Women’s health issues
Natural products provide gentler alternatives to drugs in dealing with women’s health concerns.
We will explore natural solutions for Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), Pregnancy, Lactation and Menopause symptoms.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Triggered by hormonal changes, the symptoms of PMS occur during the week preceding menstruation and include fatigue, insomnia, bloating, headache, depression, food cravings, aggression and mood swings.
One mineral of potential benefit to women with PMS is Calcium. “PMS is in fact a mineral deficiency syndrome. Most women with inadequate calcium intake who supplement with calcium experience an immediate cessation of symptoms, although it can take four to six weeks for the treatment to take effect” says Dr Susan Thys-Jacobs, M.D., an endocrinologist based at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York.
Dong Quai, also known as the female Ginseng, is the best-selling women’s herbal supplement in the world. Dong Quai means “return to health” in Chinese. It’s a reference to its ability to rejuvenate the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Dong Quai root acts to enrich blood, activate blood circulation, regulate menstruation, and relieve pain. Dong Quai extract is useful for menstrual problems, including cramps, abdominal pain and breast tenderness.
Supplementation with Borage oil, a rich source of the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid gamma linoleic acid (GLA), may be another means to quell PMS symptoms.
Pregnancy increases a woman’s need for nutrients to support the growing foetus as well as increased blood volume and other changes within her body. Multivitamins will help prevent deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals during pregnancy. For example, an iron deficiency anaemia often develops during pregnancy.
Another mineral vital to a healthy pregnancy is Calcium, the main building block of foetal bone. Insufficient intake of this mineral during pregnancy leads to resorption of maternal bones to supply calcium for the growing foetus and osteoporosis.
During pregnancy, a woman is at great risk for deficiency of Folic acid, or vitamin B9, as the developing foetus saps maternal reserves of the vitamin. Inadequate levels of folic acid during pregnancy increase the risk for flaws in the neural tube, the primitive precursor to the central nervous system. Such defects can include cleft palate, spina bifida and brain damage.
Omega-3 and Borage Oil (Omega-6) supplementation is also highly recommended as maternal essential fatty acid (EFA) status declines during pregnancy. Without an adequate supply of EFAs, brain, nervous system and eye development of the foetus may suffer.
Inadequate calcium intake during teenage years leads to poor bone mass later in life, while maintaining insufficient calcium levels during pregnancy and lactation prompts the body to raid endogenous calcium stores. Typically, female bones are also vulnerable during climacteric years, when unimpeded bone resorption can lead to osteoporosis. Several clinical trials support the value of calcium supplementation among females.
Pregnant women are particularly prone to yeast infections, caused by caused by microscopic fungi from the Candida family. Increased levels of oestrogen in expectant women cause an increase in vaginal sugars, the food of these fungi. Anecdotal evidence suggests supplementation with beneficial bacteria (probiotics) may inhibit yeast infections.
A nutrient-dense, varied maternal diet rich in DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids produces high-quality breast milk. Most lactating women cannot maintain adequate omega-3 EFA levels through diet alone. Supplementation with Fish oil is usually necessary to meet EFA requirements in breast-feeding women.
Dealing with Menopause Symptoms
As a woman grows older, her fertility declines. Typically, ovulation and menstruation cease during a woman’s 40s, marking the end of the childbearing years. During the transitional period between fertile and infertile, women typically experience symptoms caused by dramatic shifts in hormones, including hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness, diminished libido and loss of bone mass.
“Since allopathic treatments for menopausal symptoms have been linked with dangerous health conditions, many women turn to natural products to attenuate the symptoms of menopause”, according to Grace Ormstein, M.D., medical director and scientific advisor for Himalaya USA. “Recently, research has linked undesirable side effects such as breast cancer to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), causing women to seek out natural resources for relief,” she said. “Herbal formulations are a wonderful solution for women who are having a hard time with the changes associated with the different stages in a woman’s life but who do not want to take HRT.”
Several clinical trials suggest isoflavones—a class of phenolic compounds structurally similar to mammalian oestrogens— may attenuate certain symptoms of menopause.
Due to contraindications and side effects of traditional HRT, many women opt for supplementation with isoflavones to attenuate symptoms of menopause.
Red clover extract (Trifolium pretense) is a good source of isoflavones. Dutch researchers conducted a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial that demonstrated a decrease of 44 percent in the frequency of hot flashes.
Soy is a rich source of isoflavones. Another source of isoflavones is Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa). However, both Soy and Black Cohosh have been negatively linked to breast cancer.
Another herbal extract recommended for climacteric women is Dong Quai. In a study conducted at The Central Menopause Outpatient Clinic, Petah Tikva, Israel, postmenopausal women with hot flashes were randomized to receive a formulation of Dong Quai or placebo for 12 weeks. All women had a huge decrease in number and intensity of hot flashes from baseline to completion of treatment (90-96% versus 15-25%, respectively). There was also a significant alleviation of sleep disturbances and fatigue.