National Fertility awareness week!

Did you know this week is National Fertility Awareness Week?

As part of The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership team, I kicked off with our free open morning session which thanks to you lovely people was a huge success. Now, to continue helping to raise awareness, the team are offering a unique opportunity to have a one-to-one mini telephone consultation with one of with our founders. All you need to do is private message us on our Facebook page / via our email with your question and contact number and we will endeavour to call you back. Each consultation will last 15 minutes and run from 8pm to 9pm each evening until the 3rd of November.

We will call you back on a first come first serve basis so get your questions in quick!

Relieving pre-menstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a set of unwanted physical, emotional and mental symptoms that occur after ovulation and are relieved as the period gets started. Most women (and their partners) are well aware of the changes in mood alongside minor physical complaints such as bloating just before the period, and there is nothing ‘wrong’ or unhealthy about this. However when the symptoms go on for up to 2 weeks and cause severe mental and emotional disturbance this can have a very real effect on a woman’s life – her work, her relationship and her self esteem. Women with severe PMS can feel like 2 completely different characters – and to some extent they are!

Below are some of the most common unwanted symptoms of PMS:                                                Mood swings, Irritability, Anxiety and tension, Bloating,                                                                Breast tenderness and swelling, Water retention                                                                 Acne, Tiredness, Weight gain,  Headaches/migraines,                                                            Crying Spells, Depression, Sugar and food cravings,                                                                       Constipation, Dizziness and Night sweats.

So whats going on in our bodies to cause all this? Typically, as with so many problems in women’s health, there is no single causative factor, but a combination of several smaller imbalances that all trigger each other off.

Firstly, just looking at our hormones – oestrogen levels are declining and progesterone is on the up. This shift can affect some women very strongly. A popular theory is that at a time when progesterone should be high, in women with PMS, their oestrogen is actually still too high in relation to progesterone. Many of the physical symptoms such as water retention, breast tenderness and bloating can be attributed to oestrogen.

Secondly, as well as regulating the menstrual cycle, oestrogen and progesterone influence neurotransmitters such as serotonin which will then fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. Serotonin is just one of the several mood affecting neurotransmitters likely to be involved and can explain the panic attacks and severe depression and anger that some women experience.

Thirdly, stress is nearly always involved in some way. Although it is unlikely to cause it, it will undoubtedly worsen PMS symptoms. Overworking, not enough sleep or over worrying will all cause stress to pile up. One of the stress hormones, cortisol is thought to block progesterone receptor sites, thereby aggravating the oestrogen / progesterone balance.

The Chinese medicine approach is to look at the whole menstrual cycle. What’s going on the rest of the time? – does the diet support the liver in breaking down oestrogen for elimination and is stress being managed before ovulation for example.                               In acupuncture the first half of the cycle is ‘Yin’ This is a time for nourishing the body and mind, eating and sleeping well. The second phase between ovulation and bleeding is ‘Yang’ which represents movement, warmth and energy. PMS in acupuncture is sometimes seen as too much Yang rushing around the body causing mental and emotional upset so the aim is to ground this energy, and to keep in circulating round the entire body in a more balanced way. We do this by building up the Yin in the first half of the cycle so it is strong and abundant – so strong that in anchors the Yang later on!                 In other cases there is not enough Yang – and so the Yin starts getting sticky, heavy, sluggish and obstructs the Yang from coursing through the body. This leads to stagnation such as constipation, bloating and so the aim is to get the Yang / energy of the body freed up so it can zip through the body, moving all the sludge on the way.

I work with women of all ages to help combat the PMS once and for all. We follow a plan of acupuncture twice a month in between ovulation and her period. This really focuses on getting her yang moving evenly throughout her body and head, and this is the time to keep things moving physically with yoga or swimming. We change her diet slightly to support her Yin in the first half of her cycle and ask her to spend some time slowing down just with herself. I also add in herbs alongside Andrew Chevallier to really support a healthy progesterone / oestrogen balance. After 3 menstrual cycles a substantial improvement is nearly always seen, with most women not needing to continue with the acupuncture.


Acupuncture and Bells Palsy

Acupuncture is a great choice for patients with Bells Palsy –  I recommend acupuncture once or twice a week to speed up recovery. My patients tell me they feel an improvement within several hours of the acupuncture session, which then plateaus until the next session and then so on. Often we massage the neck and shoulders of Bells Palsy sufferers.  This is because in acupuncture the meridians that nourish the face pass through the back and sides of the neck so we like to start by getting the blood moving here first. Acupuncturists have a special set of ultra fine needles kept for delicate areas like the face, and these are inserted into the affected facial muscles and slowly turned. On an unaffected person this will hardly be noticeable but often with Bells Palsy the patient will feel the needles as prickly warmth spreading across the face.

Bells Palsy is often classified as ‘Wind-cold invasion’. In Chinese medicine they often describe what they see! ‘Wind’ means it is created from something outside the body (like a virus or environmental factor) but was strong enough to break through the body’s natural defenses. Acupuncture therefore aims to strengthen the person so they can push the invasion back out again. For this reason we also advise plenty of rest and avoidance of both coffee and alcohol until the facial muscles return to normal. ‘Cold’ in Chinese medicine is constrictive and blocks movement, so again the acupuncturist tries to balance this out by creating warmth and movement in the facial muscles to get them moving again. Difficult as it may be to slow down in the modern world – if Bells Palsy strikes, taking a couple of weeks out is simply the best thing you can do for yourself to speed up recovery.

It is worth noting that that most cases of Bells Palsy are self limiting – and many people first start to notice an improvement within 2-3 weeks from the start. NICE are clear that most people will make a full recovery in 9 months –  this is a general figure based on patients and not the therapies involved. So we have two groups – The first being those who do naturally make a full recovery and perhaps for them the real question should be ‘is there anything that can speed up my recovery time?’ The second group is those who do not make a full recovery and so the question is ‘can acupuncture help Bells Palsy 9 months on?’  A third question would be ‘is there anything I can do early on to minimise my chance of having long term problems?’  A review of various Bells Palsy treatments including acupuncture, physiotherapy, and medication is provided by The Cochran Database, where it is shown that the use of corticosteriods early on can lead to better outcomes long term – however using the corticosteriods more than 72 hours after onset appears to have to no significant benefit. A separate recent study compared the type of acupuncture used in Bells Palsy and found that those who received strong needling sensations in the face (compared to those who did not) were more likely to experience long term recovery.


Tips for a successful IVF round

Okay, obviously a successful IVF round depends on your IVF clinic and all the hard work of those who work there – but is there anything else that can make a difference?

Research is limited in this area, we are beginning to see some relating to diet and IVF outcomes, mainly focusing on obesity in women, otherwise the evidence is poor or non existent. The past 5 years my work has focused on female fertility, both natural and IVF routes and I am always going through my notes to look for patterns and trends in successful cases. What is particularly interesting is look at the results of women with consecutive IVF rounds when the levels of medication have not be altered, yet the response to the stims and overall thickness of endometrial lining is significantly greater. I notice that my patients who do conceive whilst in my care, share several lifestyle and dietary changes.

1. Acupuncture. Yes it is obvious that all the women I see have acupuncture, but there we go. The acupuncture itself I believe to have its own physiological benefits, but also there are other factors. It is a certain kind of woman who walks into the acupuncture clinic, on top of wanting to be pregnant she is actually willing to make dramatic changes to the way to day to day life.

2. Coffee. I see much higher pregnancy rates within my clinic for women who abstain for coffee completely.

3. Nutrition and supplements. I see higher pregnancy rates in women who eat whole foods, plentiful amounts of both animal and vegetable protein, and avoid sugar.

4. Rest. I see higher pregnancy rates in women who take time off work / reduce working hours in the stims and in the week following transfer. I’m not advocating bed rest, just the time to relax and slow down.

5. Endometrial lining. I see a thicker endometrial lining in women (with no change to medication) in women who i) practice the pelvic stretches that I show them to increase pelvic circulation ii) take the adequate supplement to boost nutrition. Although I am not a fan generally of taking supplements as nutrition should be through proper diet, in cases of previous poor response we will recommend the relevant supplements you need.

6. Couples whereby the male partner also adheres to a healthy lifestyle for at least 3 months prior to IVF ( no cigarettes, alcohol and coffee ), also seem to fare better. IVF focuses on the woman regardless of the type of infertility and this is a mistake in my opinion. It may simply be a case that women feel more supported by their partners and that they are ‘in it together’.

7. Women with scanty menstrual flow – various conditions like PCOS can results in little blood lost at menstruation. In my experience, if we can get the period heavier for a couple of months before IVF starts, then the woman tends to responds better to the IVF medication. At The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership we recommend such women visit us for 3 months prior to IVF in preparation.

So there you have it – Prepare, take some time out, relax and look after yourself when going through IVF, once baby comes there will be little time left!

If you or anyone you know want to get the most out of your next round of IVF get in touch with our fertility team at the clinic for a confidential chat to see if we can help you.

Painful periods – Dysmennorhoea

Woman of all ages regularly come to see me at the acupuncture clinic for help with pain around menstruation. A small amount of cramping and aching is normal on the first day, but for many the pain is unbearable and disrupts everyday life. Painful periods with no serious underlying causes is known as ‘primary dysmennorhoea’ – there is no obvious medical reason why this happens. Pain that is related to conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids is called ‘secondary dysmennorhoea’. This too responds well, though these conditions deserve a separate article to themselves.

In Chinese medicine, pain is seen as ‘stagnation’, and usually with severe period pain we call it ‘blood stagnation’. The underlying cause of this stagnation can be a combination of many things and the job of your acupuncturist is to work out what these may be. Acupuncture visualizes everything in the body in constant motion, slowly and gently. The pain results when the blood and Qi of the pelvis can’t move in the direction it needs to, instead it sits and creates a blockage like a dam, and as the pressure builds up you feel more and more discomfort.

I really see very good results using acupuncture, diet and lifestyle changes. My top tips for managing primary dysmennorhea are the following;

1. Acupuncture regularly – in the second half of the cycle. I usually ask to see my clients twice before their expected period starts. I needle directly on the lower abdomen and the legs using lots of heat to relax the muscles. Sometimes we also work on the lower back and sacrum too. It really doesn’t hurt. The needles just sit under the skin and once in place, the body responds to them by releasing a whole load of various substances which will aid in general pelvic circulation. You can’t usually feel this happening ( some women will be aware of tingling and warmth or muscles relaxing), but it takes around 20-30 mins which is why you will just be lying there listening to music and daydreaming.

2. Discourage ‘bad prostaglandins’ by reducing all meat and dairy produce –  small amounts can be taken (they must be organic). Prostaglandins are present in all cells of the body and most have a beneficial effect. There are a few that are related to constriction and inflammation and too much of these types will cause an imbalance. Women suffering with severe dysmennorhea are found to have higher levels of two particular types of prostaglandins known as PGF2 and PGE2. The fuel the body needs to make these ‘negative prostaglandins comes from arachidonic acid which is abundant in meat and dairy. So cutting these out will make it harder for the body to produce PGE2.

3. Encourage ‘Good Prostaglandins’ – To tip everything in our favour we need to add certain things into our diet. Lots of the ‘good prostaglandins’ will help the uterus contract beautifully and with ease. Adding in lots of oily fish, nuts, seeds and leafy greens will do this. You also need to have adequate amounts of certain vitamins and minerals in your diet so that your body can create these good prostaglandins. Everything should be present in a varied healthy wholefood diet, but if your diet is compromised you may need to take these as supplements short term to boost your levels.

4.  Pelvic stretches – absolutely essential for getting good circulation going. I have a set of yoga stretches I show to each woman that really get deep into the groin. There are plenty of short videos on You Tube for inspiration too. You want to be doing 10-15 mins every 2 days initially. The 5 days before your period you must do every day. Everyone can find time to do 10 mins – once you are familiar with the stretches you can do them in front of the TV in the evenings. After a few months you will probably not need to do them so often as the overall circulation has improved. The one exercise to avoid if you suffer from painful periods is of course sit-ups.

As with many things in natural and complementary medicine – it is the combination of a few small changes here and there which give dramatic results. In acupuncture we don’t accept that severe pain at menstruation is ‘normal’ and something to be put up with. Working with your body requires time and patience and a genuine desire to get to know yourself. Using the 4 interventions above, I see huge reductions in the monthly pain within 6-10 weeks. If you or someone you know suffers with debilitating cramps – please get in touch with the clinic to see how we can help you.


Open Day – Fertility Acupuncture in Norwich

As part of The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership open day, I will be available for free advice and chats at the clinic on Thursday 13th June. If you would like to know more about which complementary therapies are best suited to you and your partner, whether trying naturally or alongside IVF – this is an excellent opportunity to speak with us directly. You can drop in on the day, or if you would prefer not to be waiting you can pre-book a 15 min slot by ringing reception on 01603 665173.

We look forward to meeting you!

The NNFP team

Prepare for Childbirth

We see many women at various stages of pregnancy at our clinic – what is particularly rewarding is seeing women in the last few weeks as they prepare for the big day. Acupuncture is well known for it’s ‘labour inductions’ – but what does this actually involve?

Well for starters, it is a very gentle form of acupuncture as pregnancy often makes women more sensitive to stimulus. We make sure you are in a comfy position on the couch with your back raised and supported by blankets and cushions. The obvious points in an acupuncturists mind are Hegu and SanYinJiao. This combination of points is in fact forbidden throughout pregnancy because of the supposed strong action on the uterus. The only other time these might be used are straight after embryo transfer in IVF – before implantation. Hegu is on the fleshy mound between the thumb and index finger. SanYinJiao is just above the ankle of the inside of each leg.

Other points can be added in depending on the tongue and pulse diagnosis, and once they are all in it is just a case of lying there and relaxing! It can take between 1-3 acupuncture sessions to get things going – though I rarely need to do more than 2. Baby can suddenly get quite active during the session – though it usually settles down towards the final few minutes!

I often see first time mums who still have a low level anxiety about labour despite attending all the NCT classes and reading every book available on the subject – this is normal! For second time round mums it is often a case that they haven’t got time to prepare for labour – they are so busy looking after small people, and suddenly they find themselves at 39 weeks without realising! Acupuncture is great because it plugs you in fully to your parasympathetic nervous system – the part responsible for dilation and relaxing! Using your breath to connect with the parasympathetic is also excellent in the run up to labour. Set aside 10 minutes each day and take long deep full breathes somewhere peaceful or in nature. Common advice to women who are overdue is ‘walk walk walk and then walk some more’. In Chinese medicine we say the opposite. Fine have a little gentle stroll around BUT! – Conserve your energy, you’re going to need it! I see too many exhausted women who are walking miles each day to avoid a medical induction date.

For an acupuncture ‘induction’ you need to make sure baby’s head is down and that the placenta is not covering the cervix. You also need to have been cleared for a vaginal delivery by your midwife.

At The Complementary Health Care Clinic we have a gift vouchers available which combine reflexology, craniosacral therapy and acupuncture together. They are the perfect gift for a mum-to-be! Three hours of relaxing complementary therapy from experienced practitioners especially good from week 36 onwards.


Links I like – healthy recommendations in Norwich

I always encourage my patients to make healthier lifestyle changes that will support their constitution and undo the effects of a stressful / sedentary routine. Below are the links to local individuals and groups who provide a honest healthy option in Norwich.

Yoga – yes from stress to insomnia to infertility, I’m always recommending yoga as a cheap and accessible way to improve circulation, calm the mind and get you functioning optimally. Lou Kitchener, Joss GuinJessica McKenna and Michelle Busettil all run excellent regular classes.

Healthy eating – Norwich Farmshare is a great option for locally grown organic veg in which you help support local trade. Norwich Market has an excellent organic fruit and veg shop and of course Rainbow Health Foods in the city centre provides a plethora of food free from GM and pesticides. Harveys are an organic butchers with a brilliant reputation.

Vitamins / supplements / body care – The Natural Food Shop opposite Jarrolds is my first choice. Not only is the stock of high quality but the staff all have additional training in what is and isn’t safe for you to take. Great for body lotions and creams that are free from parabens and sulphates. Simply Soaps are a local skincare company that I have used for years – again beautifully scented with essential oils and not much else!

Herbalist – I often advise people to try herbs – especially for skin and menopausal complaints. Andrew Chevallier is a first rate medical herbalist and has helped many of my patients and family members. Naji Malak uses Chinese herbs and again is absolutely superb and highly recommended.

Massage – Both San Jaspal and Jessica Carey come highly recommended and work in Norwich city centre. San switches between full body, reflexology and head massage which undoes weeks of stress every time.

Meditation –  Norwich Buddhist Centre runs regular drop in sessions for beginners and advanced, there are even short classes at lunchtime. There are also hundreds of short meditation videos on You Tube which can get you in the habit of switching off for 10 mins of the day.

Getting moving in nature – turning your mobile phone off and spending a little time out in the elements can have a wonderfully nourishing affect on the body. Try Strumpshaw Fen, Earlham Park, Marriots Way and Whittingham park for nearby nature.

Getting fit – there are plenty of running groups such as parkrun which do 5km every week. For cardio combined with FUN try zumba queen – seriously the most fun I have had in a long time. The UEA has a great swimming pool – another non time consuming way to keep fit at all levels.

Whether you’re a full time mum or full time office workaholic it”s important to take at least 10 mins of the day consciously doing something for yourself. It can be your short walk in the park at lunchtime – or a 5 min You Tube relaxation video when the kids are in bed. It all adds up. Your body wants to be healthy – it wants to be energised in the day and to sleep soundly at night. And if you’re not feeling that? Well then you definitely need to start making those tiny changes now!


Acupuncture in Norwich – what to do before booking an appointment.

There are many fantastic acupuncture clinics in Norwich – but before booking your initial appointment, please take the time to do a bit of research.

Firstly – make sure your acupuncturist is registered with a governing body. This ensures the person performing the acupuncture must adhere to various professional codes of ethics and practice. These codes of practice are designed for you the patient, to make your experience of acupuncture as safe as possible. They distinguish between an acupuncturist who has completed training to degree level from someone who has done a few afternoons training. As yet the UK government has not made it mandatory for acupuncturists to join The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) – and although the vast majority do, there is a growing campaign to enforce this in the hope it will prevent some of the more serious side effects of acupuncture by unqualified therapists. Look for a member from one of the following four organisations.

Top of the list for traditional acupuncturists is The British Acupuncture Council. Click on these words to go straight to the BAcC website for a list of certified acupuncturists in Norwich. BAcC members are also able to carry out work for insurance companies so check to see if you have cover for acupuncture.
If they are a GP, physiotherapist or chiropractor using acupuncture then you can check they are registered within medical acupuncture by clicking here or here for the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists.
There is also the Register of Chinese Medicine which has a register of Norwich acupuncturists here.

Secondly – look for specialisation and experience. Many acupuncturists will be clear on their websites about their areas of interest. You can also arrange a time to call us and discuss your case beforehand. If  I have not had much experience with a particular condition I will very happily refer onto another acupuncturist who has! I particularly enjoy seeing women for fertility related issues and also run a separate clinic for pain management. You will also find acupuncturists in Norwich who are particularly good with children, mental health problems and auto immune disorders for example.

Thirdly – think gender – acupuncture usually takes place in a one to one environment. You will often be lying down with restricted movement while the needles work their magic. We have a good balance of male and female acupuncturists in Norwich so take a moment to think if you would be more comfortable with one or the other.

Fourth – can you honestly commit to more than one acupuncture session? It is not an instant ‘cure’, acupuncture works with your body, gently nudging in towards good health. Although many people feel a benefit immediately, for others 2-4 sessions are required before an improvement on the original problem is detected. I personally never ask anyone to commit to more than 4 sessions without feeling a significant improvement.

Lastly – remember to bring details of current medication to your first appointment – some medications can affect blood clotting, and some conditions have to be approached with a little more caution. Blood pressure problems might mean your therapist chooses a different position for you to sit or lie in for example. Acupuncture has a very good track record in terms of patient safety. The majority of side effects are self limiting and considered minor – for example feeling light headed for a few moments after the session.

If you would like to know more about acupuncture please visit The British Acupuncture Council website by clicking here.






What does your tongue say about you?

Anyone visiting a traditional acupuncturist will know we ask you to stick your tongue out for a few seconds. We do this because the tongue gives us clues about what is happening inside your body. Skin can moisturised, hair can be conditioned and natural body odors are often masked with perfumes – luckily for us, the tongue is still an unadulterated part of your insides that we can easily see.

The tongue of course is part of the digestive system and holds many clues to your digestive health, however within Chinese medicine the tongue also tells us how the body as a whole is nourishing itself through observation of this small part.

Firstly we look at the colour of the tongue – hopefully it is some sort of red or pink. Dark and full redness usually indicates heat or inflammation. A pale tongue would cause us to question the quality of someones diet / absorbtion of food or perhaps their general vitality.

We look carefully at the coating of the tongue – and this is very useful at understanding your digestion. A thin white coating is perfectly normal and healthy. A thick greasy white or yellow coat, or even no coat at   all shows an acupuncturist something is out of balance.

We look at the moisture around the tongue – there should be some of course, and we look at any markings on the tongue. This is to see how hydrated and efficient in fluid metabolism the body is. When we see horizontal cracks we liken it to an empty river bed, cracked and dry in the midday sun.

The tongue is further divided into zones – as a rule the tip of the tongue represents the top of the body and the chest. The middle and sides of the tongue represent the digestive organs and the back of the tongue is the pelvis and lower limbs. So as well as looking for spots of all colours, cracks and markings – we are also looking at where they occur on the tongue.

For example it is very common to see menopausal women with bright red tips and a cracked body further back. The cracked body shows the dryness and lack of Yin in the body, whereas the red tip shows us heat is rising up to the chest and heat. Vegetarians often present with pale tongues – in Chinese medicine this equates to ‘blood xu’ which translates as meaning the quality of the blood and it’s ability to moisten and nourish tissues is weak.


Your tongue like everything else in your body, relies on good circulation and good supply of nutrients for cell growth and function. Some common examples of the tongue showing serious illness can be seen with iron deficiency where the tongue can become abnormally smooth and shiny. In vitamin B-12 deficiency the tongue can become swollen and red causing it to be called ‘beef steak’ tongue. The next time you are ill with a respiratory cold have a look at the coating on your tongue to see what colour it is!

Start right now – don’t brush your tongue fur in the morning! Stick it out in front of a mirror and spend a few minutes really going over all the different areas of the tongue. Even better, see how it compares to your partner, child or friend. When you start looking you soon realise quite how different every tongue is!