5 things nutritionists wish all women knew
Due to our chromosomes, hormones, basic biological functions, bone density and much more, there are some things every woman should understand and be aware of. Here are 5 things we want all women to know!
1. Menopausal brain fog is a thing, and it's not dementia
Brain fog is a common symptom in menopausal and post-menopausal women. It is due to the declining levels of oestrogen in the brain. Oestrogen causes your brain to use more glucose which supports its function. When the body’s oestrogen levels decline the brain may not use as much glucose and may not function as effectively, resulting in brain fog.
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This is very different to Alzheimer's and dementia which are due to the degeneration of the brain itself. Brain fog may also be triggered by omicron, or other covid variants, which should pass on its own after a few months.
There are natural ways to improve oestrogen-related brain fog including the consumption of phytoestrogen plant foods daily, plant-based menopause supplements and Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which can be discussed with your doctor.
2. Menstruating women need more iron
Iron is a nutrient that is needed for the oxygen carrying part of the red blood cells. Low iron intake ultimately leads to a deficiency in haemoglobin and therefore oxygen transportation around the body. Adequate intake of iron is especially important in menstruating women.
Some women lose a lot of iron through blood loss every month and this iron must be replaced through diet, or deficiency may occur. Menstruating women need around 14mg of iron per day to maintain a healthy supply in the body. Women who have particularly heavy menstruation may need more. Once the menopause is reached, iron requirements are lower.
There are plenty of plant-based iron sources including green leafy vegetables, some beans, chickpeas, black strap molasses, tofu, seeds and nuts. Women who are more prone to iron deficiency should consider taking a high quality daily iron supplement and remember, when taking an iron supplement, it should also contain vitamin C which increases absorption of iron by 10x.
3. Different contraceptive methods have different hormonal implications
There are a variety of contraceptives available for women. Unfortunately, the male contraceptive is slow in development, meaning their only option is a vasectomy and a condom. Otherwise, it is the woman who needs to use the contraception.
The majority of contraceptives are hormone based and although they are there to serve a purpose, they can come with some side effects and hormonal complications.
The contraceptive pill my contain oestrogen and progesterone, or just progesterone. Oestrogen can have a few side effects including gut symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, constipation and cramping. Oestrogen in contraceptives may also trigger migraines and weight gain or weight loss. Some women experience increased blood pressure while taking oestrogen-containing contraceptives. Other contraceptives that contain both oestrogen and progesterone include the patch and the ring. Contraceptives with oestrogen and progesterone can also have side effects including increased blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and gut issues.
Progesterone only contraceptives include the depo-provera injection, the intrauterine device (also known as the Marina coil), the contraceptive implant, the lovima pill, the hana pill, and the morning after pill. Progesterone only contraceptives also have a few side effects including headaches, nausea and vomiting as well as decreased or increased libido and in the long run may lower bone density.
Hormone free contraceptives include condoms and the hormone free IUD, also known as the Copper coil. Some women track their cycles to predict when ovulation might occur and use this information to avoid pregnancy. This method also includes taking your temperature each morning and tracking the position of your cervix.
If a woman decides to stop taking hormonal contraceptives it can take a while for the contraceptive to work their way out of the body. This can happen very quickly for some women, and they may become pregnant just from one missed pill, however some women may find that they are unable to get pregnant for several months after they stop taking contraceptives. Also be aware that hormonal contraceptives also slightly increase the risk of breast cancer - learn more in this article from Cancer Research UK: Does the contraceptive pill increase cancer risk?
4. Choline in pregnancy and importance of breastfeeding nutrients
Choline is a nutrient not often discussed with pregnant mothers, yet choline is an essential nutrient during pregnancy as it is needed for the development of the baby's brain. Choline works alongside other B vitamins and is needed for proper neurodevelopment. Choline is also important for the liver and may help the pregnant mother to process additional pregnancy hormones. Learn more in 'The benefits of Choline and where to find it'.
The quality of breast milk is only as good as the mother's diet. A breastfeeding mother needs around 500 extra calories per day to produce adequate breast milk for her infant. It is not only calories that a breastfeeding mother needs - her requirement for all nutrients also increases significantly in order to nourish her infant, so it's important to take a high quality pregnancy multinutrient.
Diet is also very important. A breastfeeding mother should eat enough good quality fats including Omega 3 fats, high quality omega 6 fats and a range of fatty, nutrient dense foods such as nuts, seeds, olives and avocados each day. The mother also needs to consume the right types of fibre to encourage the growth of probiotics which will then feed into the monther's breast milk for the infants own gut health and digestion.
5. Plan your diet and lifestyle to protect your bones and joints, before they become a problem
As women age, the levels of sex hormones decrease. This can have many health complications including a decrease in bone density, and an increased risk of osteoarthritis. Hormones begin to drop around the age of 40 in women, and even more so during the menopause phase, leading to an impact on the way the body retains bone mass, possibly leading to weaker bones, osteopenia and osteoporosis. It is important to consume the right nutrients to protect bones including enough Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Vitamin K, as these are essential for maintaining bone density. You can find all these in our Bone & Muscle Support formula.
Osteoarthritis can also be triggered by the drop in female sex hormones. Joints become worn more quickly leading to inflammation and pain. Dietary planning before these symptoms occur should include consuming curcumin from turmeric, a vegan omega 3 and vitamin D3 which have anti-inflammatory properties and can decrease inflammation and pain within the joints.
Taking part in the right type of exercise should be considered by all women. Gentle walking and swimming are best for the joints, and weight bearing exercise is best for bones. Dietary planning and lifestyle changes for joints should be done long before the menopause starts.
Learn more about women's health in these articles here:
- Why is testosterone important for women?
- Best supplements for women over 50
- Why is Iron so important, particularly for women?
- Mental health effects of menopause
- 8 unusual symptoms of the menopause
- 12 most common symptoms of menopause
- How to know if you’re starting menopause
- Menopause and Anxiety & Mood Swings
- What PMS type are you?
- What is period poo?
- The best pregnancy diet
- Why is Folic Acid so important in pregnancy?
- The benefits of Choline and where to find it
- Is it OK to go plant-based while pregnant?
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