This is a collection of women’s health posts I created for Women’s Health Week 2022 (5-11th September). I find that many issues that women face with regards to health are either ignored, not taken seriously or they are given what I like to call the ‘hysterical woman diagnosis’. Unfortunately, today’s health system is set up for pill dispensing only and does not take into account the subtle issues that may be having an effect on the wellbeing for women on a long-term basis.
NATURAL PERIOD PAIN RELIEF
Day 1: Let’s start with periods. Periods should be regular. Periods should be pain free. Periods should not be unmanageably heavy. You shouldn’t feel like a bloated, emotional psychopath on the lead up to periods. Periods should happen without too much bother. How many of you can say that is the case? I see many women with dysfunctional menstrual cycles. Some even find them debilitating. Very painful conditions such as endometriosis can take an average of 7 years to get properly diagnosed. That is 7 years of monthly misery before something is done about it. There is a perception amongst many medical professionals that painful periods are ‘normal’. They are not. If you are popping several painkillers and going through pads or tampons every hour or so then there is a problem. If your doctor or specialist won’t listen to you, find one who will. There are many amazing women’s health doctors, specialists and natural health practitioners out there who will take you seriously. Don’t settle for being ignored or your health issues discounted. Demand action until you are happy that everything is being done.
From a natural therapies point of view. Here are some of the factors that can affect your menstrual cycles:
- Excess refined sugar in the diet
- Excess alcohol intake
- Lack of protein in the diet
- Food sensitivities – gluten is the big one here
- Eating the wrong diet for your body type
- Insulin resistance and excess body fat
- Stress and ‘too busy’ syndrome – probably the greatest influence on hormones
- Lack of or too much exercise
- Gut microbiome issues
- Lack of sleep
- Endometriosis and PCOS
As you can see there are many health, diet and lifestyle factors that can be affecting your menstrual cycles.
I am loving that a younger generation of women are appearing and smashing the stigma around our periods. For years, we have had to hide them or soldier on through pain and various other symptoms. They are a monthly part of life and we should be able to talk about them freely. Let’s keep the conversation going.
It’s day 2 of Women’s Health Week and today we are going to talk about the vaginal microbiome. Most people are aware of the gut microbiome but our whole body is covered in bacteria and yeasts including our nasal passages, mouth, ears and vagina. The vaginal microbiome is made up of predominantly lactobacillus bacteria which specialise in lactic acid fermentation and keep the pH of the vagina acidic. The acidity of the vagina is what keeps invading bacteria and yeasts at bay. A healthy female vaginal microbiome should have a pH of around 3.8-4.5. The predominant lactobacillus bacteria responsible for this acidity are L. crispatus, L. gasseri, L inders and L. jensenii. However, when this acidity is thrown off track for any reason it can encourage other pathogenic bacteria to grow such as:
- Gardnerella vaginalis
- Mycoplasma hominis
- Prevotella spp
- Mobiluncus spp
Invasion by these pathogens cause a condition called bacterial vaginosis.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:
- Thin, gray, white or green vaginal discharge
- Foul-smelling fishy vaginal odour
- Vaginal ithing
- Burning during urination
The delicate balance in the vagina can be influenced by external factors such as:
- Semen and the sex act itself causing abrasion
- Using perfumed products and douching
- Antibiotic treatment
- Diet and lifestyle
- Low vitamin D
- African and Hispanic ethnicity
The health of the gut microbiome and diet and lifestyle factors can play a major role in the occurrence of vaginosis. If you have recurring gut issues this can be playing a part in the dysfunction in the vaginal microbiome. If you are living on a diet of junk food, sugar and/or alcohol, you may be driving a dysfunction mix of bacteria in the gut and vagina. I offer microbiome testing as a way to get to the bottom of any gut health issues my clients have.
Many of my bacterial vaginosis clients have been treated with several rounds of antibiotics. Some do not see long term success and the problem keeps reoccurring. Multiple rounds of antibiotics may make the condition worse. Every round of antibiotics will have an adverse effect on the microbiome as a whole – gut and vagina. Therefore, when I am working with clients with bacterial vaginosis or yeast overgrowths such as candida I focus on the following:
- Make sure the vaginal acidity is optimal
- Repopulate the vagina with beneficial gut bugs (oral and vaginal probiotics)
- Make sure the gut microbiome is happy via diet and lifestyle changes
Working on this condition via a holistic perspective can make a massive difference and solve the problem on a long term basis.
HOW TO CURB SUGAR CRAVINGS
It’s day 3 of Women’s Health Week and today we are talking about sugar cravings. Some of my clients have out of control sugar cravings and find that they are consistently heading for sugary snacks, especially at night. The biggest factor I find that drives sugar cravings is a lack of protein in the diet throughout the day. I find that most people eat plenty of protein such as a lump of meat or fish with dinner. However, protein in breakfast or lunch can be very little or non-existent. Generally, if protein is low, you are over-compensating with other macros such as carbohydrates. For example, 2 slices of toast or a commercial cereal in the morning followed by a sandwich or a plate of pasta for lunch is protein deficient and will drive blood sugar spikes and troughs. This leads to your body’s need for extra nutrition in the evening to make up for what was lost during the day. I always focus on protein in every meal with my sugar craving clients and their sugar urges generally disappear in a week or 2.
Another factor that can drive sugar cravings is the state of your gut microbiome. A high refined sugar diet feeds certain bacteria and yeasts in your gut. Beneficial bacteria love fresh fruit and vegetables. Pathogenic bacteria love sugar and junk. If you have a high percentage of sugar lovers in your gut, they will signal your brain asking for more sugar. How do we rectify this? We starve the little critters out. Take out all of the refined sugars for a week or 2 and eat lots of fruit and vegetables. It is amazing how quickly the microbiome can change.
You don’t have to put up with sugar cravings. Some simple changes can rectify the issue quite quickly.
NUTRITION FOR HASHIMOTO’S THYROIDITIS
It’s day 4 of Women’s Health Week and today we are talking about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is an autoimmune condition whereby antibodies attack the thyroid and eventually destroy it. This condition is not exclusively linked to women, but it is 4-10 times more likely to occur in women than men and 7.5% of women in Australia are affected by it. I see many clients with hypothyroidism (too low thyroid) linked to Hashimoto’s as many of my clients are menopausal women, and the occurrence of this condition increases as we age. There is also a strong family link so if your mum, grandmother or other family member had it then you are more likely develop the antibodies. Thyroid antibodies are not something that most medical professionals usually check. They will check thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and maybe T3 or T4 (thyroid hormone levels) but not antibodies. Medicare in Australia does not allow them to do this type of testing unless there is a history of antibodies, but how are you supposed to find out in the first place? However, it is extremely important to know if the antibodies are there. TSH, T3 and T4 can be normal for years before the antibody attack on the thyroid become obvious. By that time, it may be too late and the person may be on thyroid hormone replacement for life. Once you’re on replacement, it is very challenging to get you back off.
There is a perception amongst medical professionals that nothing can be done about thyroid antibodies, and you just have to wait until you see changes in TSH before providing replacement. This is not the case. You can take antibody levels down to normal levels via diet and lifestyle changes. The gut is the key when it comes to autoimmunity. A leaky dysfunctional gut will allow food molecules and endotoxins into the blood stream, the immune system becomes confused and starts attacking body parts. There are many factors that may drive leaky gut such as gluten, food allergies and sensitivities, toxin exposure, alcohol, unhealthy diet, stress, antibiotic use, antacids, anti inflammatories etc. Working on these factors may take all of the antibodies away and save you a lifetime of hormone replacement.
Many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism can precede a wacky TSH level. An antibody attack on it’s own can drive symptoms such as:
- Menstrual irregularities
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling cold all of the time
- Inflammation in the body
- Lack of resilience
If you feel that there may be an issue with your thyroid or you have a strong family history of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis then make sure you get your antibodies checked. If your doctor is unable to cover on Medicare then ask for them to be done privately. It may be worth the investment.
HOW TO GET RID OF CANDIDA
It is Day 5 of Women’s Health Week and today we are talking about Candida (also known as vaginal thrush). Candida is a yeast that can be found in the vaginas of most women. At normal levels, it shouldn’t be symptomatic but if something comes along that upsets the balance of the vaginal or gut microbiome such as a round of antibiotics, going on the contraceptive pill or high stress levels, then it can multiply and cause massive issues. A candida overgrowth in the gut can cause a leaky gut that allows toxins from the yeast to pass into the blood stream. This can cause symptoms on a systemic level such as:
- Vaginal thrush – an itchy, red vagina and cottage cheese like discharge
- Recurrent UTIs
- Digestive issues
- Sinus infections
- Skin and nail fungal infections
- Inflammation and joint pain
Candida is a yeast and loves sugar! I ask my candida clients to follow a low sugar diet for 4-6 weeks. Here are some of the guidelines.
- Remove all foods with refined sugars such as cakes, cereals, cookies, lollies, chocolate etc.
- Remove all gluten containing foods from the diet (gluten exacerbates leaky gut).
- Remove all dairy products from your diet such as milk, cream, ice cream, yoghurt, cheese etc.
- Remove all fruits from your diet apart from lemons and limes.
- Remove all starchy below ground vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, parsnip etc.
- Remove all legumes from the diet – beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas etc.
- Remove all grains from the diet – wheat, barley, rye, quinoa, rice, buckwheat etc.
- A good serve of protein with every meal. Spread your protein out evenly throughout the day.
- Half a plate of mixed above-ground vegetables with every meal.
- A serve of healthy fats with every meal.
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Coconut oil
- Remove alcohol completely from the diet.
- Drink 2L of water per day.
- Add fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi to your diet. Avoid fermented dairy foods for now.
As this diet is very restrictive, I always recommend my clients work closely with myself to make sure they get all the vitamins and minerals their body needs throughout the 4-6 week diet.
There are also various supplements I can use to manipulate the microbiome back to a healthier mix. The diet can be quite challenging but very much worth it on a long term basis. You can get rid of the candida forever.
HOW TO OVERCOME STRESS
It is day 6 of Women’s Health Week and today we are talking about stress. Stress is one of the lifestyle factors that can have the biggest impact on your health. Stress comes in many forms. It can be major life stresses such as divorce, death in the family, bankruptcy etc. but it can also be mindset driven stress such as people pleasing, perfectionism, fear of failure, ‘too busy’ syndrome, inability to relax etc. Whether it is life stresses or personality driven, it drives the same physiological response. ‘Too busy’ syndrome is something I have named for the woman that is too busy for everything! Too busy to eat well. Too busy to exercise. Too busy to get bloods from the doctor’ etc. Either this person is supremely over scheduled, or they are using their schedule to avoid making the hard changes that they need to make. Overwhelm is real and can have a major effect on your ability to live and eat well. Over scheduled and stressed women frequently turn to stimulants such as wine, coffee, sugar etc to get them through. A perpetual cycle of dysfunction.
I ask many of my clients to look at their schedules and to start dealing with a lifetime of dysfunctional mindsets such as people pleasing and perfectionism to achieve long term health success. Many of you may have been pushing hard for years and are struggling to get off the hamster wheel. Start by looking at little ways you can find some more time to focus on health and wellness. This often involves the ‘big’ decisions like leaving a job, walking away from a relationship or toxic friendship or asking your family for more help. It’s not easy but the long term benefits will help you live a long and healthy life.
PRACTICING SELF LOVE
It is day 7 of Women’s Health Week and today we are talking about focusing on you!
I see many middle aged women in my clinic who have lost their zest for life. They have spent years looking after their family and putting their own needs to the side. Then boom! – their kids are hitting 20 and they are tired, not in the best of health and wondering what to do with themselves. Never lose sight of your passions and dreams. If you have no idea what your passions and dreams are then use tools such as vision boards or life coaches to get you on track. Set an example to your family by making your health number 1 priority. Kids do what you do they don’t do what you say! Make sure that you factor in some me time and set good boundaries, so you are not over scheduled and unable to cope.
Many clients say to me that they don’t have time to work on diet and exercise. That’s basically saying I have no time to be healthy! Personally, I have been working on self-development for decades and it is something I am very passionate about doing. Health and vitality are very important to me, and I hope they are important to you too. Take small steps today towards a healthy and more fulfilled you.
Thank you for celebrating Women’s Health Week 2022 with me! I have loved heaving these much-needed discussions around the health issues affecting so many women on a day to day basis. I would love to hear your comments or experiences around women’s health, so feel free to send me an email or message me on Facebook or Instagram.