Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year, New Blog

Okay, so this my little venture into blogland needs a facelift! I am currently barnstorming the blogosphere looking for role models. If I've left a comment in the past few weeks on your blog -- hi! It means you are doing something good!

Questions I am asking myself right now --

1. Will the whole Verizon is now Fairpoint switch screw up my blogger account (I guess my verizon email addresses disappear on 1/1/09)?
2. Should I keep this name? Is this where I am going? [Shudder as I type this...] What is my brand?
3. No matter what I end up doing, a blog editorial calendar is a must!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Eat Healthy at Thanksgiving

Happy Gimme Gimme! as my 3-year old daughter liked to say. I LOVE Thanksgiving and take so much pride and joy in cooking the annual meal for usually no fewer than a dozen people. Over the past few years. I've also used Thanksgiving as an opportunity to reach out to my hardcore margarine spreading, white bread loving relatives and show them the healthy goodness of eating a whole foods diet. And what other meal so perfectly showcases how yummy it is to eat an all-natural, organic diet? I've been scouring the web this month looking for a few new resources to email relatives who inevitably ask, what was that recipe? why was the bird free range? what is free range? I have a bunch of links to share. Here's a good first one. I would send this to an absolute novice to the whole foods scene. Chris Rosenbloom from the Atlanta Constitution gives a pretty good run down of the 5 healthiest foods to serve on Turkey Day: Cranberries, Pumpkin Pie, Sweet Potatoes, Turkey (triptophan!!!), and good ol' greens. His article can be found here. Martha Stewart's Classic Pumpkin Pie recipe can be found here.

Also included in this article is really good looking recipe for smothered greens. As Rachael Ray says, "Delish!"

Healthy recipe: Smothered Greens 5 (1-cup) servings

Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 50 minutes

2 pounds of greens (about 18 cups packed mustard, turnip, collard greens or kale or a mixture)

3 cups water

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 green onion (both white and green parts) chopped

1/4 pound smoked turkey breast, roughly chopped

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

A few drops of hot pepper sauce

Salt to taste (optional)

Wash the greens thoroughly in cool water, making sure to get rid of any sand or grit. Remove and discard the stems and dry the greens slightly with paper towels or a dish cloth. Tear the greens into bite-size pieces and set aside.

In a large pot over high heat, bring the water to a boil and add the garlic, green onion, turkey, onion, ginger, thyme, pepper, cloves and hot sauce. Once the mixture has come to a boil, add the greens. Stir to incorporate the seasoning and reduce the volume of greens, about 1 minute.

Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the greens are tender. Add salt, if desired, to taste. Before serving, discard the garlic.

—From: “Secrets of the Lean Plate Club” by Sally Squires (St. Martins Griffin, $14.95)

Per serving: 80 calories (percent calories from fat, 22), 9 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, less than 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 16 milligrams cholesterol, 375 milligrams of sodium

Nutritional Bonus Points: Greens are low in calories but packed in nutrients—one serving of this recipe provides 475 milligrams or about 10 percent of your need for potassium, which is important in controlling blood pressure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pregnancy Health in the News

Extra! Extra! Want to know how breaking prenatal health news and recently released medical studies impact your pregnancy? Hot off the presses, here's a rundown of today's top pregnancy headlines with tips for how cutting edge prenatal resea

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Flu Shots in Pregnancy Protect Newborn. Really?

Here's the article. Read the complete text here.

A pregnant woman who gets a flu shot passes protection on to her fetus that lessens the newborn’s likelihood of contracting the flu during the first months of life, researchers report in the Oct. 9 New England Journal of Medicine.

Although the vaccine has been shown to be safe, no randomized trial has evaluated the shot’s effectiveness in a clinical setting — until now.

“I think this will now make a difference,” says study coauthor Mark Steinhoff, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “If you want to protect the baby and be careful, maybe the vaccine is a way to do that. I think more women will ask for it,” he says.

Vaccinating pregnant women against influenza is approved and even recommended by U.S. medical authorities and by the World Health Organization, but few mothers-to-be get a shot.

Things that make you go hmmmm... Well, flu shots still contain mercury and let's see... Mercury containing fish? Don't eat. Silver amalgam dental fillings? Don't get them during pregnancy, says the FDA. Why? They contain mercury. So why, why, why should pregnant women get the flu shot when it contains mercury. Maybe in the risk-benfit analysis, it is worth the possibility of mercury toxicity, but then why not just address this in the study.

Wow, I really am turning into Deirdre Imus!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

O Magazine

My mom gave me a subscription to O Magazine as a Christmas present last year. As the months went by and the hefty-sized glossy would land -- clunk! -- in my mailbox, I admit to being less than thrilled. Smiling Oprah and all her peppy headlines just didn't do it for me. I don't think I even read the first seven issues I received and, now as I think about it, I have no idea where those ended up. But then, one night as I was giving the kids a bath, I sat next to the tub and cracked open the July issue. As I read, I had what Oprah calls an "Aha!" moment. I sat there getting splashed by the tsunami that is bathtime, but didn't feel a drop as I read the article about Eckhart Tolle. It was a Q and A interview between Oprah and ET. As soon as he described this one night where, depressed out of his mind and considering suicide, he thought, "when I am saying to myself, 'I am so depressed', who am I talking to? Who is the 'I' and who is the 'self'?"

It's almost like some kind of riddle out of Alice in Wonderland, but with that question I was hooked. Not so much on being a ET follower -- though I do plan on reading his book. I was hooked on O magazine because I suddenly realized that beneath the slickness and air brushing, this magazine is filled with so much that is just soooo relevant to my life. Thank you Mom!

I am writing this because I have browsed a few blogs where one blogger tries to live out all of Oprah's advice in one year and another where the blogger tries to systematically follow all the advice in O magazine. I'll post the links later as I am forgetting their urls at the moment. I guess I have been immune all these years to the mighty O, but as I read Oprah's magazine, I am falling in love with the deep wisdom and fun, practical spirit the pages contain.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic moment: watching the women's marathon

The last time I remember being this transfixed with the Olympics, it was 1984, the summer of Mary Lou Retton. '88, '92, '96, '00 (where were these even held?), and '04? Did not watch, except for the Atlanta bombing news from the 1996 Olympics. Well, it's 24 years post-Mary Lou and here I am barely moved from my couch over the past 14 days. Maybe its just clever marketing from NBC, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I am in full blown Olympic fever.

Lolo Jones, Nastia Lukein, Michael Phelps (of course!), synchronized diving, beach volleyball... This has become all I think about. But, it was watching one event that I had what I consider to be my own "Olympic moment". Here's what happened when I watched the women's marathon, run last week.

Have ou ever watched a 26-mile run in real time? I did last week as I lay in bed, my 2-year sleeping beside me. I thought for sure NBC would show the beginning of the race and then cut to Dalhouser and the Professor, Michael Phelps, Dana Torres, or some other more TV-friendly events. Except NBC didn't. I watched the beginning in Tiannemen Square. Saw the women start off in a tightly packed group, looking more like some kind of Shriner act than a group of determined racers. Off they ran, each with her two legs going and going. I could see the muscles ripple, but the faces were so relaxed. I could tell that for them, this was like breathing. And then an American was down! Gone! Just like that, a foot injury or cramp spelling disaster. She sat on the side of the road and cried. I don't think they ever interviewed her.

The women ran on, passing the Forbidden Palace and other landmarks. The announcers gave an informative travelogue about Beijing as the women ran relentlessly, on and on. A pretty British women was out in front for the first several miles. I don't remember her name, but the announcers didn't think very much of her chances. Paula Ratcliffe, the much beloved runner from the UK was a few paces behind the leader. I was told by the announcers that she had been sidelined by a leg fracture and not to expect much of her either -- she hadn't done much training. Still another woman, this one from Kenya, was near the front of the pack and even in the early miles, you could tell this runner was really pushing herself. The announcers thought it was an aberration for her because her marathon times were typically much slower. This bore itself out as she slipped from the front of the pack as the race went on.

At mile 11, the race suddenly shifted. This is the traditional breakout point in the race, I learned from the announcers. It's the point when the wheat begins to shift away from the shaft. And that's when I first saw her. The Romanian contestant came around from the right side of the pack and you could tell she was pushing it. She ran past Paula and the Kenyan, ran past the pretty blond Brit who had been in front for miles. And she kept running and running. It was bursting in action. As she began to hustle, other runners tried to follow suit, but following their own rules for the road, they let her get ahead. Probably figuring that this runner would eventually fall back -- the "chase pack" as they are called, would catch up.

I was amazed to see this physical principal in action. Here's a women doing something already that most of us can't (run a steady and relatively fast pace for 11 miles) and then she kicks it into even higher gear. And keeps it there. It was truly amazing.

The announcer seemed to realize that this Romanian might actually be the true leader and not just someone showboating for some international facetime. They must have had google in the control booth because we were soon informed that she had actually won a few notable races, and always did pretty well wherever she competed. And then they announced her age. 38. Wow, just wow.

It was then that I began to root for her. I watched her feet and studied her face for signs of fatigue. She just kept running steady, looking over her shoulder from time to time to see if anyone was close to being on her heels. I looked at her muscular frame and just kept thinking, She's 38! She's 38! Come on 38!

The Bird's Nest appeared on the horizon. She grabbed a water bottle and took a swig, stride unbroken. She started running faster, stronger. The chase pack started to tighten its grip. The two Chinese runners trying to close the gap.

She ran into the Bird's Nest and kicked it -- really kicked it -- out of nowhere around the track. She was about one lap around when the two Chinese runners entereded the track. And then it was over, she was across the finish line and wrapped in the Romanian flag, taking her victory lap. Paual Ratcliffe was soon in the Bird's Nest, painful to watch because she was obviously in pain. Paula didn't medal.

What I loved about the Romanian was that she kept running, even after she won. She ran around and around the track, Romanian flag cluctched in her hands, fanning out with the wind behind her. Romania. I'm sure not many people in the stands knew much about her home country or were from her home country to root her on. It didn't matter. She kept running, the biggest smile on her face. 38 and an Olympic gold medal champion. This transcends political boundary.

Nothing else I watched that night matched the intensity of the women's marathon. And this was in the middle of Phelps and gymnastics mania. The next morning I woke up and I think the effect of watching a 2-hour and 30-minute race in real time had a virtual reality effect on me. I rose actually thinking I could run a marathon. I went to the track for my usual morning walk and tried to tap into that. Could I run one lap? Two? Three?

Have to admit that I got a blister on my foot during lap one and couldn't run, but that feeling has stayed with me. I want to run. I want to run a marathon. I've watched one from beginning to end and know how it's done. Now I just have to do it!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Low levels of arsenic exposure linked to Type 2 diabetes

Here's something new on the Type 2 diabetes front. An analysis of government data is the first to link low-level arsenic exposure, possibly from drinking water, with Type 2 diabetes. It's a smallish study -- 788 adults' medical tests found a nearly fourfold increase in the risk of diabetes in people with low arsenic concentrations in their urine compared to people with even lower levels. Arsenic studies have been done outside the U.S. and have found this same connection to diabetes. Researchers from Johns Hopkins (authors of this study) are calling for a larger population study to see if results still bear out.

FYI (and something I didn't know before reading this article): Arsenic can get into drinking water naturally when minerals dissolve. It is also an industrial pollutant from coal burning and copper smelting. Utilities use filtration systems to get it out of drinking water. As filtration systems and/or wear out, more arsenic may enter drinking water.

I drink bottled spring water or sometimes water purified through reverse osmosis. I have no idea how much arsenic these contain. Off to google!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Estrogen Helps Women Battle, Prevent Schizophrenia

Australian researchers have revealed that estrogen (estradiol) helps women fight schizophrenia, according to a recently published study in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The Australian study included 102 women who were all of child-bearing age. All of the women also suffered from schizophrenia, known for delusions, hallucinations, etc.. Half the women were given an estrogen patch, while the other half received a placebo. After 28-days passed, the women who received the estrogen patch showed greater improvement in their symptoms. On top of that, it is believed that the estrogen patch can stop the development of the disease as well.

More about the study here...

What's interesting to me about this discovery is how one single hormone can have such a profound impact on such a serious illness. Whether it's estrogen alone -- or changes in other hormone levels brought about by an increase in circulating estrogen -- this study brings to the forefront how important hormonal health is to maintaining good mental health. Too often, depression and other mental illnesses are talked about in terms of "brain chemistry". This term seems to obfuscate the hormonal connection -- making people think that somehow their brains are being run by a different set of principles from the rest of the body. Not true! Balanced hormone levels provide the foundation for good health -- mind, body, and soul.

I'm also wondering about the broader implications for this study. What if instead of applying an estrogen patch, women in the study had their diets changed to include soy, yam, and other estrogen containing foods? Would this work as well?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Regular exercise cuts breast cancer risk for perimenopausal women

Get active! New research reveals that girls and women (12-35) who exercise regularly have a substantially lower risk of breast cancer before menopause compared to those who are less active.

In the largest (65,000 women) and most detailed analysis of how exercise impacts premenopausal breast cancer rates, the study found that those who were physically active had a 23 per cent lower risk of breast cancer before menopause. In particular, high levels of physical activity from ages 12 to 22 contributed most strongly to the lower breast cancer risk.

The study was conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Harvard University in Boston.

For the complete article, click here.

HRT and cancer risk

Breast cancer and HRT news clip from January 2008. Bottom line: Women on HRT (combined estrogen/prog) are 300X more likely to develop cancer in the breast lobes (a more rare variety that develops deeper within the breast).

Nourishing Traditions

I seem to be going diet book crazy this month, but besides reading the Anti-Estrogenic Diet book (see other post), I am also diving into Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, a hefty tome that's part cookbook, part expose about the evils of the food industry and the need for people to return to the simpler, traditional foods of our predecessors. Here's the publisher's description...

A full-spectrum nutritional cookbook with a startling message--animal fats and cholesterol are vital factors in the human diet, necessary for reproduction and normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels. Includes information on how to prepare grains, health benefits of bone broths and enzyme-rich lacto-fermented foods.

From the Back Cover
The Diet Dictocrats don't want you to know that...

Your body needs old-fashioned animal fats New-fangled polyunsaturated oils can be bad for you Modern whole grain products can cause health problems Traditional sauces promote digestion and assimilation Modern food processing denatures our foods but Ancient preservation methods actually increase nutrients in fruits, nuts vegetables, meats and milk products!

At last a successful challenge to Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats!

Recalling the culinary customs of our ancestors, and looking ahead to a future of robust good health for young and old, Nourishing Traditions offers modern families a fascinating guide to wise food choices and proper preparation techniques. Sally Fallon unites the wisdom of the ancients with the latest independent and accurate scientific research in over 700 delicious recipes that will please both exacting gourmets and busy parents.

The central tenant of Nourishing Traditions, in very simple terms is `Eat the way your great grandparents ate'. Some of the more important details are:

1. Avoid processed fats, starches, sugars, and proteins. They are not of no value. They are unhealthy.
2. Eat animal protein and their accompanying fats.
3. Eat whole grain products.
4. Eat foods prepared in such a way that avoids loosing important nutrients, especially raw and lacto-fermented foods.

There are lots of great recipes. I can personally vouch for the yogurt muffins and lacto fermented salsa -- they were both really good and pretty easy to make. The book has left me intrigued to learn more about Sally Fallon. Here's a video I dug up where she talks more about her nutritional research and advice:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anti-Estrogenic Diet

I've been intrigued about the topic of estrogen dominance every since last fall when I bought a copy of Women's World Magazine with the screaming headline, "Is too much estrogen making you fat?". The article pointed out that most of us (both men and women) are awash in excess estrogen from pesticides and chemical residues in the foods we eat (which mimic estrogen in our bodies). Excess estrogen can come from eating meats and milk with high levels of hormones. Even our own body fat produces a form of estrogen. When you have too much estrogen, it throws the body into imbalance, triggers weight gain, and increases fat deposition (especially belly fat). The article was based on diet tips from Ori Hofmekkler, a health writer of many years for men's magazines and author of the book, The Anti-Estrogenic Diet. The book itself makes for some dry reading, but his ideas are interesting. Basically, it boils down to eating foods which help rid the body of excess estrogen (lots of organic leafy greens, berries, nuts, organic meats and dairy such as yogurt). This week I'm trying to follow some of his eating plans and I have to say I feel a bit more energetic than I have in a few weeks. I'll post more about the specifics about what I've eaten -- and the results. In the meantime, here's a link to Ori's book:
Ant-Estrogenic Diet

and here's a link to Women to Women's article about estrogen dominance (Ori basically makes the same points, but I like this article because it's tailored to women's health):
Estrogen Dominance: Is it real?

Sleep Problems and Menopause?

It’s not just aging that causes sleep problems for women; hormones are partly to blame.

According to research from the Rush University Medical Center, approximately 16 percent of postmenopausal women say they have trouble falling asleep. Forty-one percent report waking up several times during the night.

The study looked at women from several ethnic groups. Caucasians were more likely to have trouble staying asleep. Hispanic women were least likely to wake up repeatedly. Among Hispanic, Caucasian, African American and Japanese women, Chinese women were more likely to report waking up earlier than planned.

The research revealed that changing hormones were partly to blame. Drops in levels of estradiol, the major form of estrogen, were associated with falling and staying asleep. While women on hormone therapy had less trouble falling asleep and didn’t wake up as often, it did not influence hot flashes, cold and night sweats.

“Although we found some evidence that hormonal therapy could benefit these menopausal sleep related symptoms, this was not a consistent finding across all groups compared,” said Dr. Howard Kravitz, one of the principal investigators. “So the role for this particular treatment needs more study.”

Women who became menopausal because of surgery and were not on hormone therapy were most likely to have these sleep issues.

Some links to check out on this topic: As I sit here unable to sleep, here are some articles I found that offer some pretty useful things to try if your sleep is being interfered with:

Insomnia: Reset your inner clock naturally -- and finally get some sleep!

Night sweats and hot flashes -- uncovering the reasons why it's difficult to sleep!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In Canada: Class Action Lawsuit Against Wyeth?

As most of us already know, hormone replace therapy was widely prescribed to women across North America to ease symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and night sweats. A major study published in 2002 linked the drugs to higher rates of heart attack, stroke and cancer in some cases, however, the drugs remain on the market.

Hundreds of Canadian women who were prescribed Wyeth-made Premarin and Premplus are attempting to initiate a class-action lawsuit against the drug maker. The plaintiffs claim that long-term use led to their development of breast cancer. The allegations have not been proven in a court, but the plaintiffs just jumped over one hurdle when a Vancouver judge refused the drug maker's request to dismiss the case because Wyeth is an American company (it also has an international division). A few more steps must be cleared before the class action filings can take place, but the hope is that any woman in Canada affected by Premarin or Premplus can take part. When/if proceedings actually begin, it will be interesting to see the evidence both sides present.

Wyeth faces thousands of similar lawsuits in the United States and last year was ordered to pay $134.5 million by a jury in Reno, Nevada, to three women who said the drugs caused their breast cancer. According to the Canadian report, there have been 10 trials so far in the United States; eight of them have resulted in verdicts in favour of the plaintiffs.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Women's Health, Hormones, Sun & Postpartum Depression

About 12 minutes long, this clip is a good primer for women who want basic information about hormonal health (particularly about postpartum depression -- towards the end of the video).

Test Your Menopause I.Q.

From developments at Wyeth (pending lawsuit in Canada and a new menopause drug -- Pristiq-- being readied to enter the market), recently released research studies about women and HRT (fewer are taking it), and the general confusing din about "HRT: good or bad?", I've decided to go back to basics... What is going on inside my own body? How can I use the resources I already have (my diet and nutritional choices, my ability to go outside and exercise, etc.) to make myself feel more in balance and ready for whatever changes come as I age? How can I keep my mind-set positive and upbeat -- and does state of mind really matter?

If you, too, need to be recentered in the midst of all this swirling confusion, here's a enlightening Test Your Menopause I.Q. quiz from Women to Women. There are so many myths and misunderstandings floating around out there about menopause, which ones are you still believing?

B.C. court clears path for HRT class-action suit

Oh, Canada! In British Columbia, a judge has just cleared the way for a class action lawsuit against Wyeth-Ayerst International. The lawsuit is being filed after hundreds of B.C. women claim they got breast cancer from taking the Wyeth-manufactured drugs Premarin and Premplus.

Officially, the lawsuit has one plaintiff so far. Dianna Stanway is the representative plaintiff in the court action that first must be certified by the court as a class action, allowing the other women to join.

Stanway alleges she got breast cancer after taking Premarin.

The drug's maker, Wyeth-Ayerst International, asked the court to dismiss the legal action, saying the Canadian women didn't have jurisdiction to sue the American firm.

But Justice Miriam Gropper refused to release the international firm from responsibility.

"I find that the U.S. defendants' admitted engagement in activities in relation to the Canadian companies and to consumers in Canada is sufficient to establish a real and substantial connection,'' she said in a written ruling released Monday.

More from CTV.ca here

Exercise as a Tonic for Aging

Skimming the headlines, this might seem like yet another exhortation for older Americans to be more active. No news there, Americans of all ages have grown steadily more sedentary over the past few decades. The New York Times, however, manages to uncover some new facts and recommendations specifically for the aging boomer crowd. What's the scoop? Aerobics is still in, but its time to add weight training and strengthening, stretching, and balancing activities (yoga) to reap the full benefits of physical fitness. More from the Times here.

Will Women Give Hormone Maker a Second Chance?

"Can Wyeth win back the 40 million Premarin and Prempro users it's lost since 2002 -- along with $1 billion a year in profits -- with a new menopause drug? Or will the once-bitten women who have filed more than 5,000 lawsuits claiming the hormones gave them cancer feel fooled twice?" asks Martha Rosenberg at AlterNet.org, in this look at Wyeth's hope of marketing Pristiq as the first nonhormonal treatment for menopause symptoms. Basically, instead of synthetic hormones, now they're pushing anti-depressants as the ultimate cure for hot flashes.

File this one under, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again".

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Older Women Less Likely to Use HRT

According to a recent study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, fewer older women in Canada are using hormone-replacement therapies (HRT) to treat symptoms of menopause, turning instead to natural remedies. As reported in the Vancouver Sun and other media outlets, researchers have found that only five per cent of women in five provinces who are 65 years and older use hormone-replacement therapies -- a drop from 14 per cent six years ago (when a report found the risks of using the menopause therapies outweigh the benefits).
From the Vancouver Sun piece, here's some HRT background and the specific stats contained in the study:

The first reports that estrogen-only hormone-replacement treatment could put women at higher risk of endometrial cancer began to emerge in the 1970s, leading to the development of combination therapies containing both progestin and estrogen hormones. Later studies, such as the 2002 Women's Health Initiative study, then uncovered important additional risks with the combination therapy, such as higher chances of developing coronary heart disease and stroke.

In Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the use of hormone-replacement therapies declined each year between 2001-2002 and 2006-2007. The highest average annual rate of decline, 30 per cent, occurred in the two-year period after the publication of the Women's Health Initiative.

My gut reaction to this news? Bravo to those women reviewing the evidence, making choices, and following their own path healthy aging, despite attempts by the pharmaceutical industry to have them fall in lock-step with the drumbeat of HRT. In increasing numbers, we are awakening.

One note: The article indicates that many of the women declining HRT turn to natural methods of menopausal symptom relief instead. I would love to see some follow-up as to what these natural methods are -- and what are the results? Are most, all, some of the women taking BHRT (bioidenticals) or something else?
For those new to this topic of "HRT: good or bad?", here are some links to a few older posts written by Sue that go into this topic -- as well as some sites I've found helpful in my own quest for hormonal balance...

From My Menopause Blog
Breast Cancer and HRT: As HRT use falls, so do breast cancer rates.
Review of The New Menopause Book: Sue points out this book -- written by someone trained in both Eastern and Western medicine -- as a good starting point for women who want to understand the complexities of HRT research. I agree- it's a great book!

My own recommendation:
Womentowomen.com: Comprehensive women's health site for natural approaches to menopausal support. Two must-read articles, especially for those just beginning to consider the possibilities, include Perspectives on HRT Risk and Test Your Menopause I.Q.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bursting for Beginners

Last month I wrote a bit about "bursting", the theory that frequent short bursts of exercise provide the body with as many -- if not more -- benefits as a longer workout. I was referring to the "Common Health Myths" article on WomentoWomen.com -- the first place where I read about this type of exercise. Well, ever since then, I seem to have read about bursting in almost every checkout aisle magazine and women's health website I've visited! Seems like this idea is really starting to catch on. From one magazine article, here is an easy way to give your day a "burst" of energizing exercise:

1. Walk at an easy pace for 5 minutes.
2. Go fast for 15 seconds by increasing speed and pumping arms. Do this on a hill or incline to achieve maximum intensity. As you become accustomed to bursting, try to stretch the fast power walk to a full minute.
3. Slow down -- but don't stop -- for 30-60 seconds.
4. Keep alternating between fast and slow intervals.
5. Exercise for a total of 20-30 minutes. Shoot for exercising 3-5 days per week. Add in abdominal exercises for a total body strengthener!

Mind/Body Connection: Depression causes Type II Diabetes?

Fresh off the wires, the revelation of a mind-body connection linking two of the most common diseases 21st century men and women face: depression and Type II diabetes. According to study reported by Reuters Health news, people with depression have a higher than normal risk of developing the most common form of diabetes. What's more, the study indicated that the relationship between type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease closely linked to obesity and sedentary lifestyle, may be a bit like a two-way highway. Not only can diabetes lead to depression, as has been well established, but depression can also lead to diabetes.that sheds light on the interplay between the two conditions.

Is stress our big problem?

In a recent article from the Orlando Sentinetal, an experienced neurosurgeon reports that almost 75% of all his patients develop physical problems due to mental stress. Here's more on the surgeon's mind-body observations...

FORT WAYNE, Ind. - Neurosurgeon Rudy Kachmann understands how the brain works, how billions of nerve cells send signals to the body, coordinating movement, sensation and speech. He has removed tumors from the brain, probed deeply into structures where electrical misfiring occurs and uncovered hidden anomalies that can burst and cause sudden death.

But Kachmann, 71, of Fort Wayne, Ind., says the longer he engages in the art and science of medicine the more he recognizes the connection between emotions and disease. "Being a surgeon for 40 years has taught me that 70 to 75 percent of what people see a physician for is stress-related," he says.

Helping people understand the connection between mind and body has culminated in the Kachmann Mind Body Institute, inside Fort Wayne's Lutheran Hospital. The hospital does not operate the institute but rents the space to Kachmann, who is its medical director.

"I teach mind-body medicine," Kachmann says. "I tell patients I'm their coach."

More here...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Must-Do List for Healthy Aging

Many recent articles and news reports have recently featured tips on how to live to be 100+. Over at the Natural Holistic Health Blog, aging tips are boiled down into succinct bullet points. Here are a few below, the rest can be read here. I suspect this is a general list intended for both males and females.

Must-Do List for Healthy Aging

Calcium - (1,200 mg daily)
  • Protects bone mass
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves Insulin’s effectiveness at processing blood sugar

Chromium - (200 mcg daily)

  • Helps the body process blood sugar
  • Lowers Cholesterol
  • Aids weight loss efforts

Multivitamin/ mineral - (daily)

  • Prevents vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Reduces the risk of several diseases, including Heart Disease and osteoporosis

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Should women really “have no fears” about using HRT?

Wendy at Menopause - the Blog posted a great summary of what went down at the recent Global Summit on Women's Health. As you've probably already read or heard in the news, attendees at the health conference deemed HRT to be safe for perimenopausal women. But, as Wendy so astutely points out, the Global Summit meeting of experts was held “with the assistance of unrestricted educational grants” received from three pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market hormones; Wyeth, Bayer-Schering and Novo Nordisk Femcare.

Says Wendy, "This diminishes, in my view, the value and integrity of the panel’s recommendations and they unfortunately missed an opportunity to move the HRT debate forward despite the research, analysis and debate that took place."

Visit Menopause the Blog for the entire entry and to leave your comments to Wendy's provocative questions about the relationship between pharmaceutical sponsorship and medical integrity. It's an important point to ponder.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Mediterranean diet may also help stop diabetes

From Yahoo Health News: A Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables -- already known to protect against heart disease -- also appears to help ward off diabetes, Spanish researchers said on Friday.

The study published in the British Medical Journal showed that people who stuck closely to the diet were 83 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who did not.

Common Myths about Women's Health -- Part II

Think weight gain is an inevitable part of aging? Figure exercise is a waste of time if you can’t devote an entire hour to physical activity? Convinced statin drugs are the only way to reduce cholesterol levels? Based on an article by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP at Women to Women, here’s how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to several common myths about women’s health -- Part II!

The older you get, the less sleep you need.
Fact: After about the age of 50, women spend less time in deep REM sleep and spend more time in stage I and II (lighter sleep). This doesn't necessarily mean we need less sleep, but it does mean that we are definitely more prone to waking up due to light, noise, night sweats, and other sleep disruptors. To make sure you are getting maximum rest and not just sleeping less because outside factors are keeping you up, take special care to create a relaxing and quiet sleep environment, exercise earlier in the day, and refrain from eating just before bedtime. Here are some special tips if you suffer from insomnia.

Statin drugs are the best way to control high cholesterol levels.
Depending on your cholesterol levels and family and personal health history, you most likely can achieve an improved lipid profile through natural means. Start with your diet and eliminate processed and refined ingredients (including trans fats, fat “substitutes”, high fructose corn syrup and other chemicals), limiting carbohydrates, eating fresh whole foods from the source as much as possible, and getting adequate amounts of healthy fat. Add in exercise and you've got the recipe for reduced LDL cholesterol levels. Also, two supplements that are known to help with cholesterol levels are red yeast and fish oil. Here's more from Women to Women on the Truth About Cholesterol and Fat.

Myth: You need to exercise 30–60 minutes per day to have any impact on health.
Fact: Good news for the gym-phobic, this myth is not true
. For health benefits without a lot of time expenditure, try “bursting”. This exercise method has you bring your body to an extreme quickly and repeatedly — to the point where you’re breathing so heavily, you might not be able to talk. If you exercise in bursts, you may not require more than 20 minutes three to four times a week to improve your health. Work your way to bursting for one minute (run, bike, and some other intense exercise) and then try to "burst" 3 or 4 times during a 20 minute workout. Studies show that this form of exercise might actually be better at warding off osteoporosis. More on bursting.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Common Women's Health Myths -- Fact or Fiction? Part I

Think weight gain is an inevitable part of aging? Figure exercise is a waste of time if you can’t devote an entire hour to physical activity? Convinced statin drugs are the only way to reduce cholesterol levels? Based on an article by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP at Women to Women, here’s how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to several common myths about women’s health.

Myth: Menopause results in permanent weight gain
Fact: You might gain weight, but it's probably only temporary.
As estrogen levels begin to drop during perimenopause and menopause, the body relies on fat cells to produce low levels of the hormone. This estrogen helps protect your body from the abrupt hormonal transitions of menopause (think of it as softening the landing of free falling estrogen levels). During this time your body might store more fat (and make it more difficult to lose fat). Once the body has adjusted to less estrogen, oftentimes weight goes down again.

Myth: Stress makes you gain weight -- especially during menopause.
Fact: True!
Adrenal glands factors into menopausal weight gain. As hormone production in the ovaries begins to wind down during perimenopause and menopause, the adrenals contribute small amounts of estrogen and other sex hormones to help ease the transition. If you are under chronic stress (and these days, who isn’t?), the adrenals use all their time and energy to produce more and more cortisol, leaving less reserve for manufacturing sex hormones. Over time, this “cortisol dominance” leads to deposition of fat in the abdominal area and a hormonal imbalance which will lead to more weight gain, fat storage, and increased menopausal symptoms.

The key to successful weight management during menopause is to reduce stress and follow a healthy diet. This will give your body the best opportunity to function normally and navigate its own way through menopausal changes.

Myth: If you eat a low-fat, low-calorie diet, you will lose weight.
Fact: You might lose in the short-term, but you'll probably end up gaining it all back -- and then some!
Low-fat, low-calorie diets will trigger your body to store fat because it thinks it is experiencing famine. Also, low-fat, low-calorie diets set the stage for hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, food cravings, and binges. Yuck! What’s the best diet to follow for weight loss? According to this article, think Mediterranean (lots of veggies, heart healthy oils, not a lot of processed carbs) and you can’t go wrong!

More myths coming up shortly in my next post!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A peek at recent health and fitness books, magazines and blogs

What I'm reading -- books, magazines, and blogs -- this month...

Diet Book

Maintaining your body at peak performance is the driving force behind The Detox Strategy -- Vibrant Health in Five Easy Steps (The Idea Network Inc., $26), by New York Times bestselling author Brenda Watson. She's an alternative health-care expert who has been teaching people about cleansing, detoxification and digestive care for 20 years. She writes about the signs and symptoms of toxicity and gives tips and information about how to renew your life and rejuvenate your body and mind. Watson will tell you about hidden toxins in everything from your mattress and toothpaste to your nonstick pans and bottled water.

Magazine Alert

Put up the June issue of Women's Health. It's loaded with interesting info such as ... People who walked 3 to 8.7 miles per week cut their chances of needing medication for diabetes by 23 percent, compared to those who logged less than 3 miles. One long weekly walk of 3.7 to 5 miles is key -- that walk dropped participants' need for cholesterol meds by 33 percent and blood pressure meds by 28 percent over those who stopped at 2.5 miles. This issue also has 100 time-saving Web sites, super-healthful salads and tips on faster weight loss. There is so much packed in this month. I read the issue while waiting for dinner to finish cooking and let almost everything burn in the process!

Blogs I'm Reading (May):

My Menopause Blog
-- Get well, Sue! Sue Richards, everyone's favorite meno-blogger is also battling Parkinson's Disease. She has a great mind-set and is staying the course with a holistic approach to healing. She hasn't posted in a few weeks, but she's still in my thoughts a lot. Her archives are a treasure trove of menopause info and perspective.

Magnolia Diaries -- Magnolia is a witty, warm, and fun-loving mom who writes about menopause, health issues, life, and whatever else crosses her mind! I especially like her reading recommendations (hint, she's an Anne LaMott fan, too!).

About's Menopause Blog: I knew About has a women's health blog, but I just discovered the menopause blog. Lots of great info, including a new blog about vitamin D (if you've ready any of my other blog entries, you know this is one of my favorite topics!)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Low Vitamin D Tied to Depression in Older Adults

Another vitamin-D related study released today linking low levels of vitamin D with an increased the risk of depression in older adults. One the causes of vitamin-D deficiency is again suspected to be not enough exposure to the sun. It also brings to light the relationship between vitamin-D deficiency, hormonal imbalance, and psychiatric illnesses.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Vitamin D and Breast Cancer

From Yahoo Health News comes an article covering a new report on vitamin D and breast cancer...

Breast cancer patients with low levels of vitamin D were much more likely to die of the disease or have it spread than patients getting enough of the nutrient, a Canadian study found. Only 24 percent of women in the study had sufficient blood levels of D at the time they were first diagnosed with breast cancer. Those who were deficient were nearly twice as likely to have their cancer recur or spread over the next 10 years, and 73 percent more likely to die of the disease.

Here's my blog post from last month about vitamin D and overall health, Let the Sunshine In!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Specific Soy Isoflavone Found Effective for Menopause Relief

For more on soy's benefits during menopause:

Nutritional and health benefits of soy — what’s in a bean?

Giving Menopause a Workout

An article in the Denver Post today discusses the benefits of exercise for menopausal women:

It is frustrating to be confronted with the seeming inevitability of menopausal weight gain, but daily exercise can do more than burn calories: It helps protect women from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and other disorders. These conditions rise dramatically with the reduction of heart- and bone-protecting estrogen among postmenopausal women. Consistent physical activity and exercise become crucial. Good bone health is supported by resistance training (in the form of weightlifting, taking power yoga, or Pilates) two to three times per week, and by weight-bearing aerobic activity (walking, jogging, and dancing) most days of the week.

The heart responds to aerobic activity in general and according to Bryan L. Haddock, who has done research at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas, cardiorespiratory fitness can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women regardless of whether they used hormone replacement therapy.

Also listed were several workout options for women of varying ability levels.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Coq au Cox-3

I've spent the day obsessing over how to increase my family's intake of cox-3 inhibiting foods (see previous post) and came up with this dish for dinner. I've noted ingredients known to contain cox-3 inhibitors and/or are foods with a known anti-inflammatory effect.

Coq au Cox-3

1 pound chicken, cut into pieces
1 onion, diced (rich in quercitin, an antioxidant)
3 cloves garlic, minced (antioxidants)
1 large piece of ginger, grated (about 1/4 cup) (antioxidants)
1 zucchini, sliced (beta- carotene found in zucchini has anti-inflammatory properties)
1 yellow squash, sliced (vitamin C in summer squash is an anti-inflammatory)
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped (I've read that vitamin C and folate make them anti-inflammatory, yet my husband's naturopath told him to avoid tomatoes because they belong to the nightshade family -- which are inflammatory. Need to look into this a bit)
1 cup coconut milk (okay, so this was the one ingredient of questionable nutritional value, but it tasted good)
At least 2 tbsp curry powder (Cox-3 blocker)
At least 2 tbsp turmeric (Cox-3 blocker)
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cinnamon (Blood glucose control)
2 tbsp olive oil (antioxidant)
salt and pepper

Directions: In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil and saute onion and garlic until tender. Add chicken, curry, turmeric, chili, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt and continue to saute; flip chicken pieces to cook each side. After 7 minutes, add zucchini, squash, and tomatoes. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour into a casserole dish. Stir in coconut milk and add more spices, if desired. Place in 325 degree oven and let cook for 2-3 hours or until chicken is tender enough to fall off the bones. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Serves 3-4 people.

This dinner was met with praise by all, including a picky 5-year old who claimed the chicken tasted like hot dogs. Sure enough, the Organic hot dogs we buy do list turmeric as ingredient for coloring.

Natural Sources for Cox-2 Inhibitors

Following up on my previous post about aspirin therapy reducing breast cancer risk, turns out there are several herbs and other foods that also contain a similar anti-inflammatory, cox-2 blocking benefit (see previous entry more on Cox-2). Edible source of cox-2 inhibitors include:

-- Red grapes: The Cox-2 inhibitor known as resveratrol is produced in the skin of red grapes, where it protects against oxidation and fungal infections. Resveratrol is found in grape juice and red wine; red Bordeaux and French Cabernets contain a particularly high concentration of the compound.

Resveratrol appears to help protect against cancer in at least three ways: It has anti-inflammatory effects, it's a powerful antioxidant, and it may prevent cancer cells from progressing to the next stage. Supplements provide about 600 mcg of resveratrol, the amount found in a glass of red wine.

-- Rosemary: This common spice also contains strong Cox-2 inhibitors. Rosemary can be used as a seasoning. It can also be consumed as a tea: Use 1 tsp. dried leaves per cup of hot water; steep for 15 minutes.

-- Turmeric and curcumin (spices found in curries and sometimes chili) contain cox-2 inhibitors.

-- Green Tea: Green tea has also been shown to inhibit the COX-2 enzyme, and it has strong antioxidant effects as well. Several population studies have indicated that green tea possesses powerful anticancer effects. Try drinking green tea daily.

-- Bee Propolis: the sticky resin collected by bees from pines and other trees, is "one of the most potent natural COX-2 inhibitors," according to Dr. Gaynor, director of medical oncology at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center in New York. I like the brand Really Raw Honey because it has a layer of propolis -- "cappings" -- at the top of every jar. If you don't want to eat it, you can buy bee propolis (typically sold as 500 mg capsules) at almost any health food store.

Is it the medicine cabinet versus the spice rack when it comes to reducing cancer risk? It can be difficult to weigh the pros and cons between pharmaceutical treatment and a natural course for health. Bottom line, everyone benefits from a healthy diet including the foods listed above. For more on inflammation and women's health, here's an article from WomentoWomen.com addressing this topic.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Aspirin Reduces Breast Cancer Risk?

Yes it does, according to a study published in the latest issue of the journal, Breast Cancer Research. In a long-term study of 127,000 women, those who took a daily asporin were 16% less likely to develop estrogen-receptive breast cancer. Here's a quote from the article:

Estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer accounts for some 75 percent of all breast cancers, experts say. Women who take an aspirin each day may reduce their risk of developing this most common type of breast cancer by 16 percent, according to the results of a large study. While aspirin reduced the risk of this form of breast malignancy, other painkillers did not, the U.S. team found.

The finding could have important implications for cancer prevention, Gretchen Gierach of the National Cancer Institute says, but a lot more work is needed to see if the effect is real. Moreover, she believes that it is still too early to recommend that women start taking aspirin to prevent breast malignancy.

"This is an exciting implication, if it's true," Gierach said. "But we need further clarity from other studies."


One expert noted that chronic aspirin use can have serious consequences and should not be used for cancer prevention.

"The American Cancer Society does not recommend using aspirin for cancer prevention because aspirin can cause serious gastrointestinal bleeding," said Eric J. Jacobs, Strategic Director of Pharmacoepidemiology in the department of epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society.

How does aspirin therapy work? Aspirin is part of a drug class nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Aspirin block two enzymes, cox-1 and cox-2. Cox-2 promotes cell growth and the development of blood vessels in tumors, and it is involved in increased estrogen production in breast tissue. Cox-1 protects the lining of the stomach, initiates blood clotting, and regulates blood flow to the kidneys. So while blocking cox-2 is good news for stopping cancer cell growth and increased estrogen tissue, by blocking the enzyme that protects the stomach lining, it can wreak havoc with the GI tract.

This study is encouraging, but also leaves me wondering... Do any foods or herbs also contain this same cox-2 blocking effect (and without the drawback of cox-1 blocking)? Let me see what I can find...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Get Moving!

As part of your plan to finally shed those excess pounds, you've been on a exercise regime since New Year's -- and this time you're actually sticking with it. Think you have to reach your ideal weight before reaping the benefits of stepped up physical activity? Even if the scale shows that you have a ways to go before reaching your weight loss goal, all that sweating is already paying big rewards to your health. Researchers have recently found that regular exercise cuts the risk of heart disease in overweight and obese men and women. Hallelujah, finally a little good news! Though the study is quick to point out that exercise REDUCES the risk for heart disease and does not eliminate the risk. So, keep hitting the gym, but feel a little bit of wind at your back now that you know you are already getting better, no matter what the scales says today.

Here's the link to the Washington Post article on this topic: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/29/AR2008042901539.html

HRT and Stroke Risk

Another new HRT study -- this one finds middle-aged women who take hormone replacement therapy to ease menopausal symptoms increase their risk of stroke.

Here's the scoop... According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, the overall risk of stroke is low for women in their early 50s just entering menopause and the heightened risk may be minimal if they follow recommendations to take lower doses of the hormones for the shortest possible time.

Using data from 121,700 female nurses participating in the Nurses' Health Study, which began in 1976, researchers found women taking estrogen had a 39 percent increased risk of stroke compared to women who did not take the hormone.

Here's more from the Reuters article:

Women taking an estrogen-progestin combination to protect against ovarian cancer had a 27 percent higher risk of stroke.

There were 360 strokes among women who did not take hormone therapy and 414 strokes among those who did.

The percentage increase in stroke risk was similar for women regardless of whether they were in their early 50s and newly menopausal, or older. But because the starting point for stroke risk among the younger women was lower -- 3.8 strokes per 10,000 women per year -- the percentage increase represented fewer additional cases of stroke.

"It added to up to two more cases of stroke per 10,000 women per year taking hormone therapy," Dr. JoAnn Manson of Harvard Medical School, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.
The numbers referenced in this study might not be a clincher for anti-HRT folks (or pro-HRT depending on how you break it down), but once again I'm left wondering what kind of diet/exercise regime the women not taking HRT followed. I know the nurses' study is a following study -- researchers check in with the women from time to time, but I'm not sure if a specific diet is prescribed for all participants to follow. It seems like no small thing to control the study for dietary intake.

Here's the study I would like to see... women who choose to take HRT vs. women who follow a holistic program of dietary change/exercise/nutritional supplementation (a la the WomentoWomen.com program). Let's see how these populations match in terms of stroke risk, cancer rates, etc. and then maybe some important decisions about HRT and its effectiveness/risk will be revealed once and for all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Grape Seed the New Star of the Oil Universe?

Olive, Cod Liver, Flax, Unrefined Coconut, and now... Grape Seed? Buzzing around the internet are lots of reports touting the benefits of grade seed oil. Here are a few noteworthy claims:

* Grape seed oil is high in procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs); the same antioxidants found in berries, green and black teas, and red wine. According to some experts, PCOs are more powerful antioxidants than vitamins C and E. In fact, berries, green and black teas and red wine are known for their health-giving properties. Red wine has even been touted as the reason some Europeans who drink wine daily – the French, for example - are generally healthier than Americans.

* Grape seed oil is also rich in essential and non-essential fatty acids: Linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, a-linoleic acid, and palmitoleic acid – all of which are vital to good overall health and healthy skin.

* Studies on grape seed oil have also found it to lower low density lipoproteins (LDL), the bad cholesterol, and raise high density lipoproteins (HDL), the good cholesterol.

Eating Grape Seed Oil: I've found grape seed oil at Market Basket (store label). It costs about the same as olive oil and I use it mainly as a salad oil. It's taste is very light, almost like vegetable oil. I mix it with balsamic vinegar for a easy-to-make vinaigrette.

Using Grape Seed Oil as a Skin Care Product: In ancient times, women in France and Italy used the filtered by-products of wine-making on their skin although they had no idea why they were beneficial. Now we know – it’s the oil in the seeds. Add grape seed oil to your routine, and you’re sure to notice the difference. Grape seed oil is readily absorbed through the skin instead of simply sitting on it.

Try this skin masque made with grape seed oil: Mix grape seed oil with egg whites, beaten to meringue consistency, smooth on and relax for 15 or 20 minutes before washing off. You can also smooth a little grape seed oil around the eyes, mouth and other areas that tend to wrinkle. It is basically odorless.

Living Earth Day Every Day

Here's what I love about Earth Day -- it's a beautiful spring day celebrating the amazing life-giving power and beauty of Mother Earth and at the same time it's a chance for all of us to think differently about our problems, choices, and available solutions to the world's environmental problems. Instead of passively reading articles or watching news programs listing the environmental ills of the world, communities everywhere are busy planting vegetable gardens, recycling, making the switch to cloth shopping bags, and educating others about simple ways we can all live in harmony with a better cared for environment.

In many ways, there are striking similarities between holistic health and Earth Day. In my town, there was an Earth Day celebration in downtown with educational booths set up explaining different environmental causes and concerns. Some were about big issues like global warming, pollution and landfills -- with commonsense solutions that even the average person could take part in. Many of the booths were dedicated to how members of the community could get out in nature and enjoy this very environment that we're all so concerned about.

Holistic health asks you look at every aspect of your life when it comes to assessing wellness and planning for a healthy future. What do you eat? How do you feel -- emotionally and spiritually? Are there any acute health problems you are currently facing and if so, what's the most natural, unobstrusive, and effective way to solve these problems? What role do you play in creating a sense of wellness in your life? Aren't these the same basic questions we ask about the environment, just tailored to fit the human body?

If you attended an Earth Day celebration yesterday or over the weekend, maybe you started thinking more about your role in the environment and the steps you can take to make sure you are doing your part to keep the world healthy. Apply these same principles to your own life. What's good for the environment is good for your body too! Keep out the toxins by using "green cleaning supplies" or sticking with a simple solution of vinegar and water for most household cleaning jobs (add lemon essential oil for a fresh aroma), use Kleen Kanteen or glass or stainless steel bottles instead of plastic for drinking water (avoid the nasty chemicals in plastic water bottles AND save landfill space), drive a Hybrid car to breath in less smoggy pollution -- and save lots of dough on gas! Eat more organic food, especially from local small farms -- good for your body and good for your environment and the local economy.

There are an endless number of possibilities for combing "green living" with a holistic view on health. Just like the inseparable connection between mind, body, and spirit, there's also an unbreakable, symbiotic bond between man and earth. Live in harmony with yourself and nature.

Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Breast Cancer a Black and White Issue?

I read an article today that related the news that breast cancer rates among white women have dropped considerably since 2002 (the year news broke linking HRT with breast cancer and heart disease). While this is good news overall and definitely further evidence for why NOT to treat menopausal symptoms with HRT, women in other ethnic groups looked at in this study have not seen the same dramatic lowering of breast cancer rates. This is especially true among African American women.

Though the researchers did not theorize why African American and women of other minority groups have not experienced the same drop in rates as white women, I'm wondering if socioeconomics could be a co-factor in all this. If looked at according to income level and quality of life, would poor/low-income women -- regardless of race and ethnicity -- have the same drop in breast cancer rates as those women in higher socioeconomic groups? I'll have to dig a little further into this, but according to what I read, the study was NOT controlled for socioeconomic status. According to this article, poor white women have the same or higher rates of cancer when compared to minority women.

Access to quality healthcare is one of the leading reasons for the disparity of cancer among women of varying socioeconomic levels, but the more reading I do about environmental impact on personal health (especially breast tissue health), the more I believe that there is a strong link between cancer and exposure to environmental toxins and pollution. Women in inner city settings and unsafe jobs (especially large scale agricultural work and industrial jobs) are especially at risk to come in contact with harmful chemicals (though dangerous toxins even lurk in everyday objects like water bottles). For women, it is especially important to be aware of "endocrine disruptors", chemical ingredients and pollutants that can mimic estrogen in the body and impede the work of the body's endocrine system. Here's a link to an eye-opening article about this topic that's worth reading.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

WSJ Health Mailbox -- HRT

The Wall Street Journal's Health Mailbox includes a Q and A about HRT. The WSJ take is that it's all about timing -- starting HRT during perimenopause or early menopause poses fewer risks according to their interpretations of health studies. It's an informative read but the answer doesn't step out of the "HRT: good or bad?" box to examine non-pharmaceutical methods of hormonal balance. See womentowomen.com for a holistic take on relieving menopause symptoms.

Here's the questions that was posed and a link to the WSJ:

Q: Your article on estrogen and memory loss states that there are many unanswered questions about hormone replacement. Presumably one of the biggest is what are the risks of staying on HRT indefinitely.

I'm one of those women who tried to get off estrogen following the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study in 2004. I found myself very disoriented. I quickly went back to hormone replacement and the symptoms disappeared.

I started HRT when I was 46 years old. I'm now 61 and my doctor wants me to stop because she says the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes increase substantially for women taking HRT after age 60. If a woman started HRT during menopause or peri-menopause, how long it is safe to stay on?

Hormone therapy ups breast cancer recurrence risk: study

Just found an article from Reuters showcasing a study that indicates women who stop HRT are still at some increased risk for breast cancer (and recurrence of breast cancer). I don't think this is a damned if you do/don't scenario, entirely. I really think studies such as this one point out how important it is to pay close attention to diet/exercise/state of mind after stopping HRT.

Here's a link to the article and a brief snippet below:
Hormone replacement therapy, which is known to increase the risk of breast cancer, also appears to make it more likely a tumor will return in women who have had the disease, researchers said on Tuesday.

Women who had earlier had breast cancer were 14 percent more likely to get it again if they used hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, researchers said in the U.S. Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"The results ... indicate a substantial risk for a new breast cancer event among breast cancer survivors using hormone-replacement therapy," wrote researcher Lars Holmberg and colleagues at Kings College London.

Monday, April 7, 2008

HRT and Cadiovascular Health

Researchers continue to push for ways to legitimize the use of HRT. Here's information about a new study about HRT and its use to improve cardiovascular health in menopausal women. In Researchers hypothesize that if synthetic HRT is started earlier (before blood vessels have a chance to deteriorate), the increased amount of estrogen will have a chance to keep blood vessels healthy. From the article:

"The jury is still out on this," says Dr. Sandra Davidge, the Canada Research Chair in Women's Cardiovascular Health at the University of Alberta. "This question still requires a lot of investigation, but what we're seeing is that the timing of the hormone replacement is probably critical to any potential cardiovascular benefits."

The benefits of HRT were very publicly called into question in 2002 with the release of the Women's Health Initiative study. The study, which made front-page news, reported that women on HRT actually had an increased rate of heart disease.

The results, says Davidge, pushed researchers to take a harder look at the timing of HRT. She notes that the heart and blood vessels have specific receptors, or contact sites, for the sex hormone molecules that are lost with menopause. Many of those in the Women's Health Initiative study received HRT years, or even decades, after menopause.

"In many of these cases, the estrogen was probably given too late," Davidge says. "If you give estrogen to aged blood vessels it might not be protective and it might have detrimental effects. But if you give it to women at the onset of menopause it probably has benefits."

That's the conclusion of research, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in Davidge's lab on the role of estrogen in maintaining blood vessel health in animal models of menopause.

"We've found in our lab that estrogen acts as a powerful antioxidant and also suppresses some of the proteins that cause inflammation, thereby having a positive effect on the arteries," she says.

This raises the possibility that HRT might be effective in extending cardiovascular health if it's given at the onset of menopause, before the blood vessels have deteriorated."

Instead of pushing HRT on women, maybe it would make sense to look into foods that naturally boost estrogen (ie, soy) and think about gradually increasing amounts of this in the diet as women enter perimenopause.

Some more perspective on HRT and women's cardiovascular health:

Perspectives on the risks of HRT

Preventing Heart Disease: the Natural Approach

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Birth Control Options for Women 40+

A new study discusses whether or not birth control pills are a good contraceptive choice for women over 40:

A review of the current science of contraception and women 40 and older was published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine. The author, University of Florida gynecologist Dr. Andrew Kaunitz, noted that the risk of dangerous blood clots rises sharply at age 40 for women who take birth control pills containing estrogen.

The risk is even greater for overweight women, who also are more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes.

But the dosage of estrogen in current birth control pills has been dramatically reduced. The pill is now considered a safe alternative for lean, healthy, older women Kaunitz and other experts said.

"It may not be well known that the current low-dose formulations are a reasonable option for healthy women in their 40s," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, a Harvard endocrinologist who wrote a book on menopausal hormone therapy.

The pill may be preferable for some women, because it can help control irregular menstrual bleeding and hot flashes and has been shown to reduce hip fractures and ovarian cancer, wrote Kaunitz. He has received fees or grants from several companies that make oral contraceptives.

But middle-aged women who are obese, smoke, have migraines, high blood pressure or certain other risk factors should be steered toward IUDs or progestin-only treatments like "mini-pills," experts said.

I hope that more studies explore this issue. The fact that taking the new "low estrogen" pill is touted to not only act as a contraceptive but also reduce hot flashes and menopausal symptoms is a red flag that despite the low doses of estrogen, this is still a form of HRT. Also, note that the lead researcher Kaunitz has been paid by oral contraceptives companies. Another red flag.

For the holistic point of view on perimenpausal women's contraceptive choices, here is a well-researched article from Women to Women: Women:http://www.womentowomen.com/menopause/bcpperimenopause.aspx#arebcpssafe

Friday, March 28, 2008

If you're more of an auditory learner, this is a great into video to holistic treatment of depression. You might recognize Dr. Cass from ABC's The View. She was on the hour-long depression special hosted by Rosie O'Donnell (the one where Rosie swung upside down to showcase inversion therapy as a treatment for depression!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Let the sunshine in!

I've been reading quite a bit lately about vitamin D's role in overall health -- and why many Americans are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. According to the Vitamin D Council, current research indicates vitamin D deficiency plays a role in causing seventeen varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, and periodontal disease.

Vitamin D is produced in the skin from exposure to direct sunlight and can also be found in foods such as fish oil, fatty fishes, fortified milk and other dairy products, and liver and beef. According to federal government recommendations, Americans should take in 200 IU of vitamin D daily to ward off vitamin D deficiency. BUT, researchers from the University of Maine now say this might not be enough for those people who live in less sunny environments.

Here's what I didn't know -- the government's recommendation for a daily dose of 200 IU of vitamin D (equiv. of 2 glass of fortified milk) comes from research done on people who have pretty consistent levels of vitamin D in their bodies year round (meaning they might have tracked people in Florida, Southern California, or other southern states to come up with these recommendations).

Mainers (and anyone else living above the 40th degree of latitude) do not have these same consistent yearly levels, according to Susan Sullivan, a researcher at UMaine's food science and nutrition department. Sunlight assists in the creation of vitamin D in the body, which means that Maine's short winter days that lack direct sunlight leave Mainers with less consistent vitamin D levels than most Americans. If diet does not make up for this shortfall, it becomes much more likely that a deficiency will develop.

How much vitamin D do residents of the Pine Tree State need to keep levels normal and avoid deficiency? According to this research study from UMaine, older men and women need more than 800 IU of vitamin D (it's unknown how much infants or young children need). Sullivan recommends the increased amount of vitamin D comes from food-based sources like fatty fishes, dairy products, liver and beef. Vitamin D found in vitamins and other supplements are not as readily absorbed into the body as food-based sources.

It's been a l-o-n-g winter here in New England and based on my diet and the infrequency with which I've been able to get outside, I don't doubt that I have some kind of temporary deficiency right now. Symptoms of too little vitamin D in the body include: muscle pain, weak bones/fractures, low energy and fatigue, lowered immunity, depression and mood swings, and sleep irregularities.

I've started fish oil supplements over the past few weeks and feel a bit better. As the weather improves, I'm starting to spend more time outdoors --though officially where I live, my skin won't receive enough direct sunlight until at least May. During the summer months, when sunlight is direct, 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight twice a week is sufficient to create enough vitamin D in the skin to avoid deficiency, according to the National Institute of Health.

For more on vitamin D, here's is more information on preventing vitamin D deficiency.