Women are the cornerstone of the basic unit of society - 'the family'. Their health is primary to the entire family, but it is often given the least priority not just by the family but also by the women themselves. Educated women also tend to let their health needs take a back seat unless there is a medical emergency. However, women's health issues are unique and different from men's. Each decade or two of their life, their health needs change focus according to their hormonal and metabolic challenges. Therefore, women must understand that a good lifestyle has a positive effect on their health, and the choices they make for their health have a long-term impact on their well-being.
Here Are 12 Diseases That Are Silent Killers For Women:
Adolescence is the first major shift in the needs of girls. It is a difficult period for all. The onset of puberty makes it an awkward stage and throws up health issues unique to girls. This is a period of change and rapid growth. An increase in height, weight, sexual maturation, and hormonal changes all happen within this decade of life.
Anaemia is a common problem seen in adolescent girls, even from affluent families. Poor food choices driven by peer pressure and social media lead to nutrient-free food intake. To avoid anaemia, including foods rich in iron, vitamin C, and folate is recommended. Iron-rich foods include poultry, organ meats, beans, green leafy vegetables, and dried fruits. Vitamin C is available in citrus fruits, papaya, bell peppers, and spinach while folate is available in whole grains, green leaves, eggs, peanuts, and seeds.
2. Eating Disorders
Adolescence makes girls more conscious of their looks. Body shape and size, and skin problems are normal fallout of hormonal changes happening, and young girls must be counselled for a positive mental outlook as body shaming and aspirational thinking can leave a bad impact. Both weight and skin need nourishing food made with fresh ingredients. Including a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables help with glowing skin and weight. Whole grains bring fibre that keeps the bowel healthy, adding to good skin health and weight management.
The 20s and 30s bring changes like launching a career, making your own decisions, independence, and maybe starting a family. A busy life means health takes a back seat. The most important decade as growth stops and life becomes more sedentary, is the time to eat for long-term benefits.
3. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)/Polycystic Ovary Disease (PCOD)
Though the onset may be earlier, this normally gets diagnosed because of the need to plan a family. This is a hormonal imbalance that has ramifications across metabolic health. Common side effects include obesity and insulin resistance. Avoiding refined carbs, sugary food, and processed food is needed. Whole grains and legumes help with insulin resistance. Regular meals and early dinners help mobilize fat loss. Snacking on whole fruits, nuts and seeds also helps control sugar spikes while promoting satiety. Exercise including resistance training is essential daily.
4. Bone Health
Bone health in women starts to deteriorate in the 30s. To maintain bone mass, it is essential to exercise along with eating adequate calcium, which is crucial. Dairy is the best source of calcium. 500mls in the form of milk, paneer, or dahi must be consumed daily. Vegans can choose soy milk. These provide protein and phosphorus, which are needed for bone formation.
As women enter their 40s and 50s, the body starts slowing down further. It is a crucial time to focus on consolidating and making a push for a healthier life more than ever before.
5. Weight Gain
Women tend to have a higher fat percentage than men, which increases the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes as they grow older. To manage weight and build muscle, it is essential to exercise daily, including cardio and strength training.
To maintain a healthy weight, incorporate adequate proteins from chicken, eggs, dairy, legumes, and pulses. Choose whole grains for complex carbohydrates that promote satiety and weight control. Never skip breakfast, and drink plenty of water and calorie-free drinks for hydration. Eating more plants and cutting back on animal foods is also recommended.
Menopause is a significant hormonal shift that occurs in women. As the female hormone, oestrogen decreases, its protective activity against heart diseases also reduces. This time calls for heightened awareness of non-communicable diseases.
7. Heart Diseases
With menopause, there is an increase in lipids and changes in the walls of the blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease. Whole grains, legumes, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, and healthy fats are prescribed to protect against heart diseases. Choosing a diet low in saturated and trans fats and high in fibre, along with 30-40 minutes of exercise, can help prevent heart disease.
While menopause may not directly cause diabetes, hormonal changes may lead to weight gain, and an increase in blood pressure may precipitate diabetes. Balanced meals in the right amounts at the right time, along with plant-based meals rich in complex carbohydrates and fibre, are recommended. Exercise is also essential.
9. Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are commonly seen in menopausal women. Women who consume a plant-based diet throughout their lives experience fewer symptoms. Foods that contain phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen, protect against hot flashes. Soy and soy products, berries, oats, barley, carrots, apples, sesame seeds, whole wheat, dried beans, mung beans, and wheat germ are good choices for overall health.
As women enter their 60s and 70s, it is crucial to keep their mental and physical health at its peak. Yearly health check-ups are vital to prevent diseases.
10. Mental Health
Depression and anxiety are common golden age issues in women. Foods rich in antioxidants help preserve brain cells. Including colourful fruits and vegetables in your diet is an excellent way to incorporate antioxidant-rich foods. Adequate carbohydrate intake also helps keep the brain nourished, and small, frequent meals are better.
Weakness may be due to poor appetite and/or chewing issues. Adequate protein intake will help maintain muscle strength. Consult a nutritionist about taking a protein supplement if necessary. Adequate hydration is also necessary, so drink more before 6 pm.
Constipation is common due to poor eating habits, skipping meals, or weakened digestion. Eating foods rich in fibre in the right quantity, such as whole fruits and vegetables and psyllium husk, and whole grains can keep bowels healthy. Physical activity, such as walking, also helps.
Happy International Women's Day 2023!
About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.