Women need to take care of their physical needs, without neglecting their emotional wants. GERALDINE LING reports
Iron, calcium and folate are the nutrients women need most to stay healthy, say dietitians.
Once women begin to menstruate, their iron needs increase as 15 to 20mg is lost during their monthly periods, said dietitian Jaclyn Reutens from Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants.
This mineral is needed to form haemoglobin, a compound in red blood cells needed for the transport of oxygen in the blood.
Iron deficiency may result in insufficient oxygen delivered to the body’s cells, possibly leading to fatigue, said Ms Reutens.
Iron-deficiency anaemia, a condition where a person’s blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells, may also result. Symptoms include pale skin and brittle fingernails.
Females aged between 12 and 16 need 18mg of iron daily. Thereafter, they need 19mg of the mineral daily until about age 60.
At menopause, women actually require less iron as menstrual losses cease, said Ms Reutens. The requirements drop from 19mg to 6mg once women age beyond 60.
Iron supplements are needed in iron-deficiency anaemia or if the normal diet does not have enough of food high in iron such as meat, seafood, spinach and broccoli.
However, they should be taken under a doctor’s supervision, said Ms Reutens.
Calcium needs are greater during puberty and adolescence as most bone mass is accumulated then, said Ms Joanna Tan, a dietitian at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre and the Dietetic & Food Services at Changi General Hospital.
Females aged between 10 and 18 require 1,000mg of calcium daily. From ages 19 to 50, they need 800mg of calcium a day.
Building strong bones from young reduces the effects of age-related bone loss and protects against osteoporosis, a disease characterised by fragile, brittle bones.
Good sources of calcium include dairy products like milk and cheese, ikan bilis (anchovies), almonds and dark, green leafy vegetables.
To absorb calcium, the body needs vitamin D, which is produced by the skin in sunlight.
Again, calcium supplements may be needed if one’s normal diet is calcium-deficient. Women who are lactose-intolerant and unable to drink milk need supplements if they are unable to meet their calcium needs through their diet.
During pregnancy, women also have increased calcium needs of 1,000mg a day.
The developing foetus needs calcium to develop a healthy heart and strong bones and teeth, said Ms Tan. If there is not enough calcium in the mother’s diet, it may leach the mineral from her bones, putting her at risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Women also need 1,000mg of calcium daily during menopause because of declining levels of the hormone oestrogen, which helps to conserve body calcium, said Ms Reutens.
At menopause and even in the years leading up to it, bone is broken down faster than it can be replaced, she said.
Folic acid or folate is another essential nutrient for women of childbearing age.
Low levels of folate can increase the risk of foetal neural tube defects, that is, abnormal development of the brain and spinal cord, said Ms Tan.
Women who plan to get pregnant should, like pregnant women, consume at least 400 microgrammes of folic acid daily. Foods rich in folate include green, leafy vegetables, egg yolks, peas and poultry.
Ms Reutens said most women do not realise they have conceived until they are six weeks pregnant, by which time the embryo’s spinal cord would have started developing.
She has this tip, especially for the busy woman: have a bowl of iron-fortified cereal with low-fat milk.
“That simple meal has all three nutrients,” she said.
Your mental well-being
Many women still have the primary role of taking care of their home and children and this creates stress. They can alleviate the pressure by taking care of their own needs first, said Dr Cornelia Chee, the director and consultant at the Women’s Emotional Health Service, National University Hospital, as it is vital to their overall health.
A strong social network of friends and family helps to improve her emotional and mental health.
A woman should also decide on her goals and priorities, then look at the resources available and use them to attain her goals. For example, if she has a child and wants to work, she should find a job that supports working mothers or look for caregiver support.
Mr Danny Ng, a consultant clinical psychologist at Raffles Hospital said a woman should talk to her spouse – especially about each other’s expectations and dreams and work on how best to achieve them.
When her hair greys, her skin begins to sag and a woman faces a host of possible health risks. Ageing can be a taboo subject with women.
However, Dr Kanwaljit Soin, an orthopaedic surgeon and current president of the Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully, said that entering the golden years is not that scary.
Taking care of one’s physical health is important for graceful ageing. So, too, is how a woman spends her leisure time. Make time for family and friends. Have meals together, go window shopping, laugh and always look on the brighter side of life, she said.
Stress can trigger illnesses. Concentrating solely on diet and exercise will not lead to a long, healthy life. Women also need to take care of their emotional well-being to deal with their different roles in life, she added.
“If you have lived 68 years, you should be proud of it. Not everyone would have chalked up that much life experience,” said Dr Soin. “By not wanting to state your age, you’re denying that you have that experience
Your aesthetic health
Skin and hair conditions change with age, so a woman’s skincare and hair regimen will need to be tailored accordingly.
In your twenties
Skin: Oiliness and pimples on the T-zone (forehead and nose) are common skin concerns, said Dr Derrick Aw, a consultant at the University Dermatology Clinic, National University Hospital.
A basic two-step regimen using a cleanser that is non-comedogenic (one that will not clog the pores) and a toner (a lotion to remove residual impurities) is recommended, he said.
If the skin becomes dry after this, a moisturiser should be added.
When out in the sun, an oil-free sunscreen lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 and above, applied half an hour before sun exposure, is a must, Dr Aw said.
Ideally, it should be applied indoors too as skin-damaging ultraviolet rays are present, he said.
A dermatologist can help if one has acne.
Dr Aw has two more tips: avoid frequent frowning – frown lines may become a permanent facial feature in later years – and smoking, which damages the skin.
Hair: Hair density, or thickness, is generally well-maintained due to high levels of oestrogen, said Ms Leonica Kei, the director and senior trichologist at Philip Kingsley Trichological Centre.
Regular shampooing and conditioning, at least every other day, is recommended. For optimum hair quality, apply scalp tonic and hair mask weekly and monthly respectively.
In your thirties
Skin: The gradual ageing and decreased elasticity of skin may result in enlarged pores. Adult-pattern acne, or pimples that appear near the jawline, may form, said Dr Aw.
As in the previous decade, keep to the cleansing, toning, moisturising and sunscreen routine. For enlarged pores, try applying an exfoliating cream (one that contains glycolic or lactic acid) in the morning and a retinoid cream (topical form of vitamin A) at night, said Dr Aw.
Hair: Having given birth, some women may experience hair loss due to the fluctuation of hormones after delivery, said Ms Kei. Some may experience their first grey hairs.
Regular shampooing and conditioning, at least every other day, is still recommended. However, scalp tonic should be applied after every shampoo, she said.
If hair density is reduced by over 30 per cent – meaning hair parting is visibly wider or one’s ponytail has become thinner – professional treatment is advised.
In your forties
Skin: Good skin care habits, practised in your younger days, pay off. Women who have not been using sunscreen regularly could develop melasma, a skin condition that causes brown spots to appear. The condition also often occurs during and after pregnancy, said
Sunscreen should be increased to at least SPF 30. Antioxidant creams – products containing vitamins A, C, E or Coenzyme Q10 – to slow down the skin ageing process, should be used nightly, he said.
Hair: Declining levels of oestrogen slows down hair growth, affecting its density, said Ms Kei. Hair loss may be more pronounced.
Dr Aw said that one popular treatment for hair loss is to massage minoxidil, an over-the-counter solution, into the scalp twice daily.
Another way to reduce hair loss, said Dr Gerard Tan, the medical director of NeuGlow The Aesthetic Doctors, is to maintain a balanced diet as nutritional imbalance can cause hair loss.
Women should also not tie up their hair too tightly as the stretching and pulling may cause hair loss.
In your fifties and beyond
Skin: Before menopause, fine lines and
sunspots become more prominent due to thecumulative effects of sun exposure. Switch to a moisturising or gentle cleanser and moisturise daily.
After menopause, eye bags, sagging skin and deep skin folds are more pronounced. Skin becomes drier and duller. Use an exfoliating cleanser to remove dead skin cells and moisturise twice daily. Toner should not be used as it may dry the skin further. Women
may also consider medical interventions, like laser and light treatments, to reduce the effects of ageing, Dr Aw said.
Hair: Besides hair loss, grey hair may be another concern. The best option, said Dr Aw, would be regular dyeing.