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