Women have a lot of things to keep track of when it comes to taking care of their health. A lot! From menstrual cycles and PMS, to fertility and pregnancy, women have unique challenges in staying healthy and balanced. Naturopathic medicine incorporates the best parts of Western physiology and natural healing methods to come up with a treatment plan that addresses all of your women’s health concerns.
Some of the more common women’s health issues are described below.
Many women experience pain or moodiness either before or during their periods, and it can interfere with daily life. Am I right ladies? Pain with menstrual bleeding is called dysmenorrhea and can range from mild to severe. PMS is the term for symptoms that appear in the days leading up to your period. You can read more about Menstrual Cycle Issues and PMS.
For women, hormone imbalance is the term that describes the incorrect relationship between the two primary hormones, progesterone and estrogen, in the body. Normally, in the first 10-12 days of the menstrual cycle, only estrogen is produced in the female body. If ovulation occurs, then progesterone is produced by the ovaries. On or about day 28, levels of both hormones drop, resulting in menstruation. However, if ovulation does not occur, women can still have the menstrual period, but the estrogen is never “balanced” by progesterone, which needed ovulation to trigger its production. This results in symptoms of hormone imbalance; estrogen is present but progesterone production drops to very low levels.
Variations in the estrogen/progesterone balance can have a dramatic effect on health. Hormonal imbalances are also thought to play a major role in PMS, or premenstrual syndrome.
Hormonal imbalances in women may be a result of aging, stress levels, a lack of exercise, poor nutrition, alcohol intake, poor sleep, synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and environmental toxins, called xenoestrogens, such as the pesticides DDT and dioxin.
Symptoms of hormone imbalance in women tend to increase as a woman ages and continue until menopause. Hormone imbalance symptoms can include: allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and runny nose; depression, fatigue and anxiety; endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue that lines the uterus is found to be growing outside the uterus, on or in other areas of the body; fibrocystic breasts or lumps in the breasts; hirsutism or hair loss and facial hair growth; headaches, dizziness and foggy thinking; low sex drive; osteoporosis or the gradual loss of bone; PMS or premenstrual syndrome; urinary tract infections and incontinence; uterine fibroids; weight gain, water retention and bloating; and wrinkly skin.
A sexually transmitted infection, or STI, is a bacterial or viral infection that is passed between partners through bodily fluids. Most bacterial infections, like chlamydia or gonorrhea, stay localized to the genital and reproductive areas. Many women who get these infections don’t have any symptoms, but both of these very common sexually transmitted diseases can lead to infertility. HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis C are common and potentially life-threatening STIs. It’s important to get regular STI testing, and your doctor should be able to make you feel comfortable when you ask.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and trichomoniasis are infections of the vagina that cause smelly discharge. Both of them can be passed on to partners, and treating them is important. Sometimes, BV doesn’t resolve with antibiotic treatment, and deeper immune support can help.
Yeast infections are an annoying issue that most women experience at least once in their lives. High blood sugar, antibiotic use, and a high sugar diet can all be part of what’s causing frequent vaginal yeast infections, even if it doesn’t seem like they’re connected. Natural remedies are as effective as prescription and over the counter remedies, and help treat the cause so you don’t get infections in the future.
Because women tend to have shorter urethras than men, they tend to get more urinary tract infections (UTIs). This can be annoying and painful, and taking repeated rounds of antibiotics can wreak havoc on your digestive system and cause yeast infections.
Fertility is a major reason that women seek alternative and complementary health care. One of the major causes of infertility is a lack of ovulation. Underlying conditions, like PCOS, hypothyroidism, and high stress can all prevent ovulation. Other causes of infertility include uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and tubal blockages. Supporting your body with natural methods and treating whatever’s causing your infertility can help you to have a baby.
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, it’s important to make sure your body has proper nutrient stores. Iron and folic acid are important for your future baby’s health, and testing for STIs and other infections will help keep your future baby healthy.
During pregnancy, women need extra support to make sure their baby is developing normally. They can also use extra help with all the changes their bodies are going through. From morning sickness to insomnia and pain, natural remedies can help support the mother to have a healthy baby.
Changes and symptoms include: a change in menstruation (periods) – periods may be shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, with more or less time in between; hot flashes and/or night sweats; trouble sleeping; vaginal dryness; mood swings; trouble focusing; and hair loss on the head but increased hair on the face. About 85% of women experiencing menopause will have hot flashes.
All women will experience menopause. Menopause is not considered a disorder and most women do not need treatment for it. However, if symptoms are severe, different therapies may be used to help alleviate symptoms.
During perimenopause, the woman may begin to experience menopausal physical and emotional signs and symptoms, such as hot flashes and depression, even though they still menstruate. The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months or continue for 10 years. Perimenopause ends the first year after menopause, when a woman has gone 12 months without having her period. Periods (menstruation) tend to be irregular during this time and may be shorter or longer or even absent.
Postmenopause is a time when most of the distress of the menopausal changes have faded. Hot flashes may seem milder or less frequent and energy, emotional, and hormonal levels may seem to have stabilized. The postmenopausal phase begins when 12 full months have passed since the last menstrual period. After menopause, women are more vulnerable to osteoporosis (bone loss) and heart disease, in part due to estrogen imbalance.
Osteoporosis is a disease associated with a gradual thinning and weakening of the bones. It occurs most frequently in women who have gone through menopause. Declining estrogen levels during the first postmenopausal decade lead to rapid bone loss. Increased fracture risk maybe reversed by estrogen replacement therapy. The bone-protective effects of estrogen may involve suppression of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines, such as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tissue necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), promote bone loss and bone resorption. Without estrogen, such as in postmenopause, bones may become weak. As bones become thinner and weaker, they also become increasingly susceptible to fractures. Over the course of time, tiny bone fractures in the spine can lead to stooped posture and loss of height. If left untreated, postmenopausal osteoporosis can lead to constant back pain, disabling fractures, an increase in hip and leg fractures, and lost mobility.
Dysmenorrhea is a menstrual condition characterized by severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain associated with menstruation. Dysmenorrhea may be classified as primary or secondary. Primary dysmenorrheal is severe and frequent menstrual cramping caused by severe and abnormal uterine contractions in women. Painful menstrual periods may be caused by another medical condition present in the body, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or endometriosis. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a general term that refers to infection of the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes (tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus), and other reproductive organs. It is a common and serious complication of some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially chlamydia and gonorrhea. Endometriosis is when the tissue that lines the uterus is found to be growing outside the uterus, usually due to hormonal fluctuations. Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by another medical condition, such as endometriosis (abnormalities in the lining of the uterus), adenomyosis (nonmalignant growth of the endometrium into the muscular layer of the uterus), pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, cervical narrowing, uterine malposition, pelvic tumors, or an IUD (intra-uterine device).
One of naturopathic medicine’s guiding principles is to treat the cause, so identifying what’s causing your symptoms is the first step to healing your body. From there, we make a plan that may include herbal medicine, nutritional advice, supplementation, and acupuncture. Naturopathic doctors are trained in counseling and homeopathy, and can listen and support you using those tools. Developing a treatment plan that works for you is important, and we’re with you every step of the way.