Spare your blushes

We speak to the experts to find out how to tackle the most embarrassing health conditions

From flatulence to constipation, there are some health issues that are – quite frankly – embarrassing. While you should never shy away from speaking to your doctor about any health complaint, here we offer some natural tips and advice for combating some of the most cringeworthy health conditions.

Urinary tract infections

“When it comes to urinary tract infections (UTIs), staying hydrated is essential,” says nutritionist Lily Soutter (www.lilysoutternutrition.com). “Water can help flush out the bacteria in your bladder which may help to get rid of infection faster. Staying hydrated can also help to dilute the urine so the infection is less painful. Women should aim to consume 1.6 litres water per day whilst caffeinated drinks should be limited as they can act as an irritant. Some research also suggests that antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, found in cranberry juice or cranberry tablets, may help to prevent E.coli from attaching to the lining of the bladder and urinary tract. This means that cranberries may be useful as a preventative measure against urinary tract infections. However, it’s important to keep in mind they may not be effective for treating infections, only for reducing the risk of developing an infection.”

Lack of libido

“A lack of libido can be caused by many things, including medication, not enough sleep, an increase in stress and a bad diet,” says Frida Harju-Westman, in-house nutritionist at the global health app Lifesum (www.lifesum.com). “When we feel stressed, our body often doesn’t function at its optimum level, we can feel lethargic and unenergetic, which can result in a lack of interest and decreased libido. One thing that may help is to focus on your diet, ensuring you are eating high-energy foods as well as certain foods which may help to improve your sex drive. Oysters are a well-known aphrodisiac, because they contain zinc, which increases testosterone levels, beneficial to both men and women. I would also recommend eating fruit, as many fruits are high in antioxidants, which can reduce the number of free radicals in our bodies, thus improving blood flow throughout the body and increasing the libido. Another food which may help to boost your sex drive is avocado, which is high in monounsaturated fats, which may increase hormone production, as well as folic acid, which makes it a great source of long-lasting energy. It is a good idea to stay away from fried foods as the trans-fats found in these foods may increase abnormal sperm production in men and interfere with gestation in women.”

Constipation

“Constipation is very common, but that doesn’t mean it should be accepted as normal,” says nutritionist Sandra Greenbank (www.sandragreenbank.co.uk). “Toxins are delivered to the intestines from the liver every day and, ideally, we eliminate this waste daily. If the digestive system isn’t working optimally, all those toxins and waste can start to get reabsorbed by the body. If you are suffering from constipation, the first thing to do is take a look at your diet. Plenty of fibre from plant foods is essential for gut health. In addition to your vegetables, experiment with taking some ground flax seed every day to help get things moving. The best way to use flax seeds is to soak two tablespoons overnight and add this to a smoothie, some yogurt or porridge in the morning. It’s also important to drink six to eight glasses of water or herbal tea each day. If you are not drinking enough water, the fluids may be drawn away from your digestive system for other processes in the body. Finally, exercise is a great laxative. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous; a 30-minute walk and some stretching may suffice. Extra fibre, water and exercise should get things moving within about a week.”

Vaginal dryness

“A possible cause for vaginal dryness may be due to low oestrogen levels,” explains Lily Soutter. “Foods rich in phytoestrogens have a similar chemical structure to the hormone oestrogen and may help to reduce symptoms of low levels. Whilst there has been research linking phytoestrogen consumption to a reduction in the occurrence of hot flashes and vaginal dryness, more research is needed to confirm this association. Phytoestrogens can be found in foods such as soybeans, flaxseeds, legumes, apples, nuts and seeds.”

Bacterial Vaginosis

“Bacterial Vaginosis and thrush can be easily confused,” says Dr Karen Gardiner, MD of Purple Orchid Pharma. “While thrush is better known, BV is the most common cause of unusual discharge and can cause severe women’s reproductive health complications. Around one in three women will get it, yet two thirds will assume it’s thrush because they haven’t heard of BV. BV is an overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria, and not enough beneficial bacteria (lactobacilli). Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast (candida albicans) which can cause a decrease of lactobacilli. The main differences are discharge and itch.

BV causes a thin, watery, grey discharge with an unpleasant fishy odour, sometimes soreness, but not usually an itch. Thrush causes a thick, creamy or lumpy discharge without odour, and there is usually itching. Around half of women with BV will have no symptoms, or may not be aware of them. It is not usually a serious condition, but may lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and reduced fertility, increased risk of miscarriage, pre-term birth and low birthweight babies. It can also raise the risk of postpartum endometriosis and infection after caesarean section or hysterectomy and of contracting STIs and HIV. Around half of women treated with antibiotics for BV find symptoms return. Treatment with antibiotics usually eradicates BV but not the underlying disturbance which allowed it to develop. Antibiotics can also result in thrush. Therefore, preventing BV using a product that rebalances vaginal flora can be beneficial.”

Flatulence

Flatulence can certainly be an embarrassing health issue and it is attributed to a number of reasons, from swallowing too much air to changes in the gut microflora. According to Pippa Campbell, a nutrition and weight loss coach (www.pippacampbellhealth.com), one reason you might be swallowing air and passing gas is that you could be eating too fast and therefore not chewing your food properly. If the gas is particularly smelly, Pippa explains that this could be a sign that you have a parasite. She suggests taking an oregano supplement. “Gas also depends on the composition of the colonic flora,” says Pippa. “In other words the type of bacteria living within the digestive system. When you are stressed it can really affect your balance of bacteria. Try incorporating some breathing time each day. Ideally, every hour, take five minutes to spend time doing some slow breathing trying to get your out breath longer than your in breath.”

Diarrhoea

“Chronic diarrhoea and loose stools may be caused by something in your diet that doesn’t agree with you,” says Sandra Greenbank, “such as a lactose intolerance or immune reaction to gluten-containing grains (coeliac disease). It can also be due to imbalanced gut flora, parasites, stress, anxiety or it could even be a sign of something more serious going on, such as inflammatory bowel disease. If you are experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, it’s best to book an appointment with your GP in the first instance. If your diarrhoea has been brought on by a bug, it’s worth avoiding spicy foods, fruit, alcohol, caffeine and dairy until 48 hours after symptoms have disappeared. Broths, soups, and low fibre foods are gentler on the digestive system so focus on these until your symptoms have passed. Taking probiotics (friendly bacteria) may shorten the duration of the infection by up to two days. The strains to look for are Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri and the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces Boulardii.”

Acne

“There are many reasons you might suffer from regular or occasional acne, including genetics, stress, hormones and medication,” says Frida Harju-Westman. “However, your diet can also play an integral part in the appearance of your skin. Foods such as white bread and pasta are known as high glycaemic foods; these are carbohydrates that are broken down quickly by your body and can result in a rapid increase in your insulin levels. If you are prone to spots, spikes in your insulin levels can easily lead to flare-ups in your skin, resulting in acne. Sugary foods such as chocolates and sweets are also best avoided. The sugar can change your hormone and blood sugar levels, which can lead to inflammation within the body and an increase in the production of oil. Alongside a healthy, balanced diet, containing plenty of nutrients, there are some foods that can be particularly beneficial for our skin. Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin A, which is an important vitamin for healthy skin. As well as containing vitamin A, tangerines are also high in vitamin C, which can help to battle acne, and speed up the skin’s rebuilding process. Essential fatty acids such as omega-6 are also vital for good skin. These nutrients help your cells to retain water and flush out toxins, helping your skin look plump and hydrated. Mackerel is rich in EFAs but omega-3 and 6 supplements are a good alternative.”

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