Category Archives: Relaxation

How to optimize your chances for a normal labor: a mind-body approach

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In my obstetrics  practice, I have many patients that come in wanting to what they can do to optimize there chances for a normal labor and minimize the need for an induction of labor.  I really hope that you are not reading this at 39 weeks of pregnancy, because the truth is, you might be starting a little late, but better late than never.

When it comes to labor, my own midwife, she had a catch phrase that I have since adopted: “Baby comes out the same way it got in”…Yup, that’s right, SEX. And lots of it. Ob/Gyn physicians induce your labor with use of a drug called Pitocin. This is a drug that mimics the hormone your own body produces in labor, which is called “Oxytocin” (shown above). This hormone stimulates your uterus to contract. As the levels of Oxytocin go up, more and more oxytocin hormone receptors are made in your uterus and over time, your uterine muscle cells become more and more sensitive to this hormone and labor builds.

Guess what? This is the same hormone that you feel when you get a hug, have an orgasm, and just feel generally “warm and fuzzy”. Now there are a lot of other hormones and pain receptors activated at the same time in labor so labor is by no means meant to feel nice, but generally speaking there are ways to encourage oxytocin as you are approaching your due date.

While sex is one of the ways to increase Oxytocin, nipple stimulation is another, so if you don’t have a partner, no problem. Masturbation will release the same hormones as well. Now, I think I may know what you are thinking, “I don’t feel sexy…”, but who does when they are 9 months pregnant. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. Once you get started it won’t matter and you will end up enjoying yourself.

There is one more element to enticing a natural labor to come on and that is that if you are extremely stressed or anxious, your body is pumping out the anti-labor hormone, and that is Cortisol, or stress hormone. Babies don’t like to come out when this hormone is high. They think you are at war, or about to be eating by a tiger, which would not be a good time to be born. Therefore, stress reduction is very important near term. If you are extremely stressed and busy at work, you might want to start slowing it down. And don’t just use the time to put together baby furniture. Take some time for yourself and for relaxation. Some folks may need professional help to do this and that is fine too. In general, most can get some exercise (exercise burns cortisol), lots of rest (also reduces cortisol), and maybe get a massage from a prenatal provider (releases oxytocin). Basically, just do whatever makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Make the baby think it is coming out to a world of roses and sunshine.

© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.

Embracing the Beauty of Autumn: the health benefits of beauty and nature

This Autumn, I have become aware of the gift of beauty we are surrounded by as the trees burst into the colorful palette of crimson red, lime green yellow, sherbet orange. As I experience the beauty, I am reminded to stay present in the moment and appreciate the beauty that stands in front of me. It is so easy to drift off into thoughts of dread…uggh leaves to rake…cold weather coming…bare trees…etcetera. As it turns out, the Fall foliage show is a gift worthy of appreciation, so long as you can stay present in the moment and embrace the beauty that stands in front of you.

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Time in nature can be restorative. In research that was carried out in Japan, the group of people was sent to visit the forest and urban environments and to view forest and urban landscapes randomly for 3 days. Four times a day researchers monitored their cortisol levels (stress hormone), blood pressure and heart rate. It turns out, that when participants were in forest environments, all measures were lower and subjectively, they reported feeling more comfortable, soothed and refreshed after viewing forest landscapes.

As it turns out, the experience of beauty is one that stimulates the medial orbito frontal cortex (MoFC) of your brain. The frontal cortex of your brain houses your highest thinking centers. This is also the part of your brain that is activated while eliciting the relaxation response (ie. meditation, yoga, MBSR, etc.). According to neurology research by Tomohiro Ishizu of University College London, the MoFC area is activated when experiencing beauty, both visual and musical, on functional MRI (which is an imaging modality that allows us to see areas of the brain that are activated in real time) . The more intense the perception of beauty, the more the activation of the area.

Putting this research together, and of course the research on the health optimizing benefits of mindfulness and exercise, save yourself some green by giving yourself a truly restorative “spa walk” outside to embrace the autumn beauty. Come back home and curl up with cozy afghan and a hot cup of spicy herbal tea and suddenly, the doom and gloom of the Winter to come might not seem so overwhelming.

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© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.

A gynecologist’s favorite gut bug and probiotic: Lactobacillus rhamnosus

I’ve said it! My favorite bug is L. rhamnosus. I know it sounds crazy, but just looking at the image of them makes me happy. WHY?!

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If you haven’t heard the news the bugs, or microbes, that colonize our bodies are amazing. There are over 10,000 strains of these microorganisms that make up almost 5 lbs of our body weight. More and more data continues to emerge related to the bugs that inhabit our bodies and the amazing health benefits they provide, not just for the body, but as it turns out, for the mind as well.  We each have our own unique “fingerprint” of these bugs that is likely determined by our mothers vagina, but also, can be influenced by our own diet and lifestyle, and in some cases by taking probiotics. So why do I have a favorite?

For many gynecologists and the women they care for, recurrent BV is a pain in the neck to treat. This is why early in my career, I began to do some research to see how I could better serve my patients. When it comes to recurrent BV, I have had many patients benefit from the simple addition of the strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus. It turns out that a healthy vaginal flora provides a microenvironment that is not very pleasant for nasty bacteria that can cause a yucky fishy odor and a thin vaginal discharge. This study, published in the journal of Immunology and Medical Microbiology showed that in a randomized, controlled trial, oral L. rhamnosus not only colonized the vagina, it also prevented BV and candida colonization of the vagina. Many of my patients that were coming back to me for recurrent BV swear by this probiotic. Some are even able to treat themselves without the help of antibiotics by taking it when they start to feel some discomfort or discharge.

But wait…there’s another reason why I like this bug for women and it involves weight loss. A large study showed that babies that are delivered by cesarean section and or are formula fed suffer higher rates of adult obesity. It is thought to be due to the lack of healthy flora that babies born through the vagina get. Recently after noticing my own weight gain following treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics, I remembered the studies about obesity and cesarean section. I decided to look into which strains might be beneficial for weight loss. And I found this study. They randomly gave L. rhamnosus or a placebo pill to men and women that were attempting to lose weight with the exact same diet and exercise regimen. They found that the women dieters (BUT NOT THE MEN!!!) using the L. rhamnosus lost twice as much weight as those taking the fake pill. Keep in mind, the study was funded by Nestle so potential bias could exist however the double blind design does minimize potential bias. Keep in mind…you still have to exercise and eat right!!! But the addition of the probiotic should give you an extra boost. It worked for me!

Still more and perhaps most interesting, there was a neurobiology study looking at depression behaviors in in mice taking L. rhamnosus versus not taking it. What they found was that mice that were given the L. rhamnosus (JB-1) strain had significantly lower levels of the stress-induced hormone corticosterone and exhibited less anxiety- and depression-related behavior. It was thought to be driven by the vagus nerve and effects of GABA receptor expression. So how’s that for mind-body. Perhaps we should really be talking about mind-body-bug.

Hopefully this will convince you that your own microbiome can protect you and explains why as a gynecologist, L. rhamnosus is my favorite bug. Here are some natural ways you can promote your body’s own beneficial flora:

Diet high in fiber

Sleep

Exercise

Plant based diet

So there you have it, the reasons why my favorite gut bug is L.rhamnosus.

For more on the microbiome, check out this TEDx Talk on YouTube.

Or this talk by Stanford Immunology Professor David Relman

If you want to try a supplement, here are some products that have the L. rhamnosus strain, but there are many out there that will work, you just have to look for it on the side of the probiotic bottle where they have the strains listed. Try to buy from a reputable company however so you can ensure you are getting active strains.

© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.

Green Health for a Green Planet: My favorite ways to go green through healthy living

Here are simple ways we can save our planet while promoting our own vitality and longevity. Taking these steps for better health will also contribute to conservation of nature on our beautiful planet.

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#1 Go Vegan:  Nutrition is one of the optimum ways we can save the planet while improving our health.  As a physician, the most interesting field for me to see evolve is the field of nutrition. Once thought to have no bearing on health by the field of medicine, doctors now agree that a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do for promoting health and wellness. The healthiest diet for prevention of chronic disease and for longevity is a vegan diet and the silver lining is that it is also beneficial for the planet. Eating lower on the food chain leads to more efficient energy use, greater diversity of plants and animals, and reduced pollution of our water from nitrogenous animal waste. In addition, a plant based diet provides us with the whole foods and nutrient balance that our bodies have evolved to thrive on. Ecosystems benefit from diversity, and as it turns out, so does the ecosystem of bacteria that exists in your own body so be sure to eat a diet rich and varied in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. To learn more, check out the documentary Forks over Knives, or pick up the new book on making the transition to a plant based diet. Want to do one better? Go organic! Check out the dirty dozen list from the Environmental Working Group to find out which organic fruits will give you the best bang for your buck related to pesticide reduction. Have access to a community garden? SAVE THE BEES and GROW YOUR OWN VEGGIES! Sign the petition to promote vegetable gardens everywhere.

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#2 Get into Nature: The benefits of getting into nature are far reaching. For one, you are likely to be exercising which is the other most important thing doctors recommend you do for your health. Live in a city? no problem, hit the park, green space of any kind will still give you the benefits. If you have access to a community garden, you’re loving it, not only are you benefitting from digging in the soil, you will also be providing food for dying bee and butterfly populations as well as improving the nutrient content of your vegetables. Heart rate variability, which is an indicator of heart health and balance of the parasympathetic and sympthetic nervous systems, increases when you are in nature. Preliminary studies have shown that “earthing”, basically walking barefoot on dirt, leads to positive physiologic changes. (Just watch out if you live in an area with pin worms).  Hate bugs? …try a lemon eucalyptus based bug spray, recommended by the CDC to prevent tick and mosquito borne disease, and don’t forget the sunscreen! Check out the free database on Skindeep.org for non-toxic sunscreen options. Want to become more involved in conservation itself? Check out The Nature Conservancy volunteer activities in your area.

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#3 Mindful Awareness and Meditation: Living mindfully allows us to separate from habitual thinking and behaviors. All too often we function on autopilot, allowing automatic behaviors and primal feelings to drive our actions and behaviors.  Being mindful, living true to our core values and making conscious choices about how we spend our money, our time and our energy can help us to make important health changes like the ones I mention here. It can also make us more compassionate which is probably the most important value to have in our work protecting the planet. If you haven’t jumped on the meditation band wagon yet, or still think it is not something you are capable of in our non-stop stimulating culture, it might be easier than you think.  I recommend the Jon Kabat Zinn book Full Catastrophe Living or one of his youtube videos as an introduction to mindfulness and meditation. You can also check out free guided meditations from UCLA’s Semel Institute.

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#4: Bike! As much and as often as possible. If you follow this blog you have seen the “carternative” my husband has created to cart us around town. This contraption has improved our quality of life ENORMOUSLY. We don’t have to look for parking, we save on gas and parking tickets, and we usually get where we are going faster, or as fast as in a car. This is especially true for urban environments. Any time you bike instead of turning on your car, you are reducing carbon emissions, not to mention reducing oil consumption while exercising your body and calming your mind. Don’t want to arrive at work all sweaty? Consider an electric assist on your bike. Check out this blog that covers bikes as transportation as well.

#5: Shop Less: Excess consumption and a BUY BUY BUY culture contributes greatly to carbon emissions, global warming and landfill waste. Shopping less is healthy for your wallet as well as your mental health. A very interesting study published in the Chicago Journals by Rik Pieters found that materialism and shopping lead to loneliness which in turn led to more shopping.  Still believe in retail therapy?  Try consignment stores and thrift shops instead. They are a great way to reduce waste while benefiting others, find a Goodwill or Salvation Army near you. Studies show that giving to others can makes you happier, particularly if you give directly to someone you know so there is added incentive to simplifying and cleaning out those closets.  Having willpower difficulties in curbing that shopping habit? Try the book Willpower Instinct here to learn more about how you can curb cravings and increase your willpower.

If you are interested in implementing some of the changes I mention here, remember, persistence AND positivity pay off! Take time to observe how you can be successful at making the changes and always prepare for what could go wrong and sabotage your success ahead of time. Finally, be sure to focus on the rewards, there are plenty of silver linings with these changes.

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GREEN HEALTH=GREEN PLANET!!!


© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.

Take a ZEN BREAK!

 

So you are using self-awareness and you find yourself stressed out at work. What do you do?!

Take a ZEN BREAK!

Recharge yourself. Stop what you are doing. Forget about work and allow yourself to just breathe. Throw on your headphones and link to some extremely relaxing meditation music here.

When you are stressed out, you won’t think straight or being efficient anyway. Your mind and body are hijacked by your amygdala and by coritsol and in this state the thinking part of your brain is shut off. You can’t digest your food properly and blood flow is going out to your muscles to help you run away from the proverbial tiger.

Stopping to take a “Zen Break”, even for 5 minutes, can build resilience and help you refocus your energy. Your creative juices will flow and you may find solutions when you thought there were none.

© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.

Trying to change a habit? You might want to start chanting OHMMMM…. first

That’s right, a very interesting study by Judson Brewer and Colleagues out of Yale published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2011 evaluated whole brain activity and showed that the way people think in about 50% of our waking life is different than the way people that meditate think.

This habitual “mode” of thinking is called the Default Mode Network. You could also equate this to “mind-wandering” or the habitual thinking patterns that many of us have. This is basically the way you think when you are on “auto-pilot” and not completely involved in the activity at hand. Incidentally, these thinking patterns are also associated with unhappiness. They tend to be negative thoughts  with you existing as the sun at the center of the universe. This type of thinking is often focused on anxieties and ruminations about the past, or the future. Habitual thinking…just thinking about it makes me want to scarf down some chocolate to make myself feel better!

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On the other hand, people who meditate have a different Default Mode Network. Their brains fire differently even in every day life. They tend to be more focused on the present moment and are less self-referential, instead understanding that they are a part of a greater whole. And yes, less of the “mind-wandering” is actually associated with happiness and less negative thinking. In addition to personal motivation positive thinking is one of the most predictive factors predicting success related to changing behaviors.

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So happiness is the silver lining related to changing this habitual thinking. If you want to change what tends to be an impulsive, or compulsive, out of control behavior, like emotional eating, loafing, shopping too much, or even if you just want to stop that anxiety provoking negative thinking, you might want to try meditating first. Even  5-10 minutes a day is a great start o break the patterns of habitual thinking. The benefits continue beyond the time you meditate.

Want to break that habitual thinking?

Here are some websites that can guide you through meditation:

UCLA Semel Institute in Mindfulness Research: Guided meditations: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22

Insight Meditation of Massachusetts guided meditation: http://www.dharma.org/resources/audio#guided

Interested in positive thinking? Check out your positivity ratio on this website

http://www.positivityratio.com/single.php