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If men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, how can our health needs be exactly the same?

Dec 30, 2018 | course content

Women’s health is complex, yet most of our studies for health in general have been done around men’s health. Where we’ve all benefited from mainstream health studies, there are extra layers of complexity when it comes to our own health that can’t be answered through the male lense. Men’s health is important, of course, and realizing that women’s health is also important doesn’t negate the evidence we’ve found so far for human health. We just want to tackle our complexities and make them more understood. There are at least three areas in which women’s health differs and we’re lacking information. Hormones, dietary needs, and social wellness are just some of the areas a woman-centered experience can make a big difference.

 

Hormones

In Chris Kresser’s interview with Dr. Sara Gottfried, a Harvard graduate and OB/GYN, they both acknowledge that hormonal health problems are typically given hormones instead of addressing the root cause of health issues. A teenage girl with acne? -Birth control.  A woman going through menopause? -Hormone replacement therapy. What are we missing, though, when it comes to treating the root cause of hormone related illness? Dr. Gottfried stated that there is a lack of rigorous evidence behind the mainstream approaches to hormone problems, and women are often paying the price in their health.

Many hormone health issues can be addressed by taking a look at underlying causes. Functional M.D. Chris Kresser shared from his own practice that he will address underlying causes and work to treat the whole picture, not just the symptoms of hormone dysfunction. Where many women are given the diagnosis of hormonal issues, they may actually have leaky gut, mold toxicity, heavy metal issues, and other factors contributing to a hormonal response. When homeostasis, or normalcy, is restored, hormone related issues can subside. These underlying causes are not often sought out in conventional medicine. Symptoms will be treated instead, in the form of hormone therapy, hormone replacement, or medicine to treat symptoms, often causing more issues that will need to be addressed later down the track.

Hormones also play a role in appetite expression. When our hormones aren’t functioning properly, appetite signals can be thrown off causing hunger, overeating, and other hunger-related symptoms. Or, maybe we’re just hungry and not receiving beneficial nutrition through the standard American diet.

Dietary Needs

Women’s dietary needs may vary significantly from men, and even from each other depending on their makeup and hormonal cycles. A woman in her fifties won’t need to eat the same way as a woman in her twenties, yet there aren’t many studies on nutrition for women in their forties, fifties, or sixties, or at least not many well maintained studies. One study from Nordic Nutrition Recommendations looked at postmenopausal women using a paleo type diet for two years and saw remarkable results around the six month mark, yet seemed to have lost track by the 24 month mark, stating that the starting levels of protein were most likely too low in the trial participants anyway. Unfortunately there were no follow ups or long term studies after this.

Even therapeutic diets such as a ketogenic diet have little research for its effects on women. We often rely on word of mouth and anecdotal experiences to decide whether trying a diet like this is a good option for us. If it’s used as a yo-yo diet, then chances are damage will be worse going in and out of both a keto diet and a standard American diet, resulting in more weight gain and hormone disruption. On the contrary, many women have benefitted from relief through therapeutic diets such as a ketogenic diet. This is not to say that you will though.

One great thing that we do know about women’s health is that reducing or avoiding inflammation is key when it comes to epigenetics, weight loss, and overall health benefits. Unresolved and low-lying inflammation is still a leading cause in chronic illness and disease for both men and women. Maintaining a diet of healthy protein and fats, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds can keep inflammation at bay. What that looks like, though, may vary from person to person, and definitely from male to female.

A recent study from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology shows that even male and female mice respond to inflammation differently, with different numbers of white blood cells making their way to inflammation sites amongst the sexes. “Sex differences in immune-related diseases have long been known. Autoimmunity, for example, is much more common in women, a bias often linked to immune cell types called B and T cells,” said John Wherry, Ph.D, in this study. We know that women’s health is different, but where do we differ? What are the complex changes that we need to pay attention to in order to pursue optimal health?

It’s not just food that affects our health.

Our lifestyle plays a bigger role in health than we’ve been led to believe. Close relationships, fun activities, play, and a high quality of life, physically and emotionally, tend to create better health. According to a study by the University of Michigan, telomeres that can be shortened through poor diet can also be shortened due to behavioral, environmental and psychological factors. Shorter telomeres have been associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Shortened telomeres also speed up aging.

Where a fulfilling lifestyle is beneficial for both women and men, women tend to carry an extra burden of putting others’ needs before their own. We recognize self care as something important, but society’s idea of self care can be superficial. We talk about self care as though getting a manicure will increase the quality of our life. In some ways, a manicure can make us feel better, but self care needs to be looked at in more depth than merely superficial rituals (which again, aren’t bad at all- just different). We need to make sure that our physical and emotional needs are satisfied, to the best of our ability. Sometimes, self care is joining a group of people with similar interests, cultivating closer friendships, releasing toxic friendships, taking up a new sport or hobby, staying on top of medical care (including holistic approaches), going to therapy, and investing in ourselves.

If we want good health in our later years, we need to start focusing on it now by keeping our genes healthy.. Just as our overall health can affect our hormones, happiness, and aging process, we have an added obstacle of not being completely understood by healthcare providers. Some of us are able to find answers to the root cause of our issues, but that isn’t always an option. In a medical culture where physicians get less than ten minutes with a patient, they may not be able to tackle our issues head on even when they want to. Specialty care costs can add up, as well.

Where does this leave us?

As we look for answers together, there are some things we can control right now. That is:

◊ We can pursue a way of eating that is low in inflammation.

◊ We can make our own wellbeing a high priority, arguably, the highest         priority.

 We can take time for our own passions, and make some extra time to play!

◊ We can ask for help! There are health coaches here for us. Just ask!

Once we lower our own inflammation and get in touch with our unique health needs, we can decide whether new information on health and wellness is beneficial to us.

As much as I wanted this paper to have all the answers hopefully it has highlighted that know one really does, at least not specifically to you. So let’s treat your case specifically while also implementing dietary and lifestyle changes that we know work.

 

Julie Ralston

Primal. health Coach