According to WHO, sexual and reproductive health make up one third of the health issues for women between ages 15 and 44. Moreover, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women. These issues affect the quality of their lives, so it is important to address them, whether it is menstrual pain or breast cancer.
We have listed some of the health issues many women have to face and natural ways to prevent or treat them.
Menstrual bleeding and pain
50% of all women who menstruate suffer with significant pains during their periods. This may seem trivial to others, but it is indeed an issue which affects women’s day-to-day life. And while traditional medicine offers some radical solutions such as surgeries, hormonal therapies or strong painkillers, those are not the only options.
The most commonly used drug for menstrual pain, Ibuprofen can have significant side effects, such as nausea, indigestion, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation or even gastritis and stomach ulcers. Instead, we recommend women to try to use some of the natural pain relievers for menstrual pain, which in many studies have shown to be as effective as Ibuprofen. These include:
Ginger can be proven to be a magical cure for your period’s pain and heavy blood loss. Research has shown the effectiveness of ginger in alleviating menstrual pain when taken during the first few days of the period. In controlled trials, the effective doses were from a third to a full teaspoon a day (the dose can be increased if necessary as there are no side effects) and it has shown to be as effective as ibuprofen. The study also shows reduction of the volume and the duration of the bleeding by up to 25%. The mechanism of Ginger’s actions lies in it’s great anti-inflammatory property. So if you are looking for a cheaper, safer and more effective treatment for menstrual blood loss and pain, then ginger may just do the trick. Oh, yes and did we mention that Ginger is also wonderful for stomach and gut inflammation (including indigestion), DNA repairs, and nausea? Simply mix 1/2-1 teaspoon with a small amount of water and drink 1 – 3 times per day. If you are very fussy and you don’t like the taste of powdered ginger, than you can improve the flavour by adding a little of cardamon and a little of Stevia to it.
Fennel seeds may also be able to help relieve menstrual cramps that can cause a lot of pain. Some trivia, though: they are not seeds but are actually whole little fruits. In a trial, 52% of the women found fennel treatment to be excellent pain relief, as opposed to 8% of the women in the placebo group. Moreover, women who resort to taking Mefenamic acid, which is in the same non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) class as ibuprofen, were able to replace it with fennel seeds. Although most of the women in the trial started out in severe pain, they were pain-free after the fennel seeds treatment. The seeds were as effective as the NSAID drugs in terms of relieving pain, but without the side effects, such as diarrhoea and kidney toxicity.
There are pro – inflammatory foods and anti-inflammatory foods. Animal products, in particular when consumed in large quantities and frequently, are strongly pro – inflammatory. We have already mentioned some specific plant-based foods that can help with dysmenorrhea or painful menstrual cramps but we need to remember that the entire plant based nutrition is strongly anti – inflammatory and therefore highly effective in treating womens’ health issues.
In one of the crossover studies, thirty-three women who were going through painful periods followed a vegan diet for two cycles. After two months of a plant based diet, the menstrual pain they experienced reduced significantly, the duration of the periods shortened, and their symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) such as bloating improved. And because it was crossover study they were asked after two months to go back to their original way of eating to see if their symptoms would return. And no surprise, most of them refused to do so, because of how well they felt on the plant based diet. Not only that their menstrual problems have improved but they also were loosing weight, feeling more energetic, their skin looked better and so on. Eating lots of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, which contain a lot of fibre and phytochemicals, is known for reducing inflammation and therefore preventing multiple health problems. But eating a vegan diet also means that you consume automatically much less (if not zero) animal products, processed foods and refined sugars, which contribute towards inflammation throughout the body.
Before the menstrual period itself, a lot of women suffer from premenstrual syndrome or PMS. The symptoms of which include irritability, mood swings, cramps, tender breasts, insomnia, fatigue, and the list goes on. If you experience some of the symptoms, then you know how it can negatively affect your days. Plant-based diet and ginger can help but there is one more thing nature provided us with to make our life easier; Saffron.
Saffron has long been used to treat menstrual disorders in Asia and Persia. But then again, how do you know whether it is effective or not? Well, a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial has proven that it can be effective. In the trial, women who were experiencing PMS for at least six months were randomly assigned to a capsule of saffron or a capsule that did not contain anything. And, indeed, the results showed that small dose of saffron can be very effective in relieving PMS symptoms.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) & Breast Cancer
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work, it creates abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin. It often leads to weight gain, irregular periods, infertility, acne, excess of facial and body hair but thinning and hair loss from the head.
Research has shown that a diet rich in fats, sugar and animal products and a high BMI significantly contribute towards development of PCOS and the severity of the symptoms.
Foods rich in AGEs, also known as glycotoxins, increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and also PCOS. The foods with the highest AGEs are red meat, cheese, chicken and fish and processes such as broiling, grilling, frying or roasting increases the level of the AGEs further. Women with PCOS have usually twice the circulating levels of AGEs in their bloodstream. Studies have shown that AGEs being pro-inflammatory and pro-oxidant mediators are associated with the metabolic and reproductive abnormalities of PCOS.
Weight loss and diet low in AGEs is a mainstay in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome and it’s symptoms. Even modest weight loss and dietary changes can prevent or treat PCOS. Instead of grilled, roasted, or fried meat and cheese, have more foods that help you to loose weight and to get rid of AGEs from your system, such as steamed brown rice and mushrooms, for example. Raw foods are generally lower on AGE’s and they are also rich on antioxidants which will help further in reducing the oxidative stress our DNA is exposed to. For instance, choose berries or raw nuts as a snack over toast with jam, roasted nuts and processed foods like puffed, shredded, and flaked breakfast cereals. Switching from a high-AGE diet to a low-AGE diet will result in positive changes in insulin sensitivity, oxidative stress, and hormonal status.
As a whole, following a whole food plant-based diet and eating raw, steamed, or cooked foods will reduce your exposure to dietary AGEs, refined sugars, “bad” fats and consequently the health problems associated with them, including PCOS.
According to WHO, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the developed and developing world. One of the reasons why breast cancer is increasing in the developing countries is the adoption of western lifestyles, which of course includes consuming western-style food that contains lots of poor quality meat, dairy, and processed foods. And, of course the more we eat meat, dairy, and processed foods, the less we consume whole plant-foods.
There are many reasons why plants can protect us from getting breast cancer and one of them is the fact that they contain fibre (fibre can only be found in plants). Research has found that one of the risk factors for developing breast cancer is not consuming enough of it. For instance, a study found that premenopausal women who consumed higher soluble fibre had 62% lower chances of getting breast cancer than those who don’t. Another study among younger women has shown that those with the highest fibre intake have 85% lower chances of developing breast cancer. High dietary fibre intake also means high exposure to phytochemicals, carotenoids, folate, vitamins C and E, which are also associated with reduced risk of cancer.
One plant-based food that may prevent breast cancer is soy. Soy phytoestrogens act similar to some of the cancer treatments prescribed in the hospitals, minus the side effects. Phytoestrogens function as oestrogen-blockers by blocking the binding of oestrogen, like estradiol, to breast cancer cells. Estradiol is critical to the development and progression of breast cancer. Therefore, by blocking it’s receptor, soy also blocks the hormone’s ability to make the cancer grow. One of the great examples is Japan, which has the highest soy food consumption per capita, and Japanese women indeed have much lower breast cancer rates than for example their Australian neighbours. And, if women who are exposed to the western type of food take soy milk, they may well reduce their oestrogen levels in half within only few months.
Research has found that women who eat at least a mushroom a day reduces their risk of getting breast cancer significantly. And, if you combine the mushrooms with green tea every day, then you double the effect and lower your breast cancer risk even more.
To sum up, the health issues women experience should be addressed by making changes to their lifestyle before they choose such extreme measures like surgeries, hormonal therapies or tablets that are full of side effects. This of course excludes situations when your life is at stake such as diagnosis of cancer. Despite the fact that we all heard about extremely rare situations where the cancer has regressed spontaneously, the risk of dying from untreated cancer is simply too high. My advice is to seek professional help and undergo standard therapy, alongside the lifestyle changes.
Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and eating less (if not zero) of meat, dairy, and processed foods can prevent and treat many health issues, it can also improve quality of your life as a whole. By adding great exercising habits and increasing your emotional intelligence to help you cope better with stress, you increase your chances of become a cancer proof to the max.