Women's Health

Women’s Health and Complementary Approaches

Some health and wellness issues are unique to women, and others are more common in women than men. Women are more likely than men to experience depression, have a harder time quitting smoking, and may experience more rapid bone loss due to hormonal changes at menopause.


Some medicines may help if troubling menopause symptoms—such as hot flashes—develop. Some women report symptom relief with complementary therapies, such as black cohosh, red clover, and soy. (However, none of these products has been proven effective, and some may carry potential risks, such as liver damage.) Mind and body practices such as yoga, tai chi, hypnosis, and acupuncture may help with some menopause symptoms. However, it’s always a good idea to talk with a health care professional before trying any of these substances or practices.

Urinary Tract Infections

Cranberry has been promoted for urinary tract infections (UTIs), and there’s evidence that it might be helpful in reducing the risk of these infections in women who have had a previous UTI. However, there’s still some uncertainty about the effectiveness of cranberry because some of the research has not been of high quality.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers of cranberry dietary supplements to claim on product labels that there is “limited” evidence that daily consumption of specified amounts may reduce the risk of recurrent UTI in healthy women who have had a UTI. A similar claim may be made for cranberry juice beverages, but the evidence must be described as “limited and inconsistent.”

Cranberry has not been shown to be effective as a treatment for an existing UTI. If you have symptoms of a UTI, see your health care provider.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Like other physical activities, yoga can be safe and beneficial during pregnancy if appropriate precautions are taken. Yoga may help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, talk with your health care provider to make sure there’s no medical reason why you shouldn’t exercise and to learn if you should adjust your physical activities, including yoga, while you’re pregnant.

Ginger may be helpful for mild nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. However, the evidence that it’s safe for use during pregnancy is not conclusive. If you’re considering using ginger dietary supplements while you’re pregnant, consult your health care provider. Little is known about whether it’s safe to use ginger while breastfeeding.

The herb fenugreek has been thought to stimulate milk production during breastfeeding. However, it’s uncertain whether fenugreek actually has this effect; studies have had mixed results. Little is known about whether it’s safe to use fenugreek in amounts greater than those found in food while breastfeeding. Fenugreek is not safe for use during pregnancy in amounts greater than those found in food; its use has been linked to increased risks of birth defects in both animals and people.

Dietary Supplements and Pregnancy

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of reproductive age get 400 micrograms (mcg) per day of the B vitamin folic acid from supplements or fortified foods. Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy helps to prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. Most multivitamin/multimineral supplements contain an appropriate amount of folic acid. Check the label.

If you’re considering taking a dietary supplement other than a vitamin/mineral supplement while you are pregnant, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your health care provider. Some supplements may not be safe for use when you are pregnant, or their safety may be uncertain.


Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops when bone mass or density decreases, leading to a decrease in bone strength and an increase in the risk of fractures. It is the major cause of bone fractures in postmenopausal women and older men.

Dietary supplements containing soy isoflavone mixtures probably have a beneficial effect on bone health in postmenopausal women, but the evidence is not entirely consistent. Red clover also contains isoflavones, but only a small amount of research has been done on the effects of red clover on bone density in menopausal women, and the results have been inconsistent.

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