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Common Myths About The Female

10 Myths About the Female Body, Busted

Let’s discuss fact versus fiction.

In the age of the internet, anyone can be an expert on anything – including women’s health. However, this same educational tool can also lead to the widespread distribution of false information. In the past, young women heard myths from parents or grandparents passed down through the generations. Nowadays, you can find ample misconceptions right at your fingertips, courtesy of your phone and computer.

Distinguishing fact from fiction is one of the important roles of a women’s health doctor, and why it’s vital to choose an obstetrician and gynecologist – known as an OB/GYN – near you who can help determine what’s best for you. In the meantime, we’ve listed some of the most common women’s health myths below, along with the truth, to ensure you have the right information.

MYTH 1: You can’t get pregnant when breastfeeding. 

Yes, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding. While breastfeeding does delay the return of menstruation by producing a hormone that prevents egg production, or ovulation, using breastfeeding as birth control involves strict practices. These include nursing exclusively during the day and night (at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night) with no other food, water, or liquids given to the baby. Also, your baby must be less than six months old, your period should not have returned, and you shouldn’t use a breast pump to express milk. Mothers who don’t want to get pregnant should use a reliable form of birth control rather than turning to breastfeeding alone as a birth control method.

MYTH 2: Avoid head showers during periods. 

There is no reason not to wash your hair, take a bath, or shower while you’re having your period. A warm bath can help ease cramps. You will not get sick, go blind, or lose your hair from taking a bath when you are having your period, but some of these inaccurate health myths have been passed from one generation to the next. When it comes to the mess of your period, leave your vagina alone. It can and will take care of itself.

10 Myths About the Female Body, Busted

MYTH 3: Vaginal discharge means yeast infections.

On the contrary, vaginal discharge that’s white or clear and with a faint odour or odourless is normal. Discharge helps protect you from dryness, moistens your vagina during sex, and guards against vaginal and urinary tract infections. 

But vaginal discharge isn’t always healthy. If you notice more discharge than normal, a change in colour or thickness, a bad smell, itching, burning, pelvic pain, or pain during sex or while urinating, you should check with your gynaecologist. You may have a vaginal infection or another medical issue, such as a sexually transmitted infection.

MYTH 4: Sex after having a baby will hurt. 

Most women are terrified of pain with sex after pregnancy, but if you allow enough time for your body to heal completely, sex won’t be a problem. Keep in mind that new moms become ready for sex at very different rates. When you decide you’re ready, it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful. 

Your estrogen levels dip while you’re nursing, which can cause vaginal dryness, so it is recommended to use plenty of lube when you decide to take the plunge. Communicate with your partner about your fears, take it slow, and go easy on yourself. And don’t forget to use contraception.

MYTH 5: Your periods can sync.

If you experience period syncing with a friend or someone you live with, it’s more likely the result of pure probability. That’s because cycle length varies from person to person. Some people have their period every 21 days, while others see their period begin every 35 days. Some people experience bleeding for a week, while others only bleed for a day or two.

Some people have regular periods, while others have less regular cycles. Your menstrual cycle may last for 15% to 30% every month. With odds like that, it’s highly likely that at some point, you and a friend, roommate, or co-worker will both be experiencing bleeding at the same time.

Common Myths about the Female Body

MYTH 6: The vagina should be cleaned properly. 

The vagina is self-cleaning. Using cleaning products can change the pH balance, resulting in vaginal infections. Just use a simple and, ideally, non-scented soap. The vulva is the outer area that surrounds the vagina. It includes the opening of the vagina, outer and inner lips, and the clitoris.

The truth is, you do not need to use special products for your vulva. You can clean the external vagina parts by simply washing it with lukewarm water. If you wish, you may use mild, unscented soap. Afterwards, you should rinse the vulva properly and gently pat the area dry as moisture can stimulate yeast growth.

MYTH 7: You always bleed when you have sex for the first time.

No, not always. Some women will bleed after having sex for the first time, while others will not. Both are perfectly normal. A woman may bleed when she has penetrative sex for the first time because of her hymen stretching or tearing. The hymen is a thin piece of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vagina. 

For some women, it may stretch or tear when they start having sex. A stretched or torn hymen does not necessarily mean a woman has lost her virginity. A woman may not know her hymen has stretched or torn because it does not always cause pain or noticeable bleeding.

 woman lying down in pain

MYTH 8: Pain during sex is normal.

Sex isn’t supposed to hurt. Just because painful sex is very common doesn’t mean you have to accept it as normal. Occasional minor soreness is likely nothing to worry about, but intense or frequent pain is worth discussing with your doctor. Sex should be a pleasurable experience; if it’s not, don’t hesitate to speak to your partner and your doctor.

MYTH 9: Pubic hair is unhygienic. 

Pubic hair is so not dirty or unhygienic! It traps sweat, oil, and bacteria, which may give it an odour. Still, it serves the purpose of keeping potentially harmful microorganisms from reaching the delicate skin of the genital region. This myth often leads people to shave off their pubic hair, when the truth is that our pubic hair is only protecting our skin.

MYTH 10: Menstrual blood is different from regular blood. 

Menstrual blood, or menstrual fluid, is the regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina. It is a complex biological fluid composed of blood, vaginal secretion, and endometrial cells of the uterine lining. 

When compared to regular blood, menstrual blood is darker and not highly oxygenated. It contains dead and non-functional tissue parts. Furthermore, menstrual blood has low iron, haemoglobin, and white and red blood cell concentrations compared to regular blood. Discharge of menstrual blood takes place for two to seven days every month.

Dr. Amna Raees Khan is a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist. Visit @amnaraeesahmed on Instagram for more information.

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Common Diet And Nutrition Myths

3 Diet and Nutrition Myths, Debunked

Popular doesn’t mean healthy.

Helping people find their way through the endless stream of nutrition information is something I feel strongly about. There are so many things out there that it would be impossible to fit all of it in this one article. What you will read below is facts about three of the most popular nutritional fads in recent times: the carnivore diet, the keto diet, and placenta pills. Before I start, don’t forget to check out the write-up on alkaline water, which is an interesting one to be aware of.

Popular Diet And Nutrition Myths

Carnivore Diet

Let’s start with the carnivore diet. Just when I thought no one would disagree about vegetables being good for human health, in comes the carnivore diet, where veggies are a no-no! It was made popular by Mikhaila Peterson. This diet caught public interest when she put her father Jordan Peterson, a well-known clinical psychologist on the diet. Her claim is that the diet has cured her from severe arthritis, depression, chronic fatigue, and many other symptoms she was experiencing.

The thing with this diet is that the only evidence we have is anecdotal from people who claim this diet has worked wonders for them. A few of these folks are making quite a noise on social media with fancy names like Liver King, CarnivoreMD, etc. Currently, evidence is lacking to support any health benefit from this diet. I would definitely tread with caution considering there is no variety and plenty of missing food groups – take the case of the missing vitamin C (from fresh fruits and vegetables) that your body needs to receive on a daily basis. Bleeding gums due to a vitamin C deficiency is an example of a symptom one can experience after a while.

Fibre will be another ‘nutrient’ that you will struggle to get on this diet – and we all know how important fibre is for our gut health. Forget constipation; you may not even poo at all! Yikes. Interestingly, I have seen a few proponents of the carnivore diet peddling supplements to the gullible while saying the diet is the best. Why would you need supplements if this diet is the best? Something for us to think about. So why are people, albeit a few, claiming that the diet has done wonders for them? It’s not fully known, but it’s possible that the restrictive diet may have inevitably provided relief via cutting out foods that someone was intolerant or allergic to. We would not know for sure as this is a drastic and non-methodological way to eliminate potentially problematic foods.

Takeaway: This is a very extreme and restrictive diet with very little evidence to support its use.

salad in a bowl

Keto Diet

Next up is the keto diet. This usually requires people to consume less than 20g of the nutrient carbohydrate per day, and the carbs removed are replaced with fat. Unlike the carnivore diet, the keto diet is something we practitioners were aware of from nutrition and medical textbooks. Basically, it is a medical diet often prescribed to children with an epilepsy condition that does not respond to medication. More recently, it got revived in the fitness industry for fat loss. It is also being looked at as a potential treatment for people with Type 2 diabetes. 

I will try to simplify the mechanism. Reducing the carbohydrate intake to very low levels will put our body into ketosis, which is a metabolic state where you burn fat as your main source of fuel. The exact reason why this is helpful for people with epilepsy is poorly understood. However, proponents of this diet narrows it down to the reduction in insulin from low carbohydrate intake.

Evidence is there to show that a ketogenic diet can help reduce seizures in children with epilepsy. A recent, very well-conducted, randomised controlled trial also showed that it may be an effective way for ‘some’ people to manage Type 2 diabetes. I say some because this diet is exceptionally hard to follow and, even in study situations with plenty of support, people found it extremely hard to stick with – this is something to be mindful of. Also remember the same effects can be done with a balanced diet, where you don’t need to cut out any food group. 

The risks are many, especially when doing it on your own without giving much thought to the finer details. Notable ones include low blood sugar as well as vitamin and mineral deficiency. And in children, it may cause stunted growth, heart abnormalities, and gut problems like constipation. We also do not know the long-term health effects of following this diet, so that’s something you want to keep in mind.

Takeaway: Another extremely restrictive and hard to adhere style of eating. For some people with medical conditions, it may be worth the difficulties and risks, but I would strongly advise people not to follow a diet like this without medical supervision. There are many meal-delivery companies offering the keto diet that’s been worked out by qualified nutritionists, but then again, not everyone can afford it. Best to bear these, take an informed decision, and not blindly jump on the keto diet as a quick weight-loss option.

Diet and Nutrition Myths

Placenta Pills

Sorry if this makes you feel squeamish, but placenta pills are trending. In fact, there are quite a few celebrities out there who’d vouch for it. Incidentally, the ‘science-y’ name for consuming one’s placenta is called ‘placentophagia’. What is a placenta, you ask? Well, it is an organ that develops in the womb during pregnancy and its main job is to provide oxygen, hormones, antibodies, and nutrients to the growing baby. Plus, it removes waste products from the baby’s blood. 

Although non-human mammals (rabbit, cow, rats, etc.) have eaten their placenta for years, it has not been common amongst humans until recent decades. It is either eaten raw (as an ingredient in a smoothie), cooked (as a meat substitute), or most commonly dehydrated, powdered, and made into pills. The belief is that ingesting the placenta provides increased energy, decreased incidence of baby blues, rapid recovery from pregnancy and delivery, and improved maternal bonding. Proponents believe that these benefits are due to the micronutrients, like dietary iron, that are present in the placenta.

If you are to look up at the websites of some placenta encapsulation clinics, you will see them citing results from human studies that are based on mothers self-reporting their experiences with placenta pill consumption. Be wary of these as this type of evidence is anecdotal, biased, and not considered high quality under scientific standards. For example, one study that analysed the nutritional composition of 28 dehydrated placenta samples processed to be made into pills found that the recommended daily allowance of the placenta pills would only provide a modest source of some micronutrients – not the nutritional powerhouse it’s often touted to be.

There was also a small, but rigorously designed pilot study that compared the iron levels of mothers consuming their own dehydrated placenta pills versus a placebo pill (dehydrated beef). Findings indicated that the placenta pills did not significantly improve the mothers’ iron levels. This is an important finding in the sense that we would not want mothers who are deficient in iron to wholly depend on placenta pills to correct a deficiency because of the hype around it. We would need more research to see what happens to women who rely on placenta pills as their sole iron supplement, but as of right now, it does not look promising.

One issue with the process of encapsulating the placenta is that it is not standardised or regulated (although measures are being made to do so), which means the treatment of one placenta may be different to another. This is a worrying health and safety concern since we are handling human tissue here.

Takeaway: Celebrity endorsements are to be taken with a pinch of salt. The truth is that there is no robust evidence (not yet) that eating the placenta post-birth provides objectively demonstrable benefits for the mother beyond a placebo effect. I would definitely recommend balanced meals that are heavily leaning towards whole foods rather than placenta pills.

I am a huge advocate of gentle nutrition, and this is acknowledging the fact that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ diet or food. Accepting and acknowledging gentle nutrition will help you to honour your health without getting into crazy fads and trends.

Lovely Ranganath is a licensed clinical dietician in Dubai. Visit @good.food.guru for more information.

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What Is Dyspareunia

No, Painful Intercourse Isn’t Actually Normal

Let’s talk dyspareunia.

As a pelvic health physiotherapist, I see numerous women in my clinic devastated by pain during intercourse (dyspareunia) and the emotional repercussions it can cause. For some, they have been to various practitioners prior to finding me and many hold the belief that there is little hope of resolution. Of course, this is not the case. There IS hope. And for many women, a cure!

Sexual pain is a sensitive and emotional subject, and it takes a lot of courage to seek help. To all the women that come forward to seek help I see you and recognise that it has not been an easy journey to lead you to this point. Therefore, it is so important to find a medical practitioner that is empathetic, listens to your concerns, and refers you to the necessary practitioners that will help you on your journey to recovery. More on this to come.

How Common Is Sexual Pain?

Sexual well-being is an integral part of a person’s overall well-being. Sexual difficulties can be taboo and hard for a woman to discuss and seek help for – and therefore, sadly often go untreated. Painful sex is also a common condition with prevalence globally varying from 10% to 18% and affecting up to 28% of the female population during their lifetime. 

what is Sexual Pain

What Is Dyspareunia/Sexual Pain?

The medical terminology is constantly changing, and dyspareunia (painful sex) is sometimes replaced with genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder. The pain can be superficial (pain in the vulva or entrance to the vagina) or deep (deep within the vagina), primary (pain initiated when first began sexual activity) or secondary (pain develops sometime after a period of pain-free intercourse).

Dyspareunia can lead to a multitude of issues, both physical and mental, and can have a serious impact on emotional well-being. It can lead to a lack of sexual arousal and desire, pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic/low back/hip pain, anxiety, depression, difficulties in relationships, lack of self-worth and self-esteem, hypervigilance of pain, and negative self-image. Whoa! That’s a lot. Of course, not all women will experience each of these symptoms. 

Dyspareunia (Painful Intercourse)

What Is the Cause?

The cause of dyspareunia can be multifactorial and include structural, inflammatory, hormonal, traumatic, neoplastic (abnormal growth of tissue), and psychosocial factors. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to first seek help from a specialised, empathetic gynaecologist to obtain a correct diagnosis and referral to a pelvic health physiotherapist. 

While dyspareunia is a physical condition, it is important to note that it can be further compounded by social conditioning, cultural and religious belief systems, past experiences, and trauma – and these also need exploring when treating this condition.

Where to Start on Your Healing Journey?

Pain with intercourse can be very overwhelming and stressful for many women. Thankfully, there is no need to suffer in silence. As mentioned above, sexual pain is multifaceted and can be due to an underlying medical condition such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or vaginal prolapse for example.

Therefore, it is important to see a gynaecologist as the first point of call when experiencing pain for medical treatment of the condition. A referral to pelvic floor physiotherapy is a must, and we can help in many ways. Research has shown that physiotherapy is an underused and untapped resource when treating this condition, and experts conclude that it should be an integral part of the multidisciplinary approach to healing sexual pain.

My Approach

I believe in an intuitive and holistic approach to treating clients who experience painful intercourse. I look at the whole person – body, mind, and soul. I also have a great network of professionals that I work with and refer to. This may include psychologists, sex therapists, intimacy coaches, gynaecologists specialised in this area, pain management experts, and alternative therapists.

woman consulting a doctor

Physiotherapy Healing Journey

Physiotherapy treatment will firstly include pain education. Pain is a complex, multilayered perceptual experience that requires an explanation. As a sufferer, an inability to make sense of the often worrying and persisting uncertainties of pain, can cause increased sensitivity to pain and exacerbate the condition.

Knowledge is key, so it is proposed that pain education and training be provided about the nature and effects of pain and strategies on how to address the pain. The goal is to empower people to self-manage. However, pain education should be part of a larger holistic treatment approach, not a standalone treatment. 

pelvic floor

The pelvic floor muscles will also be addressed by your physiotherapist. Pelvic floor muscles refer to incredibly important muscles that sit at the base of your pelvis and run from the pubic bone to the tailbone and the sitz bones. They wrap around and have openings for the vagina, urethra (tube for urination), and anus. They support your pelvic organs, have many functions (including supporting your pelvic organs), and are extremely important for sexual function and sensation. 

An internal vaginal assessment by your pelvic health physiotherapist is advisable, but not required. This allows the physiotherapist to assess fully the vulva, vagina, pelvic floor muscles, connective tissue, nerves, and position of the organs (bladder, rectum, and cervix). This assessment is very discreet, performed in a private room and completely at your own pace and control. I understand that this is extremely daunting for many women and guarantee my clients complete control and autonomy. I ensure the full trust between the patient/therapist before any assessment or treatment and often engage the patient in breathwork, meditation, body scan, and/or energetic settling techniques before any internal vaginal assessment and treatment.  

Research has shown that most dyspareunia clients will have both weak and overactive/tight pelvic floor muscles. This will be addressed by the physiotherapist through gentle muscle-release techniques, biofeedback, graded touch, mirror use, and strengthening as required. Vaginal dilators are also very useful tools for overactive muscles. These are graded plastic or silicone cylinders that are gently inserted into the vagina to help stretch the tissue and prepare for intercourse. I teach the client how to use the dilator in the clinic, again empowering the client toward self-management.

Dyspareunia

I am also a qualified biodynamic craniosacral therapist and use this modality in my approach. This is a gentle hands-on technique that believes in the intelligence of the body to heal itself. Through craniosacral therapy, we can address the whole person – trauma, nerves, muscles, emotions, and connective tissue included – and help the body to integrate and settle. Sexual intercourse is a serious issue that needs addressing – do not suffer in silence! We are sexual beings and should be able to enjoy sex and the potent energy it illuminates within us.

Sexual pain is multifaceted and therefore requires a multilayered, multidisciplinary approach. Both the physical and mental aspects should hold equal priority. Firstly, make an appointment to see a gynaecologist to address the medical aspects. Pelvic floor physiotherapy is also a must. Addressing the emotional and energetic aspects, conditioning, belief systems, and trauma (if any) are of importance, too. Psychologists, sex therapists, alternative therapists, and intimacy coaches are just some of the wonderful disciplines I call on to support women on their healing journey.

Neasa Barry is a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist at Heal Hub Rehabilitation Centre. Visit @herphysio and @healhub_rehab for more information.

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Easy Exercise for Busy Professionals

Looking to Squeeze a Workout into a Busy Schedule?

It’s easier than you’d think.

Are you a busy professional who’s struggling to find time to exercise? We get it. We’ve been there ourselves. We know how hard it is to fit in a workout when you’re working long hours, travelling frequently, and trying to balance your personal life with the demands of your career. The last thing you want is to spend hours at the gym every week. 

For those who want to stay healthy but don’t have time for an hour-long gym session every day, there are simple exercises that can fit into any schedule. These exercises will help you stay healthy and improve your mood and energy levels throughout the day. Win-win.

Easy Exercise for Busy professionalism

Exercise Can Help You in More Ways Than One

Exercise is essential for everyone, but it’s especially important for busy professionals. You might think you don’t have time to work out or need more energy to make it happen in the morning, but the truth is that if you want to be at your best – physically and mentally – then you need to exercise. A study found that people who exercise regularly are more productive than those who don’t. Another study found that people who exercise regularly are better at focusing on their work.

That’s because exercise helps us sleep better, so we feel more energised throughout the day, which makes us more likely to take on challenges at work. But it goes beyond just feeling great; there are also studies showing that exercise can help reduce stress levels and increase mental clarity, making it easier for you to focus on what matters most without distractions from stress or anxiety.

Quick and highly effective workout routines for busy people

Integrating Exercise into Your Daily Routine

Exercise may be an integral part of a healthy life, but admittedly, it can be hard to fit in if you have a lot on your plate. Here are some tips that will help you incorporate exercise into your daily routine as a busy professional.

Make It a Priority

You first need to make exercise a priority, even if it means carving out time in your schedule to do so. If you don’t prioritise it, it will always be pushed back by other more pressing or urgent activities.

Keep It Short and Sweet

If you need more time, don’t think you have to go for hours on end to reap the benefits of exercise – even as little as 10 minutes can give you some of the same benefits as an hour-long workout. So, instead of thinking about how long you need to work out, focus on ensuring each workout ends before your willpower does! 

Set a Reminder 

Set an alarm on your phone or computer calendar every few hours throughout the day. This will help keep you accountable and ensure you’re working out regularly throughout the week.

Find Something Fun

If exercise feels like drudgery, not fun, chances are that it will only stay in your schedule for a short time. That’s why we recommend finding something you enjoy and making sure it’s something you can do in the morning or after work. And if your schedule changes every day, try to pick a few flexible options.

Make Sure It’s Challenging

Choosing easy exercises like walking or stretching is certainly tempting when you’re first starting out, but there are better choices for your health. There may need to be more than just walking and stretching to keep your heart healthy, build muscle strength and bone density, or burn fat. You’ll need a little more intensity if you want to see results.

Make It a Part of Your Routine

When you incorporate exercise into your daily life, it becomes second nature and doesn’t feel like an extra chore anymore. Try setting aside time in the morning before or after work, so it’s part of your daily routine instead of just something different in addition to everything else you have going on.

Make Sure It’s Sustainable

You don’t want to start an exercise routine that you can’t keep up with in the long run, so make sure you pick one that will last and works for you.

woman doing lunge exercise

Easy Exercise Routines

These exercises are quick, easy, and effective ways to get in shape. They require no equipment and can be done anywhere, even while watching your favourite show!

The Burpee

This whole body exercise works your legs, arms, and core. To do it:

  • Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower yourself into a squat position, then kick your feet back so you’re in a plank position.
  • Perform a push-up and jump up to return to the squat position (now facing the opposite direction).
  • Repeat for five minutes.

The Plank Walk

This exercise helps strengthen your core and upper and lower body muscle groups. To do it: 

  • Start in the plank position by putting your hands directly under your shoulders, your body straight from head to heels. 
  • Walk forward 10 steps and back 10 steps. 
  • You can walk side to side instead of forward and back if you prefer!

The Push-Up

Push-ups are great for strengthening your core and upper body muscles. To do it: 

  • Start in the plank position by putting your hands directly under your shoulders. 
  • Lower yourself slowly until your chest touches the ground. 
  • Push back up slowly until your arms are straight again. 
  • Repeat as many times as possible within 30 seconds before taking a break for one minute before repeating.

The Squat

Squats help strengthen your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and other muscles to improve your balance. To do it: 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointed forward, and arms hanging at your sides. 
  • Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as close as possible). 
  • Push back up by straightening your legs and squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement. 
  • Repeat 12 times.

The Lunge

Lunges help build overall muscle mass while also improving performance and strength. To do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, and arms hanging at your sides.
  • Take a step forward with one leg into a lunge position, and ensure the knee does not extend past the toes.
  • Lower yourself until both knees are bent at 90 degrees.
  • Push back up by straightening both legs and pushing through the heel of the front foot for one rep; repeat 12 times per side (24 total reps).

 Fitness Tips for Busy Professionals

6 Ways to Sneak Exercise at Work

If you’re climbing the career ladder, you likely have a lot on your plate. You might be working long hours and sacrificing sleep to get ahead at work. You may be taking on extra responsibilities as you try to impress your boss. Or maybe you’ve got a family at home waiting for you when you get back from work.

Remember, however, that exercising is something you can only put off for a while. It’s essential for your health and will improve your mood and help you focus during the day. So how do you fit in exercise when life is so busy? We’ve got some exercise tips that can help – even when work is piling up on top of everything else!

1. Go for a Walk During Lunch

This is an easy way to sneak in some movement without leaving the office or changing into workout clothes. Just make sure not to go too fast or run – you want this to be relaxing, not stressful!

2. Use the Stairs Instead of the Elevator or Escalator

This will help burn calories and improve cardiovascular health while giving your body some movement that isn’t sitting down all day long (which can lead to all sorts of problems).

3. Do Some Stretching

Stretch your arms, legs, and neck throughout the day. This will keep your body limber and avoid muscle cramps or knots.

4. Chair Dips

Sit on a chair with your hands gripping the edge of the seat. Slowly lower yourself down until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, then push back up. Do this 10 times for three sets each day!

5. Desk Push-ups

Find a space on your desk where you can put your hands and feet when doing push-ups. Lower yourself until your chest touches the surface of your desk, then push back up again. Do this 10 times each day.

6. Do a Few Squats While You Use the Restroom

Squats are one of the best exercises for toning your legs, so go ahead and try it out when you have a minute or two. You might even hit the toilet more often to sneak in another squat session.

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Benefits of Vegan food

Going Green: 5 Women on Their Transition to Veganism

They’re making a difference with their diet.

Ever considered veganism? The shift is far from easy for most people, but it can be a highly rewarding choice. Here, in honour of World Vegan Month, we speak with five women about their journey going vegan – challenges, myths, and favourite dishes included.

Watch the Video: 5 Women on the Benefits of Going Vegan

Suzanne Saleh

Suzanne Saleh

Why did you decide to adopt a vegan diet? How long have you been doing it for?

A few years ago, my sister developed breast cancer, and it was then that I decided to learn more about adopting a healthier lifestyle. In my search for answers at home and during a solo trip to Nepal, I learned about the powerful benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. I have been a vegan for three years now.

What is one myth that you think people associate with a vegan diet? And why are they wrong?

The most popular one is, ‘Where would a vegan get their protein from?’ There are so many non-meat protein sources such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, chickpeas, beans, lentils, and quinoa. And the best part? You can get all the protein you need without the harmful saturated fat and cholesterol that comes from animal protein.

What challenges did you face when you switched to a vegan diet?

My challenges initially came from my husband and some friends, as they felt that this change would restrict me from going to the same restaurants we used to go to. I also received a lot of comments that I would be weak, and that this way of eating wasn’t healthy. However, as time passed, I learned a lot more about food, how our bodies need certain macronutrients, and that I could easily get this from vegan food. Another initial challenge I faced included making sure I ate balanced meals, so I started to spend more time in the kitchen and experiment. 

What dishes would you recommend to someone who wants to try switching to a vegan diet?

For breakfast, I would recommend having some oats with plant milk, topped with berries and chia seeds. For lunch, chickpea and potato curry or stew with rice and salad works. For dinner, I would go for a hummus wrap with falafel and leafy greens, and fruit in between as snacks. 

Learn more about Suzanne at @suzannesalehwellness  and suzannesaleh.com.

Hiruni Egalla 

Hiruni Egalla

Why did you decide to adopt a vegan diet? How long have you been doing it for?

Ever since I was little, I have always had a soft spot for animals and grew up caring for them. As I grew older, I started to realise that I looked down upon some animals and praised some, and it felt very unfair. When I was around 12, I decided to become a vegetarian, but as time went on, I got used to my diet and wanted to take it a step further. At the age of 18, with a lot of thought, I decided to become a vegan and completely avoid consuming any animal products. It has been a bit over three years since I completely went vegan, and it is the best decision I’ve ever made.

What is one myth that you think people associate with a vegan diet? And why are they wrong?

One of the many myths I’ve heard about veganism is that I am not going to get enough calcium without dairy milk. That is completely wrong. A lot of leafy green vegetables are known to have plenty of calcium. For example, kale has been shown to have excellent absorbability compared to dairy milk. Also, other plant milk or alternatives of dairy milk can have just as much calcium as dairy milk. Calcium-set tofu is also a rich source.

What challenges did you face when you switched to a vegan diet?

I faced a couple of challenges, one of them being that I had to try hard to not be misunderstood or judged. Sometimes, I feel that non-vegans can get defensive about their own food choices and feel uncomfortable. At the same time, getting the message out to some people can be hard while trying to avoid being stereotyped as a “vegan jerk”. It also gets difficult to talk about the reasons for supporting veganism without sounding like an evangelist.

What dishes would you recommend to someone who wants to try switching to a vegan diet?

I would highly recommend a smoothie bowl. You can’t go wrong with fruit, and using frozen bananas makes for a thick and creamy texture. I would also recommend eating rice and vegetable curries. It’s easy to make and you can match the flavours to your liking.

Learn more about Hiruni at @hiruni.eg.

Kate Lindley

Kate Lindley

Why did you decide to adopt a vegan diet? How long have you been doing it for? 

Going vegan has been a long journey for me. Growing up, I never really liked eating meat, but my family thought meat was an essential part of a daily meal, and milk was the only option I had for a beverage. The transition started in 2005, when I began to suffer from indigestion. My doctor recommended that I cut out all red meat and reduce consumption of dairy to reduce inflammation, which causes gastritis. 

As the years progressed and I moved from country to country, I witnessed how animals were being treated and I couldn’t agree with it. I began to rethink my values related to food. I decided to shift from pescatarian to vegetarian in 2014. I then shifted from vegetarian to fully plant-based in 2019. In 2020, I shifted from plant-based to fully vegan. I even stopped purchasing items that used animal products, including leather and suede. 

What is one myth that you think people associate with a vegan diet? And why are they wrong?

People usually believe vegan food is all expensive and “pretentious”, like a passing fad or trend. Rice, beans, lentils, and corn are all staple items in a vegan item. Are they expensive? No. This is a lifestyle with the objective of helping the environment and living compassionately with all sentient beings. 

What challenges did you face when you switched to a vegan diet?

Based on where you live, it can be tricky to find vegan options at restaurants. Some people aren’t aware of what a vegan diet/lifestyle is as sometimes, but not always, their food may be based on meat-eating traditions that have been passed on for centuries. Luckily for me, there’s quite a few vegan restaurants in Dubai now – or restaurants that offer a vegan menu at least. 

What dishes would you recommend to someone who wants to try switching to a vegan diet?

I’d recommend trying stir-fries with fresh vegetables and tofu, salad rice wraps, cauliflower wings, vegan alfredo or tomato sauce with penne pasta. I also love kale caesar salad! Asian and Mediterranean cuisines have many delicious and nutritious meals. I eat a lot of hummus, tabbouleh, zaatar, rice, falafel, foul, and dal.

Learn more about Kate at @kindnesswith.kate.

Cynthia Bernstein

Cynthia Bernstein

Why did you decide to adopt a vegan diet? How long have you been doing it for? 

My interest in veganism didn’t come from the right reasons initially. I had gained some weight and I was trying different diets until I found a vegan influencer on Instagram who inspired me. She made me curious about the reasons behind why someone would go vegan. 

And so, I started to read about it, follow more vegan influencers, and watch documentaries about it. I learned about the industry behind meat and milk – and it just all made sense. It was no longer about losing weight. Rather, it was about doing the right thing. I had found a purpose, a lifestyle with good motivations, and my eyes were wide open. I’ve been vegan for almost six years now and will never go back!

What is one myth that you think people associate with a vegan diet? And why are they wrong?

I’ve often heard things like, “If you don’t eat animals, they will overpopulate, and we don’t have space for them.” It’s very sad to see that humans can be selfish to the point that they think their place on earth will be stolen. I do believe that our planet is smart and can self-regulate itself better than us humans, with our overproduction and overconsumption of everything.

What challenges did you face when you switched to a vegan diet?

For me, being invited for dinners or birthdays was difficult. Not everyone who I knew was familiar or accepting of the vegan lifestyle, so it was challenging to refuse a food item at a gathering. They would often feel bad because I would have nothing to eat, and I would feel bad for making them feel bad. But with time, it got better. It all comes down to how you explain it and how you show your family and friends how it can be easy to make small changes for you.

What dishes would you recommend to someone who wants to try switching to a vegan diet?

I would recommend you start with a simple meal that you know you will enjoy, and then explore more dishes. Nowadays, there are a lot of vegan products available in supermarkets as well. Personally, I love to make scrambled tofu with avocado toast, banana ice cream, açai bowls, warm porridge with delicious toppings, and lentil pasta with tomato sauce. 

Learn more about Cynthia at @aboutcynthia and @veganbycynthia.

Victoria James 

Victoria James

Why did you decide to adopt a vegan diet? How long have you been doing it? 

In the last six months, I’ve taken the leap to being fully vegan after following a flexitarian model for the last 15 years. I chose not to consume animal products for my health, and for my wallet. I used to spend a lot of money, particularly here in Dubai, to buy animal products that I thought were of high-quality. I was already a decent-enough cook, so substituting animal products with plant products or making full veggie meals didn’t feel like too much of a challenge. I was able to lose 11kgs over the summer because of my diet.

What is one myth that you think people associate with a vegan diet? And why are they wrong?

I try to avoid using the term vegan too much, given its association to radicalism – I think it’s a myth that all vegans are radical! In my mind, this way of eating and this lifestyle is just common sense, and I don’t try to convert anyone. In most cases, I only disclose that I’m vegan when someone asks me why I’m not eating something or about weight loss.

What challenges did you face when you switched to a vegan diet?

I found the change easier given that I had already made several switches over the past few years, but I still find it difficult when travelling in this part of the world, particularly when it comes to buffet lunches at work events or staycations. My advice? Pack plenty of snacks. On a recent trip to Bahrain, I was able to pull together a lunch of rice and steamed vegetables from a buffet that I combined with some delicious vegan protein bars and snacks at the hotel. If in doubt, bananas are your best friend!

What dishes would you recommend to someone who wants to try switching to a vegan diet?

There really is no reason to put pressure on yourself to make a switch straightaway. I eased into it, and you can too if you wish to see a change. I love to cook with lentils, chickpeas, frozen veggies, and whatever is on offer at the supermarket. I recommend embracing vegan Indian recipes. 

Learn more about Victoria at @myveganplatedxb.

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Beginner's Guide to Veganism

The A-Z of Veganism

Do you have what it takes?

With the rise in awareness about sustainability,animal abuse, and clean eating, it’s no wonder that veganism is soaring in popularity – even household names such as Natalie Portman and Joaquin Phoenix have embraced a vegan diet. So what’s the fuss about? And do you think you can take the plunge? A vegan diet consists of food items that come directly from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. It does not contain any animal products – dairy, eggs, and honey included. And it goes without saying that meat of any sort doesn’t make an appearance. 

Key Foods in a Vegan Diet

While every vegan has their own preferences and cultural influences when it comes to what they eat, these are a few of the key ingredients that comprise a vegan diet:

Whole Grains

Key Foods in a Vegan Diet

Barley, brown rice, buckwheat, and millet are some of the popular whole grain options out there. Not only are they filled with nutrients such as protein, fibre, and antioxidants, but they’ve also been shown to bring down the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Don’t know what to have for breakfast? Oatmeal is always there to save the day! In the mood for a quick snack? Grab some popcorn.

Plant Milk

Plant Milk

Plant-based milk can be derived out of several sources such as soy, almond, rice, or cashew, and is an excellent source of nutrition. While not all plant milks are created equally and their nutritional profile can vary depending on the type you choose, generally speaking, they can be a great stepping stone for those seeking to switch to veganism – or if you have lactose intolerance. Just make sure you’re not allergic to any of the ingredients used!

Pulses

Pulses

Pulses such as peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils are packed with fibre, protein, and other minerals and vitamins. Not only are they low in fat content – which can lower cholesterol levels – but they’re also incredibly cost-effective and versatile enough to be used in several dishes (think: salads, brownies, wraps, and stews).

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and Vegetables

Not only can most fruits and vegetables be eaten on their own, but they can also be cooked in several ways – be it fried, boiled, sautéed, or grilled. They can be combined with several other dishes as well. Some of the more interesting takes include using mashed banana instead of eggs for baking, and cauliflower for your pizza crust. Other staples in a vegan diet include nuts, seeds, and minimally processed meat substitutes such as tofu and seitan.

But you might want to think twice before adding that vegan burger to your cart. According to nutritionist Stephanie Karl, “The plant protein trend has prompted innovation in meat substitutes, however higher sodium levels and a wide nutrient range in such products highlights the importance of nutrition guidelines in their development to ensure sameness with animal-based proteins.” Meat substitutes can be heavily processed and vary drastically in their food value.

Thus, while they may be more environmentally friendly, they may not always be good for you. Stephanie suggests that nutritional guidelines should be more user-friendly and make recommendations of additional food items that complement each other to improve the range of nutrients at every meal. This means that instead of sticking to one thing, people should try to mix up whole grains with pulses, nuts and seeds, soy products, and so on alongside appropriate meat substitutes.

Think Diet, Not Lifestyle

Guide to the Basics of Veganism

While stereotypes about vegans are pervasive and not always accurate, one is right in assuming that being a vegan can go beyond one’s diet, extending into personality and outlook in life. Depending on the reason for which someone may choose veganism, some vegans may refuse to partake in any entertainment that involves animal exploitation, deciding not to visit zoos or circuses with animals for that reason.

Others, meanwhile, may prefer to use synthetic fibres instead of the likes of wool, which comes from animals, since they believe that the shearing process can terrorise the animal. Some vegans may shop at thrift stores to reduce their dependency on fast fashion that is harmful for the environment, buy only cruelty-free products (especially when it comes to cosmetics), and get involved with animal welfare and/or environmental groups. While everyone makes different choices, a lot of vegans try to live an ethical life in order to cause as little harm as possible – be it to animals or the environment.

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Carrot, Tomato, Broccoli, Beans, chilly, capsicums

Why Vegans Everywhere Are Celebrating Today

Are you ready to join them?

Did you know today is World Vegan Day? And did you know the month of November is World Vegan Month? So, if you’re one of the millions considering becoming vegan – whether it’s because you’re concerned about your health, the environment, or animal welfare – here are 10 fascinating facts about why swapping to a meat-free diet could be the best thing you’ve ever done for your body (and the planet in general).

Facts about veganism
  1. A well-balanced vegan diet contains all the protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals you need. Low in saturated fat and free from animal protein, cholesterol, and hormones – all of which are linked to disease – a vegan diet can provide all the nutrients required for all stages of life.
  1. Compared to meat-eaters, vegans weigh less, have lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and rates of type 2 diabetes. They have a 30% lower risk of heart disease and lower cancer rates.

Facts About Vegan Living
  1. If the world went vegan, it could save eight million human lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, lead to healthcare-related savings, and avoid climate damages worth $1.5 trillion. 
  1. The World Health Organization report in November 2015 ranked processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen (the same category as cigarettes, alcohol, and asbestos). Eating just 50g per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. It also classified red meat as a group 2A carcinogen.

  1. John Hopkins University found that, on average, a vegan diet is the most environmentally friendly of all diets and would cut emissions by 70%, while a Western style diet adds +135% to the emissions.
  1. Those who eat meat spend a whopping AED 6,000 extra a year on food, compared to those on a meat-free diet.

Fascinating Vegan Facts
  1. A 2018 study – one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of the damage farming does to the planet – found that ‘avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth’ as animal farming provides just 18% of calories, but takes up 83% of our farmland.
  1. A study published in Environmental Research Letters found that eating a plant-based diet has three times more positive environmental impact than washing your clothes in cold water, four times more than hang-drying clothes or recycling, and eight times more than upgrading light bulbs.

Interesting Facts About Vegans and Veganism
  1. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction. 
  1. Those who eat seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day have a 33% reduced risk of premature death, compared with people who eat less than one portion.
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Skin cancer

Let’s Talk Cancer and the Mind-Body Connection

Here’s what the experts say.

Cancer affects millions each year, and its consequences can be devastating. But do the experts agree on what causes cancer and what you can do to prevent it? Here, we speak with threedifferent experts from three different fields on their perspective. Listen in.

Farah Hillou, Nutritionist

Farah Hillou, Nutritionist

What causes cancer from a nutrition perspective? Are there any warning signs to look out for?

Cancer biology is complex, and our understanding of the carcinogenic process is continuously evolving. What is considered a simple biological process of cellular division and growth can quickly turn into a chaotic and complex illness. At the same time, we can support our body’s natural ability to protect and heal itself through our diet, lifestyle, and the external environment. However, dysregulation in key processes in the body, including an impaired immune system, hormone imbalances, insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction, and an imbalance in the gut microbiome can all impact our internal terrain and set the stage for cancer development. 

While it is often difficult to identify the single factor that caused cancer, we can identify certain cancer-causing agents and cancer-promoting activities that promote the development and spread of cancer. Modifiable risk factors include obesity, dietary habits, lifestyle habits, and exposure to environmental toxins.

Can a healthier diet prevent cancer? What should and shouldn’t we be eating?

Dietary factors that have been found to increase the risk of cancer include high intake of refined sugar, excessive intake of carbohydrate rich foods, increased consumption of alcohol, and high intake of meat products. These foods may weaken the immune system, promote inflammation, affect blood sugar balance and insulin resistance, and trigger the release of cancer-promoting hormones. 

On the other hand, phytonutrient-rich functional foods contain bioactive compounds that have strong cancer-fighting properties. Powerful bioactives include but are not limited to: capsaicin (peppers), 6-gingerol (ginger), curcumin (turmeric), ellagic acid (pomegranates), catechins (green tea), resveratrol (berries, red grapes), allicin (garlic) and sulforaphane (cruciferous vegetables). 

How can we avoid inadvertently exposing ourselves to cancer-causing agents?

A healthy environment supports optimal cellular function. On the other hand, exposure to smoke, herbicides and pesticides in our food, genetically modified crops, beauty care products with parabens and sulfates, and cleaning products that contain chlorinated hydrocarbons, chloroform, and other toxic compounds can all contribute to DNA damage and oxidative stress. Purchasing organic food, refraining from smoking, and choosing organic products can drastically help reduce the toxic burden on our body. The Environmental Working Group is a great resource to use for guidance when choosing cleaner, non-toxic products.

How can a nutritionist support cancer patients and complement mainstream treatments?

Dietitians and nutritionists are in a position to support individuals along the cancer-care continuum through diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. They can help support weight balance, address nutritional deficiencies, support appetite and other side effects during therapy, and develop personalised nutritious meal plans to optimise the body’s natural processes. Dietitians/nutritionists practise with empathy, ethics, and honesty, and play a key role in the patient’s multidisciplinary care team to use evidence-based guidelines for the best interest of the patient.

Dr. Shadan Naji, Dermatologist at Dr. Kayle Aesthetic Clinic

Dr. Shadan Naji, Dermatologist

From your perspective, what causes cancer – specifically skin cancer? Are there any warning signs to look out for?

Cancer can occur anywhere on the skin, but the fundamental trigger is sun exposure – frequently being affected by sunburn during childhood and throughout our adult life will put us at greater risk to develop skin cancer. The biggest warning sign to look out for is the appearance of new pigmented spots. If such spots appear, observe them carefully and seek a dermatologist’s opinion. You will definitely need expert advice if these spots change in colour, size, or become itchy or bleed. I recommend that patients with fair skin have an annual check-up with a dermatologist every year, while darker-skinned patients can have a check-up every two years.

How much SPF should we be using?

The advice now is to wear SPF 50 and cover the face and exposed areas of the skin with sun block thoroughly and regularly throughout the day.

Are there specific times of the day when it’s better to stay indoors to prevent skin cancer? 

Yes. If you can, avoid the peak hours of the sun’s radiation, which are between 10am and 4pm.

How much should we cover up to protect against the sun’s harmful rays? Are some fabrics better than others?

I would recommend wearing a thin, white material covering all exposed areas when outside. A light colour such as white will not absorb heat. In terms of materials, avoid nylon and choose natural fabrics such as linen and cotton. The right clothing is an effective protection measure against the sun’s rays.

What’s your take on the debate around aluminum in antiperspirants causing cancer?

There is still research being done around this topic. In some cases, dermatologists may recommend that their patients use medical antiperspirants that have aluminum as a treatment for sweating – these are perfectly safe to use under the supervision of an expert dermatologist. However, as a precaution, you should not use aluminum-based antiperspirants indefinitely.

Are there any other practices or precautions that we can take to prevent cancer?

The most important thing is to use effective sun protection – and apply it regularly – from an early age to avoid getting sunburnt. You should also avoid sunbathing.

Soniyaa Kiran Punjabi, Alternative Medicine Practitioner
and Founder of Illuminations

Soniyaa Kiran Punjabi

What causes cancer from an alternative healing perspective? Are there any warning signs to look out for?

Cancer can be caused due to various factors, but it is 90% lifestyle choices and only 10% genetics. It is a result of unconscious and conscious choices that we make, which are rooted in our thoughts, emotions, energy levels, and physical body. Doctors estimate that 80% to 90% of all health problems are caused or aggravated by stress. It is this stress that also influences us to make harmful lifestyle choices. For example, we might start smoking because it relieves us from stress. We may gravitate towards alcohol and other addictions to fill a void. We may lack a deeper self-connection and mindfulness to the present moment, and therefore be ignorant to the environment we live in and the toxicity we subject ourselves to.

The earliest warning signs would be changes in our overall energy level, sleep cycle, appetite, and any unfamiliar lumps or warts around the body. Again, the more conscious and present we are, the more we are likely to notice these signs. When we are all consumed by past worries, thoughts, and task lists, we forget to notice these signs. The body is always communicating with us. The question is: are we really listening?

The mind-body connection has been linked to some diseases. Is that the case with cancer?

Whilst there is enough evidence to suggest that our emotions affect both hormones and immune function, the link between the mind-body connection in relation to cancer is far less clear and remains invalidated by science. What has been proven is that many alternative healing modalities that focus on an integrative approach can improve our well-being by healing our thoughts, emotions, and energy levels through the likes of hypnosis, cognitive behavioural therapy, acupuncture, meditation, and breath work. 

Do you think that alternative treatments can make our body more resilient and resistant to illness?

Opting for alternative healing approaches to resolve stress or imbalance in the body helps individuals identify the root cause of this stress and release it in order to prevent these imbalances from seeping into our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Most complementary or alternative approaches treat the person as a whole –body, mind, and energy – as opposed to only the physical body. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. 

How can alternative therapy support cancer patients and complement mainstream treatments?

Most qualified and responsible alternative/complementary practitioners would never dismiss or negate the efficacy of allopathic/medical solutions if the issue is rooted deep in the physical body, such as major illnesses like cancer, heart ailments, and other such life-threatening diseases. However, alternative therapy can help when an individual is relying on daily medicine that causes damage through dependency on strong dosages.

For example, we have noticed that practicing deep breathing techniques and tools like emotional tapping have helped several of our clients reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. Every approach has an important contribution towards the overall well-being of an individual, therefore it is important to continue undergoing medical treatment alongside complementary care. Some of the benefits that we have seen of alternative treatment include: 

  • Reducing the side effects of strong medication. 
  • Providing solutions through natural methods to reduce pain with minimal side effects. 
  • Aiding physicians by preparing the individual to enhance the healing process and enabling the individual to return to a state of wellness
  • Creating a sense of peace and harmony within the individual so that the current challenge can be met and handled in a positive manner, thereby making the journey towards health and peace of mind less traumatic.
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women's health

Insidious, Painful, Preventable – Let’s Discuss UTIs

And why women are more prone to them.

You’re minding your own business when suddenly you have to go… again. And it burns. A lot. You might be dealing with a urinary tract infection (UTI). 

UTIs are, unfortunately, a fairly common occurrence for women, with about 50-60% of women experiencing at least one during their lifetime. The infection can involve any part of the urinary system, and symptoms typically include needing to urinate often, pain when urinating, and pain in the side or lower back. 

In some cases, the infection can be asymptomatic, meaning there are no symptoms, but the bacteria is present in the urine. This is called asymptomatic bacteriuria, and it can remain in the urinary tract for a long time before flaring up into a more significant infection. Though unpleasant, UTIs can usually be cured with antibiotics. Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know about UTIs: what causes them, how to prevent them, and its treatment. 

 women's health

What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?

You might not think much about your urine, but it actually says a lot about your health. Urine is a byproduct of our filtration system, the kidneys. It is created when the kidneys remove waste products and excess water from your blood. Normally, urine moves through your urinary system without any contamination. However, bacteria can get into the urinary system from outside the body, causing problems like infection and inflammation. When this happens, it’s called a urinary tract infection, or UTI. 

feminine products

Causes of UTI

UTIs typically occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to spread in the bladder. The urinary system is designed to keep out bacteria, but the defences sometimes fail. When that happens, bacteria may take hold and grow into a full-blown infection in the urinary tract. Here are the most common causes of UTIs.

Infection of the Bladder

This type of UTI is most commonly caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli) and, sometimes, other bacteria. These bacteria are typically found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but can also be transmitted through other means. In women, the urethra is very close to the anus, which makes it easy for bacteria to travel from the anus to the urethra and into the bladder. Sexual intercourse can also lead to bladder infections, but you don’t have to be sexually active to develop one. All women are at risk of bladder infections because of their anatomy. 

Infection of the Urethra

This UTI can happen when GI bacteria spreads from the anus to the urethra. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause an infection of the urethra. STIs such as herpes, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and mycoplasma can all lead to UTIs because they cause inflammation of the urethra. Women are particularly susceptible because their urethras are relatively close to the vagina.

 woman holding a tissue inside a comfort room

Full Bladder

If you don’t empty your bladder regularly, you’re at risk for UTIs. That’s because bacteria are more likely to sit and multiply in the bladder if it’s not emptied regularly. Drinking adequate amounts of water is key to preventing UTIs, as it helps to keep the bladder full and sends the signal to urinate more frequently. If you don’t drink enough water, bacteria that might already be present in the urinary system will be able to multiply, potentially leading to an infection. 

Catheterisation

Catheterisation is a medical procedure in which a tube is inserted into the urinary tract to allow drainage. While catheterisation is generally considered safe, it can occasionally lead to UTIs. This is because the insertion of the catheter can introduce bacteria from the skin into the urinary tract. Once these bacteria enter the urinary tract, they can multiply and cause an infection. Catheter-associated UTIs are most commonly seen in hospitalised patients or other medical conditions requiring long-term catheterisation.

Hypoestrogenic State

UTIs are also common in postmenopausal women due to changes in hormone levels. During menopause, estrogen levels decline, which can lead to a condition called hypoestrogenism. This condition can thin the lining of the urethra and make it more susceptible to infection. In addition, declining estrogen levels can also lead to changes in urinary tract anatomy, further increasing the risk of UTI.

 woman holding a tissue inside a comfort room

Symptoms

UTIs don’t always cause symptoms, but when they do, you may feel a strong urge to urinate often and pass small amounts of urine. Other symptoms may include burning sensations when urinating, cloudy or coloured urine, and strong-smelling urine. In women, there may also be pelvic pain around the pubic bone. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s essential to see a doctor to treat the infection promptly. Left untreated, a UTI can cause health complications.

cranberry juice in a glass

Prevention

UTI is one of the most common types of infection in the body, accounting for nearly 25% of all infections. The good news is that there are tips you can do to lower your risk of getting one.

Tip 1: Drink Plenty of Liquids

Drinking plenty of liquids, especially water helps dilute the urine, which means you’ll urinate more often. This gives bacteria less time to hang out and causes an infection.

Tip 2: Try Cranberry Juice

Some studies suggest that cranberry juice may help to prevent UTIs, although the verdict is not yet final. However, drinking cranberry juice is not likely to cause any harm, so it may be worth a try.

Tip 3: Wipe from Front to Back

When it comes to wiping, always go from front to back after using the restroom. This helps prevent bacteria from spreading from the anus to the vagina or urethra.

Tip 4: Urinate After Having Sex

Empty your bladder soon after sex. This helps to flush out any bacteria that might have entered the urethra during sexual activity. Make sure to drink a full glass of water afterwards to help flush out any bacteria that might have been left behind.

Tip 5: Avoid Irritating Feminine Products

Steer clear of feminine products that could irritate the urethra. These products can include deodorant sprays, douches, and powders. Using them in the genital area can irritate the urethra and make you more susceptible to UTIs. 

Tip 6: Change Your Birth Control Method

Be mindful of the type of birth control you’re using. Diaphragms, unlubricated condoms, or condoms treated with spermicide can contribute to bacterial growth and increase your risk of developing a UTI. If you’re prone to UTIs, talk to your doctor about other birth control options that might be a better fit for you. Following these simple steps can help reduce your risk of getting a UTI.

woman holding a water and medicine

Treatment

Antibiotics are usually the first line of defence when treating urinary tract infections. The specific medication and length of treatment will depend on your overall health and the type of bacteria present in your urine. Some of the most common antibiotics used to treat simple UTIs include trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Bactrim DS), fosfomycin (Monurol), nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid, Furadantin), cephalexin, and ceftriaxone. 

The group of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones isn’t commonly recommended for simple UTIs. These drugs include ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin, and others. The risks of these drugs generally outweigh the benefits of treating uncomplicated UTIs. In cases of a complicated UTI or kidney infection, your healthcare provider might prescribe a fluoroquinolone medicine if there are no other treatment options. Often, UTI symptoms clear up within a few days of starting treatment, but you may need to continue antibiotics for a week or more. Take all the medicine as prescribed. 

For an uncomplicated UTI that occurs when you’re otherwise healthy, your healthcare provider may recommend a shorter course of treatment. That may mean taking an antibiotic for one to three days. Whether a short course of treatment is enough to treat your infection depends on your symptoms and medical history. Your healthcare provider may also give you a pain reliever to take to ease burning while urinating. But pain usually goes away soon after starting an antibiotic.

doctor talking to a female patient

Takeaways

Suppose you think you might have a UTI. In that case, you must see a healthcare provider immediately because untreated infections can lead to possible complications. Your healthcare provider will likely ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. They may also order a urine test called a urinalysis to detect suspicious cells or bacteria in your urine sample.

A positive urinalysis almost always indicates a UTI, though further testing may be necessary if symptoms don’t improve with antibiotics or if infections keep coming back. However, by proper treatment, UTIs most often can be cured and don’t cause serious problems. So, if you think you might have a UTI, don’t delay – just go see your healthcare provider.

Dr. Amna Raees Khan is a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist. Visit @amnaraeesahmed on Instagram for more information.

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woman holding a placard saving menopause

Menopause 101: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

As we mark World Menopause Day, today.

When it comes to menopause, some would say that women have been dealt a bad hand. And while I’m not here to disagree, this isn’t about debating the pros and cons of menopause or making peace with it. This is about grabbing menopause by the horns and owning it.

Remember that you will never be alone during menopause. Approximately 13 million women in the UK alone are either peri- or post-menopausal as of 2021. So, if you’re feeling lost, confused, or just plain fed up, know that you are not alone. It’s time to break the silence around menopause. For too long, women have been suffering quietly as they go through this challenging time in their lives. 

Menopause can be a very tough transition, with over 60% of women experiencing symptoms that result in behaviour changes. And it’s not just a case of a few hot flashes here and there – one in four women will experience severe debilitating symptoms, almost half of menopausal women say they feel depressed, and a third suffer from anxiety. 

Women commonly complain of feeling as though they are going mad. All of these symptoms can make it difficult for women to function both at home and work. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of understanding and support for menopausal women, with approximately two-thirds of women saying there is a general lack of support and understanding at home and in the workplace.

A 2019 survey by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five menopausal women, usually aged between 45 and 55, were negatively affected at work. The survey also revealed that almost 900,000 women in the UK had left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms.

clock with a word menopause

The Basics of Menopause

As we age, our bodies go through a lot of changes. For women, one of the most significant changes is menopause, the natural stage of life when a woman has clocked 12 consecutive months since her last period. You could be 40 or even 60 when you enter menopause, but most women experience it at 51.

Menopause can affect women differently, though some may experience more symptoms than others. Many women dread the onset of menopause, thinking of it as a single, dramatic event. In reality, menopause is a gradual process that can span several years. There are three phases in menopause: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.

Stage #1: Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the first phase of menopause, when hormone levels start to fluctuate and symptoms first appear. It can start up to 10 years before menopause, sometimes striking women in their 30s. During this stage, you’ll experience menopause symptoms and fluctuations in estrogen. 

Some women say that this stage is where the symptoms are at their worst. Symptoms of perimenopause include irregular periods, mood swings, hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, issues in the bedroom, vaginal discomfort, and incontinence. If you’re trying for a baby, you don’t need to hit the brakes during perimenopause. Women who are menstruating during this period can still get pregnant.

Stage #2: Menopause

Menopause is a natural stage in which a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs and estrogen like they once did. Once you have reached menopause, you will no longer have periods for a full 12 months. After this point, you are considered to be in post-menopause. While the two effects of menopause can be fit into a sentence, the internal process is much more complex.

During menopause, your body enters its third stage of life. Much more is going on, and menopause is not just about our reproductive hormones. For years, our bodies have been governed by our reproductive hormones. But during menopause, these hormones begin to retire, leaving our other hormones to try and pick up the slack. This can lead to a number of changes in our appetite, mood, sleep patterns, and body temperature. 

women's health

What Menopause Really Feels Like

Most women experience some changes during menopause, but not all women have the same symptoms or experience them to the same degree. In fact, there are over 50 different symptoms that have been associated with menopause. 

Menstrual Changes

As women move into their late reproductive years, their menstrual cycles generally become shorter. This means that the intervals between periods grow smaller, and periods themselves may become lighter. During the menopausal transition, cycles may initially become shorter and then grow longer before becoming very irregular and eventually ceasing altogether.  

Vasomotor Symptoms

Many women experience vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, during menopause. Hot flashes is the most common symptom, experienced by more than 80% of menopausal women. They usually last for one to five minutes, but can sometimes last up to 45 minutes. Night sweats can also be disruptive, causing sleep loss and chronic fatigue. 

Emotional Symptoms

Many women experience emotional symptoms during menopause. One of the most common is mood swings. Many women report feeling more irritable or even angry during menopause; these mood swings can be unpredictable and tough to manage. Other common emotional symptoms include stress and anxiety. The hormonal changes of menopause can lead to feelings of stress and worry, and some women may also experience a loss of confidence. 

Symptoms Related to Sexual Function

As women enter menopause, they may experience changes in their sexual function. One of the most common problems is the genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), which is caused by decreased estrogen production. This can lead to vulvovaginal atrophy or the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls. Other symptoms include vaginal dryness, itching, and dyspareunia or pain during intercourse.

woman with palm on her head

Why Do We Have So Many Symptoms?

It all comes down to hormones. Women have estrogen receptors all over their bodies and, when levels of this hormone start to decline during menopause, we can experience a whole host of physical and mental symptoms. Other hormones like testosterone, progesterone, and cortisol can also become out of balance during menopause, further exacerbating symptoms.

One of the best places to start is tracking your symptoms. When we do this, we can identify the category they fall into: psychological, physical, or vasomotor. From there, you can then look at the different solutions and options you have to help abate the symptoms.  

Stage #3: Postmenopause 

As women, our hormones constantly change, impacting our bodies in various ways. For example, during our 40s and 50s, our hormone levels start to decline, leading to changes in our cardiovascular system, bones, and metabolism. This can make us more susceptible to osteoporosis, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease. 

Additionally, these changes can also cause psychological effects that have an impact on how we feel and take care of ourselves. Some symptoms can result from long-term estrogen deficiency and unhealthy lifestyle choices. One example is bone loss, which is a common symptom of menopause. Estrogen helps keep our bones strong, so we risk developing osteoporosis and fragility fractures when levels start to decline.

Cardiovascular disease is another potential complication of menopause. Lipid profiles worsen, weight increases, as does the risk for myocardial infarction and thromboembolic events. Hair, muscle, and skin issues are also common during menopause. The hair thins, and the skin becomes drier and rougher. We also lose lean mass and muscle tone, increasing fat mass. At the same time, the genitourinary syndrome of menopause can also cause dryness, dyspareunia, pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence issues, and UTIs.

women dining together

Top Tips on Owning Your Menopause

Now that you understand what menopause is, here are a few tips to start owning your menopause. One word of wisdom from someone who is going through it and specialises in menopause wellness: don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is not for you, or that you are too young to think about it. The earlier you can get yourself into healthy lifestyle habits, the easier it is to change as you enter perimenopause. I have taken small snippets of each category, just to give you an insight into the small changes you can start making today. 

Food

Food is the key to everything. Certain things may not agree with you anymore, may make you feel bloated, or cause digestive issues and energy levels to drop. There may be unexplained weight gain, too. So, to keep your body from throwing tantrums, try the elimination process. Swap acidic foods for alkaline foods – this really helps with inflammation. 

Trying to limit dairy and spicy foods is a good start. In my experience working with clients, there is no quick fix for this, and it is a very individual process, so give yourself time to explore new habits and monitor symptoms. Protein is essential, although eating it at the right time is equally important. Save protein for breakfast and lunch instead of dinner. Protein creates heat inside your body to be digested, so having it at dinner will create internal digestive heat, leading to hot flashes at bedtime. Not fun for anyone.

Fitness

Exercising is fantastic, although it’s essential to be mindful of how and when you exercise during menopause. Hitting the gym at night can cause a bad night’s sleep. Focus on strength training and aerobic exercise to boost your heart, lungs, and physical stability. Heart palpitations are also a symptom of menopause, which you can manage with supplements and lifestyle changes. 

Mental Health

The inner hurricane of hormones may leave you feeling anxious, agitated, irritated, depressed, or a ghoulish cocktail of all these emotions. You can combat this by identifying the triggers and learning what solutions are out there to help you put a new menopause action plan together. For example, did you know that serotonin, called ‘the happy hormone’, can be stocked up on by exposing yourself to morning sunlight? This can help you with your sleep and improve your mood.

Relationships

Menopause can cause cracks in social and workplace relationships. It’s essential to allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. You may consider having an intimate conversation with your loved ones about how they can be present for you and support you. Consider requesting special arrangements to be made at the office, should you need them.

Education and Talking Is Key

If you’re experiencing symptoms that are making your life unbearable, and you’ve tried changing your lifestyle habits without any relief, it might be time to look into hormone replacement therapy. This is a topic that definitely warrants its own discussion, but I want to briefly touch on it here. We’ve come a long way since the Women’s Health Initiative published its study on hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer in 2002 – that study caused millions of women to stop taking their hormone therapy overnight. 

woman holding an apple

Top Tips on Preparing for Menopause in Advance

Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor is a woman’s resilience against menopause. This challenging journey can be made easier with preparation. The lifestyle you follow and the possibly unhealthy habits you maintain today can determine how severe your menopause symptoms are in the future. Here’s how you can prepare your mind and body for menopause.

Mental Flexibility

Equip your mind with the mental toughness that menopause can demand. Take another look at how you perceive changes in your life and how much you value your current habits and lifestyle. Start making small steps to introduce healthier lifestyle habits. Give yourself a break, take time out to explore the new changes that are happening, embrace them, and learn how to work with them. 

Adopting Healthy Habits

The body is a fine-tuned machine that becomes even more sensitive to what’s put in it and what’s done with it as it ages. If you love a drink, try reducing how often you treat yourself to one – your liver will thank you. Sweet-toothed readers will want to start weaning themselves off processed foods and sugars, reducing inflammatory markers – your joints will love you for it. 

Your late 20s and 30s are the perfect time to turn new habits into lifelong ones. Be kind to your future self by incorporating fitness and healthy eating into your lifestyle. Of course, you can still have fun, but think about the near future as well.

well-being coach

Make Space for Menopause in Society

Menopause is a natural but often misunderstood process that all women will go through at some point in their lives. For too long, menopause has been shrouded in secrecy, causing many women to feel isolated during this difficult time. However, it does not have to be a taboo topic. By talking openly about menopause with those around you, you can help to break down the barriers of silence and misunderstanding. In addition, sharing information and tips can make it easier for your support system to handle menopausal symptoms.

Sharon James is a women’s health and well-being coach specialising in menopause wellness. Visit www.sharonjamescoaching.com for more information or connect with her via Instagram and Facebook. You can also get on the waitlist for her Menopause Mastery workshops here

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Diets That Add 13 Years to Your Life – Fact or Fiction?

Here’s the truth about longevity.

So, what’s with this new study that made it to the front pages of every major media house with the eye-catching statement, “Making dietary changes can add up to 13 years to your life”? Yes, we are referring to the study published earlier this year in the PLOS Medicine Journal. It sounds like a plan most would be happy to sign up for!

What’s new is that researchers created an online calculator that anyone can use to get an idea of how food choices can influence how many birthdays you celebrate – check it out, especially if you are from Europe, China, Norway, or the United States. This can be applied to all countries, so don’t turn away if you don’t find yours.

Key Points from the PLOS Study

Changing your diet might add anywhere from six to 13 years to your life, depending on two factors: 

  1. How drastic the changes are. 
  2. How old the person is when they start.

How Was the Research Done?

Researchers used two patterns of eating – one largely consists of added sugar, red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks, and refined carbohydrates (essentially a diet heavily leaning towards croissants, sodas, cookies, cakes, etc). The other was what they called the ‘Optimal’ diet – higher in whole grains (barley, buckwheat, millets, quinoa, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, pasta, brown rice), legumes (chickpeas, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, edamame, navy beans, black beans, mung beans), nuts and seeds (almonds, cashew nuts, macadamia, pistachios, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds), fish, fruits and vegetables, with way fewer foods from the first dietary pattern mentioned above.

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

The Results

What the researchers found was that the younger you are when you make the switch to the Optimal diet, the more years you can add to your life. For example, a 20-year-old could add another 10 to 13 years to their lifespan. Women won’t like what I’m going to say next: it seems if a woman began eating optimally at age 20, she could increase her lifespan by over 10 years whereas a man starting at the same age could add 13 years to his life! Not very fair, is it? Remember, this is not written in stone, so do give it a go anyway!

The additional number of years that can be added to your lifespan does reduce with age, according to this study, but the results are still worth making the change. Say you switch your food choices to the optimal diet at age 60. You could most probably increase your time on planet earth by another eight or nine years. This is great news for anyone who thinks it’s too late to make positive dietary changes – now we know it’s never too late!

Guess which foods made the most impact? Yes, increasing legumes, whole grains, and nuts while decreasing processed and red meats made a good difference. It is best to audit your present diet and go in the direction of adding these food types without going overboard. Of course, always speak to a qualified and registered dietitian/nutritionist to help create a bespoke nutrition blueprint in line with your individual needs. It is the best long-term investment you can do for self-care. 

The results of the study are in line with what global bodies like the World Health Organization have been saying about the effect of increased production of processed foods, rapid urbanisation, and changing lifestyles that have led to a shift in dietary patterns. These patterns involve increased consumption of hyper-palatable (tasty and easy to overconsume) foods that are high in calories, salt, sugar, and fat. It also shows a pattern where many people do not eat enough vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other nutrient-rich foods. 

Healthy Lifestyle Benefits

Going Green

A plant-based (not vegan) diet is what we are eyeing. This is easily said than done for many, and I understand. Best to start now than never, and I am sure the below five ideas will come in handy, especially for those in a complicated relationship with plants.

  1. Blend in or hide greens into your stews, pasta sauce, dough or batter used to make bread, idlis (Indian steamed rice cakes), and pancakes. Even smoothies are a great place to add them.
  2. Making a beef stew? Reduce the amount of beef and add in some beans or legumes for plant-powered nutrition.
  3. Aim for variety. This does not mean just eating different varieties of fruits. It can also mean eating different types of the same fruit. Magnify this to all foods; trust me, boredom will never be an issue. 
  4. Embrace meat-free Mondays (if not Mondays, any day or two would do) – it’s a great way to start small without feeling overwhelmed if you are working your way around plants. One meal, one day at a time, does it easy and nice!
  5. Make a meal out of a salad. Many people can’t think beyond lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes when it comes to salads. A good place to start is to think of the rainbow. Purple cabbage, blueberries, broccoli, carrot, tomatoes, and then add some chicken or beans with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds topped with herbs, olive oil, salt, and a good mix of your favourite lettuce. You’ve now got an amazingly delicious meal that will add years to your life. 

Steps to a Healthy Lifestyle

In the grand scheme of things, we will all do well by eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and poultry while minimising /avoiding/going really slow on hyper-palatable foods made with excess sugar, fat, and salt. The thing to acknowledge is that humans can thrive on varied diet patterns. This is why you have all those conflicting conversations around the ‘best’ diet, foods, exercise plans, etc.

Be it vegan, keto, intermittent fasting, pink salt vs white salt, all things brown or white, ignore all this jibber jabber and let’s understand that nutrition is a controllable factor for most of us. It is also for a lifetime. At this point, we have enough data (scientific as well as real life) to conclude that the more whole foods you include in your diet, the better your health parameters. Of course, it is not a standalone factor. Other aspects like total energy balance, physical activity, sleep, emotional well-being, and financial security are equally important – and that’s the secret to life! 

Lovely Ranganath is a licensed clinical dietician in Dubai. Visit @good.food.guru for more information.

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