Mother’s Day is a day in May when we honour and acknowledge mothers, mothers-to-be, maternal bonds, and the importance of women in society. Women are always applauded for perfecting the art of multitasking and the seamless manner in which they appear to juggle multiple roles at work, in the home, and with family and friends. However, a recent survey conducted in affiliation with the Heart and Stroke Foundation found that 60 percent of Canadian mothers do not have enough time to properly take care of themselves. Many health problems faced by women as they age are the result of risk factors such as chronic stress, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diets that developed in their younger years.
In my practice, I see women, young and old, with varied health concerns that include PMS, menopause, weight management, osteoporosis, heart disease, poor mental health, cancer and stress. To support their lifelong well-being and keep up with life’s demands, I encourage my patients to follow these logical guidelines: consume a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, commit to regular physical activity, enjoy ample rest, and manage stress. As a naturopathic doctor, I highly recommend an abundance of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and isoflavones. Although these nutrients can be found in different foods, supplementation is often necessary to ensure adequate levels.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Do not underestimate the power of vitamins and minerals. These simple nutrients are absolutely necessary for all bodily processes. Many female heath concerns are associated with a deficiency in or increased demand for vitamins D, K, all B vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, selenium and iodine.
Most women are aware that calcium is an integral part of bone structure. However, women must also be aware that bone health goes well beyond calcium. Magnesium and vitamins D and K are crucial to the prevention of osteoporosis by regulating calcium levels and ensuring the uptake of calcium to the bones. Magnesium is truly magnificent! In addition to modulating calcium absorption, magnesium can relax the muscles and calm the nervous system and heart (J Pak Med Assoc. 2011 Dec). It can therefore promote restful sleep and help women with acute menstrual cramps.
B vitamins can help prevent physical and mental fatigue. Bs are the best vitamins for supporting our stress glands and at the same time they give “wonder women” that necessary boost of energy. More specifically, vitamin B12 is associated with healthy cognitive function (Neurology. 2011 Sep). Vitamin B6 can help balance female hormones and promote the production of happy molecules in our brain. Pregnant women must ensure they have sufficient levels of folic acid (B9) to prevent neural tube defects.
Thyroid conditions are much too prevalent in women today. Symptoms include fatigue, issues with metabolism and temperature regulation, as well as infertility. The trace minerals, selenium and iodine play a major role in thyroid hormone production.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Omega-3 fatty acids are required at every stage of a woman’s life, starting in the womb. These mega nutrients support the development of the fetal nervous system and maintain healthy brain and nerve cell function through every decade of our lives (Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2008 Jan). Omega-3 is also a potent cell protector and an amazing anti-inflammatory agent that is known to support heart and musculoskeletal health. Antarctic krill oil is a superior omega-3 nutrient that can significantly reduce premenstrual symptoms (PMS) such as irritability, depression, water retention, and abdominal pain (Altern Med Rev. 2003 May).
Finally, we can’t speak about women’s health and not mention estrogen. Isoflavones are phytonutrients that are known to help balance estrogen levels and protect against heart disease and osteoporosis. Geinstein is a principal isoflavone that has been clinically shown to reduce menopausal symptoms, including the number and duration of hot flashes (Menopause. 2009 Mar-Apr).
How can a woman ensure that she is getting all of the above? The first step is to commit to a healthy diet, then choose a good quality multivitamin-mineral, tailored to her individual needs. New and improved formulas contain health-promoting antioxidants derived from fruits and vegetables. For example, cranberry extract can help ward off urinary tract infections, and compounds in broccoli are known to promote the healthy metabolism of estrogen by the liver. As well, advanced prenatal vitamins contain DHA, which is essential for fetal brain development.
As each one of us is an individual with unique health needs, other nutrients may also be required to help you meet the demands of your wonder woman existence. I encourage everyone to visit her health care practitioner for a yearly physical exam which includes routine blood work. Some nutrient levels can be reported with these blood tests and it is important information for you to know.
Wishing all of you a Happy Mother’s Day!