Stress can wreak serious havoc on our bodies, but we actually need stress to a certain extent. For example, if we were running from a bear, we would need our stress response to kick in full force. We would start breathing faster, sending more oxygen to muscles to fuel movement, then our bodies would release stress hormones from our adrenal glands (cortisol) to heighten our focus by tapping into energy reserves for fuel so we could flee the danger. Cortisol isn’t always the bad guy, but when this response is high and chronic it tells your body to eat more than it “needs” because it’s thinking much more about survival, not stress over a work deadline or relationship woe. Cortisol is needed, but high levels of cortisol over time will contribute to those mentioned health impacts, especially abdominal weight gain! The problem is when we’re actually not in danger and our bodies are living in this state chronically. THIS is the magic piece of the puzzle – learning how we can turn off that heightened stress response when it’s not needed.
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Iron: Essential for healthy blood cells, iron becomes especially important when girls begin to menstruate. With each period, a woman loses small amounts of iron. “About 10% of American women are iron deficient,” says Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Maine and co-editor of Nutritional Concerns of Women (CRC Press, 2003). “About 5% have iron deficiency anemia.” Symptoms of low iron include fatigue, impaired immunity, and poor performance at school or work.
Folic acid: This form of B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, especially spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects can be devastating and fatal. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid. Most women get enough as part of their diet through foods such as leafy greens, a rich source of folic acid. However, some doctors recommend that women take a pregnancy supplement that includes folic acid, just to make sure they are getting the recommended 400 to 800 micrograms.
Abortion is the intentional termination of pregnancy, as compared to spontaneous termination (miscarriage). Abortion is closely allied to contraception in terms of women's control and regulation of their reproduction, and is often subject to similar cultural, religious, legislative and economic constraints. Where access to contraception is limited, women turn to abortion. Consequently, abortion rates may be used to estimate unmet needs for contraception. However the available procedures have carried great risk for women throughout most of history, and still do in the developing world, or where legal restrictions force women to seek clandestine facilities. Access to safe legal abortion places undue burdens on lower socioeconomic groups and in jurisdictions that create significant barriers. These issues have frequently been the subject of political and feminist campaigns where differing viewpoints pit health against moral values.
If you lose weight suddenly or for unknown reasons, talk to your health care professional immediately. Unexplained weight loss may indicate a serious health condition. And even if it doesn't, simply being underweight is linked to menstrual irregularity, menstrual cessation (and sometimes, as a result, dental problems, such as erosion of the enamel and osteoporosis) and a higher risk of early death.
In 2013 about 289,000 women (800 per day) in the world died due to pregnancy-related causes, with large differences between developed and developing countries. Maternal mortality in western nations had been steadily falling, and forms the subject of annual reports and reviews. Yet, between 1987 and 2011, maternal mortality in the United States rose from 7.2 to 17.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, this is reflected in the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR). By contrast rates as high as 1,000 per birth are reported in the rest of the world, with the highest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which account for 86% of such deaths. These deaths are rarely investigated, yet the World Health Organization considers that 99% of these deaths, the majority of which occur within 24 hours of childbirth, are preventable if the appropriate infrastructure, training, and facilities were in place. In these resource-poor countries, maternal health is further eroded by poverty and adverse economic factors which impact the roads, health care facilities, equipment and supplies in addition to limited skilled personnel. Other problems include cultural attitudes towards sexuality, contraception, child marriage, home birth and the ability to recognise medical emergencies. The direct causes of these maternal deaths are hemorrhage, eclampsia, obstructed labor, sepsis and unskilled abortion. In addition malaria and AIDS complicate pregnancy. In the period 2003–2009 hemorrhage was the leading cause of death, accounting for 27% of deaths in developing countries and 16% in developed countries.
For this comprehensive narrative review, we evaluated both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions. Nutrition-specific approaches are those that address the immediate determinants of nutrition (e.g., food and nutrient intake, diet-related practices and behaviors, disease, etc.), whereas nutrition-sensitive approaches are those that address the underlying determinants of nutrition (e.g., food security, access to resources, safe and hygienic environments, adequate health services, etc.) (5, 12). We evaluated the following nutrition-specific interventions described by Bhutta et al. (13, 14): nutrition counseling and education, micronutrient supplementation and fortification, protein and energy supplementation, and lipid-based supplementation. We also included the following nutrition-sensitive approaches described by Ruel and Alderman (5) and Bhutta et al. (14): health care; family planning; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); empowerment; income-generation; education; and social protection. For each intervention, we 1) described the scale and coverage of the intervention, when available; 2) summarized the evidence of effectiveness for women's health and nutrition outcomes; and 3) described and evaluated the target population and delivery platforms, as described in the published articles and as summarized in Table 1. The delivery of interventions included the physical platforms, as well as the adherence and the implementation challenges of the different interventions.
Nutrition-sensitive approaches are difficult to link to women's nutritional status (5, 102). This is due to limited measurement of benefits to program beneficiaries, families, households, and communities, limited timeframes to evaluate long-term impact, logistical and political realities that make implementation difficult, and different priorities of different stakeholders in multisectoral programs (102). Many nutrition-sensitive approaches, as will be described, thus focus on more distal measures of impact (e.g., coverage, knowledge) and not more proximal measures of women's nutritional status (e.g., BMI, anemia status, etc.).