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How The Gender Gap Is Affecting Women's Health

There is a big correlation between female burnout and stress because of the societal pressures we put on ourselves.

09/06/2017 13:00 EDT | Updated 09/09/2017 08:10 EDT

Many of us know the gender gap as a somewhat ubiquitous term for the unexplainable, and unacceptable, differences in income between men and women for the same skill level and position, disproportionate opportunities in the workplace, and, of course, extreme human rights violations many women are subject to in countries where legal discrimination still exists.

But have you ever heard of a health and wellness gender gap between men and women?

Our body is made up of approximately 200 different types of cells, and every cell has its own job to do. Our cells also have a gender so, for example, a woman's body will respond differently to a man's in terms of toxins, illness and treatment.

This particular gender gap starts with the fact that most clinical trials and health research studies enroll more men, or use more male animals, to record and analyze their data. Essentially, we are missing critical information about women's health and wellness, and how our bodies respond to certain treatments and medications.

Getty Images/Caiaimage

Case in point: Women's hormones fluctuate like the stock market for the majority of our lives. We are more likely to fall into major depression, and between the ages of 25-44 are more likely to use antidepressants. Studies show the higher rates of depression in women can be linked to social differences between the sexes, differences in how our brains develop, and hormonal shifts that occur from puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause.

It starts to become pretty clear that we need to become advocates for our own health and well-being.

First thing's first, let's look at STRESS. There is a big correlation between female burnout and stress because of the societal pressures we put on ourselves. Stylish supermoms that are Instagrammable at any moment; ladybosses at the office; everyone's best friend and go-to therapist; a head-turning body; the perfect house (again, Pinterest perfect); not only a loving partner, but a sex goddess in the bedroom.

Our ancestors used stress to survive, but today all this pressure is killing us. Our modern-day adrenal glands and thyroids just can't take it anymore.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
3d rendering medical illustration of the human adrenal glands

So let's talk about what we can do to save these tiny little glands that produce and control our hormones.

When you're in chronic burnout or under significant stress, your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive — meaning your body is in fight, flight or freeze mode for much longer stretches of time than it should be, and I believe that can cause our adrenals to burn out.

This is how our adrenal system is supposed to work:

#1: You see a lion, and think OMG, I don't want to get eaten!

#2: Your adrenaline and cortisol levels surge, your breathing changes or you stop breathing completely, and you freeze hoping the lion won't see you, or maybe you see red and try to fight it, or you think, "I'm outta here," and you flee.

#3: The threat (or the lion) goes away or is dealt with and your hormone levels normalize, and you start breathing properly again.

If you're in constant fight, flight or freeze mode, then your adrenals become depleted, and you're also not activating your natural relaxation response, which is done through proper breathing.

Tip: Try simply breathing in for five counts, holding for five counts, and then exhaling to the count on five.

Conventional (GP) doctors or your family physician don't normally recognize adrenal fatigue as being a real problem, because for the most part the only conditions doctors recognize is Addison's Disease, adrenal cancer, Cushing's Syndrome, or Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. I can't speak on behalf of your doctor, of course, but what I do know, from experience, is that both my integrative doctor and my naturopath specialize in women's health and both recognize adrenal fatigue showing up regularly in their office.

So what are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue in women, you ask?

1. Weight gain in the stomach and thigh areas

2. Trouble sleeping

3. Craving for salty or sugary foods

4. Chronic late-night snacking

5. Exhaustion which leads to the overuse of stimulants like sugar and caffeine (however, some sufferers will experience a surge of energy in the late evening)

6. The inability to cope; feeling overwhelmed; increased anxiety

7. A weakened immune system which can lead to chronic inflammation, increase in allergies, and in some cases autoimmune diseases

8. Brain fog and the inability to stay focused

9. Low sex drive

10. Severe PMS or increase in perimenopausal symptoms.

If you feel like you may suffer from adrenal fatigue, then seek out an integrative doctor and/or naturopathic doctor in your area (North American directories provided below). This will require you to do some research if you don't already have a practitioner that you work with. Ask your friends, contact your family doctor and see if they have anyone they would recommend, search for reviews on the internet, and do your due diligence to find someone to test your adrenals.

My naturopath recommends the adrenal saliva test kit for testing your cortisol levels throughout the day to get a clear picture on how your adrenals are functioning.

Here are some tips on how to support your adrenal function:

1. Get eight to 10 hours of sleep. Create a sleep routine for yourself, and go to bed at the same time every night. Start your routine 30-60 minutes before you need to turn out your lights and hit your pillow. Turn off your electronics, take a bath, do some yoga for sleep, write in your journal, or read a book. There are many great things you can incorporate into your sleep routine to help wind down your brain and your body to get the restorative sleep your body, and your adrenals, are in desperate need of.

Luca Sage via Getty Images

2. Incorporate low-impact exercise. Go for a walk after dinner, plan a swim at the gym, or practice yoga to start your day off in an optimal state instead of relying on that cup of coffee. Getting your body moving will help to support your metabolism and boost your energy, but stay away from high-intensity, vigorous exercise as that will only add to your stress levels and tax your system even more.

3. Start a meditation practice. New studies are coming out every day on how meditation improves your life. It literally changes the activity and connectivity between regions of the brain. It lowers anxiety and depression, improves attention, concentration, and overall well-being. It also preserves the brain and increases grey matter. You don't need an expensive membership, or special workout gear — anyone can easily start a meditation challenge online, search for a guided meditation on YouTube, or find a free meditation group to join in their community.

Adrenal fatigue only scratches the surface in terms of women's overall health and well-being, but it's a great place to start.

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Find a naturopath in North America.

Find an integrative doctor in North America.

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