Mary, tell us about your history as a practitioner and what led you to start Lily and Horn?
I have a doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese medicine. I have been practicing since 2007 and have specialized in Reproductive Health and Fertility since day one. I was pre-med in undergrad, worked in several medical schools in research labs, and have a deep love for Western Medicine. My career trajectory has leaned heavily on an integrative approach, helping patients find the most efficient path to their health and fertility goals, including working alongside MDs to help patients use the best of both medicines. I started Lily + Horn to pursue this integrative path with local doctors and have teamed up with IVF clinics in Manhattan to help patients reach their goals of having a family with less stress, improved health, and better outcomes.
What was your goal with Lily and Horn?
I wanted to bridge the gap between Eastern/Alternative medicine and mainstream Western medicine. The Eastern approach has traditionally been presented in very abstract terms that seem inaccessible and like Voodoo, so doctors struggle to trust it. Or the two systems have been portrayed as competing. I find, and studies show, that the two approaches work incredibly well together. Lily + Horn provides high quality holistic healthcare that is accessible to the modern busy New Yorker and can stand alone or work seamlessly alongside advanced medical technology and treatments. We use acupuncture along with customized diet, lifestyle, supplement and herbal formula plans to help patients reach their health goals and/or conceive.
How can acupuncture and supplements address health conditions and better support the fertility process?
Luckily, many studies have come out demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and targeted supplements for fertility and other health conditions. These tools have been in use for thousands of years, but it’s nice to have the context of a study to communicate with an MD about how a tool might help their patient. In our clinics, we have liquid herbal pharmacies where we create formulas that are unique for each patient and their goals. We also use high quality supplements that are backed by research. Our main focus is fertility so these tools can help enhance ovarian function, reduce inflammation (from endometriosis, pcos or systemic sources), regulate menstrual cycles, optimize hormone production, eliminate menstrual cramps and PMS, thicken the uterine lining, support embryo implantation, optimize egg quality, and improve sperm count, motility and morphology. While working with a patient, we are also optimizing their overall health including their digestion, skin, sleep quality, immune system, energy and mood.
How does a woman’s cycle in each stage of womanhood effect the health and appearance of their skin?
The skin is very reactive to hormonal changes. Puberty often coincides with acne as hormones affect oil gland production. Whenever oil gland production increases, especially if a person’s skin care routine is not working for them or exfoliating dead skin cells enough, acne can present. Acne during puberty typically smooths out over time as the body is incredibly capable of adjusting and getting back to homeostasis, but for some women, acne is something that sticks around or can be cyclical throughout the month. Changes in skin during the menstrual cycle can be an indicator for us that hormone balance might be sub-optimal, so we track changes in skin like this as we work with a patient to make sure our treatments are on track.
Estrogen, the main hormone produced throughout the menstrual cycle, helps nourish, moisten and plump the skin. Progesterone, a hormone released from the ovary after ovulation, can increase production of oil glands, which is why some women get acne or more oily skin in the week or two lead up to a period. Sometimes this is from estrogen and progesterone being out of balance, so getting these in better sync can reduce or prevent PMS acne. In women who ovulate monthly, both estrogen and progesterone drop about 10-12 days after ovulation if no pregnancy occurs. This signals the uterus to shed its lining in the form of a period. This drop in hormones also triggers our oil glands to increase production making us more prone to breakouts in the day or two before our periods.
Testosterone, a hormone that rises in women in the days leading up to ovulation, increases oil production as well, so some women are prone to breakouts mid cycle around ovulation. Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrom (PCOS) produce more testosterone in their ovaries. They also tend to have low estrogen levels. An increase in oil gland activity creates a likelihood of clogs pores. Women with PCOS often have a history of struggling with acne as well as long irregular cycles. They may also have thinning hair, excess body hair, and gain weight easily if they aren’t careful with carbs. Some may not ovulate or have periods at all, while others may ovulate sporadically. These women tend to go on birth control pills in their teens/early 20s to help treat acne/irregular periods and don’t get a proper diagnosis until they stop the pill to try to conceive. Acupuncture, herbs and supplements along with a more paleo style diet can be really helpful in managing PCOS, balancing these hormones, promoting regular ovulation and preventing acne. Having a proper skin routine to exfoliate and balance the skin is also crucial. We love Balance oil daily and Scrub mask twice a week from Linné for this population.
As women approach and experience menopause, estrogen production decreases and becomes more erratic. During this time, collagen production declines, and the skin can appear more wrinkled, loose, and dry. Inflammatory conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis can all flare during this time too. Skin care should shift to focusing on supporting collagen production, antioxidants to heal damaged skin, and deeper hydration. Acupuncture is excellent for boosting collagen production as are gua sha, consuming sources of collagen (bone broth, collagen peptides), foods high in vitamin C, ginseng, astragalus and other adaptogenic Chinese herbs, antioxidant sources like blueberries, pomegranates, and spinach, sources of retinol/Vitamin A like pumpkin, goji berries, sweet potatoes, carrots and liver (women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid high doses of Vitamin A and retinols). Light therapy can also stimulate collagen production. I would also recommend incorporating sources of Omega 3 fatty acids (from small fish, fish oil supplements, walnuts, chia seeds, flax), which helps balance oil production, moisten skin, and is anti-inflammatory. We love the deeply nourishing oils in Renew, Repair, and Smooth from Linné for this population.
What can we as women do to support our hormonal system and body as a whole?
Following a Mediterranean style diet that is low in processed foods, high in antioxidants, with protein and organic fruits or veggies at every meal is a great base diet. Limit alcohol, sugar, and caffeine. Explore the possibility of food sensitivities, especially dairy, which is the number one food allergen and can manifest subtly as a hidden trigger of acne in some women. Gluten, soy, corn, and nightshade veggies are also common food triggers that can cause eczema, psoriasis and rosacea. Getting regular exercise 3-4 times a week and staying hydrated with water and electrolytes is also helpful. If your cycles are irregular, short (<26 days), long (>32 days), super painful, or you experience disruptive PMS symptoms (breast tenderness, acne, big mood swings, depression, anxiety, migraines, sleep or digestive changes), your hormones are likely imbalanced and working with an acupuncturist for a few months will not only give your health a jumpstart, it will also teach you how to care for your unique body…knowledge you take with you the rest of your life!
What is one tip you have for women to help find body harmony?
Understand what motivates your self-care choices. At its root, Chinese medicine is a mind/body/spirit medicine, so we take all of these aspects of health into consideration when we work with our patients. You may know which diet or lifestyle is best for you but maybe aren’t making choices to move in that direction. Or maybe you follow things obsessively hoping it will bring you to a state of perfection that you never seem to reach, which creates a lot of self-judgement. Or maybe you aren’t sure what is best for you and are frustrated with all the opposing advice out there. We are fans of empowering, educating and helping people customized, accessible health plans and then create internal shifts to pursue them so the motivation behind their choices is that of self-care instead of criticism, judgement, or force. It makes each choice that much more powerful as it is loaded with love instead of judgement, which doesn’t feel good energetically. Sometimes will-power in the beginning is helpful to make changes that are hard or not as fun, but over time, healthy, lasting change comes from a desire to take care of ourselves. Starting your day with good food choices, movement, and mindful skin care can set the tone for the rest of the day!
Do you offer virtual consultations for those who cannot come into the office?
Yes! We have an online booking system through our website https://www.lilyandhorn.com
How does one’s skincare choices effect fertility?
When it comes to health and fertility, we often focus on what is going IN our body (food, supplements, hydration, medications), but our skin is exposed to thousands of chemicals daily, many of which can be toxic and negatively impact our health and fertility. Formaldehyde in nail polish, chemicals in cleaning products, BPA in containers, phthalates and other harsh chemicals in perfumes, lotions, and cosmetics can all be absorbed into your body and affect your hormones, egg quality and overall health. Avoiding these toxins may improve fertility over time. Retinol (a derivative of Vitamin A) is great for acne and aging skin, but it can cause damage to a developing fetus in high amounts, so it is crucial to limit your intake of Vitamin A to the recommended amount (up to 10,000 IU a day) and avoid using retinols in skin products just to be safe. This is one of the reasons we love the Linné product line, especially Renew serum, which is packed with antioxidants and collagen building compounds, without the dangerous toxins or retinols.