Written by Dr Anish Desai
Women and men share many similar health problems, but women have their own range of health issues too, which deserve special consideration. Women in different age groups experience various health problems including gynecological health and disorders such as menstruation and menstrual irregularities, urinary tract health, bacterial vaginosis, vaginitis, uterine fibroids. Pregnant women require pre-pregnancy care and prenatal care. Disorders related to infertility include uterine fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, and endometriosis. Adult women are also burdened with the risk of uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancer.
Education in the past few decades has ensured women are aware of the fact that they should be consuming essential nutrients in the right quantity. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals that have certain functions in the body. The type and amount of micronutrients change with age.
Nutraceuticals, which are products derived from food sources with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods, contain several ingredients that have multiple actions that can act together to provide health benefits. Nowadays, women are looking for ways to not only help manage symptoms but also protect their hearts and improve bone health. There is a need to generate more evidence for nutraceuticals for women’s health to support claims and health physicians in clinical decision-making.
Adolescence is a transition period between childhood and adulthood during which puberty sets in girls of 10-13 years of age. Good nutrition is needed to support physical growth and reproductive maturation during adolescence. Sometimes failure to consume an adequate diet at this time can result in delayed sexual maturation and delayed or retarded physical growth. Nutritional status and physical growth are dependent on one another such that optimal nutrition is a requisite for achieving full growth potential. Adolescent girls may benefit from multivitamins (A, B, C, D, E) minerals (zinc, calcium, phosphorous), healthy fats and proteins.
Premenstrual syndrome: Menstrual cramps are a very common ailment in premenopausal women experienced by approximately 50 per cent of women starting with first menses. Cramps can worsen in women with age due to hormone imbalance and other conditions associated, including uterine fibroids. Nutraceuticals have anti-inflammatory and smooth muscle relaxing properties. Owing to the presence of ginger, evening primrose, valerian, Dong Quai, Chasteberry and Black Haw, they could be used to treat menstrual disorders.
Poor intake of calcium, zinc and iron and other essential nutrients in teenagers is attributed to bad eating habits and sedentary lifestyle is common these days. Deficiency of essential micronutrients may result in low body mass index (BMI), weak bones or even infertility.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common bacterial infections in women, and women are 30 times more likely to develop UTIs compared with men. Most common nutraceuticals used to treat UTIs are cranberry and bearberry.
Endometriosis is a painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. It causes pelvic pain, irregular menses and maybe even infertility. Nutraceuticals such as garlic, curcumin, aloe vera, Resveratrol, Inositol, genistein, danshen and rosaceae may benefit in managing symptoms of endometriosis via multiple mechanisms.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) occurs due to hormonal imbalance and can affect women of any reproductive age. Women with PCOS suffer from irregular or prolonged periods, acne, weight gain, mood swings, excessive hair growth and risk of infertility. Nutritional supplementation may contribute to overcoming PCOS complications such as immature egg release, insulin levels, excess secretion of male hormones and anti-oxidative property. After undergoing many clinical trials, some of the nutraceuticals have shown beneficial effects on improving PCOS and fertility among women with no side effects and improved health benefits.
The requirement for micronutrients, which include vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, increases even more during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins have more of some nutrients that you need during pregnancy. Nutrients most important during pregnancy are folic acid, iron, calcium, magnesium, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), iodine and vitamin A, B6, B12, C and D. While prenatal vitamins aren’t meant to replace the healthy eating plan, they may help prevent nutritional gaps by providing extra micronutrients that are in high demand during pregnancy.
Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can severely impact quality of life as well as pose significant health risks for some women. Ginger has been used to relieve nausea associated with morning sickness. Inadequate milk production is the most common reported reason for stopping breastfeeding. A number of women have turned to nutraceuticals such as fenugreek and milk thistle to stimulate milk production.
Symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, can range from slightly annoying to life-altering. There is increasing evidence that adequate calcium intake reduces bone loss and the risk of fracture in postmenopausal women. Top essential nutraceutical supplements for women are calcium, fish oil, folic acid, vitamin B, vitamin D, co-enzyme Q10 and lutein. Menopausal symptoms can be managed with nutraceuticals such as pycogenol, melatonin, vitamin E, Black cohosh, valerian, red clover, soy, licorice, rhubarb, chasteberry and flaxseed.
Osteoporosis occurs after menopause due to low estrogen levels and bone density is lost at a much faster rate. Nutraceuticals that may protect against osteoporosis are vitamin D, calcium, red clover, soy, genistein and licorice.
Breast cancer prevention is especially important for postmenopausal women because risk increases with age. Many nutraceuticals that are used for women’s health are likely to have additional health beneficial effects, including antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and chemopreventive activities. Red clover, soy, humulus lupulus (Hops), milk thistle and angelica sinensis (Dong Quai) are being researched for use in preventing breast cancer.
The author is MD. FCP. PGDHEP director, Intellimed Healthcare Solutions and chief expert Medical and Scientific Advocacy Board, ENAC