Posts made in September, 2009

The Roundup: September News and Tidbits

Posted by on Sep 30, 2009 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

roundup copy

[Credit: Special thanks to artist Darryl Willison of Please visit his site and support his work!]

Because October starts tomorrow, I’m replacing this week’s Wednesday Bubble with the monthly Roundup. Here’s an overview of September’s post in case you missed one or want to revisit it.


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Extreme makeover

Posted by on Sep 28, 2009 in diet, exercise | 3 comments

Exercise Bikes

Great news for women in menopause: it appears that vigorous physical exercise can turn back the clock, at least as far as physical capacity and weight loss ability goes!

Findings from two studies, one published this past July in the Journal of Applied Physiology, and the other this September, in  Metabolism – Clinical and Experimental, show for the first time that despite age-related deceases in hormone levels, lean body mass and aerobic capacity, training can achieve the same health benefits that women 16 years younger might experience.

In both studies, researchers looked at the effects of cycling (on a stationary bike) for an hour, five days a week at 65% of maximum lung capacity in 10 sedentary but otherwise healthy postmenopausal women.

(FYI: The term ‘lung capacity’ refers to the maximum amount of air that a person’s lungs can hold after the greatest possible inspiratory effort. When you exhale, the amount of air left in your lungs is known as ‘residual volume.’ This can be affected by age, aerobic capacity and a host of other factors. After the age of 30, the capacity to use and consume oxygen drops by about 1% per year)

In the first, they found that all study participants increased their body’s capacity to consume and use oxygen (known as VO2max) by as much as 16%. At the same time, resting heart rate decreased an average of 4 beats per minute. By the study’s end, blood pressure had also dropped substantially and  heart capacity during exercise increased. What’s more, study participants were able to burn fat more efficiently — by about 10%, without relying on carbohydrates. (A primary reason why weight loss can be difficult for women with specific dietary changes is that unlike men, blood sugar (glucose)  levels (usually derived from stored carbohydrates) remain stable during exercise and metabolism quickly returns to normal after. So despite vigorous training, weight may remain the same.  This is even more true for women going through menopause, as fluctuating hormone levels affect metabolism and the ability to clear glucose from the blood.)

Similar findings were also seen in the second study; not only were women able to consume and use oxygen more significantly, but their ability to metabolize glucose improved by 35%, without any changes in dietary habits.

Overall, these study findings suggest that “older” women can improve and make significant changes in their cardiovascular and metabolic capacities, often to the same extent as women substantially younger, without having to go on extreme diets! The researchers say that these results are also encouraging in terms of increasing overall energy levels and keeping risk for disease in check.

Granted, the training regimens that the study participants undertook were quite strenuous and required a commitment, both in terms of time and exercise frequency. Nevertheless, the researchers believe that even less strenuous exercise could likely produce some degree of benefit.

So, do you need an extreme makeover to realize better health? Not really! Just a bit of inspiration and some kick-ass music to keep you going at the gym. Nice to know that great benefits can be achieved without starving ourselves!

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Keep it greasy…with Zestra®

Posted by on Sep 25, 2009 in sexual desire, sexual health | 8 comments


Sexual desire an issue? Not feeling it?

That isn’t my problem but when I was approached by the folks at Semprae Labs to test Zestra®, their hormone-free, topical “Essential Arousal Oils™, I thought, hey, what the heck? I’m all for research! And they sent me clinical data supporting its theoretical effectiveness, which peaked my interest even more.

What is Zestra, you ask?

Zestra contains a proprietary blend of borage seed and evening primrose oils (purportedly to increase blood flow and nerve sensitivity), angelica root extract (to improve arousal/desire) and coleus forskohlii extract (to boost performance/orgasm). On its packaging, it says that “Zestra works effortlessly and within minutes by heightening your sensitivity to touch — for deep, pleasurable sensations, sexual satisfaction and fulfillment.

Zestra was tested in a small clinical study comparing its effectiveness versus a placebo oil in 20 women with and without difficulties with arousal. During the study, participants were asked to use Zestra 5 times and then complete a questionnaire on side effects and sexual function (i.e. desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain). Study findings showed the following:

  • Participants with normal function reported highly significant improvements in arousal while those with female sexual arousal disorder reported highly significant improvements in arousal, orgasm and satisfaction.
  • The most commonly reported side effect was a burning sensation in the genitalia that subsided within 30 minutes.

So, this was the study population.

What about me?

Zestra ain’t “zesty.” The oil has a unpleasant smell. Following application, it heats up the vaginal area but that’s about it – heat – and not the sexual, I want to/have to have you kind of heat. Nope. No increase in desire, arousal or sensitivity to touch.  No added improvements in satisfaction. Just one unpleasantly warm, greasy vagina.

Is it just me? Evidently not. Here’s what some friends have to say about Zestra:

“Smells like an overly-sweet candle shop or bad potpourri. Not an enticing scent. Taste is chemical and bitter. Too greasy. Nice, slightly warming effect, but felt no unusual or heightened sensation. Actually had to work harder because I was so turned off by the Zestra scent. Zestra will be sleeping alone from now on!!!”

“OH. MY. F***ING. GOD. I hated that shit. It burned and I couldn’t even wash it off afterward. Who the f**k knows if it increased arousal? I was too busy burning to notice.”

Like my gal pals, I couldn’t wait to shower Zestra off. In fact, Zestra left me wanting less, not more.

I’ve got lots of zest. But not for Zestra.  Zestra – you underwhelm and underwow me.

Sorry Semprae. This one’s a dud.

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Wednesday Bubble: blame it on…

Posted by on Sep 23, 2009 in emotions, estrogen, menopause, women's health | 4 comments


I was struck by the following story that appeared two weeks ago on the BBC:

“Woman’s Death Blamed on Menopause.”

“A woman who refused to take hormone replacement therapy died while suffering a menopausal episode, an inquest had heard. Margaret Drew…was killed when she walked out of her family home on to a nearby railway line and was hit by a train…There is no trigger to this at all, except hormones making her do things that she normally wouldn’t do, Dr. Carlyon [Cornwall Coroner) concluded…”

Menopause. The silent killer. Oh really?  Drew’s husband claims that his wife was “delightful, lovely and friendly” 99% of the time; the other 1% she’d become “totally irrational.” Yet, she refused to try HRT, he says. On the day of her suicide, he said that his wife was “clearly angry about something.”


Obviously, the conclusion is that that the “something” is hormones. This reminds me of vintage advertising copy that conveys the simple message that a pill a day can cure all that ails, wipe away the tears, mood swings and instability so that women can “transition without tears” (or better yet, without killing themselves).

Notably, a search in the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database turned up only one recent study specifically dealing with suicide ideation across reproductive stages. In it, researchers compared data in 8,794 women, and found an increased risk of thinking about suicide among women during perimenopause, not before or after entering menopause. These findings remained after controlling for risk factors such as anxiety and mood disorders. HOWEVER, the researchers noted that the study design did not allow them to form any definitive conclusions about the specific reasons for thinking about suicide.

Another search yielded information that the risk for a major depression increases during perimenopause, primarily as the direct result of vasomotor symptoms. The same does not hold true for women before menopause begins or once they enter menopause. Note that while major depression is a risk factor for suicide, not everyone who is depressed will actually kill themselves.

So, are hormonal fluctuations the sole cause of such deep unhappiness that women want to kill themselves?

Interestingly, just a week after the menopause/train suicide story hit the interwebz, a rather controversial set of data also emerged: since 1972, women’s overall level of happiness has dropped. These findings held true regardless of child status, marital status and age. Researcher Marcus Buckingham, writing in the Huffington Post, said that women are not more unhappy than men because of gender stereotyping and related attitudes, due to working longer hours or because of the inequality of housework/responsibilities at home, but rather, the hormonal fluctuations of menopause may be to blame. What’s more, he leaves us hanging so we’ll tune in for part two of the piece to learn the true cause of our declining happiness or better yet, read his book (which evidently guides women through the process of finding the true role that they were meant to play in life).

Importantly, reactions to this study (and various pundits’ assessment of it) have been mixed. One of the most poignant comments I’ve read asks the question “how is happiness measured? What does it mean?”

I have no idea what caused Mrs. Drew to walk into a train two weeks ago and kill herself. Perhaps she was depressed. Clearly she was suicidal.

I have no idea why research shows that women are less happier than they were three decades ago.

However, is menopause the cause? Don’t these conclusions only serve to perpetuate societal myths that menopause is a disease that requires treatment? That as women, our attitudes, belief systems and actions are hormonally-based and driven? That we are hysterical beings who need guidance on how to find our way and fulfill our dreams, realize our paths, but only if we calm down?

Feeling angry? Blame it on menopause. Unhappy? Blame it on menopause. Not realizing your dreams? Blame it on menopause. Overworked, overstressed, undervalued? Blame it on menopause.

Blame it on menopause.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired, tired of hearing that menopause is not the symptom but the disease.

There’s no time like the present to burst this bubble.

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More on breast cancer and HRT

Posted by on Sep 21, 2009 in HRT | 2 comments

When it comes to HRT, the verdict is pretty dismal. Data continue to accumulate demonstrating that the risks associated with HRT may greatly outweigh the benefits. The question is however, when do we finally stop the madness and remove it from the market?

In the interim, I’ve got additional information to share you need to know when considering taking HRT: When HRT  is started and the type of HRT used can influence a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer.

Researchers examined data from over 53,000 postmenopausal women, revealing that 1,726 invasive breast cancers developed over a period of approximately eight years. They also looked at hormone use, including type, when started and how long they were taken.

Key findings, which are published in the online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, showed:

  • Taking HRT (estrogen-progestogen) for two years or less within three years after starting menopause increased breast cancer risk by 54%.
  • Taking HRT (estrogen -progestogen) for two years or less starting more than three years after menopause did not affect breast cancer risk.
  • Regardless of when menopause started, prolonged use of HRT (estrogen-progestogen, more than two years) increased breast cancer risk.
  • Hormone treatments containing progesterone did not increase risk of breast cancer if taken for two years or less. (Most hormone treatments in the US contain synthetic progestogens rather than natural progesterone.)

The takeaway is that timing of HRT and how long HRT is taken can significantly affect risk for developing breast cancer. 54% is a significant figure and women considering HRT for their menopausal symptoms should closely examine overall risks and benefits before taking the HRT plunge.

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