Friday, January 25, 2008

The Born Business

I cannot wait to see this film, The Business of Being Born. It has received a lot of hype because actress and talk show host Rikki Lake is an executive producer on the project and is featured in the film. I think that is fine--as long as it brings attention to the subject.

Now, let me say first of all, I respect the choice of every woman in giving birth whether she does it in a hospital, birthing center, or at home and whether she utilizes tools like C-sections, epidurals or other pain medication, Lamaze techniques, the Bradley method, or birthing balls. I also respect a woman's choice to birth under the care of a doctor or midwife. What matters most is a healthy baby and a healthy mother.

That being said, I certainly think there is room for discussion and exploration when it comes to modern birthing practices in the United States. Lots and lots of exploration. I think that emergency medical care and surgical care is a necessary and vital part of our birthing practices and I applaud the valiant and dedicated medical professionals who do such excellent work to bring healthy babies into the world and preserve mothers' lives in the process. What I want to talk about though is not the ten or twenty percent of births that need this kind of medical intervention but the nearly 80% that are normal, healthy deliveries.

I think that birth is such a mind-altering and perspective-changing experience that we need to give women every opportunity, every advantage, and every option available to them to make their birthing experiences positive and empowering. And that is where I think a movie like The Business of Being Born is a great introduction to the discussion.

Newsweek recently latched on to this subject in an excellent article "Birth, The American Way".

Amid the controversy over what constitutes an ideal birth experience, doctors, researchers and natural-birth advocates agree: Caesareans save lives when medically necessary. But defining medical necessity is complicated. Natural-birth advocates cite a "cascade of interventions" caused by hospitals' practice of using the drug Pitocin to stimulate labor. The drug can cause painful contractions, which doctors treat with an epidural painkiller. The epidural can then retard contractions and lead to more drugs, fetal stress and the doctor's recommendation of a Caesarean. Natural-birth advocates say that hospitals, driven by profits and worried about malpractice, are too quick to intervene.

I think what needs to be explored, discussed and noted is how to assist women who want to deliver naturally and how to support them.

I've never been pregnant or delivered a child. But I've participated in one remarkable birth and been a loving supporter of other women who have been through childbirth. One thing that I find stunning is what happens when I talk to some of my pregnant friends who want to deliver naturally. They say things like "I hope I can do it without drugs" and "I'm going to try to do it naturally" with the emphasis on words like "hope" and "try." In the modern medical practice of birth and delivery, most women are not supported if they want to give birth without the aid of drugs or intervention--hence words like "hope" and "try."

I used to think that giving birth naturally meant a woman would go to a hospital, lie on her back in a hospital bed, grit her teeth and scream loudly with all of her force and willpower until she pushed the baby out victoriously. She had to do all of this while refusing drugs and most of all without the support of her doctors or the nurses attending her. It seemed a very solitary journey.

I had it all wrong.

How I envision natural childbirth now is a woman choosing first a health-care provider who is not only knowledgeable and experienced in natural-birth practices but a whole-hearted supporter of them. Then she has to choose a location for childbirth--whether it is a hospital or birthing center or her home--where the support team (nurses, doctors, midwives, family, friends) is behind her 100% in her decision and assists her in every way to have the experience she desires.

That means these professionals have to be knowledgeable in techniques--water, birthing balls, birthing stools, massage, counter pressure, visualization, relaxation, dimmed lights, gentle music, soft voices--and positions--walking, sitting, squatting, hands and knees--so they can truly assist the laboring mother as she focuses on her body and her baby.

This new visions sounds and feels like a remarkable journey. I hope to have such an experience someday.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vitamin Wheel of Fortune: Can I Get a D please?

I've heard or read two things about vitamin D recently that have me intrigued. Why? Because in the last year, at a visit to my doctor to consult about my metabolic syndrome, she tested my vitamin D levels and then reported to me that my current level of vitamin D was the lowest she had ever seen in a patient.

I didn't even know what the fuss was all about.

What I soon found is that vitamin D is an essential nutrient that affects not only calcium absorption but also the development of autoimmune disorders. Our bodies produce vitamin D when we spend time in the sun. People who suffer from low vitamin D usually live in northern climates with less exposure to the sun year-round and/or they don't spend a lot of time outside. Skin color also affects your vitamin D production. People with darker skin tones (i.e. African-Americans) require longer periods of exposure to the sun to produce enough vitamin D.

Low levels of vitamin D are now being linked to the development of autoimmune disorders like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and more.

We can also increase the amount of vitamin D in our bodies by not only spending a half an hour in the sun each day without sunscreen, but also by eating fatty fish that is wild-caught like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Cod liver oil is another great source of vitamin D (our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were on the mark when they dosed their children with cod liver oil at the first sign of illness). My heritage is Danish, so my ancestors lived in a high northern climate with more limited exposure to the sun year round. Yet they ate lots of fish which would have supplemented their more spotty sun exposure.

Anyway, back to where I started. I came across two articles items recently that reinvigorated my interest in vitamin D.

The first was from Dr. Christiane Northrup who wrote a fabulous book called Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. She was on Oprah recently talking about women's health and in connection with a discussion about osteoporosis, she mentioned Vitamin D deficiency and the effect it has on people.

What I liked about what she said wasn't printed in the text above. She said when a woman gets increased amounts of vitamin D in her system, her overall health improves and she has energy and vitality again. She said it is an essential nutrient for our bodies.

Then I read this blog entry by Dr. Mark Hyman who wrote Ultrametabolism. This book mostly addresses nutrigenomics--which is the study of how different foods turn on and off genes and gene expression in our body. Essentially we want a whole foods diet that will turn on the right gene expression. In this entry on his blog at he discusses in depth the affect of low levels of vitamin D.

My vitamin D tested recently at 18 ng/mL and my doctor told me that low levels of Vitamin D are a major precursor to all autoimmune disorders. She has me on 10,000 IU of Vitamin D daily (2 pills) and I have to take it for at least 6 months. I can already tell it is making a difference.

My other goal is to spend more time every day in the sun. I gained an early and healthy respect in my teens for skin cancer when a one of my parents' friends had a beautiful young adult daughter that passed away from skin cancer. I was vigilant throughout my teens about not becoming a sun worshipper who liberally applied baby oil and then fried myself for several hours under a 95 degree sun. I think in retrospect I swung too far the other way. I was more comfortable indoors reading or watching tv instead of outdoors where my lack of physical prowess would be tested. What started as a preference developed into more of a habit and now my goal is to be outdoors more--for work and play.

So, despite the cold January day it is, I think I'm going to eat my lunch on a bench outside. Want to come join me?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Healthier Fast Food Options

I was thinking about healthier fast food options in regards to a health challenge my family is undertaking for our trip to Denmark this summer. Many of us want to feel strong and healthy for this big trip and so we are working on some goals together--goals like exercising, eating more fruits and veggies, staying away from refined carbs and sugar, and drinking lots of water.

I've found in my past attempts at improving my health that unless I walk out the door with a bag packed full of good food and some water, then I will likely make some mistake with my eating that day. Meaning usually that I won't eat until 3:00 or 4:00 pm in my work day when my body is screaming for food and then I will eat the first thing that I can lay my hands on--Snickers, bagels, yogurt, nasty dried-out sandwiches from the vending machines, candy on a co-worker's desk. Just something or anything.

In an attempt to find a middle ground between always packing a bag of food or eating only chocolate all day long, I've come up with a few healthier options for eating out. Now, mind you, I say "healthier" with caution. I know this isn't ideal food. It isn't home-cooked where I can control the additives and oils added to my food. But it is a nice way station on my trip to healthier lifestyle.

1. Subway--you can order any sandwich on whole wheat bread with lots of veggies or you can order any sandwich as a salad. If you go light on the mayo and sauces, you end up with something relatively healthy that will give you lots of veggies. I like the oven-roasted chicken breast on whole wheat--then toast it to up the yum factor. They have several sandwiches under there list of 6 grams of fat or less that you can see by click on the Subway link above.

2. Carl's Jr.--They have something that's either called low-carb style or protein style where you can order any sandwich and ask for it low carb and they will wrap the whole sandwich--meat, veggies, cheese--in lettuce leaves rather than the bun. I'm sure this isn't the healthiest thing out there to eat, but it could help you if you are in a bind one day. My favorite is their grilled chicken club.

3. Cafe Rio--has great salads and tortillas with lots of fresh veggies. They also offer stone-ground wheat tortillas! As long as you don't overdo it on the rice at a place like this, this turns out to be very healthy meal. Because they are so packed with people usually, you can call ahead with your order and pick it up a few minutes later without having to wait in line. No brown rice here.

4. Bajios--they have great salads too. They have one--their Chicken Green Chile salad--that doesn't have rice and is yummy with the mango chutney. They also offer small whole wheat tortillas if you want to use them (that means they don't have large whole wheat tortillas that would come with their big salads or their enchiladas, but you can just have most of their salads without the tortilla if you want to). As long as you go light on the rice and the tortillas, you can have a great meal. No brown rice here either.

5. Taco Time--has a chicken and black bean burrito that is pretty good if you are in a pinch. I just ask them to hold the rice and ask for a whole wheat tortilla and you come away with an okay lunch. You can order a whole wheat tortilla on any of their items.

I can hope that with foods like this to help me in a pinch or a bind so that on a bad day I can keep up with this health challenge and actually make baby steps towards a healthier lifestyle.

To Health!


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