Women's Health: A Delicate Balance
According to statistics from the National Women's Health Information Center, women are highly interested and informed about health care issues, but are not as satisfied as mend with the information or the level of communication they receive from their health care providers. Additionally, several studies have found that, in comparison to men, women generally receive less thorough evaluations for complaints, less explanation in response to questions, and fewer interventions from the health care provider. In the face of such mainstream medical adversity, many women have turned to natural remedies for answers.
In fact, 40 percent of women increasingly believe they need supplements to ensure proper health and are 30 percent more likely than men to believe they need supplements. Part of this belief stems from dissatisfaction with the cost and quality of treatment experienced within the mainstream medical community. But increased knowledge and exposure to the benefits of natural remedies has also helped drive women's interest in the dietary supplement industry.
In addressing women's health, the first issues that come to mind are those of hormonal changes and reactions. For more than half of their lives, women face hormonal changes associated with myriad conditions including premenstrual syndrome (PMS), pregnancy and menopause.
The first significant hormonal hurdle women confront is menstruation. This transition into womanhood is often accompanied by PMS. Recent research reports estimate that as many as 50 percent of menstruating women in the United States suffer some degree of PMS. Vitamins and minerals, of course, can serve as the first line of defense against the onslaught of cramping and bloating. B6 particularly helps to clear water through a diuretic effect on the kidneys, while magnesium and calcium and critical in alleviating cramps, fatigue and irritability. Herbs such s dong quai and black cohosh also prove effective in normalizing female hormones and increasing vitality and energy, but they should be avoided by women in the first trimester of pregnancy.
In face, there are only a handful of herbs that are recommended for use by pregnant women. Among them are ginger and red raspberry to alleviate nausea and soothe the nervousness that usually accompanies pregnancy. Folic acid also is of paramount importance, as it can reduce the chances of neural tube defects -- a debilitating class of birth defects affecting the brain and spinal group.
While giving birth is often one of the most anticipated moments in a women's life, the same cannot always be said about the next stage in the life cycle - menopause. Although options abound for the menopausal woman, the growing number of reports connecting Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) with an increased risk of breast and uterine cancer have sent women searching for alternative therapies. Enter supplements such as dehydrodepiandrosterone (DHEA) and phytoestrogens.
The precursor of some 10 different steroidal hormones associated with youth, DHEA is the most abundant hormone made in the adrenal glands. In both men and women, the body's production of DHEA increases dramatically before puberty, peaks in the mid-20's, and then gradually begins to decline in the 30's. According to researchers, healthy women given DHEA rapidly convert it to estrogens, causing a 300 percent to 500 percent increase.
It is phytoestrogens, however, that are fast gaining market popularity among women interested in preserving bone density without also increasing their risk of breast cancer. Thanks to a host of clinical research supported by a number of media reports, soy has become one of the most popular sources of phytoestrogens. As of late, the soybean has been touted for its ability to: inhibit the growth of tumor cells; convert cancer cells back to normal cells; and block the entry of estrogen into breast cells, which helps prevent cancer. Research also indicates that soy isoflavones may protect against high levels of synthetic estrogen in the diet and may even prevent the metastasis of cancer cells. Additionally, soy's antioxidant properties can help with hormonal regulation, osteoporosis, cholesterol reduction and general immune support.
Although the stage of a woman's life dictates her individual health needs, antioxidants remain a critical component to every woman's dietary regimen, regardless of her age. In addition to their ability to quench free radicals, antioxidants reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as the occurrence of daily life ills such as cold and flu. Antioxidants also possess anti-cancer capabilities. Although vitamins A, C and E are immediately associated with the word "antioxidant," a host of new supplements are fast gaining name recognition as well. Among t hem, green tea extract, rosemary extract, pine bark extract, grape seed extract and alpha lipoic acid.
Certainly, the nutrients mentioned within this article are only a sample of the vitamins, mineral and herbs that have applications in promoting and maintaining women's health. And with the growing emphasis on research and education, there's no telling what other beneficial ingredients will come to light.