Controlling Gestational Diabetes Naturally

At my 28 week appointment, I took the dreaded pregnancy glucose test.  Since my pregnancy nausea was still pretty bad at the time, I was most nervous about trying not to throw up for an hour on an empty stomach.  I never would have imagined that I would get a call the next day saying I didn’t pass.  The following day, I had to do it all over again.  This time, I had to drink 2 of the glucose drinks and get my blood drawn 4 times over 3 hours.  I was extremely nauseous and faint, but resting in the fact that if I got through those 3 hours, it would all be over.

On Monday, I got the call that I had failed and was officially diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GDM).  I was shocked.  I didn’t know much about GDM at the time, so I went into full on planning & research mode to figure out how to fix it.  I was also scared; my plans all along had been to deliver at a birth center instead of the hospital and I was nervous this diagnosis would risk me out of that option.  Plus, what did it mean for the baby and for my own health? How did this happen to someone healthy like me?

That week, I got my glucose monitor and started the 4 times/day finger pricks to test my blood sugars.  I researched the gestational diabetes diet recommendations extensively and immediately began following them- mostly adding in more snacks and protein.  Because of my continued pregnancy nausea, my diet had not been great (lots more carbs than my diet pre-pregnancy), but I was committed to try my best.  I was surprised to find that sticking to the GDM diet recommendations, my blood sugar levels continually tested high.  Post-meal levels were okay, but I was only passing around a quarter of my morning fasting levels.

When I went in for my next doctor’s appointment, they were alarmed at my results.  I told them I was following the exact diet recommendations given and didn’t know what else to do.  Besides recommending a 30-45 minute walk every night after dinner, they didn’t have any other ideas for me.  At my pleading, they gave me one week to try to have PERFECT morning fasting levels; if I didn’t, I would be put on medication (glyburide) to control my body’s insulin response.  Getting put on medication would officially label me as high risk and guarantee a hospital birth with continuous monitoring and insulin during labor. Plus, after researching the medication, I wasn’t confident it was safe for my baby either. I was devastated.

Pregnancy is certainly a lesson in loss of control.  Of course, I’m sure God designed it that way to prepare us for parenthood.  I’ve felt out-of-control for my entire pregnancy… nausea I couldn’t fix, diet I didn’t want to be on, hormonal emotions, and now this. I had no idea how emotionally taxing a diagnosis like this could be.  You blame yourself. You worry about what it means for the baby you’ve been trying so hard to protect.  And the constant blood testing and attention to diet is a continual source of stress and anxiety.  And don’t forget, you’re not supposed to be stressed during pregnancy- it’s bad for the baby. Ugh.

I was determined to not let this diagnosis get the best of me.  I continued my research. Google-ing “natural ways to lower blood sugar” or similar searches came up with nothing.  No one online seems to want to try this; they all just assume that you will end up on medication or insulin and recommend you simply try your best to eat healthy for baby.  Finally, I pieced together some different ideas and resources to make a plan.

By a complete miracle, I was able to have perfect blood sugar levels that next week and return to the doctor with confidence that I could continue without medication.  But the next week, Thanksgiving came along… I splurged and enjoyed just one holiday meal & dessert and my fasting levels couldn’t recover from it; my levels became unpredictable again.  I was defeated as I walked into the doctor’s office the next week, certain they would put me on medication this time.  But my midwife was gracious and knew how hard I was working- she said it was probably due to a lack of routine, and once again I was given one last week to try.

Since that visit, I’ve been able to keep my blood sugar levels totally under control.  Even the morning fasting ones. Praise God! So, for those of you pregnant mamas diagnosed with gestational diabetes who are looking to stay off medication/insulin and want to control it naturally, I want to share what’s worked for me in hopes that you can have the same success.  I can’t point to one particular thing that made the difference; it wasn’t until I did all of these together that I was finally able to bring my levels under control.

  • Prayer – I’m listing this first because I truly believe God is the only one who has the power over all of this. I consider it a miracle that He’s kept my levels low when they were SO high and unpredictable to start with.  Pray before each meal and each finger prick- that dependence on Him will help calm you and help relieve the never-ending cycle of stress that only causes higher levels.
  • Minimal Carbs – Aim to eliminate carbs completely from your diet.  Everyone processes carbohydrates differently, so there’s not really an exact amount that’s “safe.” The nutritionists who write diets for GDM will give guidelines like 25 carbs for breakfast & lunch, 35 for dinner and 15 at two snacks.  And they’ll say that as long as you balance with a protein and fat, those carbs will not convert to glucose.  If I followed this ridiculous protocol, I would be on medication today. The only thing that worked was when I basically eliminated carbs from my diet; that means no bread (not even multi-grain), no rice, no potatoes, no corn, no oats.  It even means avoiding high glycemic produce, like fruit (some can tolerate berries, but I haven’t really been able to).
  • Eat High Protein, High Fat & Veggies – Focusing your diet around these items is the best way to avoid blood sugar spikes.  Healthy fats are especially great at keeping blood sugars stable and keeping you full.  I can’t stomach it with my nausea, but I’ve seen several recommendations that a teaspoon of coconut oil before each meal can help a great deal.  I just try to include it in what I make instead.  Search ketogenic recipes for meal ideas that fit this diet; I also have quite a few here on my blog – veggie noodles with lemon cream sauce being my fave.  My favorite snacks have been: cashews, cheese sticks, Greek yogurt and Graze meat sticks. Breakfast is the hardest on rushed mornings, but I try to alternate between hard-boiled eggs with breakfast sausage links, scrambled eggs with avocado and Greek yogurt with nuts.
  • Satisfy Sugar Cravings Safely – I know, pregnancy cravings are real and having gestational diabetes, especially over the holidays, is just the worst. Of course you have to eliminate sugar (and always avoid unsafe sugar-free products), but I’ve found a couple ways to satisfy my intense cravings for sweets: Stevia leaf naturally helps to lower blood sugar, so I’ve been using that in the tea that I drink or to sweeten Greek yogurt a bit.  And dark chocolate is also helpful to lower blood sugar- make sure to get a bar that is 75%+ cocoa and soy-free.  My go-to nightly snack has been whipped coconut cream (high in good fat!) sweetened with a bit of stevia and topped with a few dark chocolate chips – here’s the super easy recipe.
  • Walk After DinnerEvery single day. For at least 30 minutes. This is one of the hardest from a scheduling perspective and because it is uncomfortable when you are hugely pregnant and tired.  The first week is the hardest, but I promise your body will start to crave it.  It will help with digestion, relieve indigestion/heartburn and is also great at getting your body ready for labor.
  • Herbal Supplements – I talked with both my naturopath and the herbalist at my local pharmacy to see if there were any supplements to help with blood sugars that would be safe for pregnancy; they recommended two that I’ve been using these past months.  I take Diaplex before meals (started with 2 pills before each meal, but I’ve gone down to just two before lunch now) and Glukokine once in the evening right before bed.  Since I had done my research and talked with the right people, my doctor’s office was fine with me taking these; as always, you should check with your doctor before taking any medication or supplements during pregnancy.
  • Drink Lots of Water – If you are diabetic, one of the most common symptoms is frequent thirst, so this shouldn’t be a hard one to implement.  Hydration is one of the best ways to control insulin response, so you should be drinking around 2 gallons per day.  I know you are already peeing every 30 minutes, but this is crucial to stabilizing your levels.  Add some fresh lemon slices to your water for even further blood sugar stabilizing benefits. And, more importantly, drink water every time you wake up at night – it’s crucial to not let yourself get dehydrated overnight and I really think this made a huge difference with my fasting levels upon waking.
  • Consistency – Ultimately, I’ve found that a consistent routine is key to predictable levels, especially the morning fasting ones.  Schedule your meals and snacks to be at similar times each day.  Keep a food journal to track what you are eating to see if anything affects your levels.  This is not a typical diet where the occasional splurge is okay; you have to stick with it. Wake up at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time each night. A strict schedule is the last thing I wanted to implement before a baby entered my life, but it’s certainly been worth it.

35-week-picNote: Don’t be surprised if you stop gaining weight or even lose weight once you put this protocol into place.  I was a bit alarmed that I’d only gained 12 pounds by 37 weeks, but my midwife assured me that it is completely normal since it’s all being done in a very healthy way.  I’m not crash dieting or exercising too much; it’s safe. Enjoy this one benefit to all your hard work and be excited that you will have less to lose after baby!

Lastly, I want to encourage you mamas not to blame yourself.  The diagnosis isn’t your fault. If you are trying everything and still failing your levels, it is not your fault.  Your placenta is causing this and sometimes it is not something you can control.  Do your best and be at peace with that.  I’m so proud of you for trying.

P.S. A great resource I finally found online was a UK website on gestational diabetes.  I definitely recommend that you check it out for great information, ideas and encouragement.

Italian Lemon Farm Tour + Cooking Class

Last month, my husband and I took a two week trip to Europe to visit London and southern Italy. We had a wonderful vacation full of stunning views, delicious food and fantastic vino. One of the highlights of the trip was the Amalfi Lemon Experience

Amalfi DuomoWe stayed in the beautiful, small town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. A short cliff-side drive or ferry ride takes you to the slightly larger town of Amalfi. The main piazza (town square) is a quick walk from the port and the star of the town – the duomo (cathedral) that is absolutely breathtaking both inside and out. We sat at the bottom of the church steps as the morning bells rung and waited for our ride up the hill to the lemon farm.

Valley of the Mills Lemon FarmsThe lemon farm is located up through the town into the Valley of the Mills – a valley lined with lemon groves and old paper mills. When arrived at the Aceto family lemon farm, we toured a small museum with the family’s collection of area artifacts. We learned about the history of the main industries of lemon farming and paper milling – lots of hard work.  This lemon farm has been in the family for many, many generations.

Limoncello ProductionNext, we saw the production room where they make small batch limoncello and then got to sample some! Their limoncello is unique, and especially delicious, because it is made with grappa – an alcohol made from grapes – while most is made with grain alcohol. We tasted regular limoncello, creme di limoncello (think a lemon version of Bailey’s) and a dark chocolate sauce infused with limoncello – all amazing!

Amalfi LemonsWe began the steep trek up each level of the lemon farm, walking through the garden terraces. The Acetos are committed to maintaining a sustainable, organic lemon farm when so many have started using pesticides. They believe in producing high quality fruit that is nutritious, delicious and healing. 

We met the 80 year old patriarch who still works daily on the family farm.  He brought down a basket full of lemons picked fresh. Salvatore, his son and our tour guide/host, pushed his thumbs right into a lemon the size of an orange and cut it into slices with a pocket knife. Each of us ate a whole slice (including the rind) and it was delicious.. soft and sweet, just barely sour. The Aceto family eats several lemons each day and he noted that it is the essential oils in the lemon that keep them healthy. They use lemon as a remedy for all ailments and keep their immune systems strong with natural vitamin C. Sal’s personal anecdote was that he went to work off the farm for several years and was always getting sick… as soon as he returned and lemons re-entered his daily diet, he has been healthy.

Lemon PergolasIt was fascinating to learn about the organic gardening process. If a tree catches a disease, they do everything they can naturally to save it because it takes a new tree 25 years to produce the amount of fruit that the mature, old trees produce.  They use other citrus trees to help graft any the new lemon trees. And the trees are planted under hand crafted wooden pergolas that support the branches and the heavy fruit; plus, it allows the top leaves to provide shade to the fruit below.

Lemonade and Lemon CakeAfter our tour of the farm, we joined the family on the outdoor kitchen terrace, overlooking the valley. They served fresh lemonade and lemon pound cake as we enjoyed the view. Then, they brought out the wine and we began our Mediterranean cooking class with Ramona.

First, we prepared Antipasto Parmigiana – a recipe I cannot wait to try out at home. Grilled eggplant slices topped with fresh tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, grated Parmesan and basil, rolled up, then baked to melt the cheese (if you don’t eat them all before putting in the oven).

Next, we whipped up the dessert – lemon tiramisu… using the local specialty limoncello instead of traditional espresso. Those went in the fridge to chill as we moved on to making the fresh pasta. We kneaded the pasta, rolled it, cut into ravioli pieces and filled with a mixture of fresh cod and potato – unique, but good!

Once the food preparation was complete, we sat down at a long table with the whole family to enjoy our several course lunch:Lemon Tiramisu

  1. Bread with olive oil, garlic and mint
  2. Antipasto Parmigiana (recipe here)
  3. Cod & Potato Ravioli topped with cherry tomato & basil sauce
  4. Fresh tuna steaks with lemon
  5. Lemon tiramisu – pictured (recipe here)
  6. Espresso with lemon peel (delicious! also great for relieving headaches!) and limoncello as a digestif

It was a wonderful meal, made even better with the hospitality of the large Italian family… filled with many laughs, stories and glasses of wine. Thank you, Aceto family, for the perfect day in Amalfi and unforgettable experience!

Lemon Farm

Thieves Essential Oil

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to write about one of my all-time favorite essential oils: Thieves.  This oil is incredible at supporting the immune system to help fight illness.

So what’s with the name?  This blend of oils is based on a formula that allegedly kept 4 thieves from getting the bubonic plague as they robbed the dead and dying.  When questioned by authorities, legend has it that they revealed the secret blend they wore in masks to protect themselves in exchange for a lesser punishment.

What’s in it?  Whether the legend is true or not, Thieves is a blend of 5 really powerful essential oils:

  • Clove has been used since ancient times by Healers to aid the body in fighting infection. Interesting historical tidbit: When the Dutch conquered the island of Ternate in 16th century, they destroyed the many clove trees on the island. Until that time, many generations were protected from epidemics because of cloves in their diet; afterwards, nearly the entire indigenous population died from disease.
  • Lemon contains properties that amplify immunity and promotes circulation and lymphatic function.
  • Cinnamon Bark is mentioned throughout the Bible and is valuable for helping your body fight infection.
  • Eucalyptus Radiata was a treasured ingredient in folk medicine; it’s great for supporting the respiratory and sinus system.
  • Rosemary was burned as incense to help protect against infection by cultures for many centuries. This herb is supports immune function and improves mental clarity.

How do I use it? I put a drop of Thieves on the bottom of my feet every day as a regular immune system boost.  I use extra when I’m sick and put it in my diffuser to disinfect the air as well. Whenever I fly somewhere, I put a couple of drops on a scarf and wear it on the airplane to help disinfect the air I breathe.

IMG_6806I also clean my house with it. Thieves Household Cleaner is the best all-purpose cleaner I’ve ever used. And the best part – it’s completely non-toxic.  I use it for all my kitchen and bathroom surfaces, as a de-greaser and for cleaning my windows and mirrors. I recently, finally threw away all the chemical cleaners in my house and replaced them with this safe option. The good news is that it’s also cheaper than all the other products I was buying!

For more information about essential oils, you can reach out to me personally or visit this page.

 

Source: Essential Oils Pocket Reference

My Favorite Diffusing Combos

One of the ways I use essential oils every day is through aromatherapy. I almost always have some essential oils in my diffuser at home and on my desk at work. Research has shown that the fragrance of essential oils can have a profound impact on the limbic system (our emotions), the hypothalamus (our hormones), and on the oxygenation & function of the brain.  Today, I’m sharing some of my go-to essential oil blends to diffuse when I’m sick, stressed, or just want to clear the air:

EO Allergy BlendSeasonal Allergy Blend:

  • Lavender (4 drops) – Lavender is an incredible natural antihistamine and helps reduce inflammation in the sinuses.
  • Peppermint (2 drops) – The minty freshness of peppermint opens up the airways, helping you breathe and easing congestion.
  • Lemon (2 drops) – Lemon is another natural antihistamine that helps reduce inflammatory response and mucus.
  • If you have a sinus headache, add 3 drops of Copaiba – it’s a super strong anti-inflammatory that helps with pain relief.
  • *I used this same blend mixed with coconut oil to calm my skin and relieve itching when I had an allergic reaction that caused a rash.

Odor EliminatorOdor Eliminator:

  • Purification (3 drops) – This stuff is magical – it disinfects the air and neutralizes bad odors, including those from mildew and smoke. It’s a blend of citronella, lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, lavandin, and myrtle.
  • Lemon (4 drops) – Lemon helps to cleanse and disinfect the air while adding an invigorating, clean aroma.
  • This blend is also fantastic for getting rid of that mustiness in your washing machine or added to carpet spray used on pet accidents.

BreatheBreathe

  • RC (5 drops) – aka “Respiratory Congestion,” this incredible blend of oils provides significant relief from colds, sore throats and sinus issues. It contains many oils that help open up airways: Myrtle, (3 kinds of) Eucalyptus, Marjoram, Pine, Cypress, Spruce, and Peppermint
  • Lemon (2 drops) – Lemon helps to reduce excess mucus and to open up lymph pathways for proper drainage.

Immune BoosterImmune Booster

  • Thieves (4 drops ) – With powerful ingredients like clove, cinnamon, lemon, eucalyptus and rosemary, this oil has proven through research and history to boost the immune system and disinfect the air of germs.
  • Lemon (2 drops) – Lemon helps to cleanse the body of toxins and opens up your lymphatic system.
  • Tea Tree (2 drops) – Promotes cleansing and purity, helping fight infection.

RelaxRelax

  • Lime (2 drop)  – Stimulates a tired mind and renews your spirit.
  • Lavender (2 drops) – Calming & relaxing.
  • Stress Away (4 drops) – My favorite blend… it truly does help take the stress of the day away.  It contains Copaiba (to help soothe), Lime, Cedarwood, Vanilla (because who doesn’t love that wonderful fragrance!?), Ocotea (creates peaceful environment) and Lavender.

Happy BrightHappy & Bright – My very favorite everyday combo!

  • Joy (4 drops) – A delightful blend of beautiful oils that brings positive energy to the household. It promotes romance and harmony. It’s a mix of bergamot (relieves stress and tension), ylang ylang (to balance crazy hormones), geranium, lemon, coriander, tangerine (calming), jasmine (promotes feelings of love and support), roman chamomile, palmarosa, and rose (creates a romantic, magnetic energy).
  • Lemon (4 drops) – Purifies and provides a bright, uplifting fragrance.

Bedtime BlendBedtime Blend:

  • Lavender (4 drops) – Lavender is calming to the body, both mentally and physically. A University of Miami study found that inhalation of lavender increase beta waves in the brain, leading to heightened relaxation; and an Osaka Kyoiku University study found that it reduced mental stress.
    • Since lavender is one of the most commonly adulterated oils (chemical fragrances are added), you have to be careful where you buy it. I once bought a bottle from the grocery store when I ran out and, while it (mostly) smelled the same, it had zero effect on inducing relaxation like my Young Living bottle did!
  • Stress Away (3 drops) – The perfect blend to help you wind down for the day.  It contains Copaiba, Lime, Cedarwood (to release melatonin), Vanilla, Ocotea and Lavender.
  • Variation: If you have them, add a couple drops of each of the following to the Lavender instead of Stress Away: Cedarwood – stimulates the pineal gland to release melatonin, and  Ylang Ylang – Restores peace and balances hormones (can help reduce cortisol spikes that inhibit sleepiness).

Oh Happy DayOh Happy Day!

  • Peace & Calming (4-5 drops) – I think the name says it all… this blend truly does bring emotional peace. It’s a blend of tangerine (combats nervousness), orange (sedating and calming), ylang ylang, patchouli (clarifies thoughts and promotes grounding), and blue tansy.
  • Frankincense (2 drops) – Increases spiritual awareness and improves attitude. This oil was used throughout the Bible to enhance connection to God through worship and prayer.

What are your favorite blends to add to the diffuser? Let me know how you like these!

Source: Essential Oils Pocket Reference

For more information on essential oils and why I chose the Young Living brand, visit this page.

P.S. It’s important to be careful how you diffuse essential oils into the air because when you heat them, it destroys the healing compounds. I use a cool air diffuser that uses ultrasonic technology to mix the oil with water and disperse into the air. This atomizer activates the healing effects of the oils and allows the aromas to stay in the air for longer.  Plus, it’s also a humidifier so is great to put by your bed when you’re sick.  When you order a starter kit from Young Living, it comes with an amazing diffuser – read here for how to get started.

Seasonal Diffusing Blends

Pumpkins on the porch, mums planted and the house smells like apple cider and cinnamon.  No more candles for me… I’m now diffusing essential oils to fill my home with fragrance AND get some added health benefits.

One of my favorite ways to use essential oils is through aromatherapy. Research has shown that the fragrance of essential oils can have a profound impact on the limbic system (our emotions), the hypothalamus (our hormones), and on the oxygenation & function of the brain.  Today, I’m sharing my favorite essential oil blends to put in my diffuser each season (but, of course, you can use them anytime!)

Fall BlendFall:

  • Citrus Fresh (3-4 drops) – This refreshing blend combines Orange, Tangerine, Grapefruit, Lemon, Mandarin, and Spearmint oils. It is purifying to the air and helps with focus and energy.  *If you don’t have the Citrus Fresh blend, orange or tangerine will work too.
  • Cinnamon Bark (3-4 drops) – This is a powerful oil for boosting the immune system and is perfect for the sniffles that Autumn brings.  For a variation, sub a couple of drops of Thieves blend for cinnamon as an additional immune boosting & disinfectant, with the added notes of clove and rosemary.

Winter BlendWinter:

  • Peppermint (2 drops) – Peppermint stimulates the mind, helping you focus. It is also great for the respiratory system and to soothe digestion.
  • Lemon (2 drops) – Lemon is an invigorating and warming fragrance. It helps to cleanse the air, to boost immunity and promote relaxation.
  • Valor (2 drops) – The Valor blend originated with Roman soldiers who put it on to promote courage before going into battle. It instills great confidence and promotes alignment of the spine. This blend contains Spruce, Rosewood, Blue Tansy and Frankincense.
  • Joy (2 drops) – One of my favorite blends for the wintertime blues, Joy promotes positivity and hope.  It eases tension and brings harmony to the household for those days everyone is stuck inside. Joy contains a blend of some amazing oils: Bergamot, Ylang Ylang, Geranium, Lemon, Coriander, Tangerine, Jasmine, Roman Chamomile, Palmarosa and Rose. If you’re looking for a new perfume this Christmas, I’d highly suggest this fragrance!

Spring BlendSpring:

  • Ylang Ylang (2 drops) – This romantic oil promotes hormonal balance and confidence.
  • Clary Sage (2 drop) – Clary Sage has notes of blooms in a spring garden and is very calming.
  • Lemon (2 drops) – Adding this will be perfect to help with and complement your spring cleaning!
  • Stress Away (2 drops) – Absolutely could not live without this one… it brings peace and tranquility, taking the stress away. This has been a saving grace for my adrenal issues!  It contains a soothing blend of copaiba, lime, cedarwood, vanilla, ocotea and lavender.
  • Variation: If you add lavender and remove lemon from this blend, it is perfect for bedtime relaxation anytime!

Summer BlendSummer:

  • Peace and Calming (2-3 drops) – This blend is amazing at uplifting spirits and creating emotional peace.  I also hear it’s great for crazy children home from school for the Summer! It contains Tangerine, Orange, Ylang Ylang, Patchouli and Blue Tansy.
  • Lemon (2 drops)
  • Tangerine (1 drop) – Promotes happiness and relaxation, helping with nervousness (maybe about putting that swimsuit on?)
  • Lime (1 drop) – Reminds me of sipping a margarita by the pool, this oil is great for clearing the respiratory system.

Source: Essential Oils Pocket Reference

For more information on essential oils and why I chose the Young Living brand, visit this page.

P.S. It’s important to be careful how you diffuse essential oils into the air because when you heat them, it destroys the healing compounds. I use a cool air diffuser that uses ultrasonic technology to mix the oil with water and disperse into the air. This atomizer activates the healing effects of the oils and allows the aromas to stay in the air for longer.  Plus, it’s also a humidifier so is great to put by your bed when you’re sick.  When you order a starter kit from Young Living, it comes with an amazing diffuser – read here for how to get started.

Diffusing Seasons