In a time where social media influencers are bold and fierce, I wanted to clear up some common myths around women’s health. Our bodies are healers, and by supporting them correctly, we can promote and live in optimal health. The best place to start with this would be to establish a trusted provider that will partner with you and your needs. Healing is not linear, and your focused health concern matters. Below are the top five common women’s health myths.
Eat yogurt for your probiotic.
I am a true advocate for probiotics. Why? Because gut health is a primary hub for overall health. This is well researched and evidence-based. A great example of how gut health contributes to our health is mental health: 90% of your serotonin (your happy) is produced within the gut. If you have inflammation (bad bacteria build up) present in the gut, you don’t produce as much serotonin, which over time can increase anxiety, depression, irritability, stress, etc. I am not indicating this is the cause of that, just describing how your gut health can contribute to mental health. And this is only one example.
Another example would be your immune system. If you carry certain bacteria within the gut, it may or may not be creating inflammation. A healthy gut will lead to balanced hormones. If we keep gut inflammation well controlled, it can give your gut a protective biome for ultimate immunity (75% of immunity takes place in the gut too) and hormone balance. You will not get what your body needs through eating yogurt. Most yogurts are full of sugar and can produce increased candida in the body. Once the body breaks it down, it creates bacteria that contribute to further problems. Candida is a type of fungus that can wreak havoc on the body if it grows out of control and spreads in the body.
You can’t get pregnant while nursing.
Women have delayed fertility for several months after giving birth due to a hormone called prolactin, but if breastfeeding is not exclusive, or prolactin levels decrease, ovulation may return, even if you aren’t menstruating yet. This typically happens if women are not exclusively breastfeeding (every two to four hours around the clock). In a nutshell, most women do not get a period when nursing and/or are not able to tell when they ovulate due to altered hormones. And, ovulation comes before menstruation, so it’s important to recognize signs of ovulation and/or talk to your health care provider about family planning.
How do you know you’re ovulating while breastfeeding?
- Your period returns—if an egg is released and you get your period, ovulation occurs.
- Changes in your cervical mucus—pay attention to vaginal discharge, if it changes to being clear, light and greater in volume, ovulation has likely returned.
- Your temperature increases—basal body temperature will increase 0.5-1 degree around ovulation.
- Uterine cramping/fullness returns—this is usually a sign of returning menstruation.
- Boost in libido—this is due to a hormonal surge. When that surge returns, so does ovulation.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women.
Breast cancer widely talked about and is super important, so it’s often perceived as the leading cause of death in women. The truth is nearly a quarter of deaths of American women are caused by heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, mor than all cancers combined. It’s never too early to emphasize heart health in women: identify optimal heart health, review the risk factors, establish optimal goals of heart health, fill the nutritional support gaps as needed and encourage regular well visits with your provider. I will always promote education on heart health and focus on well care before it becomes sick care.
Prevention of osteoporosis begins with menopause.
Bone health is a common focus for women as we age but should be discussed at well exams starting as an adult. Estrogen is the key regulator in bone metabolism, so as we age and our estrogen decreases, it can affect our bone density. But, we naturally have smaller, thinner bone density than men, and we have estrogen, making bone health an important discussion within your well visits. Estrogen is a hormone that protects our bones. If we are deficient in estrogen, it can lead to bone resorption and inadequate bone formation, maturation and bone turnover. In my opinion, while the loss of bone mass that affects nearly half of women begins after menopause, prevention begins much earlier with health habits that promote bone strength. Girls are in critical bone-building years once they start menstruating. A healthy diet rich in vitamin D, calcium and magnesium is important, along with avoiding smoking and getting plenty of physical activity.
Women have to deal with sexual issues on their own.
Low libido, pain during intercourse and vaginal dryness are a few examples. These are all potentially treatable, and you aren’t the only woman to experience them. Many women do not discuss this out of fear of feeling uncomfortable, inadequate or dismissed. But sexual issues are real and arise at different times in a woman’s life. Some may be due to hormone imbalances, life transitions or a related health issue. You are not alone, and I’m here to normalize these uncomfortable conversations. Partner with your provider to identify the root cause of your concern. No woman should feel that they are alone with this topic.
I am with woman,
Anne Schwanke, APRN, CNM, WHNP