Diary of a Student Nutritionist - Week 10 - Women's Health

Women's Health

This was one heck of a lecture day and one I really wished I had done a bit of prior reading beforehand. So far I have felt like I could get my head around everything I have learnt without it being hard work, whereas women's health made my head spin.

The lecturer was great and thankfully did a recap of which hormones increase and decrease during the menstrual cycle. Have a look at the image below to get an idea of what I mean by this!

As you can see different hormones increase and decrease at different stages of the menstrual cycle. Each hormone change has a different effect on the body for example follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) helps the eggs within the ovaries mature and when enough eggs have matured inhibin is released causing FSH to reduce. Or that progesterone increases after ovulation to help maintain a possible pregnancy.

Once we had barely got our heads back around this we then moved onto hormonal pathways also known as the steroid pathways. I have put the diagram we were looking at below. The star at the top left is cholesterol and the body converts it into a wide range of things your body needs such as cortisol (fight or flight/stress hormone), oestrogen and testosterone.

This was very interesting but trying to learn it quickly was pretty hard work, especially when you are trying to understand it in relation to the previous diagram. Two of the biggest things we learnt from this chart were:

1) The body does not have a store of progesterone and therefore if you are very stressed your body will be using most of it to make cortisol as it is important for survival. Therefore, your body will not have enough additional progesterone to be converted into sex hormones and this can cause imbalances in the body. For example, some people might stop having a period when really stressed or are unable to get pregnant.

2) Oestrogen can be processed by a few different pathways, some of which are healthy, while others can be carcinogenic. These pathways are influenced by genetics, lifestyle, diet, medication, etc.

We then learnt about a number of ways that you can support a client to increase or decrease certain hormones and how to encourage the body to process oestrogen down more beneficial pathways.

Finally, we went through a number of different ways that the body could become out of balance and what would happen when it did. Some of these included PMS, menopause and PCOS. When you begin to learn about the imbalances that lead to certain conditions you realise how complex women's hormones are. I like to think of women's hormones like an orchestra and when they are all working in harmony it creates an amazing work of art, but when just one instrument is out of tune it can have a huge effect on the whole thing.

As a nutritionist, I will be taking a clients case history and begin to work out which pathways might be out of balance by piecing together key signs, symptoms, family history, etc. Then I will be able to test a client's genetic predispositions and real-time hormone levels to see if there is an imbalance. Before finally using a range of different techniques to help a client rebalance and thrive.

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