Did you know women shouldn’t eat tuna sushi more than once every two weeks? That frozen dinners can adversely affect your blood pressure? Or that a chiropractic adjustment could lesson monthly cramping? Most women want to live healthy lives—but do they know how? Eat right and exercise doesn’t always answer the many questions we have about maintaining “best health.” Each stage of a woman’s life and even particular parts of her body require specific attention for healthy living. To shed a bit more light on the subject, four experts address a variety of health issues important to women including common life stage concerns, heart health, infertility, pregnancy and overall wellness.
Dr. Kathryn Babich is an obstetrician and gynecologist as well as medical director of women’s services for Park Nicollet. She details a woman’s typical life-stage concerns and provides some insight into how best to manage health at each stage.
For teen girls, common issues involve menstrual cramps and irregularity, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and immunizations. Babich says education is key at this stage in life. “Know what is normal or not normal for menstrual function, and talk about problems or questions with a parent or health-care provider,” she says. “Understand the risks of sexual activity and what is needed to protect yourself.” Babich adds that the teen years are a good time to establish healthy eating and exercise habits.
Nutrition is very important during a woman’s childbearing years, maintaining a healthy BMI under 25 and learning ways to manage stress. “Stop smoking, too,” says Babich. “Better yet, never start. And be sure to address any medical issues like thyroid dysfunction, hypertension or diabetes prior to pregnancy.”
Menopausal women can encounter menstrual dysfunction, too, along with hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, mood issues and loss of libido. For women who have only been seeing a gynecologist, this is a good time to establish care with an internist or family medicine physician to discuss appropriate screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopy, cholesterol checks and bone-density scans. Much of this manages medical problems that can arise mid-life, including high cholesterol and osteoporosis. Babich encourages discussion with a gynecologist if considering low-dose hormone replacement: “They can be a safe option for women having significant menopausal symptoms after a discussion on personal risk factors,” she says. But what’s most important for all women at this stage of slowed metabolism is increased exercise, including weight-bearing exercise and a diet that is rich in calcium and vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis.
Postmenopausal seniors can sometimes experience bleeding, bladder problems, pelvic prolapse and osteoporosis. “Most postmenopausal bleeding is benign,” Babich says. “But it can be a sign of uterine cancer and deserves prompt evaluation.” There are also many choices for older women regarding the treatment of bladder problems, including surgical, medical and physical therapy. Babich also notes that depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle at any age. She encourages women to talk to their doctor if they’re experiencing any symptoms of depression.
Heart health is vital for women; the American Heart Association states that heart disease affects more women every year than all cancers combined. Cardiologist Dr. Betty Grey with Minneapolis Heart Institute and WestHealth believes exercise is key, but so is keeping cholesterol and blood pressure in check. “It gets hard for women to keep their weight down as they reach middle age,” Grey says. “But gaining 10 pounds a year equals 100 pounds over 10 years. That’s too much.” A caveat is that heavier women who are active are physically fit have a lower cardiac risk than inactive skinny women.
In addition to obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, other significant heart-health risk factors include family history and smoking. Additionally too much sodium is a recipe for bad heart health, as it can cause high blood pressure. “People probably get too much sodium from processed foods, including frozen dinners. This is bad for blood pressure, which can creep up over the years, a result of less-compliant blood vessels.”
Other proactive ways to maintain a healthy heart are to refrain from processed foods and consider a fish oil supplement. Grey states that the good fats found in fish oil supplements can’t be obtained simply by eating fish unless a woman eats fish three times a day—which isn’t wise considering many types of fish contain poisonous mercury. Grey suggests fish once or twice a week, and not eating tuna or tuna sushi more than once every two weeks to avoid overexposure.
Finally, for women in excellent health with no other risk factors but who have a family history of premature coronary disease, Grey recommends a conversation with a doctor about statins. “The evidence of statins’ plaque-fighting ability is irrefutable,” she says. “It might be a way to change the course of someone’s family history.”
Infertility and Pregnancy
Dr. Mary Dahling is an obstetrician and gynecologist with John A. Haugen Associates. In dealing with women anxious to get pregnant, she counsels patience. Try for at least a year before seeking any infertility work up. (Women older than 35 could shorten thier trial period to six months.) “The truth is you can be doing everything right and still not get pregnant right away,” she says. “But 80 percent of women are pregnant after a year—90 percent after two years. Patience is key when many insurance plans don’t cover infertility treatment because it doesn’t always work.”
To help speed things along, Dahling says over-the-counter ovulation predictor kits work well and are all pretty similar. It’s also not too early to begin prenatal vitamins. “Those don’t need to be expensive either,” she says. “The generic brand is just as good as any other.”
Dahling also dispels the myth that women should refrain from attempting pregnancy immediately after discontinuing birth-control pills. “It’s fine for women to begin trying right away after discontinuing birth control pills. In fact,” says Dahling, “women who take birth control to regulate an irregular cycle might have better results getting pregnant in the months immediately after discontinuation of their pills.”
Once pregnancy is achieved, Dahling recommends common sense moderation, and in the case of smoking and alcohol, be safe and cut it out completely. “Some doctors say one drink is OK, Dahling says. “The reality is that one drink makes the next one too easy and it’s just not worth the risk.”
Dahling finds pregnant women seem to have the hardest time giving up deli meat. She says listeriosis can be a problem for pregnant women, so they should refrain from deli meats, sushi and soft cheeses that might be unpasteurized (all common carriers of listeria bacteria). “If you must have deli meat,” she says, “make it steaming hot or try to buy the pre-packaged varieties that are more regulated.” She also supports Dr. Grey’s concerns about mercury and asks pregnant women to be especially cautious with their fish consumption.
Chiropractor Jeffrey Wock has a philosophy that the presence or absence of symptoms aren’t always the best indicators of illness or health. “Just because you don’t have physical symptoms,” the owner of Lake West Chiropractic & Natural Health says, “doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing optimum health.” He points to heart health as one example where women sometimes don’t know there’s a problem until after they’ve had an adverse health event. “We work to educate patients on optimum function of the body and determine if any nervous system pressure is affecting other areas.”
The chiropractic philosophy suggests patients who receive regular adjustments can respond more quickly to treatment after injury because they’re beginning at a higher level of function. But when patients are already symptomatic, some areas where manipulative body-based practices are known to be helpful include back and neck pain as well as cramping associated with a woman’s monthly cycle. “We work to correct any stress on a woman’s lumbo pelvic spine,” Wock says. “This can minimize monthly cramps.”
Individuality is key to any homeopathic recommendations, Wock says, adding he tries to coordinate care with a patient’s general practitioner. This is especially important for women taking prescription medication. Be sure to inform your doctor of any complementary or alternative therapies you use, including herbal or dietary supplements that might interfere with prescription medication, he says.
John Haugen Associates
2805 Campus Dr. Ste. 315
Lake West Chiropractic
4100 Berkshire Ln. N. Ste. 124
Park Nicollet Health Services
3007 Harbor Ln. N.
2855 Campus Dr.