Naturopathic Approaches to Women’s Health
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) treat men, women, and children of all ages, however it is perhaps not surprising that women tend to be heavily represented among the patients of most NDs. Women tend to resonate with gentler, more natural approaches. Many women also experience frustration with the lack of solutions offered by the pharmaceutical-heavy approach often encountered through the conventional medical system. The tenets of naturopathic medicine, including “treat the root cause,” offer women an avenue through which to address their health concerns in a more holistic manner.
The term “women’s health” encompasses a broad range of conditions, including menstrual problems such as painful periods (dysmenorrhea), premenstrual syndrome (PMS), endometriosis, and irregular cycles, which can be caused by a number of conditions. Rather than offering the birth control pill, pain killers, or antidepressants to suppress symptoms, naturopathic strategies seek to restore proper hormone balance and bodily function. Naturopathic strategies for this range of conditions include teaching patients to chart their cycles and assessment of estrogen and progesterone levels and treatment of estrogen dominance. Cycle charting can yield valuable information on the probability of ovulation, quality of ovulation, estrogen excess, and progesterone deficiency. NDs use interventions including herbs, nutritional and lifestyle strategies, and acupuncture to improve these conditions.
Chaste tree berry (Vitexagnuscastus) is a well-recognized “normalizer” of the menstrual cycle. For instance, it may be used to help menstrual irregularity and pain in young teenage girls, and can help avoid use of the birth control pill, which is often prescribed for this instead. It may also be used to help normalize ovulation and menstrual cycles in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affects up to 10% of women. Finally, it helps indirectly increase production of progesterone, which may be of use in other conditions such as dysmenorrhea, infertility, and/ or endometriosis.
Acupuncture is not well understood, but an extensive body of evidence exists suggesting its benefit for several conditions including infertility, dysmenorrhea, irregular cycles, and this certainly seems to be borne out in practice. It is thought that placement of acupuncture needles affects nerve impulses transmission along nearby nerve pathways, and indirectly affects organ function. The insertion of acupuncture needles also increases blood flow to and from the affected area, allowing delivery of more oxygen and nutrients, while at the same time allowing better removal of waste products. It should not be surprising that this would also improve organ function.
Dietary strategies also play a role front and center in naturopathic care. Depending on the condition, specific diets may be prescribed, such as an anti-inflammatory diet for conditions such as endometriosis and dysmenorrhea (painful periods). For women with PCOS or irregular ovulation, a low glycemic, high protein diet may be prescribed, in order to normalize insulin secretion and thereby improve ovulation and estrogen and progesterone levels. Insulin resistance is associated with impaired ovulation and reduced progesterone. In women with estrogen excess, diet strategies to help promote weight loss may be utilized, in order to reduce estrogen production by fat cells.
Another category of women’s health condition includes menopause. Although this is a normal occurrence in a woman’s lifespan, it can be fraught with many distressing symptoms, including hot flashes, sleep disturbance, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and fatigue. Naturopathic strategies are gentle yet effective for most, and can help women avoid use of hormone replacement therapy, which has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, or antidepressant medication. Instead, NDs may offer herbs, nutrient supplementation and dietary advice to help manage specific symptoms on an individual basis. NDs may also utilize bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which does not have the harmful side effect profile associated with synthetic hormones.
If any of the above sounds like you, we invite you to consult a licensed naturopathic doctor to discuss your concerns.
Heidi Fritz, MA, ND is a licensed naturopathic doctor and research fellow practicing at the Bolton Naturopathic Clinic and the Springdale Medical Centre in Brampton. www.boltonnaturopathic.ca