Life is a magical process. From the rapid development of baby’s first year and progress into childhood time and eventually reach stages where we started to observe gradual changes in our body both physically and psychologically.
Grasping the concept of life stages is helpful as it gives a better understanding of our strengths and vulnerabilities along the way as well as our different goals in achieving health needs.
Here, we look into the major health concerns in three main stages of a woman’s life – adolescence, adulthood and senescence as well as which supplements or herbs can help encounter common health conditions arise in each stage.
Teenage girl experiences tremendous changes in both physical and psychological during puberty. Most girls experience their first menstruation at the age between 10 and 15 years old. During this stage, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is one of the most commonly seen conditions and it is often continued till the age of 30 to 40 years old or even before menopause. Some of the symptoms of PMS including abdominal pain and bloating, headache, diarrhoea, acne, swollen breasts, mood swings and tiredness. Although some only developed mild symptoms on several days before the start of menstruation and it gradually subsides once begin menstruation, some experienced severe PMS symptoms which affected their daily life. The actual cause of PMS is unknown. However, many researchers linked PMS symptoms to the changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle.1
Herbs that help in alleviating PMS symptoms:
With its soft and feathery leaves, the fennel plant looks similar to dill. The plant and its seed have been widely used as a seasonal herb and medicinal ingredient. Fennel is exceptionally rich in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals such as potassium, sodium, phosphorus and calcium.2 Apart from its high nutritional value, fennel has been suggested as an effective natural ingredient for relieving menstrual pain mainly through inhibition of uterus contraction.3,4
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammation effects. A study involved 70 participants suffering from PMS concluded that supplementation of curcumin helps to weaken the severity of PMS symptoms possible through its anti-inflammatory effects.5
Dong Quai (angelica sinensis) has been a popular herb for female, especially among the Chinese population. It has long been used as a ‘blood-nourishing’ herb for gynaecological conditions such as PMS and perimenopausal syndrome.6 A study conducted in 2004 showed that patients treated with a concentrated dose of Dong Quai reported improvement in abdominal pain and normalized menstrual cycle.7
Stepping into adulthood, women are going through important life changes in this stage. One may be working hard to build their career path, relationship or even planning on to start a family. Some may focus on self-improvement and self-care. Although the body is thought to be performing at its peak during this phase, the health concerns such as stressfulness, diminished energy levels, hormonal imbalance or worst, infertility are not uncommon.
The healing natural ingredients best suit for women in this stage:
Many have opted for ginseng when comes to boosting energy levels and fight tiredness. Studies revealed ginseng ability to increase physical work capacity and reduce fatigue which related to its antioxidant properties.8-10
Ginseng has also presented as an ideal supplement for combating stress. Several studies proved that ginseng exerts potential benefits in stress-related depression and anxiety through its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.11,12 A comparative study highlighted ginseng as a better option for the treatment of chronic stress when compared with ginkgo biloba.13
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common issue faced by adult females due to women have shorter urethras that allow bacteria to ascend into the bladder. Apart from that, risk factors such as sexual intercourse, the use of contraception and antimicrobial resistance are some leading causes of UTI.14 Fortunately, the potentiality of cranberry, either in juice, tablet, capsule or powder form has been supported by numerous studies as a preventive approach against uncomplicated recurrent UTI among generally healthy women.15
Hormonal imbalance may be one of the major causes lead to PMS and infertility among women. Active compounds found in royal jelly possess estrogenic effects that are beneficial in regulating hormone-related issues. A human study supported royal jelly improved PMS symptoms after 2 months of consumption.16 Also, an animal study proved royal jelly’s potential use in supporting fertility as it promoted follicular growth and development in ovaries through its antioxidant and estrogenic effects on the reproductive system to ameliorate the fertility parameters.17
Pregnant and breastfeeding mother required delicate care when comes to nutrients intake and supplementation. The fruit of date palm trees, dates are one of the fruits that are safe to be consumed during pregnancy. Dates are loaded with minerals such as iron, selenium, magnesium, manganese and copper which are essential for healthy fetus development as well as to fulfil the nutrient requirement of mothers.18 With its rich source of fibre, dates are suitable to be consumed by pregnant women to prevent pregnancy-related constipation. There is also a study shown that consumption of date fruit in the last 4 weeks before labour significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour which resulted in a more favourable delivery outcome.19
Insufficient milk supply is the most commonly reported reason for new mothers to cease breastfeeding early. Nowadays, awareness of the importance to exclusively breastfeed babies until the age of six months is strong. Hence, fenugreek has been the answer to many breastfeeding mothers to overcome the issue. Numbers of clinical reviews confirmed fenugreek to be effective in enhancing breast milk production during the early postpartum period. Many reported that the effects were seen as early in few hours to 1 or 2 days after consumption of fenugreek products with signs such as breast engorgement, increased volume of milk and infants’ perceived satisfaction.20-23
Apart from fenugreek, fennel seeds are also one of the widely used herbal ingredients for improving breast milk production. Anethole, an active constituent found in fennel is likely to be responsible for the stimulation of milk flow. With the similar structure as dopamine (a chemical acts to inhibit secretion of the milk-producing hormone, prolactin), anethole might compete with dopamine at the receptor sites, thereby influencing the action of dopamine on prolactin.2
In this stage, women experience significant changes in between 5 years before and after menopause. The decreased female hormone, estrogen results in symptoms such as hot flashes, abnormal sweating, mood swings, difficulty in sleeping and physical fatigue. Dropped estrogen levels also linked with more severe underlying conditions which required medical care. Meaning to say that, women in this period are in higher risks of health issues including osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, sexual dysfunction, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and many others. Thus, healthy ageing by incorporating proper nutrition intake, supplementation and exercises are the keys to improve quality of life.
Several natural ingredients have shown to be beneficial for women entering menopausal age in many ways:
A medicinal plant found mainly in Thailand, Pueraria Mirifica contains a high amount of phytoestrogens such as miroestrol, coumestrol, daidzein and genistein. These estrogen-mimicking plant compounds are shown to be effective in controlling the abnormal amounts of lipid in postmenopausal women, thereby reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease.24 Apart from that, both human and animal studies proved that Pueraria Mirifica helps to alleviate menopausal symptoms and promote vaginal health by relieving vaginal dryness, improving signs of vaginal atrophy and restoring atrophic vaginal epithelium.25-27
Labisia pumila also known as Kacip Fatimah is a popular herb among woman folk in Malaysia. The herb has been traditionally consumed by women for generations to ease childbirth and postpartum rejuvenating properties. A study demonstrated a positive effect of 6 months supplementation of Kacip Fatimah in reducing triglyceride values among postmenopausal women and suggested it to be a useful alternative way for maintaining cardiovascular health.28 Besides, number of studies supported the use of Kacip Fatimah in the prevention of osteoporosis mainly due to its phytoestrogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties.29-31
Naturally occurring Cordyceps is a wild fungus that has been used for centuries by the Chinese as a tonic for health preservation. Several clinical reviews highlighted the health benefits of Cordyceps on improving health-related quality of life in asthma patients, immune function enhancement, prevent bone loss caused by estrogen deficiency, enhancing exercise capacity and resistance to fatigue among healthy elderly.32-35 These findings signify Cordyceps as a promising source of anti-ageing agents.
Apart from boosting energy levels and overcome tiredness, the phytoestrogens found in ginseng possesses potential benefits in improving sexual function in menopausal women.36,37 One of the study explained that the phytoestrogens in ginseng, with similar structures and functions as estrogen, may stimulate the production of estrogen and increases amounts of cells that respond to estrogen at the reproductive target tissues.38
A study investigated the anti-osteoporotic effect of Dong Quai on ovariectomized rats shown a favourable result and suggested Dong Quai as an effective natural alternative for the prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis. The same study relating the outcome with high contents of ferulic acid, a potent antioxidant in Dong Quai which reduced free radicals that might lead to the breakdown of bone.39
The considerable amounts of proteins and unique fatty acids such as E-10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10HDA) and 10-hydroxydecanoic acid (10HDAA) found in royal jelly are responsible for numbers of health claims. A study conducted in Japan shown that the oral supplementation of royal jelly among postmenopausal women was effective in alleviating menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, backache, and lower back pain.40 Besides, clinical review supported royal jelly as a potential anti-ageing ingredient, which may promote healthspan and longevity due to the presence of a range of pharmacological activities offered by the active constituents in royal jelly.41
Countless studies demonstrated the benefits of turmeric or curcumin in promoting human health. Anti-cancer and bone-protective effects of turmeric are worth highlighted concerning women’s wellness. Studies found that curcumin may be a potential alternative treatment for breast cancer as it displayed the ability to influence human breast cancer cell growth and invasion.42-44 Moreover, the curcuminoid in turmeric was also shown to be an ideal agent for the prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis as it showed an ability to prevent bone loss in a study involved ovariectomized rats.45
By understanding the natural oxidation process in the human body from the previous article, oxidative stress is likely to be the culprit for numbers of medical conditions affecting the elderly. Supplementation of the grape seed extract can help reduce risks of such conditions. As a potent antioxidant, proanthocyanidin found in grape seed extract is effective in improving physical and psychological symptoms, increasing muscle mass and reducing blood pressure in women showing menopausal symptoms.46 The same beneficial impact on blood pressure was also demonstrated in other studies.47,48 Besides, the high concentration of antioxidant polyphenols in grape seed extract exert a favourable influence on the vascular function which is beneficial for atherosclerosis.49
- Supplementation is about prevention rather than a cure for certain illnesses.
- If you have doubts, always check with your healthcare providers or seek professional advice.
- Do not neglect the importance of consistent exercise regime, healthy food choices and positive thinking to get your body physically and mentally prepared to transition through life stages.
- Office on Women’s Health. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) [Internet]. 2018 [cited 29 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
- Badgujar SB, Patel VV, Bandivdekar AH. Foeniculum vulgare mill: a review of its botany, phytochemistry, pharmacology, contemporary application, and toxicology. BioMed Research International. 2014; http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/842674.
- Nejad VM, Asadipour M. Comparison of the effectiveness of fennel and mefenamic acid on pain intensity in dysmenorrhoea. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal. 2006;12(3/4):423-427.
- Omidvar S, Esmailzadeh S, Baradaran M, Basirat Z. Effect of fennel on pain intensity in dysmenorrhoea: a placebo-controlled trial. AYU Journal. 2012;33(2):311-313.
- Khayat S, Fanaei H, Kheirkhah M, Moghadam ZB, Kasaeian A, Javadimehr M. Curcumin attenuates severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Complement Ther. Med. 2015;23(3):318-324.
- Fung FY, Linn YC. Steroids in traditional chinese medicine: what is the evidence? Singapore Med. J. 2017;58(3):115-120.
- Dymowski W. Assessment report on angelica sinensis (oliv.) diels, radix. [Internet]. 2013 [cited 29 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-report/final-assessment-report-angelica-sinensis-oliv-diels-radix-first-version_en.pdf
- Oliynyk S, Oh S. Actoprotective effect of ginseng: improving mental and physical performance. Journal of Ginseng Research. 2013;37(2):144-166.
- Kim HG, Cho JH, Yoo SR, Lee JS, Han JM, Lee NH, et al. Antifatigue effects of panax ginseng c.a. meyer: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(4):e61271.
- Bach HV, Kim JS, Myung SK, Cho YA. Efficacy of ginseng supplement on fatigue and physical performance: a meta-analysis. J. Korean Med. Sci. 2016;31:1879-1886.
- Lee SY, Rhee DK. Effects of ginseng on stress-related depression, anxiety, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Journal of Ginseng Research. 2017;41:589-594.
- Choi JH, Lee MJ, Jang MH, Kim HJ, Lee SH, Lee SW, et al. Panax ginseng exerts antidepressant-like effects by suppressing neuroinflammatory response and upregulating nuclear factor erythroid 2 related factor 2 signaling in the amygdala. Journal of Ginseng Research. 2018;42:107-115.
- Rai D, Bhatia G, Sen T, Palit G. Anti-stress effects of ginkgo biloba and panax ginseng: a comparative study. J. Pharmacol. Sci. 2003;93(4):458-464.
- Hisano M, Bruschini H, Nicodemo AC, Srougi M. Cranberries and lower urinary tract infection prevention. CLINICS. 2012;67(6):661-667.
- Fu ZX, Liska D, Talan D, Chung M. Cranberry reduces the risk of urinary tract infection recurrence in otherwise healthy women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Nutrition. 2017;147:2282-2288.
- Taavoni S, Bakhordari F, Goushegir A, Haghani H. Effect of royal jelly on premenstrual syndrome among Iranian medical sciences students: a randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled study. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2014;22(4):601-606.
- Ghanbari E, Khazaei MR, Khazaei M, Nejati V. Royal jelly promotes ovarian follicles growth and increases steroid hormones in immature rats. International Journal of Fertility and Sterility. 2018;11(4):263-269.
- Saryono, Anggraeni M, Rahmawati E. Effects of dates fruit (phoenix dactylifera l.) in the female reproductive process. International Journal of Recent Advances in Multidisciplinary Research. 2016;3(7):1630-1633.
- Al-Kuran O, Al-Mehaisen L, Bawadi H, Beitawi S, Amarin Z. The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labour and delivery. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 2011;31(1):29-31.
- Sakka AE, Salama M, Salama K. The effect of fenugreek herbal tea and palm dates on breast milk production and infant weight. Journal of Pediatric Sciences. 2014;6:e202.
- Sim TF, Hattingh HL, Sherriff J, Tee LBG. The use, perceived effectiveness and safety of herbal galactagogues during breastfeeding: a qualitative study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12,11050-11071.
- Ghasemi V, Kheirkhah M, Vahedi M. The effect of herbal tea containing fenugreek seed on the signs of breast milk sufficiency in Iranian girl infants. Iran Red Crescent Med. J. 2015;17(8):e21848.
- Khan TM, Wu DBC, Dolzhenko AV. Effectiveness of fenugreek as a galactagogue: a network meta-analysis. Phytotherapy Research. 2017; DOI: 10.1002/ptr.5972.
- Okamura S, Sawada Y, Satoh T, Sakamoto H, Saito Y, Sumino H, et al. Pueraria mirifica phytoestrogens improve dyslipidemia in postmenopausal women probably by activating estrogen receptor subtypes. Tohoku J. Exp. Med. 2008;216:341-351.
- Manonai J, Chittacharoen A, Theppisai U, Theppisai H. Effect of pueraria mirifica on vagina health. Menopause. 2007;14(5):919-924.
- Virojchaiwong P, Suvithayasiri V, Itharat A. Comparison of pueraria mirifica 25 and 50mg for menopausal symptoms. Arch. Gynecol. Obstet. 2011;284(2):411-419.
- Jaroenporn S, Urasopon N, Watanabe G, Malaivijitnond S. Improvements of vaginal atrophy without systemic side effects after topical application of pueraria mirifica, a phytoestrogen-rich herb, in postmenopausal cynomolgus macaques. Journal of Reproduction and Development. 2014;60(3):238-245.
- Kadir AA, Nik Hussain NH, Wan Bebakar WM, Mohd DM, Wan Mohammad WMZ, Hassan II, et al. The effect of labisia pumila var. alata on postmenopausal women: a pilot study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012; doi:10.1155/2012/216525.
- Nadia ME, Nazrun AS, Norazlina M, Isa NM, Norliza M, Ima Nirwana S. The anti-inflammatory, phytoestrogenic, and antioxidative role of labisia pumila in prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Advances in Pharmacological Sciences. 2012; doi:10.1155/2012/706905.
- Fathilah SN, Abdullah S, Mohamed N, Shuid AN. Labisia pumila prevents complications of osteoporosis by increasing bone strength in a rat model of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012; doi:10.1155/2012/948080.
- Mohd Effendy N, Shuid AN. Time and dose-dependent effects of labisia pumila on bone oxidative status of postmenopausal osteoporosis rat model. Nutrients. 2014;6:3288-3302.
- Chen S, Li, ZP, Krochmal R, Abrazado M, Kim WS, Cooper CB. Effect of Cs-4 (cordyceps sinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2010;16(5):585-590.
- Xiao JH, Xiao DM, Chen DX, Xiao Y, Liang ZQ, Zhong JJ. Polysaccharides from the medicinal mushroom cordyceps taii show antioxidant and immunoenhancing activities in a D-galactose-induced aging mouse model. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012; doi:10.1155/2012/273435.
- Zhang DW, Wang ZL, Qi W, Zhao GY. The effects of cordyceps sinensis phytoestrogen on estrogen deficiency-induced osteoporosis in ovariectomized rats. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;14(484):http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/14/484.
- Wang NQ, Li J, Huang XB, Chen WQ, Chen YJ. Herbal medicine cordyceps sinensis improves health-related quality of life in moderate-to-severe asthma. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine. 2016; http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/6134593.
- Oh KJ, Chae MJ, Lee HS, Hong HD, Park K. Effects of Korean red ginseng on sexual arousal in menopausal women: placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover clinical study. J. Sex. Med. 2010;4 pt 1:1469-1477.
- Lee HW, Choi J, Lee YJ, Kil KJ, Lee MS. Ginseng for managing menopausal woman’s health: a systematic review of double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials. Medicine. 2016;95:38(e4914).
- Xu Y, Ding J, Ma XP, Ma YH, Liu ZQ, Lin N. Treatment with panax ginseng antagonizes the estrogen decline in ovariectomized mice. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2014;15:7827-7840.
- Lim DW, Kim YT. Anti-osteoporotic effects of angelica sinensis (oliv.) diels extract on ovariectomized rats and its oral toxicity in rats. Nutrients. 2014;6:4362-4372.
- Asama T, Matsuzaki H, Fukushima S, Tatefuji T, Hashimoto K, Takeda T. Royal jelly supplementation improves menopausal symptoms such as backache, low back pain, and anxiety in postmenopausal Japanese women. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2018; https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/4868412.
- Kunugi H, Mohammed Ali A. Royal jelly and its components promote healthy aging and longevity: from animal models to humans. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2019;20(4662): doi:10.3390/ijms20194662.
- Liu Q, Loo WT, Sze SC, Tong Y. Curcumin inhibits cell proliferation of MDA-MB-231 and BT-483 breast cancer cells mediated by down-regulation of NFkappaB, cyclinD and MMP-1 transcription. Phytomedicine. 2009;16(10):916-922.
- Hua WF, Fu YS, Liao YJ, Xia WJ, Chen YC, Zeng YX, et al. Curcumin induces down-regulation of EZH2 expression through the MAPK pathway in MDA-MB-435 human breast cancer cells. Eur. J. Pharmacol. 2010;637(1-3):16-21.
- Kim JM, Noh EM, Kwon KB, Kim JS, You YO, Hwang JK, et al. Curcumin suppresses the TPA-induced invasion through inhibition of PKCα-dependent MMP-expression in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Phytomedicine. 2012;19(12):1085-1092.
- Wright LE, Frye JB, Timmermann BN, Funk JL. Protection of trabecular bone in ovariectomized rats by turmeric (curcuma longa l.) is dependent on extract composition. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2010;58(17):9498-9504.
- Terauchi M, Horiguchi N, Kajiyama A, Akiyoshi M, Owa Y, Kato K, et al. Effects of grape seed proanthocyanidin extract on menopausal symptoms, body composition, and cardiovascular parameters in middle-aged women: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Menopause. 2014;21(9):990-996.
- Park EY, Edirisinghe I, Choy YY, Waterhouse A, Burton-Freeman B. Effects of grape seed extract beverage on blood pressure and metabolic indices in individuals with pre-hypertensive: a randomised, double-blinded, two-arm, parallel, placebo-controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition. 2016;115:226-238.
- Zhang H, Liu S, Li L, Liu S, Liu S, Mi , et al. The impact of grape seed extract treatment on blood pressure changes. Medicine. 2016;95:33(e4247).
- Clifton PM. Effect of grape seed extract and quercetin on cardiovascular and endothelial parameters in high-risk subjects. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2004;5:272-278.