Men are more likely to die from cirrhosis, Parkinson’s disease, colon cancer, and physical injuries. But certain serious conditions are known to target women exponentially more often than men.
6 Most Common Conditions that Effect Women More Than Men
1. Urinary Tract Infections
The main reason women get more UTIs? Simple anatomy. Because the urethra—the duct through which urine passes from the body—is shorter in women and closer to the anus, it’s easier for bacteria to migrate into the urinary tract and cause infections. Birth control methods, such as diaphragms or spermicides, and irritating feminine products can also contribute to the problem. To protect against UTIs, wipe from front to back after using the bathroom, empty your bladder as soon as possible after intercourse, and drink plenty of water—several studies have linked low urine output with increased risk of UTIs.
- Cranberries, in juice or capsules, are rich in proanthocyanidins, which may prevent bacteria, especially E. coli, from adhering to urinary tract cells.
- Goldenseal, a potent antimicrobial herb, also helps keep bacteria away from the bladder wall.
- Vitamin C increases the acidity of the urine, which helps kill bacteria. According to a study published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 100 mg of vitamin C per day (along with iron and folic acid) significantly reduced UTI risk among pregnant women. Drinking hibiscus tea (rich in vitamin C) is also a good idea—a 2016 study looked at hibiscus tea for UTIs and kidney inflammation and found it to be effective.
- Probiotics balance the urogenital flora and can significantly reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs.
- D-Mannose, a type of sugar sold in powdered form, has been shown to help inhibit E. coli from sticking to the bladder wall.
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2. Autoimmune Diseases
Conditions in which the body attacks its own cells and tissues strike women three times more than men, and they’re among the top 10 leading causes of death in American women. Women are also 10 times more likely to have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition marked by weight gain, cold hands and feet, depression, constipation, fatigue, and thinning hair. Sex hormones may play a role in autoimmune diseases, and some research suggests that variations in X chromosomes (women have two, men have one) increase the risk of autoimmune disease.
Another theory: when women give birth, fetal cells may stick around in the body after pregnancy—sometimes for as long as 30 years—and can prompt an autoimmune response in mothers, says Brittany Henderson, MD, a board-certified endocrinologist and author (along with health writer Allison Futterman) of What You Must Know About Hashimoto’s Disease. Other triggers include infections, food allergies, environmental toxins, and stress.
If you have Hashimoto’s disease or any other autoimmune disorder, it’s critical to identify immune system triggers and decrease them, says Henderson. Keep your immune system strong to protect against infection, identify food allergies, and avoid environmental toxins, including chemical household cleaners such as bleach, nonstick cookware, and pesticide residues in food, says Henderson. Switch to natural, nontoxic household cleaners, buy organic foods whenever possible, wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and use stainless steel cookware. And find ways to minimize your stress—in some studies, up to 80 percent of patients with autoimmune disorders reported uncommonly high stress before onset of symptoms.
When choosing supplements, says Henderson, “Less is more, since some ingredients can impair thyroid hormone actions. Be as pure and clean as possible and be sure your supplements don’t have a ton of ingredients you can’t pronounce.”
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- Antioxidants that protect against infections, including vitamin C, vitamin E, and liposomal glutathione, are especially important for thyroid disorders.
- Anti-inflammatory compounds, specifically vitamin A, vitamin D, and fish or krill oil.
- Minerals, particularly iodine, zinc, magnesium, iron, and selenium to support the production of thyroid hormones.
- Probiotics to protect against harmful bacteria that contribute to the development of food allergies, leaky gut, and chronic inflammation. Studies have linked a disruption in the microbiome with increased risk of autoimmune disorders. “Variety and concentration are the most important aspects,” says Henderson. Choose a product that contains 10 or more different strains.
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3. Alzheimer’s Disease
Almost two-thirds of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are women, and women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as breast cancer. It’s thought that genetics and hormones play a significant role—studies suggest that estrogens protect against beta-amyloid, a compound that accumulates in the brain, disrupting communication and killing brain cells. When estrogen levels decline during and after menopause, women are at a higher risk.
To protect your brain, start with a healthy diet: studies show that a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables protects against Alzheimer’s and enhances cognitive function. Regular exercise has also been shown to
protect against Alzheimer’s.
- MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) have been shown to reduce mental decline, as well as treat cognitive dysfunction. Use MCT or coconut oil.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) may reduce mental deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients.
- Coenzyme Q10 is a neuroprotective antioxidant, and some studies suggest that it may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS) can improve memory and enhance cognitive function. Some studies suggest that PS causes structural changes in neurons, so benefits may continue even after treatment stops.
- Huperzine A, traditionally used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, has been shown to significantly improve memory, and cognitive skills and abilities in Alzheimer’s patients.
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4. Eating Disorders
Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders affect 10 times as many women as men, and more women die from anorexia than any other mental health problem. Researchers believe that hormonal issues, societal influences around body image, personality traits such as perfectionism, and psychological factors including low self-esteem all play a role in eating disorders. Additionally, sexual abuse, trauma, and rape—more prevalent in women—are linked with increased risk of eating disorders, especially bulimia. If you have a serious eating disorder, professional help is critical. Do not try to self-treat. If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, some studies suggest that supplements that may help.
- Zinc deficiency has been loosely implicated in eating disorders, and one small study suggests that zinc supplements may help enhance weight gain and stabilize mood in women with anorexia.
- Digestive enzymes can help rebuild a healthy digestive system—many women with eating disorders suffer from gastrointestinal issues. If you suffer from binge eating disorder, look for a formula with betaine HCL, which helps break down protein, the precursor to amino acids (important for mood).
- Tryptophan helps balance the brain chemical serotonin, linked with changes in hunger and mood. Low levels of tryptophan are linked with eating disorders, especially bulimia.
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Characterized by weak, brittle bones, osteoporosis is four times more common in women than in men. The main reasons: women naturally tend to have smaller, thinner bones, and women tend to lose bone at a younger age and at a more rapid pace than men. Also, estrogen protects bones, so when estrogen levels drop sharply during menopause, women are at risk for bone loss and osteoporosis. Women are also more likely to diet and/or have eating disorders, leading to nutrient deficiencies that can impact bones. During pregnancy, the developing baby will take calcium from the mother’s bones if the mother isn’t getting enough calcium in her diet to meet its needs.
To protect your bones, make sure that your diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, with enough protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K, and other bone-building nutrients. And engage in regular weight-bearing activities, such as jogging, tennis, or step aerobics—they’ve been shown to improve bone strength and density.
- Calcium, especially in combination with vitamin D, protects against bone loss and prevents fractures in women with osteoporosis. In one study, calcium combined with vitamin D reduced risk of fractures by roughly 25 percent.
- Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin, can increase bone density and prevent bone loss, especially in combination with calcium and vitamin D.
- Magnesium works in conjunction with vitamin D to keep calcium levels normal in the bones. Deficiencies are linked with bone loss and higher risk of fractures.
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Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. Part of this is biological, related to hormonal shifts, especially during puberty, after giving birth, and before and during menopause. Women also tend to internalize stress, leading to lower brain function in areas responsible for mood. And life circumstances such as societal pressures, anxiety—women are more than twice as likely as men to be affected—and sexual trauma are linked with a higher risk of depression.
If you suffer from severe depression, seek medical help. For occasional blues or lowered mood, support your neuro-transmitters—the brain’s messengers that control mood—with a balanced diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates and high in lean protein, vegetables, and omega-3s.
- St. John’s wort has been shown to work as well as some antidepressants for mild and moderate depression, according to a 2008 review of 29 studies.
- Probiotics play a key role in gut health, which influences mood. Studies show that probiotic supplementation is linked with a significant reduction in depression.
- SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine), a compound produced by the body, may help alleviate depression. In some studies, it was superior to a prescription drug.
- B vitamins—most notably folate—play an intricate role in mood and neurotransmitter production. Many studies show that folate deficiency is prevalent in patients with depression. Low B and B levels are also commonly found in cases of depression.
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