Smorgasbord Health Column – Women’s Health Month – Hormones and the Endocrine System by Sally Cronin


Last week   I shared some of the organs that make up the female reproductive system and this week hormones and the endocrine system that drive our reproductive function.

Apart from looking at specific problems faced by women, I will also be sharing some guest posts from writers who have experienced health issues associated with the reproductive system or have worked with the medical field associated with women’s health.

These systems generally conform to a set pattern of development, however there are times when nature has its own agenda, resulting in changes that we are now embracing more fully. I am going to begin with the female reproductive system, how it works and links to posts that I have written on related diseases such as breast cancer.

This series is not just for women or men specifically, but also their partners.

Understanding how your own body works is important.. but it is also important for the men and women in our lives understand how our bodies work too. Very often in a relationship it is our partner who notices changes to our bodies or our behaviour that can indicate a health problem.

Hormones and the Endocrine System

Whilst some of the glands in the endocrine system are not specifically involved in the reproduction system, they do have an impact on our overall health and the efficiency of how our entire body functions. They are part of the network and therefore should be included.

Baby girls are born with over 400,000 eggs in their ovaries and over the next 10 to 12 years their endocrine system will mature and various physical, mental and emotional changes will take place. Before I cover some of the health issues later in the series, I want to cover the system that manages our reproductive system and hormones. Hormones are vital not just to an efficient reproductive system but to our health in general.. Their protection is essential and maintaining adequate levels throughout our lifetime can be a challenge. And it is not helped by pronouncements by ‘experts’ on the food we eat and the medication that they prescribe to reduce one of the key elements of our hormone production which is cholesterol.

The Endocrine system not only produces the sex hormones but also the other hormones necessary for the healthy growth and development of every cell, organ and function within our bodies. Usually responsible for the slower processes such as cell growth the endocrine glands and hormones will also work with other systems such as the nervous system to ensure the smooth running of processes like breathing and movement.

Glands

A gland is a group of cells that produce and secretes chemicals from materials that it has selected from the blood stream. It processes these raw materials and either secretes the end product in specific areas, such as the salivary glands or sweat glands in the case of the exocrine glands, or directly back into the bloodstream from the endocrine system.

The main glands that make up the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary (master gland), thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal, ovaries and testes.

The pancreas is also part of the endocrine system but is associated more with the digestive system and digestive enzymes and I covered this gland earlier.

A healthy reproductive system for men or women begins in the brain.

Main-parts-of-the-Brain-72dpi

The Hypothalamus

The other name of the hypothalamus is actually the word homeostasis, which means balance, which is very appropriate. It is located in the middle of the base of the brain and is connected to the pituitary lobes, which form the most important gland in the body and is often referred to as the Master Gland.

The hypothalamus regulates body temperature, blood sugar, water balance, fat metabolism, appetite, body weight, sensory input like taste and smell and sight, sleep, sexual behaviour, emotions, hormone productions, menstrual cycle regulation and the automatic nervous system that controls automatic functions such as breathing and the heart muscle.

The Pituitary gland

The pituitary gland has an anterior and posterior lobe. The anterior lobe regulates the activity of the thyroid, adrenals and the reproductive glands producing a number of hormones.

  • Growth hormone stimulates the growth of bone and body tissues and plays a part in the metabolism of nutrients and minerals.
  • Prolactin, which activates milk production in mothers who are breast-feeding.
  • Thyrotropin which stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones.
  • Corticotrophin which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce its hormones.
  • Gonadotrophs are cells that secret the two hormones that stimulate hormone production in the ovaries and testes. These are called luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and whilst not essential to life are essential to reproduction.

The pituitary gland also secretes endorphins, which act as natural pain relief within the nervous system. It is also the gland that releases hormones that signal the ovaries and testes to make the sex hormones and controls the ovulation and menstrual cycle.

The posterior lobe of the pituitary has two main functions one of which is the release of a hormone to control water balance through its effect on the kidneys and urine output. The second is the release of oxytocin the trigger for contractions of the womb during labour.

The Thyroid

The thyroid is located in the front of the lower neck and is shaped like a bow tie. It produces the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine which are responsible for the speed with which cells burn fuel to provide energy. This is our metabolism or the speed at which we operate. The production and release of these two hormones is controlled by Thyrotropin, which is secreted by the pituitary gland.

The thyroid needs iodine and selenium to produce an enzyme, which converts the amino acid tyrosine into thyroxine. If thyroxine is at a less than optimum level there will be weight gain, fatigue, intestinal problems and thickening skin.

The Parathyroids

Attached to the thyroid are four tiny glands that release parathyroid hormone that is responsible with calcitonin also produced in the thyroid for calcium balance between blood and bones. If this is not working then too much calcium is leached from the bones leaving them vulnerable to osteoporosis

The Adrenal glands

The Adrenal glands are actually situated on top of each kidney and comprise two parts. The first is the cortex, which produces hormones called corticosteroids, which determine male characteristics, sex drive, stress response, metabolism and the excretion of sodium and potassium from the kidneys.

The second part of the gland is the medulla, which produces catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) to increase blood pressure and heart rate in times of danger or stress.

If your stress levels remain high for long periods of time there will be an effect on the rest of your body. The body slows down digestion, maintenance and repair so that it is ready to run at any moment. It definitely speeds up the ageing process because like anything that is not maintained it slowly deteriorates. It will have a very big impact on all the rest of the hormones in the body including your sex drive, which is why stress plays a very important role in problems such as impotence and infertility.

The Pineal gland

This gland is located in the middle of the brain and secretes melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Being tired all the time will certainly not help maintain a healthy hormone balance.

Ovaries and Testes

These two glands are known as the gonads and are the main source for the sexual hormones. In the female these are the ovaries which I described in the previous post. They secrete oestrogen and progesterone as needed, particularly in girls who have reached puberty and are developing breasts and layers of fat around the hips and thighs that would be used primarily to nourish a foetus during pregnancy. Both hormones regulate the menstrual cycle, which is why an imbalance can cause irregular periods or infertility.

Oestrogen hormones include estradiol, estrone and estriol and as well as their role in the developing female they also have important effects on organs outside of the reproductive system. In fact they have an effect on over 300 different tissues throughout a woman’s body including in the central nervous system, liver and the urinary tract. One of their functions is in maintaining bone mass as a woman ages, particularly after the menopause. They also have a positive effect on blood fat and therefore help prevent atherosclerosis and possible heart disease. As we age our skin tends to thicken and oestrogen hormones help preserve the elasticity of the skin as well as promote a sense of general wellbeing.

Progesterone also has duties outside of its reproductive remit and that is its influence on body temperature. This is why taking your temperature every morning during the month can help you pinpoint when you might be ovulating.

As these hormones diminish so does the activity within the ovaries. They become smaller and lighter and the blood vessels that supply them atrophy. The follicles decrease in number and fewer and fewer eggs are produced sometimes skipping several months at a time resulting in irregular periods. Eventually egg production ceases completely, as does menstruation, and after twelve months you are usually unlikely to conceive but it is recommended that you still practice birth control for up to two years after completely finishing your periods.

More about Hormones

Hormones are some of the most powerful chemical messengers found in the body and are secreted by glands that transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. They circulate throughout the body but will only affect those cells that have been programmed to respond to their specific message. All hormone levels can be influenced by our general health, stress levels and the balance of fluid and minerals such as salt in the blood stream. This is the reason that it is necessary to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle and diet to ensure the reproductive system is functioning, as it should.

Most of us, when we talk about hormones, are usually referring to the reproductive ones such as testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen. We all know that as we get older our reproductive hormones decrease and both men and women go through a menopause. Women are more affected by this obviously, but men too experience a decrease in testosterone levels and the changes that this brings about.

However, our sex hormones are just three of the many hormones that are produced in our bodies and even though our reproductive abilities may decrease as we get older, the hormones involved are still active within our body. If they and our other hormones are looked after they will contribute to a healthy, energetic and youthful appearance. Sex does not stop when we get middle aged and maintaining a good diet and active lifestyle influence a healthy and functioning reproductive system.

Each gland within the endocrine system may produce one or more different hormone to affect a process in the body. For example the pancreas secretes Insulin, glucagon and Stomostatin. Insulin and glucagon are secreted according to the level of blood sugar and Stomostatin is the referee to ensure that not too much of either is secreted and therefore blood sugar levels remain balanced.

Hormones are manufactured from components of food, which means that the type of diet you follow has a major impact on keeping hormone levels in balance. Hormones are either protein-like as in insulin, or fat like as in steroid hormones.

An important element of hormone production is cholesterol. Yes that demon that in the 80s and 90s was banished from our diet in the form of healthy fats and foods such as eggs! We were all recommended to follow a high carbohydrate, low fat diet and of course now we have done a complete U-turn. Not surprisingly this has had a huge impact on our health including increasing rates of obesity, cancer and dementia. Healthy fats and all cholesterol are essential for healthy hormone production, brain and heart health. It is only when the Low Density cholesterol or LDL is oxidised by poor diet, including too many sugars that it can become a health issue.

You will find myth busting facts about cholesterol in this Why we need cholesterol in our bodies  and it is important to include sufficient amounts in your diet to keep the stores adequate for your hormone production.

Whatever the level of hormones produced by particular glands, if they are not communicating when they get to their destination – such as the thyroid gland, kidneys or ovaries – they will not be effective and the ongoing functions they are supposed to stimulate will not be completed. This includes the reproductive process which requires the balance of all most of the hormones for successful production, fertilisation and then development of the egg by a sperm.

How do we create the perfect environment to produce and maintain our hormones.

You cannot go far wrong by eating an 80% natural diet with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, wholegrain carbohydrates and fruits. Having healthy hormones is more about what you don’t eat, and the one food that it is a good idea to cut right back is sugars. This is not to say that you should go sugar free especially when the sugar comes from natural sources such as fruits. I do mean the chemically engineered additives in most industrial foods (ie. If it comes in a packet, can or jar). There are certain health benefits to be found in dark chocolate over 52% for example but eating 100gms at a time will just make you fat! A couple of squares a day should do the trick.

What is very important in your diet.

Omega 3s

One of the most important food sources is essential fatty acids which are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids). The body must have these essential fatty acids, yet cannot make them itself. One of the main functions of essential fatty acids is the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that regulate many body functions. They basically control every cell of the body on a second-by-second basis by acting as interpreters between the hormones and the cells they are being delivered too. They are required for energy production, increasing oxidation in the body and metabolic rates. Omega 3 in particular is considered to provide protection against certain cancers including breast cancer.

They are particularly important in balancing all hormones, including the reproductive ones, and the brain does not function without essential fatty acids.

Monounsaturated fats are also important as both these types of fats protect brain cells and the membranes and ensure effective passing of nutrients within the brain. This is particularly important with regard to the health of the hypothalamus which is our master controller.

What part do amino acids play in hormone production?

Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein, which of course is what we are made of. Vitamins and minerals can’t perform their specific functions effectively if the necessary amino acids are not present. Amino acids are either classified as essential or non-essential. The “non-essential” ones can be manufactured in our bodies but the “essential” amino acids have to be obtained from food.

All hormones require amino acids for their production. For example L-Arginine encourages growth hormones and constitutes 80% of semen, which is why a deficiency causes sterility, and having sufficient of this amino acid can help with prostate problems. L-Tryptophan helps in the production of serotonin and melatonin and assists in the balance of our emotional behaviour. L-Glutamine is helpful for thyroid gland function. Taurine is used for hyperactivity and poor brain function.

What about the health of the other hormone producing glands?

Most of the above applies throughout the body. A diet rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E and essential fatty acids and amino acids will promote health everywhere.

Having created a near perfect working environment for the bosses (the Hypothalamus and the Pituitary), we can turn our attention to the health of the others:

  • Thyroid (metabolism, energy and growth)
  • Adrenal Gland (sex drive, stress response and metabolism) and
  • Pancreas (Blood sugar levels).

If these organs are producing the hormones they are supposed to, in the right quantities, many of problems we associate with old age would be much more manageable. Including energy and the ability to process our nutrients efficiently keeping us away from degenerative disease such as arthritis.

Thyroid image http://www.medicinenet.com

Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment or share. best wishes Sally

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021

 

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here::Sally’s books and reviews

 

Thanks for visiting and I am always delighted to receive your feedback.. stay safe Sally.

Smorgasbord Health Column – Women’s Health Month – Introduction and The Reproductive System by Sally Cronin


Having spent time on some of the more common health issues we might suffer from, over the next few weeks, I am going to focus first on women’s health first posted in 2015 and a number of times since as I consider it to be an important issue.. It will be followed by men’s health.

Apart from looking at specific problems faced by women, I will also be sharing some guest posts from writers who have experienced health issues associated with the reproductive system or have worked with the medical field associated with women’s health.

These systems generally conform to a set pattern of development, however there are times when nature has its own agenda, resulting in changes that we are now embracing more fully. I am going to begin with the female reproductive system, how it works and links to posts that I have written on related diseases such as breast cancer.

This series is not just for women or men specifically, but also their partners.

Understanding how your own body works is important.. but it is also important for the men and women in our lives understand how our bodies work too. Very often in a relationship it is our partner who notices changes to our bodies or our behaviour that can indicate a health problem.

First I will look at the female reproductive system in a series of posts that give an overview of the system and also what can go wrong with it.

What is under the skin.

The-Female-Reproductive-System-WWe usually spot when something is out of place externally or when there are lumps and bumps that look dodgy. The problem is that most of us do not know when something is wrong with organs or systems that run automatically beneath our skin, until a problem occurs. Women are well aware of monthly changes in our bodies which is a good indicator that there might be something wrong or that we might be pregnant. But what about when we stop having our periods and the physical indications are no longer there.

Whilst it is not my intention to lecture on anatomy, it is very useful if you have some idea of how a system is put together and the main organs involved.

The reproductive system and where it begins at conception.

In humans it takes male and female sex cells to make a baby. These sex cells are called gametes and the male is sperm and the female is the egg or ovum. These sex cells usually meet in the female reproductive system – although in this day and age they could also meet in a petri-dish in a fertility clinic.

Humans pass on certain characteristics of themselves onto the next generation such as hair or eye colour and in some unfortunate cases inherited diseases. Genes are the special carriers of these characteristics and a child can inherit from both its mother and father and also the ancestors of its parents going back many generations.

The two reproductive systems in males and females are very different, but both carry out the same task of producing, nurturing and transporting either the egg or the sperm. They also complement each other and evolution has ensured that the two reproductive systems work together pleasurably as well as effectively.

The female reproductive system

Zygote-WThe aim of the female reproductive system is to produce healthy eggs (ova), to facilitate sexual intercourse so that the egg can be fertilised (then called a zygote) and protect and nourish the resulting embryo and foetus until it is fully developed and then give birth.

The physical aspects

The female reproductive system is housed within the pelvis. Externally, the vulva (cover) is located between the legs and protects the entrance to the vagina and the other reproductive organs inside the pelvis.

There is a fleshy area just above the vagina called the mons pubis and two pairs of skin flaps called the labia (lips) surround the vaginal opening and contain the clitoris. Also, between the labia are the openings for the urethra (carrying urine from the bladder) and the vagina.

Internally, the vagina, uterus (womb), fallopian tubes and ovaries are protected by the pelvic girdle and are responsible for the production and fertilisation of the egg and the protection of the foetus as it develops to full term.

The vagina

The vagina is a tube approximately 8 to 12 centimetres long in an adult woman. It has muscular walls and can expand and contract as needed. Normally it is contracted but when expanded it can accommodate the head and body of a baby during the final stages of labour.

As with any of the body’s airways and passages the vagina has a lubricating mucus membrane as a lining. This protects it from bacterial infection and also keeps it moist and prepared for sexual activity. The vagina has three major roles; as an entrance and stimulator for the penis, to provide a safe birth canal and also a path for menstrual blood expelled from the uterus each month.

The opening to the vagina is partially covered with a thin sheet of tissue called the hymen, which has probably caused more problems for women than any other part of the reproductive system. Virginity or the lack of was judged on whether this tissue was intact on a girl’s wedding night and in royal circles it was essential that courtiers be present to testify to a blooded sheet as evidence of the bride’s virtue. In some cultures it is still considered critical that this evidence is produced despite the fact that in many cases the hymen has already been ruptured at some point in a girl’s normal activities or that the hymen has not been stretched or torn sufficiently to bleed. This resulted in some sleight of hand by bride’s and their female relatives who resorted to spotting sheets with chicken blood to avoid recriminations. Hence the voyeuristic behaviour by senior courtiers or family members in time gone past on the first night of the honeymoon.

The vagina joins to the womb at the thickly walled cervix (neck) which is extremely narrow outside of pregnancy but can expand sufficiently to allow the baby’s head to pass through it on its way out of the womb.

The uterus (womb)

Despite the fact that the womb is only about 7 centimetres long and 5 centimetres wide it contains some of the strongest muscles in the body. It can expand to hold sextuplets and contract sufficiently to send a baby out and into the birth canal during labour. This pear shaped organ is also vulnerable to infections; cancers and benign tumours called fibroids which are one of the leading causes of its removal (hysterectomy).

In the second stage of the menstrual cycle the womb recognises that the hormone levels indicate that there has been no fertilisation of the egg that has passed through the fallopian tube within the last two weeks. Blood and tissues from the inner lining of the womb detach and leave the body via the vagina. Usually this lasts three to five days and in the first few months after puberty it is likely to be irregular. As with the other areas within the reproductive system women can experience problems with this process. Many women suffer from irregular, heavy and painful periods throughout their teens and often up to their first pregnancy when in many cases the menstrual cycle can settle down. Some women suffer from menstrual problems right up to their menopause and there is usually a hormonal or dietary imbalance involved that requires correcting.

The fallopian tubes

At the upper corners of the womb are the fallopian tubes, which are the connection to the ovaries. The fallopian tubes are around 10 centimetres in length and look a little like a long piece of spaghetti with a narrow opening the size of a needle. At the ovary end, fronds wrap around the egg sacs waiting to catch eggs as they are released.

Tiny hairs then propel the egg back down the fallopian tube to the womb. Fallopian tubes can be damaged by infections or can become distorted preventing the passage of the eggs through the tube or allowing sperm to enter and fertilise them.

The ovaries

Structure-of-an-Ovary-WThe ovaries are two oval shaped organs situated either side of the womb. They produce, store and then release eggs into the fallopian tubes in a process called ovulation, which takes place once a month halfway through a woman’s reproductive cycle.

When a baby girl is born she has already got 400,000 eggs in her ovaries that will remain inactive until she reaches puberty. This is the time that hormones kick in for both boys and girls and the reproductive cycle is begun.

The eggs develop and mature inside follicles which are tiny fluid filled sacs in each ovary and midway through each cycle one egg is released into the fallopian tubes.

The pituitary gland located in the central part of the brain, releases hormones that in turn stimulate the ovaries to produce the female sex hormones including oestrogen. Breasts will develop and towards the end of this first stage of puberty the ovaries begin to release eggs monthly as part of the menstrual cycle.

There are a number of problems associated with the ovaries including ovarian cysts and more rarely ovarian cancer. There is also a hormonal condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) which is the result of too many male hormones being produced by the ovaries. This results in cysts forming on enlarged ovaries and usually becomes apparent in a girl’s teenage years.

Next time a look at the Endocrine system and the hormones that drive our reproductive system. When they say it is all in the mind.. it is!

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here::Sally’s books and reviews

 

Thanks for visiting and I am always delighted to receive your feedback.. stay safe Sally.

 

Smorgasbord Health Column – Female Reproductive System – Some of the more common health issues by Sally Cronin


This is not the first time I have posted this series and I intend to repeat every year. In this post I look at some of the health issues that women could experience in their lifetime but you will find separate posts on two key health issues later in the series.

Ovarian and breast cancer.

Research has made great inroads into finding viable treatments and a cure for both these cancers. They deserve to have their own posts.. on Thursday a guest post by ovarian Cancer survivor Karen Ingalls and next Monday a guest post by Judith Barrow who is a breast cancer survivor.

The message from both of these authors is that you need to get checked regularly and to be aware of symptoms is one that I am happy to keep repeating for new readers of the blog and also for those of you who have been with me for four years.

The fertile years 10 – 50 years old.

In this third part of the series on the female reproductive system a look at some of the health issues that might occur in the 40 years that it is active.  Every woman is unique and I can only give you averages when talking about events during a monthly cycle.

From the age of ten a girl is maturing towards becoming fertile. Puberty marks the start of an average of 40 years of one of the most miraculous, but also often inconvenient monthly cycles. Beneath our skin a complex series of actions are taking place to ensure the smooth running of this female process. Although the actual period only lasts an average of 7 to 10 days but can be shorter or longer, the process is ongoing for the full 28 to 32 days. The cycle can be different depending on a number of factors and will change as a woman matures.

The-Menstrual-Cycle-WThe menstrual cycle

There are a number of hormones, other than oestrogen and progesterone, involved in the menstrual cycle and the process is normally very precise and runs like clockwork to afford the very best chance of fertilisation of the egg.

There are three distinct stages that are orchestrated by the hormones, in sequence, and the whole cycle will take between 28 and 32 days to complete.

Stage one – Follicular phase day 1 – 13

During this phase the pituitary gland releases a hormone called FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) which will stimulate the egg containing follicles in the ovaries. In turn the follicles will release oestrogen which produces changes in the consistency of the mucus in the cervix resulting in a clear discharge mid cycle. This change help prepare the mucus to receive and nourish the sperm from the man.

Stage two – Ovulatory phase – approximately day 14

At this stage the level of luteinising hormone (LH) released from the anterior pituitary gland, dramatically increases or surges. LH forces the follicles to break open and release its egg into the fallopian tube. This is ovulation and takes approximately 24 hours.

Stage three – Luteal phase – day 15 to 28

After the follicle has released its egg it changes function and becomes a gland called the corpus luteum. This gland now releases the progesterone that will stimulate the growth of the thick and blood rich lining of the womb that might be needed if the egg is fertilised.

If the egg is not fertilised it dries up and dies and the lining of the womb is expelled through the cervix and out of the body as a period.

The health of the reproductive system.

Forty years is a very long time in body terms and it is hardly surprising that a system as complex as the reproductive function is not going to suffer from problems. These are either due to disruptions to the hormones in charge, or the organs themselves.

I know that you expect long posts from me but even I draw the line in covering all the health issues we might face over the years. Here are the headlines!

Conditions associated with the reproductive system

Many young girls and women suffer from PMS (Pre-menstrual syndrome) and in some cases this continues right up to menopause. This can be helped by changes in diet and exercise levels as well as some supplementation of specific nutrients and herbs.

Infertility is a problem that may not be discovered until a woman is in her late 20’s and 30’s and is actively trying to get pregnant but there are certain lifestyle and dietary issues as well as possible physical or hormonal reasons for difficulties in becoming pregnant. I will cover the basics under that heading.

Premenstrual Syndrome

PMS symptoms tend to occur at specific phases of the menstrual cycle, which are modulated by the changing levels in the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. It is logical then to assume that any adverse symptoms are caused by some disruption to the balance between these two hormones.

PMS always occurs during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle when the luteinising hormone (LH) increases the production of progesterone and oestrogen in the ovaries. This phase in the cycle is specifically to encourage secretions in the fallopian tubes and womb to ensure the proper nourishment and implantation of a fertilised egg.

There are a number of theories that have been put forward to try and explain the various reasons why individual women suffer differing symptoms at this time from water retention to depression. Some studies suggest that it is a lack of progesterone that causes the problems with some women responding favourably to progesterone therapy and other studies finding that it makes matters worse. The common factor appears to be an imbalance of one or other of the two female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. I think the key lies in a number of factors one of which is that we are all individual and this includes our hormonal makeup.

I have worked with many teenagers and older women who were suffering from PMS and I found the best way to start was with diet and exercise with particular attention to any other influences such as Candida Albicans or stress. Many women respond very favourably to being treated for Candida Albicans, as some of the symptoms for this are lower back pain, depression and water retention. Candida takes over the intestines and healthy and friendly bacteria are in short supply. Bacteria in our gut is responsible for the manufacture of certain nutrients such as Vitamin K that plays a role in regulating our menstrual flow so it is logical that Candida could also contribute to PMS problems. You can find more information on Candida here.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-column-news-nutrients-health-conditions-anti-aging/

Some doctors prefer to put women on the contraceptive pill to help regulate periods and minimise PMS but I am still not happy about taking additional hormones without first trying the natural approach for at least two cycles. Talk to your doctor about making lifestyle changes first including reducing the amount of sugar in your diet. The recommended amount of sugar is 7 teaspoons per day.. It is easy with breakfast cereals, flavoured yoghurt etc to consume 14 teaspoons for breakfast.  Blood sugar levels are erratic and hormones are affected.

Infertility

Infertility can be devastating to a young couple who have dreamt of having a large family and assumed that it was going to be as simple as stopping taking the pill or any other form of contraceptive. Unfortunately, for some women, there are physical reasons why they are unable to either produce an egg in the first place or carry the fertilised embryo to full term.

Usually there are a number of factors involved that cause or add to the reasons behind a woman’s infertility.  Since these are also the more common health issues with the reproductive system in general it is worth focusing on them in this post.

  1. Hormone levels are not sufficient to stimulate the release of an egg from the ovary or for it to successfully implant into the lining of the womb.
  2. A woman is more than 30% over her ideal weight or severely underweight and this effects ovulation. There is a link between eating disorders such as anorexia where body weight is reduced for extended periods of time. The body switches off non-life sustaining body functions. If you cannot nourish yourself then you would not be able to nourish a foetus.
  3. Fibroids of the womb.
  4. Endometriosis where the normal tissue that lines the womb is found outside in other areas of the pelvis.
  5. Production of antibodies that attack a partner’s sperm and kills them before they can fertilise her eggs.
  6. Infections throughout the pelvis caused by Chlamydia or by appendicitis leading to damage and scarring of the reproductive organs.
  7. Age.

Hormone Imbalance

Abnormal ovulation results in irregular or absent periods. This is usually caused by a lack of co-ordination between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, as these regulate the release of the hormones into the bloodstream.

If insufficient LH (luteinising hormone) or FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) is secreted then the levels of oestrogen and progesterone will not be high enough to begin the process of ovulation. This may require hormonal treatment but the first step is to ensure that diet and lifestyle factors are not playing a role in the imbalance.

Weight Issues

Extreme weight fluctuation can also cause periods to cease as this is linked to hormonal imbalances associated with diet. Being overweight puts incredible stress on all the operating systems in the body including the reproductive system. Most women who have been overweight since childhood are likely to suffer from irregular or no menstrual cycle at all. Even being slightly overweight can affect hormone levels and it is recommended that a women get down as close to her ideal weight as possible before trying to conceive. There is additional wisdom in this as a woman who is already over three stone overweight is going to add another three at least during her pregnancy which can add significantly to risks of complications such as Gestational diabetes, very high blood pressure and the need for a Caesarean delivery.

In nature, in times of drought or famine, certain animals will not only cease to ovulate but they will also stop the gestation of their young until such time as conditions improve. One of the long-term issues with eating disorders such as Anorexia is infertility, as there is insufficient nutrients being made available to manufacture the necessary hormones. Before trying to conceive anyone who is dramatically underweight should take a close look at their diet and seek professional help in building up nutrition, calories and body mass.

Fibroids

One of the staggering statistics is that one in four women will enter the menopause because of medical treatment, the leading one being a hysterectomy (removal of the womb and ovaries). The biggest single reason is fibroids, which are benign tumours inside and outside the womb. There are three general locations for fibroids.

  1. Subserosal –on the outside surface of the uterus
  2. Intramural – within the muscular wall of the uterus
  3. Submucous – bulging in to the uterine cavity.

The submucous location is rarer than the other two but is the one associated with failure to conceive and early miscarriage. If the other two types of fibroid grow too large however they too can have an effect on the reproductive system.

Fibroids-WNo one is entirely sure what causes fibroids to form. There are a number of factors and hormone imbalance is probably involved. However, our diet may also be partly to blame as many foods that we consume contain substances that mimic the way oestrogen affects the body – and these include growth hormones in milk, beef and chicken, pesticides on our food and even the plastics we use in our kitchens for storage. This leads to oestrogen dominance in a woman, which can then lead to a number of reproductive problems including the growth of these benign tumours.

There is also a genetic link and if your female relatives have tended to get fibroids then you are at risk of developing them too. The light at the end of the tunnel is that they nearly always shrink when you reach menopause but if they cause heavy and painful bleeding and are making your life a misery you should deal with them as soon as possible.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis develops when tissue resembling the endometrium inside the womb begins growing out in the pelvic cavity. The most common symptoms of this are painful sexual intercourse, period pains and infertility.

The endometrium is made up of blood, endometrial skin cells, glands and pieces of blood vessels and connective tissues. Although the endometrium is usually discarded and broken into pieces to be excreted in menstrual blood through the vagina, it can sometimes find its way through the upper openings of the womb that lead to the fallopian tubes. The ends of the fallopian tubes are open to the pelvic cavity and the pieces of endometrium can then attach themselves to any surface within the cavity and reform using all the components to grow and develop.

If the fallopian tubes are blocked and the ovaries are now coated with growing endometriosis there is little chance of an egg being produced and fertilised by a sperm – leading to infertility.

The usual treatment is to remove the lesions surgically or prescribe drugs that suppress the endometrium in the womb to keep it thin. This, in effect, creates a false menopause as it also suppresses the ovaries and the production of oestrogen. If you are hoping to have children it might have a long term effect on your ability to conceive.

Killer Mucous

When the body is not ovulating, cervical mucous has a role in killing any harmful bacteria trying to get into the body via the vagina. However, during ovulation a chemical change occurs which is designed to ensure the survival of the sperm on its way into the system. Some women react to their partner’s sperm, by developing antibodies instead, and killing the sperm as it fights its way towards the cervix.

Chlamydia

One of the more common causes of infertility today is an infection that has damaged part of the reproduction system. For example, Chlamydia is a bacterial infection transmitted sexually and is the most common of the STDs contracted by adolescents and young adults today. The biggest problem is that you may not discover that you have been infected until you are trying to have a baby because 75% of women and 50% of men have no overt symptoms and it is therefore known as a silent disease.

Left untreated, Chlamydia can spread and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which rises through the vagina and the cervix before infecting the womb, fallopian tubes and the ovaries. The resulting scarring to the fallopian tubes can cause infertility and increase the risk of ectopic pregnancies (inside the fallopian tube).

In the rare cases where symptoms are present they can mimic other pre-menstrual symptoms and be ignored such as lower back pain, bleeding between periods, nausea and fever. However, if these are also accompanied by frequent urinary tract infections, chronic pelvic pain and vomiting it is necessary to consider that it is Chlamydia and seek medical attention.

Age

Fertility levels decrease with age in women. Although there have been some reports of women becoming pregnant during the change of life it is rare. Women are at their most fertile up to 24 years old but today many women are putting off having children, preferring to wait for career or economic reasons. It is estimated that one third of women over 35 will experience some problems getting pregnant and at least half will have severe difficulties.

Declining hormone production, lack of viable eggs and an accumulation of the other factors I have covered in this article will combine to cause fertility problems. If a woman has also smoked, drunk too much alcohol and not eaten a healthy diet she will add to the difficulties.

Dietary influences.

Our body has very specific needs and this includes essential nutrients that can be processed and distributed around the body to where they are needed. As always a varied diet with lots of fresh vegetables, lean protein, fruits and wholegrains is a great place to start… And need I say.. Cooked from Scratch without any industrialised sugary additives.

For those of you who would like to know more about the nutrients we need here is a directory where you will find the nutrient, what it is needed for and the foods that supply it.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-column-news-nutrients-health-conditions-anti-aging/

Thanks so much for dropping by and if you have a private question that you would rather not put in the comments section you can contact me on sally.cronin@moyhill.com

Please feel free to comment, reblog or share on social media and help get the message out.

©Just Food for Health 1998 – 2018

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse by health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Smorgasbord Health Column – The Female Reproductive System –


Over the next few weeks I will be covering the last two major systems in the body that have a huge influence on our health from the moment we are born until we die. Our reproductive systems generally conform to a set pattern of development, however there are times when nature has its own agenda, resulting in changes that we are now embracing more fully.  I am going to begin with the female reproductive system, how it works and links to posts that I have written on related diseases such as breast cancer.

This post is not just for women but also their partners. Understanding how your own body works is important.. but it is also important for the men in our lives to understand how our bodies work too. Very often in a relationship it is our partner who notices changes to our bodies or our behaviour that can indicate a health problem.

What is under the skin.

The-Female-Reproductive-System-WWe usually spot when something is out of place externally or when there are lumps and bumps that look dodgy. The problem is that most of us do not know when something is wrong with organs or systems that run automatically beneath our skin, until a problem occurs.   Women are well aware of monthly changes in our bodies which is a good indicator that there might be something wrong or that we might be pregnant. But what about when we stop having our periods and the physical indications are no longer there.

In my own articles in the next few weeks, I am going to take a basic look at the reproductive system and then other areas of health that tend to be more female specific.

Whilst it is not my intention to lecture on anatomy, it is very useful if you have some idea of how a system is put together and the main organs involved.

As part of my nutritional career I have worked with individuals and couples who were intending to have a baby or who were experiencing fertility problems. Part of that process was to understand what makes a woman unique physically.

The reproductive system and where it begins at conception.

In humans it takes male and female sex cells to make a baby. These sex cells are called gametes and the male is sperm and the female is the egg or ovum. These sex cells usually meet in the female reproductive system – although in this day and age they could also meet in a petri-dish in a fertility clinic.

Humans pass on certain characteristics of themselves onto the next generation such as hair or eye colour and in some unfortunate cases inherited diseases. Genes are the special carriers of these characteristics and a child can inherit from both its mother and father and also the ancestors of its parents going back many generations.

The two reproductive systems in males and females are very different, but both carry out the same task of producing, nurturing and transporting either the egg or the sperm. They also complement each other and evolution has ensured that the two reproductive systems work together pleasurably as well as effectively.

The female reproductive system

Zygote-WThe aim of the female reproductive system is to produce healthy eggs (ova), to facilitate sexual intercourse so that the egg can be fertilised (then called a zygote) and protect and nourish the resulting embryo and foetus until it is fully developed and then give birth.

The physical aspects

The female reproductive system is housed within the pelvis. Externally, the vulva (cover) is located between the legs and protects the entrance to the vagina and the other reproductive organs inside the pelvis.

There is a fleshy area just above the vagina called the mons pubis and two pairs of skin flaps called the labia (lips) surround the vaginal opening and contain the clitoris. Also, between the labia are the openings for the urethra (carrying urine from the bladder) and the vagina.

Internally, the vagina, uterus (womb), fallopian tubes and ovaries are protected by the pelvic girdle and are responsible for the production and fertilisation of the egg and the protection of the foetus as it develops to full term.

The vagina

The vagina is a tube approximately 8 to 12 centimetres long in an adult woman. It has muscular walls and can expand and contract as needed. Normally it is contracted but when expanded it can accommodate the head and body of a baby during the final stages of labour.

As with any of the body’s airways and passages the vagina has a lubricating mucus membrane as a lining. This protects it from bacterial infection and also keeps it moist and prepared for sexual activity. The vagina has three major roles; as an entrance and stimulator for the penis, to provide a safe birth canal and also a path for menstrual blood expelled from the uterus each month.

The opening to the vagina is partially covered with a thin sheet of tissue called the hymen, which has probably caused more problems for women than any other part of the reproductive system. Virginity or the lack of was judged on whether this tissue was intact on a girl’s wedding night and in royal circles it was essential that courtiers be present to testify to a blooded sheet as evidence of the bride’s virtue. In some cultures it is still considered critical that this evidence is produced despite the fact that in many cases the hymen has already been ruptured at some point in a girl’s normal activities or that the hymen has not been stretched or torn sufficiently to bleed. This resulted in some sleight of hand by bride’s and their female relatives who resorted to spotting sheets with chicken blood to avoid recriminations. Hence the voyeuristic behaviour by senior courtiers or family members in time gone past on the first night of the honeymoon.

The vagina joins to the womb at the thickly walled cervix (neck) which is extremely narrow outside of pregnancy but can expand sufficiently to allow the baby’s head to pass through it on its way out of the womb.

The uterus (womb)

Despite the fact that the womb is only about 7 centimetres long and 5 centimetres wide it contains some of the strongest muscles in the body. It can expand to hold sextuplets and contract sufficiently to send a baby out and into the birth canal during labour. This pear shaped organ is also vulnerable to infections; cancers and benign tumours called fibroids which are one of the leading causes of its removal (hysterectomy).

In the second stage of the menstrual cycle the womb recognises that the hormone levels indicate that there has been no fertilisation of the egg that has passed through the fallopian tube within the last two weeks. Blood and tissues from the inner lining of the womb detach and leave the body via the vagina. Usually this lasts three to five days and in the first few months after puberty it is likely to be irregular. As with the other areas within the reproductive system women can experience problems with this process. Many women suffer from irregular, heavy and painful periods throughout their teens and often up to their first pregnancy when in many cases the menstrual cycle can settle down. Some women suffer from menstrual problems right up to their menopause and there is usually a hormonal or dietary imbalance involved that requires correcting.

The fallopian tubes

At the upper corners of the womb are the fallopian tubes, which are the connection to the ovaries. The fallopian tubes are around 10 centimetres in length and look a little like a long piece of spaghetti with a narrow opening the size of a needle. At the ovary end, fronds wrap around the egg sacs waiting to catch eggs as they are released.

Tiny hairs then propel the egg back down the fallopian tube to the womb. Fallopian tubes can be damaged by infections or can become distorted preventing the passage of the eggs through the tube or allowing sperm to enter and fertilise them.

The ovaries

Structure-of-an-Ovary-WThe ovaries are two oval shaped organs situated either side of the womb. They produce, store and then release eggs into the fallopian tubes in a process called ovulation, which takes place once a month halfway through a woman’s reproductive cycle.

When a baby girl is born she has already got 400,000 eggs in her ovaries that will remain inactive until she reaches puberty. This is the time that hormones kick in for both boys and girls and the reproductive cycle is begun.

The eggs develop and mature inside follicles which are tiny fluid filled sacs in each ovary and midway through each cycle one egg is released into the fallopian tubes.

The pituitary gland located in the central part of the brain, releases hormones that in turn stimulate the ovaries to produce the female sex hormones including oestrogen. Breasts will develop and towards the end of this first stage of puberty the ovaries begin to release eggs monthly as part of the menstrual cycle.

There are a number of problems associated with the ovaries including ovarian cysts and more rarely ovarian cancer. There is also a hormonal condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) which is the result of too many male hormones being produced by the ovaries. This results in cysts forming on enlarged ovaries and usually becomes apparent in a girl’s teenage years.

Next time a look at the Endocrine system and the hormones that drive our reproductive system.  When they say it is all in the mind.. it is!

©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2018

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

You can find all my books here with links to Amazon: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Thank you for reading the post and your feedback is always welcome. Thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Health 2017- Top to Toe -The Female Reproductive System updated – Some health issues to be aware of.


Smorgasbord Health 2017

This is not the first time I have posted this series and I intend to repeat every year. In this post I look at some of the health issues that women could experience in their lifetime but you will find separate posts on two key health issues later in the series.

Ovarian and breast cancer.

Research has made great inroads into finding viable treatments and a cure for both these cancers. They deserve to have their own posts.. on Thursday a guest post by ovarian Cancer survivor Karen Ingalls and next Monday a guest post by Judith Barrow who is a breast cancer survivor.

The message from both of these authors is that you need to get checked regularly and to be aware of symptoms is one that I am happy to keep repeating for new readers of the blog and also for those of you who have been with me for four years.

The fertile years 10 – 50 years old.

In this third part of the series on the female reproductive system a look at some of the health issues that might occur in the 40 years that it is active.  Every woman is unique and I can only give you averages when talking about events during a monthly cycle.

From the age of ten a girl is maturing towards becoming fertile. Puberty marks the start of an average of 40 years of one of the most miraculous, but also often inconvenient monthly cycles. Beneath our skin a complex series of actions are taking place to ensure the smooth running of this female process. Although the actual period only lasts an average of 7 to 10 days but can be shorter or longer, the process is ongoing for the full 28 to 32 days. The cycle can be different depending on a number of factors and will change as a woman matures.

The-Menstrual-Cycle-W

The menstrual cycle

There are a number of hormones, other than oestrogen and progesterone, involved in the menstrual cycle and the process is normally very precise and runs like clockwork to afford the very best chance of fertilisation of the egg.

There are three distinct stages that are orchestrated by the hormones, in sequence, and the whole cycle will take between 28 and 32 days to complete.

Stage one – Follicular phase day 1 – 13

During this phase the pituitary gland releases a hormone called FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) which will stimulate the egg containing follicles in the ovaries. In turn the follicles will release oestrogen which produces changes in the consistency of the mucus in the cervix resulting in a clear discharge mid cycle. This change help prepare the mucus to receive and nourish the sperm from the man.

Stage two – Ovulatory phase – approximately day 14

At this stage the level of luteinising hormone (LH) released from the anterior pituitary gland, dramatically increases or surges. LH forces the follicles to break open and release its egg into the fallopian tube. This is ovulation and takes approximately 24 hours.

Stage three – Luteal phase – day 15 to 28

After the follicle has released its egg it changes function and becomes a gland called the corpus luteum. This gland now releases the progesterone that will stimulate the growth of the thick and blood rich lining of the womb that might be needed if the egg is fertilised.

If the egg is not fertilised it dries up and dies and the lining of the womb is expelled through the cervix and out of the body as a period.

The health of the reproductive system.

Forty years is a very long time in body terms and it is hardly surprising that a system as complex as the reproductive function is not going to suffer from problems. These are either due to disruptions to the hormones in charge, or the organs themselves.

I know that you expect long posts from me but even I draw the line in covering all the health issues we might face over the years. Here are the headlines!

Conditions associated with the reproductive system

Many young girls and women suffer from PMS (Pre-menstrual syndrome) and in some cases this continues right up to menopause. This can be helped by changes in diet and exercise levels as well as some supplementation of specific nutrients and herbs.

Infertility is a problem that may not be discovered until a woman is in her late 20’s and 30’s and is actively trying to get pregnant but there are certain lifestyle and dietary issues as well as possible physical or hormonal reasons for difficulties in becoming pregnant. I will cover the basics under that heading.

Premenstrual Syndrome

PMS symptoms tend to occur at specific phases of the menstrual cycle, which are modulated by the changing levels in the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. It is logical then to assume that any adverse symptoms are caused by some disruption to the balance between these two hormones.

PMS always occurs during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle when the luteinising hormone (LH) increases the production of progesterone and oestrogen in the ovaries. This phase in the cycle is specifically to encourage secretions in the fallopian tubes and womb to ensure the proper nourishment and implantation of a fertilised egg.

There are a number of theories that have been put forward to try and explain the various reasons why individual women suffer differing symptoms at this time from water retention to depression. Some studies suggest that it is a lack of progesterone that causes the problems with some women responding favourably to progesterone therapy and other studies finding that it makes matters worse. The common factor appears to be an imbalance of one or other of the two female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. I think the key lies in a number of factors one of which is that we are all individual and this includes our hormonal makeup.

I have worked with many teenagers and older women who were suffering from PMS and I found the best way to start was with diet and exercise with particular attention to any other influences such as Candida Albicans or stress. Many women respond very favourably to being treated for Candida Albicans, as some of the symptoms for this are lower back pain, depression and water retention. Candida takes over the intestines and healthy and friendly bacteria are in short supply. Bacteria in our gut is responsible for the manufacture of certain nutrients such as Vitamin K that plays a role in regulating our menstrual flow so it is logical that Candida could also contribute to PMS problems. You can find more information on Candida here.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-directory/

Some doctors prefer to put women on the contraceptive pill to help regulate periods and minimise PMS but I am still not happy about taking additional hormones without first trying the natural approach for at least two cycles. Talk to your doctor about making lifestyle changes first including reducing the amount of sugar in your diet. The recommended amount of sugar is 7 teaspoons per day.. It is easy with breakfast cereals, flavoured yoghurt etc to consume 14 teaspoons for breakfast.  Blood sugar levels are erratic and hormones are affected.

Infertility

Infertility can be devastating to a young couple who have dreamt of having a large family and assumed that it was going to be as simple as stopping taking the pill or any other form of contraceptive. Unfortunately, for some women, there are physical reasons why they are unable to either produce an egg in the first place or carry the fertilised embryo to full term.

Usually there are a number of factors involved that cause or add to the reasons behind a woman’s infertility.  Since these are also the more common health issues with the reproductive system in general it is worth focusing on them in this post.

  1. Hormone levels are not sufficient to stimulate the release of an egg from the ovary or for it to successfully implant into the lining of the womb.
  2. A woman is more than 30% over her ideal weight or severely underweight and this effects ovulation. There is a link between eating disorders such as anorexia where body weight is reduced for extended periods of time. The body switches off non-life sustaining body functions. If you cannot nourish yourself then you would not be able to nourish a foetus.
  3. Fibroids of the womb.
  4. Endometriosis where the normal tissue that lines the womb is found outside in other areas of the pelvis.
  5. Production of antibodies that attack a partner’s sperm and kills them before they can fertilise her eggs.
  6. Infections throughout the pelvis caused by Chlamydia or by appendicitis leading to damage and scarring of the reproductive organs.
  7. Age.

Hormone Imbalance

Abnormal ovulation results in irregular or absent periods. This is usually caused by a lack of co-ordination between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, as these regulate the release of the hormones into the bloodstream.

If insufficient LH (luteinising hormone) or FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) is secreted then the levels of oestrogen and progesterone will not be high enough to begin the process of ovulation. This may require hormonal treatment but the first step is to ensure that diet and lifestyle factors are not playing a role in the imbalance.

Weight Issues

Extreme weight fluctuation can also cause periods to cease as this is linked to hormonal imbalances associated with diet. Being overweight puts incredible stress on all the operating systems in the body including the reproductive system. Most women who have been overweight since childhood are likely to suffer from irregular or no menstrual cycle at all. Even being slightly overweight can affect hormone levels and it is recommended that a women get down as close to her ideal weight as possible before trying to conceive. There is additional wisdom in this as a woman who is already over three stone overweight is going to add another three at least during her pregnancy which can add significantly to risks of complications such as Gestational diabetes, very high blood pressure and the need for a Caesarean delivery.

In nature, in times of drought or famine, certain animals will not only cease to ovulate but they will also stop the gestation of their young until such time as conditions improve. One of the long-term issues with eating disorders such as Anorexia is infertility, as there is insufficient nutrients being made available to manufacture the necessary hormones. Before trying to conceive anyone who is dramatically underweight should take a close look at their diet and seek professional help in building up nutrition, calories and body mass.

Fibroids

One of the staggering statistics is that one in four women will enter the menopause because of medical treatment, the leading one being a hysterectomy (removal of the womb and ovaries). The biggest single reason is fibroids, which are benign tumours inside and outside the womb. There are three general locations for fibroids.

  1. Subserosal –on the outside surface of the uterus
  2. Intramural – within the muscular wall of the uterus
  3. Submucous – bulging in to the uterine cavity.

The submucous location is rarer than the other two but is the one associated with failure to conceive and early miscarriage. If the other two types of fibroid grow too large however they too can have an effect on the reproductive system.

Fibroids-W

No one is entirely sure what causes fibroids to form. There are a number of factors and hormone imbalance is probably involved. However, our diet may also be partly to blame as many foods that we consume contain substances that mimic the way oestrogen affects the body – and these include growth hormones in milk, beef and chicken, pesticides on our food and even the plastics we use in our kitchens for storage. This leads to oestrogen dominance in a woman, which can then lead to a number of reproductive problems including the growth of these benign tumours.

There is also a genetic link and if your female relatives have tended to get fibroids then you are at risk of developing them too. The light at the end of the tunnel is that they nearly always shrink when you reach menopause but if they cause heavy and painful bleeding and are making your life a misery you should deal with them as soon as possible.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis develops when tissue resembling the endometrium inside the womb begins growing out in the pelvic cavity. The most common symptoms of this are painful sexual intercourse, period pains and infertility.

The endometrium is made up of blood, endometrial skin cells, glands and pieces of blood vessels and connective tissues. Although the endometrium is usually discarded and broken into pieces to be excreted in menstrual blood through the vagina, it can sometimes find its way through the upper openings of the womb that lead to the fallopian tubes. The ends of the fallopian tubes are open to the pelvic cavity and the pieces of endometrium can then attach themselves to any surface within the cavity and reform using all the components to grow and develop.

If the fallopian tubes are blocked and the ovaries are now coated with growing endometriosis there is little chance of an egg being produced and fertilised by a sperm – leading to infertility.

The usual treatment is to remove the lesions surgically or prescribe drugs that suppress the endometrium in the womb to keep it thin. This, in effect, creates a false menopause as it also suppresses the ovaries and the production of oestrogen. If you are hoping to have children it might have a long term effect on your ability to conceive.

Killer Mucous

When the body is not ovulating, cervical mucous has a role in killing any harmful bacteria trying to get into the body via the vagina. However, during ovulation a chemical change occurs which is designed to ensure the survival of the sperm on its way into the system. Some women react to their partner’s sperm, by developing antibodies instead, and killing the sperm as it fights its way towards the cervix.

Chlamydia

One of the more common causes of infertility today is an infection that has damaged part of the reproduction system. For example, Chlamydia is a bacterial infection transmitted sexually and is the most common of the STDs contracted by adolescents and young adults today. The biggest problem is that you may not discover that you have been infected until you are trying to have a baby because 75% of women and 50% of men have no overt symptoms and it is therefore known as a silent disease.

Left untreated, Chlamydia can spread and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which rises through the vagina and the cervix before infecting the womb, fallopian tubes and the ovaries. The resulting scarring to the fallopian tubes can cause infertility and increase the risk of ectopic pregnancies (inside the fallopian tube).

In the rare cases where symptoms are present they can mimic other pre-menstrual symptoms and be ignored such as lower back pain, bleeding between periods, nausea and fever. However, if these are also accompanied by frequent urinary tract infections, chronic pelvic pain and vomiting it is necessary to consider that it is Chlamydia and seek medical attention.

Age

Fertility levels decrease with age in women. Although there have been some reports of women becoming pregnant during the change of life it is rare. Women are at their most fertile up to 24 years old but today many women are putting off having children, preferring to wait for career or economic reasons. It is estimated that one third of women over 35 will experience some problems getting pregnant and at least half will have severe difficulties.

Declining hormone production, lack of viable eggs and an accumulation of the other factors I have covered in this article will combine to cause fertility problems. If a woman has also smoked, drunk too much alcohol and not eaten a healthy diet she will add to the difficulties.

Dietary influences.

Our body has very specific needs and this includes essential nutrients that can be processed and distributed around the body to where they are needed. As always a varied diet with lots of fresh vegetables, lean protein, fruits and wholegrains is a great place to start… And need I say.. Cooked from Scratch without any industrialised sugary additives.

For those of you who would like to know more about the nutrients we need here is a directory where you will find the nutrient, what it is needed for and the foods that supply it.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-nutrition-directory/

Thanks so much for dropping by and if you have a private question that you would rather not put in the comments section you can contact me on sally.cronin@moyhill.com

Please feel free to comment, reblog or share on social media and help get the message out.

The other posts in the Female Reproductive System can be found in this directory.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-2017-top-to-toe/

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe- The Female Reproductive System.


 

Smorgasbord Health 2017Over the next few weeks I will be covering the last two major systems in the body that have a huge influence on our health from the moment we are born until we die. Our reproductive systems generally conform to a set pattern of development, however there are times when nature has its own agenda, resulting in changes that we are now embracing more fully.  I am going to begin with the female reproductive system, how it works and links to posts that I have written on related diseases such as breast cancer.

This post is not just for women but also their partners. Understanding how your own body works is important.. but it is also important for the men in our lives to understand how our bodies work too. Very often in a relationship it is our partner who notices changes to our bodies or our behaviour that can indicate a health problem.

What is under the skin.

The-Female-Reproductive-System-W

We usually spot when something is out of place externally or when there are lumps and bumps that look dodgy. The problem is that most of us do not know when something is wrong with organs or systems that run automatically beneath our skin, until a problem occurs.   Women are well aware of monthly changes in our bodies which is a good indicator that there might be something wrong or that we might be pregnant. But what about when we stop having our periods and the physical indications are no longer there.

In my own articles in the next few weeks, I am going to take a basic look at the reproductive system and then other areas of health that tend to be more female specific.

Whilst it is not my intention to lecture on anatomy, it is very useful if you have some idea of how a system is put together and the main organs involved.

As part of my nutritional career I have worked with individuals and couples who were intending to have a baby or who were experiencing fertility problems. Part of that process was to understand what makes a woman unique physically.

The reproductive system and where it begins at conception.

In humans it takes male and female sex cells to make a baby. These sex cells are called gametes and the male is sperm and the female is the egg or ovum. These sex cells usually meet in the female reproductive system – although in this day and age they could also meet in a petri-dish in a fertility clinic.

Humans pass on certain characteristics of themselves onto the next generation such as hair or eye colour and in some unfortunate cases inherited diseases. Genes are the special carriers of these characteristics and a child can inherit from both its mother and father and also the ancestors of its parents going back many generations.

The two reproductive systems in males and females are very different, but both carry out the same task of producing, nurturing and transporting either the egg or the sperm. They also complement each other and evolution has ensured that the two reproductive systems work together pleasurably as well as effectively.

The female reproductive system

Zygote-W

The aim of the female reproductive system is to produce healthy eggs (ova), to facilitate sexual intercourse so that the egg can be fertilised (then called a zygote) and protect and nourish the resulting embryo and foetus until it is fully developed and then give birth.

The physical aspects

The female reproductive system is housed within the pelvis. Externally, the vulva (cover) is located between the legs and protects the entrance to the vagina and the other reproductive organs inside the pelvis.

There is a fleshy area just above the vagina called the mons pubis and two pairs of skin flaps called the labia (lips) surround the vaginal opening and contain the clitoris. Also, between the labia are the openings for the urethra (carrying urine from the bladder) and the vagina.

Internally, the vagina, uterus (womb), fallopian tubes and ovaries are protected by the pelvic girdle and are responsible for the production and fertilisation of the egg and the protection of the foetus as it develops to full term.

The vagina

The vagina is a tube approximately 8 to 12 centimetres long in an adult woman. It has muscular walls and can expand and contract as needed. Normally it is contracted but when expanded it can accommodate the head and body of a baby during the final stages of labour.

As with any of the body’s airways and passages the vagina has a lubricating mucus membrane as a lining. This protects it from bacterial infection and also keeps it moist and prepared for sexual activity. The vagina has three major roles; as an entrance and stimulator for the penis, to provide a safe birth canal and also a path for menstrual blood expelled from the uterus each month.

The opening to the vagina is partially covered with a thin sheet of tissue called the hymen, which has probably caused more problems for women than any other part of the reproductive system. Virginity or the lack of was judged on whether this tissue was intact on a girl’s wedding night and in royal circles it was essential that courtiers be present to testify to a blooded sheet as evidence of the bride’s virtue. In some cultures it is still considered critical that this evidence is produced despite the fact that in many cases the hymen has already been ruptured at some point in a girl’s normal activities or that the hymen has not been stretched or torn sufficiently to bleed. This resulted in some sleight of hand by bride’s and their female relatives who resorted to spotting sheets with chicken blood to avoid recriminations. Hence the voyeuristic behaviour by senior courtiers or family members in time gone past on the first night of the honeymoon.

The vagina joins to the womb at the thickly walled cervix (neck) which is extremely narrow outside of pregnancy but can expand sufficiently to allow the baby’s head to pass through it on its way out of the womb.

The uterus (womb)

Despite the fact that the womb is only about 7 centimetres long and 5 centimetres wide it contains some of the strongest muscles in the body. It can expand to hold sextuplets and contract sufficiently to send a baby out and into the birth canal during labour. This pear shaped organ is also vulnerable to infections; cancers and benign tumours called fibroids which are one of the leading causes of its removal (hysterectomy).

In the second stage of the menstrual cycle the womb recognises that the hormone levels indicate that there has been no fertilisation of the egg that has passed through the fallopian tube within the last two weeks. Blood and tissues from the inner lining of the womb detach and leave the body via the vagina. Usually this lasts three to five days and in the first few months after puberty it is likely to be irregular. As with the other areas within the reproductive system women can experience problems with this process. Many women suffer from irregular, heavy and painful periods throughout their teens and often up to their first pregnancy when in many cases the menstrual cycle can settle down. Some women suffer from menstrual problems right up to their menopause and there is usually a hormonal or dietary imbalance involved that requires correcting.

The fallopian tubes

At the upper corners of the womb are the fallopian tubes, which are the connection to the ovaries. The fallopian tubes are around 10 centimetres in length and look a little like a long piece of spaghetti with a narrow opening the size of a needle. At the ovary end, fronds wrap around the egg sacs waiting to catch eggs as they are released.

Tiny hairs then propel the egg back down the fallopian tube to the womb. Fallopian tubes can be damaged by infections or can become distorted preventing the passage of the eggs through the tube or allowing sperm to enter and fertilise them.

The ovaries

Structure-of-an-Ovary-W

The ovaries are two oval shaped organs situated either side of the womb. They produce, store and then release eggs into the fallopian tubes in a process called ovulation, which takes place once a month halfway through a woman’s reproductive cycle.

When a baby girl is born she has already got 400,000 eggs in her ovaries that will remain inactive until she reaches puberty. This is the time that hormones kick in for both boys and girls and the reproductive cycle is begun.

The eggs develop and mature inside follicles which are tiny fluid filled sacs in each ovary and midway through each cycle one egg is released into the fallopian tubes.

The pituitary gland located in the central part of the brain, releases hormones that in turn stimulate the ovaries to produce the female sex hormones including oestrogen. Breasts will develop and towards the end of this first stage of puberty the ovaries begin to release eggs monthly as part of the menstrual cycle.

There are a number of problems associated with the ovaries including ovarian cysts and more rarely ovarian cancer. There is also a hormonal condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) which is the result of too many male hormones being produced by the ovaries. This results in cysts forming on enlarged ovaries and usually becomes apparent in a girl’s teenage years.

 

Next time a look at the Endocrine system and the hormones that drive our reproductive system.  When they say it is all in the mind.. it is!

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009

I hope you have found interesting – your comments are always welcome.. thanks Sally