Posts made in August, 2009

Wednesday Bubble: Maca what?

Posted by on Aug 19, 2009 in herbal medicine, Uncategorized | 0 comments


I love it when I run across an item that’s perfect for a Wednesday bubble; whether or not this one is “burstable” remains to be seen. There are accumulating data supporting the use of a Peruvian herb known as “Maca,” which reportedly balances hormones and consequently, alleviates certain perimenopausal symptoms.

In scientific communities, Maca is better known as Lepedium Meyenii (or more recently, Lepedium peruvianum Chacon ) and is a plant in the mustard family. In Norway, Maca is considered a medicinal substance and requires a prescription.

There have been a lot of claims about the aphrodisiac and energizing properties of Maca. For this reason alone, I am quite skeptical about whether or not the science behind the plant’s use in menopause is sound. Nevertheless, I did find several evidence-based, published studies examining Maca in peri- and post-menopausal women:

In two of the largest studies, a standardized, concentrated Lepedium peruvianum formulation (Maca-GO®) was compared to placebo tablet in 168 women who were in early post-menopause; treatment was provided for up to four months. Significant, beneficial changes were seen in balancing and normalizing hormones (estradiol, progesterone, follicular stimulating hormone and lutinizing hormone) and reducing menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats.

In a much smaller, four-month study among perimenopausal women, all participants received Maca-GO® for two months and then a placebo tablet for two months. Two months of the active tablet resulted in anywhere from a 74% to 87% reduction in frequency of hot flashes and night sweats, as well as improvements in sleep interruption, nervousness, depression and heart palpitations. The authors, while acknowledging what is known as a placebo effect (i.e., “I want to believe it works so it does”) suggest that Maca-GO acts a hormonal toner. In this study, as in the one mentioned above, a balancing of hormonal levels was observed.

    There is a new supplement called Femmenessence™ with two product lines – MacaPause for postmenopausal women and MacaLife for perimenopausal women. Like many other supplements, both claim to support the body’s ability to balance hormone and by default, address the many troublesome symptoms associated with menopause. Recommended dosage is twice-daily 500 mg capsules for the first four months with a one week break every two to three months. The manufacturer also recommends that women first speak to a healthcare practitioner before using Femmenessence.

    As I’ve written time and again, the one-size fits all’ framework doesn’t work too well when it comes to hormones, let alone any other disease. Nevertheless, I am curious about Maca. What about you? Have you heard of or tried Maca? What were the results?

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    Transition without tears

    Posted by on Aug 17, 2009 in menopause | 0 comments


    I am constantly struck by how menopause was positioned back in the day. One pill and voila; life returns!

    ‘Transition without tears.’ In only minutes…. Says it all, right?!

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    Giving voice

    Posted by on Aug 14, 2009 in HRT, voice | 0 comments


    Did you know that the female larynx is sensitive to sex hormone changes? Evidently, along with some of the better known symptoms — sleep disturbances, mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, etc — vocal quality may also change in some women.

    Experts say that fluctuating sex hormones, i.e. estrogen, progesterone and androgen, can result in a thinning and dryness in the vocal folds (or vocal cords). Because it takes greater effort to make sounds, voice changes can occur. Notably, studies have shown that not all women are affected by these changes nor are they affected in the same ways. However, when women are affected, their voices may get rougher/huskier, lose stability, lose their top notes and vocal range, and change their timbre. Professional singers or actors, or even consultants on the lecture circuit, all of whom rely on their voices to earn a living, are especially affected.

    Researchers acknowledge that further study is needed to distinguish between vocal changes that occur as a result of menopause versus those that occur as a direct result of aging. Yet, regardless of the cause and degree that each factor contributes, voice changes can affect almost half of postmenopausal women.

    Treatment options include:

    • Hormone replacement therapy. Study results have been mixed, with some findings showing improvements in voice complaints and voice function/vocal quality and others, demonstrating none. Further research is needed that evaluates the effect of HRT on the larynx as well as its ability to prevent voice changes if instituted early. Of course, HRT is wrought with other dangers that might make its use, prohibitive or not worth the risk/benefit ratio.
    • Voice therapy. Although many questions remain unanswered, vocal coaches  and speech pathologists say that voice therapy can help relieve vocal fatigue. There are exercises that work well to address aging vocal cords, rebuild muscle tone and help women learn how to use their voice more efficiently.The American Speech-Language Hearing Association has a great resource for finding a local professional in your area that specializes in vocal deficiencies.
    • Vitamin therapy. Research has shown that multivitamin therapy that includes magnesium, mineral salts, vitamins B5, B6 and E may improve vocal quality and help keep the vocal folds moist. Although experts say that there is not enough evidence for the role of vitamins in voice, vitamins, minerals and anxioxidants play an important role in health regardless of whether voice changes occur.

    A quick search on PubMed turned up numerous articles on voice changes during the menopause and the article I sourced for this post (cited below), specifically references nine of these.

    I am wondering how many women who are in the menopausal transition are experiencing these problems and are seeing clinicians who might not be aware of the potential link.

    What about you? How is your voice quality? Have you noticed any changes?

    [Source: D’haseleer E et al. The menopause and the female larynx, clinical aspects and therapeutic options: a literature review. Maturitas (2009) In press.)

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    Wednesday bubble: Cheers! (Please, don’t let me burst this one!)

    Posted by on Aug 12, 2009 in sexual desire, sexual health | 0 comments


    Can red wine help increase a woman’s sexual desire? Interesting data from an Italian study among 798 women between the ages of 18 and 50 suggest that indeed, it just might.

    Researchers divided women without any sexual complaints into three groups:

    • More than two glasses of red wine and other types of alcohol (including white wine) daily, and occasional drinkers
    • One to two glasses of red wine daily (“moderate intake”)
    • Teetotallars

    All study participants were asked to complete a questionnaire measuring female sexual functioning, as well as report on their daily alcohol consumption. The questionnaire – the Female Sexual Function Index – contains 19 questions designed to assess desire, arousal, confidence, lubrication, orgasm, and the degree of pain during and after vaginal penetration.

    The findings? Overall, women reporting daily moderate red wine drinking (one to two glasses) scored significantly higher in all domains of sexual functioning, including desire and lubrication, than women in the other two groups. More striking, however, was that the women who regularly drank red wine were reportedly older than women in the other two groups.

    These study findings, which undoubtedly require more research and a larger study group, do suggest a link between moderate red wine intake and sexual desire, even among older women whose sexual functioning and desire, theoretically declines with age. Of course, there are many other factors that come into play for older women; we know that declining hormones affect the vaginal lining, causing pain and interfering with lubrication. We know that hormones can also affect weight and self-image, which affects desire. And of course, how we interact with our partners is also important.

    But study after study all point to medicating ourselves back towards sexual desire. Could it be as simple as a few glasses of antioxidant rich red wine, which may help improve blood flow to key areas of the body, such as the vaginal region?

    I’d love to think so.

    The jury’s still out. But me? I’m planning on drinking a few glasses of red wine tonight…! I’m inspired; are you?

    [Many thanks to my friend Daphne Swancutt for directing me to these data!]

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    Midlife metamorphosis

    Posted by on Aug 10, 2009 in Inspiration | 5 comments


    [Used with permission. Dan Collins.]

    In Laura A. Munson’s poignant “Modern Love” post, ‘Those aren’t fighting words, dear”  she writes about the crisis of self that may seem familiar to many  in midlife who are watching or have watched their husbands or partners implode. In the post, (which I highly recommend if you’ve not read it) Laura writes:

    And I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore. When life’s knocked us around. And our childhood myths reveal themselves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest sucker-punch of them all: it’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us happiness…

    The premise that happiness comes from within is not a new one. However, the midlife spin on it can be a wake-up call of epic proportions, when we start reaching for a gold ring that actually resides out of sight. Yet, why are we yearning for what was rather than what is to be? Aren’t life’s many transitions, including the one that our partners and each of us are facing, movements into the next phase of productivity or change or growth, rather than a loss of self?

    I’ve had many conversations with women who are facing or have faced situations that are similar to Laura’s. Overwhelmingly, they say that women tend to themselves a little at a time so that the crises never quite reach the precipice. That many women are able to deal with their physical and emotional changes incrementally so that the ultimate metamorphosis — who they are during and at the end of their lives — is not a monumental shock.

    Dick Roth, in his wonderful book “No, It’s Not Hot in Here,’ devotes a chapter to men in midlfe. He says that men should repeatedly ask themselves three questions:

    • What won’t pass away when my youth does?
    • Who will I be after my career is over?
    • Who would I be if everything else was gone but my mind and feelings?

    Referencing the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Roth adds that the protagonist’s lack of self-pity and ability to cherish his soul provided him with the foundation to overcome his physical confinement (the author, who was completely paralyzed by a stroke except for a single eyelid, was only able to communicate by blinking this one eye).

    Cherish your soul. Sounds a lot simpler than it is. Or does it?

    As much as we expect our partners to understand what we are going through as hormonal changes wreak havoc on our psyches and our bodies, we must also be willing to offer the reverse, to acknowledge the changes and struggles that our partners are going through, their self-confinement, and perhaps their inability to cherish or tap into their souls.

    Midlife doesn’t have to be a four-letter word. What rings true for women, also rings true for men.

    Seize it.

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