning, the tickle in the throat, the runny nose, the headache or the sinus pain that were the warning signs – well, they’re better.
But how? Wet socks on your feet initially stimulate vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels near the treatment site), followed by vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels near the treatment site). The result is increased circulation of both blood and lymph that stimulates your body’s immune response.
“Wet socks” are not a cure-all. I use them in conjunction with other, more typical remedies: rest; hot broth, ginger tea and other fluids; vitamin C; botanical medicines that are antimicrobial and support the immune system.
On the other hand, wet socks require very little effort and cost nothing. Even if you are away from home, you can typically pull together the tools needed to put them to use. And, they can make you feel better literally overnight so that you can quickly get back to living your life fully.
Melissa Johnson, ND, is a naturopathic doctor practising out of the Glebe Health House above Bridgehead at Bank & Second. She sees patients for both acute and chronic conditions.
The New shingles vaccine: what’s the difference?
by Zenah Surani
This month, I was actually going to write my article about vitamin C, but I changed my mind and decided to revisit a topic I’ve written about in a previous issue, the Zostavax vaccine. I have been getting many questions about the brand new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, since the beginning of January. Given that it is a superior vaccine, I decided to update my previous article.
The herpes zoster virus is responsible for both shingles and chicken pox. One will experience chicken pox after being exposed to the virus for the first time, usually during childhood. After this episode of chicken pox, the virus lies dormant in certain nerves. The virus is kept dormant by a healthy immune system. However, when the virus is re-activated, the result is shingles. Virus re-activation typically occurs in those with weaker immune systems and most commonly the risk is increased in those over 50 years of age or in people who are immunocompromised.
In its earliest stages, shingles can cause headache, fever and general malaise – in other words, nonspecific symptoms that could be caused by any number of conditions (e.g. influenza). This is then followed by sensations of extreme burning pain and tingling, typically along one side of the body. After about one to three days (but could be up to three weeks in some cases), a rash appears in the same areas where the pain was experienced. The rash is typically itchy with red, raised bumps and the pain often persists. The bumps then become pus-filled blisters and eventually scab over in about 10 to 12 days. Once the scabs form, the virus is no longer contagious. However, exposure to someone with shingles, while it cannot cause shingles, can cause chickenpox in someone who hasn’t yet had it. The scabs usually fall off about two to four weeks later, but can cause scarring.
A scary after effect can occur in about 20 per cent of people who endure shingles. Those people will experience ongoing burning, tingling pain that can last months or even years. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia. While rare, it is possible for someone who has previously had shingles to contract it again.
Starting antiviral medications within about 72 hours of rash onset is the ideal treatment for shingles and the medications will speed up healing and decrease the duration and severity of pain. Evidence about whether anti-virals decrease the chances of experiencing post-herpetic neuralgia is inconclusive. Painkillers are used for acute pain when the shingles rash is active. Medications such as pregabalin and gabapentin are used in the treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia for affected patients; however, both of these medications can cause drowsiness as a side effect, which can severely impact quality of life. Topical compounded painkillers are also an option.
Many individuals choose to try to prevent shingles from occurring or recurring if they have had it before by obtaining the vaccine. The “old” shingles vaccine, Zostavax II, is only about 51 per cent effective. The new vaccine, Shingrix, is said to be about 97 per cent effective. The Shingrix vaccine must be given twice, with the second shot given about two to six months after the first. Shingrix is an inactive vaccine with an adjuvant to boost immunity, while Zostavax II is a live vaccine. This theoretically means that Shingrix can safely be given to immunocompromised patients; however, experts believe it is too early to conclude this and that more studies need to be done to make a final decision. Both vaccines must be kept refrigerated before being given, and both vaccines reduce the risk of lingering post-herpetic neuralgia should the vaccinated patient end up contracting shingles.
If one has already gotten the Zostavax II vaccine, they can still get the Shingrix vaccine for added immunity. It can be given as early as eight weeks after Zostavax II, but is definitely recommended if it has been five years since the Zostavax II vaccine was administered. Zostavax II is fully covered by the Ontario government for Ontario residents between the ages of 65 and 70 if received and administered at the doctor’s office. As of the time of writing, coverage of Shingrix by the Ontario government has not been confirmed. Private plans may partially cover the vaccines, however, interested patients should contact their benefits providers to find out. Although both vaccines require a prescription to be dispensed, patients can save an extra trip to the doctor’s office by requesting that the vaccine be administered at the pharmacy for a fee of $20.
The shingles vaccine can be seen as an investment in your health if you’re 50 or older, because of its potential ability to dramatically decrease your chance of getting shingles or if shingles hits, can decrease its severity and duration as well as post-herpetic neuralgia.
Canadian Pharmacists’ Letter. “Shingrix: A New Herpes Zoster Vaccine,” December 2017.
Canadian Pharmacists’ Letter. “Treatment of Shingles,” September 2012 and “Herpes Zoster Vaccine: Frequently Asked Questions,” July 2014.
Health Link BC. “Shingles Vaccine,” December 2014, Number 111
GSK Shingrix Product Monograph
Zenah Surani is the owner and pharmacist of the Glebe Apothecary.