A Natural Approach to Common Health Risks for Women
By Eric Madrid MD
In this article:
Auto-immune conditions, anxiety, depression, heart disease, weak bones, and digestive challenges are common ailments that women around the world are at increased risk for. Making dietary and lifestyle changes can drastically help reduce that risk — and the long term complications, including chronic illness, they can pose to a woman and her overall quality of life.
We will discuss these common conditions and provide practical suggestions to help women optimize health. The following are common ailments that affect women.
Over the last century, auto-immune diseases have become more common. Many believe part of the reason may be due to use and overuse of antibiotics and their negative effect on beneficial gut bacteria, or microbiome. In essence, we may have traded some infectious diseases for auto-immune disease. An auto-immune condition occurs when the body’s immune system starts to attack specific parts of the body, in error.
Common autoimmune conditions include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and others.
Many specialists believe the problem arises as a result of the immune system becoming “confused”. When the immune system is functioning normally, it attacks harmful bacteria, fungus, viruses, or foreign proteins that it detects. This is called an immune response, and it’s what protects the body from infection. However, sometimes, the immune system makes a mistake and forms antibodies that end up attacking the body itself. This is when auto-immune conditions occur.
Many with auto-immune conditions have increased intestinal permeability, a condition commonly referred to as a leaky gut, which I’ve written about in more detail in a prior article. Optimizing your gut health is crucial not only in the prevention of leaky gut but also in the treatment of immune conditions the condition can lead to. Diet changes and avoidance of food triggers is extremely important.
Supplements to Restore Gut Integrity and Reduce Bodily Inflammation
- Boswellia: anti-inflammatory
- Magnesium: anti-inflammatory
- Probiotics: helps regulate the immune system
- L-glutamine: optimizes gut health
- Turmeric: anti-inflammatory
- Vitamin D: helps regulate the immune system
- Zinc: helps regulate the immune system
Anxiety affects tens of millions of women worldwide. Anxiety may present with any of a variety of signs and symptoms which makes day-to-day living a challenge for those affected. Symptoms of chronic anxiety may include insomnia, trouble concentrating, restlessness, persistent worry, and fatigue. During an acute anxiety or panic attack, one may have heart palpitations, muscle cramps, shortness of breath, and sometimes even chest pain or pressure. Frequently, a person may also have symptoms of depression along with anxiety.
Many people turn to prescription medications to help them get through their anxiety episodes. Commonly used anxiety medications include alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and diazepam (Valium). While helpful in the short-term, they may be associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, according to a 2014 study in the British Medical Journal. As a result, their use should be minimized or avoided altogether, if possible. Consult your doctor before changing your medication routine.
Other prescription medications which appear to be beneficial for chronic anxiety include selective serotonin Reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These include citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, among others. For the most part, these medications appear to have a good safety profile. However, some prefer to avoid these while others take them in conjunction with an herbal supplement or vitamin.
Natural Treatments for Anxiety
- Black cohosh
- Lemon balm
- Maca root
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- St. John’s Wort (Avoid taking with SSRI medication unless instructed to do so by a physician)
- Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D
Most who suffer from depression rarely seek appropriate treatment by a licensed healthcare profession. Those with depression frequently have difficulty sleeping, reduced interest in activities, feelings of guilt, low energy and trouble concentrating on tasks at hand. Depression may also result in moving slowly when performing tasks and sometimes, one may even have suicidal thoughts and ideas.
Consuming a healthy well-balanced diet is important for women who want to improve their mood, according to studies. Studies show regular exercise and time outdoors is also beneficial for a melancholy mood.
When depression is present, one should seek treatment from their personal physician. If a person is taking prescription medications for depression, adding supplements may provide a synergistic effect according to studies.
Common prescription medications for depression include citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, bupropion and others. Some may find a combination of two or three supplements work best, depending on individual needs.
Supplements Frequently taken for Depression
- Omega -3 fatty acids
- Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D
- Magnesium and Zinc
- SaME (S-Adenosyl methionine)
- Lemon balm
- St. John’s Wort (Do not take with prescription anti-depressant medications without consulting with your physician)
Worldwide, heart disease is an ailment which affects hundreds of millions of women. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women will die from heart disease or stroke. Traditionally, many assume men are more likely to be victims of heart disease but evidence shows that women are almost at equal risk. However, many doctors are slow to identify symptoms of heart disease in women as they may present differently than in men. The healthcare establishment is working hard to educate healthcare professionals to eliminate this discrepancy.
Like most diseases, prevention is the best approach. Simple behaviors such as not smoking, being physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight and consuming a balanced diet can be helpful. Controlling blood pressure and glucose levels is also paramount.
Heart-healthy Dietary Choices
- Coconut oil – ideal for cooking at high temperatures
- Dietary lignans – found in flaxseed, green tea and strawberries
- Green tea – good for the heart
- Fish – eat wild (not farm-raised) fish, but no more than once per week due to possible mercury contamination (low-mercury fish options include trout, whitefish, salmon, anchovies, and many more)
- Fruits – organic fresh fruits. 4 servings per day, minimum. Try to eat fruits in season. Low Sugar fruits include berries, strawberries and avocados
- Leafy green vegetables protect the vascular system
- Nuts – unsalted brazil nuts, pine nuts, almonds, cashews and walnuts. Nuts are rich in linoleic acid, a unique, healthy anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid
- Olive oil – high in oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid. Only cook with olive oil at low and medium temperatures
- Red meat and poultry – preferably grass-fed and hormone-free meat and free-range poultry
- Seeds – unsalted pumpkin, chia, and sunflower seeds
- Sesame oil (light) – acceptable for cooking at high temperatures
Supplements Which May Benefit the Heart
- Vitamin C and Vitamin D
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids such as fish oil or krill oil
- Co-Enzyme Q10
- Magnesium Chelate
- L-Arginine and L-Carnitine
For many, bones thin as one gets older. However, there are things that can be done to help ensure bones remain strong and reduce a person’s chance of breaking a bone as one ages.
Osteoporosis affects more than 75 million people in Japan, Europe and the United States and is estimated to affect more than 200 million people worldwide. Before a person develops osteoporosis, they have a condition called osteopenia where the bones are thinner than normal but not as thin as those with osteoporosis. Women are at increased risk when compared to men.
Medications such as acid reducers (omeprazole, pantoprazole, etc.), steroids (prednisone, solu-medrol) and certain seizure medications also can reduce bone strength.
Supplements for Bone Health
In addition to a balanced diet and routine exercise, the following supplements are good for bone health.
IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects women more so than men. Irritable Bowel Syndromes is characterized by abdominal pain, change in bowel movements, cramping, bloating and gas related pain. Chronic fatigue, Leaky gut and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO is also frequently present. Many sufferers may have symptoms of constipation, diarrhea or a combination of the two.
Those with IBS frequently have a leaky gut and multiple food sensitivities. It is important that a person with IBS be evaluated by a specialist to ensure a more serious underlying condition is not present. Those with IBS frequently improve when the offending food trigger is avoided. This is called an elimination diet. It is helpful to eliminate certain foods for a few weeks to see if your symptoms improve. If no difference is noticed, then re-introduce the food back into the diet. If eliminating possible triggers is not sufficient, probiotics and digestive enzymes may be of benefit.
Diet Recommendations for IBS
- Eliminate Dairy (lactose and casein may cause irritation)
- Eliminate wheat and gluten containing products
- Consider a Low FODMAP diet
- Avoid artificial sweeteners
Supplements which may help those with IBS
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- Masoumi SZ, Kazemi F, Tavakolian S, et al. Effect of Citalopram in Combination with Omega-3 on Depression in Post-menopausal Women: A Triple Blind Randomized Controlled Trial. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016;10(10):QC01–QC05. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2016/19487.8597
- Journal of The American College of Nutrition 2017, Vol 36. Mp 6. 434-441 Association between Urinary Phytoestrogens and CRP in the Continuous National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
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