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The Impact of Diet on Women's Health

Medically reviewed by 
 
The Impact of Diet on Women's Health

Nutrition has a foundational role in your overall health. Understanding how your diet, or what you eat, impacts your health can help shift your food choices. In a population-based survey out of Sweden, results revealed that women were more often anxious than men regarding their perceived unhealthy diet. While being mindful of what you are eating is important, there is evidence-based information that can help you make an informed decision about your nutritional needs that hopefully reduces anxiousness around food consumption. 

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Why Do Women's Nutritional Needs Differ From Those Of Men?

Due to metabolic rate and reproductive needs, women have different vitamin, mineral, and caloric needs than men. Depending on the life stage, requirements for micronutrients can vary for women. The RDA for vitamins and minerals is also highly dependent on reproductive demands which vary between fertile years, perimenopause, and postmenopause. In terms of caloric needs the average woman aged 19 years and older needs somewhere between 1,800-2400 calories per day, depending on their physical activity. In comparison, men 19+ years old need between 2400-3000 calories per day. Carbohydrates, fats, and protein intake also deviate between men and women. In general, women require fewer grams per day of all three macronutrients due to metabolic differences and less muscle mass in women than in men. 

What Are Some Top Medical Concerns for Women That Nutrition Can Help With?

Nutrition plays a role in all areas of health. Below are some of the top medical concerns nutrition can be particularly helpful for in women. 

Hormone Health

Appropriate nutrition is vital when it comes to women's hormone health. Sex hormones regulate the processes of menstruation, fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. Eating adequate nutrition can be the deal breaker between balanced and imbalanced hormones. Aside from the impact nutrition has on reproductive processes, hormone-based conditions like PCOS, Endometriosis, Uterine Fibroids, and Interstitial Cystitis are influenced by what you eat. 

Cardiovascular Disease

With heart disease being the number one cause of death for women in the United States, it's important to address all risk factors. Implementing a healthy nutrition lifestyle is considered Primordial Prevention by heart experts. Primordial, meaning from the beginning, should start in childhood. Practicing healthy eating from an early age will establish good habits and reduce your risk factors. An interesting study examined the effects of a Mediterranean Diet versus a reduced-fat diet in those with a high cardiovascular event risk. Results revealed that those assigned to the Mediterranean Diet supplemented with nuts or extra-virgin olive oil had a lower incidence of major cardiovascular events than those following a lower-fat diet. 

Metabolic Syndrome

1 in 3 adults lives with Metabolic Syndrome in the United States. The criteria for metabolic syndrome include increased blood pressure, elevated blood sugar or insulin resistance, excess abdominal adiposity, abnormal lipids with elevated triglyceride, and total cholesterol. Diet, especially one high in processed food and high caloric consumption, is a primary contributor to metabolic syndrome, along with other lifestyle factors. 

Gut Health

Our gut health can often be a reflection of our diet. Food directly impacts our microbiome, which ultimately sets the stage for how our overall gastrointestinal tract will operate. Science has shown that variation in macronutrients influences the type of gut microbiota that develops. This is important to consider because if you are primarily eating carbohydrates, for example, you are missing out on the microbes that a balanced macronutrient diet provides. An imbalanced gut microbiome can lead to dysbiosis, which is a predisposing cause to conditions like IBS-C, IBS-D, and Candida Overgrowth

Cancer 

Breast, lung, and colorectal cancers are the most common cancers affecting women in the United States. Dominant amongst those three is breast cancer. While there are mixed studies on nutrition being a cause of breast cancer, there is well-studied evidence that alcohol consumption has a positive association with the development of breast cancer. Nutrition may not be the primary contributor to a cancer diagnosis, but it is advisable to incorporate an integrative oncology nutrition protocol when addressing cancer from a holistic perspective. 

How Do Nutritional Needs Change Overtime?

As women age, their nutritional requirements will shift. Starting in adolescence, females require more calcium and vitamin D to assist in bone development. They also need additional iron to support the onset of their menstrual cycle. As development into womanhood occurs, an increase in calories supports growth and maturation. During young adult years, nutritional demands will stay rather consistent, only varying with the intensity of physical demands. When trying to conceive, during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding, an increase in calories and nutrients will again be necessary to sustain reproduction, fetal development, and milk production. As women grow into menopause and postmenopause, nutritional needs will again shift. While more research is needed on optimal nutrition and postmenopausal women, one review of studies found The Mediterranean Diet to support bone health, decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease, and reduce metabolic aging. Being mindful of the age and stage you are in and what your nutritional needs are can be vital to your well-being. 

Functional Medicine Labs For Women Focusing on Nutrition for Health

Functional medicine labs help practitioners understand women's physiology on an individual basis, making treatment planning more personal. The following are beneficial labs for women focussing on their nutrition: 

Basic Labs 

Obtaining standard blood work such as a CBC and CMP will provide your doctor with some context of where vital organ systems stand. It gives insight into how your immune system, liver, kidneys, and blood sugar are functioning. 

Hormone Testing

The Female Hormone Advanced Profile by ZRT Laboratory looks at serum sex hormones, adrenal, and thyroid function. Getting a full depiction of your hormone status can help guide treatment in terms of nutrition that can best realign any imbalances. 

Cardiovascular Panel

With cardiovascular disease being a leading health concern for women, it's important to investigate this organ system fully. A CardiacMetabolic Panel analyzes biomarkers that are correlated to the risk of heart disease. Based on the results, you and your provider can incorporate a heart-healthy nutrition plan. 

Inflammatory Markers

Inflammation is a driver of chronic illness, whether that is in the gut, cardiovascular system, metabolic processes, or hormone imbalances. Working with your provider to rule out systemic inflammation can be supportive of the direction of nutritional support. 

Gut Testing

The GI-MAP is a comprehensive stool analysis test that will examine your gut microbiome through PCR testing. It will provide insight as to how well your digestion and absorption are operating. This allows clinical assessment between your results and your symptom picture.  This test can be especially helpful in cases of IBS. 

Metabolic Health Labs

The Metabolomic Profile by Doctor's Data is a great panel if you are at risk for metabolic syndrome. It looks at biomarkers related to blood sugar regulation, appetite suppression, inflammation, and BMI measurement, which can all help get you root cause answers. 

Micronutrient Panel

Getting a micronutrient test that looks at vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fatty acids, and amino acids both extracellularly and intracellularly will provide a comprehensive picture. With this information, you can support any deficiencies through nourishing food or supplementation. 

Food Sensitivity Test

There are incidences where specific foods may be impacting your health. Sometimes it may be an obvious reaction to food, or other times it is a chronic low-grade impact that is accumulating over time. One way to rule out foods that are causing inflammation in the gut is to get a Food Sensitivity Test. Alletess Medical Laboratory offers a 184-item IgG panel that can provide a severity rating of any food that comes back as reactive. Knowing what foods your immune system is reacting to can be very helpful in a comprehensive treatment plan.

What Does Healthy Eating Look Like?

As previously discussed, women have different nutritional needs than men. It's also important to remember that you are an individual that has specific nutritional needs, which vary depending on the season of life you are in. Understanding what foods make you thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally is a learning process that often takes intentional work. If you are hoping to achieve that level of nutritional awareness but need help getting started, the general consensus for healthy eating is to maintain a low-inflammatory diet, that limits processed sugar and emphasizes whole-food nutrition.

Supplements & Herbs For Women's Digestion

When it comes to gut health, there are a plethora of supplements and herbs that are supportive. Specific to digestion, there are some natural products that uniquely aid in the breakdown of food into bioavailable nutrients. 

Depending on the status of your GI health, you may need extra support in breaking down food into its nutrient components, like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Taking digestive enzymes, which include amylase, lipase, protease, lactase, and sucrase, could help you break down foods that may be challenging for your body to do independently. A review on the topic concludes that various sources of enzymes (plant, animal, or microbe based) have therapeutic value in managing food intolerance conditions and malabsorption. 

Your stomach should produce stomach acid in an optimally functioning gastrointestinal tract. This acid, or gastric juice, is a low-pH substance that plays a key role in the digestion of food. When you are chronically low in stomach acid, you develop Hypochlordydria, which means low chloride (the main mineral in stomach acid). Betaine HCL is an amino acid combined with hydrochloride, which, when taken exogenously, can mimic the job of your body's gastric juice, thus allowing for digestive function. 

One of the first steps in digestion is the production of saliva. Plant-based digestive bitters are one way to stimulate bitter taste buds which activate a cascade of digestive events leading to increased salivary production. A review of botanical bitters like Gentian and Wormwood found that the primary mode of action is through stimulation of the Vagus nerve, leading to increased salivation and gastric juice production. 

Summary

What you eat can have a direct impact on health outcomes. From hormone health to cancer, being mindful of your nutritional needs can influence the trajectory of your healing or aid in prevention. If you are symptomatic and believe that your current diet is contributing to your status, getting functional lab tests would be a great tool to get to the root of your concerns. While not all mentioned tests are necessary, working with an integrative women's healthcare provider can help guide you through the process and help you restore your health through impactful lifestyle choices. 

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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