5 Common Myths About Women’s Health

Common Myths About Women’s Health

Even though we’re living in an information age, inaccurate information remains a barrier preventing some women from leading lives of optimum health. Misconceptions are many, often handed down from one generation to the next. Assembled here are five of those misconceptions and common myths about women’s health which, if truths were properly understood, would make the lives of countless women happier and healthier.

1. There’s Little We Can Do To Prevent Cancer

While there are no guarantees that healthy lifestyle choices will prevent cancer, there are lots of steps women can take to improve their odds of avoiding it.

You can reduce your lung cancer risk by not smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke. Getting recommended cancer screenings such as those for colorectal, breast, cervical, ovarian, and skin cancers will reduce your risk and promote early detection.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, limiting alcohol consumption, and getting regular exercise can lower the risk of several cancer types.

Girls and young women can also ward off cervical cancer by getting the HPV vaccine, available for girls and women ages 9 to 26.

2. A ‘Base Tan’ Offers Healthy Sun Protection

The bottom line, according to experts, is any kind of tan is your body’s response to damage within the skin cells and should be avoided. While your skin turns a darker color to help prevent more damage from occurring, it is also a sign of increased skin cancer risk because damage has already occurred. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there is no such thing as a safe tan, and sun exposure and tanning beds should be avoided.

If you do go out in the sun, apply SPF 30 or higher sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure, use sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection, and wear protective clothing and eyewear. Avoid prolonged sun exposure if you can, especially between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

3. The Occurrence of Birth Defects is Out of Our Control

While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are steps childbearing women can take to increase the likelihood of having a healthy pregnancy and baby, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the best ways is to be proactive about your health before becoming pregnant. The CDC recommends that women refer to the acronym PACT, which stands for:

Plan ahead, Avoid harmful substances, Choose a healthy lifestyle and Talk to your healthcare provider.

Some of the specific steps outlined by the CDC include taking enough folic acid at least one month before pregnancy, avoiding alcohol and smoking, avoiding marijuana and other drugs, avoiding infections by frequent hand washing and staying away from contagious people, maintaining healthy weight, and talking to your healthcare provider about your medications and vaccinations.

4. Nothing Can Be Done for Menstrual Pain

Pain during menstruation is caused by prostaglandins, chemicals within cells that contribute to blood clotting, the contraction of muscles, and the constricting of blood vessels. They also play a part in inflammation and pain. Menstrual pain occurs because cells in the lining of the uterus produce large amounts of prostaglandins before a woman’s period begins.

While the use of oral contraceptives and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen (Motrin and Aleve), and aspirin may reduce menstrual pain, a dietary and behavioral approach may also be effective. Some easy ways to reduce menstrual discomfort include cutting out alcohol and caffeine before and during your period and cutting back on salt, because salt leads to water retention and bloating. Exercise is always a good idea because it is good for circulation, and eating smaller but more frequent meals will keep your energy level up. Also consider these food/nutrient combinations:

Calcium is good for reducing muscle tension and can be found in broccoli, leafy green vegetables, low-fat milk and yogurt. Fiber-rich foods like beans, whole grains, broccoli, peas, lentils, spinach, fruits and vegetables help the body eliminate and absorb prostaglandins. Cold water fish like cod, salmon, and halibut are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, as are walnuts and flaxseed. Almonds, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter have Vitamin E which may block prostaglandin synthesis.

Reduce pain by consuming Vitamin B6 found in oatmeal, bananas, lentils, chickpeas, chicken breast and lean beef. Niacin (Vitamin B3) which is in bran, sundried tomatoes, tuna, and paprika, can help keep cramps in check. Zinc, found in red meat, poultry, and oysters, has been shown to help lessen bloating and premenstrual pain. Because not having enough magnesium makes menstrual cramps worse, eat cashews, wheat germ, and pinto beans to keep those levels up.

5. Our Sex Lives End in the Senior Years

One common myth is that if you are age 55 or older, sex is rarely or no longer part of your life. The fact is the need and desire or intimacy does not disappear when we get older. In fact, it can be an important part of leading a fulfilling life in our golden years. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, when older women remain sexually active, they tend to have a higher level of self-esteem and social connection.

A word of caution, though: Women who have gone through menopause still need to be mindful of their sexual health. That means older women must remain vigilant about the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and need to protect themselves by making sure new partners wear condoms and undergoing tests for sexually transmitted infections. The CDC reports that according to a 2013 study, 26 percent of Americans found to be living with undiagnosed HIV were age 55 or older.

See Your Gynecologist Doctor Regularly

All women can take charge of their health and make sure they have all the real, important facts with  none of the myths by scheduling regular visits with their gynecologist. Gynecologist Dr. Wendy R. Hurst is an advocate of women’s health for residents of Englewood, New Jersey. She speaks woman-to-woman with her patients while providing essential medical knowledge.

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