December 18, 2012
From the moment of conception, womens bodies develop in preparation for uniquely female roles in life. Genes and hormones are primarily responsible for the biological changes that differentiate women from men. In fact, each life stage carries with it certain health considerations. Adolescent girls begin to experience their fertility at a time of fast physical and emotional growth. With the child-bearing years come the trials of monthly cycles, as well as preparing for pregnancy and lactation. Later on, menopause arrives and with it reduced protection from estrogen and an increase in age-related health issuesmany of which may be viewed as too taboo for women to talk about.
The following health concerns should not remain in the dark, but discussed openly among women, their families, friends and physicians, so these concerns can be brought to the forefront.
Concern 1: Hormone Replacement Therapy
For up to a decade prior to menopause, the production of estrogen starts to slowly diminish. Estrogen has many functions in a womans body, including helping to protect the heart, preserving bone mass and strength and lifting and stabilizing a womans mood. Health concerns arise when levels of estrogen decrease, bringing along a host of symptoms. Key among these are dreaded hot flashes and night sweats. In fact, approximately two-thirds of North American women experience these symptoms during menopause, according to the study, Vasomotor Symptoms and Menopause: Findings from the Study of Womens Health Across the Nation, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America (Thurston R. and Joffe, H., 2011).
Its been a decade since the Womens Health Initiative study results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) raised the risk of stroke, heart attack and breast cancer (JAMA. vol. 288, No. 3, 2002). Today, postmenopausal women comprise more than half of the over-50 population. These women are at an increased risk for bone loss with each passing year, and they know all too well the discomfort of hot flashes and night sweats that accompany menopause.
In an MSNBC poll, 61 percent of women said that they do not take HRT or plan to in the future because they have too many concerns about the side effects.
One way women can alleviate the discomfort of menopausal symptoms is through proper nutrition. A dietary supplement that is made from genisteinthe primary isoflavone found in soymay be the answer to many of their concerns. Because genistein belongs to a class of plant compounds called phytoestrogens that functionally mimic the role that estrogen plays in a womans body, it can help to reduce the incidence and duration of hot flashes and night sweats and may help lessen the discomfort of other menopausal symptoms. Some pure non-soy sources of genistein are on the market, such as geniVida®, from DSM, which has been shown to be effective at 30 mg per day.
The decline in estrogen production after menopause also tips the balance of bone turnover in favor of bone loss, increasing a womans risk for osteoporosis and hip fractures. Emerging clinical data supports the role of genistein along with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acids in limiting bone loss in menopausal women.
Concern 2: Thinning Hair
Just like other parts of our body, a balanced diet supports strong, healthy hair. Indeed, a lack of certain vitamins slows down the growth of hair, makes the hair dull and easily breakable, and may cause thinning. Science suggests a role for vitamin A; the B complex vitamins, such as vitamins B3, B5, B6 and biotin; vitamin E; along with iron and zinc, in maintaining hair health especially during the aging process.
Concern 3: Blood Flow
While many women typically dismiss heart disease as a mans disease, heart disease is still the number one killer of women, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
We often think about how to avoid heart disease by taking the right measures to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check. However, many women do not find themselves thinking about the importance of healthy blood flow, which is the third pillar of cardiovascular health.
As we age, arteries lose some of their elasticity and become smaller. Along with this, our blood platelets tend to become more sticky" and adhere to one another. Sticky platelets cause the heart to work harder to push the blood through the arteries, which can result in decreased blood flow to the organs.
Emerging scientific research shows some nutrients are able to support healthy blood flow. For example, a patented water-soluble tomato-based concentrate (as FruitFlow, from DSM) was shown to maintain healthy platelet aggregation and improve blood flow in several clinical studies (Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Sep;84(3):570-9; Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Sep;84(3):561-9).
Concern 4: Skin Health
Todays consumers are more health and image conscious than ever before. The appearance of the skin is important to a womans idea of beauty, with 68 percent of women around the globe identifying skin health as a key attribute, according to StrategyOnes Global Study on Women, Beauty and Well-Being (Etcoff N., et al. 2004).
Up until recently, skin health was addressed with topical solutions such as lotions and toners. Now more than ever, the concept of beauty from within" is resonating with consumers who are learning external beauty is directly associated with the nutrients they consume. There is a positive association between a good diet and healthy skin, hair and nails. For example, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, soy isoflavones and nutritional lipids play important roles in maintaining healthy skin. The right blend of these key nutrients help to keep the skin hydrated, and through their antioxidant properties, protect the skin from the ravages of time and from the aging effects of the sun.
Some of the key nutrients that help to support skin health and keep it looking its best include vitamins A, C and E along with biotin, copper, lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These nutrients work together to support skin structure, elasticity, hydration and overall appearance.
Concern 5: Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Heres an eye-catching fact for youage-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people older than 55 in the Western world, according to the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (Resnikoff S., et al. 2004). AMD gradually leads to a loss in central vision, which means that people suffering from the condition cannot read or recognize faces.
Once again, science suggests proper nutrition can help to maintain the health of our eyes. In particular, the nutrients shown to play an instrumental role in eye health and vision include lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin A and the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. These nutrient combinations are now being tested as a part of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study by the National Eye Institute of the National Institute of Health, to determine their role in the progression of AMD in individuals between 50 to 85 years of age.
The underlying point of all of these concerns is that proper nutrition supports overall health and wellbeing in women of all ages.
Deshanie Rai, Ph.D. is senior scientific leader, DSM Nutritional Products .
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