Monday, November 26, 2007

Researchers confirm what yogis have known for a while

When I first started my yoga teacher training, we learned about the use of neti pots. Neti pots are an old ayurvedic tool for cleaning the nose and sinuses. You fill the pot with warm salt water and run the water into one nostril and let it drain out the other. This practice has been used for a long time to clear clogged sinuses due to colds, allergies, and asthma.

Apparently, researchers at the University of Michigan thought the practice had some merit. They tested the use of saline sprays against the use of what they called "saline irrigation." The only difference between saline irrigation and the neti pot is the tool itself. Rather than a neti pot, saline irrigation is done with the use of a bulb syringe.

Specifically, the researchers randomly assigned 127 people with chronic sinus and nasal problems to either the saline spray or the saline irrigation. They found that the people who used the saline irrigation had less nasal discharge (i.e., snot) and reported fewer symptoms of stuffiness and congestion after 8 weeks than those who used only the saline spray. Their recommendation: nasal irrigation is a useful therapy for nasal and sinus symptoms.

So if you suffer from chronic sinus problems, you may want to add sinus irrigation to your regimen. And if you're into pretty things - there are a lot of lovely neti pots to try. It's not a dainty practice, but it sure saves on Kleenex.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mood Disorders during Pregnancy Linked to Postpartum Depression

There's a lot of societal pressure to be excited about being pregnant. One popular depiction of this pressure is the Sex and the City episode where Miranda finds out the sex of her baby. She later tells Carrie how she "faked her ultrasound" - meaning she faked a big, happy smile when the sonographer said, "Congratulations!! It's a boy!"

Miranda never gets characterized as having a mood disorder during pregnancy. But for women who do experience depression or anxiety while pregnant, the excitement of pending motherhood can be dulled by the pain of sadness or worry that permeates each day. Unfortunately, a large number of women experience mood disorders during pregnancy. A study published this month in Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that 54% of pregnant women experienced anxiety and 37.1% experienced depression. Further, women who experienced anxiety or depression during pregnancy were up to four times as likely to experience postpartum depression.

That's no small number - and it suggests that we have a lot of work to do if we want to help women who experience mood disorders during and after pregnancy. The Mom’s Opportunity to Access Help, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression (MOTHERS) Act is a bill currently pending in Congress that has the potential to increase women's access to screening and help for postpartum depression. This recent research only highlights the importance of this legislation. We need to do more so that moms get the help they need when they need it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Traveling and Smoking during Pregnancy leads to Obesity

The next two weeks I'll be busy traveling for different meetings, so my posting will be extra light. However, before I embark on my travels, I want to leave you with this headline from Yahoo! news: Smoking Mothers Lead to Fat Children.

Apparently, Japanese researchers have found that children of women who smoked at any time during pregnancy are three times as likely to be obese. This does not bode well for my state - which has the 5th highest obesity rate in the nation, and where nearly 30% of women smoke during pregnancy. It seems beyond low birth weight and prematurity, later obsesity is yet another reason to quit smoking if you become pregnant. Not to mention, you will reduce your risk for heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

Quitting smoking is difficult, but help is available.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sex may not work, but sweeping the membranes might

Last week I wrote about a study that suggested sex doesn't get the contractions rolling. This week, however, a study was published that suggests there is something that might work. It's called sweeping or stripping the membranes. To do the procedure, your doctor or midwife will place 1 or 2 fingers through the opening of your cervix and separate the membranes of the amniotic sac from their attachment to the lower part of your uterus. The goal is to trigger a local release of prostaglandins, or the hormones responsible for softening the cervix and stimulating labor. The procedure can be uncomfortable, and often results in period-like cramping, irregular contractions, and sometimes bleeding. (Sex is looking pretty good right now even if it doesn't work, huh?)

In this research, the investigators reviewed 22 studies of nearly 3,000 women and examined labor outcomes. They found that women who had their membranes swept were more likely to give birth before 41 weeks gestation. Further, they found there were no differences in risks of infection for either mother or baby.

The authors concluded that the decision to sweep the membranes needs to be balanced with the discomfort of the procedure. Interestingly, they also suggest that routinely sweeping the membranes does not seem to produce important clinical benefits - although they aren't the ones who've been pregnant for 10 months. Ultimately, this is an important decision to discuss with your health care provider. Meantime, Barry White anyone?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Talk therapy works for postpartum depression

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece on light therapy for postpartum depression (PPD). A study released this month shows that talk therapy - with a professional or a mom peer - can help also. This is an important finding, because many women prefer not to take antidepressants when they are breastfeeding.

In this study, the investigators reviewed 10 clinical trials that included nearly 1,000 women. The trials tested psychological and social interventions that included cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), counseling, and peer support groups facilitated by a health care professional. They found that women who received any of the psychological or social therapies were 30% less likely to have depressive symptoms within one year after giving birth compared to women who received postpartum care as usual. Additionally, peer support groups appeared to be just as effective as formal psychological care, such as CBT, which is great news for moms who can't afford a weekly trip to a therapist.

The study authors additionally noted two key take-home points. First, PPD is treatable, and a wide variety of treatment options is available. Second, social support is critical for moms who are experiencing PPD. Sometimes there is a tendency for new moms to try to pretend all is well, because they're "supposed" to be happy about their new addition. But having support from other women who've experienced PPD can help to normalize the experience and reduce the stigma associated with having a postpartum mood disorder.

So if you or someone you know is experiencing PPD, know there is help. Postpartum Support International is a great resource to find a peer support group in your area. Additionally, Postpartum Progress is a blog written by mom and advocate Katherine Stone, who experienced postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder. She provides a broad array of information on postpartum depression and other mood disorders that readers will find helpful.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Meditation: It does a mind-body good

For those of us who meditate, we know it works. It calms the mind, brings clarity and focus, and helps to ease the effects of challenges in our lives. Some folks are skeptical about "all that mind-body" stuff, and they're not going to be swayed by personal opinion. So it's really nice when research backs you up and says, Yep, it's not all in your head. This stuff really works.

Where is this great evidence, you ask? The National Academy of Sciences (which, by the way, is the adviser to the U.S. on science, engineering, and medicine) publishes a weekly rag. In the most recent edition there was a study on meditation. And how it works. And not just for long-time practitioners.

The researchers enrolled 80 Chinese college students into their study. They randomly assigned 40 students to a test group and 40 to a comparison group. They taught the test group a form of meditation known as integrative body-mind training, which incorporates meditation and mindfulness work. The group practiced for 5 days 20 minutes at a time. The comparison group was taught a relaxation technique, which they also practiced for 20 minutes daily over 5 days. Before and after the 5-day training, the students were given a variety of tests to examine their emotional states and concentration abilities.

They found that compared to the relaxation group, the meditation group had less anxiety, fatigue, depression, and anger. They also showed decreases in stress and increases in their immune response. All in 5 days. 100 minutes. With no previous training.

You too can receive the benefits of meditation. There are a host of guided meditation CDs that can get you started (just check out your favorite book store or Amazon). A practice called yoga nidra is one of my favorites. And you don't have to spend a lot of time. Just 20 minutes a day to be on your way to less stress and greater relaxation. Sounds too good to be true, huh? But it isn't.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Barry White, pregnancy, and labor

It has been standard practice to tell healthy women who want to get labor going to turn up the volume on Barry White and get busy with their partner. However a study published this month suggests that having sex likely won't pump up the contractions.

Researchers recruited 210 women who were going to be inducted for non-emergency reasons. They assigned each women by chance to one of two groups. The first group was told to have sex to encourage labor. The second group was given no advice about sex before their induction.

They found that women who were told to have sex were more likely to do so - 60.2% compared to 39.6% in the group that was given no advice. However, they also found there were no differences between the two groups in rates of spontaneous labor - or labor starting on its own before the scheduled induction. There also were no differences between the groups in how many women had a C-section or in their babies' birth outcomes.

Bottom line: increasing sexual activity doesn't seem to promote labor. So if your libido is low, don't feel like you have to have sex to get the ball rolling. On the other hand, if sex sounds good, have at it. While an orgasm might not promote labor, it might be your last one for a while - so enjoy!