Three health-care pros share their answers to their patients' common questions.
Q: Why do environmental sensitivities affect more women than men?
Dr. Lynn Marshall, physician and medical education liaison at the Environmental Health Clinic, Women's College Hospital in Toronto says:
"Environmental sensitivities describes a chronic condition whereby a person has symptoms when exposed to certain chemicals or environmental agents at low levels tolerated by most people. Most appear fine, but in fact, they might be suffering with several symptoms, including crushing fatigue, pain, mental fog and rapid heartbeat. The main reason that more women than men are affected is not known; however, there are various factors that might contribute to this disparity. Research has shown that, in some situations, women react differently than men when exposed to the same toxic substances. On average, women have 10 percent more body fat than men and can store more fat-soluble toxins. In addition, having a lower body weight, along with hormonal differences, can leave them more vulnerable. Women may also be using a higher volume of materials containing toxic and potentially harmful substances, including cleaning solvents and beauty products."
Q: I've heard a lot about PCOS lately. What is it and what are the symptoms?
Dr. Catherine Kelly, endocrinologist, Women's College Hospital, Toronto, and Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto says:
"Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormonal disorder that affects approximately two million women in Canada. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to stem from a hormonal disruption. There are a variety of symptoms, ranging from an irregular menstrual cycle, where you may not bleed for several months, to a period that may be quite heavy and last longer than usual. Some women notice an increase in hair growth on their face or body—chest, back, midsection—while others experience significant weight gain. PCOS also significantly increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes mellitus. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor."
Q: What can my bowel movements and schedule tell me about my overall health?
Dr. Talia Zenlea, gastroenterologist, Women's College Hospital in Toronto says:
"There is no correct answer for what your stool should look like or how often you should have a bowel movement. Instead, what's important is that you feel comfortable, and that your bowel habits aren't getting in the way of your day-to-day life. If that's not the case, then it's worth bringing this up with your doctor. He or she will be able to help you with your symptoms and confirm whether something more serious is going on. A red flag is when there's a sudden change in your bowel habits, or if you see blood in your stool—that can be indicative of something more concerning and warrants a visit to your physician. Small variations from day to day are fine, and those are usually due to changes in what you've been eating."