When she was still a high school student several years ago, Martha Kalumuna*, now aged 34, used to experience symptoms that she never believed were warning signs of a reproductive health problem she is facing today.
“My menstrual cycles were at all time irregular. Sometimes, a month would pass without. When the period came, it would last for 9 days up to 14,” says Martha, a resident of Kimara in Dar es Salaam.
But, she says, “At times I could see my breasts ooze milk. I didn’t know what to do. This made my high school life miserable.”
Over the years, Dr Boaz Mkumbo, the Director of Healthy Eating Academy (HEA) has been attending to several women with problems similar to Martha’s.
Dr Mkumbo says, “What Martha is facing points typically to what we call hormonal imbalance. When this goes on to affect the process of ovulation, a woman who has this imbalance may fail to conceive.”
When Martha sat down to narrate her tribulations to Your Health, her struggle to conceive, despite staying in marriage for seven years now, dominated her story.
“I have gone from hospital to hospital. I was told I have hormonal imbalance. Doctors prescribed medications for me but there was no improvement.”
“At one point, I underwent surgery three times. There was only slight improvement but the problem later persisted. I need a child. What do I do?” says Martha, who until recently turned to using herbs in the quest for what she believes is a lasting remedy.
For Rose Semganya, 37, a mother whose daughter is now in grade six at school, the story is different. She has had one child before but later failed to conceive.
“I have conceived many times but I lose the pregnancies. But also, my menstrual cycles are so irregular,’’ says Rose.
“When I went to hospital and told a doctor about this, I was told that my hormones are not balanced. The doctor simply told me I have a hormonal problem,’’ says the resident of Tabata in the city.
“I feel I have lost weight and feel stressed. Most times I experience prolonged stomach pains before and after menstruation periods.”
“Sometimes this makes me fail to make love with my husband. I have to endure sleepless nights,” she says further.
The HEA Director, Mkumbo, believes there is need to raise awareness about the reproductive health challenges caused by hormonal imbalance among Tanzanian women.
Biologically, he says, the human reproductive system is controlled by hormones known as estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and testosterone.
“In case one hormone has a problem, other hormones are likely to be affected as well. That’s when a woman starts experiencing certain symptoms. A problem with one type of hormone creates a cascade of challenges with other hormones,’’ he says.
There are many cases of infertility among couples which are blamed on this hormonal imbalance, says Dr Mkumbo.
But also, he clarifies, infertility can also be caused by many other factors such as endometriosis—a condition in which the layer of tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows outside of it.
Due to hormonal imbalance, he says, some women gain or lose weight abnormally, grow hair in the upper chin and at times may not enjoy their conjugal rights.
How the imbalance affects sexual reproduction
According to a medical doctor based in Dar es Salaam, Renick Kihongo, oestrogen is one hormone that is important for sexual and reproductive development-it is found in large amount in women—men have it in small amount.
“It’s the oestrogen that makes a woman appear female but when it’s in excess, certain problems are likely to occur,’’ says Dr Kihongo.
“When there is excess of it, in comparison to progesterone, another hormone, this is likely to cause weight gain and terrible periods. This is a common problem,’’ she explains.
“The imbalance could lead to what we call pre- menstrual tension. The challenges that the woman faces before the period arrives: This includes emotional upset, headaches, frustration, anger, headaches or breast distention,’’ she explains further.
But also, there is prolactin hormone which helps a woman to produce milk when she gives birth and also helps a woman who is breastfeeding not to get pregnant.
This hormone is made by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ found at the base of the brain and when it’s produced in excess, it can also affect the levels of sex hormones, such as estrogen in women.
Women also suffer from what is known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) when male hormones in the women are elevated.
This, according to Dr Kihongo can cause a woman to miss her menstrual periods, experience heavy periods, excess body and facial hair, get acne, pelvic pain and difficulty getting pregnant.
Dr Boaz mentions another hormone as Luteinizing Hormones, adding that it is processed in pituitary glands and is considered a gonadotrophic hormone because of its role in controlling the function of ovaries in females and tested in male
Yet, according to HEA Director, Dr Mkumbo again, women who have higher levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) experiences infertility because this hormone affects the reproductive systems directly.
How poor nutrition comes into play
According to Dr Mkumbo, an expert who tackles problems related to nutrition almost on daily basis, estrogen hormone is likely to cause abnormal changes in case a woman has bad eating habits.
These may include eating excessive amount of sugar and starch. This, he says, can cause a woman to start behaving like men, by developing hair in the upper lip, chest and chin.
“When it comes to menstrual health, a patient must see a doctor and sort out the matter right away but there is more to be done at a personal level,’’ he says.
“There is an option in choosing the right foods. Better nutrition boosts menstrual health,” he says.
According to him, the best food stuff that can help as preventive measures against the hormonal malady include: fish, nuts, oils, sunflowers, cash nuts , coconuts , almonds, any kind of meat, eggs, as they are very good for women and other in general.
“Women should eat fruits and avoiding making juice because it will be absorbed with sugar, also they should not eating chocolates, biscuits and cakes and making sure taking a lot vegetable and meat can serve the purpose. Fruits likes avocado, strawberry, cucumber, the fruits didn’t consume sugar are best food stuffs to go by and even you making juice is better to start making vegetable juice which is very important on your body.