Read our expert advice to get to the root of your problems
As women, our bodies are pretty amazing. We are blessed with the biological equipment to conceive and carry new life, repopulating the earth and guaranteeing the survival of the species. But our anatomy predetermines us to some femalespecific problems too. Here we ask the experts for holistic advice on managing the issues which commonly affect women…
Statistically, as a woman you have more than a 50 percent chance of getting a urinary tract infection (UTI) in your lifetime, and the risk is even higher once you’re post-menopause. Symptoms include burning and stinging when you pee, feeling like you need to go all the time, and discoloured or bloody urine.
Action: “It is important to eat well to boost your immunity and encourage your body to overcome infection,” says Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health (marilynglenville.com). “Acidic foods and drinks, such as tea, coffee, alcohol, sugar, meat and spicy foods, can trigger a urinary tract infection, so if you are prone to them try to avoid these, and if you are overcoming an infection eliminate them from your diet completely as they irritate the bladder. Stick to water, and lots of it, instead.”
“Organic, live natural yoghurt contains beneficial bacteria to help recolonise your system, especially if you have been taking antibiotics. Or you can take a probiotic supplement, but not probiotic drinks as they often contain added sugar. Sugar is the favourite food of bacteria and will only worsen your infection. Cut it out of your diet altogether.”
Endometriosis is a condition in which the lining of the womb (the endometrium) implants and grows outside the womb. Symptoms include pelvic or lower back pain and cramping which extends several days into your period, pain with bowel movements or urination during your period, excessive bleeding and infertility. Diagnosis is usually made by laparoscopy (a minor surgical diagnostic procedure used to examine the organs inside the abdomen).
Action: “Endometriosis is thought to be oestrogen sensitive, so the aim is to control this hormone,” says Marilyn. “Make sure that you are eating a healthy diet and reduce your intake of saturated fat in foods like dairy, as it increases levels of oestrogen. Reduce your intake of caffeine as studies show that women who drink more than two cups of coffee a day have an increased risk of endometriosis.
“Certain nutrients can help. The B vitamins enable your liver to detoxify oestrogen and can help with the pain. Magnesium can help with this too, and zinc is important for hormone balance. Omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish and flaxseeds can help the body make beneficial prostaglandins that can ease period pains, endometrial cramps, and inflammation. Probiotic supplements are helpful as they control the detoxification of oestrogen through the gut.”
“Incontinence after childbirth can affect up to a third of new mums,” says Marilyn. “If you leak when you sneeze, laugh or cough then this is due to stress incontinence, caused by a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles through the pregnancy and childbirth.”
Action: “Your muscles and ligaments all need vital nutrients to work efficiently so this means looking at your diet. Certain nutrients can be helpful to improve muscle control and strengthen collagen in your body. These include calcium, beta-carotene and vitamin C. The other important thing you can do for yourself is to tighten up your pelvic floor muscles with specific exercises. Practise these at least once a day and over time you should notice a marked improvement in your symptoms.
“Kegel exercises which strengthen the pelvic floor can be especially useful. There are two types of muscles that need to be worked, and two types of exercises to work them. First of all, slowly bring up your pelvic floor by contracting the muscles. Hold for a count of five and then gently let it down again. Work at this, several times a day, until you can hold the count for 15. You may find that you lose control part way through the count. Start again, and make sure that you can feel the muscles being released as you ‘let down’ your pelvic floor.
“The second type of exercise involves quick tightening and releasing of the muscles in the pelvic floor. As quickly as you can, tighten and then release the muscles. Do this about 30 times, and then take a break.
“Each session should comprise two sets of the slow exercises and two sets of the fast exercises. Take a minute’s break in between.”
“Period pain is common and a normal part of your menstrual cycle,” says Dr Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “Most women experience it at some point in their lives.
Action: “An abdominal massage with a blend of essential oils may bring you some relief,” says Jo Kellett, Tisserand aromatherapist and first natural brands aromatherapy expert and member of The Wellbeing Collective. “To make a painrelieving blend, add six drops of clary sage (salvia sclera) and four drops of geranium (pelargonium graveolens) to 20mls of base vegetable oil.
“Clary sage is an anti-spasmodic, and can be helpful with the spasms of menstrual cramping. Geranium is considered a hormonal balancing essential oil, it also has a very pleasant aroma.
“Lie on your back with your knees bent and imagine a clock on your tummy with 12 o’clock above your belly button. Take a small amount of the oil into one hand, and in clockwise circles massage around your belly button.
“Start gently, building pressure as you go to your own level of comfort. Apply the blend up to twice a day during your period when the cramping is the most uncomfortable. The massage, in itself, will ease the cramps. With the addition of the essential oils you will hopefully put a stop to your period pains.”
“Severe menstrual cramps have been linked to a magnesium deficiency,” says Amy Morris, naturopathic nutritionist from Water for Health (water-for-health.co.uk). “Magnesium helps to regulate nerve and muscle functioning, so an increase in magnesium-rich foods can help to relax your muscles. Additionally, magnesium has been found to alleviate PMS depression, nausea and constipation. Find it in fish and nuts, as well as leafy greens, or take a supplement.”
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