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Health for her

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, whatever your age. Rude Health magazine takes a look at the most common health issues that affect women at all stages of our lives and what natural options are available to us

Women in their teens and 20s - hormones not settled down yet

“In the teen years, hormonal changes can lead to difficulties such as acne and PMS,” says Sian Eustace of health store Healing Harvest in Kinvara, Co Galway. “Hormonal support can depend on whether the imbalance is due to dominance of oestrogen or progesterone. For oestrogen dominance symptoms include heavy and painful periods and breast pain – remedies including the herb agnus castus can be helpful. Progesterone dominance leads to lighter bleeds and longer cycles, low energy, low mood and low confidence. In this case, remedies containing soy isoflavones can help. These may be marketed to menopause but they can still be useful at this stage of life.

“Many teenagers opt for vegetarian or vegan diets which need careful consideration since plant-based diets don’t normally provide enough B12,” says Jill Bell of health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork. “The best plant-based foods for teens include seeds and nuts, legumes and fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C. Try nutritional yeast flakes which are high in B12 and have a cheesy nutty flavour. There are plenty of useful food supplements high in B vitamins and iron which are suitable for teens. If cramping is associated with periods, magnesium can help. Foods high in zinc aid skin healing as well as immunity.”

“Skin problems in teen years may not need hormonal remedies – if you have acne without the other symptoms of hormonal imbalance, think of supporting skin, liver and kidneys (the organs of elimination) with remedies such as nettle and dandelion and milk thistle,” says Sian Eustace.

“There are also lots of natural skincare products to cleanse and nourish the skin. Look for ingredients such as tea tree, witch hazel and white willow.”

Women in their 30s – fertility issue

“Stress affects many health issues, including fertility,” says Jill Bell.

“A good ‘clean’ diet is important for both partners aiming to conceive, with adequate zinc and vitamin E as well as folic acid. Complementary therapies, particularly acupuncture, can be very helpful, and there are several effective food supplement complexes specific to fertility.”

“In terms of supporting fertility, it is optimal for both members of the couple to prepare well in advance of actually trying to conceive,” says Sian Eustace. “There are now many supplements aimed at supporting this stage of life, however a good diet, rich in protein and good fats, and low in refined sugars is easily as important as a multivitamin. Having said this, it is important for the woman to take a folate supplement. Good quality fats such as avocados and cold pressed flax oil are particularly important for aiding with hormonal transit, and trans fats such as margarine should be avoided. Stress should be reduced as it is counter-productive in trying to conceive. Consider stress-supporting B vitamins as well as lifestyle changes such as taking up a yoga class or doing gentle exercise.”

Women in their 40s – juggling work, family and home

“Stress can become more of a problem in your 40s due to more responsibilities,” says Sian Eustace. “Stress can be addressed through remedies and lifestyle changes. Look at remedies with B vitamins which support the nervous system, magnesium or herbs such as oats, rhodiola, siberian ginseng, lemon balm or passionflower. There are many combination remedies that are designed for stress reduction and calming. Magnesium can be useful to help relax the muscles and comes in several forms, including bath salts. These products can be useful to aid with a more restful sleep. In terms of lifestyle, gentle exercise, yoga or mindfulness practice can help with stress reduction.”

“There are plenty of surveys showing that women bear an undue weight of responsibility in terms of running a home and child-rearing as well as income-earning, greatly exaggerated by Covid lockdowns,” says Jill Bell. “Women need to be kind to themselves for the benefit of the whole family, by eating well and doing their best to take adequate rest and exercise. Our favourite supplements are magnesium, l-theanine, vitamins B and C, passionflower, rhodiola and ashwagandha.”

Women in their 50s – menopause

Menopause can lead to many unwelcome symptoms such as fatigue, breast tenderness, irregular periods, hot flushes and mood swings.

“In terms of menopause, many of the same issues come up for teens and 20s,” says Sian Eustace. “It is useful to consider whether the symptoms are being caused by oestrogen or progesterone dominance and look at remedies accordingly. Products on the market combine food supplements, herbs, nutritional oils etc and are specifically aimed at this time of life. For overheating, such as hot flushes and night sweats, sage is an important remedy to consider and many women find that drinking cold sage tea can help with this without resorting to hormonal support remedies.”

“We recommend sage for hot flushes, soy isoflavones, or magnesium which can be useful at any stage of a woman’s life to support the muscular and nervous systems,” says Jill Bell.

You could also try:

  • Oestrogen-rich foods such as seeds and wholegrains and superfoods like maca powder to balance hormones.
  • Sage and vitamin E for hot flashes and sweating.
  • Herbal teas such as lemon balm to relax the overburdened mind and body.
  • A supplement designed for healthy bones to prepare you for the next stage in life.

Women who are over 60

“Some bone health issues need to be considered earlier than in your 60s, because weight-bearing exercise at a younger age will help defend against osteoporosis as calcium levels dwindle,” says Sian Eustace. “However, there are several supplements specifically aimed at supporting bone health containing minerals such as calcium, magnesium, boron and zinc, as well as vitamins D and K2. Joint health issues such as arthritis can be helped by reducing acid-forming foods in the diet. Anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric or ginger can be useful and can be taken as capsules. Nutritional oils can be useful to lubricate the joints, and supplements containing glucosamine sulphate have been shown to help rebuild connective tissue in the joints, although this takes time.”

For hair thinning and loss, which can be upsetting to many women, eat more foods containing biotin such as egg yolks, nuts and seeds, salmon and avocados, or take a supplement . Oestrogen levels which protect bones can decrease, causing osteoporosis in women. Try to eat foods rich in calcium such as milk, cheese and yogurts, fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna which are all rich in vitamin D, and vitamin rich-K foods such as dark green veg like kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts. Calcium, magnesium and vitamin D are bone-supporting supplements. Turmeric can be useful for inflamed joints.

Other supplements for women include:

  • CoQ10 – an antioxidant that plays a vital role in energy production and protects against cellular damage. As we age our levels in the body decrease.
  • Calcium and vitamin D – important for keeping bones strong and preventing osteoporosis. Vitamin D – aids the absorption of calcium.
  • Turmeric – a powerful anti-inflammatory which helps with aches, pains and stiffness.
  • Omega-3 – for joint health, brain health, mood and heart health.
  • Magnesium – for muscle function and also needed in bone health.
  • Probiotics – to keep good bacteria in our guts to help it work efficiently. Food sources include kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi.
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