Top Health Risks for Women

October is “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”. Every day, more than 700 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer. For these women and their families, the impact of breast cancer extends well beyond the single month dedicated to awareness. About one in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, making it one of the most common diseases affecting women. While about 5-10 percent of breast cancer cases in the US are related to an inherited gene mutation, most cases are linked to other factors – including lifestyle.

The early detection of breast cancer is the first important step in treating breast cancer. But detection can be easier said than done, how do you know what to look for or when to see your doctor? Get answers to your top questions with many of our resources to prevent and fight breast cancer.

Why women’s health is important

Women’s health issues are unique and different from men’s health issues. As a woman, you may be at a higher risk of developing certain conditions, including:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and infertility
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Cervical cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Urinary Incontinence

Furthermore, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death for women. So getting your annual exam is crucial for disease prevention and early detection. 

How important is a women’s wellness exam?

As a woman, getting an annual medical exam, or well-woman visit, should be an important part of your healthcare routine to prevent potentially deadly diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, or osteoporosis. You can see a family practice practitioner or an OB-GYN doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health for this appointment–whichever works for you. 

Your well-woman visit is a great opportunity to discuss your current lifestyle and any health concerns, such as planned pregnancies or diet issues. You’ll also build a relationship with a practitioner to consult for future health concerns. 

This exam should include important tests for early disease detection and prevention. These tests may include:

  • Pelvic exam, pap smear, and HPV testing to detect cervical cancer
  • Bone density testing
  • Breast cancer screening and breast exam
  • Colon cancer screening
  • Healthy lifestyle risk assessment
  • Hormonal testing for menopause
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI) screening
  • Blood pressure check
  • Blood glucose level testing to screen for prediabetes or diabetes

If disorders like high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes run in your family, you’ll have a higher risk of developing those conditions, yourself–and your practitioner can help you with preventative care. So tell your healthcare provider about your family health history. 

How to have a healthy pregnancy

If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, it’s crucial to prioritize healthy lifestyle habits. For many women, the uncomfortable realities of pregnancy—morning sickness, hemorrhoids, and fatigue—can overshadow the excitement of having a baby on the way. But you can take steps to reduce your symptoms, improve your health, and protect the health of your unborn child. 

Meet with your healthcare provider or midwife to discuss personal and family medical history to plan for a successful pregnancy. In addition to health screenings, there are a number of steps you can take to prepare. 

For starters, prioritize a healthy diet. Studies show that poor nutrition disrupts a woman’s reproductive system, and can lead to pregnancy issues like excess fetal growth or premature birth. It’s crucial to eat a well-balanced diet that’s high in vegetables and lean proteins and low in processed foods

Other tips for a healthy pregnancy include:

  • Avoiding alcohol.
  • Prioritizing 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Reducing stress with deep breathing, meditation, or other relaxing activities.
  • Getting regular exercise. Aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week
  • Taking prenatal vitamins.

There’s no such thing as the perfect pregnancy, but there are many ways to contribute to a healthy one. These tips will benefit your health and the health of your baby.

Women’s health solutions for weight issues

Many women have a harder time losing weight than their male counterparts. Researchers say this is because women naturally have a lower metabolic rate, carry more body fat and less muscle mass, and face different hormonal issues than men. 

If you’re familiar with the struggle to lose weight, it may be tempting to go on a restrictive diet. But in reality, diets usually don’t work–and they can lead to unhealthy weight cycles. 

“Weight cycling,” or the pattern of losing weight, regaining it, and dieting again, is often called yo-yo dieting–and it’s not a healthy habit to be in. Some dieticians say that dieting is the leading eating disorder, potentially leading to increased weight gain, diabetes, or even heart problems.

How, what, and when we eat are all tied to our daily life–so developing a healthier relationship with food and focusing on quality is paramount to your overall health and well-being. 

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025, a healthy eating plan:

  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Includes a variety of protein foods such as seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, nuts, and seeds.
  • Is low in added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
  • Stays within your daily calorie needs (roughly 2,000 per day).

A healthy diet is about balance. You can enjoy your favorite foods–even the high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar ones. Just indulge in moderation, and balance high-energy foods with healthier ones and more physical activity. Consider trying the 80/20 diet plan. The 80/20 plan is a mindset–not a diet–that suggests eating nutritious foods 80% of the time and relaxing and indulging the remaining 20%. 

Women’s Heart health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for 1 in every 5 female deaths each year. If you have high risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease, it’s crucial to start a prevention program–especially if you’re over 40.

As a woman, you’re at higher risk of developing “silent” heart disease, meaning that you’ll have no symptoms. “Women have such a low prevalence of the disease until menopause that I feel many physicians ignore heart disease in women until they’re well into their 50s and 60s,” says Dr. Karla Kurrelmeyer, a cardiologist with Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. “Women with risk factors need to be 10 years ahead of the game when it comes to prevention, but unfortunately, too many are already in the game before they are tested.”

As with most health issues, prevention is the best way to avoid heart disease.

Women’s Hormone Health

Women’s hormone health has become more problematic over the years with our modern environment and lifestyles–due to pollution, stress, food quality, toxic exposure, and prevailing medical practices. But once you understand what creates imbalance, you can safely restore balance and eliminate uncomfortable, frustrating symptoms while preventing disease and increasing your overall quality of life.

Think of hormones as keys and receptors as locks. When a key is placed in a compatible lock, the cell receives instructions to perform a task related to that specific hormone. We used to think only one key worked for each lock, but now we know many keys can fit into the same lock.

Although the best-known hormones—estrogen and progesterone—play a significant role in women’s health, the endocrine system produces a variety of other hormones, including cortisol (known as the stress hormone,) melatonin (the sleep hormone), and thyroxine (produced by the thyroid). And all of these hormones impact your overall health and well-being.

Hormones initiate bodily activities when they attach to receptors on the surfaces of cells. They deliver messages. For example, when the uterus is stimulated by estrogen, cells grow and proliferate to create a nourishing lining in preparation for pregnancy. 

Natural remedies–particularly clearing excess estrogen—can help you bring your hormones back into balance. Clear excess estrogen in your body by:

  1. Avoiding plastics and other household products that contain xenoestrogens.
  2. Eating more fiber-rich foods like berries, peaches, carrots, and squashes. Studies show these foods may help reduce the development of hormone-related breast cancer. 
  3. Improving your gut health to ensure you’re producing the right enzymes to metabolize estrogen. 
  4. Reducing body fat with a balanced diet and more movement to reduce your risk of excess of estrogen, which is partially produced by the tissues in body fat.
  5. Managing stress. Stress causes your body to produce too much cortisol and not enough pregnenolone, which can impact your health and quality of life.

Health tips for women with PMS

Approximately 75% of menstruating women have some form of PMS, the symptoms of which can occur anywhere from two to 14 days before menstruation. Symptoms can vary in intensity and number with each menstrual cycle, but they occur nearly every month and are typically absent once menstruation starts–or shortly thereafter. While symptoms are mild to moderate for most women, some experience debilitating symptoms that interfere with their everyday lives.

While its cause is still unknown, PMS may be due to a hormonal imbalance. In the past, experts believed progesterone to be the culprit behind PMS–because its levels are highest just before menstruation. However, women with PMS typically have lower than normal progesterone levels during this time. Low progesterone levels when they should be high points to estrogen dominance. Because progesterone counters many of estrogen’s potential side effects, it’s easy to see what’s triggering PMS.

It may not be as easy, however, to treat PMS. But healthy lifestyle habits like a nutritious diet, reducing your stress levels, and supplements chasteberry can help.

Diet tips for PMS symptoms

  • Increase fiber consumption. Fiber binds to estrogen in the intestines so it can be eliminated efficiently .
  • Eat less red meat. Cattle are often fed hormones, including estrogen, to fatten them for slaughter, and consuming these hormones can contribute to hormonal imbalance. Furthermore, some studies show that eating high-fat foods can worsen PMS symptoms.
  • Reduce xenoestrogen exposure. Avoid processed foods, foods stored or heated in plastic, and other sources of man-made estrogens that can make their way into your body. Some are even found in personal care products. 

Healthy lifestyle habits to reduce symptoms of PMS

  • Reduce stress. Stress is known for causing menstrual irregularities.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise is good for the body, mind, and spirit and can ease symptoms of PMS. Moving oxygenates the blood, keeps digestion moving smoothly, and improves mood.

Complementary medicine for PMS treatment

  • Consult a naturopathic physician, herbalist, acupuncturist, massage therapist, or light therapist. All of these healing methods can help ease symptoms of PMS.

Women’s health and wellness during menopause

Menopause is the process during which ovarian function gradually decreases due to lower estrogen and progesterone levels, and menstrual cycles stop. While signs and symptoms are unique to every woman, classic symptoms include hot flashes, mood changes, and sleep issues. 

You may also notice changes in your bone or heart health, body shape, ability to lose weight, and/or other physical functions. But menopause isn’t a disease; it’s a normal, natural process. And by properly supporting your body before, during, and after, you can experience a nearly seamless transition into this next season of your life.

Menopause typically starts between the ages of 35 and 58, but the average age is 51. About 6,000 American women enter menopause every day–more than 2 million each year. And it’s estimated that in under 20 years, nearly 50% of the adult female population in America will be menopausal. 

With such significant numbers, it’s not surprising that menopause has become a national health focus, or that pharmaceutical companies are so interested in developing drugs to “treat” it–typically some form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). 

While HRT may help some women feel better initially, some research shows the side effects far outweigh the benefits. Unopposed estrogen can exacerbate some menopausal symptoms, including mood swings and body aches, because estrogen alters cellular function. HRT has serious long-term health implications as well, including increased risk of blood clots, stroke, and endometrial and breast cancer.

Health tips for women in menopause

Lifestyle changes such as following a healthy diet, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and natural supplements like calcium, vitamin D, and ground flaxseed may ease the symptoms of menopause. Eat lots of phytoestrogen-rich foods like soy, tempeh, and flaxseeds, which may reduce the severity of hot flashes and night sweats as well as offer benefits for your heart.

“It’s important to remember that each woman’s body is unique and requires individualized care,” Dr. Middleton says. “While natural remedies can be beneficial, discussing any health concerns with a qualified healthcare provider is important before starting any new treatment plan.” Prioritize your yearly exams and focus on healthy habits to create a lifestyle and health prevention plan that works for you.