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Women first

Women’s lives include numerous physical changes including pregnancy and menopause. Rude Health asks the experts for advice plus the best foods and supplements for every age group

Teens and 20s
breakout skin, hormones not settled down yet

“A healthy diet high in B vitamins from meat, poultry, eggs and dairy is ideal, but many teens 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 all teens are legumes (pulses and lentils well soaked and cooked to reduce phytic acid which hinders mineral absorption), nuts (ideally soaked overnight to get rid of phytic acid), seeds, and fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C. A really useful addition to the diet is 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 – meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds etc – aid skin healing as well as immunity.”

“Acne can be an issue in your teenage years and into your 20s,” says Lucy Kerr of health store The Good Earth in Kilkenny. “Looking after your skin from the inside out is important and a diet that's getting adequate proteins, fats and carbohydrates is vital for skin health. Include plenty of fresh fruit and veg with an abundance of vitamins and minerals for skin health. Taking supplements can also help – some of the best for hormones are zinc, vitamin B6, magnesium, herbs such as maca and also omega-3 oil.”

thinking of starting a family

“Keeping your body in the best possible health while trying to conceive is really important,” says Lucy Kerr. “Trying to consume a nutrient-dense diet, limiting stress levels as much as possible and taking a good quality pre-natal folate are all important. Omega-3, found in oily fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, flaxseeds and hemp seeds is vital for healthy hormonal function and for a healthy reproductive system. CoQ10 is important for energy production, but also helps fertility and has been shown to be an important antioxidant in preserving egg quality. Zinc is vital for hormone and reproductive health and Vitamin E is an important antioxidant shown to increase fertility.”

“A good ‘clean’ diet is important for both partners aiming to conceive, with adequate intake of zinc and vitamin E, as well as folic acid,” says Jill Bell. “Stress affects many health issues, including fertility. Complementary therapies, particularly acupuncture, can be very successful for both physical and mental aspects, and there are several effective food supplement complexes specific to fertility.”

“During pregnancy, iron is essential for the transport of oxygen between the mother and the foetus,” says Nadine Walsh at the Natural Medicine Company who work with Floradix. “It’s important to give baby sufficient iron stores for those early weeks following the birth. It is also essential for foetal growth, particularly for normal brain development and to help prevent maternal anaemia. It can be difficult to absorb enough iron for you and your growing baby from a balanced diet alone. Following a balanced diet is challenging for some during pregnancy amid factors like nausea, cravings and general fatigue. I recommend a high quality liquid supplement containing organic iron gluconate, vitamins C and B, herbal extracts and fruit concentrates.”

working too hard and juggling work, family and home leads to stress

“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. There are some food supplements and herbs which can be very useful in coping with stress and anxiety. Our favourites are magnesium, l-theanine, vitamins B and C, passionflower, rhodiola and ashwagandha, agnus castus can be very useful in balancing hormones up to perimenopause and we often recommend acupuncture and massage from a skilled therapist.”

“When we are under chronic stress our body goes into fight or flight mode, over-producing cortisol which if not managed can lead to burnout or adrenal fatigue,” says Lucy Kerr.

“B complex vitamins are really important for our body's nervous system, especially B5 which is depleted when the adrenal glands are under stress. Magnesium helps to relieve anxiety, relax muscles and aid sleep quality, L-theanine is an amino acid found in green and matcha teas – it is shown to help with mental stress and relax you without making you drowsy. Adaptogen herbs such as ashwaganda or rhodiola help your body to balance and adapt to stress and anxiety. Omega-3 is really important for your nervous system.”

menopause, bringing major changes to a woman’s body

“Women can experience many symptoms during menopause from hot flushes, fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, sleep problems and dryness,” says Lucy Kerr. “Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, follow a balanced diet including plenty of protein carbohydrates and healthy fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, and also try to incorporate daily exercise like walking or yoga.

Seabuckthorn oil helps lubricate the body, helping ease any dryness. A vitamin B complex helps the nervous system and energy levels. Maca balances hormones. Sage helps to ease hot flushes and night sweats. Ashwagandha helps balance mood, fatigue and stress.”

“Take 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.

Older women
less oestrogen can lead to osteoporosis and aching bones

“It’s vital as we get older to keep our bodies nourished and try to keep as healthy as we can,” says Lucy Kerr. “Getting plenty of protein to help with decreasing muscle mass is important – good sources include tofu, eggs, fish and turkey. Fats and carbohydrates from unprocessed sources are also important. Collagen is an essential component in connective tissue, providing structure to much of the body including skin, tendons and ligaments. I would recommend taking collagen alongside vitamin C as they work together – bone broth is full of collagen.”

Other recommended supplements 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.

Did you know?

Sulforaphane is a natural plant compound derived from many cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli and broccoli sprouts (by far the highest source) and now available as a supplement.

This disease-fighting phytochemical enhances the body's natural detoxification process, protecting you from environmental threats in the air you breathe, the food you eat and the water you drink every day. You are constantly being exposed to a barrage of chemicals that don’t belong inside your body, and these chemicals can take a toll on your overall health and wellness if they’re not processed properly.

Research has shown that this compound also supports the body’s defence against oxidative stress and cell damage. Sulforaphane prevents common environmental toxins from damaging your DNA, proteins and lipids. Sulforaphane boosts the natural production of antioxidant enzymes that reduce oxidative stress, thereby acting indirectly as an antioxidant.

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