Women’s Healthcare

With the current media buzz surrounding hormone replacement therapy, thought it would be a good time to write about female health care issues. This is a vast subject, and I will not be able to cover all the conditions associated with women’s health care. I will address some of the main conditions and how lifestyle changes can affect a women’s balance and lead to a preventative approach to these issues. Through education of natural treatments for the symptoms and diseases related to hormonal and physiological imbalances, women can experience a better quality of life. Conventional approaches to women’s health have often been invasive and not very sensitive to a woman’s needs during her cycle changes. One example is how orthodox medicine deals with menopause, which is a natural process not a disease. Complimentary medicine offers a variety of therapies such as diet, nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathic approaches, TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), and Ayurveda. These approaches address a variety of symptoms from PMS, infertility, osteoporosis, fibroids, cysts, pregnancy to menopause and including diseases of the uterus, vagina, bladder and breasts. Currently, women’s health care amounts to two thirds of the U.S. annual medical bill; however, the medical research has been done predominantly on males. The Women’s Health Initiative, under the NIH (National Health Institute), began in 1993 assessing 150,000 women in studies dealing with osteoporosis, gynecological cancers, and cardiovascular disease. One reason for this is the alarming rate of older women dying of heart disease, which is higher than men. Premenstrual syndrome afflicts over 40% of all women during their reproductive years and can be easily remedied with lifestyle changes. There are over 1 million women taking synthetic estrogen or progesterone therapy. It’s time to become better educated. The myriad symptoms associated with a women’s cycle are due to the constant hormonal changes happening at different times in her life. These changes begin with puberty and continue through child bearing years and then to menopause. Maintaining this hormonal balance is critical to what type of symptoms, how severe and the duration of symptoms a woman will experience. So we need to understand how the hormonal cycle operates and what can be done to affect this balance in a positive way. Hormone production is a complex process that involves many facets. To begin with, the glandular system of the body is what controls the production of hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc.). The pituitary, thyroid, adrenals and ovaries are what produce these hormones in conjunction with specific vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. The liver is vital to hormonal balance and is often ignored. The liver tears down excess hormones from the blood and recycles them. If it cannot perform this function, many symptoms arise due to these excess hormones circulating in the bloodstream. Many hormone-related conditions are PMS, infertility, fibroids, breast or ovarian cancer, amenorhea, and menopause. Some of the symptoms are bloating, cramps, mood swings, sugar cravings, painful menstruation, lack of menses, excessive flow, hot flashes, and breast swelling. Let’s discuss some of the lifestyle changes and ways that a woman can work with her cycle and help alleviate some of these negative conditions. Diet is critically important. Foods that need to be restricted or eliminated are • High Fat – A high fat diet tends to increase estrogen production, especially refined fats • Animal Foods – Particularly dairy and egg products that are reproductive foods • Refined Sugars – Especially those found in carbonated beverages and chocolate • Artifical Sweetners – Aspartame • Caffeine – Has been shown to increase risk of fibroids and cysts formation • Sodium • Alcohol – Adversely affects liver function and robs the body of Vitamins A, B, and C • Chemical Additives   Begin to include in the diet:  
  • More whole grains – Brown rice, whole wheat, oats, millet, quinoa, etc.
  • Fresh Vegetables – 3-4 servings a day include variety of color
  • Fresh Fruits
  • Fermented Soybeans and Soy Products – Tofu, soymilk, tempeh. They contain phytoestrogens(explained later in article)
  • Nuts and Seeds – Flaxseed, pumpkin and sunflower
  • Essential Fatty Acids – Flax oil contains two essential fatty acids that aid liver function and provide the starting material for hormone production. It has also been the subject of numerous scientific studies with reducing fibroids and cysts. Evening primrose oil works in a similar way.
  • Water – At least 6-8 glasses a day.
  In addition to these dietary changes, a good nutritional supplement program will assure the proper nutrients for proper balance. Some of these include:
  • Calcium/magnesium – For good nerve and bone health
  • B Complex – Promotes nerve health and aids metabolic breakdown of fats and carbohydrates.
  • Vitamin A / Beta Carotene – Aids liver functions, improves immunity.
  • Folic Acid – Prevents neuro tube defects and aids in preventing anemia. Works with fat metabolism and lipid profile.
  • Vitamin C – For collagen production, immunity, and tissue building.
  • Vitamin E – Aids in hormone production, balances estrogen, used for repair processes.
  There are also many botanicals that can help alleviate many of the symptoms of cycle changes. Each condition requires a particular protocol for the use of herbals, and any good herbal manual will provide this information. I want to discuss the phyto (plant bases) estrogen and herbs that help promote more progesterone production in the body. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is the preferred treatment for many gynecological ailments, but there are many questions to the safety of this therapy. Many women have expressed that they don’t want to take synthetic hormones, so there are alternatives with a lot of research behind them that offer a different approach. Phytoestrogens are plants that contain substances that aid in the production of estrogen but are not estrogen themselves. They do have the ability to take up estrogen receptor sites as a preventive measure when there is too much estrogen production or the liver can’t tear down the excess. This action has been shown to be preventive in conditions where gynecological cancers are a concern. What plants contain these compounds? The following list will give you some that have been researched: Alfalfa, black cohosh, hops, fenugreek (tea and sprouts), red clover blossom, sarsaparilla, licorice root, angelica root and dong quai, and, of course, soy beans. Plants that aid in progesterone production are wild yam root, blue cohosh, motherwort, partridgeberry, red raspberry, and vitex (chasteberry). A good tonic tea that can be consumed on a daily basis is called Full Circle Tea and consists of dried herbs. Use 5 parts of Siberian ginseng and wild yam root, 3 parts hawthorn flower or berry (can substitute motherwort), 1 part licorice root, and 1 part sage leaf. To make, add 1/2 oz of mixture to 3-1/2 cups of boiling water and steep for 30 minutes. Drink one to three cups per day. Before beginning a natural approach to hormonal balance, it is important to know yourself and the issues you face. Check with a complimentary practitioner who is trained in these particular modalities mentioned. Read as much as you can about your condition so you can make better choices. Best of all adopt a positive lifestyle that is preventive in nature. Reference material for this article can be found in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christine Northrop, M.D., Herbal Remedies For Women and The Herbal Menopause Book by Amanda McQuade Crawford, and Exclusively Female: A Nutrition Guide For Better Menstrual Health by Linda Ojeda. Article by herbalist Dave Hawkins, MH, CNC
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