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PMS

Women’s Health: Tips to beat PMS cravings

Tips to beat PMS cravings

Why do women suffer with cravings when suffering with PMS?

As many as 85% of women experience at least one symptom of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), the disruptive physical and emotional changes that can strike anytime in the last 2 weeks of the menstrual cycle. A common symptom women suffer from is PMS related food cravings, which has the potential to sabotage your diet.

Fortunately, a better understanding of PMS in general and food cravings specifically can keep women from getting caught in a diet-destroying cycle. When food cravings do hit its generally for high fat sugary foods and/or salty foods; like chocolate, sweets, ice cream or crisps.

The hormonal ups and downs that occur throughout a woman’s cycle are the major culprits in PMS. As levels of oestrogen go up and down, so do levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And when cortisol levels are high enough, the body turns on its fight-or-flight response, a woman becomes more metabolically charged, and her appetite is stimulated. This, in turn, causes a woman to seek out carbs and fat, the fuels needed for the fight-and-flight response.

Other research has linked PMS to low blood sugar or hypoglycaemia that occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle.

Whether it’s blood sugar or cortisol levels that are out of whack, experts say eating huge servings of ice cream, chocolate and chips are the worst ways to bring levels back in balance. Proper nutrition and lifestyle habits will achieve a better balance, with long-lasting results.

Is there anything in terms of diet and lifestyle that a woman can do to reduce such cravings?

Eating a balanced diet containing complex carbohydrates, vegetables, protein and healthy fats is key in providing the body the nutrients required to balance symptoms associated with PMS. Healthy fat and protein in particular help to balance blood sugar levels as they have a slower digestion and make you feel fuller for longer. Foods high in essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6, such as nuts, seeds and their oils will slow absorption of carbohydrates, stabilize the blood sugar and stop cravings in their tracks. Try a baked sweet potato with tuna and salad for lunch. Drizzle over an organic seed oil such as Udo’s Choice Ultimate oil blend for healthy fats.

Remember to drink plenty of water. 2 litres a day helps to flush the body out and reduce bloating.

It’s best to avoid all processed sugar if you are suffering from food cravings. Simple sugars increase insulin secretion, which lowers blood sugar. If insulin levels shoot up enough, your appetite for carbs and bad fats increases.

Lifestyle wise, you want to get plenty of sleep, with 8 hours per night being ideal. This will make you less tired throughout the day and more likely to exercise and make better food choices. Any form of physical activity should be done for 30 minutes a day, from swimming, brisk walks to jogging, activities that raise the heart rate will lower cortisol levels.

Are there any nutritional supplements that can help?

A well-rounded women’s multi-vitamin is beneficial to get all the nutrients one needs, as well as an omega 3 supplement that contains EPA/DHA, which will help with balancing female hormones.

Additionally, chromium is a mineral needed for blood sugar control and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Liquid chromium supplements are available. Take 1-2 drops under the tongue before each main meal.

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Vitamin D: Building Muscle in Menopausal Women

Vitamin D: Building Muscle in Menopausal Women

Vitamin D Builds Muscle in Menopausal Women

A new Brazilian study suggests that post-menopausal women may benefit from vitamin D supplementation to increase muscle strength and reduce frailty (1). The study, conducted at Sao Paulo State University, found that older women given vitamin D supplements were stronger and had fewer falls.

Menopause and Muscle

It is well known that going through menopause increases women’s risk of bone loss, as a result of hormonal changes that influence bone health. However, many women are less aware of the effect of menopause on muscle strength.

During and after menopause, a decline in oestrogen levels leads to a gradual and ongoing decrease in muscle mass, known as sarcopenia.

This type of muscle loss is a key health concern for post-menopausal women for several reasons. Post-menopausal muscle loss puts women at risk of frailty, falls and reduced mobility. It can reduce their independence and quality of life. Additionally, a reduction in muscle mass also leads to a lower metabolism, putting older women at risk of unwanted weight gain.

Vitamin D and Muscle Mass

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy muscle function. It acts on special receptors in muscle, helping to boost muscle mass and strength. Vitamin D also plays a role in protein synthesis and works with calcium and magnesium to enable more powerful muscle contractions.

Unfortunately many adults in the UK have low levels of vitamin D. In fact, 39% of adults have low vitamin D levels in the winter months and older adults who spend more time indoors are particularly vulnerable to deficiency (2).

Trial Results

The double-blind trial tested the effects of vitamin D supplements versus a placebo on the muscle strength and muscle mass of post-menopausal women. Muscle mass was estimated by the use of a total-body DXA (an X-ray scan), as well as tests of hand grip strength and fitness tests.

At the end of the 9-month study, the women receiving the vitamin D supplement showed a 25% increase in muscle strength, while the placebo group actually lost muscle mass. Over the 9 months, the women receiving the placebo supplements also had twice as many falls as those taking vitamin D.

“We concluded that the supplementation of vitamin D alone provided significant protection against the occurrence of sarcopenia, which is a degenerative loss of skeletal muscle, says Dr. L.M. Cangussu, one of the lead authors of the study.

Supplementing Vitamin D – Do’s and Don’ts

The ideal way to optimize vitamin D levels is through sensible sun exposure. This can be difficult in the winter months and can be especially challenging for those with darker skin who have a harder time converting sunlight to vitamin D.

Current recommendations are that anybody over the age of 65 should be supplementing 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D each day. Vitamin D3 is widely considered to be a better form to take than synthetic D2.  Taking vitamin D supplements alongside a fat-containing meal will also enhance absorption. Finally, many people prefer to take vitamin D alongside vitamin K as these two vitamins work synergistically.

References
1. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). “Vitamin D3 supplementation helps women build muscle even after menopause: New study demonstrates vitamin effectiveness in reducing degeneration and risk of falls.” September 2015
2. NICE. Vitamin D: increasing supplement use in at-risk groups. November 2014. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph56 Accessed 30/10/2015.

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Natural Remedies for Women’s Intimate Health

Want natural remedies for women’s intimate health? Try Probiotics.

Us women are great at talking about nearly everything you can think of. However, despite the fact that most women will suffer from thrush, cystitis and / or bacterial vaginosis (BV) during their life time, it appears that intimate health is something we are all apparently too shy to talk about.

The facts are that 75% of women suffer from thrush once in their lifetime, 50% suffer from cystitis at least once and BV affects 1 in 3 women with a high rate of recurrence. Typically these are treated with topical ointments which tend to give just temporary relief, or antibiotics and antifungals which can result in recurrence and can make you feel unwell.

So how and why does having a good balance of friendly bacteria in the intimate area help alleviate and prevent these conditions? Well there is a lot of research behind this.

Thrush is usually caused by the yeast fungus Candida albicans which usually lives harmlessly on the skin and in the mouth, gut and vagina. However, sometimes this yeast becomes overgrown, resulting in thrush. The causes of BV are similar, stemming from a change in balance of bacteria in the vagina as well as a more alkaline pH. And again cystitis is caused by a bacterial infection and interestingly occurs more often in menopausal women due to the lower oestrogen levels.

So in a nutshell, it’s about bacteria! How can probiotics help? The issue with typical treatments are that they do not replenish the healthy bacteria and antibiotics not only knock our good bacteria further out of kilter but also multiple use can lead to antibiotic resistance. Probiotics help replenish our healthy bacteria. But it’s important to note that not all probiotics contain the correct strains of bacteria which are specifically required for these specific intimate issues.

Certain probiotic strains have been trialled and have been shown to increase the efficacy of standard treatments, as well as lowering the risk of recurrence. In particular 2 specific probiotic strains, L. reuteri RC-14® and L. rhamnosus GR-1® are well documented in women’s health, with over 30 years of scientific evidence. OptiBac Probiotics ‘For women’ is a brand new, unique supplement that contains these specific strains and has had significant trialling in itself.

In one trial, participants with thrush took an antifungal capsule with either ‘For women’ daily or placebo for 4 weeks. At follow-up those who had been taking ‘For women’ had 70% fewer symptoms and yeast cell counts than the placebo group.1

In another trial, 252 women who suffered with recurring UTIs took ‘For women’ or antibiotics (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) for one year. After 12 months the number of UTIs had more than halved in both groups, with ‘For women’ being almost as effective as antibiotics. (An impressive result for a natural remedy)2

OptiBac Probiotics ‘For women’ works via several mechanisms: It colonises the vagina, crowds out candida by competing for space and nutrients, fortifies women’s natural defences against Candida , inhibits E. Coli, produces bactericocins which kill pathogens and E. Coli, restores a healthy pH of <4.5, and produces a substance which breaks down the pathogens defensive biofilm.

Taking these strains of bacteria is clearly an impressive start to improving symptoms as well as preventing recurrence. But are there any other natural remedies which can help?

  • When rebalancing our bacteria it’s always a good idea to stay away from sugar and yeast containing foods and drinks which can feed the growth of yeast and bad bacteria, this of course includes alcohol and fruit juices, except low sugar Cranberry which can help in the case of cystitis
  • Drink plenty of water and reduce your coffee
  • Ideally if you have thrush, try to include antifungal foods in your diet such as garlic, coconut oil, ginger and cinnamon among others.
  • Avoid using soaps and douches in the intimate area and swap nylon for cotton underwear and avoid perfumed sanitary products
  • Urinating before and after sex can help with cystitis.
  • The pill can sometimes upset intimate flora – talk to your doctor about alternative contraception

OptiBac Probiotics ‘For Women’ can be taken alongside standard treatments to increase the effect of standard treatments, but is also recommended as a continual method of prevention if a recurrence is an issue. So, if you’re looking to support your intimate health, take a look at OptiBac Probiotics ‘For women’.

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Successful Weight Loss after Menopause: Four Key Strategies

Statistics surrounding weight loss often make for depressing reading. Losing weight, especially if done rapidly, causes changes in appetite-regulating hormones and brain chemistry, which can make long-term weight loss difficult. In fact, after a weight loss diet, up to 50% of lost weight is typically regained within one year, and around 90% is typically regained within 5 years (1).

However, a new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that a few simple strategies can make a big difference (2). Researchers followed 508 overweight and obese post-menopausal women over a period of four years to evaluate the most consistently successful weight-loss strategies.

Menopausal women have a particularly difficult time losing weight. Changes that take place in menopause, such as altered oestrogen levels, result in an accumulation of abdominal fat and an increase glucose and insulin levels (3). Coupled with a natural decline in energy expenditure, these menopausal changes appear to be the perfect recipe for weight gain.

Fresh fruit can help with long term weight loss.
Fresh fruit can help with long term weight loss.

The study divided the women into two groups. The first group of women attended Lifestyle Change classes run by nutritionists and psychologists. They were given detailed dietary advice and a goal-oriented exercise programme. The second group attended classes on general women’s health. The researchers then assessed the eating behaviours and weights of the women at the 6-month mark, and again after four years.

The researchers discovered that while strategies such as reducing restaurant visits and reducing fried foods were helpful in the short-term, they were not linked to weight-loss after four years.

Study leader Dr Barone Gibbs concluded that some weight loss strategies are simply not sustainable in the long-term, after initial motivation begins to decline “Maybe you can say no French fries for six months,” she said, “but not forever.”

So which strategies were helpful in the long-term? At the four-year mark, there were just four factors linked to successful weight loss:

  • Reduced consumption of meat and cheese;
  • Fewer sugar-sweetened drinks;
  • Fewer desserts;
  • An increase in fruit and vegetables.

Overall the winning dietary strategy for weight loss in the long term was found to be replacing meat and cheeses with fruits and vegetables. A simple and manageable change such as this would not only lower levels of saturated and trans fats, but it would increase levels of phytonutrients and soluble fibre, boosting digestion and even helping to curb troublesome menopausal symptoms in older women.

The simple message to take from these findings is that restrictive diets are destined to fail in the long-term, but committing to small, healthful changes can make a big difference. Weight loss needs to be viewed as a permanent healthful change in diet and lifestyle. This is especially true for menopausal women who can find weight management particularly challenging.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.

References

1. Wadden TA, Sarwer DB. Behavioral intervention of obesity: new approaches to an old disorder. In: Goldstein D, editor. The management of eating disorders. Totowa (NJ): Humana Press; 1996. pp. 173–199.
2. Barone Gibbs (2012) Short- and long-term eating habit modification predicts weight change in overweight, postmenopausal women: results from the WOMAN study. J Acad Nutri Dietetics112(9):1347-1355.e2.
3. Carr MC (2004) The emergence of the metabolic syndrome with menopause. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 88(6):2404-11.
4. Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane.

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