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Women’s bodies can be complex and change significantly through life. Rude Health magazine looks at the most common health issues that affect women with expert advice on natural supports

Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)

“If you suffer from bloating drink plenty of water between meals and take probiotics to reduce the bloated feeling,” says Bernadette Cass from health store The Fruit N Nut Place in Portlaoise, Co Laois. “Vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil is used for painful breasts and you should benefit after taking them for three months. For balancing your mood B vitamins, probiotics, omega-3 and magnesium are all helpful.”

Urinary issues

“Issues with the urinary system are all about balance,” says Lorin Taylor at Licorice Healthfoods in Portumna, Co Galway. “Everything from antibiotic use, to hormonal imbalance and even how much sugar and processed foods we have in our diet can knock our naturally-occurring bacteria off balance and leave us open to infection. D-mannose is excellent at balancing pH levels.”

“These issues are very common with women of all ages,” says Bernadette Cass. “Remember to minimise sugar. Do not forget that includes alcohol like wine and also fruit. Eating garlic will help with candida and thrush. Kefir is a good source of good bacteria. Herbal teas like nettle, goldenrod and horsetail are ideal for the kidney and urinary system.”

“We have a lot of female customers who suffer with thrush, cystitis and UTIs,” says Angela McGlanaghey of health store Simple Simon in Donegal town. “This can be caused by over-consumption of alcohol to low immunity. Things that can make cystitis worse and should be avoided during a flare-up are caffeine, sugar and alcohol. We recommend pure cranberry juice with no added sugar and drinking plenty of water. Go to the toilet as often as you feel the urge to. A good probiotic can help, particularly one that is designed to reach and treat the urinary tract, not just the gut. If symptoms persist after a few days or you experience a lot of pain call your healthcare practitioner.”

Fertility issues

“Fertility is simple and also incredibly complex,” says Lorin Taylor. “What we eat is crucial – all of the additives, processed foods, medications, drinking and smoking, as well as stress and fatigue can have an impact on our hormone levels and fertility. Taking supplements that support hormone balance, such as vitamins D3, B6 and E can all help, and staying away from hormone-wrecking foods such as refined sugars and carbohydrates. Sleep is incredibly important as that’s when many of our hormones are made.”

“Specific nutrients for women at this time would be zinc and folate,” says Bernadette Cass. “Omega-3 essential fatty acids are important to include too. Eating nuts, seeds, oily fish regularly or supplementing with quality fish oils or seed oils is ideal.”

Add superfoods such as Irish seaweed and spirulina to both partners’ diets. Acupuncture can help with conception. Take a multivitamin with folic acid.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

“Probiotics are most important when dealing with IBS,” says Bernadette Cass. “Your main complaint will decide which to take. Is it diarrhoea or constipation? Is there gas? Charcoal capsules and fennel tea are good for this. Is it linked to your cycle? Keep a diary of foods and what time of the month these bouts occur. Is it stress related? If it is B vitamins, magnesium and herbs like oats and passionflower are recommended.”

Probiotic strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 can help digestive health issues.

Thyroid issues

“Two minerals that are used to support thyroid function are selenium and zinc,” says Bernadette Cass. “Kelp powder can be sprinkled onto your food or you can get kelp in tablet form. If your thyroid is overactive taking a good multivitamin and pear juice can help.”

Iodine-rich foods are seafood, eggs and potatoes. Iodine supplements like kelp and tyrosine can help in thyroid hormone production.

Hair thinning

“Stress, hormones, medication and time of year can be a reason people find their hair is thinning,” says Bernadette Cass. “Eating a well-balanced diet is important for general health. If it is stress or hormonally linked, I would recommend a B complex. Biotin is a B vitamin used to help with hair growth. Liver cleansing with herbs like milk thistle can help. Foods that contain sulphur like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions and garlic help support liver function. Dandelion tea can also help.”

Foods such as egg yolks, nuts and seeds, salmon and avocados contain biotin.


“Osteoporosis is caused by thinning of the bones which is more likely to happen as we age caused by the changing in our hormone levels,” says Lorin Taylor. “Just taking extra calcium doesn’t really have the improved results we need. I recommend supplementing with magnesium, vitamin D3 and most importantly K2 which builds calcium.

“Besides dairy, other sources of calcium are sardines and salmon with bones, kale, broccoli, figs and calcium-fortified cereals and breads, also seeds such as sesame. If you are taking a calcium supplement it’s worth remembering that it’s hard for the body to deal with more than about 500mg at a time, so split the doses if possible.”

“Aim is to reduce foods that are highly acid, such as coffee, fizzy drinks, foods like bacon, cheese and processed foods,” says Bernadette Cass. “Eat more green vegetables, almonds and sesame seeds.”

“Developing osteoporosis is directly associated with the availability of oestrogen,” says Dr Albertus Johannes Horak, Lecturer at the University of Johannesburg in Applied Phytotherapy, Herbal Pharmacy and Phytochemistry, who advises Phytoceutics. “Bone loss starts before cessation of the menstrual cycle and increases in post-menopausal years. To assist with absorption and preservation of calcium, vitamins D and K and magnesium supplements may be beneficial.

“Vitamin D helps in the absorption and use of calcium and phosphorus to maintain strong bones, and contributes to immune system function. Vitamin K contributes to bone maintenance and prevents loss of bone density. Magnesium slows down the loss of calcium, while improving the absorption of calcium from food.”

“Women over the age of 50 or postmenopausal women have the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis,” says Dr Paula Gaynor, nutritionist, food scientist and co-founder of Somega natural health supplements. “Menopause slows the production of the hormone oestrogen which protects against excessive bone loss. Vitamins D3 and K2 are key nutrients for maintaining bone health.”

Turmeric is useful for inflamed joints A diet rich in fish oil helps to lubricate joints.

Managing menopause

“About 8 in 10 women experience the symptoms of menopause,” says Dr Paula Gaynor. “Some of the common symptoms include irregular periods, hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, fatigue and lack of energy, low mood or anxiety, problems with memory or concentration, thinning hair and dry skin, and joint aches and pains.

“For women experiencing the symptoms of menopause, choosing high quality supplements of certain nutrients can help, in particular vitamin B complex, vitamin C and omega-3s. Vitamin B complex includes the eight B-vitamins, helps to boost energy levels and reduce tiredness and fatigue, supporting memory and concentration.

“Vitamin C is needed for serotonin production, which helps stabilise mood and anxiety and helps regulate sleep and wakefulness. It also supports the production of collagen for skin and joint health. Omega-3s support brain, heart and eye health and act as the skin’s internal moisturiser, helping combat dry skin. As a powerful anti-inflammatory, omega-3s help with joint health.”

“Fatigue, insomnia and changes in mood often accompany hormonal changes during menopause,” says Dr Horak. “Nervous system botanicals help the body to navigate physiological changes, bringing back balance and vitality. Physiological changes during menopause may increase the risk of developing liver disease. A healthy liver is imperative to perform its multiple vital functions, including detoxification. Milk thistle is probably the most studied natural liver tonic.”

“Hot flushes can be helped by using the herb sage,” says Bernadette Cass. “It helps to regulate your body temperature without affecting hormone levels. If women aren’t sleeping because of stress and anxiety magnesium would be really good to take an hour or so before bedtime. Magnesium also helps the absorption of calcium and vitamin D. If a person wanted to mimic their own hormones, soya products would be an option. Soya products are plant-based oestrogen which can help with hot flushes, night sweats and mood.”

“There is no one-fits-all supplement or regime that can help everyone, but there are few that I have found regularly help,” says Lorin Taylor. “Ashwagandha and B6 are the two most helpful I have found, for dealing with the stress and anxiety caused by hormonal changes.”

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