Quest Vitamins LTD,
Female Reproductive System
The purpose of the reproductive system is to create a new generation to continue the existence of the species by the fusion of two cells from different individuals.
The reproductive system influences the manner in which people relate, view and behave towards each other. It contributes in a significant way to psychosocial behaviour(1). The reproductive system is developed, controlled and maintained by complicated physiological and chemical processes, and it also depends to some extent on emotional and social factors as well as cultural influences.
In the beginning...
The reproductive system is in an immature condition for about the first ten years of life, after this time, hormone-induced changes begin to occur in both males and females: puberty. During puberty the secondary sexual characteristics appear and the potential for sexual reproduction is reached (2).
The fertile years
The reproductive system of the female consists of the ovaries that allow ovulation to take place; fallopian tubes to carry the unfertile egg from the ovaries to the uterus, the uterus to nourish a fertilised ovum until it has developed into a fully grown foetus. The vagina to connect the cervix with the external genitalia: to facilitate sexual intercourse during which, it brings sperm closer to the ovum for fertilisation; and to allow pasSage to menstrual blood and the birth of babies(3). All of the organs which facilitate this are internal. The eggs are produced in the ovaries, which are connected by the fallopian tubes to the uterus, which leads to the vagina (4).
The health of the female reproductive system is of paramount importance. If it is not looked after properly fertility can be affected, as well as general well being and health.
Puberty tends to occur in females between the ages of 11 and 16. At this time the breasts and pubic hair begin to develop, the hips widen and Menstruation begins (3). Menstruation is the discharge of an unfertilised ovum, plus layers of the uterine wall, which occurs monthly in women during their reproductive lifetime. All of these changes are initiated by the production of hormones from the pituitary gland, which stimulate the ovaries to increase secretion of oestrogen hormones. This time is a period of rapid growth and change for girls and it is important that they try to maintain optimum health by eating a well balanced diet and taking regular exercise. Girls may find it helpful to increase their Iron intake as the loss of blood every month can deplete iron stores in some cases.
Other menstrual abnormalities include absence of periods and very frequent or heavy periods. In many cases these problems are caused by hormonal imbalances (7). The herb Agnus Castus has traditionally been used by many women who fear they may be suffering from problems related to hormone imbalance. It is thought to normalise levels of hormones secreted by the corpus luteum, helping to restore healthy menstrual function (8).
The most common problem encountered during a woman’s fertile years is PMS (Pre-menstrual syndrome). PMS is a combination of various physical and emotional symptoms which may occur in the week or two before menstruation. PMS affects over 90% of fertile women at some time in their lives. In some women it can be so severe that work and social relationships are disrupted. Symptoms vary from woman to woman and can include breast tenderness, fluid retention, Backache, lower abdominal Pain, irritability, tension, Depression and Fatigue (3).
Women who wish to maintain good health throughout their fertile years can take several simple dietary steps. Reducing the intake of sugar, salt, caffeine (from tea, coffee, chocolate and cola type drinks), refined carbohydrates, processed foods, alcohol and tobacco can be very useful. It is also a good idea to use non-hydrogenated fats, olive oil or good quality, cold-pressed vegetable oils whenever possible. The reason for this strict regime is that particular substances for example saturated fats, caffeine and sugars inhibit the conversion of Essential Fatty Acids into beneficial prostaglandins.
Increasing the intake of organically grown fresh fruit, vegetables and whole foods should form the basis of a good diet (5).
Those suffering from PMS may benefit from an Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) supplement. EPO is a good source of GLA, which is converted to beneficial prostaglandins that are capable of inhibiting the action of inflammatory substances and therefore reducing pain. Vitamin B6 is involved in the conversion of GLA to prostaglandins and deficiencies have been linked to painful periods. Other nutrients including Biotin, and the antioxidant ability of Zinc, Selenium and Vitamin C are also involved in prostaglandin production and for this reason a good high quality multinutrient supplement may be useful (7).
Low blood levels of Iron are also associated with menstrual problems and abnormalities. Increasing the amount in the diet or taking a supplement may help to avoid such problems (9).
In the early months of pregnancy and even before conception it may be a good idea to ensure the intake of Folic Acid, because it helps to make sure that DNA is copied correctly. Later in pregnancy other nutrients are particularly important. For example: Zinc is essential for foetal growth and development (11), the need for the essential fatty acid DHA (derived from Fish Oil) increases due to rapid development of neural and retinal tissue (12). Mothers who lack Iron have been shown to be more likely to give birth prematurely and have low birth weight babies (12).
The time is characterised by irregular menstruation and a variety of symptoms. The symptoms can include Hot Flushes, night sweats, palpitations, Depression, irritability, Fatigue, weight gain and many others. Most of the symptoms are attributed to the declining production of oestrogen (13).
Vitamin E has long been established for helping many menopausal problems, especially hot flushes, night sweats, palpitations and vaginal dryness (14). Vitamin C along with Bioflavonoids may also be useful for flushing and other circulatory problems. Many women also find taking extra Evening Primrose Oil is helpful for general menopausal well-being. Clinical studies suggest Black Cohosh may be of benefit during the menopause by reducing the number of hot flushes(15). There is research to suggest that Sage also may reduce the severity of hot flushes(16).
Many foods contain phytoestrogens, and there is some evidence that suggests an increase in these foods may be beneficial. Examples of foods containing phytoestrogens include soya, linseed, fennel, celery, Parsley, nuts and seeds.
1. Human Physiology, From Cells to Systems. L.Sherwood, West, 2nd ed. 1993.