Today’s women are taking charge of their health, and working with natural practitioners to ensure their well-being.
Women face a number of health issues throughout their lives that evolve and change as they age. From PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and menopause to pregnancy and breast health, as they get older, the health concerns women focus on vary. Further, women today are taking control of their health by taking preventative measures such as staying active and seeking out natural solutions to ensure their well-being.
Women’s health has made tremendous strides in knowledge and resulting care. According to Blair Green, PT, DPT, OCS, PHC, founder of Catalyst Physical Therapy in Atlanta, GA and the co-author of Go Ahead Stop and Pee: Running During Pregnancy and Postpartum, in the last five years, there has been a tremendous growth in the research to support women’s health services.
“Although it is obvious, there are distinct biological differences between men and women,” and that can’t be forgotten, she emphasized. “For example, new research in cardiology shows that the physiology of male and female hearts are different. This affects how men and women respond to exercise, how the heart adapts to different demands and the types of exercise that each gender should consider to be of most benefit.”
Marianne Marchese, a naturopathic physician based in Phoenix, AZ and author of 8 Weeks to Women’s Health, explained that women’s health issues have always centered around balanced hormones. Recently, research has revealed and validated a link between the gut microbiome and women’s hormonal health—e.g., neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin and hormone balance. Neurotransmitter testing is readily available along with hormone tests. Treatments to balance the gut microbiome and neurotransmitters to address hormonal imbalances are evolving. “As health practitioners, we are also more focused on the mind-body connection and effects of stress on women’s health than ever before. Tests for adrenal, thyroid and ovarian function often reveal a link between the three,” she said, adding that she will prescribe treatments addressing stress, sleep and lifestyle for women’s health issues.
Although more women today are enjoying first-time motherhood in their 30s and even early 40s, the primary foci of women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond remain similar as recent generations.
According to Dr. Green, women in their 20s deal with issues such as fertility, pregnancy and postpartum. She believes the best thing a woman in this age group can do is to maintain a regular exercise program, which has numerous benefits especially for pregnancy. Women in their 30s deal with issues surrounding work-life balance, she said, which often is high stress due to demands and commitments. Women in their 40s and older commonly deal with issues surrounding menopause. “In general, adopting a healthy lifestyle at any age is the best way to minimize the effects of different health-related ailments on the body,” she commented.
Dr. Marchese asserted that no matter what stage of life a woman is in, her hormones play a significant role in her daily quality of life and health. For example, in adolescence or early adulthood, hormonal acne, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), menstrual cramps and PMS are common hormonally-induced conditions. Women in their 30s and 40s may experience changes in PMS symptoms that may include more intense cramping and menstrual migraines, development of ovarian cysts and fibroids and fertility issues—all hormonally driven. In the 40s and 50s, perimenopause or menopause are directly attributed to hormonal fluctuations. Post-menopausal women are concerned with breast cancer prevention and osteoporosis which are also influenced by estrogen.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, approximately 6,000 women in the United States enter menopause each day. Menopause and peri-menopause are as unique as the woman, meaning that no two times of menstruation cessation are exactly the same as far as symptoms and intensity of symptoms, when they start, how long they last. There are women who are still symptomatic years after their official menopause.
Another way of looking at it, is that more than 45 million women in the U.S. are in the process of menopause, according to Howard Payne, chief sales marketing officer, Texas-based Premier Research Labs. “A common feature of menopause is the gradual but undesirable reduction of the hormone, estradiol,” he explained. “During this biological process, many women may experience a range of uncomfortable issues including hot flashes and night sweats. Vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes or night sweats are common during menopause and may affect over 80 percent of women. Recent studies show that the average duration of these vasomotor symptoms is around 7.4 years. About 10 percent of women will have symptoms that last for as long as 12 years. For some, symptoms may persist even longer.”
Specific Issues at the Forefront
There are several more prominent issues in women’s health today than were discussed and/or resolved in previous generations.
In American Nurse (the journal of the American Nurses Association) Christina Tso, DNP, FNP-BC, CRP and Wah Lee, DO, MS in their Jan. 10, 2018 article, “Postmenopausal Women and Urinary Incontinence” wrote, “During menopause, the reduced estrogen levels create physiological changes that can include vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, hot flashes and/or night sweats, and lower urinary tract dysfunction, specifically, urinary incontinence (UI). Defined as involuntary urine leakage, UI can present as stress UI (SUI), urgency UI (UUI), or mixed UI (MUI). Many menopause symptoms can dramatically reduce a woman’s quality of life, impacting her social life, psychological health, sense of well-being and ability to function.”
“One of the key issues in women’s health that is rarely talked about is pelvic health,” stated Dr. Green. “Issues such as urinary and fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and pelvic pain affect more than half of women at some point in their lifetime.”
Relating to your clients/patients that the pelvic floor is comprised of muscles is important to helping women, and much of the research shows that for conditions such as urinary leakage and pelvic pain, physical therapy is a key intervention strategy, she stated, and perhaps should be considered as the first strategy. “Physical therapy for the pelvic floor helps women reduce the need for medications and/or surgery, is non-invasive and relatively inexpensive,” she explained.
In Dr. Marchese’s view, a key issue in women’s health today is endocrine-disrupting compounds. Women (and men), she said, are exposed to hormone-disrupting compounds through food, personal grooming products, plastics, air pollution, water and other lifestyle and environmental factors. In women, these compounds can alter estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid hormone, leading to conditions such as fibroids, breast cysts, endometriosis, PCOS, fibroadenomas and thyroid disorders. “The future of preventing and treating women’s health conditions centers on the physician’s understanding of the link between EDCs (endorine-disrupting chemicals) and health,” she declared.
Deeannah Seymour, CEO and founder of Tennessee-based pH-D Feminine Health, was motivated to create her products and company when she became dissatisfied with what she found was a lack of natural feminine hygiene and wellness solutions to common vaginal issues. She therefore developed and launched pH-D Feminine Health in 2014 with boric acid suppositories, now its best-seller. “Having spent two decades in the pharmaceutical industry, I wanted a natural solution that wouldn’t give rise to unwanted side-effects—and it had to be backed by research,” she related. “I examined hundreds of clinical studies on the use of boric acid vaginal suppositories to help with feminine issues and vaginal balance. I tried it with great success, but this ingredient was not commercially available and only available through compounding pharmacies.”
Seymour partnered with a holistic health care company, Tennesee-based Vireo Systems, to produce boric acid suppositories in the company’s FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)-registered facility using pharmaceutical-grade boric acid.
Somewhat relatedly, an issue arising during and after menopause that women are more comfortable speaking about and finding resolution for is a lower quality sex life due to physiological changes, according to Jason P. Edwards, CEO of Indiana-based Rebel Herbs. He cited statistics from a New England Journal of Medicine study involving 1,550 women (and 1,455 men) aged between 57 and 85 that found that 83 percent of women find it difficult to climax, 87 percent of women show a decrease (either minor or major) in sex drive, 71 percent of women have some sort of discomfort during sex, and 74 percent have vaginal dryness during sex.
The gut microbiome is also being shown to have links to women’s health, according to Mei Wei Wong, Sovereign Laboratories, Arizona. “While it’s the case that many menopausal women find themselves contemplating hormone replacement therapy, exciting new research is fueling our growing understanding of the gut microbiome and how these microorganisms can regulate gene transcription, translation and metabolic processes. Aging is associated with reduced microbial diversity and healthy aging correlates with increased microbial diversity,” she explained.
Wong elaborated that preventing intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut”) correlates with a healthy microbiome, which also helps promote hormone balance. Tight junctions in the gastrointestinal (GI) lining are essential to gut integrity. A leaky gut can create chronic inflammation and autoimmunity as the immune system attacks foreign that crosses into the bloodstream. “Bovine colostrum helps heal GI tissue and return permeability levels to normal. Along with healthy lifestyle behaviors, bovine colostrum supplementation is likely the best defense against potentially deleterious effects of advancing age in women,” she said.
Fempause, from Rebel Herbs, is designed to help women over 40 who are starting to experience menopausal symptoms, according to Edwards. “It contains pomegranate [and] is widely used for women’s health, and has a great deal of supporting evidence. Ashwagandha has research demonstrating a benefit for post-menopausal women in sexual desire, arousal and lubrication. Boerhavia diffusa is also used, it is known as the great rejuvenator in ayurveda. Tribulus is included and has been shown to improve vaginal dryness, desire, and anorgasmia.”
The company’s SensuMax is formulated for women age 16 to 40 to help maintain a healthy hormone balance. Low desire is an issue reported by about 36 percent of women in a 2008 study done by a private research group in North Carolina, he reported. But, he said, the larger issue they tend to face now is fatigue, as a study in 2011 showed among adults aged 18-44 years, women were nearly twice as likely as men to often feel very tired or exhausted.
The formula therefore includes ashwagandha, which regulates the stress response as well as improving sexual desire, arousal and lubrication, as well as reducing fatigue; Tribulus terrestris to help with desire, as well as anorgasmia and shatavari, which has an antioxytocic action. Edwards said, “By adding bacopa and Mucuna pruriens, our formulator is helping to calm the mind and increase l-DOPA. In one formula, we provide women with libido enhancement, balances hormones, calms menstrual cramps, improves orgasms and helps women feel calm and focused.”
Based on the success of pH-D, noted Seymour, the company has also launched several holistic products for women, including a menstrual support supplement that is an alternative to NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), a menopause support supplement with soy isoflavones and adaptogens, a Boric Acid Instant Vaginal Odor Rinse and a Holistic Feminine Deodorant Spray. “The Feminine Deodorant Spray contains a patented compound, Amezol, that is a natural antimicrobial that not only works to eliminate odor, but also prevent it from occurring,” she said.
Sovereign Laboratories’ PRO Colostrum-LD is particularly beneficial for every stage of a woman’s life, said Wong. Taken daily, liposomal bovine colostrum promotes healthy aging by providing growth factors (including IGF-1, IGF-2, TGF-α, TGF-β, EGF, FGF, PDGF and VEGF) that women (and men) “need to replenish and rejuvenate our bodies. These growth factors start to decline in our 202 and reach their lowest point in our 60s,” she noted.
Radiant Woman, from Premier Research Labs, is formulated to provide support for women’s health, vitality and sexual desire. Libifem, as Payne described, is as a
proprietary, patent-pending standardized fenugreek extract that has been clinically studied for its benefits to promote reduce symptoms of menopause (eg., hot flashes and night sweats) and promote healthy sexual desire. Historically, fenugreek seeds have been used support female health, including promoting sexual desire.
A 12-week, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial was conducted with healthy women (between the ages of 40 to 65 years) who were experiencing common symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats. The results showed reductions in menopausal symptoms in all sub-domains (vasomotor, psychosocial, physical and sexual). A second clinical trial studied 80 healthy women of menstruating age (ages 20 to 49 years) for eight weeks who were in stable relationships. The results of the study showed the effectiveness of Libifem in supporting healthy female sexual desire and experience.
Radiant Woman also features a clinically studied ingredient, LJ100 Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia), which has been extensively consumed for its sexual support qualities by Malaysian men and women, according to Payne. In women, LJ100 was also shown in a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study of 31 middle-aged women to enhance handgrip strength, flexibility, muscular endurance and muscle size gain in a training program.
California-based Metagenics, Inc. provides a variety of specific supplements for women’s health. Among them is ULtraFlora Women’s, a blend of probiotics (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1, Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14) taken orally to help maintain a healthy vaginal microflora and support urogenital health.
The company also offers Estrovera, a plant-derived menopausal hot flash relief with ERr731, which has been used safely and effectively for more than 20 years and is supported by clinical studies. Estrovera provides relief for multiple menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, irritability, anxiety and sexual problems. In several clinical studies, ER 731 showed an up to 83 percent reduction in hot flashes, reducing episodes from 12 to two in as little as 12 weeks. Life for women undulates, spikes, zooms but rarely slows down.
Healthy Take Aways:
• In the last five years, there has been a tremendous growth in the research to support women’s health services.
• Recently, research has revealed and validated a link between the gut microbiome and women’s hormonal health.
• More than 45 million women in the U.S. are in the process of menopause.
• Preventing intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut”) correlates with a healthy microbiome, which also helps promote hormone balance.
For More Information:
Metagenics, Inc., www.metagenics.com
pH-D Feminine Health, www.phdfemininehealth.com
Premier Research Labs, https://prlabs.com
Rebel Herbs, www.rebelherbs.com
Sovereign Laboratories, www.colostrumtherapy.com