Acupuncturist and wholesome food enthusiast Philippa Summers shares some of the benefits and uses of bone broth and advises how to get a good batch going with insider tips and ideas to make it tasty and nutritious.
I have always had an interest in cooking wholesome food for both enjoyment and health and am guided away from processed foods by choosing ingredients that ‘ran, swam, flew or grew’ in their most natural state. Like many people I have in recent years leant towards a more heavily plant-based diet with an emphasis on a wide variety of colourful fruit and veg, wholegrains and plant-based protein like lentils, pulses, beans and tofu. However, I do still eat fish and meat, buying far less but of higher quality, higher welfare - by trying to choose largely wild fish and meat that is free-range, grass fed, preferably organic - and using every last bit which brings me to the wonders of bone broth.
It has been revered for its potent nutritional and medicinal properties by various cultures across the globe for thousands of years from ancient Greece, throughout Africa and Asia, to the infamous recuperative ‘Jewish Penicillin’. A South American proverb states ‘Bone Broth will resurrect the dead’. It had a reputation within Chinese Medicine stretching back over 2,500 years for its ability to support digestion and reproductive health – pre-conceptually for both men and women to support egg and sperm health, during pregnancy for mum and baby, and post birth to help mum rebuild her strength.
Bone broth is packed with easy to digest gelantinous protein and amino acids from the collagen in cartilage, and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium from the bones, extracted by long slow cooking. Wide ranging potential health benefits include helping to support skin, bone and joint health, soothing gut issues like ulcerative colitis and leaky gut, supporting immune function, helping recovery from upper respiratory infections and it may also help to promote good sleep. The combination of skin, joint and sleep effects likely make it beneficial for women post menopause, a time when increasing protein and reducing carbs can be helpful.
We can get a bit caught up about what’s in food and what it is good for. Sometimes it is good just to let go of that and enjoy the wholesomeness because you know in another more intuitive way that it is nourishing. For me bone broth is one of those things. A warm soothing elixir! It is delicious drunk on its own, makes a great base for soups and stews.
For convenience you can buy bone broth ready-made, conveniently packaged and delivered frozen direct from the farm to your door but it is far cheaper and satisfying to make your own. It cooks for so long that it is more economical on fuel to cook up a big batch so I collect any chicken bones both raw and cooked in the freezer until I have a good supply, supplementing them with some chicken carcass bones from the butchers to fill a stock pot.
Chicken Bone Stock Recipe
This recipe uses chicken bones and cooks for 4-6 hours. You could make a fish version substituting the chicken for fish heads and bones usually discarded by the fishmonger so very cheap – use about 1kg per litre of water - and simmer for one hour. Strain through muslin to remove all bones.
You’ll need a large stock pot with a tight fitting lid.
Optional: Before making the stock you can roast the bones for an hour in the oven until they are golden for a richer flavour.
The effort will more than pay off for the ease with which you can prepare a tasty meal or quick warming drink that nourishes you deep to the bone. Enjoy!
Acupuncturist and kitchen dynamo Philippa Summers shares some guidelines for a hearty winter breakfast of champions that will warm you from the inside out and stoke your fire for the day ahead. Yum!
What do you have for breakfast? Do you even have breakfast? It’s often a meal that people skip or habitually go for something quick like a cold bowl of cereal or a couple of slices of toast on the go but when the temperatures drop there is nothing like a comforting bowl of porridge to start the day and get the warmth going from the inside. It is quick to prepare, will sustain you all morning and is a gift to your whole digestive system.
Try a water-based whole oat porridge, flavoured with a small spoonful of blood-nourishing molasses, and maybe some cinnamon and ground flax seeds.
Top with a sprinkling of pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds for extra goodness and a couple of spoonfuls of berries. I use frozen summer berries out of season and just warm them gently. For speed, and if you don’t mind a strangely coloured porridge just add them to the porridge towards the end of cooking. I like a splash of milk to finish it off when it’s in the bowl for that that combo of thick porridge and liquid milk. Delicious and nutritious!
If you skip breakfast you may find yourself going for less nourishing alternatives as your blood sugar drops. It can precipitate a vicious cycle of sugar spikes, drops and unhealthy snacking. Starting the day with nourishing breakfast gets your eating habits off to a healthy start and one suggestion to prompt an appetite at breakfast time might be to replace supper with something very light late afternoon or early evening for a night or two, just to kick start a breakfast habit.
Finally, try to make time to sit and enjoy your meals, including breakfast. The digestive process begins when we look at the food, anticipate it and the digestive juices start to flow. And we are more likely to chew our food well, another important part of the digestive process,if we are relaxed and not in a rush. Good digestion is as much about how we eat as what we eat.
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers looks at the 'two week wait' in menstrual and ivf cycles and how she adapts treatment during this time when supporting clients in their journey to conceive and offers some helpful self care tips for this time.
Trying to have babies when it doesn’t just happen easily can be a heart wrenchingly difficult time. There can be months even years of trying, balancing hope with uncertainty, even at times despair. Another cycle starts. Is this going to be your lucky month?
When supporting women with fertility I tend to focus treatment on the follicular phase leading up to ovulation, or in the case of IVF through the stimulation phase until egg collection and at embryo transfer. These are the times that research has shown acupuncture can have a significant influence on live birth rates (Zheng, 2012). Treatments around embryo transfer, when they can be scheduled in without adding extra stress, are also shown to have a beneficial effect on outcomes (Smith, 2019).
Ideally, men and women would also have received some preconceptual lifestyle advice during the preceding months, not least of all to support egg and sperm quality as they develop and mature. Treatment can be aimed at regulating the menstrual cycle, supporting endometrial development and addressing other issues impacting on fertility. Treatment during the follicular phase will be aimed at supporting the processes that take place throughout the menstrual cycle including the luteal phase but what about treatment during the actual luteal phase or the two-week wait as it is commonly known, which follows ovulation or embryo transfer?
How can Acupuncture help?
As I have said, I tend to focus most treatment during the follicular phase but that does not exclude treatment during the luteal phase. It is a time to be cautious with any treatments that could disturb the delicate interplay between the embryo and uterine lining around the time of implantation, but treatments aimed at relaxation and good sleep can be positively beneficial. It is often an anxious time when every little twinge seems to take on some significance. An acupuncture treatment can offer a gentle wind down from the intensity of IVF or the pressures of trying naturally, at a time when sound sleep and a feeling of calm may be quite elusive.
How can you support yourself during the two week wait?
The preparations you have taken in the preceding months, weeks and days will help to lay the foundations but here are 10 tips to support implantation and help through these two weeks:
Good luck. Remember that even under perfect conditions there is only a 1 in 4 chance of conceiving each month, so it can take a while. Please contact me if you think I may be able to help you.
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers, who has a special interest in fertility, shares some helpful resources around supporting the often overlooked area of male fertility.
here is a growing movement among men and male fertility specialists to encourage the issue of male fertility into the open, improve awareness and access to help, both specialist and peer support. Prompted by watching a BBC program on male fertility with comedian Rhod Gilbert aimed at opening up the conversation and garnering more support, I have put together some resources. I hope they will be useful to men facing fertility issues, especially if they are feeling isolated and unsure of where to turn. It is also National Infertility Awareness Week.
In couples struggling to conceive male factors contribute almost 50% of the time and are often overlooked, especially so when an identifiable contributing issue has been identified in the woman, and this can leave many male issues underdiagnosed and undertreated. It can leave couples struggling often with an over reliance on IVF, which may give you a chance of navigating around a problem but will not rectify an issue, and the emotional, physical and financial burden IVF imposes is comparatively very high.
Where male factors have been identified men often bear it alone, harbour their feelings and find it difficult to discuss these very private issues with anyone, including their partner, friends or family. It can be very isolating, impacting on almost every aspect of their life. It can also be a source of conflict within couples, allowing resentments to build up and adding to the already considerable strain.
So where can you find support, advice and treatment?
Here are some resources that you may find helpful regardless of where you are on your fertility journey, be it starting out and looking for lifestyle advice to help improve sperm and semen, or somewhere down the road and looking at getting investigations, treatment or support. Maybe to begin with you just want to find out that you are not alone and have a chance to listen to other men’s experiences and how they are coping. Be selective so that you are not overwhelmed with information. Included are resources that you can access anonymously or listen to on your own where your privacy is important.
A quick mention of the benefits of acupuncture. For men with suboptimal semen parameters acupuncture has been shown to improve the number of normal sperm by improving sperm count, movement and shape – all important factors for improving fertility. Typically the needles are placed in the arms, legs, back and abdomen – never locally! It is also extremely relaxing and helpful for coping with stress and low mood.
Fertility Network UK have plenty of good up to date information on all aspects of fertility including male fertility. This is a good starting point for information.
The Fertility Podcast website has several episodes that focus on male fertility. Each podcast is accompanied by notes to help you find those that are likely to be of most interest and relevance to you. They include personal stories, which can help to break down the stigma and isolation, and interviews with male fertility specialists to help understand where different tests and treatments fit in as well, as providing tips for improving your fertility.
Specialist Consultations and info
Your GP is usually the first port of call for accessing specialist help. Ask to see a GP in the practice with particular knowledge of male fertility. They should offer you a comprehensive semen analysis and a physical examination with NHS referral to a specialist Andrologist (men’s equivalent of a gynaecologist) where appropriate. This is something you can request giving you the same level of investigation as is routinely offered to women.
Prof Sheryl Homa and her team at Andrology Solutions , an HFEA licensed male fertility clinic, have exceptional knowledge of male fertility and provide diagnosis and support for men who are trying to conceive. They are a private clinic and you can self refer. They also have some very useful information on their website.
Consultant urologist Jonathan Ramsay is one of the leading experts in male fertility. His website has a wealth of information including the latest advances in research and guidelines. He is available for private consultation.
Nutritionist Melanie Brown specialises in helping men and women with fertility, IVF and pregnancy. The right nutrition and supplements provide a solid foundation for overall good health as well as fertility and can make all the difference.
Men Only Support Groups
Here are a couple of groups where you can connect with other men going through similar problems.
Men’s Fertility Support – a men only Facebook group where men can discuss male fertility issues anonymously. It says IVF/IUI/ICSI but may be broader than this.
Fertility Network Uk run a regular Zoom support group for men only (which you can join with your camera off if you wish to remain anonymous). On the linked page it mentions an April date but as of Feb 2021 it is still running.
Film, TV and radio programmes
Comedian Rhod Gilbert ‘Stand Up To Fertility’ on BBC2. While undergoing treatment himself comedian Rod Gilbert goes on a frank, revealing and frequently funny journey into the world of male infertility.
BBC Radio 4 Benjamin Zephaniah discusses his experience of male infertility with urologist Kevin McEleny, and also talks separately to a couple, Richard and Terri, about their experiences of male fertility issues.
Also BBC Radio 4 My Life as a Childless Man. Writer and actor Rod Silvers talks about his experience and the isolation that it can cause. He encourages men to find ways to speak about it, something he still finds difficult.
The Agora Journals podcasts – from The Agora Clinic in Hove. They treat heterosexual couples and solo parents but also have a deeper awareness than many clinics of the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, including people who are transitioning for whom egg and sperm preservation before transition is important.
I hope that among this selection you find something that helps you, whatever your circumstances.
Very best wishes,
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers shares some tips on getting ready for hayfever season with spring around the corner in her helpful blog with links to articles and suggestions for natural courses of action to help support yourself
It may be a while yet but the early signs heralding the end of winter are beginning to show themselves. Spring bulbs are pushing through the soil and catkins are dangling from the trees. For most of us these are uplifting very early signs of spring, this year more eagerly awaited and welcomed than ever. But for hayfever sufferers the joy is tempered. Hayfever can take the pleasure out of a day in the sun, limiting activities and for some severely impacting on quality of life causing considerable misery. Symptoms can begin as early as March and treatment is often more effective when started before, hence this early post, ahead of the season.
Seasonal and Perennial
According to the Met Office, who publish a pollen forecast along with other useful information on hayfever, tree pollen allergies generally start from late March running to mid-May, grass has from May until July and weed pollens run from the end of June to September. The UkAllergy website is also a useful source and lists trees and plants by species. People with allergies to one or more of these pollen types have hayfever or seasonal allergic rhinitis. Those with allergies to other sources such as house dust mites, mould or animal dander which often persist throughout the year have perennial allergic rhinitis. The symptoms are similar for both types of allergic rhinitis.
Many people rely on antihistamines along with nasal steroid sprays and eye drops to relieve the symptoms of hayfever and for more severe symptoms immunotherapy may be an option. However, not everyone is comfortable taking medication and all have side effects. Antihistamines, the most widely used treatment, can leave you feeling drowsy, sometimes with dizziness and headaches, and they dry the mucous membranes thickening the mucus and often causing greater congestion.
Acupuncture can help to reduce the impact of allergic rhinitis (seasonal and perennial) without the side effects. It is especially good at relieving nasal and sinus symptoms, most effectively as a treatment before symptoms begin but is also effective in reducing symptoms once they have started. A review of 13 research studies which included 2365 people with allergic rhinitis found acupuncture to be a safe and efficacious treatment improving their quality of life.
What else can you do to help?
Reducing exposure The most effective way to help is to reduce exposure to the pollen or other allergen.
For Seasonal Pollen Allergies:
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers shares some local ways to enjoy the outdoors this coming festive season and encourages you to find beauty in the cold and sometimes grey winter
You may have seen Erika’s inspirational blog encouraging us to experience and appreciate the darkness of the long winter nights. By cherishing not just the dark but winter itself, the cold, the beauty of early morning frosts, long shadows, later sunrises and earlier sunsets, naked trees against crisp blue skies we can wrap up and allow ourselves to be drawn outside. And there is nothing like returning home to be embraced by the warmth, feeling refreshed and enlivened.
Christmas this year will be like no other. I imagine many people will be staying local and postponing gatherings. Not easy decisions and I know that even within families there are conflicting ideas and hard choices to be made between our dearest wishes and the risks. For me the getting together will be all the sweeter when we are through the worst of this pandemic and we have something to celebrate with gusto. Simply being together will be a joy and my focus is on a simple Christmas and a summer gathering to make up for all we have missed.
So, for those of you that will be spending a quieter than usual Christmas at home, maybe with children climbing the walls, I encourage you to wrap up warm, embrace the cold and get outside. Like many I have had more walks in Brockwell park this year than ever before and still it holds delight, with longer walks taking in Dulwich Park and Sydenham Woods. There is something new to discover each time, a different route brings a different view, the seasons create a changing landscape and our senses are drawn to the subtle transformations. So, even the familiar can hold surprise and nourish our souls and senses with new sights and smells. It’s good to get out and move, not least of all with all the feasting and indulgence that goes with Christmas.
So, for a change of scene here are a few outdoor events and activities, festive and otherwise, that may add some sparkle and fresh air. You never know what you’ll stumble upon along the way.
Embrace the winter, much as you may want to wish this one away, and maybe by spring or summer we can gather more safely in larger numbers, maybe even hug one another again. Virtual hugs for now. Wrap up warm, get outside and have a good time!
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.