Category Archives: Women’s Health

Obese Women Are Different Than Men

Over and over, we’re given options to lose weight this way and that, and they spread them across the board. There are those who blame women’s habits for women having a harder time losing weight than men, but it’s more than that. For one thing, testosterone is a natural fat burner that women just don’t have as much of.

Women actually gain weight for different reasons than men, and it’s not just the basic hormones. Obese women, according to a study in the journal Cell Biology, have a specific, food related learning deficit as they call it that is not observed in obese men or people of healthy weight. This may explain why they gain so much weight.

Researchers looked at this by presenting men and women with different colored squares and then pictures of rewards (food or money). They were then asked to predict the likelihood of a reward after a certain color or pattern. It was only obese women who struggled to accurately predict when a food picture would come, but they easily predicted the money suggesting a different learning curve when it comes to food.

Co-author Ifat Levy PhD, neuroscientist at Yale University says, I must admit that we did not expect a gender difference. She explains that it might be that obese people have additional cognitive loads when it comes to food. Levy continues, Women are generally more concerned about being obese or their appearance, and therefore this load may be heavier for women.

Of course, they will need to conduct more studies to determine if the learning deficit is actually the cause or the other way around. Levy posits, It could be that obese individuals – or at least obese women – fail to flexibly adjust their valuation of food. For example, when we are hungry, food is perceived as highly rewarding. But when we are full, the food is less rewarding and can even be aversive. It is possible that some obese individuals fail to recognize the change in their internal environment, and thus keep regarding the food as highly rewarding even when it should not be.

Levy hopes for her research to help move the field of obesity research along and break into more of the actual causes to find better treatments.

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Shaving Your Lady Parts Could Hurt Your Health

Bikini waxes and Brazilian waxes specifically have been all the rage. My laser lady used to tell me about how she specialized in doing the sensitive areas around your vagina, and yes, women obsess about this one area. However, as you may have noticed, these methods can get a bit pricey. It’s not all that surprising that most women shave. Women’s health expert Andrea DeMaria reports that this could actually pose a health risk to women.

DeMaria says, Women don’t understand the risks of shaving their pubic hair, because they are safely removing hair on other parts of their bodies. She bases this on a study recently published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. According to this study, 87% of women admitted removing public hair, and 90% used a razor.

The problem is that skin around the genitals is more delicate than other areas, and it can cause injuries that aren’t necessarily visible, but they are still there. This could explain 60% of women reporting some kind of side effect like abrasion or ingrown hairs when shaving the pubic area.

Some would think that being such minor injuries, they must be harmless. The problem is that it’s not that simple. The area below your belt is moist and dark, meaning that it can easily breed bacteria. This makes you more vulnerable to all kinds of infections including STI’s like herpes and HPV reports physician Emily Gibson MD.

A 2013 study in Sexually Transmitted Infections found that shaving your pubic hair could raise your risk of molluscum contagiosum, which is known to be sexually transmitted. Your pubic hair is actually a natural barrier your body has to protect you from infection.

In short, Dr Gibson is telling you that yes, you should throw away the razor. She says, All hair removal techniques are disruptive to hair follicles, and cause an inflammatory reaction and micro-abrasions to the skin. DeMaria on the other hand believes that yes, you should be safe, but you don’t need to stop altogether. You can trim with an electric razor to start, sterilized of course, and then you need to make sure that you are always using a fresh razor free of infections. She then suggests that you pat (don’t rub) yourself dry to prevent friction and let the air circulate.

Breast Pain: Why It’s Probably Not Cancer

Breast pain can be scary, especially when you hear so much about it in your local health news and from your doctor. You immediately think cancer, and if you go on the online diagnosis tools, it literally always tells you that it might be some form of cancer, no matter what your symptoms. You could have a bloody nose, and it would tell you that you might have cancer.

This said, Dr Michael Cowher, a breast surgeon with the Cleveland Clinic explains, The important thing for patients to realize is that while it can be a sign of cancer, it is very rare. Breast caner rarely comes with pain. The best way to find it is still by looking for lumps and other signs with your fingers. Breast pain is typically associated with hormonal changes, but here are a few of the big contributors:

Premenstrual Pain

Yes, if you’re nearing or on your period, you may experience breast tenderness and pain. Many women have heaviness in their breasts right before their periods, even experiencing pain while walking up the stairs. Higher estrogen and progesterone levels cause the milk glands and ducts to enlarge, retaining water in the breasts, causing the pain. However, this type of pain usually goes away shortly after your period when your hormones have evened out again.

Costochondritis

This is a type of arthritis pain in the middle of the chest. It happens between the ribs and the breastbone, and it is typically caused by poor posture or aging. Women who experience costochondritis describe it as a burning sensation in the breast that can mimic a heart attack or other heart condition. If there is swelling, it could be Tietze Syndrome. You can apply heat or ice and take an ibuprofen for this.

Noncyclical breast pain

This type of pain is not related to your period, and it’s typically isolated to one specific area of the breast. Women sometimes experience this after a breast biopsy, breast injury, or trauma as well as pain from tissue or muscles around the breast. This is most common in women between 40 and 50, but it can strike pre or post menopausal women. It generally lasts for a couple years.

Fibrocystic breast condition

Fibrocystic breast condition used to be known as a disease, and it is now seen as a natural change in a woman’s breasts. More than 50% of women will experience it at some point or another. It is characterized by breast tissue that ends up feeling lump or rope-like, and it causes pain and tenderness in the upper to outer areas of the breasts right around your period.

Too much caffeine

If you drink too much caffeine, yes, that could ultimately cause breast pain. Some doctors ask about this first, because an estimated 25% of women will benefit in the area of breast pain by eliminating or reducing caffeine. A Duke University study found that 61% of women with breast pain who stopped drinking caffeine had reduced breast pain. Caffeine leads the blood vessels to dilate, causing the breasts to swell and hurt.

An old bra

I know, it seems like an odd thing to cause breast pain, but your bra is around your breasts so much, it has to do something. Dr Cowher says, I see plenty of postmenopausal women who may not have purchased a bra in several years, and that’s why they are getting pain. Both the elastic in the bra and in the body wear out as you age. Sometimes you have to adjust elastic in the bra to adjust for the elastic in the body. If you gain or lose weight, that would also be another time to get a new bra.

Infections

Mastitis is when you get an infection in the breasts. Bacteria enters, causing pockets of pus to form that need to be drained. Antibiotics unfortunately cannot penetrate the pus, and breast abscesses can also form during breastfeeding. If the infection comes with a red swelling in the breast, fever, or chills, go to see your doctor.

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Breasts have a ton of nerve endings, and in some rare cases, women have pain due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Nerves that pass through the breasts become compressed. If you experience a shooting pain, you most likely have this condition. Persistent arm pain could be a sign of other issues though like a heart attack or other heart condition. So it still should be checked out.

Subareolar abscesses

This is also known as Zuska’s disease, which causes small abscesses beneath the nipple. It also comes with painful discharge. This can be caused by smoking. So if you have it, one of the best things you can do is stop smoking. Unfortunately, this is often misdiagnosed as breast cancer, and it leads to false and unnecessary mastectomies. If treated properly, it can be treated with antibiotics.

Estrogen Causes Your Binge Eating

Women, we lose again. When it comes to weight, we already know that testosterone burns more fat, and yes, as it turns out, the ideas behind PMS are not all in our minds. Estrogen (and other female hormones in hormonal imbalances) could actually contribute to binge eating.

Yong Xu MD PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor University says, Previous research has shown that women who develop binge eating often have irregular menstrual cycles associated with a dysfunction in estrogen, suggesting the hormones play a role in this behavior. But it’s not necessarily what you would think. They compared their research to previous reports of lowering estrogen being associated with an increased binge eating behavior. As it turns out, higher estrogen levels meant less binge eating. How does that work?

Binge eating disorder, which is basically eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, is the single most common eating disorder. It is not a matter of just saying stop eating so much. For 5 to 10% of the population, this is a serious thing that is hard to control, but how do we stop it?

One would think that estrogen therapy would be obvious, but as we have seen in hormonal menopause treatments, this can come with complications of its own. Xu found that current estrogen regimens can actually increase risk of breast cancer in women.

There are a number of foods that mimic the appearance of estrogen to the body. There are studies that have shown that foods like soy for example, or some herbs can help you without the negative impacts of hormone therapy (to a limited degree of course). But they are still testing a lot of it out.

Sex Hormones May Be Hiding In Your Food

Whether you love your meat, or you’re more into plant based proteins like tofu and tempeh, sex hormones may be hiding in your food. The idea might make you uneasy. After all, we don’t want sex hormones getting into our bodies to get things messed up. Hormone based drugs have been connected to risks like bone loss, infertility, extreme anger, and heart disease depending on which side you’re on. For menopause hormone treatments, bone loss and heart disease are common. But you weigh that out and decide what the risks and benefits are when you take hormone therapy, especially for menopause.

If the hormones are in your food, that makes things different. You didn’t sign up for that. So where does this idea come from?

The sex hormones estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone are injected into the ear of cows on a regular basis, leading the cow to gain weight, grow faster, and produce milk. The same types of hormones are also used in farmed chickens and pigs.

Richard J Auchus, MD, professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, member of the Endocrine Society, and associate editor of the journal Endocrinology explains, There are maximum safe limits that are set for hormones in meat. For beef, the limit of estradiol residue for example would be 120 parts per trillion, which is incredibly low, not even noticeable in many settings, and that is set by the US Code of federal regulations.

In other words, if you were to eat 3oz of steak with a hormone implant, you would get 1.9 nanograms of hormones. If it were a cow that did not receive hormones, you would get 1.3 nanograms of hormones according to the College of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Cows milk typically has low levels of estrogen too at 59 nanograms in each 2 cups.

Comparatively speaking, when women are taking an estradiol pill for hormone treatment, they get about 50,000 nanograms of estrogen each day, far more than the amount you would find in any food you could eat like this. Dr Auchus explains, A lot of this gets metabolized by the liver. The levels in meat are thousands of times off from what would be biologically meaningful.

It is the high amounts in the hormone treatments that ultimately leads to more serious problems. The low levels in meat are nothing compared to that.

For plant based proteins like soy, they have what are called phytoestrogens. These are not actually estrogen, but the body does see soy isoflavones as looking quite a bit like estrogen. Other foods like black beans and red clover also have this appearance and phytoestrogens. You would get 42mg of phytoestrogens on average in about 3oz of soy. You would get 23mg in 100 grams of tofu according to the USDA nutrition database, which seems considerably higher.

1 milligram is equal to about 1 million nanograms to give you an idea, and a piece of steak has 2 nanograms.

However, it’s not all about the numbers. The phytoestrogens you find in soy, tempeh, black beans, etc, does not carry the health risks of things like birth control and hormone replacement. For men who are eating A LOT (and I do mean a lot), it could reduce fertility, but you are unlikely to eat that much.

Gynecologist and Everyday Health columnist Lauren Streicher MD says, I do not tell patients to avoid food that are high in phytoestrogens. When talking to a woman with breast cancer, she says, In fact, estrogen doesn’t cause breast cancer, it’s estrogen and progestin together.

Auchus refers to this saying, Even quite large amounts of food that are high in phytoestrogens don’t provide much biological effect. There is no reason to avoid soy.

If you are concerned about hormones in your proteins and their potential effects on your body, in other words, vegetarian proteins are the safer bet.

Women Can’t Hydrate Like Men

Despite popular belief, women are not smaller men. Yes, we can compete in certain ways, and I do run with the boys on a lot of things. When it comes to your body’s natural processes though, there’s really only so much you can do. Regardless of your age, fitness level, or other factors, women are different than men, and sweating is critical to regulate your natural body temperature. The problem is that every time you sweat, you lose water and essential electrolytes. If you lose too much (without replacing it), you can get tired, dizzy, nauseated, and achy. This is part of why sports drinks have become so popular.

When it comes to women though, we have added complications. Specifically, our hormones, sweat, and loss all vary depending on the time of the month and where you are in your cycle. In part because of this, when women drink the recommended amounts for men, they may not actually be able to reach peak performance the same way.

As Stacy Sims PhD puts it, Women are not small men. Sims is an exercise physiologist-nutrition scientist. She continues, They’re five times more likely than men to have GI problems when exercising, whether it’s bloating or gas or diarrhea. Women are also more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Bummer. According to Sims, it’s directly linked to your blood volume, which may vary based on your menstrual period as you may have noticed. During the menstrual period, a woman loses around 8% of the plasma volume, and the core body temperature rises by about 0.9 F, which can actually make you tired faster and get you to heat stroke faster.

If you’re on the pill or another birth control, the estrogen and progesterone in your system can be 6 to 8 times higher.

So compared to men, women need more sodium and potassium. These essential electrolytes can easily get lost, and women need to think about drinking more. Think about it before your workout, and Sims recommends going into your workouts hydrated. Then you can sip throughout your workout.

Hydration isn’t the only thing that is different for women though. Sims says, Women can become overtrained if we work out too intensely at different phases of our cycle. In the second half of our cycle, high blood-hormone concentrations after exercise can make us particularly vulnerable to breaking down muscle and storing fat, which can affect the female body the same way extreme stress can. If you have sore muscles, a high heart rate, moodiness, and lack of appetite, then back off and eat more protein.

Pregnancy May Not Be Healthy If You’re Pregnant

You can’t eat cheese, fish, or pretty much anything else when you’re pregnant. After all, you have to worry about the baby. You definitely can’t sit in a hot tub with all the bacteria, and you don’t want to cook your baby. Some say that you shouldn’t exercise too hard, while others say you can keep up whatever routine you were using before. It certainly does seem like everybody has something to say about you being pregnant.

As for the government, among their many recommendations, you will find that the EWG (Environmental Working Group) has their own list of grocery items that have nutrients that can supposedly cause harmful issues for kids 8 and younger and pregnant women. Specifically, they focus on breakfast cereals and snack bars.

The EWG conducted a review of over 1,550 cereals and 1,000 snack bars. They found 114 cereals that were fortified with a 30% or greater value of vitamin A, zinc, and/or niacin. 27 of the most common snack bars came with a dose of 50% or more of adult recommendations.

Granted, if you look at your average prenatal, you will find a whole host of high doses of various vitamins. So you would think that getting it through your food would be a good thing. But Renee Sharp, a research director and co-author for the EWG, says, Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short or long-term health problems. Manufacturers use vitamin and mineral fortification to sell their products, adding amounts in excess of what people need and more than might be prudent for young children to consume.

Vitamin A is specifically fat soluble, and because of that, it is more likely to lead to toxicity. Your body stores it. On the other hand, if it’s a water soluble vitamin, it is naturally more likely to be released. If you get too much vitamin A, it can lead to side effects like liver damage, skeletal issues, and hair loss. For pregnant women, this can also result in fetal defects. This is why doctors don’t recommend certain acne medications when pregnant.

You would assume that your daily prenatal would be specially formulated with exactly what you need and none of what you don’t, but you may want to think twice about that. You may want to run your prenatals by your doctor. It certainly wouldn’t hurt. Read your labels carefully, and you may want to focus on foods rich in beta carotene such as sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, and cantaloupe.

Most of all, read the labels.