Health differences of women – including hormones, heart disease and high heels!

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There is lots of good news as far as our health is concerned. For one thing, we’re living for longer than ever. For another, women continue to live for longer, on average, than men. But that doesn’t mean you should be complacent. Taking care of yourself will ensure quality, not just quantity, of life.

Hormones – not so different in later life

The main female hormone, oestrogen, is essential for our fertility. But it also protects us against heart disease and thinning of the bones. After the menopause, your body’s natural levels of oestrogen drop for good. So once you’ve waved goodbye to that last pesky period, you need to pay more attention than ever to your health.

Heart disease – not just a man’s affair

We tend to think of heart disease as mainly a male disease – and indeed, far more men than women die prematurely (under the age of 75) from it. But once you’ve been through the menopause, your risks increase substantially. Unfortunately, a recent survey suggests that even doctors tend to underestimate this risk. When faced with men and women both complaining of the same (possibly heart-related) symptoms, doctors were more likely to investigate the man for heart disease. They were more likely to assume that the woman’s symptoms were due to stress and anxiety.

So, if you have chest pains, shortness of breath or swelling of the ankles, do see your doctor. And do ask – politely but firmly – whether heart disease could be at the root of your problems.

Osteoporosis – the silent epidemic

Osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones, affects huge numbers of older women. Being female and being white both increase your risks. So, as a woman, it’s all the more important to:

  • Take regular weight-bearing exercise (brisk walking is perfect).
  • Avoid smoking and excess alcohol.
  • Eat plenty of calcium (low-fat dairy products and tinned fish with bones are excellent sources).
  • See your GP if you notice you’ve lost height, or get pain in your back.

Alcohol – not just a male conspiracy

Women really aren’t designed to cope with the same levels of alcohol intake as men. For a start, our bodies naturally contain more body fat and less body water. Because alcohol is only distributed in body water, it means that even if we weigh the same as a man, our body alcohol levels will be higher than that man’s if we drink the same amount.

If you’re used to drinking, you may hardly feel the effects of six units of alcohol (two thirds of a bottle of wine or three double measures of spirit). But this level of alcohol is medically known as a ‘binge’, and can increase your risk of stroke, as well as accidents. Overall, you should stick to 2-3 units (one and a half normal glasses of wine) a day, and not more than 14 units a week.

High heels and corsets – the price of vanity

You may have given up the unequal struggle with high heels as you leave the first flush of youth. But even a few years of indulgence can leave you prone to bunions and back strain in later life.

So make sure you look after your feet extra well now, to make up for your youthful indulgences! Bunions are painful lumps at the base of your big toe. Wearing well-fitting shoes with rounded (rather than pointed) toes can relieve the pressure on this point. Regular visits to a chiropodist will help to keep your feet in tip-top shape.

Corsets may be a fashion statement for some, but for many of us they’re a neat disguise for less-toned tummy muscles. Unfortunately, squashing your tummy can lead to all sorts of digestive disorders. If you suffer from heartburn or wind, you may be able to relieve your symptoms by avoiding corsets, as well as tight waistbands.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Heart attacks – where women miss out

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We women have a lot to put up with – having babies, juggling home and career, being the only member of the family who remembers birthdays or notices that the bin is full. But one thing we don’t need to worry about quite as much as men is heart attack. In fact, in the last 50 years, death rates from heart disease among British women have dropped by three quarters, and they halved among women in their 50s in the last three decades of the 20th century alone.

But we can’t be complacent Heart disease still kills one in nine UK women, and nearly a million women in the UK are living with heart disease today. While women’s risk of heart attack is, overall, lower than men’s, they are by no means completely immune. What’s more, younger women are being affected. Twenty years ago, only one in eight women having a heart attack were under 60. Today, that figure is one in four. So how can you stack the odds in your favour?

Know what to look for

You all know the symptoms of a heart attack, right? Unbearable crushing central chest pain, like a band around your chest, and feeling sweaty and looking deathly pale? Not necessarily if you’re a woman.

More than two in five women who have a heart attack don’t have any kind of chest discomfort, and one in three describe a sensation of ‘pressure’ rather than ‘pain’ in their chest.Many people don’t realise it’s possible to have a heart attack without this pain, so women might delay seeking help.

What women need to know – other possible symptoms of heart attack

Women having a heart attack get get a vague discomfort over the lower chest, or possibly in the upper tummy (which can be mistaken for indigestion) more often than men. They often also get these possible symptoms:

● Feeling sweaty

● Feeling lightheaded

● Shortness of breath

● Feeling suddenly very weak or tired

● Feeling sick and/or dizzy

Heart attack or angina – what’s the difference?

A heart attack is a complete blockage of one of the blood vessels which supply blood to the heart muscle. In angina, blood supply is seriously reduced but not completely blocked. Symptoms are similar to those of heart attack but they may be less severe and they tend to settle on their own. However, if you’ve never had angina before, it is important to seek medical help urgently – angina is an early warning sign that you’re at higher risk of heart attack. Getting help early can stop your condition progressing to the ‘real thing’.

Why the rush? Why heart attack is an emergency

As we’ve heard, when you have a heart attack the blood supply to part of your heart muscle is blocked. No blood means no oxygen, and if this lasts long enough, heart muscle is damaged beyond repair. Fortunately, huge advances have been made in recent years in the early treatment of heart attack, which have improved survival rates dramatically. In the short term, treatments include ‘clotbuster’ medicines to break down the blood clot blocking the artery. Surgery (often carried out using probes guided into the heart arteries through the skin under X-ray control, with no need to cut the chest open at all) can also be used to open the artery and put in a tiny metal ‘stent’ to prevent it from blocking again.

Recovering from a heart attack – one step at a time

Getting over a heart attack completely can take months, but you’ll have a rehabilitation team to help you every step of the way. While you’re in hospital, they’ll assess your risk factors and how you can cut your chance of another heart attack. They’ll advise on building up exercise and activity levels gradually and safely. Ask about a cardiac rehabilitation programme at your local hospital. The DVLA recommends that you don’t drive for four weeks after a heart attack, but you don’t need to inform them if you have a standard driving licence.

Long-term health

In the longer term, lifestyle steps to look after your heart will hugely cut your chance of another heart attack. However, if you’ve had a heart attack or angina, you are at higher risk in the future, so your doctors will recommend other medicines to protect you as well. These include statins to lower cholesterol, blood pressure tablets and medicine to reduce the chance of your arteries blocking again in future.

Can tests tell me if I’m at risk?

High cholesterol and blood pressure are among the biggest risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Unfortunately, neither of them causes any warning symptoms except in very exceptional cases. That means you won’t know you’re affected unless you get checked out. You should get your blood pressure checked at least every five years if you’re over 40, and more often if your doctor advises.

Blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medicines can dramatically cut your risks, but you do need to take them regularly. If you have side effects, speak to your GP rather than just stopping – they may be able to advise on an alternative that suits you better.

Alcohol – does it help?

I’m always hearing from my patients that red wine protects against heart disease. It might, a bit, if you’re a man over 40 or a woman past the menopause. But you only need a small amount – drinking more than 14 units a week can raise your risk instead. Other risks from alcohol, such as breast cancer, start to rise even at low levels (one unit a day can raise your risk of breast cancer by 7-11%). So I certainly wouldn’t recommend taking up drinking for the sake of your heart.

Smoking – just don’t!

The facts are clear – smoking raises your risk of dying from heart disease by a terrifying 60%. I know it’s hard but there has never been more support out there in the NHS to help you quit!

Eat and walk tall

Your heart will thank you for any move towards a Mediterranean diet – more fruit and veg, less ‘saturated’ fat like red meat and high-fat dairy foods, more fish (especially oily fish), ‘unrefined’ carbohydrates like wholemeal and wholegrain foods, and regular nuts or olive oil. This diet has been proved to cut the risk of heart disease. So can regular exercise – half an hour a day of any aerobic exercise (the kind that makes you slightly breathless) will help. In fact, so will any small changes – taking the stairs rather than the lift, walking to the shops instead of taking the car or even parking at the far end of the car park!

HRT and heart attack – what should I believe?

We all know that younger women have a lower risk of heart attack than men, and it’s long been assumed that female hormones – oestrogen in particular – played a part in protecting them. It was always thought that replacing oestrogen with HRT after the menopause would cut that risk. But a few years ago, a big study suggested women given HRT had more heart attacks than those who didn’t take it.

So what’s the truth? Well, the world has turned full circle, as it so often does in medicine. The women in the study were mostly in their 60s, and many had gone through the menopause many years earlier. They were also already at very high risk of heart attack because of high blood pressure, raised cholesterol etc. Among women in their 50s (the age doctors usually start giving HRT), women taking HRT weren’t put at higher risk of heart attack by taking it. However, while that’s one worry off your mind, taking HRT long term is still thought to increase your risk of breast cancer, so do talk to your GP about your own case.

References last accessed 26th September 2013

McSweeney JC, Cody M, O’Sullivan P, et al. Women’s early warning symptoms of acute myocardial infarction. Circulation. 2003;108:2619-2623.

With thanks to ‘My Weekly’ magazine where a version of this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Breast cancer screening – weighing up your choices

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None of us like to think about reaching that age. Fifty may be the new 40 (I’m starting a campaign to make it the new 30 since it’s looming ever larger on my personal horizon), but the menopause waits for no woman. And neither, of course, does breast screening. At some point in the three years after your 50 th birthday, that brown envelope with an invitation for a mammogram will drop onto your doormat. Most of my patients do accept, safe in the knowledge that it has to be a good thing. Now the latest news headline has given us pause for thought.

Breast cancer is possibly the condition more women fear than any other. That’s partly because it’s ‘The Big C’ – but there are lots of different cancers. It has, however, the dubious privilege of being the single most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in a lifetime, with over 48,000 UK women getting the bad news every year.

Despite the publicity around breast cancer survivor celebrities such as Kylie Minogue, the majority of women (about ¾) who get breast cancer are over 50. That’s why all UK women are invited for regular breast screening with mammography every three years from the age of 50 to 70. The idea is that screening picks up cancers at an earlier stage, when they can’t be felt and haven’t produced any visible changes. The earlier the stage at which breast cancer is treated, the better the likelihood of long-term survival.

And a new review of the evidence on breast cancer screening shows that it does save lives, reducing the risk of dying of breast cancer by 20%. With more than two million women screened each year in the UK, it’s estimated that one death is avoided for every 235 women invited for screening – 1,300 lives saved a year.

But there’s a downside. The review also found that while most women will get the all clear, 681 women will be diagnosed with cancer for every 10,000 screening. Of these 681 cancers, 129 will be slow-growing cancers which wouldn’t have done these women any harm and would never have been found otherwise. That means that about 4,000 women a year will be treated with surgery, radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy unnecessarily.

Unfortunately, we just don’t know enough about breast cancer to work out which ones will grow and which ones can be left safely alone. Research is ongoing and we may have sophisticated tests to tease out the aggressive cancers from the less aggressive, but that doesn’t help women making the decision now about whether to go for screening.

Should we be telling women at all, when it might worry them and put them off a potentially life-saving procedure? Of course we should. It would be incredibly arrogant of me as a doctor to decide a woman ‘couldn’t cope’ with the whole picture. My job is to give her all the information she needs to make an informed decision. For a woman who isn’t particularly worried about breast cancer, those figures might make the risk too big to take. For someone touched by cancer within their family, it could seem a small price to pay.

As for me – when that brown envelope comes through my door, in the light of these findings, will the contents end up in the bin or in my diary? Oh, I’ll be there. I’m firmly in the ‘small price to pay’ camp.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Women and health – more confusion than ever?

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I was asked about the biggest challenges facing women today as far as their health is concerned. The clear winners in terms of women’s health issues aren’t rocket science if you ever open a newspaper.

First, there’s fertility – the ‘can we afford to have a baby?’ discussion is going on in homes all across the country, if the statistics, and the questions in my consulting room, are anything to go by. Women in the UK are putting off having children longer than ever, but finding it isn’t as easy to plan their first delivery date, as it was to plan their careers.

While there are lots of disadvantages to having babies too young, there’s no doubt that nature is more likely to put a spanner in the pregnancy works as you get older. Fertility drops off sharply once most women are over 35, and at the same time the chance of having a baby with an inherited abnormality like Down’s syndrome rises. Weight can also affect your fertility, with your chances of getting pregnant dropping steadily as your body mass index rises above 27 – even before you get close to the ‘obese’ range. Local healthcare providers are constantly trying to cut costs, and many are refusing to treat women who are very overweight, on the grounds that procedures like IVF are less likely to succeed and they need to get the best success rates for their money.

Next there’s health screening. Every woman in the UK is invited for a mammogram every three years from the age of 50-70, and in some areas that age range is being extended. In 2012 we discovered that there are risks as well as benefits to screening. No longer could women rely on their doctor to tell them what was best – they had to weigh up the evidence and come to their own conclusions.

Then there’s the menopause. Four in five women are affected by hot flushes around the menopause, which can leave you drenched in sweat or embarrassingly bright red at the most awkward of moments. In decades gone by, GPs happily prescribed HRT, which settles hot flushes and vaginal dryness, and had the added benefit of cutting the risk of osteoporosis to any woman with the faintest hint of a hot flush.

In 2002 that all changed with the publication of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study, which suggested HRT could increase your risk of heart attack by almost 1/3 and your risk of breast cancer by a quarter. (1) Things got worse in 2003 with news of the Million Women Study, suggesting that taking some forms of HRT for 10 years could double your risk of breast cancer. (2) Women started coming off HRT in their droves.

But, as so often happens, the pendulum has swung back. In 2012, a careful review of the original study suggested the Million Women Study was flawed and its results couldn’t be relied on (3).

The more recent Danish Osteoporosis Prevention Study (4) challenged the findings of both the two earlier worrying studies. It showed that in women given HRT at around the time of the menopause, there was actually a lower risk of dying or of having a heart attack or heart failure, without any increase in the risk of breast cancer. The study has its limitations – it was relatively small and the number of women in either group having heart attacks was small – but actually it doesn’t contradict the WHI study. In fact, when researchers looked back, it turned out that the increased risk of heart attack on HRT only applied to women in their 70s – and that’s definitely not the group most likely to be getting hot flushes. (5)

I recently appeared on Radio 2 to referee a heated argument between two specialists, one ardently pro and the other equally opposed to HRT. Once I’d told them they were both being economical with the truth and should be ashamed of themselves, my conclusion was that there is a middle ground. HRT may not cut your risk of heart attack, but if you take it around the menopause there is no good evidence that it increases it. It may increase your risk of breast cancer, but the risks have probably been overplayed in the media. Certainly for HRT taken for a few years around the menopause, the risks are very small if they exist at all. As for whether that possible risk outweighs the benefits? You’d have to ask a woman whose life is ruled by hot flushes.





4) Schierbeck L L et al. BMJ 2012;345:bmj.e6409

5) Rossouw et al.JAMA. 2007;297:1465-1477.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

How can plants support declining oestrogen levels

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Menopause can be a difficult time for many woman and declining oestrogen levels can have major impact on many areas of the body.  You can see from the table below just how essential oestrogen is for a women’s health and vitality

Area of the body Effect
Brain Helps maintain temperature

Delays memory loss

Oestrogen increases the concentration of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, so affects mood

Breast Creates breast tissue
Heart & liver Helps regulate the liver’s production of cholesterol and protects the heart
Uterus, ovaries Stimulates the maturation of the ovaries and uterus
Vagina & urinary tract Maintains vagina tissue thickness and lubrication

Helps protect the urinary tract from infection

Bone Helps preserve bone density
Hair, skin, nails Reduces collagen loss, so a reduction can affect hair, skin and nails


So if you don’t fancy using HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or Bio identical hormones what other options are there?

Well nature has provided a solution in the form of phytoestrogensPhytoestrogens are plant derived compounds found in a wide variety of foods and herbs.  There are many kinds of phytoestrogens, but they all have a similar chemical structure.  Their common chemical structure is also very similar to that of the different human oestrogens.  As you can see below Oestrone, the most common oestrogen produced in menopausal women, is very similar to that of Genistein a phytoestrogen found in soy.


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Research has found there are several benefits for women consuming phytoestrogens.  The first is around menopause when a woman’s oestrogen levels begin to decline and this affects all the areas of the body we have shown above.  The way oestrogen has an effect is by binding to oestrogen receptor sites around the body, which then makes something happen.  When there is less oestrogen the effect on the body diminishes over time.  For example low oestrogen affects the vaginal tissue by slowing down production of new cells and mucous secretions.  Leading to a loss of vaginal tissue plumpness and lubrication and leaving women more vulnerable to vaginal dryness, thrush and other infections. The also applies to the urinary tract as the loss of oestrogen’s protective effects around menopause can lead to an increase in urinary tract infections.  Phytoestrogens work by binding to the oestrogen receptor sites to help fill this loss and keep many body functions working.

The other protective function that phytoestrogens provide is that they prevent the binding of dangerous forms of oestrogen in the form of environmental or xenoestrogens.  There are many chemicals found in our environment that “mimic” oestrogen but have a negative effect.  These xenoestrogens can be found in pesticides (e.g. DDT and methoxychlor), industrial lubricants (e.g. PCBs) and plasticizers (don’t microwave in plastic) and many other personal care items and household cleaning products.  They are frequently associated with alarming statistics regarding declining reproductive health and increasing rates of cancer and obesity.

What are well known sources of phytoestrogens?

Food Sources

  • Soy is a well know source and there is research around soy being the reason why Asian women eating a traditional diet don’t suffer menopausal symptoms.  There is a lot of controversy around the use of soy, but is can be beneficial in its fermented forms such as tofu and tempeh and we need to avoid GMO forms.
  • Legumes – apart from soy phytoestrogens are found in beans, lentils and peas
  • Seeds – Sesame, sunflower and linseeds
  • Grains – oats, rye, corn, rice and barley
  • Yamscabbage - How can plants support declining oestrogen levels
  • Alfalfa
  • Apple, cherry, Pomegranates, rhubarb, plum
  • Carrots, potato, beetroot
  • Kudzu
  • Buckwheat
  • Cabbage family
  • Olives
  • Garlic


  • Black cohosh – a well know herbs used n traditions medicine for many years to support menopausal symptoms
  • Red Clover
  • Hops
  • Liquorice rootclover - How can plants support declining oestrogen levels
  • Fennel
  • Anise
  • Sage



53dcead35bcf4a7f7d306154787a96ff - TOP TIPS TO SUPPORT PCOS THE NATURAL WAY


PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is an endocrine and metabolic disorder which affects 5 – 10% of women of child bearing age and is the most common form of infertility in women.

Women with PCOS tend to have hormone imbalances which lead to poor blood sugar control, obesity, insulin resistance and infertility.

Symptoms vary between women but include irregular periods or no periods at all, excess hair growth, acne and skin tags due to insulin resistance when your body can’t process sugar and carbohydrates properly. Some women with PCOS will have ovarian cysts.

Hormone Imbalances

PCOS and hormone imbalances go hand in hand. PCOS sufferers typically have an excess of the male hormone testosterone, and normally there is an excess or an imbalance of oestrogen and low progesterone due to lack of ovulation.

High testosterone is linked to high insulin and blood sugar levels. Also, irregular cycles of less then 8 periods per year may increase the risk of hormone related cancers.  It is really important to do all that can be done to manage PCOS well.

Diet and Food Choices

A classic symptom of PCOS is craving “white foods” like white bread, sugar, pies, stodgy treats and pastries. There is also the dreaded “muffin top” , craving sugar, feeling tired after eating,  and feeling constantly hungry with an inability to lose weight.

Aim for a diet that is free from food additives, hormones and chemical ingredients as these can interrupt your normal hormonal activity.

Add whole foods, low GI foods, lean protein, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds and seed oils to obtain trace nutrients and essential fatty acids.

Eating regular small meals and including lean protein at each meal – 3 main meals and 2 snacks – will give you a slower energy release and help to keep blood sugar levels more stable.


Exercise should include a mix of aerobic and weight bearing exercise like walking, cycling and aqua aerobics, yoga, pilates and weights.  Exercise improves bllod sugar levels via  insulin resistance and helps with good bone density. Maintaining a healthy weight is important in PCOS, though note that just exercising without dietary changes and supplementation may only prove frustrating.



Try chromium. It is the mineral of choice for PCOS and may improve insulin resistance in patients with PCOS.  Foods which contain chromium include brewers yeast, high fiber cereals, yeast, broccoli, grape juice, and meat and whole-grain products.

Some fruits, vegetables, and spices provide chromium. Romaine lettuce, raw onions and ripe tomatoes are all good sources. Chromium can help to stabilize blood sugar and may also help stabilize energy and mood.

Recommended daily dose is: 500-1000mcg daily.

Reduce inflammation – green tea, papain, bromelain, and zinc are useful here.   Avoid stimulants like coffee, caffeine, energy drinks, saturated fats, deep fried foods, sugar and refined carbohydrates like cake pies and pastries. Avoid smoking and second hand smoke.


Eat more fruit and veg – especially those high in antioxidants like berries, broccoli, garlic and tomatoes.  6 cups of green tea a day adds a healthy antioxidant boost or 30g per day in capsule form.

Clinicians Hi-Dose Chromium


Include essential fatty acids such flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil and fish oil. Omega 3 fatty acids protect the progression from insulin resistance to glucose intolerance and help to increase insulin secretion from the beta cells in the pancreas, which assists with the regulation of blood sugar. It also has a beneficial effect on liver fat content and cardiovascular health.

Clinicians Evening Primrose Oil

Brewer’s yeast, broccoli, grape juice, meat and whole-grain products are all excellent sources. Some fruits, vegetables, and spices provide chromium. Romaine lettuce, raw onions and ripe tomatoes are all good sources.


Women with PCOS have been found to have significantly low magnesium levels.  Brewer’s yeast, broccoli, grape juice, meat and whole-grain products are all excellent sources. Some fruits, vegetables, and spices provide chromium. Romaine lettuce, raw onions and ripe tomatoes are all good sources. Recommended dose is  450 mg per day.

Clinicians Magnesium 625


Zinc is a nutritionally essential mineral needed for catalytic, structural, and regulatory functions in the body. Aim for 15 -25mg per day.

B Vitamins

Aim for 100mg of each B vitamin per day in a good B multi combination.  B Vitamins promote energy, help the body deal with stress, provide antioxidant support, support healthy immune function and assist with fertility and reproductive health.


Cinnamon is indicated for insulin resistance at a dose of 1g per day.

Clinicians Blood Sugar Balance

Chaste tree is recommended at a dose of 200 – 400mg per day in cases of oestrogen excess and to help balance out hormones.

Clinicians PMT Cycle Balance

Milk thistle for liver support at a dose of 30 to 60g per day

Gymnema to help with blood sugar balance and is indicated in the treatment of insulin resistance.

Or Tribulus  (indicated for PCOS) may also be considered at dose of 200 – 400mg per week.










Chaste Tree Benefits

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Chaste Tree (Vitex-agnus castus)

This beautiful looking tree is a favourite herb to use with women having menstrual challenges. Its earliest use with menstrual difficulties was documented over 2500 years ago, with use in early Roman and Greek times.

Your Menstrual Cycle

Most women have hormonal imbalances at some time in their lives; others are constantly plagued by them.  The main offending hormones that go out of balance are oestrogen and progesterone.  Oestrogen is the hormone that increases predominantly in the first half of our cycle.  Its job is to get things prepared for successful ovulation; then release of the egg ready for fertilization.  In the second half of the cycle progesterone increases to grow and maintain the uterine lining where the fertilized egg may have been implanted.    If there is no pregnancy the progesterone levels drop and we menstruate.

This is how it should work normally, but sometimes these hormone levels get out of balance.  This can occur at different stages of a women’s life as a normal part of cycle changes (starting periods to menopause) or due to changes in our health due to environmental factors like stress, poor diet, bad habits etc.

So how do we know our hormones are out of balance?

Looking for signs and symptoms is the first step, although if things get more serious you can get hormone levels tested by your doctor.  However generally if something goes wrong and oestrogen is too high we start seeing sign like heavy bleeding and  PMT (Premenstrual tension) signs like:

  • weepiness
  • headaches
  • fluid retention
  • breast pain
  • period pain.

Similarly if we have low progesterone for example we can end up with short cycles (less than 26 days) and angry PMT moods.

How does Chaste Tree work?

If this all sounds too familiar then maybe you should be looking at Chaste Tree for support.

  • Chaste works with the body to help balance your hormone levels.  It helps to lower excess oestrogen and increase progesterone levels.
  • Unlike the oral contraceptive it does not take over the normal functions of the body, but just balances.
  • It is not 100% certain, but it is thought to work via the brain signaling pathways, which stimulate hormone production in the reproductive organs.
  • This means that it can sometimes take up to 3 months to achieve balance, especially if things are really out of whack.  However quite often women experience improvements within the first month.
  • Since Chaste Tree supports the body balancing hormones it can help improve cycle regulation and good ovulation.  This makes it helpful to women who are trying to improve fertility, but have irregular cycles.
  • Peri-menopause – This is the period of transition from regular menstruation until menopause when your periods finally stop.  You may find if you are over 40 that your periods are all over the place.  This is very common in this phase of your life and Chaste Tree is our number 1 herb to help during this time.

Who should use Chaste Tree?

In general I would certainly use Chaste Tree for any PMT (Premenstrual tension) symptoms such as:

  • Mood changes
  • Pain
  • Heavy periods
  • Headaches
  • Fluid retention.

Chaste Tree Preparations and usage

There is just one caution around use with the oral contraceptive as there are some thought that it may reduce protection from pregnancy.  For most women taking the pill not getting pregnant is important, so I would not take the risk.

So if you fancy taking chaste tree you need to make sure you take a therapeutic amount.

Liquid Herb 2.5ml daily
Dried Herbs 500mg ( 1-2 x day)


When considering dried herbs those that have been standardized are good as they guarantee a certain amount of the actual chemical in the plant that have the hormone balancing effects.


Nutrition in Pregnancy, Preconception and Breast Feeding

1f89bd9ea203221ec0ecd8a230e6cc24 - Nutrition in Pregnancy, Preconception and Breast Feeding

There are many factors that can influence well-being in pregnancy, but nutrition is key for a healthy mum and baby.   A good balance of vitamins and minerals are important for mum to support the physical and chemical changes going on in her body to support a healthy pregnancy.  For the foetus and baby they support optimal mental and physical development and general good health in these formative years.  According to a study published by Yang et al. 2011 nutrition has a bit impact on the first 2 years of a child’s life.


fetus - Nutrition in Pregnancy, Preconception and Breast Feeding“The period of the greatest risk and greatest opportunity for making a difference in children’s survival, growth and development is from conception through the first 2 years of life. These first 1000 days are when interventions can have long-term positive impacts on children’s survival, growth and intelligence quotient, resulting in improved school performance, higher incomes and enhanced productivity in adulthood.”

When a woman is planning a pregnancy or falls pregnant doctors will recommend taking folic acid, to prevent neural tube defects and iodine.  These are the basic nutrients, but there are many more vitamins and minerals that support good health.  Let’s have a look at why other vitamins and mineral are important.



Vitamin A There have been scares around Vitamin A causing birth defects when taken in high doses, which has caused women to avoid it completely.  However according to the NZ Ministry of Health less than 10,000iu is a perfectly safe amount.9  Vitamin A is important for baby’s limb development and the formation of the eyes, ears and heart.2 It helps mobilise iron, so helps with anaemia.
B Vitamins In general B vitamins support the nervous system and help convert food into energy. In particular B1 can help with blood sugar balance.  Vitamin B6 assists with the relief of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy 3   It also helps support positive mood post pregnancy.  Vitamins B12 and folic acid are important in the first 4 weeks of pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects and are also important for good iron levels too.
Calcium Important for the development of bones in the baby and protects mum’s bones and teeth.
Choline Important for baby’s healthy brain development and memory.  Choline was also shown to reduce risk of neural tube defects. It is involved in DNA repair and regulation.4, 5
Chromium Helps good blood sugar balance to help prevent gestational diabetes.  It is estimates 2% of women will develop gestational diabetes, most often in the third trimester.  Studies have shown that chromium improves glucose tolerance in non-diabetic women in pregnancy and can reduce LDL cholesterol
Copper This trace mineral helps aid the prevention of stretch marks and cramps6
Iodine Iodine is deficient in the NZ soils, but is important for the normal growth and development of the baby7.  In particular it is important for intellectual functions and motor skills8.  For mum it helps with energy and healthy thyroid function.  The Ministry of Health recommends supplementation of 150mcg in pregnancy.9
Magnesium Magnesium is helpful to aid sleep, muscle relaxation to avoid cramps and can support healthy blood pressure.  It has demonstrated a preventative role in thrombosis and has been shown to improve vasodilation which can help prevent toxaemia and premature uterine contractions8.
Manganese Helps contribute to a mother’s love and maternal instinct8
Rutin Strengthen the circulatory system against varicose veins and haemorrhoids
Selenium Deficiency is linked to SIDS, asthma and down syndrome.8   It is also important to create thyroid hormones for energy
Zinc Poor zinc status is associated with adverse outcomes in pregnancy including low birth weight, premature delivery, labour, delivery complications and congenital abnormalities.12 It may also assist in preventing anaemia13 and helps to prevent stretch marks. It is estimated that 83% of pregnant women worldwide are likely to have inadequate zinc intakes. 10
Iron During pregnancy infant growth and blood volume expansion can rapidly use up the body’s iron stores.  Iron is essential for haemoglobin to transport oxygen from the lungs around the body and supports many key enzymes for healthy energy and metabolism, mood and thyroid and sex hormone production. (see notes below about iron)



Iron is a very common deficiency in pregnancy, but it is not always a given.  Iron should be given if levels are low and this mineral is closely monitored by blood tests during pregnancy.  Some forms of iron can lead to nausea, vomiting and constipation, all of which can be an issue for pregnant women. 14   Excess iron is not good and if a woman is iron replete (has sufficient iron) supplementation could be harmful by increasing her risk of gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.15

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With regards to taking iron in combination with a multivitamin, this can cause issues as iron competes for absorption with other nutrients such as zinc and copper.  A Canadian Study 2009 showed that women taking iron containing multivitamins, experienced worse nausea and vomiting than those that took multivitamins without iron.16  Therefore if iron is supplemented it would be best taken on its own, with a main meal, away from any other vitamin that may also compete with it for absorption.


Ideally address nutritional needs should start  8-12 weeks before pregnancy in order for your body to be prepared for conception.  Good nutrition can have positive effects on fertility and of course neural tube defects develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy so levels of folic acid needs to be high right from the start.  Iron is something that should be at optimal levels when starting a pregnancy and  optimal levels of stored iron (ferritin) is 80 – 100 ug/L


Many women are vigilant about their nutrition during pregnancy, but may be less so during breast feeding.  According to the Ohio State University11breastfeeding women need an extra 300 calories a day (or 20-25% more than eaten before pregnancy) to support the baby’s nutritional needs whilst growing.  Also this is a very demanding and exhausting time for mums, so keeping nutrients levels it check helps with energy levels needed to look after a new addition to the family.  Keeping an eye on iron levels and protein intake are important during this period too.


Breast%20feeding - Nutrition in Pregnancy, Preconception and Breast Feeding

  1. Yang Z. Et al. Matern Child Nutr. Oct 2011;7 Suppl 3:19-43
  2. Linus Pauling Institute. Micronutrient information center. August, 2007; Accessed June 9, 2009
  3. Weed SS. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year. Woodstock, New York: Ash Tree Publishing 1986
  4. Trickey,R. Womens, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle. 3rd edition, Tickey Enterprises,2003
  5. Choline and risk of neural tube defects in a folate-fortified population. Shaw GM1, Finnell RH, Blom HJ, Carmichael SL, Vollset SE, Yang W, Ueland PM.
  6. Thauvin E, Fusselier M, Arnaud J, et al. Effects of a multivitamin mineral supplement on zinc and copper status during pregnancy. Biol Trace Elem Res. Jan-Mar 1992;32:405-414.
  7. Zimmermann MB. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy and the effects of maternal iodine supplementation on the offspring: a review. Am J Clin Nutr. Feb 2009;89(2):668S-672S.
  8. Naish F, Roberts J. The natural way to better babies. Milsons Point, New South Wales: Random House Australia Pty Ltd; 1996.
  9. Ministry of Health. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand.
  10. Shah D, Sachdev HP. Zinc deficiency in pregnancy and fetal outcome. Nutr Rev. Jan 2006;64(1):15-30
  12. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Acadamies. Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Tolerable upper intake levels (UL), Elements 2004.
  13. Makola D, Ash DM, Tatala SR, Latham MC, Ndossi G, Mehansho H. A micronutrient-fortified beverage prevents iron deficiency, reduces anemia and improves the hemoglobin concentration of pregnant Tanzanian women. J Nutr. May 2003;133(5):1339-1346.
  14. Do side-effects reduce compliance to iron supplementation? A study of daily- and weekly-dose regimens in pregnancy. Hyder SM1, Persson LAChowdhury AMEkström EC
  15. 15.
  16.  Gill SK, Maltepe C, Koren G. – The effectiveness of discontinuing iron-containing prenatal multivitamins on reducing the severity of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. 2009  PMID 19280488

Preparing for Pregnancy – Creating Health Vaginal Flora

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– Health Conditions – Clinicians – Preparing for Pregnancy – Creating Health Vaginal Flora
1108 - Preparing for Pregnancy – Creating Health Vaginal Flora
Vaginal Flora is important for all women.  We have a diverse ecosystem filled with a variety of bacteria and yeasts, which when in balance works well for us.  However when flora becomes imbalanced it can get pretty uncomfortable down there.

When looking at getting pregnant and throughout pregnancy vaginal flora plays an important role.  The bacteria in the vagina play an important part in immunity and can help or hinder conception.  Let’s have a look at the ways in which they work.

  • Bacteria in the vagina produce hydrogen peroxide and lactic acid, which create an acidic environment (around pH 4) and help protect the vagina from bacterial and yeast infection1.   There are some things like, for example, perfumed toiletries or the oral contraceptive that can affect this delicate balance and cause infection.  Also declining numbers of good bacteria can affect the amount of acidity produced, so it is beneficial to top up the numbers of good vaginal bacteria.
  • Bacterial levels vary in the presence of different levels of hormonesOestrogen increases the production of glycogen, which is the food source of the Lactobacillus bacteria. So their numbers increase making a more protective acidic environment1.   This is an important function during pregnancy as it helps to protect again Bacterial Vaginosis.   This is where bad bacteria, which are normally in small number in the vagina, start to proliferate.  This is particularly important as several studies have shown that Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) increases the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery of a low birth-weight infant, decreases the possibility of successful implantation through IVF, and greatly raises the risk of other adverse pregnancy outcomes and complications3.
  • Lactobacillus in the vagina can also help with other areas of fertility. This is important because after sex the sperm must overcome many barriers in the female reproductive tract to fertilize the ovum. 4 One study showed that vaginal probiotic lactobacilli could protect sperm from radical oxygen species in the presence of vaginal disorders, thereby improving the fertilization potential. This means the bacteria protect the sperm motility and viabilty4.
  • Finally let’s remember that when the baby is born the vaginal mucus and all the bacteria contained in it are the first bacteria to colonise the baby’s sterile digestive system.  Up until this time there are no bacteria in the mucosa or digestive tract and this first exposure is the start of building the baby’s immune system. So a colony of good bacteria will give your baby the best start.


  1. Trickey, R. Women, Hormones & the Menstrual Cycle. Melbourne, Australia. Allen & Unwin, 2003. PP324-325.
  3. Hillier SL, Nugent RP, Eschenbach DA, Krohn MA, Gibbs RS, Martin DH, Cotch MF, Edelman R, Pastorek JG 2nd, Rao AV, et al. Association between bacterial vaginosis and preterm delivery of a low-birth-weight infant. The Vaginal Infections and Prematurity Study Group. N Engl J Med. 1995 Dec 28;333(26):1737-42. PMID: 7491137.
  4. Barbonetti A1, Cinque B, Vassallo MR, Mineo S, Francavilla S, Cifone MG, Francavilla F. Effect of vaginal probiotic lactobacilli on in vitro-induced sperm lipid peroxidation and its impact on sperm motility and viability. Fertil Steril. 2011 Jun 30;95(8):2485-8. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.03.066. Epub 2011 Apr 17. PMID  21497805.


Dietary supplements are not a replacement for a balanced diet. Always read the label. Use as directed. Do not exceed the recommended daily dose. If symptoms persist, see your health professional.

Ten Essentials for Women’s Health

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Women’s health is all about hormones. It has always been a favorite topic of mine. As a teen and 20-something you deal with PMS, erratic periods, acne, and cramps. In your thirties you have all of the hormonal ups and downs that go with pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding. In your forties you are may have heavy bleeding, depression or anxiety, and mood swings and in your fifties it’s hot flashes, vaginal dryness and wondering when it will all be over with. Surely it wasn’t meant to be this hard, so why is it? Many of us have minor hormone issues that can turn into major ones if they are not nipped in the bud. Here are ten products we think every woman should know about:

Adrenal Health by Gaia—This is only one of many good adrenal products, but I love this formula for its combination of calming herbs and adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs that help the body better handle stress. Most of us are pulled in a million different directions—kids, jobs, husbands, ailing parents, volunteering commitments, and more. Excess adrenal activity can cause high cortisol, sending us into “fight or flight” mode. Excess cortisol also reduces progesterone in the body because they share receptor sites. This can cause estrogen dominance, causing us to be irritable, have heavy periods, and become sluggish. If chronic, estrogen dominance can result in fibroids, endometriosis, and even breast cancer. When natural doctors look at the hormone cascade they first treat the adrenals, then the thyroid, and the sex hormones are last. Too many women are led to thyroid meds and hormone replacement when the real issue is burned out or stressed adrenal glands. Excess cortisol can also contribute to belly fat. Bolster your adrenals with this supplement or one of the other great ones on our shelves.

Fem Rebalance by Vitanica—An amazing herbal formula  that is great for many issues where the balance of hormones is off—hormonal acne, lack of ovulation, very long periods, and more. Its work is subtle, so you’ll have to take it for at least two cycles to get a result. Doctors often recommend birth control pills as a “go to” for any issue where the cycle is upset. Think of this product as a replacement that works with the body rather than altering the natural hormone cycle.  Save the birth control pills for what they were really designed for–contraception.

BioSil—Great for the health of hair, skin, and nails, this special form of silica “turns on“ the beauty proteins. It boosts keratin in hair and nails, and elastin, and collagen in the skin and connective tissues. Consult with your doctor about hair loss if the source of it is unknown. Hair loss can relate to anemia, thyroid problems, medications, hormone imbalance, and other things. It is best to find out why you are losing hair before doing anything about it. In addition to addressing underlying conditions, this supplement is a great one for re-growing hair.  It also promotes bone growth, and has the “side effect” of fortifying bones.

DIM Pro, milk thistle, dandelion, or BroccoMax—Did you know that after your body uses estrogen it must be broken down by the liver? The proper detoxification of estrogen from the body is crucial to the prevention of hormone-sensitive women’s conditions like fibroids, endometriosis, and many breast cancers. Herbs like milk thistle and dandelion that support liver function can aid in the breakdown of estrogen. Compounds like diindolylmethane (DIM), indole-3 carbinole, and sulfurophane directly relate to the detoxification of estrogens. They are found in cruciferous vegetables, or can be taken in supplement forms like DIM Pro or BroccoMax. There is also a great Host Defense product called Myco Woman that contains a number of mushrooms and herbs aimed at breast health. If you have a family history of breast cancer, this is a great one to check out.

Vitamineral Green powder or caps—A favorite greens formula that is great for overall health. It gives an amazing nutrient boost, oxygenates the entire body, has sea veggies for thyroid support, and tastes better than most of the others out there. It is also excellent for daily detoxing.  I love to put it in my smoothies, add it to salad dressing as a nutrient boost, or just mix it with half juice and half water. Even if you don’t do it every day, this one is a winner.

Natracare tampons and pads—When I found out that conventional feminine products contain bleach, the pesticide glyphosate (a known carcinogen), viscose rayon treated with anti-mildew chemicals, and synthetic fragrances, I was shocked. It’s no wonder women have so many issues with their menstrual cycles. Traditional brands have begun to disclose the ingredients in their products in response to consumer demand. Natracare uses only organic cotton and plant-derived ingredients, and includes all ingredients on the label. Using cleaner products on a monthly basis is sure to improve vaginal/urinary health.

Neu Eve suppositories or cream—A non-hormonal solution for vaginal dryness, painful sex, itching, burning, and prevention of urinary tract infection. Developed by a local doctor in response to patients were looking for a natural solution to these problems, it contains only natural ingredients. It helps to rebuild the mucous membranes by supplying nutrients to heal them. Suppositories require only once a week use, making them very convenient. The cream can be used daily if you are currently experiencing an issue.

Acteane—A homeopathic hot flash remedy containing several common remedies for hot flashes. Getting great reviews from our customers!

Probiotics—These “good bugs” assist with digestion, immunity, and mood. Bloating is a common complaint of women and can be greatly relieved by a probiotic. Having a strong microbiota protects us from infectious agents. Certain strains are even targeted at the bacteria that typically cause urinary tract infections. Other strains target IBS, general immunity, and gut inflammation. Since more than 70% of our serotonin is made in the gut, healthy gut bacteria can go a long way toward improving mood. Some of the B vitamins and vitamin K are made from the gut bacteria, so probiotics are important to stress relief, skin health, and bone health.

Progesterone cream—Extracted from wild yam, progesterone is instant relief from irritability, helps with heavy periods, soothes perimenopausal symptoms, lessens cramps and relieves stress. Our endocrine system is very intricate and inter-related. An imbalance in one hormone can lead to imbalance in others. Xenoestrogens are prevalent around us and can affect hormone health. Xenoestrogens are substances that act like estrogen in the body by binding to receptor sites for estrogen. We have been trained to think that a lack of estrogen is the root of so many female problems, but the truth is many of us have too much. Excess estrogen in the body can cause bloating, heavy periods, depression or anxiety, acne, PMS, weight gain, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breasts, endometriosis, memory loss, and even breast cancer. It can also block the uptake of thyroid hormone in the body and may be the genesis of the many thyroid disorders we see today.

Good health is all about prevention and female hormonal issues are no exception. Putting good self- care habits in place and correcting minor hormone issues before they develop into something more serious are crucial to female health.