How accurate are fertility and period tracker apps at predicting ovulation?

Thousands of Australian women who are trying to conceive use smart phone or mobile tablet apps to track their menstrual cycles so that they can time intercourse at the prime time to achieve pregnancy. Others use the apps as a technical contraceptive guide to avoid unwanted pregnancy.

Among adults, they are the fourth most downloaded type of health app and among adolescents they are ranked second.

However, a new Australian study1  has found “staggering and disturbing” failures in the accuracy of many of these apps that may actually hinder rather than enhance the pregnancy expectations of women. Many apps gave incorrect timing for intercourse and incorrect fertile-window calculations.

Researcher Samantha Costa said: “Quite apart from the failures of these apps to provide accurate information on the best time to conceive, their unreliability for women tracking their ovulation times to avoid unwanted pregnancy is simply scary.”

Kathleen McNamee, fertility expert at Monash University and medical director at Family Planning Victoria, declared that relying solely on an app to avoid pregnancy is a risky game.

They looked at almost 400 of the fertility apps available on-line, and short-listed 36 that were marketed as being the most reliable in terms of efficacy and medical referencing. They found that only 42 per cent of these short-listed apps were correct in what they were promoted to do for women. The top three were Flo, Glow and Kindara. A significant number of them made unrealistic and unsubstantiated claims.

Samantha also warned that overseas insurance companies were able to access data from the fertility apps to support so-called research.

“This is a form of implied consent to use personal information,” she explained.

“End users and health care professionals accepting the information provided by these apps should know that the outcomes are unreliable, incomplete and subject to commercial interests.

“Our take home message from this study, is that while a limited number of the many fertility apps available may provide a helpful guide to track ovulation cycles, nothing can replace professional advice for women wanting to conceive.”

At Wholistic Medical Centre, we have practitioners who are trained in fertility management. Naturopath Kathy Harris has found that best outcomes come from getting patients to study their body’s changes of mucus and temperature to inform them about ovulation, which can be confirmed with urine tests if necessary. Every cycle can be different in the same woman – an app cannot predict, it can only record data.

1 Researchers at Eve Health Fertility, Brisbane in conjunction with Queensland Fertility Group, presented at a Fertility Society of Australia conference in Hobart, September 2019.

Ten Top Tips for Nausea During Pregnancy

Early pregnancy is an exciting time, however it can also be a challenging time, especially when there is daily nausea. Many women often experience some nausea and in some cases there can be vomiting as well. While this has been known as “morning sickness” most women will tell you that it is rarely restricted to feeling unwell in the morning. It often begins around the 4 to 8 week mark and typically tends to ease off around the 12th-14th week of pregnancy, except when carrying twins, although in some women it can last most of the pregnancy.

For some women, it can become difficult to be around even the smell of food, especially particular foods. For others, eating can ease the nausea, but it can be set off by moving around, or when they are hungry. Every woman’s experience of pregnancy is different, and often every pregnancy in the same woman is different.

What can help?
What might have worked for a friend may not work for you. Nausea during pregnancy is complex and there is usually no one solution that suits everyone. This means that you may need to try a few different things before you find something that provides some relief. Most options will not completely remove the nausea however, they can often make it less frequent, less severe and thus more manageable.

Tip 1:

Keep a nutritious snack next to your bed and eat this before sitting up in the morning. For example, some nuts and seeds, or a plain wholegrain cracker.

Tip 2:

Eat before you are hungry. Eat small amounts of food, particularly protein, more frequently (perhaps every 2-3 hours). This helps reduce fluctuations in your blood sugar levels which may tend to trigger nausea.

Tip 3:

Always keep a healthy snack in your bag, for example nuts and seeds, or wholemeal crackers, hommus and carrot sticks, or a protein bar. This helps you avoid any delays in eating when you are out and about.

Tip 4:

Ginger is an age-old nausea remedy and is perfectly safe for the pregnant woman and the developing foetus. Make ginger tea by grating half a teaspoon (or more) of fresh ginger into a mug of boiled water and infuse for 5-10 minutes. Drink this throughout the day. Some women find chai tea to be very settling, as it has ginger as one of the ingredients. You could add a little lemon juice or honey occasionally for a change. You could snack on pickled ginger when you feel nausea rising. Use ginger in your meal preparation when you can. Alternatively ask your Naturopath for ginger liquid extract or tablets.

Tip 5:

Other herbal teas such as Chamomile may be helpful. Speak to your Naturopath about whether there should be a limit to the number of cups in a day. Stimulating herbal teas such as peppermint should be avoided. Make sure you source a good quality organic herbal tea for the best therapeutic action. If you use tea bags, make sure they are unbleached.

Tip 6:

Try acupuncture. Many women use acupuncture to relieve or reduce nausea during pregnancy. In early pregnancy the body undergoes many changes energetically and hormonally. The usual flow of energy and blood during the menstrual cycle stops as your baby begins developing. One of the body’s meridians (called the Chong meridian in Chinese medicine) is strongly involved with blood supply to the uterus runs alongside the stomach meridian. In early pregnancy the changes in energy flow temporarily create an imbalance in the Chong meridian causing the energy to rise upwards, affecting the energy in the stomach channel which lies alongside it and causing nausea. Acupuncture is used to regulate the energy in the Chong and Stomach meridians and helps redirect the stomach energy downwards to settle the nausea.

Tip 7:

If you need even more support, try wearing travel sickness prevention bands from your chemist. They are positioned over acupuncture points on the wrists that reduce nausea. There are also other acupuncture points on the body that can help. Your acupuncturist can show you how to locate these points are and how to use pressure (acupressure) on them.

Tip 8:

Talk to your Naturopath about a vitamin B6 supplement. Research supports the use of vitamin B6 during pregnancy to help reduce nausea.

Tip 9:

Avoid dehydration. It can be easy to become dehydrated especially if you are vomiting.  Some women find even plain water makes them feel nauseous. While it may not appear that drinking relieves nausea, becoming even slightly dehydrated will make any nausea more intense. Dry lips, feeling thirsty and a reduced urinary output are signs you are dehydrated. Make sure you are having small regular sips of water, herbal teas, mineral water or even hydrolyte if you have been vomiting to replenish your electrolytes as well as fluids.

Tip 10:

Rest: Make sure you are getting enough rest as being tired can accentuate any nausea you might be experiencing. According to Chinese medicine your body is using a lot of very deep constitutional energy in the early stages of pregnancy and many women feel a lot more tired than usual. This is a message that your body is needing more rest even though you may be tempted to push through with your usual workload.

Keep in mind
If vomiting occurs more than 3 times a day, and this is not relieved or reduced by self-help or natural remedies, then it could be that you have hyperemesis gravidarum. You should alert your GP or obstetrician. Prolonged vomiting can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, weight loss and threaten the health of the mother and baby.

If you have gone off, or are unable to stomach, a lot of different foods it may be worthwhile to consult your Naturopath for a dietary assessment to ensure you are covering all of your nutritional requirements. Naturopaths are often able to suggest alternative dietary options to improve your nutritional intake and support a healthy pregnancy.

by Kathy Harris (Naturopath, Nutritionist) & Tanya Newton (Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine)

Do you eat meals with your kids?

   The family that eats together nurtures confident children

Meal time ideally is a time of family gathering, engaging in conversation where food is consumed around a table. Toddlers and children who grow up eating with the adults learn all sorts of valuable life lessons. Shared mealtimes teach our next generation acceptable mealtime behaviours and sets them up for healthy eating attitudes and wonderful social skills.

Kids model their behaviour on the people closest to them. Sharing relaxing and enjoyable meal times around a communal table without screen time, is possibly the most important window of opportunity in your day as a loving parent, no matter how busy the rest of your day is.  Eating mindfully can enable our minds and our digestive tracts to connect with our food. That’s why it is not ideal to offer children food, even snacks, in the street or in front of a screen.

Meal time is not really about nutrition. That might sound like a strange statement from a Nutritionist. If you plonk food in front of a child and put pressure on them to eat it all up because you know what is best for your child in terms of nutrition, it may lead to fussy eaters, children who refuse to eat what is ‘healthy’ for them. Further, if they are the only ones eating at the time, all the focus is on the food, not really on them. They have no sense of control or choice and no opportunity to learn from a role model.

Children are born with a capacity to self-regulate food intake. When they grow up sharing meal times with the adults, they become “confident eaters”. Confident eaters don’t need to eat too much. They won’t be inclined to overdo any particular food such as sugar, as long as they don’t see their parents doing that. They will grow up mindfully eating and it can become a lifetime habit.

Try giving your child a choice of everything that you are preparing for the family meal. This could be as a share plate or a number of dishes tali-style (Indian) or ‘service à la française’ (French). By having a choice, it is very likely that your children will try different foods that might surprise you. They may watch the adults and make good choices. But the most important thing is that meal time is about conversation, family bonding, sharing.

They can be involved in the menu choices for the day or the week, even the shopping list, from a surprisingly young age. Getting the children to help in the preparation and serving of meals can set the scene for much fun, establishing life skills, good habits and most of all a happy family atmosphere.

By Kathy Harris – Naturopath, Nutritionist, Western Herbal Medicine, Homoeopathy, Functional Testing. Wholistic Medical Centre, Surry Hills

A diagnosis of PCOS and IBS – a wholistic approach can help

Getting to the cause of PCOS and IBS with a holistic approach

29-year-old Sonya* came to see me for help with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which had both been diagnosed by her GPs many years ago. She had been taking different medications over the years for both of these conditions, but had not seen much progress or relief in her symptoms. They were also causing her to experience significant unpleasant side effects and so had to keep ceasing and changing her medications.

Anxiety, fatigue and insomnia

Ever since being diagnosed with PCOS and IBS, Sonya had been experiencing daily anxiety, fatigue and insomnia, which are commonly seen in people who have both of these conditions. She was understandably overwhelmed and exhausted, but hopeful that a more wholistic approach to her conditions could offer some relief and a deeper look into the underlying causes of her symptoms.

While gathering all the background to Sonya’s health and medical history, it became apparent that Sonya had in fact been experiencing digestive issues such as bloating, alternating constipation and diarrhoea, cramping and excessive flatulence, since she was a young teenager. These digestive symptoms had become considerably worse after a bout of food poisoning when she was travelling overseas.

The pill masked the symptoms of PCOS

Sonya had taken the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) from the age of 14 until she was 25 years old. She became very distressed when she stopped taking the OCP and her periods didn’t come regularly. In fact, she was lucky to have 8 in a year. She also developed facial and body acne. Along with everything else, this was very distressing.

What tests to do?

Sonya had some baseline testing done with her GP for hormones, inflammatory markers and iron studies. Due to her history, I ordered a comprehensive DNA stool test, called the GI Map, to assess the levels of good and bad gut microbes that may be influencing her current symptoms. Also, I was looking to rule out any involvement of parasites, pathogenic bacteria, worms, yeast and fungi that may have been causing her digestive distress.

While awaiting the results, Sonya followed an initial naturopathic treatment plan. This included herbal medicines and nutritional support to reduce her daily digestive symptoms, as well as to improve her sleep quality and reduce her anxiety.

Stool testing revealed that Sonya had significantly low levels of ‘good’ bacteria in her gut microbiome associated with insulin sensitivity (a key feature of PCOS), as well as overgrowths of bacteria that are associated with inflammation.

Balancing the microbiome

Sonya was placed on an individualised treatment protocol with specific probiotic, prebiotic & anti-inflammatory treatments to repopulate the levels of good gut bacteria, and a low FODMAP diet temporarily whilst healing her gut. Sonya was educated on the importance of eventually reintroducing FODMAP foods back into her diet once her gut microbiome and digestive function had improved, as it is only a short-term strategy for symptomatic relief while dealing with the more significant underlying issues.

Sonya’s blood tests with her GP showed high insulin resistance, high testosterone and high inflammatory markers. These sorts of results are common in PCOS, although are not always present in every case, thus the importance of testing rather than assuming.

She was prescribed targeted herbal medicines along with diet and lifestyle support to assist in improving her insulin sensitivity and reducing inflammation, with the aim to see her periods become regular and reduce her acne breakouts.

I met with Sonya one month after starting her comprehensive plan. She was happy to report that her digestive symptoms had significantly improved – she was having regular and easy to pass bowel motions and was not experiencing bloating or cramping. Sonya was feeling much more energetic, her mood had improved and she was sleeping through the night. Her period was running late but her acne had calmed down slightly. We discussed the importance of sticking to our treatment plan long-term as these symptoms of PCOS need time to see improvement.

The effort was worth it

Sonya continued her treatment plan for the next 12 months and was happy to report that within 6 months she had started to have noticeably regular periods that were pain free, and her skin had dramatically improved with no more breaking out.

Sonya continues to take gut-healing supplements and an individualised herbal medicine to this day, to ensure she is in the best state of health possible.

* Name has been changed

By Steven Judge – Clinical Naturopath, Nutritional Medicine, Western Herbal Medicine

Is Coffee bad for me?

is coffee bad for me

Is coffee bad for me? We have long viewed coffee with suspicion. It was first introduced in Italy in the 17th century, but is coffee bad for me? When it was first introduced it was associated with political dissent and infamous coffee houses.

Nowadays, coffee (caffeine) is commonly thought of as a drug. It alters mood and it is addictive. It is not recommended for children, adolescents and pregnant women due to the effect of caffeine on the developing brain.

When we are being virtuous and embarking on a spring detox we ‘give up’ coffee along with other toxic foods like sugar. It takes a few days to get over that horrible withdrawal headache, so it’s got to be bad for us, right?

Well, coffee might not be bad for everyone!

Some of the good…

Coffee beans are complex little packages; they contain more than just caffeine. Research on the polyphenols in the coffee bean has shown that these substances have amazing benefits. They can reduce the risk of depression, improve memory, and maybe even reduce the risk of some cancers such as liver cancer and some types of breast cancer. Caffeine itself has been found to reduce the risk of diabetes and syndrome X.(1)

Coffee was previously thought to increase the risk of heart disease but a recent Harvard study found ‘no convincing link’.(2) Now the thinking is that it could even reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke in some people.

Some of the bad…

On the negative side, there is other research and lots of clinical stories telling us that some people suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, disturbed sleep, acid reflux, stomach ulcers and even iron deficiency (coffee may prevent absorption of some nutrients).

So which category are you in?

Is coffee bad for me? or not? Reaction to caffeine is a very individual thing. It seems that the way some of our genes express themselves means that some people cannot process caffeine very well at all. Naturopaths label these people ‘slow metabolisers’. The caffeine they drink may hang around for 24 hours or even longer. So, every cup they have keeps building on previous cups they have had that day, even the day before. Other lucky people will have metabolized most of their caffeine within 8-12 hours. So, they can have a cup or two or even three, with no bad effects.

Of course it’s not only about genes. There are many other factors that affect the metabolism of caffeine in a person such as medications, or high amounts of chemicals or pesticides, which can slow down or even damage the liver. The latter makes a good case for drinking organic coffee as non-organic coffee is sprayed frequently while the beans are growing!

The slow metabolisers might have to limit their coffee intake to one small cup or less each day. They can check their genes out with a blood test. Even if it is in their genes, there is much that can be done naturopathically to improve the metabolism of substances like caffeine once we gain an understanding of how an individual’s system is working.

Coffee can be healthy (in moderation!) if you metabolise it efficiently!

So Is coffee bad for me? The answer is not necessarily.

Kathy HarrisNaturopath, Wholistic Medical Centre

[1] Lee, A.H., Tan, L., et al. 2016, Plasma concentrations of coffee polyphenols and plasma biomarkers of diabetes risk in healthy Japanese women. Nutr Diabetes, 6;6:e212. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2016.19    

[2] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/moderate-coffee-drinking-may-lower-risk-of-premature-death/

Thyroid Problems

Is my thyroid making me feel tired?

Thyroid Problems

Feeling tired? Could be your thyroid.

Our thyroid plays a key role in our body’s ability to function. Yet lifestyle factors like stress and diet can throw our thyroid out of balance and affect our body in a number of ways.

A tired mother

Sally*, a 36-year-old mother of two young children, had been feeling unusually tired since her younger child was born a year ago. This was not at all normal for her.  Along with this fatigue, she’d gained 5kg over the last six to ten months and had some other symptoms that concerned her. Her partner was a high-powered executive and was frequently away for a week at a time.

She booked a naturopathy appointment at the Wholistic Medical Centre to uncover why her system was out of balance, and to support it back to health through diet, lifestyle and naturopathic medicines.

Was it Sally’s thyroid that was making her tired?

At the first, hour-long consultation, Sally explained how her hair had been falling out in clumps, her stools had become less frequent and harder to pass and she had developed haemorrhoids. Because she was feeling so tired, she had fallen out of her daily walking routine and was feeling generally very sluggish.

Sally had no prior history of these symptoms; she was usually a vibrant and energetic woman involved in various volunteer organisations.

She felt she’d lost her “mojo”.

Blood tests revealed that her thyroid was under functioning; Sally was ‘hypothyroid’.  An under functioning thyroid can affect body temperature and circulation, appetite, energy levels, growth, skeletal development, muscle tone and agility, heart rate, fluid balance, blood sugar levels, central nervous system function, bowel function, cholesterol levels, regulation of fat, carbohydrates and protein and the metabolism inside all cells in the body.

Naturopathy may help restore the thyroid that was making Sally feel so tired!

A wholistic naturopathic protocol was implemented to get Sally’s thyroid functioning back to normal. Herbal medicines and nutritional supplements were recommended, along with dietary advice. Sally was to reduce the serving size and frequency of specific foods that may have been blocking her thyroid: broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, rutabagas, mustard greens, radishes, horseradish, cassava root, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts, millet and flaxseeds.

Over the following two months, Sally took her herbal medicines and her supplements daily and reduced the foods as advised.

And good news!

Her energy levels improved and she felt her body returning to normal. Sally’s weight started to shift during the second month of treatment; by the third month, she resumed her regular half hour walks and her bowels emptied daily. Sally shed the extra 5kg within nine months and has maintained her desired weight since without needing her herbal medicines.

Discussion

Sally’s was a straightforward case of primary hypothyroidism. Other cases may be more complex and need different types of treatment. Hypothyroidism is commonly seen in health clinics, with around 60,000 new cases being diagnosed each year Australia-wide. There are many reasons for this, which include environmental factors such as high levels of stress, toxins and electro-magnetic radiation, low intake of the right form of iodine, and high intake of foods that may block proper thyroid functioning.

Sally’s thyroid was supported successfully back to health through wholistic naturopathic protocols. Her body was viewed as a holistic integrated system and the underlying cause of her symptoms was determined and supported.

Naturopathy may help in a wide range of illnesses and ailments. The naturopathic approach aims to restore balance in the body and mind and promote long-term health and vitality by taking a wholistic approach.

*Name has been changed

This case study is for educational purposes only. Results may vary due to individual circumstances.

Kathy HarrisNaturopath, Functional Testing, Nutritional Medicine, Western Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Wholistic Medical Centre