Achieving wellness naturally
Priyanka Gupta, ND
Need help achieving a healthy balance in your life? Discover effective natural remedies for some common women's health problems.
For the many women who juggle a career, home, and/or children, life is a balancing act. When we think about health, the word balance also comes to mind. Are our hormones in balance? Do we follow a balanced diet? How are we balancing our stress levels?
A balancing act
For women, health and wellness can be achieved through a variety of ways. Maintaining harmony between diet, exercise, supplementation, and when required, medication, provides the best solution to nearly all of women’s health concerns.
When we think about health in terms of balance, we can successfully overcome illness.
In 2002, the US National Institutes of Health released findings of the Women’s Health Initiative project—a large-scale study that suggested women on conventional hormone therapy such as Premarin were at greater risk for heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and other health problems. Many women turned to alternative health solutions for safer methods of combatting the changes associated with menopause.
Black cohosh extract
One such solution is black cohosh extract, which can provide effective relief of hot flashes. In a randomized, double-blind study, 304 postmenopausal women were given 8 mg per day of black cohosh extract or placebo. Researchers found that women given black cohosh experienced significant relief of hot flashes.
Phytoestrogens or soy isoflavones for menopausal symptoms also remain a popular choice for many women. Researchers in Taiwan reported that soy extracts helped lessen hot flashes and total cholesterol in menopausal women. Dietary sources of organic, non-GMO soy products, such as tofu and legumes, can contribute to soy intake. Supplements containing 70 mg of soy isoflavones can also provide effective relief.
Fibroids are benign tumors that grow in the smooth muscle cells of the uterus. A leading cause of hysterectomies, fibroids often lead to pain and unwanted bleeding. However, many health care practitioners agree that sometimes a hysterectomy can be avoided by exploring diet and lifestyle changes.
Fruits and vegetables
After assessing 22,583 premenopausal women, researchers found in 2011 that a high intake of fruit and vegetables led to a lower incidence of fibroids. The authors of the study suggested that a diet rich in carotenoids, folate, fibre, and vitamins A, C, and E conferred a protective effect against fibroids.
The symptom of pain associated with fibroids is often due to widespread inflammation in the uterus. The powerful anti-inflammatory spice curcumin, a major component of turmeric, can be particularly helpful in combatting pain due to fibroids. In 2011, Japanese researchers found that when taken daily, 2,000 mg of curcumin can provide potent anti-inflammatory benefits.
Characterized by the presence of uterine tissue outside of the uterus, endometriosis occurs in menstruating women of reproductive age. It is typically quite painful, and 30 to 50 percent of women who have endometriosis are infertile.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Although conventional treatments include oral contraceptive hormones and anti-inflammatory medications, omega-3 fatty acid intake may effectively lower the risk of endometriosis and overall pain.
A long-term study of more than 70,000 American nurses found that women who consumed the most omega-3 fatty acids were 22 percent less likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis than those who ate the least. Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids included fatty fish such as tuna and salmon, as well as walnuts and flaxseed.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women. Although the cause is uncertain, symptoms include high testosterone levels, which can lead to menstrual problems and infertility, along with high insulin levels, which can contribute to obesity.
In 2007, researchers in Italy studied the effects of a natural supplement called myo-inositol on 25 women with irregular menses due to PCOS. The women were given the supplement daily for six months. Eighty-eight percent of the women who were treated had at least one menstrual cycle, and of these, 72 percent continued ovulating normally. Forty percent of the women also became pregnant. A 2011 Italian double-blind study confirmed that myo-inositol decreases testosterone and increases insulin sensitivity, making it useful for the treatment of PCOS.
Interestingly, dietary changes can also be beneficial to women suffering with PCOS. Research suggests that a diet rich in fibre and low in refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sweets can help lower insulin levels and greatly improve symptoms associated with PCOS. Researchers also recommend increasing omega-3 and omega-9 intake and decreasing the intake of saturated fats and trans fats.
Infertility in women can be due to a complex number of underlying causes including endometriosis, ovulation disorders, PCOS, prescription drug use, or hormonal issues. In many women, natural health solutions alongside conventional in vitro fertilization offer an added assurance for conception.
Vitex agnus-castus, or chasteberry, has traditionally been used for fertility issues. Considered a master fertility herb, vitex regulates the pituitary gland, which in turn sends chemical signals to the ovaries promoting ovulation.
A study that examined the fertility effects of a vitex herbal extract involved 93 women who had tried unsuccessfully to conceive for up to 36 months. Fifty-three women were given 20 to 40 mg per day of the vitex extract and 40 were given a placebo. After three months, 26 percent of the women given vitex became pregnant compared to 10 percent in the placebo group.
A number of published studies reveal better outcomes when acupuncture is used concurrently with in vitro fertilization. Although many theories exist as to why acupuncture boosts fertility, Swedish researchers suggest that acupuncture can elicit a calming effect, thereby increasing blood flow to the ovaries and making fertilization successful.
With our busy lives, forgetting to take time for health and wellness can be easy. We often forgo healthy choices such as diet and exercise, which can quickly make us feel unwell. Maintaining a balance by making time for ourselves can keep us healthy and lessen the burden of many illnesses.
Supplements for women
Supplements are important at different stages of a woman’s life.
Iron helps menstruating women avoid an iron deficiency if their intake doesn’t keep up with their monthly losses.
Prenatal multivitamins reduce the risk of several birth defects in babies.
Calcium and vitamin D help to build bone density in younger women to prepare for bone loss during menopause.