I study connections among metabolism, reproduction, and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). My goal is to better understand these connections and, in the process, empower individuals to make more informed decisions about reproductive health, family life, and aging. I also aim to help individuals learn to ask and answer questions about their bodies by developing methods of participatory research.
Reproduction, Metabolism, and the Autonomic Nervous System
When am I going to ovulate?
I think I'm perimenopausal; how should I change my diet?
How do I match my training and food intake to my menstrual cycle?
Am I really pregnant?
Do I need 6 small meals, or two big ones?
It's been known for a long time that reproduction, metabolism, and the ANS are tightly coupled, but that knowledge has not been well translated into real world tools.
Reports of synchronized body temperature and ovulatory cycles, a stereotyped pattern of body temperature during human pregnancies, and of the disappearance of the ovulatory temperature pattern in menopause were published about 100 years ago. Further, variation of blood glucose with reproductive status was reported about 50 years ago.
These reports were made long before measurement of continuous of temperature, glucose, or reproductive hormones. They were released before the neural substrate governing either reproduction or metabolism was well described. Yet today, continuous body temperature, autonomic metrics (HR, HRV), and CGMs remain at the periphery of fertility and physiology monitoring. Despite wide adoption of wearable devices that can, with reasonable accuracy, capture timeseries of these metrics, an air of confusion and mistrust lingers when wearables & app-based tools are discussed as sources of reproductive & metabolic health information.
The ease of these metrics’ acquisition; their clear phenomenology when properly measured; and the intervening century of neural circuit mapping, neuroendocrinology, and network physiology research make a strong case for returning our focus to an essential question.
How much about female health can we infer from high-frequency timeseries of temperature, ANS, and metabolic output? More broadly, what does the phenomenological coupling among reproductive, metabolic, and autonomic outputs teach us about the interconnected regulation of physiological systems, when these systems have been largely interrogated independently? These questions drove me, since 2014, to learn how to detangle more subtle messages from familiar measurements. They can provide real-world tools for everyday individuals, researchers, clinicians and – I hope, further encourage the development of a network physiology mindset in our fields.
I hope that the proofs-of-concept here can encourage inclusion of diverse, real world populations in validating new tools. Most of all, I hope that participation in research can give agency to self-trackers of all ages, and help us see to see reproduction as broader than fertility: as a litmus test for overall health.
Research helped demystify my development and environment - and to help shape the changes I noticed for the better. I was inspired by renderings of physiologic and pathologic detail, writing on the concept of time and cyclicity, and the accord between musical and physiological structure.
I grew up in the countryside. Moving to the Berkeley for college was a jolt into a world in which people expected food, light, and performance at all hours; (this was especially so for friends interested in research and medicine! ). I also watched as friends tried to find forms of contraception that minimized side effects, as those who had delayed starting families struggled to get and stay pregnant, as family members took menopausal hormone replacement therapy, and as reproductive cancers crept into the circle of those I love. By my late teens, the interactions among timing, metabolism, stress, and reproductive health dominated life inside and outside the lab. I was shocked how few tools were available to help individuals identify health problems, ask questions, experiment, and find ways to improve.
As I learned about the impacts of stress, light at night, movement, and food on the body, as well as the great strides still to be made in understanding female physiology, I found something I didn't expect. There were tools at my disposal to answer personal questions that my doctors and textbooks couldn't answer. I was lucky to find wonderful mentors and friends in labs that focused on female physiology. Through the labs of Lance Kriegsfeld, Linda Wilbrecht, and Daniela Kaufer, work at Quantified Self, and collaboration with wearable companies, I learned the context through which I see the world today: rhythmic at multiple timescales, constantly changing in somewhat predictable ways, and deeply networked.
When not doing the things that occupy this site, I like to run, grow (and cook with) medicinal plants, speak sloppy French and mumble much sloppier Finnish, and follow my friends to new countries.