By James E. McMinn, M.D.
I have been abundantly blessed in my life to be associated with some very special, kind, loving, smart, talented, and overall amazing women, starting with my Grandmothers, my mom, my sister, my wonderful wife, to my daughters, and finally my patients. Over the years, I have heard the struggles of the sisterhood repeated over and over, and it brings me great joy to partner with these special women in their journey to better wellness. Revived and vibrant women are better able to lead productive and happy lives.
Fundamentally women are biologically, chemically, hormonally, genetically, mentally, spiritually, and sexually different than men. As a result, there are a whole host of conditions and diseases that disproportionately affect women. Time after time, I have witnessed the power of a holistic integrative approach to women’s health care with attention to the fundamentals of wellness. In this edition of Natural Awakenings, we’ll explore the most common concerns of women in America today, along with practical and specific suggestions for improvement.
1. The number one concern of women I see in my office by far is fatigue. The list of potential causes goes on and on. Some of most common causes include poor sleep, stress, hormone dysfunction, (including adrenals and thyroid), allergies, food sensitivities, and nutritional deficiencies. More often than not, it’s not just one cause, but multiple causes acting together. I consider fatigue to be overarching. It affects every other aspect of a woman’s life. Fatigue affects not only the patient, but also the marriage and the family. Fatigue also has many friends such as insomnia, brain fog, weight gain, decreased libido, headaches, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. The key to treatment is to get to the bottom of the cause of the problem, and to then devise a targeted customized approach. This may take a painstaking search for the needle in the haystack, but to give a woman her energy back is to give her life back.
2. The next most common concern of women is weight gain or trouble losing weight. We all know about the effects of proper eating habits and exercise on weight. These are essential aspects of any weight maintenance program. However, there are two other aspects that are also important but often underestimated. First is the power of the mind. It all starts with intention. From there we need to do goal setting, create a plan, and build in tracking, monitoring, and accountability. The other major underappreciated component is the importance of hormone and neurotransmitter balancing. Hormone imbalance, low thyroids, and dysfunctional cortisols and neurotransmitters can all make it very difficult to loose weight. It’s truly is like swimming upstream against a swift tide of extra pounds.
3. The third most common concern is hot flashes / night sweats: These two don’t always run together, but many times they are co-conspirators in the plot of misery. For those who have experienced them or witnessed them, they are profound. I have seen many a nurse just dripping with sweat, while standing in front of the air-conditioned vent. The night sweat portion can keep a woman up all night. Together or separate these can be debilitating and must be taken seriously. Usually, they are due to estrogen dysfunction, however low adrenals and low serotonin may also contribute to hot flashes. The good news is that these symptoms are usually quite treatable with bio-identical hormones.
4. The fourth most common concern of women is low libido. There is no reason to feel that we necessarily have to give up this part of our life as we grow older. Healthy sexuality is important for the woman, her partner, her family, and it is important for overall health. Unfortunately, low libido is a very common problem; there are often multiple contributing factors such as stress, kids, fatigue, medications (especially anti-depressants), vaginal dryness, pain with intercourse, and relationship issues. Hormones also play a major role in libido. It is hard for a woman to have any interest if she is deplete of testosterone. Estrogen, DHEA, and thyroids, and neurotransmitters also play a major role in a woman’s sexuality. In most women, optimizing hormone balance with bio-identical hormones can significantly enhance low libido.
5. Insomnia is the fifth most common concern of women. Approximately 60 million Americans suffer from lack of sleep. This can have far reaching consequences on obesity, fatigue, depression, mental illness, autoimmune disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, and low libido. Hormones and neurotransmitters can play major roles in sleep quality. Bio-identical progesterone and serotonin precursors tend to promote getting to sleep, while estrogen supplementation promotes staying asleep.
6. The next most common concern is hair loss. A woman’s hair loves estrogen, while it generally does not care for testosterone. Thyroid dysfunction (low or high) can also damage hair. Nutritional deficiencies, low stomach acid, inadequate protein, and low iron may also result in hair loss.
Other common concerns of women include “brain fog,” depression, anxiety, mood swings, and irritability. These conditions are frequently, but not always, due to treatable organic causes. A search for hormone dysfunction, toxins, nutritional deficiencies, infections, drug side effects, or neurotransmitter imbalance, accompanied by an appropriate treatment regimen may result in a significant improvement in the above symptoms, and in turn may profoundly enhance a woman’s quality of life.