Biorhythm Research is Creating New Paradigm in Women’s Health

Women's health understudied, understanding biorhythms

Following decades of being excluded from clinical studies, women today are suffering dire consequences. Can new research finally reverse the misunderstandings and help women harness the power of their unique biology?

Kayla Osterhoff is a neuropsychophysiologist studying the mind-body connection, with a focus on women’s health.

“Well most people are probably not aware of this, but women actually represent the largest gap in health science research that exists today,” Osterhoff said. “This is perpetuated by a problem that actually manifested back in 1977 when the FDA formally banned all women of child-bearing potential from all clinical research. That ban remained in effect until 1993, and to this day, the damage has been done and women are still left out of the clinical research.” 

“The reason why women are left out of the clinical research is that women are biologically complex, meaning that they are biologically, biochemically, and physiologically shifting constantly because of our female hormone cycle that drives our physiology. The other reason is that women are risky research subjects, meaning that they can become pregnant at any time during the study. So, while it is understandable from an ethical standpoint, it cannot remain in effect because women are really being disempowered by this gap,” she said. 

The repercussions of this scientific gap have been profound and were highlighted in a recent study.

“From 1997 to today, what they found is that most of the drugs that have been removed from the U.S. market were removed because of side effects that occurred mainly or exclusively in women,” Osterhoff said. “Women represent 78 percent of all autoimmune diseases, and women suffer from depression two times more than their male counterparts. And women experience burnout 200 percent more than men.”

These serious consequences all stem from the misunderstanding of what Osterhoff calls the “missing link” in women’s health.

“The missing link is this: that women are essentially, physiologically, four different people over the course of a month, and this is because our biology, our physiology, (and) our biochemistry is constantly shifting with the ebb and flow of our female hormones throughout the month. These two key hormones of estrogen and progesterone impact a woman’s global physiology.”

Emerging research is finally starting to bear out the specific physiological characteristics of these biorhythms. Osterhoff has gone one step further to examine how these four distinct phases can be leveraged by women to better navigate their lives and promote wellness throughout the cycles.

“What we as women have to understand, is this biological complexity that keeps us out of the research is actually our superpower,” Osterhoff said. “Because of these neurological shifts that happen, in phase one a woman experiences increased cognitive empathy, a.k.a. intuition. In phase two, we have a greater ability for navigation and strategy. In phase three, our cognitive ability is charisma — we are more influential in this phase. Now phase four is what I call the ‘brainy phase’ — we have a heightened ability to learn and grow.”

How can women and society best use these understandings?

“For women to be properly supported, it would look like understanding that we are constantly shifting and that we require different environments, different infrastructures, and different support systems through the different phases of our biology. So the key takeaway here is that we need to include women in research equally. We also need to do specific studies focused primarily just on women so that we can start to shift the way that we view and support women in this world.”  

The Therapeutic Order: 7 Tenets of Naturopathy

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Contrary to common belief, naturopathic doctors are not just doctors who prescribe natural remedies to patients. (This means that a visit to the health food store is not a substitute for advice from a licensed healthcare practitioner!) After all, as previously “naturopathic” therapies invade scientific literature, more up-to-date medical doctors are prescribing things like fish oil and probiotics to their patients.

However, this doesn’t make them naturopathic doctors any more than prescribing rights make us medical doctors! Naturopathic doctors differ from the traditional medical model, not so much in what we prescribe or our principles (do no harm, treat the whole person, prevent disease, doctor as teacher, support the body, treat the cause), which medical doctors arguably share with us, but in something called the Therapeutic Order.

The Therapeutic Order is a hierarchy that governs a naturopathic doctor’s clinical decision-making. It begins by offering minimally invasive therapies aimed at supporting the body and ends in more invasive procedures such as chemical therapies and surgery.

Remove Obstacles to Health

Naturopathic medicine begins by creating the conditions for health through focusing on lifestyle factors that contribute to our health and well-being. This involves cleaning up the diet and promoting healthy eating, ensuring adequate and restful sleep, managing stress, fostering healthy relationships and social support, fresh air and clean water, adequate movement, encouraging the pursuit of hobbies and passions and even supporting spiritual and moral fulfillment. Setting the foundations for optimal health is the first step in managing or preventing disease and promoting a lifetime of health and happiness.

Stimulate the Healing Power of Nature

Sometimes, a long-term lack of a proper health foundation, genetic disposition, environmental factors, prolonged significant stress or long-standing, chronic disease can result in a weakening of the vital force. Before you scoff at the term, keep in mind that all medical systems, traditional or otherwise have a name for this pervasive healing force. In Ayurveda it is called prana, traditional Chinese medicine has Qi, homeopathy refers to it as wesen, monotheistic religions refer to it as God, conventional medicine or the biological sciences call it homeostasis or, perhaps, metabolism. In naturopathic medicine this healing power is called just that, The Healing Power of Nature or, in Latin, the Vis Medicatrix Naturae.

This force is stimulated in a variety of ways, but mainly by using therapies that have a gentle stimulatory, energetic effect. These therapies act to strengthen the vital force, awakening its ability to heal the body. Therapies used to stimulate the vis include acupuncture, homeopathy,hydrotherapy, prayer, visualization, journaling, meditation, mind-body medicine, yoga or Qi Gong, among others.

Strengthen Weakened Systems

This level of the Therapeutic Order is implemented when long-standing disease or lack of a solid health foundation results in a prolonged weakening of the body’s ability to heal, resulting in damage to organ systems. Conditions to be treated at this stage include hypertension, diabetes, digestive concerns, pain and fatigue, etc. Unfortunately, this is the stage at which most people seek medical attention and, although at this stage there are still a few more rungs on the Therapeutic Order’s hierarchy, this is the stage at which most people are given medications to manage symptoms, rather than being told how to support their health naturally.

At this stage of the Order, naturopathic doctors opt for targeted therapies using some of the previously-mentioned modalities (homeopathy, acupuncture and hydrotherapy) but also implement high doses of vitamins, minerals, supplements, such as fish oil and probiotics, food prescriptions and botanicals to target the healing of specific organs or organ systems.

Correct Structural Integrity

I always wonder why this step is only step 4 and why it doesn’t fall into steps 1 or 2, as it is often used by naturopathic doctors earlier on, when indicated. Correcting structural integrity has to do with encouraging proper alignment of the skeletal and muscular systems. Proper alignment is supported through the use of spinal manipulation, massage, exercise, proper posture, physical therapies, acupuncture and stretching.

The importance of proper structural integrity can’t be emphasized more, as our alignment contributes to the way we feel by affecting our circulation and nerve conduction and by keeping our organs in their proper places. Ensuring proper alignment is essential for health and well-being.

Use Natural Substances to Control Symptoms

At this stage of the Therapeutic Order, finding the root cause of disease is bypassed and symptoms are addressed directly. Symptom management is necessary in cases where:

  1. Symptoms are so unpleasant that immediate relief is necessary in order to move forward
  2. Addressing symptoms first establishes trust in the doctor-patient relationship
  3. The case is complicated and the root cause cannot be identified or is too complex to target immediately
  4. The patient is suffering from an acute condition
  5. There is an obstacle to cure that is difficult or impossible to remove
  6. The disease state is unresponsive to treatments for the top four rungs of the Therapeutic Order and the only thing left to do is palliate symptoms naturally, and so on.

Symptoms are treated with many of the same modalities as in the first four steps of the Therapeutic Order: acupuncture, hydrotherapy, botanicals, supplements, physical medicine, etc., but with the therapeutic goal of treating symptoms, not stimulating healing by treating the cause of disease.

Use Pharmaceutical Substances to Control Symptoms

Unless naturopathic doctors have prescribing rights in their regulatory district (as some naturopathic doctors in the United States and British Columbia have earned), the naturopathic scope of practice ends here. At this stage, patients are not responding to naturopathic modalities in terms of symptom management and the disease stage is so far gone that the patient will not experience success unless they resort to pharmaceutical intervention. In terms of the naturopathic scope of practice, when we recognize that a patient has reached this stage and would benefit from drug therapy, our job is to refer out.

Most of the time, the patient is co-managed and receives medical interventions while being supported naturopathically with treatments that create the foundations for health, stimulate the vital force, support organ system-healing, correct structural integrity and naturally manage symptoms.

Unfortunately, patients are often started at this stage of the Therapeutic Order from the moment their symptoms motivate them to seek medical care. Many naturopathic patients are already taking medications when they come to see us. The good news, however, is that some patients find that with proper implementation of therapies from the upper 5 steps of the Therapeutic Order, medications are no longer necessary and, with the consent of their medical doctors, can be discontinued.

Use High-Force Interventions such as Chemotherapy, Radiation and Surgery

This last stage of the Therapeutic Order is performed by medical specialists. At this stage patients have a disease that has progressed enough to warrant more invasive interventions: burning, drugging and cutting. Most of the time these interventions are given in life-or-death situations.

When a patient’s condition warrants these treatments, which do not facilitate healing but rather the removal of invasive disease, their bodies can also be supported naturopathically: by supporting the healing power of nature, supporting organ systems, managing symptoms (or side effects of interventions) naturally and, eventually, establishing a healthy lifestyle foundation that will prevent re-occurrence of the same disease process.

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