Women’s health needs are different than the needs of men due to social and environmental factors and a difference in genetic make-up. The life expectancy of women worldwide is on average longer than men; however, women tend to experience poorer treatment outcomes for the same chronic diseases. Furthermore, women are traditionally underrepresented in scientific research which poses a great challenge with respect to treatment options. Let’s explore some of the top health conditions affecting women in North America today and health tips for the prevention and improvement of women’s health outcomes.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in women. Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer; however 20% of women who are diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon may seep through cracks in the foundation of your home and become concentrated indoors. It is important to check your home for radon and to limit your exposure.


Osteoporosis is a chronic degenerative disease of the bone that typically affects women after menopause. According to Osteoporosis Canada, bone fractures from osteoporosis are more common than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. Risk factors for osteoporosis include being of white and Asian ethnicity, menopause, smoking and having a sedentary lifestyle.

Heart Disease

In North America, heart disease is the leading cause of death accounting for almost 30% of deaths. The signs and symptoms of heart attack in women can be different from the symptoms experienced by men. Other than the crushing chest pain; lightheadedness, nausea, shortness of breath and pain in the arm, jaw and chest are some of the symptoms that women should pay close attention to.

Health Tips for Women

Eat a Plant-Based Diet

Maintaining a plant-based diet that is high in fresh organic fruits and vegetables is an important foundation to treat and prevent chronic diseases. Vegetables from the cruciferous family such as kale, broccoli and cabbage are high in indole-3-carbinol, a compound shown to promote the detoxification of your hormones. Fruits such as apple and blueberries and vegetables such as the red pepper contain plant chemicals known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants that protect your cells from damage. A plant-based diet doesn’t mean vegetarianism; however, it does mean to make plants the focus of your meals. I challenge you to explore cooking with vegetables, herbs and spices that you have not used before and to make at least one day per week a meatless one.

Limit Second-hand Smoke Exposure

The chemicals in secondhand smoke irritate your lung tissue and may increase your risk for lung cancer and other chronic lung conditions such as emphysema. Some researchers believe that women are perhaps more sensitive to the effects of secondhand smoke than men. Smoking and the exposure to secondhand smoke is also a risk factor for heart disease and osteoporosis. If you are a smoker and you are ready to quit smoking, check for resources in your community to support your efforts.

Exercise Daily

A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for chronic disease. Regular exercise including strength training will help you to maintain an optimal body composition, muscle strength and bone mass as you age. Aim to be active on a daily basis. Explore nature and take in the fresh air by walking along different trails in your neighbourhood. Bring a friend with you to make it a social event.

Reduce Alcohol

The health recommendations pertaining to alcohol consumption can be extremely confusing. On one hand, it is thought that the moderate intake of alcohol can reduce your risk of heart disease. For men, it is currently recommended to not exceed two drinks per day and for women to not exceed one drink. The Canadian Cancer Society warns however that too much alcohol, including binge drinking increases your risk for many cancers, therefore it is important to reduce and to be mindful of your alcohol consumption.

Get Enough Vitamin D

The sunshine nutrient, vitamin D is technically a hormone with many important functions in the body such as preventing the flu, cancer and osteoporosis. Vitamin D is produced by exposing your skin to the sunlight, however the further you live from the equator, the less vitamin D your body produces. Get your vitamin D levels tested first and your healthcare provider will determine how much you should supplement your diet with.

Many diseases affecting the health of women can be prevented. Although the determinants affecting women’s health may not be within your control, having the knowledge to make some simple lifestyle and dietary changes may be the first place to start.

About the Author

Dr. Olivia Rose graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences and in 2006, she graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

In addition to her private practice, Dr. Rose is the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a mobile service that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination at Toronto fertility clinics. Her special areas of interest include infertility; children and teen health; stress management; weight loss; heart disease; digestive and immune health; skin rejuvenation and pain management. She is a birth doula and has additional training in cosmetic acupuncture and needle-less therapies for skin rejuvenation and joint pain.

Dr. Rose is a sought-after lecturer for community organizations; a freelance writer and mentor to new graduates. She has been interviewed by various media outlets including Global Toronto’s, “The Morning Show”, “News at Noon” and “News Hour”. In her free time, she unplugs at the spa and she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, son and tea-cup Yorkie. For more information on Dr. Rose's practice and special events, please visit -