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Women’s Health: Coping with the Pandemic

  •   Danielle L’Ami

Women coping with the pandemic have confronted many types of daunting challenges. Here’s what we have found, along with a fascinating live stream exploring the same issue.

An image of a woman wearing a mask in front of the store

Here’s a recap of our recent livestream, all about women’s health and coping with the pandemic.

 

(Preview) Women’s Health: Coping With The Pandemic from My Toolbox Genomics on Vimeo.

 

This topic was inspired by a recent article from the New York Times. In this piece, they discussed how women are already stretched naturally, particularly when they have children, and they are juggling childcare, their career, a family, supporting their partner, working with them, etc. and then COVID hit.

Because of this, women are finding themselves struggling even more. This is largely due to lines of demarcation that they used to have when their kids would head off to school or daycare are now gone. They now have to consider how to manage the bleed of childcare with work.

 

Stress and High-Pressure Situations

One of the important questions asked is: “Do we have an increased response to stress and pressure? Are we at a higher risk for dealing with stress?” If we consider the above-mentioned possibilities and combine them into a situation like COVID, where we are all being challenged by this, how we react might be more pronounced.

We might feel the stress more profoundly verus someone who doesn’t have stress amplifying genes. Do remember our genes are not our destiny. They are a guide to what could be in certain environmental situations. So, when we see the results, it is not a definition of who we are or our destiny, it is a default that could be happening.

But we need to keep track of these identifiers. We are finding that women, particularly during times of COVID, are having an increased response in high-risk situations or other pressure situations with stress, and their mental health is suffering as a result. 

 

Using Your Genes to Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses

For example, a workaholic is going to find it harder to set boundaries and stop working. Particularly, as a mom, you might think after dinner, now that the kids are taken care of, I can complete a few more tasks. There will always be more work, and it becomes that much more difficult to give yourself those needed boundaries.

Conversely, you may not be a workaholic and find it challenging to get your work done because it is so easy to become distracted. It may also be more difficult for you to motivate yourself. Because of that, your boundaries will need to be different and related to your gene characteristics.

A mom may need to set up rules with her children. For example, I am busy for 30 minutes, when the timer goes off, you may talk with me. Another suggestion is to outline your expectations of the day for your children. If your children are younger, a mom may have to use nap time or bedtime as her best time to get work done.

What we don’t want, however, is a woman to pile too many things on her plate. In these situations, we can see these markers, such as increased physical symptoms in stressful situations. Women are setting themselves up for some health conditions.  

Because this is where we are going to feel stressed, burned out, it’s going to affect our mood, our mental health, our wellbeing, and our cortisol may rise. Our bodies are going to always be in that fight or flight moment.

We may even potentially raise our blood sugar, we could turn to other substances, possibly alcohol, caffeine, to help get us through to either bring us up or down, depending on how we feel that particular day.

These are the two areas Dr. Erika tries to focus on with her patients, to help them understand what goes on in their body, and why they may be having the reactions, or are feeling the way they do. She notes that anxiety and depression have increased with pregnant and new mothers.

As such, if you naturally tend to lean one way because of your genetics, the situation can be quite exacerbated. In particular, one research study, where it was noticed that there is a difference between the genders and how they handle stress. Women are balancing work and home life, it is that much more. Because of this, there is a more profound behavior response to stress.

The expression of a woman’s emotions is likely to be more extreme, and will also affect her hormones. When a woman is under tremendous stress her body is not going to be in a position to conceive, and this goes against its natural state.

The progesterone levels will drop and the estrogen levels may stay high, but ultimately, the two will be out of balance. Progesterone is very calming, but women lose out on that if they are stressed.

Stress is a natural part of our lives, but women can change how we digest it, how we work with it, for ourselves, and in our homes.

 

Attention Span

You may realize that after 15 minutes, or maybe even 30 minutes, you start to lose sight of your goal. You are going to get distracted versus another person who is very focused and stays engaged. Men tend to have an easier time staying focused versus women.

Dr. Erika believes that it is a maternal instinct that happens when our children request things from us that we get distracted. Somehow, they naturally come to us, yet it’s not something women set up. Yet it just tends to be how it works. She states that not only has she read it article after article, but she has also seen it herself.

She gives the example where she is sitting working next to her husband and both of her children come to her and say, “I’m hungry, what’s for lunch?” Even though her husband is right there, perfectly capable, and makes lunch for them rather regularly. Dr. Erika finds it fascinating that this is the default.

 

Hormones

Dr. Erika brings the topic back around to hormones, particularly estrogen. What we find is that estradiol is actually going to change brain activity and how we react to various stressful situations. When you look at someone with both high or low estrogen, you can see that there is a very different activation that happens in the limbic region.  

If you have higher levels of estradiol, particularly during that follicular phase, then you tend to work better with the stress versus when you have lower estradiol levels. During lower levels, you also tend to have less stress or distress when you’re at that higher point.

When estrogen comes down as we head towards menstruation, ideally, our progesterone levels are high enough that they are going to help us feel relaxed and calm, but progesterone gets eaten up really quickly when we are stressed. 

One, in particular, that is important is COMT, which has been talked about before. It is a powerful gene in terms of what it does in our bodies. More information is available on the website and within the app, but what we have discovered is, it is a warrior gene. It is also prevalent in those who find themselves a workaholic.

Having this gene as prominent may have more of an emotional advantage versus someone who is a worrier, because you tend to have more resilience around something adverse.

Those are the fast dopamine metabolizers, which may also look for things to raise dopamine. It could be a variety of things from social media to alcohol, it can be any number of addictive substances, such as shopping.

Consider how well Amazon has done during the pandemic, it is easy and with the click of a button it is like shop therapy, it helps the dopamine, it helps the serotonin. The COMT gene can come to play in how much we love shopping. 

Conversely, COMT is slowed naturally by estrogen. So, if you already have slow COMT and you have excess estrogen, it may feel as though your anxiety goes up. You may find you are going to worry more. But it just feels that way.

Sometimes, it’s very difficult to explain it to people because you almost feel as though you are out of touch with what is going on with yourself. It’s not in your head. Nothing is wrong with you. There is definite scientific literature to support what happens to women and their different perspectives on life, depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle.

Dr. Erika reminds us though, that if you are on birth control pills, then a lot of this is flat-lined a lot more so, and depending on how you metabolize your estrogens, as the estrogens that are used in birth control pills do tend to bind the receptor much tighter, you may feel like you tend to live in a little bit more of the hormone excess and have this bell curve.

It depends on a few factors, such as who you are, how you metabolize it, what birth control you’re on, etc.

 

Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Stress

Vitamin C can be a huge lifesaver because of what it does with our adrenal glands. You can see the difference when you are under acute stress versus chronic stress. If you’re under an acute situation, you are going to be mobilizing as much cortisol as possible.

But what happens is that when we’re under this chronic stress our adrenals are trying to release more and more cortisol and it just can’t, and vitamin C can be super helpful with this. Additionally, when we are in this fight or flight mode, which is a lot from taxing our adrenals, then we are going to raise our heart rate.

When we constantly feel like we’re fighting, it feels like we’re about to flee from a tiger. The world does feel scarier. It is important to keep that in mind. She shifts the subject to vitamin D and how it is another important factor to keep in mind.

Many people don’t take enough. Vitamin D and moms, don’t forget to take it. Because we are terrible at putting our health first and yet we are the frontline for our family, we’re the ones who are taking care of everybody.

We are the ones who pick up all the pieces, so we really need to take care of ourselves. That said, vitamin D supplementation is absolutely critical. Make sure to test your levels. You want to aim for a blood test level to be between 60 and 80. It is easy to get both bloodwork done and to get supplementation.

If you need help getting labs, send us an email at info@toolboxchin@mytoolboxgenomics.com. We’ll give you some suggestions of where you can order the supplements as well as the lab testing.

It’s going to help protect you because what we find is that the lower your vitamin D levels are the higher the respiratory symptoms tend to be with the virus. Anything that we can do to really fortify our immune system is incredibly important.

 

Vitamin B

B6 plays a big role in our sleep. It helps to make melatonin, and it also helps us with our hormones and breaking down our estrogens. B6 is a powerful B vitamin because it targets about 140 different enzymatic reactions.

So, when you take birth control pills or any exogenous estrogen, any estrogen that’s coming from the outside that your body doesn’t make, which includes bioidentical hormone replacement, birth control pills, an estradiol patch, all of those, your body has a greater need for B vitamins.

Your B vitamins are going to help you in your detox pathways, both phase one and phase two. So, for the ladies, this is again another really easy thing for you just to incorporate into your life. It will not only give you additional protection around your immunity, and not only will it help you with your hormones, but from the detox perspective to helping you make melatonin, you really need your B vitamins.

On the My Toolbox Genomics app, you can take a deeper look at your different vitamins. That this is just a small example of all the different vitamins that we’re talking about. Dr. Erika reminds the audience that if you are in any of the categories where you are at an increased risk, and anything she has described today resonates with you, you probably need to take significantly more because you’re already operating out of a potential deficiency.

Therefore, you’re going to need to take more of that particular nutrient again. But always double-check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements to make sure that you don’t have any drug-nutrient or drug-herb interactions and vice versa.

As a general rule, women do not take in enough protein. Women want to aim for 30 grams of protein with every single meal. This will help them get enough amino acids to make neurotransmitters which are really important for coping, sleep, and your mental health.

If all else fails, grab a can of sardines. They are $1.39 at Trader Joe’s. While there may be no wow factor in eating them, they are highly satiating. You get your protein, a great source of fat, and it’s going to help fuel you. It is also important to add in the supplements she previously mentioned as well.

 

Coping with Stress and the Microbiome

Moving on, she directs the listener’s attention to the microbiome bacteria and what they do. Microbiomes are powerful and make B vitamins. They also help us to make neuro-transmitters.  She refers to some fascinating studies that talk about the brain and the gut relationship, that the vagus nerve, that goes all the way from our brain down to our gut plays a big role.

Therefore, when you are stressed or perceive stress from your mind, you will send signals down your vagus nerve and change your microbiome. In situations where you sit and doom scroll or watch the news over and over again, or don’t have a creative outlet for yourself, you are going to start altering your microbiome.

So that pit in your stomach, the IBS, and other intestinal issues that come up, could be originating from your head and how you are viewing the world. That said, anything we can do to help improve, that is wildly helpful.

Dr. Erika refers the audience to a diagram to further draw attention to the fact that as we’re changing our microbiome, we can start creating leaky gut which can lead to food allergies and sensitivities. She often hears from people who previously did not have food sensitivities who question why they have them now. She believes this could be a definite explanation.

 

Post-Menopausal Women and Weight

If you are having trouble losing weight, take a look at the app and focus on carbohydrate response, your snacking risk, also how well you do with your protein and how much you like and go for sweet foods. This can be helpful for you to understand your behavior behind what you do with your different foods.

It is also important to remember that insulin and elevated glucose are going to play a role in this. Therefore, if you are newly menopausal you will want to check a ferritin level because ferritin is going to lead to increased oxidative stress and then inflammation.

We also know that inflammation causes you to hold onto weight as well. You may want to talk with your practitioner about some hormone replacement and see if you are an appropriate candidate for that. She also suggests that women check out Dr. Jason Fung’s: The Obesity Code or Life in the Fasting Lane.

You will learn how to improve your metabolic rate.  For example, if you start fasting for 36 hours at a time, you can actually raise your basal metabolic rate. While it does work, we have to do it for more in the 36-hour range. Dr. Fung talks you through how to do that and how to integrate yourself and to get started on that.

A gene that has received a lot of focus is the FTO gene and how it relates to obesity. The FTO gene is affectionately called the “fatso” gene. It was designed to get us through tough times of scarcity and famine.

We would pack on some extra pounds and then we would potentially lose it in the wintertime because the summertime is when food was plentiful. In the winter, when food wasn’t available, we would fast more and we would lose weight. But for those who have the FTO gene, it acts on another gene.

Essentially, for those who do have the FTO gene and never gained weight, it is because that other gene isn’t turned on, but for those who do gain weight, the FTO gene is more than likely active. They, therefore, tend to have a higher BMI. But the good news is that you tend to do better and you are inclined to have greater weight loss with a higher protein diet.

The bad news is you do have to work a little bit harder and be more aware of the food that you’re eating as well as your insulin and glucose levels. You may also need to employ fasting to help you out. 

 

Making Time to Reset

There are several resources available to you. Anything in the form of creative activity, positive thinking, getting outside, all will help with a reset. Mindfulness with the use of a timer, go outside for five minutes, make it a priority; prioritize a few things for yourself.

It is important to balance everything that is going on in your life. There are a lot of meditation apps, such as BrainTap, Calm, Headspace, and more. Dr. Erika states that even taking 10 minutes, everyone has 10 minutes in their life to do something like this for themselves.

Whether it is to do a reset, to get your nutrition in, to get your supplements. This is what will make you a better wife, mother, professional, etc. Because if we are not doing it, then we are not sleeping and when we’re not sleeping, our immune system is going to be compromised.

And if we’re sick, it is very difficult for us to help the rest of our family. She reminds her listeners to breathe through the nose. Mouth breathing doesn’t calm us down, it does the reverse, it incites that fight or flight a little bit more because we are panting.

Mouth breathing requires that we blow off a lot of carbon dioxide, so anything you can do to utilize the nose is going to help you lower your heart rate, the sympathetic overdrive, increase the parasympathetic, all to help you feel calmer.

 

Additional Tips for Coping

Here are  some additional tips for coping. Taking breaks from the news, not doing the doom scrolling, don’t do the revenge bedtime procrastination because in the end, if you don’t sleep enough, if you’re not supporting your adrenals, it becomes a vicious cycle.

Take a look at their genes, the app, see what else is on there and reach out to the My Toolbox Genomics team. If there are any more questions, they are always happy to help. She wants everyone to really maximize their understanding of their genetics.

 

In closing

If you are ever wondering if we can cover another topic, please send an email, keep them coming. A quick reminder before she signs off, at my Toolbox Genomics, we cannot diagnose or treat any of these conditions. So, if you have something that comes up on the app, please reach out to your provider.

In closing, Dr. Erika states “if you’re interested in working with me or if you have more questions that you would like me to answer, you can absolutely send us an email info@mytoolboxgenomics.com.

Author
Danielle L’Ami

Danielle L’Ami is a logophile who writes her passion and loves to connect with others through her thoughts and personal experiences. When she is not writing, you can find her watching hockey with her husband, torturing her children with new recipes, or practicing yoga to keep herself balanced.

My Toolbox Genomics empowers individuals in their healthcare journey by creating reports focused on genetic predispositions derived from published research. Test results and suggestions are intended to lead to consultation with one’s healthcare practitioner. MyTBG reports do not diagnose disease or medical conditions. Any lifestyle changes should result from consultation with qualified healthcare practitioners.