Women have many unique health concerns — menstrual cycles, pregnancy, birth control, menopause — and that's just the beginning. A number of health issues affect only women and others are more common in women. What's more, men and women may have the same condition, but different symptoms. Many diseases affect women differently and may even require distinct treatment.
Calcium: “Getting enough calcium is important for all ages, but it's particularly important during adolescence and early adulthood, when bones are absorbing calcium,” says Heather Schwartz, MS, RD, a medical nutrition therapist at Stanford University Hospital and Clinics. Calcium and vitamin D are often paired in fortified foods such as milk. The reason: The body needs D in order to absorb calcium.
After menopause. Lower levels of estrogen after menopause raise your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and break easily. What you eat also affects these chronic diseases. Talk to your doctor about healthy eating plans and whether you need more calcium and vitamin D to protect your bones. Read more about how very low estrogen levels affect your health in our Menopause section. Most women also need fewer calories as they age, because of less muscle and less physical activity. Find out how many calories you need based on your level of activity.
The tiny gender differences in minerals other than calcium and iron depend on body size. But while the dietary requirements for selenium fit this rule, men may benefit from supplements of about 200 micrograms a day, a level about four times above the RDA. That's because both a clinical trial and an observational study suggest that selenium may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. It's far from proven, but it's something for men to consider.
Trans fatty acids, also known as trans fats, are solid fats produced artificially by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of metal catalysts and hydrogen. They also pose a health risk, increasing LDL or "bad" cholesterol and increasing your risk of coronary heart disease. They are often found in cookies, crackers, icing and stick margarine, and in small amounts in meats and dairy products. Beginning in January 2006, all food manufacturers had to list the amount of trans fatty acids in foods, resulting in a significant reduction in the amount of these fats used in prepared foods. In its guidelines, the American Heart Association notes that trans fats increase risk of heart disease by raising "bad" LDL cholesterol and should be avoided as much as possible. In addition, research has shown that trans fats can also decrease "good" HDL cholesterol, increase inflammation, disrupt normal endothelial cell function and possibly interfere with the metabolism of other important fats—even more evidence that they are very bad for overall health.
Use MyPlate (PDF – 281 KB) as a guide to build a healthy diet. Think about filling your plate with foods from the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy — at each meal. Snacks can be a good way to fill in fruits and whole grains you might have missed at meals. Most of us don’t need complicated calorie counting programs or special recipes for healthy eating.
Everyone seems to have food allergies these days, but in fact, such allergies are rare. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, while one in three adults think they have a food allergy or modify their family's diet, only about four percent do. A food allergy is an abnormal immune-system response to certain foods (most commonly, fish, shellfish, peanuts, other nuts and eggs). Symptoms can include hives, rashes, nasal congestion, nausea, diarrhea and gas. However, symptoms of food intolerance—such as intestinal distress—may mimic those of a food allergy. You may want to talk to an allergist about diagnosis and treatment. Whether you have food allergies or intolerance, you will need to develop a diet that fits your needs and avoids foods that trigger a reaction.
Before you convince yourself that you’re too busy to mediate, consider this: “Adding mediation to your daily fitness routine can be a crucial part of body transformation,” says Mark Fisher, founder of Mark Fisher Fitness in NYC. Find five to 10 minutes once or twice a day to focus on your breath, he suggests. “Taking the time to do this can help your body and brain de-stress and recover better from all your hard work at the gym and the office.”
Even if you are the most independent exerciser around, give a group fitness class a shot at least once a week—you may find that you enjoy it more than sweating solo. “Happiness and health are shared through social connectedness and closeness,” says Greg Chertok, director of sport psychology at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey. “Geography and proximity are predictors of how contagious emotions can be, and this may translate into an athletic environment too.” Sign up for Bikram, CrossFit, spin, or Zumba, and you could find yourself—gasp!—smiling at the gym thanks to your classmates.
Salt, caffeine and alcohol intake may interfere with the balance of calcium in the body by affecting the absorption of calcium and increasing the amount lost in the urine. Moderate alcohol intake (one to two standard drinks per day) and moderate tea, coffee and caffeine-containing drinks (no more than six cups per day) are recommended. Avoid adding salt at the table and in cooking
Loss of taste. Some medicines alter your sense of taste making you lose your appetite. Ask your health care professional if there are alternatives to the medicine you're taking. You might also experiment with spices to make foods tastier. Also, rotating tastes of each food on your plate, rather than eating one food at once, can help you taste various flavors better. Foods with strong scents also taste better, since taste and smell are linked.
The Center for Young Women’s Health (CYWH) is a collaboration between the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and the Division of Gynecology at Boston Children’s Hospital. The Center is an educational entity that exists to provide teen girls and young women with carefully researched health information, health education programs, and conferences.
Women's Health magazine focuses on the emotional and physical process of healthy living. Featuring sections such as fitness, food, weight loss, Sex & Relationships, health, Eat This!, style, and beauty, this magazine focuses on the health of the whole woman. Although the magazine is relatively new, the success it has reached since its inception in 2005 speaks volumes about the magazine's ability to connect with women everywhere.