With International Women’s Day on the horizon on the 8th of March, there’s no better time to talk about some serious health worries that us women can experience. Our experts share their advice on the most common women’s health troubles and the best ways to help manage these.
It’s that time of the month again…you feel tired and moody, your skin is breaking out, tummy is bloated and you are craving chocolate more than anything. Well, you’re not alone because it is estimated that PMS affects almost 90% of woman!
So, what exactly is PMS?
The term ‘Premenstrual syndrome’ is used to describe all symptoms that occur after the middle of your menstrual cycle and stop, almost as soon as your period arrives. The most common symptoms are mood swings, anxiety, bloating, acne, tiredness, weight gain, headaches, crying spells or depression and sugar and food cravings.
Women’s health expert and author of The Natural Health Bible for Women, Dr Marilyn Glenville explains, “What you eat is the foundation of your health and it is a crucial aspect of not only preventing, but also treating PMS. The most important dietary change you can make is to keep your blood-sugar levels steady: the higher your sugar intake (and caffeine) the more severe your symptoms are likely to be. Try to eat every three hours as this prevents your blood-sugar levels from dropping and stops the release of your stress hormones, which block the hormone progesterone in the second half of your cycle.”
Do you often feel bloated and dread the thought of squeezing into those high-waist jeans? It seems like us ladies can’t catch a break! Not only can we experience bloating due to a certain time of the month but new research has suggested that it takes, on average, 4 hours longer for women to digest food. Nutritionist Cassandra Barns explains, “According to gastroenterologist Dr Robynne Chutkan, there are various differences between men and women’s digestive systems. Women’s digestive tracts are slightly longer – around 10 cm. They also have a different shape than the male gut and have less space because of the room taken up by the reproductive organs including the uterus and ovaries. Higher levels of testosterone also keep the abdominal wall tighter in men. All these factors mean that bloating and constipation are more likely to occur in women.”
What exactly is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance that affects 5 to 10 per cent of women of reproductive age across the world, and results in irregular or absent periods, acne, excess body hair and weight gain. It is also a major cause of infertility and yet is frequently misdiagnosed and often missed completely.
“PCOS creates a vicious cycle of hormone imbalances, which has huge knock-on effects throughout the rest of your body. With PCOS, the problem often starts with the ovaries, which are unable to produce the hormones they should, and in the correct proportions. But linked to this is the very common problem of insulin resistance. Women with PCOS very often have difficulties with blood sugar levels which can cause weight gain and the excess insulin can stimulate your ovaries to produce yet more testosterone that can cause excess hair,” explains Cassandra.
It has been found that certain nutritional supplements containing resveratrol could help moderate the hormone imbalance that is one of the central features of PCOS. “Resveratrol can not only protect you from damaging free radicals, but it also boosts cell replication. I would recommend taking Natures Plus AgeLoss Rejuvabolic Complex (www.naturesplus.co.uk), which is packed full of resveratrol, vitamins, minerals and whole foods,” adds Cassandra.
It comes from nowhere and catches you off guard. Those feelings of being vulnerable, emotional, sad, tearful and sensitive may make it difficult to believe that it is supposed to be the happiest time of every woman’s life. Marilyn explains, “Crying and confusion are experienced by most women and are partly due to the hormone changes experienced during the labour and can also be connected to when the milk comes through. But for some 15% of women, this despair and tearfulness continues and develops into post-natal depression.”
First things first, make sure you find time to rest. Permanent sleep deprivation is the biggest cause of anxiety and low mood. Instead of catching up on all those chores that have piled up, try to coordinate your rest periods with your baby.
“You may need to ask for help with the housework and other chores so that you can have time to rest, sleep, eat properly and also spend time getting to know your baby. It is a good idea to get out the house on your own; it can feel quite overwhelming to suddenly have someone depending on you twenty-four hours a day. Giving birth may bring up unresolved emotional issues from the past that needs to be dealt with. Counselling may be very helpful if this has happened,” suggests Marilyn.
Women’s body confidence has become a constant rising issue around the globe, and it is found that UK women have one of the lowest body confidence scores in the world, with only 20% of us saying we like the way we look.
“The way we see and think of our bodies affects all aspects of our lives. Positive body image and self-confidence play a big role in our relationships, our work environments and the everyday activities we take part in such as exercising or going out with friends. When you see yourself positively and feel good in the body you’re in, it shows! It improves our interaction with other people and allows for us to reach new goals,” explains Nutritionist and Weight Loss Coach, Pippa Campbell.
Everyone is different and each body is unique, so this means that our diet and exercise plan is also unique to our own body. What may work for some, may not work for others. Find what works for your body by delving deeper into your DNA. Pippa runs a three-month Metabolic Balance programme that is 100% personalised and actively supports a person’s own biochemistry and nutritional needs (£890, www.pippacampbellhealth.com). To begin a blood sample is taken from the client, which is then analysed by medical experts, so that a customised and unique plan can be prepared. The programme aims to strengthen and balance your entire hormonal system, so that you are able to naturally manage weight loss specific to your body. “Metabolic Balance is a long-term approach to feeling and looking in peak health and is backed by 20 years of research by physicians and nutritionists, that has helped over 600,000 clients in 28 countries worldwide. The plan entails eating three meals a day of normal, wholesome foods,” explains Pippa.
“When my clients come to see me for the first time, they are often lacking body confidence. Being overweight makes them feel less confident, less energetic and in some cases, they can be feeling pretty low. It is incredibly rewarding to see my clients’ confidence grow as they lose weight and feel healthier. I love it when they tell me that they tried on a new dress in a shop and it was a size smaller and I love it when I see how happy they are and how much more energy they now have,” tells Pippa.
As infertility rates continue to climb, more and more experts are looking at nutritional deficiencies as a potential cause of delayed conception. Environmental toxins are also being reviewed as a possible cause. An accumulation of modern day issues are also linked including pesticides, plastics, petrochemical by-products and other synthetic oestrogen imitators. “Add to that the excess of hormones and hormone-like compounds we consume in everyday food, and humankind is suddenly on toxic overload. This toxic overload can affect ovulation in women, and can lower sperm count, sperm viability and the amount of seminal fluid produced in men,” explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Getting Pregnant Faster.
“I have found that if a couple embark upon a fertility boosting diet and lifestyle plan for three months before trying for a baby, then their chances of getting pregnant faster increase significantly. The operative word here is ‘couple’. Both the male and female must make the changes. They both need to participate fully as it is extremely important that both the female and the male take all of the steps to change their lifestyle,” adds Dr Glenville.
There is now a great deal of scientific knowledge about the use of nutritional supplements and their beneficial effects on both male and female fertility. Supplements are necessary because even with the best intentions, it is not easy to get sufficient nutrients from just the diet. “In the clinic I use two supplements which contain the most important nutrients for fertility. They are NHP’s Fertility Support for Women and Fertility Support for Men and are available from www.naturalhealthpractice.com,” suggests Dr Glenville.
Endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the body including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, inside the tummy and in or around the bladder or bowel.
Dr Glenville explains, “Endometriosis is a condition in which pain is the most debilitating symptom. It is oestrogen sensitive, so the aim is to control excess levels of this hormone. Make sure that you are eating a healthy diet and reduce your intake of saturated fat in foods like dairy as it increases levels of oestrogen. Reduce your intake of caffeine as studies show that women who drink more than two cups of coffee a day have an increased risk of endometriosis.”
“Certain nutrients can also help. The B vitamins enable your liver to detoxify oestrogen and can help with period pains. Magnesium can help ease pain and zinc is important for hormone balance. Essential fats contained in nuts and seeds can help produce beneficial prostaglandins that can ease period pain, endometrial cramps, and inflammation,” suggests Dr Glenville.