From women’s health checks to nutrition and supplements, here are five things women can do to maximise their health and wellbeing.
#1 Take steps to prevent osteoporosis
According to general practitioner, Dr Nandini Shah, regular exercise, calcium, vitamin D, limited alcohol intake and a non-smoking lifestyle are all factors that can help prevent osteoporosis, a condition that affects bone strength by making bones more fragile and prone to fractures.
“Losing bone density is a common part of the ageing process. However, in the first few years after menopause, women can lose bone density more rapidly. Early menopause, therefore, can be a risk factor for osteoporosis,” says Dr Shah. “While osteoporosis largely affects people over the age of 50 to 60 years old, and post-menopausal women can be at a higher risk, younger people can also be affected.” A significant family history of osteoporosis, low dietary calcium intake, heavy alcohol consumption, smoking and certain chronic health conditions can be associated with bone density loss, she explains.
A bone mineral density test (also known as a DEXA scan) can identify signs of osteoporosis and indicate if bones are frail; weaker bones are more susceptible to fractures. “Bone mineral density testing does not diagnose fractures; however, along with other risk factors, the test helps predict the risk of sustaining a fracture in the future,” says Dr Shah. “The test results are reviewed with a doctor and, if the scan shows evidence of bone thinning or osteoporosis, advice or treatment can be offered to help strengthen the bones.”
#2 Make sure you’re getting enough omega-3’s
In addition to calcium and Vitamin D intake, omega-3 fatty acids are vital to a woman’s overall health. And, since our bodies don’t produce omega-3s on their own, it’s imperative that we consume these “essential fatty acids” through our diet (salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna and trout are among the top sources) or through supplements.
“Everyone can benefit from taking fish oil supplements because omega-3 is largely absent from our diet,” says Jacqueline Wee of health and wellness website, Curaxia, which offers high-quality health supplements for adults and children.
The documented health benefits of EPA and DHA – two types of omega-3 fatty acids – include supporting a healthy heart, brain and cognitive function, joint mobility, eye health, healthy skin and hair, and a healthy immune response, explains Jacqueline. “During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the research-backed benefits of the omega-3s, EPA and DHA, include supporting the healthy development of the foetal brain, eyes, and nervous system, a healthy birth weight and gestational length, healthy immune system development, a positive mood and wellbeing in mothers, and attention and focus in infants and children.”
Jacqueline says that, while most organisations recommend a minimum of 250mg to 500mg of omega-3 per day for healthy adults, higher amounts are often recommended for certain health conditions, and it’s always advised to talk to your doctor before taking fish oil.
And finding the right fish oil is important, too. In Singapore, supplements can be imported and sold without a license, says Jacqueline, which is why the market is flooded with products of uncertified purity and untested quality. As the sole distributor of Belgian brand WHC in Singapore, Curaxia offers an assortment of pure and sustainable fish oil supplements, with WHC UnoCardio 1000 – which contains one of the purest and highest concentrations of fish oil on the market, with the added benefit of vitamin D – as one of its bestsellers.
#3 Make healthier diet choices
Food-related allergies, coeliac disease and gastrointestinal problems have substantially increased in recent years, which could be linked to dietary changes, gluten-rich dietary patterns, processed foods, food additives and changes in microbiota, says gastroenterologist, Dr Andrea Rajnakova. That’s why it’s important to get in all the valuable nutrients you can, avoiding artificial processing, artificial sweeteners, colouring and flavouring, additives, chemicals, too much sugar and saturated fat.
“Healthy choices would include regular meals divided into five servings per day, containing small amounts of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fat in the form of omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of vegetables in any form, and some fruit,” says Dr Rajnakova. “Hydration is very important, too. People often have too many sweetened drinks and diet sodas, which bring extra sugar, colouring, artificial flavouring and sweeteners. It’s better to have either water or herbal caffeine-free teas or infusions.”
She adds, “Food selection must be sustainable and for the long-term. There’s no point in ‘dieting’ for a few weeks or months and then returning to your original eating habits. That will only create a yo-yo effect, not just in one’s weight, but in one’s health as a whole.” She adds that people are able to comply with healthy diets only when they feel satisfaction from the foods they take in. “Starvation is the biggest enemy of healthy diet and lifestyle. It never brings good results!”
#4 Go for a pap smear
Also known as a cervical smear, a pap smear test is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix (the entrance of the uterus) to prevent cervical cancer, which, in many cases, has no symptoms; in other cases, symptoms of cervical cancer can include irregular vaginal bleeding or pain during intercourse.
As cervical cancer is on the rise, it’s crucial for women to undergo this type of screening test, says Dr Shah. The test involves collecting a sample of cells from the cervix during a routine pelvic exam. The doctor will insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina. The speculum holds the walls of the vagina apart and allows a clear view of the cervix. Once the speculum is in place, a spatula or brush is inserted through it to take a swab from the cervix. This may feel a little strange, but it only takes a few minutes. Once the doctor or nurse has taken some cells for examination, they will remove the speculum and you will be able to get dressed.
Dr Shah says that treatment for an abnormal pap smear test result is always discussed with one’s health care provider, and follow would largely depend on whether the abnormal cell changes are mild, moderate or severe. In many cases, mild changes usually require a period of observation, as the cells can go back to normal on their own; in this case, another pap smear test would be repeated after a short period of time. However, Dr Shah says that more significant cell changes may require a gynaecology referral for further investigation and, in some cases, the abnormal cells need to be removed before they become cancerous.
#5 Check your breasts monthly
According to the Singapore Cancer Registry Report, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in Singapore with about 1,920 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year. With these statistics, it’s imperative that women take proactive steps to detect and treat breast cancer early, says DR HUANG QING, Singapore Cancer Society’s Specialist of Research and Advocacy, Research and Data Analytics.
In addition to going for regular mammogram screenings (once every two years for women 50 and above), it’s crucial for women to do monthly breast self-examinations starting from the age of 30.
“Checking your breasts regularly helps to familiarise yourself with your breast and more importantly notice changes and lumps,” says Dr Huang. “The best time to perform a self-check is about a week after your period.”
If you find a lump, don’t panic because nine out of 10 lumps are found to be benign. However, it’s important to seek medical advice to determine if your lump is a cause for concern.
“Early detection can significantly increase the chance of a cure,” says Dr Huang. Learn how to perform a breast self-examination at singaporecancersociety.org.sg.
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