For woman to take care of the health and well-being of their families and communities, they need to take good care of their own health first.
Andrea du Plessis, a registered dietician and head of consumer care at Vital Health Foods, provides her opinion on the leading women’s health issues in South Africa and top tips to address them.
1. Heart disease
Top Tip 1: Choose low sodium products to flavour meals such as low sodium vegetable salt, and MSG-free soy sauce as part of your low salt diet.
Foods that support a healthy heart and circulatory system include unprocessed whole foods, such as high fibre muesli, sunflower seeds and salt free snacks such as rice cakes and corn cakes are vital to a woman’s diet.
Although heart disease is often considered as a health risk for ageing men, associated with a stressful lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits the statistics show us that the death risk in women associated with heart disease is six times higher than breast cancer, which is the most feared disease among women. In South Africa, women are specifically at risk of heart disease due to the prevalence of genetically inherited high cholesterol.
Many South African women are overweight and many women smoke, which further increases the risk for heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number 1 killer of women over the age of 25 and stroke is the number 3 killer.
• 1 in 35 women are at risk of developing breast cancer while 1 out of every 4 women are at risk of heart disease before the age of 60, according to the South African Heart Foundation.
• Only 1 in 29 women die of breast cancer, compared to 1 out of every 2.4 women that die from cardiovascular disease.
Women, who often do not regard themselves at risk of heart disease, should seriously start looking at making lifestyle and dietary changes to promote cardiovascular health.
In most cases, women only start presenting with the symptoms of heart disease after menopause, reflecting the protective effects of the female sex hormones over cardiovascular health.
Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women
A very interesting aspect of women and heart disease that is becoming evident is that it presents with symptoms that differ from the way they present in men.
Furthermore, women are not as alert as men to pick up the warning signs and symptoms, as they are not as aware of their risk for heart disease as men. Some of the less typical symptoms of heart problems are often misinterpreted and misdiagnosed, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, pain in arms, pain in neck, difficulty breathing, unexplained fatigue and sweating.
Angina, characterised by chest pain resulting from a lack of blood and oxygen supply to the heart, is one of the first signs of heart problems. Angina is often not accurately diagnosed in women, who complain more about chest pain than men.
Chest pain, even in younger women is now regarded as a possible sign of heart problems. It is therefore important for women to be aware of their risk of heart disease, which could be managed very effectively if identified at the early stages.
2. Weight management
Top Tip 2: Drink green tea to speed up your metabolism and to lose weight.
If you’re trying to speed up your metabolism in order to lose weight, remember to stock up on green tea. Green tea contains antioxidants which help to increase the body’s metabolism through a process called thermogenises. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, a healthy lifestyle is vital. A healthy balanced diet and regular exercise form the base of a healthy weight management programme. Nutritional supplements can support weight management only as part of a balanced, energy controlled and low kilojoule diet.
Top Tip 3: If you’re currently taking a calcium supplement, take it at night before you go to sleep to optimise absorption.
Calcium is the most important structural mineral in bones, assisting in bone density and decreasing the risk of osteoporosis. Calcium rich foods include milk and low fat yoghurt, low fat cheese, almonds, sesame seeds, tinned pilchards, tinned sardines, spinach and broccoli.
Avoid smoking, caffeine containing beverages, alcohol intake, salty foods and high protein diets, as these may decrease the body’s calcium content and thereby increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Top Tip 4: Start your day with a cup of rooibos tea.
Rooibos tea antioxidants have been shown to help maintain a youthful skin by helping to prevent premature skin ageing. Beauty can be nurtured from within.
To maintain vibrant skin, beautiful hair and strong nails, you need to include the correct balance of all the essential vitamins, minerals, trace elements, essential fatty acids and antioxidants into your diet.
Zinc tablets, Evening Primrose Oil and Vitamin E are essential supplements that can promote healthy and beautiful skin.
Vital Multitime Hair, Skin & Nails is a balanced formula of essential nutrients to promote beauty from within.
5. Digestive Health
Top Tip 5: Make sure to drink at least 6 glasses of water per day and increase your intake of dietary fibre from whole-grain cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables.
The main cause of constipation is dehydration. Make sure to drink at least 6 glasses of water per day and increase your intake of dietary fibre from whole-grain cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Digestive problems range from mild discomfort, such as heartburn, to agonizing or painful symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea and spastic colon. Most digestive system complaints can be either prevented, or managed with the support of natural products.
Top tip 6: Avoid drinking black tea as the tannins found in tea are known to reduce iron absorption.
Iron is a vital component found in hemoglobin and a deficiency in iron compromises the red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen. To optimise iron absorption, combine plant foods that are rich in iron, such as spinach, with foods that contain vitamin C, such as lemon, oranges, chillies or peppers.
Also, to ensure optimal absorption of iron in a supplement, avoid drinking black tea, as the tannins found in tea are known to reduce iron absorption.
Anemia is a condition which affects the blood which circulates through our bodies and is typically characterized by a decrease in the number of red blood cells, or a decrease in the size of the red blood cells, or a decrease in the hemoglobin content of the red blood cells. Hemoglobin is a protein component in red blood cells which binds to oxygen and therefore carries oxygen through the body via the circulatory system.
7. Bladder health
Top tip 7: Drink cranberry juice or take cranberry extract to help prevent bladder infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) typically affect the bladder and urinary tracts.
UTIs represent the second most common infection in women. 80% of all women experience a UTI at least once, while approximately 20% of all women have a UTI each year.
Drinking cranberry juice, or taking cranberry extract, helps in the prevention of bladder infections by helping to prevent the adhesion of bacteria to the bladder tissues. That is why cranberry juice is a well known treatment for bladder infections in traditional medicine.
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