Alternative Approaches to Women’s Health using Integrative Manual Therapy and Nutrition
Our culture today is very different then it was when I was a child, or even when my mother and grandmother were children. The issues we deal with today are complex… maybe not more complex, but complex in different ways. Today, the average age of a girl starting her menses (menarche) has declined in comparison to the early 1900’s. There are many speculations as to the reason. Some consider that environmental exposure to estrogen mimicking chemicals is a large contributor to this change. Others claim that the rise in obesity in this country is the issue—increased average body size and level of body fat at a younger age. Furthermore, there are those that believe that sexualization of our society is correlated. It could be all of these reasons.
A friend of mine was relaying a funny story to me recently about her middle school aged daughter, Sarah, who has been raised naturally and organically since she was an infant, free of any synthetic pesticides, processed foods, and growth hormone inoculated dairy products. Sarah recently was sharing with her mother some frustration that she was feeling because she was the only girl in her class that had not significantly developed breasts yet. She was very upset because her girlfriends were all wearing bras and she wasn’t. She was so angry that she exclaimed, “That’s it! I’m going to my friend’s house and drinking some of her milk so that I can grow breasts!” She was referring to the fact that her girlfriend was not raised naturally and was drinking milk that had growth hormones in it. Even at a young age, she knew there was a reason for the difference in development.
In addition to the decrease in the average age of menarche, Infertility is on the rise as well. The 1998 US National Survey of Family Growth reported a significant increase in infertility between 1982 and 1995 affecting all reproductive age groups. The largest increase was 42% in women under 25 years of age.1
There is a significant rise in use of oral contraceptives in young girls. Today, the “Pill” is prescribed to young girls for many different reasons—menstrual irregularities, acne, headaches, weight gain, and much more. It is hard to negate the possible correlation between today’s increased rate of infertility, earlier age of menarche, and in general, increased women’s health issues.2 ,3, 4
The impact of this on the environment and how the environment thereby affects us is an intriguing topic as well. Women that take the Pill excrete hormones into the environment; specifically, these hormones can bypass water treatment plants, and pass into our rivers. This type of pollution is not benign—as an example, these hormones can inhibit the reproduction and sexual development of wild fish populations that exist in rivers contaminated by these water treatment plants. This is referred to as ‘endocrine disruption.’ Endocrine disruption involves hormone mimicking substances from the environment that affect the physiologic function of our natural hormones. When we drink local water, we can be affected by this.5, 6, 7, 8
All of these factors are potential determinants of change in our current American culture. So much is different today. More women are in the work force fulltime and some men are stay at home dads. More of us women are relying on nannies and daycare for our children. Some of us are waiting longer before marrying—before having children. I married at 31 years of age and had my son at 32. My mother married at 23 and had her first child at 26. This huge differential is becoming more of a norm today.
Integrative Manual Therapy
It would be so simple if the only change we needed to make was avoid drinking tap water and limit our dairy intake to hormone free. Making lifestyle and environmental changes is important. Additionally today, there are many natural solutions available for helping to reduce and eliminate women’s health issues, including problems such as infertility, PMS, pain with intercourse, urinary frequency and incontinence, and more.
One solution is an approach called Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT). IMT is a hands-on approach to treatment of pain, disability, and disease. Developed by Dr. Sharon (Weiselfish) Giammatteo over the past 30 years, IMT is a new approach to health care developed to address the needs of complex patients. IMT practitioners identify and address the underlying causes of dysfunction using a comprehensive and holistic approach. While IMT diagnostics and treatment modalities are predominately hands-on, IMT also integrates a wide range of diagnostic and treatment technologies, and nutritional programs (i.e. natural supplements, diet, and herbs) to develop a customized solution for an individual patient’s needs.
IMT treatment techniques are based on the premise that the body has the potential to self-correct or heal itself under the right circumstances. Tissue repair at the cellular level is a normal process that occurs within the body. The healing of a cut or wound on the skin, or a broken bone that heals itself once it has been immobilized, are two examples of this mechanism at work. Pain and dysfunction, on the other hand, are an indication that there is too much cell or tissue dysfunction for the body to restore health on its own. Under these circumstances, in order to improve the body’s self-correction mechanisms, intervention is required.
IMT treatment techniques are manual (hands-on), and generally involve gentle manipulative techniques to promote tissue repair, normalize structure and restore function. Unique to IMT is the integration of manual therapy techniques for all systems in the body (i.e. bone, nerve, fascia, muscle, organ, lymph and circulatory systems). As each tissue type in the body has unique requirements for healing, tissue specific techniques are used to yield optimal results. Often, multiple systems are addressed to facilitate recovery, as a dysfunction in one system may influence or be influenced by a problem in another system. To illustrate, consider a patient with chronic shoulder pain. Upon being assessed, to determine which structures were contributing to their pain and/or dysfunction, treatment would ensue for the affected systems. As determined by the diagnostic findings, this may include treatment for muscles, fascia, joints, bones, nerves, circulatory vessels, lymphatic structures and/or organs. The order in which the involved systems would be treated would be determined by the diagnostic findings. Ultimately, IMT is the integration of techniques to assess and address all systems in the body.
Integrative Manual Therapy for Women’s Health
When utilizing IMT for Women’s health issues, typically multiple systems are involved. Let’s consider urinary frequency as an example. Urinary frequency could be caused by a number of problems—biomechanical dysfunction when the pelvis and sacrum are out of alignment and putting pressure on the bladder and urethra; inflammation of the kidneys and ureters (tubes traveling from kidneys to bladder); a high toxic load in the kidneys and bladder (example: history of urinary tract infections). These are just some possibilities. When evaluating a person with urinary frequency, step one is to determine what body tissues in the region are in a state of dysfunction. Considering some of the examples listed previously, IMT assessment and diagnostic techniques are used to identify what tissues are in a state of tension, scarring, inflammation. It could be that there is impaired circulation to the pelvic region or decreased drainage from the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. In all of these cases, there could be urinary frequency. Once the specific tissues are identified, tissue specific IMT techniques are applied to help reduce tissue tension in the region, decrease inflammation, improve circulation to and from the renal organs and pelvic cavity, and improve overall function of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. Utilizing pelvic exercises from the beginning may not lead to full recovery. However, once the individualized IMT treatment plan is initiated, functional exercises can help to accelerate recovery and full elimination of urinary frequency as well as other common women’s health issues.
Nutritional Wellness for Women’s Health
When IMT is combined with nutritional wellness, including dietary intervention and nutritional supplements, recovery from these women’s health dysfunctions can be accelerated even further. A great way to begin making beneficial dietary changes is to institute an anti-inflammatory diet. This particular diet is not meant to promote weight loss although often this is a secondary benefit. An anti-inflammatory diet can help to reduce and eliminate inflammation in the body which is often the underlying cause of most body symptoms. One of the best anti-inflammatory diets is a Gluten Elimination Diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oat. Gluten is considered to be pro-inflammatory. This means that when gluten is consumed, it induces greater inflammation in the body. Typically, this inflammation affects our ‘weakest system.’ For example, if a person is suffering from endometriosis, this is an inflammatory condition where the walls of the uterus are breaking down. In this case, when gluten is digested, it can induce more inflammation around the uterus and contribute to an exacerbation of symptoms associated with endometriosis. Often, people think of gluten intolerance as limited to individuals with celiac disease. In fact, this is not the case. Gluten intolerance is very common today. Because gluten is pro-inflammatory, it is an ideal diet for any one.
In addition to eliminating gluten from your diet, there are many nutritional supplements that can help to reduce women’s health related symptoms as well as improve overall health of the women’s health organs. An example of this would be essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are commonly referred to as Omega 3 fatty acids. These are widely found in cold water fish. In the body, everything is made up of cells, including organs, bones, muscles, fascial tissue, vessels and nerves. The wall of all of these cells is comprised of essential fatty acids. When we experience any kind of trauma or infection in our body, the cell walls of the injured or compromised tissues are weakened. In this case, the body needs to repair these cell walls with essential fatty acids. When the word, ‘Essential’, is referenced, it indicates that body does not produce the particular nutrient. This means that we must attain the nutrient from our diet. Essential fatty acids are an important element in our diet today. There are many options for essential fatty acids—Cod liver oil, wild salmon, sardines. There are many more nutritional based elements that can be integrated into a treatment plan to help recover from women’s health issues. Ultimately, to attain optimal recovery from women’s health issues, a combined approach of Integrative Manual Therapy and nutritional wellness can be very beneficial.
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