At this point in my life, I’m grabbing at straws for anything that might benefit my health and wellbeing. I recently purchased a gua sha in a sad attempt to iron out the life lines on my face and reduce the puffiness in my eyes. I vow to use it everyday and make it a part of my skin care regime but ask me again in three months time and I have a feeling it will be very much discarded like many fads. Today I very much enjoyed my little ritual and the extra couple of minutes of self care it offered.
The other ‘trends’ I’ve been looking into are collagen supplements and I’ve started experimenting.
The importance of collagen
Natural Beauty, Wellness Expert & Co-Founder Of New Generation Beauty Brand, Raw Beauty Lab, Sonia Bainbridge explains;
‘Collagen is the structural protein responsible for keeping your skin looking plump, glowing and wrinkle free. However, you lose collagen at the rate of 1% each year after your mid-twenties which causes fine lines and wrinkles to become more prominent.
Most women don’t notice any changes until they approach their 40’s and this is primarily because the rate of collagen degradation increases as you approach menopause.’
So how can you increase collagen production? One simple answer, for some, is bone broth!
‘The broth made from bones can be an excellent food for women in their 40s. The long, slow cooking of bones in a liquid which includes a little acidity (either wine or vinegar) helps to draw out minerals locked into the bone matrix, including calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.
These are in a very bioavailable form and may help support strong bone health at a time when the breakdown of our own bone tissues may start to exceed that of new bone formation.
You can tell when a bone broth is rich in collagen as it will set to a jelly when chilled, forming gelatine. The gelatine, plus mucopolysaccharides like chondroitin, glucosamine and hyaluronic acid which are also found in bone broth, have all been shown to help support joint health and protect against the effects of ageing and degenerative disease throughout the body.’
Made from scratch
Meera Bhogal knows too well the ill effects of food intolerances having spent years experimenting before she found her remedy. She passionately shares her secrets on her website, Meera’s Made from Scratch.
I was keen to understand more about the hype around bone broth so went to Meera to find out more. She explained that bone broth is an ancient remedy known for easily absorbed nutrients, gelatine, and collagen; which are both thought to support and help repair the lining of the digestive tract. This broth can be drunk warm or added to dishes as a stock substitute. She says;
‘Women going through menopause benefit greatly because the loss of estrogen and hormonal changes will have an even more significant impact on our collagen levels.’ Meera’s broth is handmade with organic chicken carcass (the source of collagen) with other gut-friendly ingredients such as turmeric and apple cider vinegar. I was lucky enough to try some and it really was truly delicious.
My collagen journey
The last three months have been somewhat of an experiment for myself. I did actually purchase a supplement and interestingly, although I can’t really tell yet, my hairdresser commented on how much thicker my hair was. I’ve also had a couple of comments about my glowing skin. So there you go. Maybe there is something in it?
Do you feel like we are in a race against time to preserve ourselves? What do you do to help slow the inevitable ageing process? Comment below to keep the conversation going and hang out with us over on Instagram.
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Aging gracefully isn’t always the easiest thing to do but there are some tips and advice that can give you a better chance of doing so. You must remind yourself that you matter and that the better job you do at self-care the better you’re going to feel overall.
Below are some of the best ways to stay well as you age. Put these into practice and it won’t be long before you’re on your way to improved health and more happiness. Getting older can be hard on your mind and body but it can also be a beautiful and rewarding journey if you approach it in the right manner.
Take care of your physical body
One of the best ways to stay well as you age is to take care of your physical body. There are many ways to do so such as getting enough sleep and exercise daily. Also, address aches, pains, and discomforts as soon as they occur instead of putting them off. Have a doctor you can visit as needed and keep the number of an emergency dentist handy. It may also help to do yoga or stretch often to remain loose and build more strength and stamina. Your new routine may also include strength training as well as other fun activities that get your heart rate up.
Stay well as you age by finding useful and productive ways to lower stress. Too much of it can be debilitating and cause you anxiety and anguish. It may be that you write in a journal, review your gratitude list, or head outside for a walk when you’re feeling overwhelmed. These are just some of the best ways to reduce stress and reset when you’re experiencing tension and uneasiness. Know what your triggers are and try to avoid them or at least prepare for them when you can. Acknowledge and notice your feelings and have healthy outlets for releasing any negative emotions you’re harboring.
Challenge your mind
Mental health matters and plays a significant role in how you feel overall and function. Improve and boost your mental health by staying challenged and engaged in life. Find a job and career that makes you think and problem-solve and do some crossword puzzles in your free time. Start a new hobby and socialize with others so you’re always taking in new thoughts and perspectives.
Cook healthy meals
A nutritious diet will also help you achieve better wellness and keep you on track to feeling great. Stay well as you age by cooking healthy meals for yourself and packing healthy snacks to bring with you on the go. Consume more fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins and try to cut back on the refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and sugar. You’ll have more control over the ingredients and what you’re putting in your body when you grocery shop and cook at home. It’ll be easier to maintain a healthy weight and you’ll have more natural energy when you eat right. There are so many benefits that it’ll be worth your efforts to prepare meals yourself.
What do you do to stay well as you age? How are you preserving yourself? Let us know by commenting below or connect with us over on Instagram.
As life starts to throw more challenges as we get older, whether it’s in terms of our health or just the sheer volume of tasks we need to complete every single day, the fact is that we’re not always in the mood for a bit of naughtiness, if at all! We can be very surprised by changes that occur in our sexual activity, especially after 40. There are very common reasons for this, such as decreased libido, hormone decreases, and changes in our sexual response. But there is more to it than this. Here, we explore, 4 common sexual concerns after 40.
1. Loss of libido
It’s a very common thing women experience, but we must remember that men experience it too! As women go through perimenopause into menopause, women are less likely to think about sex, if at all. And they may be very surprised at this sudden change. But it’s not just women. But men can have decreased libido too. And this is predominantly because their testosterone levels are starting to dip.
While some methods and medications can help with this, such as Testogel, the fact is that when both partners are losing their libido, this can throw up a confusing number of components. Commonly, if one partner is sexually active and the other one isn’t, this can pose relationship problems, where breakups and divorces can occur.
2. Perception of the self
Something that is not always spoken about in relation to sex is the fact that as we get older we are going through so many physical changes that we can feel less desirable, which means we can be less interested in sex. Over the age of 40, there is more of a chance of us gaining weight, losing fitness levels, as well as our mood altering throughout these times.
But we have to bear in mind that the challenges in dealing with each of these aspects can be overwhelming all in themselves. If we don’t feel attractive, which will impact our interest in sex, the best approach is to do what is manageable and reasonable to improve our overall health and appearance. But this alone is not enough. We then need to move on and learn to accept that we are who we are as we enter a new stage of our lives.
Having that sense of self-perception is so important, regardless of your sex drive, but the more important component is to learn to accept who you are. Once we begin to feel more comfortable in our own skin, this is when we’re going to feel more attractive and open to possibilities. So many of us don’t feel attractive, even during the act of sex, which means that we’re going to not want to even initiate this because it’s going to have a negative impact on our frame of mind.
3. Gender role behaviour
In mid-life, partners can begin to fall out of sync with each other. Women in mid-life will experience a number of changes, not necessarily because of pre-menopause but the focus in their lives changes. For women who have had children in their 20s or early 30s, now they are beginning to focus more on their own needs, but will also have more time to devote to themselves. This is why we see many women changing careers in mid-life. The same thing applies to men, as they are more likely to start slowing down in their careers and want to have a balance in their lives.
Overall, these things will impact sexual behaviour and will mean that when both partners are going out of sync with each other, they won’t necessarily have those same desires to focus on the other person. As we get older we can feel that we may have given too much of ourselves to others, especially if we’ve been in a parental role. We see many women and men in middle age going out and socialising more as they may have felt they missed out on a lot of this over the last decade or so.
The main solution to this is about, very simply, learning to sync up with each other’s lives, even to the smallest degree. It’s almost like we’ve got to let our partners get these things out of their system. After all, we deserve to let our hair down, but if our partner is looking to do the same thing we’ve got to be aware that as we try to reclaim our lives for ourselves, there is another person in the equation.
4. A change in sexual response
In women and men, there is a lot more difficulty in coming to orgasm, or orgasms may be less satisfying, and could potentially be an early warning sign of underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.
What can we do to help with these problems?
As we get older, there needs to be more focus on sex in a holistic manner. The fact is that it’s not just about being able to do it as in when you please. As we get older, we’re going to encounter more health problems that pose obstacles. Here are a few things that you can do to help move things along:
As we go into mid-life, our stress can increase. And this is where taking a look at your common stressors and eliminating these will help. Because if you work to manage your stress, you’re going to improve your general well-being which will have a positive effect on your sexual appetite. Managing stress doesn’t have to be about meditating for 2 hours a day, in fact, even as little as 5 minutes a day can have a positive impact, as long as you choose the right practises for you. Learning to breathe low, slow, and deep can have a positive impact on your abilities to deal with stress.
Having a healthier diet
Our bodies respond very well to certain diets. And because there’s so much information around being healthy, we can find ourselves going down certain avenues that don’t benefit us on an individual level. Physiologically speaking, you have to ensure that you are increasing blood flow and helping your body to regenerate in the right ways. In many ways, the solutions are simple: eating for energy and having whole foods without any preservatives or additives. But it’s also important to remember that fat can also be beneficial here, especially good fats.
Women who take part in exercise have been shown to display fewer menopausal symptoms. It also increases cardiovascular health, resulting in a better sexual response.
It may be beneficial to go to the doctor and discuss the right methods to medicate any form of anxiety or depression. It’s worth noting that medication like antidepressants can inhibit sexual function, but having this in combination with a type of therapy such as CBT may work for you.
Finally, having adequate sleep is vital for every aspect of your life. Having a solid 8 hours is not just going to reduce your stress, but will increase your hormone production which has a natural impact on increasing sexual desire.
Because getting older, for many people, means naturally losing interest in sex, this doesn’t have to be the case. The reality is that we all deserve a healthy sex life, and having an understanding of the common issues that underlie a lot of middle-aged sexual anxieties, as well as having the best health solutions, will make a massive difference.
Keep the conversation going by commenting below or connecting with us on Instagram
By now we can all safely admit that we have tried SOME form of restrictive dieting in our time. I remember an old boss going through the cabbage soup diet trend and just feeling so sorry for her. She must have been starving and farty! I had the benefit of working on Celebrity Fit Club where I worked closely with the team supporting the celebrities and I learned so much about nutrition. However, I was in my early 20s and had a metabolism faster than a speeding train. It’s only now, in my 40s, I’ve discovered that this train needs a frikking service!
These days, I look to maintain a healthy balance with food. I eat mindfully and I enjoy what I eat. That said, I know that at this stage of my life, I will benefit hugely from fuelling my body in the right way. I do enjoy meat but for various reasons I do want to cut back so I was super interested to learn more about the benefits to a plant-based diet.
What is a plant-based diet?
We asked Dr Kirstie Lawton, a registered nutritional therapist at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and an AfN registered nutritionist to explain a little more. She offered us the following information.
According to the British Dietetic Association, a plant-based diet consists mostly or entirely of plant-based foods. While the term is synonymously used with veganism, a plant-based diet isn’t necessarily vegan and may include those who eat some meat, fish, egg, or dairy. The diet is predominantly made up of fruit and vegetables, grains, pulses and legumes, nuts and seeds.
What are the benefits to a plant-based diet?
An entirely plant-based diet, if correctly balanced, is rich in a wide range of protein building blocks, phytonutrients (plant-derived nutrients) and a diverse array of fibre, that can support the microbiota and improve gut health. Pulses and legumes are protein-rich and contain a variety of nutrients including B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and fibre to support the microbiota.
Nuts and seeds are highly nutritious food sources containing a wide variety of protein building blocks, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, potassium, selenium, magnesium, zinc and copper, and fibre. Fruit and vegetables are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre also.
There is research supporting the use of a well-considered plant-based diet for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and blood lipid profiles, management of diabetes type 2, weight reduction and prevention of some cancers. However, what is key here is that the diet is from whole food sources that are prepared from scratch, rather than over-reliance on processed plant foods that are high in salt and additives.
What considerations are there for eating a plant-based diet?
While a number of vegan food sources contain protein, the amount is generally quite low, so it is essential to ensure that you are eating a good source of protein at each meal. A number of these sources also have what we call limiting amino acids, e.g. a protein building block that is essential from the diet is missing. By combining plant-based foods e.g. beans and rice, the meal becomes a source of all essential amino acids. The richest and most complete source of protein is soy, however, this can be highly processed and isn’t suitable for everyone.
Research indicates that those eating an entirely plant-based diet may be deficient in a number of nutrients including riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, zinc, calcium, potassium, and selenium. Sources of all of these nutrients are available through a plant-based diet and some fortification (calcium, vitamin B12). However, someone who is plant-based and concerned that their diet isn’t diverse enough may wish to consider supplementation, which should be done in consultation with a registered nutritional therapist.
Further potential deficiencies include the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are derived from fish, and are essential for a number of functions in the body. While these can also be converted from the fatty acids found in seeds, conversation rates are low. Algae is a plant-based source of DHA and EPA and should be considered in supplement form. Finally, choline is essential for a wide range of functions, and is especially important for the growing foetus, so choline supplementation may also be a consideration in those who are eating a plant-based diet and of childbearing age.
There are more and more plant-based products on the market that are highly processed, and full of inflammatory ingredients which may not be optimal for health. These should be eaten as an occasional food choice, and replaced with homemade recipes from raw or minimally processed ingredients where possible.
Finally, those with GI issues, such as an imbalance or overgrowth of bacteria, issues with nightshades, a soy allergy, or intolerance to histamine-rich or oxalate-rich foods may struggle with a plant-based diet, and should seek support from a registered nutritional therapist to correct these health concerns.
Packed with plant-based protein, the range is ideal for those looking for a natural protein boost, whether it’s to increase energy after a workout or to incorporate as part of a family meal, the delicious topper combinations are here to elevate and nutritionally optimise those bland dishes.
To add nutritional benefit to those more indulgent meals, these tasty toppers can be added to a wide range of dishes including your favourite pizza, curry, or burrito. In fact, the handy pouches can be easily resealed and used whenever a sprinkle of goodness is needed in your dish.
Good4U Super Seeds offer a crunchy and savoury mix of tamari roasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin, and British-grown green peas. At only 144 calories per 25g serving, the seeds contain zinc, known to help the immune system to reduce unwanted bacteria and viruses, ideal for fighting off those colds and flus during the winter months.
If you want to add a bit of spice to your evening meal, why not turn up the heat with Good4U’s Garlic and Chilli Salad Toppers. This spicy mix is only 123 calories per 25g serving, made with sweet red peppers, chilli roasted seeds, smoky chipotle, and a sprinkle of kale, which can be poured on your curry for a nourishing boost or added to your salad to give an extra punchy kick.
To find out more about the range and for recipe inspiration, visit the Good4U website.
I’ve been really enjoying building Buddha bowls for a satisfying lunch. Follow the steps below, picking one suggestion from each. Season to taste and enjoy! Send us your pictures on Instagram!
Grains are naturally high in fibre, helping you feel full and satisfied. Choose from one of the following:
Giant Cous Cous
We need protein in our diet to help our body repair cells and make new ones. Choose from one of the following:
There’s nothing more beautiful than eating the rainbow. So add one of the following to invite your eyes to the party:
Fats in dressings can actually help you absorb key nutrients. But don’t go crazy! Choose from one of the following:
Apple Cider Vinegar
Red or white wine vinegar
Pumpkin Seed Oil
Who doesn’t love that added crunch. Salads don’t need to be boring. What will you add from the following?
I love seeing all the gorgeous colours in the bowl knowing I’m eating mindfully and healthily. The best part is, it tastes amazing. We have introduced meat-free Mondays at home. It’s a start!
Are you plant-based? Are you considering cutting back on meat? Let us know by commenting below.
Trying to stay fit and healthy is a challenge for most people at the best of times. Lifestyle choices, work patterns and other factors will undoubtedly influence how a person can stay in shape and eat healthily.
The temptation to forego regular exercising and avoid take-out food is often too great to resist in today’s modern world. Do you find it hard to stay fit and healthy while leading a busy lifestyle? If so, don’t worry because you aren’t alone.
The following tips and suggestions will inspire you to stay healthier without needing to do much or make any significant changes in your life:
Eat lighter versions of your favourite foods
You’ve likely seen all kinds of diets advertised, and you’ve probably even tried some of them. The truth is, trying a diet and sticking with it can be highly challenging, both mentally and physically. Plus, if you keep “yo-yo” dieting, you could even harm your body in the long term.
A better idea to get fit and healthy is to eat the things you enjoy but swap out some of them for “lighter” versions. For example, you could swap your butter and cheese for versions with low fat and cholesterol in them.
Swap Smoking For Vaping
Are you a smoker? If so, consider giving up your cigarettes and switching to vaping instead. Vaping is something you can do to get your nicotine fix, and you could even try other “juices” like CBD e liquid to help you improve your wellness further.
What’s more, vaping means your clothing and your body doesn’t smell like you’ve been standing near a bonfire for too long! Also, you can choose from all kinds of flavours and varying levels of nicotine to help ween yourself off smoking for good.
Park Further Away From Your Destinations
Do you drive? If you spend a lot of time going to various destinations in your car, avoid parking close to where you have to go. Instead, purposely find parking spaces that require you to do some more walking than usual.
For example, park by the car park exit rather than close to your workplace’s entrance if you drive to work. Not only will you get in some extra physical exercise each day, but you can avoid queuing to get out of the car park when you finish work each day.
Avoid Eating Large Meals
Last but not least, you should avoid eating large meals each day. Instead, it’s a better idea to have several small meals spread out throughout the day and evening.
Why is that a good idea, you might ask yourself? The answer is simple: you diminish the chances of needing to snack on unhealthy food like chocolates and crisps to satisfy any hunger pangs between your meals.
The above isn’t an extensive list of what you can do. However, it gives you some ideas for getting started on your health kick without tiring or wearing yourself out in the process. Good luck!
Following on from our previous article around cervical cancer awareness, we got advice from Dr Tim Woodman, Medical Director at Bupa UK, who shared with us the following information about cervical screenings.
He says; ‘Regular health screenings have been neglected during the pandemic – there are currently 4.7 million people with cervixes in the UK who haven’t been adequately screened for cervical cancer. It’s more important than ever to book your smear test – and to encourage your friends to do the same.
Our previous research found that 1 in 5 women say they wouldn’t visit their doctor if they had pelvic pain or an unusual discharge or bleeding, and 1 in 3 women say they wouldn’t see a doctor if they had bleeding outside of their usual menstrual cycle. 41% of women wouldn’t go to a GP if they had an unusual discharge.’
From believing screening is painful, to the ‘embarrassment’ of seeing your doctor about gynaecological issues, there’s lots of common misconceptions about cervical screening that we shouldn’t believe. These myths could prevent you from attending your screening, or visiting a doctor for any unusual symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding or painful sex.
Here are the most common myths about smear tests you shouldn’t believe:
Myth 1: An abnormal smear test indicates a high risk of cancer
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer – it is used to help prevent cancer. A sample is checked for certain “high risk” types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). If these are not found, then nothing further is done, but if these types of HPV are present then the cells from the sample are checked for any changes. If any abnormal cells are found and these are left untreated, it could lead to cancer.
Having regular cervical screening will identify any abnormalities – these may not be cancerous, and mild abnormalities don’t always need to be treated.
Myth 2: A cervical screening test is painful
It’s a common myth that a cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is a painful procedure. For some, it can be an uncomfortable procedure, especially if you have endometriosis, vaginismus (when your vagina suddenly becomes tight) or vaginal dryness.
Breathing exercises and distraction methods (listening to music or counting to 100 during the procedure) can help to calm your nerves. You can also ask your nurse about using a smaller speculum (the instrument used during the test) – they come in different sizes, and it can help to ease any discomfort you’re experiencing.
It’s important to explain any worries you have to your healthcare professional, as they should take additional steps to make the experience less stressful.
Myth 3: I don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t need to check my health
We have an excellent cervical cancer screening programme, which can detect early abnormalities which can lead to cervical cancer.
Even if you’re showing no unusual symptoms, you must attend your checks as these can detect abnormalities before you start showing any symptoms. Early detection is key to effectively preventing and treating cancers; attending all appointments – even if you’re feeling well – is vital.
Myth 4: Seeing the doctor about gynaecological issues is embarrassing
Do not worry – every doctor or nurse in your local clinic will have seen more vaginas and heard more intimate stories than you could ever believe! They understand that everyone is an individual and will not be uncomfortable or bothered by talking about sex, vaginal bleeding, discharge, or painful intercourse.
Performing intimate examinations is part of their everyday activities, and they want to do this to the cause of the problem you’re having. Try and be as open and honest about your symptoms or concerns as you can, as this will enable your healthcare professional to give you the best care they can.
Myth 5: If I am worried I can go for a smear test, which will rule out any cancer
No, this is not the case. The cervical screening test only looks for signs that you may be at risk of cervical cancer. It is not a cancer test, nor does it assess the health of your vulva, vagina, womb or ovaries. A cervical screening test is only suitable if you have no symptoms of concern.
If you have unusual bleeding, pain or other symptoms you should discuss this with a healthcare professional, who will decide with you what steps need to be taken to assess your gynaecological health.
Are you up to date with your screenings? Comment below on your experiences or connect with us on Instagram
17th – 23rd January 2022 marks Cervical CancerPrevention week. We’ve joined forces with the experts, bringing you this guide, to raise awareness of cervical screening. If you have a cervix, this one is for you.
Here, Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy talks about the importance of not delaying cervical screening when invited but also to see if there was anything we could be doing to avoid this type of cancer.
Did you know?
There are around 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer each year in the UK.
Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer in the UK.
Cervical cancer can be prevented by having regular cervical smears.
The most common age group for women to be diagnosed with cervical cancer is in women aged 30-34 years.
Since the 1990s, the incidence of cervical cancer has fallen by around 25%. This is likely to be due to the success of cervical screening.
The number of cases of cervical cancer is predicted to fall in the coming years due to the success of HPV vaccination.
Around 850 women still die each year in the UK from cervical cancer.
Since the 1970s, the death rate for cervical cancer has fallen by around 75%. Again, this is likely to be due to the advent of cervical screening.
Risk factors for cervical cancer
HPV – 99.8% of cervical cancers are due to infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This is a sexually transmitted virus. There are over 100 subtypes. HPV 16 and 18 are high-risk subtypes, and these are the target of the current HPV vaccination campaign. Low-grade HPV subtypes, including those which cause many visible genital warts, are not a risk factor for cervical cancer.
Many women with HPV infection never develop cervical cancer, meaning other factors are also important for the infection to progress. Cervical cancer is more common in those who also had an early age of first sexual intercourse, before the age of 14, or who have had 6 or more sexual partners. Cervical cancer risk is lowered in women whose sexual partner has been circumcised.
Women with genital herpes are also at an increased risk of cervical cancer.
Smoking – 21% of cervical cancers are attributed to smoking. The risk of cervical cancer is increased by 46% in current smokers as compared to lifetime non-smokers.
HIV – Cervical cancer is six times more common in those infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). However, this risk is significantly reduced in women who are taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HART).
Oral contraceptives – Up to 10% of cervical cancers are thought to be associated with the use of oral contraceptives. However, the risk is only attributable after five years or more of use. There is no need to panic and stop taking the pill. The benefits of taking the pill are considerable and should not be underestimated. Pill users should not be unduly concerned but are strongly advised to attend for their cervical smears regularly, and to try not to smoke.
Ethnicity – Cervical cancers are more common in ethnic groups who are reluctant to come forward for screening. This means cervical cancer is more common in women who are Black, Hispanic, Asian or from low-income households.
Women who were given diethylstilbestrol (DES) – Some women were given DES, a potent synthetic estrogen, between 1940-1970, to try and prevent miscarriage. This is known to increase the risk of cervical and vaginal cancers.
The UK Cervical Cancer Screening Programme
One important aspect of cervical cancer is that it has a very long premalignant phase, during which it is possible to identify abnormal cells – by having a cervical smear. These abnormal cells can then be treated. Doing this prevents these cells from transforming into cervical cancer cells.
Adult women aged 25-64 years are invited to have a cervical smear once every 3-5 years in the UK. Those aged under 50 are asked to come once every 3 years, and those aged over 50, every 5 years. Trans men (who were female at birth) are not automatically invited but can request a cervical smear if they still have a cervix.
The smear itself is also tested for the presence of HPV. If HPV is present, you will be invited to have smears more often, or referred to colposcopy, where your cervix can be examined more closely with the aid of a special instrument called a colposcope. This gives magnified images of the cervix.
What is a cervical smear?
A cervical smear is a simple test, in which a plastic spatula is gently rubbed over your cervix (the neck of the womb) to collect some cervical cells. These are then sent to the lab to be looked at down the microscope.
To be able to do this, the doctor or nurse taking the smear, needs to see your cervix. This means you do have to remove your underwear, lie on the couch, and allow them to insert a vaginal speculum. This is an instrument, made of plastic or metal, which looks like a duck’s beak.
The secret is to try and relax as much as you can. This helps the smear taker to be able to manoeuvre the speculum as they need to, to get a good view of the cervix. Try not to get too anxious. Doctors and nurses who do smears are very well trained and will do all they can to put you at your ease. It can be uncomfortable having a smear, but it shouldn’t be painful. It usually only lasts – perhaps 30-60 seconds. This is a very short inconvenience for a test that could save your life. You can watch a video of how a cervical smear is taken here.
How many women have not had a cervical smear?
It is very worrying that in 2019, 1 in 3 women aged 25-64 had not had a cervical smear. In a survey conducted by Jo’s Cancer Trust, 2000 women were asked about their experiences of having a cervical smear. An incredible 915 had either never had a smear or had delayed an appointment to have one. 71% said they felt scared, 75% felt vulnerable, 81% were embarrassed, and 67% said having a smear would make them feel out of control. 58% were scared it would be painful.
Having taken cervical smears for over 30 years, I can tell you, taking a smear is a straightforward process, that for the vast majority of women, is easy, quick, and almost painless. The smear taker will respect your dignity, cover you with a blanket, ask permission to start the procedure and stop at any time if you ask them to stop. You do not need to feel out of control. Doctors and nurses who work in sexual health or GP surgeries, spend all day looking at female vulvas and vaginas – they are perfectly used to it, and nothing will surprise or shock them. You can feel completely at ease with these medical practitioners. Any female doctors or nurses will no doubt have had a smear test themselves and know how it feels.
What is far more of a worry, is not attending for your smear, but having to come to the clinic in the future, with a possible undiagnosed cervical cancer.
Getting your smear results
You should get a letter in the post about your results, usually within 4 weeks. If your smear is normal, you will be told to have another smear in 3-5 years depending on your age. Sometimes, there may have been difficulty interpreting the smear, and it just needs repeating in 3 to 6 months. If you do have abnormal cells, you will be referred to the Colposcopy clinic so a Gynaecologist can take a closer look at your cervix. If HPV is present, but your cells look normal, you will simply be asked to have another smear in 12 months. The important thing is to follow instructions and attend for your subsequent visit as requested.
How accurate are cervical smears?
It’s important to remember that no tests are ever 100% accurate. There is always a small chance the smear could show an abnormality that isn’t cancer, or, could be wrongly classed as negative, meaning something abnormal was missed. In between smear tests, if you have any symptoms such as bleeding in between your periods or after sex, or abnormal vaginal discharge, it’s important to see your GP or go to the Sexual Health clinic without delay.
Prevention is better than cure
After a detailed look at the statistics, experts believe that for a woman aged 33 – 64, attending for cervical screening will reduce her chance of developing cervical cancer over the following five years, by 60-80%, and reduce her chance of advanced cervical cancer by 90%. However, cervical screening is less effective in younger age groups. In general, doing cervical smears in women under the age of 25 has not been found to be beneficial.
If you have any concerns about your smear test, you could book an appointment with your GP or practice nurse, just to discuss the situation and take a list of written questions. They will be happy to help you. You can take a friend or relative to your smear appointment with you.
You can also ask for a doctor or nurse of the sex of your choice to take your smear, although you may be asked to come back on another day if this can’t be actioned at the same visit.
You will also be offered a chaperone when you have your smear. You can accept or refuse – some people prefer another person there to hold their hand, while others prefer as few other people in the room as possible.
Try and find out all you can about having you smear before you get to the clinic. Knowledge is power, and it will help you feel more confident. For example, take a look at Jo’s Trust – Cervical Screening.
What can you do to reduce your risk of cervical cancer?
You can have a smear at any time so long as you are not bleeding. In the past, smears were preferable around midcycle – on day 14 – but these days this is rarely needed. If you are on a form of hormonal contraception, you will not be ovulating anyway, and will not have a day 14. This might be needed in older women, who are having natural cycles, if it has been hard to get enough cells on the smear in the past. But don’t let the day 14 issue confuse the situation.
If you are aged 40 plus, and find smears uncomfortable, you might benefit from using some topical estrogen in the vagina for 4 -6 weeks before your smear test. Ask your GP or the sexual health doctor or nurse about this. You do need to stop using the cream or pessaries at least 2 days before the smear test.
In the UK, HPV vaccinations are offered to girls and boys aged 12 and 13, when they are in year 8. They then have a second dose 6 -24 months later. The idea is to create HPV antibodies before they become sexually active and encounter the HPV virus through normal sexual activity. HPV causes cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, penis, as well as some head and neck cancers.
Between 2009 and 2018, over 10 million doses of the HPV vaccines were administered. The vaccines have been proven to be safe and highly effective. In a recent 2019 study, which included over 66 million young men and women, HPV vaccination showed an 83% reduction in high-risk HPV in teenage girls and a 66% reduction in women aged 20-24. There was also a 51% reduction in precancerous changes to the cervix in teenage girls and a 31% reduction in women aged 20-24.
Some studies suggest the viral load of HPV is higher in the cervix of women who smoke than in non-smokers. The reasons for this are not well understood, however, a toxin in cigarette smoke known as Benzo[a]pyren has been shown to stimulate HPV multiplication.
Protect yourself from HPV by using a condom
Consistent and careful use of condoms can help prevent the acquisition, not just of HPV infection, but also other STIs. It can also help cause regression of abnormal cells if they are present on the cervix. However, having sex with an HPV infected partner, even once, without a condom, is likely to result in the transmission of infection. Most UK adults will be infected with HPV at least once in a lifetime.
The best sexual health advice at present is that women should use a condom for STI protection as well as, not instead of, a reliable method of contraception to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. If a male partner will not use a condom, women do have the option of using the female condom, the Femidom.
Cervical cancer is linked to an increased number of lifetime sexual partners. For good sexual health, you should try to avoid multiple partners , or overlapping partners, as this is associated with increased risk.
Helen Baker founded and runs We Are All Smear Ready, a craftivism campaign to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening and addressing the barriers of body image and embarrassment, two of the main barriers to attending appointments. She says;
‘With body image and embarrassment being two of the main barriers to attending a smear test, this Craftivist campaign spreads the message that you don’t have to be beach ready to be smear ready, we are all smear ready. It really doesn’t matter how your lady garden looks, nurses have seen all varieties and don’t care what yours looks like.
With so much focus on the external aspect of our bodies we can often overlook how important it is to look after our bodies internally but these mini handcrafted pants as a gentle reminder that cervical screening and HPV vaccines are the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer. By making and sharing mini pants and boxers during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, we can help to spread this important and potentially life-saving message to anyone with a cervix.’
Some people can think of social media as something that’s for younger people. Even if you use some social media, you might feel like some apps are meant for young people while others are more suited to people over 30 or 40. Maybe you shy away from TikTok because it seems like it’s for teenagers and you can’t let go of Facebook because all of your family and friends are on there. Social media can be a lot of fun but it can also be a pain if you’re not using it in the right way. If you want to use social media more, there are a few rules for having fun.
Find Which Apps Are for You
Not everyone will find every social media app or site enjoyable. You might think Facebook is too full of older relatives with terrible opinions or that Twitter is far too shouty. But most people can find a social media app that they do like. Think about what sort of thing you’re looking for and why you want to use social media. Is it to view and share funny videos and images? Do you want to have conversations with other people or engage in a community relating to your interests?
Learn to Find the Content You Like
Once you’ve got started on your chosen platform, you need to know how to get the best from it. If you’re not using it in the right way, you might just find it boring or annoying. Being able to find the content that you want will help you to make your experience better. Depending on the platform, this might involve following the right people, following hashtags or topics, or searching for the right things. As you engage with different people and topics, you’ll also be presented with new content through the platform’s algorithm.
Play with Ways to Post
Creating your own content is part of the fun of using social media, but it’s something a lot of people might feel unsure about. You’re not a teenager posting about your day, so what are you meant to post? But there are lots of things you can do, whether you want to document your life or make funny or interesting content for entertainment. Try exploring different ways to post, such as how to do voice effects on TikTok or using different filters on Instagram. There are different post types you can explore or ways to engage with people, such as stories or live streaming too.
Find Your Community
One of the best things about social media is that it allows you to engage and connect with other people. It can be a great way to find new friends and discover a community based on your interests. Whether you’re obsessed with a TV show, you love to knit, or you’re a history nerd, you can find other people with shared interests who can help you have even more fun.
Discover all of the fun you can have with social media by finding your space and all the ways you can use it. Follow us on Instagram to see how we are trying to get down with the kids and make fun reels!
At the end of the day, every single person on the planet wants to be the best possible version of themselves. In order to be the best version, we need to feel at ease with ourselves first. We need to look at ourselves and know that we’re confident. If you feel good in life, then you’re going to be able to perform better in whatever you do.
One thing that a lot of people – especially women – do in this life is worry about their bodies. The good thing is that we can all put our minds in better places regarding our physical selves. We can also put in the work to put ourselves in better positions. If you’re willing to alter your mindset and adopt new habits, you can achieve anything – and this is just another one of those challenges. Here are a few top tips so you can start to really feel more at ease with your body:
Recognise That You Are Beautiful As You Are
You don’t really need to make huge changes to your life or to your body. You need to know that you’re wonderful as you are. One huge change will be to your mind. You’ll want to do all you can to boost your confidence and your self-esteem. If you do look to mate improvements, know that they’re for you and not imperative in order to achieve anything.
Put Effort Into Your Physical Fitness
This helps your physical side and your mental side. You deserve to be happy and comfortable in many different ways, and exercising will put you in an amazing position. You’ll get to a point where not exercising feels a little wrong. Before you know it, you could be looking into the likes of DSIP and all kinds of other supplements to make yourself into a finely tuned athlete.
If you want to feel better about the way you look, then dating is a genuinely fantastic idea. You’ll head out and meet people that find you attractive. You’ll get to know people who might want to spend a lot of time around you. These people will lift you over time. They’ll respect your boundaries while wanting to see you more and more. And, hey, they might even want to hop into a bed with you and see that wonderful body in all its glory!
Learn How To Cook And Figure Out Nutritional Tips
Learning how to cook prepares you for life in a much better way. You’ll be more competent in the kitchen, which is such a confidence booster. It makes you feel so much more useful and attractive. The more you learn about food, the more clued in you become in terms of what’s good for you and what certain meals do for certain parts of you.
Surround Yourself With People Who Lift You
We touched on this previously when talking about dating, but you just have to be around people that make your life so much easier. If you’re with positive people who say wonderful things about you and push you to be even better, then life becomes a lot better and so much more fun. Don’t surround yourself with negativity.
Are you more comfortable with your body in your 40s? Let us know by dropping a comment below or connecting with us on Instagram.
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When was your last period? Do you know? Have you ever tracked your menstrual cycle? Have you ever wondered why some months it’s like a crime scene and others it’s just funny brown sludge (Or is that just me!) I called in the experts to find out what benefits there are to tracking your cycle.
Women’s therapist, menstrual cycle & menopause educator Susanna Guest, (50) has helped hundreds of clients to live a life more in tune with their natural cycle through a combination of coaching, retreats and workshops. Now, she has collaborated with her friend and client, Liz Berwick (41) to create The Wild Wisdom Journal and raise awareness of emotions, creativity and energy throughout the menstrual cycle, menopause, seasons and lunar phases.
It is beautiful. The illustrations are stunning and it’s a very gorgeous journal to read through. It has been designed to be a space to gather your insights whilst keeping an eye on the phases of the moon. This journal is for anyone who wants to track their cyclical ways. If you menstruate, you can chart your moods and tendencies according to your cycle. If you no longer menstruate, have very long cycles, or do not have a womb, then you can use the moon cycle as your guide. What a fantastic gift for Christmas huh?
I’ve always tracked my cycle since coming off birth control five years ago and was hugely intrigued to see how my cycle was synced to the moon phases and, blow me down, it was spot on. I’ve realised that’s where the discrepancies have been. The odd month where things weren’t quite right, they actually coincided with a full moon. Absolute game changer for me to monitor my feelings and hormonal well-being. Especially in the run up to the big M!
So what’s the deal with menstrual cycles? I reached out to my friend and soul sista, Katherine Crawley who runs the AllWoman mentorship program.
Internal feminine compasses
‘As women in our 40s, we are the daughters of a career and success-orientated society. We were raised to believe that happiness means adopting a persona of charismatic success, that we must seamlessly integrate motherhood and work all while flitting from one social gathering to another.
Not an easy persona to uphold is it?
And when the cracks start to show – usually around 40 – sometimes through mental breakdowns, but equally simply via an overwhelm of stress and anxiety, aches and pains, illnesses and even serious disease, the question is, where do we turn?
Well it all starts here, with our menstrual cycles. Our cycles are like our internal feminine compasses. They are the foundations of who we are, as women. They enable us to really know ourselves.
We are nature
Tracking our menstrual cycles and reconnecting to the natural cycles of our bodies is deeply healing. It centres us, it grounds us. We remember that we are not separate from nature, but that we are nature. As we know our own cycles, we have a deeper understanding of the Earth’s cycles; our seasons mirror Her seasons; our moon mirrors Her Moon.
This process of ‘remembering’ gives us a newfound sense of wholeness. We reconnect to our intuitive wisdom and from a place deep in our wombs, we feel the power of our Womanhood rising.
So are our 40s going to see us continue to dogmatically search for internal fulfilment outside of ourselves? Or are we going to realise that our real embodied health and empowerment comes from taking time to understand who we truly are, as women? If we have the wisdom and courage to follow the latter, then cultivating an intimate and loving relationship with our menstrual cycles is the way in.’
Why can tracking our menstrual cycle be beneficial?
‘The menstrual cycle is a complex journey of the hormones. Estrogen levels rise and fall twice during the menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels rise during the mid-follicular phase and then drop precipitously after ovulation. This is followed by a secondary rise in estrogen levels during the mid-luteal phase with a decrease at the end of the menstrual cycle. But technically there is no stage during the cycle when the hormone levels aren’t surging or plunging in some way; In the first week estrogen starts out low and begins to rise, with it you become more optimistic and positive, in the second week estrogen and testosterone rise until they peak – making you braver and ready for a challenge, the third week is more complex because for the first half the progesterone rises while the estrogen and testosterone drop – this is when you experience a mood drop, but by the second half of the week estrogen rises again putting a stop to the PMS symptoms. The fourth and final week of the cycle sees the estrogen and progesterone plunge, dragging your mood down with it.
Tracking your menstrual cycle in the 20s and 30s is common because it’s often used as a way to either get pregnant or to avoid pregnancy. Traditionally tracking menstrual cycle in the 40s probably isn’t as common, however it can be beneficial for a number of reasons and is certainly becoming more popular as a result.
It can help to prepare and plan for when mood changes are likely to occur and spot patterns in this. It can also be helpful for exercise. For example the follicular phase change in hormone levels that often results in a boost of energy and can see mood improve. Some people find strength training more effective at this time of the month.
Tracking the menstrual cycle in the 40s is also an effective way of identifying changes in cycle lengths and regularity which may be indicators of the peri-menopause.’
Indicators for the Peri-menopause
At 41 I’ve already started to notice some slight irregularities thanks to tracking that may well be indicators for the peri-menopause. Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott, specialist in integrative women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing for the Marion Gluck Clinic highlights why this might be:
‘In our 40s, most women are going through the perimenopause, a period of several years leading up to the actual menopause (classified as an absence of periods for 12 months) and during this transition, women can experience a myriad of symptoms of hormonal imbalance. The perimenopause often results in anovulatory cycles, where the monthly egg is not released from the ovary and this results in a decrease in the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is our natural calming hormone, hence the happy mood of pregnancy where it is elevated, and leads to insomnia and heightened anxiety. Tracking your menstrual cycle will help you assess if your cycle pattern has changed and understand any symptoms you may be experiencing. There are many apps that can assist with this and in our busy lives, it is easy to lose track.
It is a time in life filled with other responsibilities, juggling careers and domestic life so insomnia and anxiety can often be attributed to life stressors when it is in fact hormonal imbalance. Other symptoms of the perimenopause include hot flushes, brain fog, memory changes and very heavy periods. The hormone estrogen can often be higher in perimenopause causing symptoms of estrogen dominance such as weight gain, migraines and breast tenderness.
If you notice any changes, seek appropriate medical advice as assessment- testing can be done and you can get the support you need. Too many women are put on conventional HRT which has both estrogen and progesterone and can therefore feel worse as it is only the progesterone they need. Progesterone support in perimenopause can make a great difference to quality of life through this change.
Don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruit, minimise stress, take regular exercise and get a good 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep – lifestyle also influences our hormone balance.’
Do you track your cycles? Let us know what you do by commenting below. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here