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Women's health guide

Natural advice for the most common health issues women face

Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)

"The symptoms of PMS can vary from woman to woman," says nutritional therapist Liz O'Byrne who works with health store the Aloe Tree in Ennistymon, Co Clare. "These include depression, anxiety, insomnia, water retention and breast tenderness as well as 'mood swings'. As well as following a healthy balanced diet containing adequate quality protein, wholegrains, lots of fruit and vegetables and healthful fats, there are specific nutrients that have been shown to help alleviate these symptoms.

"Some women with PMS have been shown to reduce symptoms using a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 can be found in chickpeas, tuna and salmon. Magnesium can be found in leafy green vegetables as well as almonds and peanuts. Calcium has also been shown to alleviate bloating and fatigue caused by PMS. Calcium can be found in dairy products, sardines, seeds and leafy green vegetables.

"Essential fatty acids are a natural anti-inflammatory and can help ease symptoms. These are found in oily fish such as tuna and salmon as well as linseeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Taking regular exercise, getting adequate sleep and managing stress levels can benefit."

Other helpers:
• Agnus castus
for breakout skin and haywire hormones, can help with heavy periods.
• Evening primrose oil helps to stabilise hormones.
• Nettle or dandelion tea for water retention and bloating.
• Vitamin B6 and omega-3, -6 and -9 for PMS.

Urinary issues

"Urinary tract infections (UTIs) tend to be more common in women," says Liz O'Byrne. "Pelvic floor exercises may help with incontinence. Urinary tract infections can be painful and lead to symptoms such as needing to urinate frequently, pain whilst urinating, sudden urge to urinate and urine appearing cloudy and strong smelling. Drinking lots of water (to 'flush out' bacteria causing infection) and avoiding alcohol and caffeine can help. Also sugar-free cranberry juice and vitamin C have been known to help kidney infections. D-mannose is also very helpful as it can inhibit bacteria from adhering to the urothelium."

Other helpers:
• Citricidal (grapefruit extract)
has strong antifungal and antibacterial actions.
• Coconut, oregano and olive oil are fungal fighting foods.
• Echinacea will support your immune system to avoid getting UTIs.
• Probiotics will also help to replace the good bacteria and rebalance gut flora.

Fertility issues

"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."

"There are so many things that can cause fertility issues for women, but hormone imbalances are a common cause," says Liz O'Byrne. "Most conditions may be helped (along with other interventions) by making improvements to diet and lifestyle."

Other helpers:
• Acupuncture
can help with conception.
• A good fertility support with high dose fish oil, and a range of minerals and vitamins to support fertility.
• Add superfoods such as Irish seaweed and spirulina to both partners' diets.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

"Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects the digestive system causing symptoms such as cramping, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation," says Liz O'Byrne.

"IBS can sometimes occur for no obvious reason but people often find they have 'trigger foods'. Common trigger foods are alcohol, caffeine, spicy or fatty foods and stress. Most people are aware of their trigger foods and manage their diets by avoiding them. Some people benefit by eating more fibre and some benefit by keeping fibre to a minimum. Keeping a food diary is a great way of monitoring what foods are causing symptoms.

"Some people find that following a low fodmap diet greatly reduces symptoms. A low fodmap diet involves avoiding certain foods known to be triggers such as onions, garlic, apples and milk. Fennel, peppermint, aloe vera, chamomile and ginger can be helpful to relax the muscles of the gut and alleviate symptoms. Stress is more difficult to manage as stress can come and go in our lives but finding an activity or hobby that you enjoy doing can help us manage stress."

Other helpers:
• B vitamins, magnesium and herbs
like oats and passionflower can help if it is stress related.
• Charcoal capsules and fennel tea are good for excessive gas.
• Digestive enzymes help to break the food down easier and take pressure off the bowel.
• L-Glutamine is an amino acid which will help to repair the bowel wall.
• Probiotic strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 can help digestive health issues.

Thyroid issues

"Thyroid disease is more common in women than men and the issues are mostly autoimmune in nature," says Liz O'Byrne. "Symptoms of thyroid issues are fatigue, constipation, weight gain and goitre. Although diet may help to alleviate these symptoms (wholegrains and fruit and vegetables for constipation and weight gain), you may need to take medical advice. Nutrients we need for a healthy thyroid include iodine, selenium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin A. However, it's always best to consult a healthcare expert before taking individual nutrients. There are lots of thyroid support supplement 'blends' of nutrients that may be helpful which not only contain the above nutrients, but they also contain some useful herbs such as the adaptogenic herb liquorice root."

Other helpers:
• Iodine supplements
like kelp and tyrosine can help in thyroid hormone production. Iodine-rich foods are seafood, eggs and potatoes.
• Kelp powder can be sprinkled onto your food or you can get kelp in tablet form.


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 K-rich foods such as dark green vegetables like kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts.

Other helpers:
• Calcium, magnesium and vitamin D
are bone supporting supplements.
• Turmeric is useful for inflamed joints.

Managing menopause

"Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycle," says Liz O'Byrne. "Some women can experience hot flushes, difficulty sleeping and sometimes heart palpitations. As well as following a healthy balanced diet and taking regular exercise, there are some herbs that are known to help alleviate the symptoms that come with menopause. Black cohosh can help with hot flushes. Valerian or chamomile might help with sleep issues. Ginseng is known for its mood boosting qualities and may help improve quality of life during this time. Evening Primrose oil is well known for its role in balancing female hormones and helping alleviate symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes. Red clover contains isoflavones that are 'oestrogen mimickers' and can help ease symptoms as oestrogen levels go down. A nice blend of multiple herbs aimed at menopausal women would be a great option."

"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.

Hair thinning

"There are many reasons why a woman's hair can thin such as stress, thyroid disease, alopecia and hormones," says Liz O'Byrne. "Stress can cause the follicles to go into a resting phase as a result of the body going into 'survival mode', and therefore the hair strands fall out. A thyroid imbalance can affect the hair follicles. Reduced oestrogen in the body can lead to hair loss. So this is why perimenopausal women and menopausal women can experience hair thinning. Anaemia and a B12 deficiency can be other causes of hair loss.

"To encourage hair growth it's always important to eat a balanced diet with plenty of good quality protein and healthful fats. Exercise is also very helpful as it helps to increase blood circulation which will encourage new growth. And of course addressing stress in your life and reducing it if possible."

Other helpers:
• Biotin
is a B vitamin used to help with hair growth. Foods such as egg yolks, nuts and seeds, salmon and avocados contain biotin.
• Sulphur containing foods such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions and garlic help support liver function.
• Liver cleansing with herbs like milk thistle can help.

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