Discover what difference nutrition and lifestyle can make to your general health
By Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD is the UK’s leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health.
What you eat can have a profound effect on your health. There are many female health problems, but most are triggered by the same mechanisms, including stress, hormone imbalance, nutritional deficiencies and toxins. By taking steps towards optimum health, the vast majority of women’s health problems can be alleviated or, in many cases, eliminated altogether.This section looks at the ways in which you can get back your health. The main route to good health lies in diet, but there are many other lifestyle factors, such as your environment, that can affect women, and these need to be addressed as part of any successful treatment plan. Before any health problem can be treated – and I mean treated, not just suppressed – you need to address the fundamental basis of most health problems.
Treating the cause, not just the symptoms
Imagine your health as a tree, with various symptoms attached to different branches. For example, you may suffer from a lack of energy, mood swings, headaches, weight gain, bloating, period problems, skin disorders and more. In theory, each of these ‘symptoms’ could be treated separately, as they are in conventional medicine. For example, you could be given painkillers to treat your headaches, the Pill to regulate your cycle, antibiotics for skin problems, and perhaps even antidepressants to deal with the emotional factors. You can be pumped up with all sorts of drugs, but once they are stopped, the problem will return. The reason for this is that most of conventional medicine is aimed at treating symptoms. The root cause is not addressed; the underlying problem remains, no matter how good medication makes you feel in the short-term. Quite apart from that, many drugs have unacceptable side effects, and in an attempt to feel better in the short-term you may well be causing long-term damage to your overall health.
Beneath your symptom tree are the roots which feed and nourish the plant. The nourishment the tree gets determines how well the leaves on the branches grow and how it blossoms. It’s clear that in order to affect the symptoms that appear on your branches, you need to do some work on the roots. That’s the basis of natural medicine, which aims to get to the root cause – literally – of any health condition. If you make changes at root level, many symptoms will drop away without ever having had specific treatment. Even better, once your tree is healthy, you only need a simple maintenance programme to keep it that way.
Most doctors will only get a few hours of nutrition lectures in over six years of training, so you probably won’t find any nutritional recommendations as part of your doctor’s treatment plan. But nutrition is crucial. Everything that you eat can be turned into the fuel that your body uses to produce hormones, enzymes, blood, bone – in fact, every single cell in your body, and all the processes that take place, are determined by what goes into your mouth.
It has taken many years for the link between cardiovascular disease and nutrition to be established. Now the evidence is overwhelming. More research is now linking nutrition to cancer, growth disorders, mood, and much, much more. In the future, further research will show that your diet has a part in every aspect of your health.
Why you need food supplements
Throughout the sections on this website, you’ll notice that food supplements are recommended. You may wonder why you might need them, particularly if you have a good diet. Unfortunately, even the best diet can no longer supply us with everything we need, and supplements are no longer considered to be a little ‘extra’.
The well-balanced diet is a myth. You simply do not get all the nutrients you need from your food nowadays. This was confirmed from a National Food Survey conducted in 1995, which found that the average person in Britain is grossly deficient in 6 out of the 8 vitamins and minerals surveyed. Less than 1 in 10 people receive the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for zinc, which is the most important mineral for female hormone problems. You need to supplement your diet because it is almost impossible to get all of the nutrients you need from food alone. For instance, our intake of selenium (34mcg) per day is now only half the amount it was in our daily diet 25 years ago. This amount is half the minimum 75mcg a day recommended for men and 60mcg recommended for women. We have, as a culture, begun to eat far too many processed, convenience and refined foods that have been stripped of essential nutrients during the manufacturing process.
Furthermore if you, like most of the population, have been dieting for a number of years – either restricting your food intake, or trying different diets, diet drinks or pills – you are more than likely to be deficient in a number of important vitamins and minerals.
The other reason why it is important to use supplements is that you want to achieve positive health benefits in as short a space of time as possible. Certain nutrients, depending on your problem, will help to speed up this process because they can help you to detoxify or strengthen your immune system. It is absolutely essential that you get the best quality supplements for maximum absorption and effectiveness.
What you should eat
While much overused, the old saying that ‘you are what you eat’ is definitely true. Your diet is the foundation of your health, so it is important that your food contains the right nutrients to keep you balanced and healthy and to prevent health conditions from cropping up in the future.
Below I list the main points of a good balanced diet. (These points are gone through in much greater detail in the full ‘Foundation of Health’ ebook. The full ebook also comes with any of the Women’s general health problems ebooks that you may choose to download.)
The Hormone-balancing Diet
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
Eat complex carbohydrates – wholegrains like brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread
Buy organic foods where possible
Eat phytoestrogens, including beans such as lentils, chickpeas and Soya products
Eat oily foods, including fish, nuts, seeds and oils
Reduce your intake of saturated fat from dairy products, etc.
Drink enough fluids
Increase your intake of fibre
Avoid additives, preservatives and chemicals such as artificial sweeteners
Reduce your intake of caffeine
Avoid sugar on its own and hidden in foods
In the full ‘Foundation of Health’ ebook you will learn: How to keep your blood sugar in balance and why this is so important. The link between xenoestrogens (‘foreign oestrogens’) which are oestrogen-like chemicals from pesticides or plastics and certain health problems. The benefits of exercise are explained not only for the obvious reasons for your heart but also research which is showing that exercise can have a protective effect against breast cancer. Other lifestyle factors such as weight, smoking, sleep and stress are discussed and how they can affect your health. It also lists the symptoms associated with a deficiency of essential fatty acids.
There are many simple tips that can help to keep you well above and beyond lifestyle changes. While they may seem to be precautionary, they can help to prevent health problems before they start. Why you should avoid using tampons is explained below and in the full ‘Foundation of Health’ you will also have recommendations about deodorants and antiperspirants and the research into the link between the use of these and breast cancer.
Consider Avoiding Tampon Use
The vagina is normally an oxygen-free environment ,which prevents the growth of certain bacteria. However, tampons can disrupt this environment, largely because air is trapped in the fibres. Oxygen is introduced into the vagina, so the possibility of bacteria and toxin overgrowth is increased. Furthermore, blood is held back by the tampon, which provides a nutrient source for bacteria to breed.
Tampons, especially super-absorbent brands, may dry out the vagina, making transfer of toxins into the bloodstream easier. Tampons are made from cotton and rayon and higher absorbency tampons will normally contain more rayon, which is a derivative from wood-pulp, for better absorbency. Fifty percent of the world’s cotton is now genetically modified (GM), so unless the cotton is certified organic, tampons could contain GM cotton. The tampons could also contain chemicals such as pesticides, which have been used on the cotton.
Substances called dioxins are a potentially harmful by-product of the chlorine-bleaching process at paper and pulp mills. Dioxins are potentially carcinogenic and toxic to the immune system as well as the environment. We are exposed to dioxins in the environment from industrial emissions and car exhausts, and levels of dioxins are currently being monitored by the US Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov/ncea/dioxin) for their carcinogenic properties. Tampon manufactures are now trying to make sure that the process of bleaching results in dioxin-free fibres, but the issues of pesticides and GM farming still exist.
We are exposed to many chemicals in the environment and the aim is always to reduce that exposure. This is one area where we need to pay particular attention. Tampons come into contact with delicate tissues that have direct entry to the bloodstream. Anything you put inside you will be easily transmitted. No risks should be taken.
It is now possible to buy 100 percent organic cotton tampons and sanitary towels, that are non-chlorine bleached, GM free and 100 percent biodegradable. My recommendation would be to use 100 percent organic cotton sanitary towels most of the time to allow the blood to flow freely and to avoid introducing oxygen for bacteria to thrive. When needed (on holiday, or while swimming, for example) use 100 percent cotton tampons. If you need to use other tampons, try to get away with the lowest possible absorbency.
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) This is a potentially fatal illness that has been associated with the use of tampons – particularly those with a high absorbency. It develops when Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria , starts to produce a toxin (TSST1) which is absorbed into the bloodstream, so TSS is literally a form of blood poisoning. The toxin overwhelms the immune system and attacks organs.
Scientists do not know what causes the bacteria to produce toxins but it has been suggested that the tampon provides a surface for the bacteria to multiply, which is then fed by the blood supply. Higher absorbency tampons contain more rayon, which could react with the bacteria. In 1995, the Journal of Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynaecology published a study looking at 20 different kinds of tampons. They found that only the 100 percent cotton tampons did not produce the TSST1 toxin, which is associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome.
The symptoms feel like the flu and can include sudden high fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, sore throat, dizziness or fainting. If you suspect you have TSS, remove the tampon, use a sanitary towel and keep the tampon for analysis. For prevention:
- Minimise the use of tampons
- Change your tampon regularly, every four to six hours.
- Do not use a tampon when you do not have a period
- Use a lighter absorbency where possible
- Use 100 percent cotton tampons