Women are unique from men in many ways. During an average woman’s lifetime she will experience many physical changes and challenges, some great and some small, that men will never have to deal with, or if they do it will be to a lesser degree. Women face menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, osteopenia and/or osteoporosis, and estrogen related cancers along with many of the same health issues that plague men such as heart disease.
Factors that affect women
Menstruation starts around the onset of puberty (about 10 years old), though actual menarche (first menstrual cycle) may not occur until 12–13 years of age. Menstruation is the visible phase of the menstrual cycle, occurring on average every 28 days, during which the uterine lining is shed. Menstrual cycles continue to occur throughout the reproductive period in a woman’s life. These cycles consist of the ovaries producing a mature egg (ovum) for possible fertilization, the preparation of the uterus for implantation if fertilization occurs, and finally the shedding of the uterine lining when no pregnancy results.
The first day of menstruation is considered the first day of each menstrual cycle, and normal menstruation lasts 2-7 days. During menstruation women on average lose 50 ml of blood, though it can much less or more.
During the menstrual cycle women experience large shifts in hormone levels which can affect several aspects of their being. Breast pain, mood distortions, cramping, bloating, headache, and back pain are just some of the issues women experience. Blood loss results in iron loss, so women need to keep iron intake high in order to restore iron levels and reduce the possibility of anemia. Menstrual cycles and menstruation ends at menopause.
Pregnancy begins with the fertilization of an egg by a single sperm. This coupling develops into an embryo, which after 8 weeks develops into a fetus. A typical pregnancy lasts approximately 40 weeks and is divided into 3 trimesters with each trimester representing a different stage of prenatal development.
During pregnancy women experience many changes within their bodies. Their nutritional needs, physical appearances, and hormone levels change considerably from their pre-pregnancy states. Vitamins and minerals are especially important during pregnancy as they help the body provide for its own needs and the needs of the fetus. Whenever vitamin and mineral intakes are increased prior to conception the possibility of a healthy pregnancy, a positive pregnancy outcome, and a healthy infant increases.
Menopause is the cessation of the reproductive period of a woman’s life. During this period, women experience the cessation of menstruation and decreases in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These changes can cause many women to experience both physical and emotional challenges. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, depression and/or anxiety, loss of libido and the reduced ability to have enjoyable sex, breast pain, weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, memory or concentration problems, and bone softening or loss are just some of the problems women have reported. Menopause can last for 4-5 years or longer for most women.
After menopause the risks for heart disease, osteopenia and osteoporosis, and other medical conditions greatly increase.
Osteopenia and Osteoporosis
Osteopenia and Osteoporosis are diseases of the bone. Osteopenia is a condition where bone mineral density (BMD) is lower than what is considered normal or healthy and so there is a thinning of the bones. Osteopenia is often considered to be a precursor to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition where bones are considered to have become ‘porous’. Osteoporosis affected bones are characterized as having a reduced BMD and mass, also there is an altered or decreased stability in the bone structure. Bones become weakened and prone to breakage. Pain, increases in the risks of falling and breaking bones, and an increase in the susceptibility to other health conditions such as arthritis are just some of the problems that accompany osteoporosis.
Supplementation and eating a diet sufficient in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D3, as well as other vitamins and minerals, is important for preventing and reducing the impact of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
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Studies have shown several natural products to have positive affects on women and their distinct needs.
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha has been proven to act as an adaptogen by helping to inhibit fatigue, boost energy, promote emotional well-being and counteract the negative effects of stress. Independent of its adaptogen activities, ashwagandha has also been shown to have some aphrodisiac properties.
Chasteberry: Has been shown to be effective at relieving and reducing the occurrence of breast pain, irritability, fatigue and headache in women.
Hops: Research has shown that hops has sedative, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects. Studies on menopausal women supplemented with hops extract showed that hops helped to significantly decrease total menopausal discomforts, including a decrease in the number of hot flashes and night sweats.
Pueraria mirifica: Contains several phytoestrogens that exert strong estrogenic activity on vaginal tissue. Research has shown that Pueraria mirifica can aid in alleviating vaginal dryness and dyspareunia (pain during sex).
Genistein: Genistein has been proven to be effective for the retention of bone mass and the treatment of hot flashes in menopausal women. Studies show that genistein acts as a phytoestrogen. It appears to directly promote osteoblast (bone forming cells) production, activity and survival while inhibiting osteoclasts (bone degrading cells).