WOMEN’S HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Women are unique individuals with unique health needs and can respond differently than men to the same illness. Disparities may range from cause to symptoms and treatments. This article will look at 5 women’s health issues with tips for recognizing and managing them.
1. HEART DISEASE AND WOMEN’S HEALTH
While heart disease affects both men and women, symptoms for women are often different. Women tend to have smaller blood vessels and are more likely to develop blockages in smaller side vessels of the heart and not the major arteries common to coronary artery disease (CAD).
Therefore, they are less likely to experience chest pain and more often tend to exhibit nausea, fatigue, abdominal discomfort, and pain in their throat or neck. These atypical symptoms of heart disease can leave some women undiagnosed.
REDUCE YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE:
-Eat a more plant-based diet. Swap out meat for plant proteins such as legumes, soybeans, and edamame.
-Reduce your intake of saturated fats, such as red meat, whole milk and whole milk products, cheese, and coconut and palm oils.
-Substitute unsaturated fats including plant oils, avocados, and nuts.
-Eat more fresh foods. Limit highly processed foods such as deli meats, bakery products, packaged snacks and frozen dinners.
-Increase your intake of omega-3s including salmon, mackerel, legumes, flax seeds and walnuts. Get regular exercise.
2. CAREGIVER STRESS
Often, a woman’s health does not only matter to herself but also to her family as she is typically the primary caregiver. Women tend to put their family’s health before their own and are more likely to push through an illness than spend the day in bed. In a 2020 article in Healthcare, nine out of ten women admitted to trying their best to go into work even when not feeling well, and avoided calling in sick unless suffering from fever, vomiting, or the flu.
Caring for a family or an aging parent while juggling a job and social responsibilities can be very stressful. Long-term stress can cause or worsen high blood pressure and contribute to heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
TAKE THESE POSITIVE STEPS TO HELP LOWER STRESS:
-Schedule some alone time.
-Exercise. Regular exercise makes you feel better, elevates mood, and improves your ability to cope.
-Improve your nutrition. Don’t skip meals that can lead to fatigue. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Include lean meats, fish, and legumes. Foods high in B vitamins, such as whole grains, avocados, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereals may be beneficial in relieving stress.
-Get more sleep. Ideally, 7-8 hours of sleep is needed to feel well-rested.
-Ask for help from family and friends.
-Don’t feel guilty for saying “no”. Don’t over-fill your plate.
3. IRON DEFICIENCY ANEMIA AND WOMEN’S HEALTH
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body does not have enough iron to make or maintain a sufficient amount of healthy red blood cells. It is the most common type of anemia and is more prevalent in women than men.
Women who have heavy bleeding during menstruation are at a higher risk since they may lose more red blood cells than their bodies can replace. During pregnancy iron needs are increased to support the growth of the baby.
Women with endometriosis, have an increased risk of iron deficiency anemia. This is a condition where endometrial cells normally found inside the uterus begin to grow outside, causing heavy and often painful periods.
Iron deficiency can also be due to a diet low in iron, or poor iron absorption. Certain digestive diseases such as celiac or Crohn’s can reduce the ability of our body to absorb iron.
CHOOSE A DIET CONTAINING IRON-RICH FOODS, SUCH AS:
-Shellfish, including clams, oysters, and mussels; liver and other organ meats.
-Beans and legumes, including lentils and soybeans.
-Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, and kale.
-Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots.
-Iron-fortified cereals, breads, pasta, and quinoa.
-Nuts, such as cashews and almonds; pumpkin seeds
Vitamin C-rich foods, like oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, melons, and peppers, can improve the absorption of iron. Including these foods or juices along with a meal of iron-rich foods, helps your body better utilize iron.
Depression is a major cause of disability. According to the CDC, those aged 18-29 years old have the highest percentage of depression, and women are more likely to have symptoms of depression than men.
Symptoms of depression include:
-loss of interest
-increased or decreased appetite
-feelings of suicide
Depression can be due to a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors that can affect anyone. However, some types of depression, are unique to women.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is due to hormonal changes and may bring about feelings of depression. While the manifestations of PMS are usually mild, including irritability and poor mood, some women experience more severe depressive symptoms.
Menopause may bring about mood swings, weight gain, problems sleeping, and hot flashes. These uncomfortable symptoms leave some women feeling depressed.
Perinatal depression can affect a woman before or after the birth of a child. In addition to the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy, the additional challenges of morning sickness, fatigue, and loss of sleep can bring about or deepen a depression.
TREATMENT OF DEPRESSION:
Depression can be treated with psychotherapy and/or medication under the guidance of a medical doctor.
Eating a healthy diet can improve mood and increase overall well-being. Avoid skipping meals that may result in low blood sugar, and fatigue. Don’t eliminate whole food groups causing you to miss out on essential nutrients needed for bodily functions, and emotions.
Exercise increases endorphins, natural chemicals released by our bodies in response to stress or pain. Endorphins make us feel better and improve our mood. They also increase energy and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
5. OSTEOPOROSIS AND WOMEN’S HEALTH
Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become weak and brittle and are at an increased risk for fracture. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis because of their smaller and thinner bone structure and decreasing estrogen levels following menopause.
Women with eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia, those who are extremely thin, and those with lifelong diets poor in calcium, protein, and vitamin D have an increased risk.
HELP MAINTAIN STRONG BONES BY:
-Exercising 30 minutes per day 4-5 times per week. Ideally, exercises should be weight-bearing, such as walking or jogging and include stretching.
-Eat foods high in calcium, vitamin D, and protein such as yogurt, low fat milk and dairy products, and sardines. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables and fortified orange juice and cereals.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON WOMEN’S HEALTH
Being familiar with the symptoms of heart disease and how they may differ from men’s is essential for women in preventing serious events such as heart attack or stroke.
Learning to manage stress is key for women caregivers. Taking steps to ensure their own health is a necessary first step.
Recognizing the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, such as tiredness and weakness, should alert women to speak with a health care provider and consider a diet including foods rich in iron and vitamin C.
Identifying feelings of depression is the first step toward relieving them. Talking with your doctor, along with eating a healthy diet and getting exercise can help bolster mood.
Eating foods high in calcium, vitamin D, and protein in addition to weight-bearing exercises, are excellent ways to stave off osteoporosis.
If you have questions about a specific women’s health issue or want to know more about how diet and lifestyle changes can help you, make an appointment with one of our experienced registered dietitians, who can help devise an individualized plan for you. Call today at 240-449-3094.