Posts made in June, 2011

Wednesday Bubble: it truly is the best medicine

Posted by on Jun 29, 2011 in humour, Inspiration | 1 comment

I’m especially happy to write this Wednesday Bubble because it’s inspiring and makes me want to jump for joy! Or better, yet, laugh a little. And even though this has been posted previously on Flashfree, it’s never to late to remind ourselves of the lighter side.

Several years ago, researchers discovered that humor therapy and anticipation of laughing or being amused (also known as mirthful laughter) positively affects immunity. In fact, findings from a series of five separate studies among healthy men demonstrated that just anticipating watching a funny video could increase beta-endorphins (hormones that elevated mood) as much as 17% and human growth hormone (which contributes to more optimal immunity) by as much as 87%. Elevated hormones levels were maintained throughout the video and as long as 12 hours after. Conversely, hormone levels did not increase in men who who did not anticipate watching a humorous video and instead, browsed magazines.

Similar results were seen in another study among healthy adult women; this time mirthful laughter was associated with significant declines in stress hormones and improvements in natural killer cells, which contribute favourably to immune function.

Over the past two years, researchers have been examining the effects of mirthful laughter on actual disease states. Findings of a year-long study presented two years ago at the Experimental Biology Conference suggest that watching a funny, 30-minute video on a daily basis may impart a long lasting impact on health that includes:

  • Lower stress hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) and related stress levels
  • Lower levels of inflammation that can contribute to disease
  • Significant improvements in HDL cholesterol
  • Significant reductions in harmful C-reactive protein levels (a protein that increase the risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and death)

This particular study evaluated laughter in patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol who were also taking medication. Notably, similar positive outcomes were not seen in patients who did not have the benefit of watching the funny video.

What can we take away from this work and what does it have to do with menopause? Actually, I’d like to ask, what doesn’t it have to do with menopause and midlife?

During the transition, women are subject to hormonal stressors that affect mood, functioning, wellbeing as well as disease risk. If there are simpler, more natural ways to improve healthy states, for example, by daily laughter, shouldn’t we reach for them? I’d rather take a dose of funny over pharma any given day.

Here’s my gift to you: laugh today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And spread the joy. Nothing like a deep belly laugh to take some of life’s challenges away.

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The more things change…

Posted by on Jun 27, 2011 in menopause | 0 comments

…the more they stay the same.

Hey Reader! Yeah, you!  I am beyond thrilled that you are here. And while I deal with some significant changes in my living situation, I am going to take this week to bring back some oldies but goodies. Wednesday Bubble will be fresh but today and Friday, a reprisal, in case you didn’t catch them the first time around.

So, without further ado…

Well. Well. Well.

wellbeing, that is. Is it elusive during the menopause?

Earlier studies have suggested that the way that a woman experiences menopause is dominated by several factors, including changes in the structure of their lives (e.g. social roles, personal relationships). When these changes do not occur as expected, for example, menopause starts early or late, they can cause greater distress than when they occur on time sot to speak. The same holds for menopausal symptoms; those that are perceived as normal are not necessarily unpleasant, while unusually heavy bleeding, emotional outbursts or frequent hot flashes can be disruptive.

I was intrigued when I ran across a study published in 2007  in the journal Contemporary Nursing which explored these very themes. Researchers recruited 18 women who were post-menopausal and self-described as having experienced ‘wellness’ during menopause. Interviews were conducted with all study participants, during which they were asked to describe in greater depth their experiences.

The study findings showed that the menopause experience was dominated by three themes:

The continuity of the experience

How women experience menopause is inevitably individualized and not easily generalizable. Indeed, data demonstrated that the nature of menopause and how women go through ultimately determine sits impact and how disruptive it is. More specifically, abrupt changes in menstrual patterns can be more jarring than incremental slowing and gradual cessation of menstruation.

How embedded menopause becomes in the rest of one’s life

In the course of the interviews, the researchers found that a woman’s ability to incorporate menopause into her life and routines versus allowing it to change the routines was key to maintaining an equilibrium. Hence, bothersome symptoms became only “only one experience among many and not the most outstanding.” Even hot flashes, which can truly disrupt a moment, became no more valuable to an overall experience than other daily events, mainly because these women did not allow them to disrupt familiar patterns and daily activities.

Containment of menopause

Participants who experienced a sense of wellbeing during menopause were able to compartmentalize their symptoms and for the most part, did not allow them to encroach upon the emotional or psychological domains. These women rarely if ever, experienced irritability, nervousness, anxiety or moodiness.

So, what does it mean?

Overall, the researchers found that a key to a sense of wellbeing during the menopause is focus, i.e. women are not focused on physical symptoms but instead, consider them part of the the overall experience of being a woman and are able to place them in the background. In other words, “the body [is] experienced in a “taken for granted way” so that menopause is not disruptive to an overall continuity of living.

And what are you going to do to insure the well, well, well of your experience?

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Sex, midlife and a sense of purpose

Posted by on Jun 24, 2011 in sexual desire, sexual health | 0 comments

Sexual desire. In midlife, sexual function and sexual desire aren’t well understood, primarily because there are so many factors that enter into equation. This may be why certain silver bullets, like a female viagra, has failed to show any significant improvements in the desire department. And yet, researchers continue to accrue more information about the things that influence desire in women, ranging from the quality of intimate relationships to social support and overall wellbeing. The manufacturer who discovers a pill that addresses all of these will have struck gold. Meanwhile, back in reality, as many as 75% of women in midlife rate sexual health as important enough to warrant further exploration.

Fortunately, we may have another piece of the puzzle: ‘sense of purpose,’ which appears to be associated with greater wellbeing, happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, personal growth and optimism. A sense of purpose also appears to improve health, prevent certain diseases and may even improve cognitive function, thereby staving off mental diseases associated with aging. In a study that appears in the online version of Menopause, 459 menopausal women who were sexually active with a partner were followed over three years. Each year, they were asked about their emotional wellbeing (including their general mood, anxiety and depression as well as how often they engaged in and enjoyed sexual activity (specifically desire, type of activity and hugging and kissing). In the final year, they took a test that rated their sense of purpose on a five point scale ranging from ‘there is not enough purpose in my life’ to ‘the things I do are all worthwhile.’

The findings?

A greater sense of purpose equaled a great enjoyment of sexual activities, independent and regardless of other specific life circumstances. In other words, psychosocial functioning, e.g. social support, quality intimacy and overall wellbeing influenced the quality of these women’s sexual lives.  On the other hand, menopausal status and use of hormone therapy did not appear to play a significant role in how often women engaged in sex or if they enjoyed it. This is important, as it means that psychosocial wellbeing may ultimately be more important than hormones.

In so far as the desire to engage? Women who were younger, had more social support, felt better about themselves and weren’t suffering from vaginal dryness tended to want sex more than their older peers who didn’t enjoy these factors.

Not surprisingly, many of the factors that researchers stress may help desire and engagement are associated with greater nitric oxide levels, which Dr. Christina Northrup says can help combat sexual dysfunction and improve pleasure.

When it comes to sex in midlife? It may help to think ‘sense of purpose,’ a real sense of purpose, now. (Poetic license, Chrissie!) I’m all for it if improves activity and desire without drugs.

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Wednesday Bubble: Black cohosh – is it safe?

Posted by on Jun 22, 2011 in herbal medicine | 2 comments

Back in 2009, I wrote a post regarding black cohosh (better known in scientific circles as Cimicifuga racemosa) and potential safety issues, namely harm to the liver. In it, I discussed a small case review that showed no link between ingestion of black cohosh and liver toxicity. And yet, in 2006 the European Medicines Agency and the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products released a public statement alerting health authorities to 42 suspected liver reactions among women taking black cohosh. In the very same report, they noted how inadequately adverse reactions were documented. Indeed, only 16 of the cases were considered to have sufficient data to allow for proper assessment of a potential link, and of these, only four showed any sort of association, albeit, unproven. Regardless,  the statement resulted in Italian health authorities requesting a precautionary withdrawal of black cohosh preparations from the market, and UK authorities issuing strict label requirements and warnings.

Hence, I was intrigued when I ran across a detailed review of black cohosh safety, both from perspective of over 107 patient cases and of published study findings. Following is the lowdown:

  • An Italian clinic regularly prescribed 500 mg or 1000 mg daily black cohosh, either alone or in combination with other herbs (e.g. soy isoflavones, red clover or alfalfa) for treatment of menopause symptoms and disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression, hot flashes and joint pain). None of these herbs were prescribed to women with previous cancer of the breast, ovaries, uterus or pituitary gland. Moreover, the researchers say that they had not received any reports of any sort of adverse event.
  • Still, following the European health statement, they contacted 107 women in good health and in different phases of menopause, took blood samples, underwent clinical examination and participated in phone interviews to evaluate if they were still taking the herbs. Of these women, only five had chronic but benign liver disease and one, hepatitis.

The findings? Despite the four patients suffering from prior benign liver disease, there was no additional sign of liver problems nor altered laboratories indicating a worsening condition or a new condition. Nor were there any clinical signs of liver damage after a year of using high dosages of black cohosh.

The researchers who reviewed and examined patients as well as the published literature point out that the liver is central to metabolizing most drugs and hence, there is a potential for an adverse liver event from taking nearly every medication that involves liver metabolism. They note that a step-by-step examination is also necessary to rule out other causes of liver damage, including infection, alcohol use and related conditions. In so far as herbs go, they write that “it is very important before an official statement about any adverse reaction referred to an herb based product to know the brand, dose of substance assumed, type of extract [and] content of possible contaminants.” They go on to state that it is their opinion the statement could actually be used as proof that black cohosh liver toxicity is scarce because despite over a million doses used worldwide annually, there is not any fully proven case of liver toxicity. Moreover, they claim that black cohosh safety has already been established in over 3,800 participants in clinical trials.  Their conclusion? black cohosh should be considered safe, at least in so far as liver toxicity goes.

What should you do?

If you wish to try black cohosh, speak to a licensed practitioner well versed in herbal medicines. Look for a standardized form to insure that the pills contain what they say they do. And if you start feeling poorly while taking black cohosh? Stop immediately and contact the person responsible for your care.

Black cohosh and liver toxicity. This one appears to be a bubble bursting worthy.

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Hot flashes and night sweats. Mind over matter?

Posted by on Jun 20, 2011 in hot flash, nightsweats | 2 comments


Hot flashes and night sweats, oh my! They hit like a ton of bricks when you’re least expecting them and then exit as quickly as they arrived. They affect up to 70% of women and tend to worsen in late perimenopause and in menopause. And while hormone replacement therapy may decrease how bothersome they are and good health diminish frequency and severity, it appears that how well women believe they are controlling their symptoms outplays all of these other factors, so much so that perceived control may actually beneficially affect emotional distress, prevalence and severity of symptoms and how often women engage in behaviors that benefit their health.

Findings of a  new study that’s just been published online in Maturitas run counter to many that came before it, studies that have shown that smoking and body mass index and alcohol consumption, as well as marital status, age, professional status, parity, educational status and income may significantly influence hot flash prevalence, frequency and severity. However, this time, researchers found that among 243 women between the ages of 42 and 60 years, the most important factor was control.

Participants were first asked to assess the intensity and intensity of hot flashes and night sweats on a five point scale (i.e. never to daily to almost every day and not intense to extremely intense). They were also asked to estimate perceived control over their symptoms using a validated rating scale. Finally, menopausal status, i.e. pre-, peri- and post- were assessed. Additionally, common sociodemographic and lifestyle factors shown to influence hot flashes and sweats were accounted for.

Importantly, women who used no medications or used soy and herbal products had higher perceived control over their symptoms than women who used hormone therapy. Moreover, this distinction had nothing to do with how severe their symptoms were as the researchers say that severity was similar among all three.  Additionally, women who drank greater amounts of coffee appeared to perceive their symptoms as less severe than those who drank less. While previous research has found the opposite, i.e. caffeine intake predicts the occurrence of hot flashes, it is possible that the stimulation associated with caffeine might have boosted coping mechanisms and strategies, thereby leading to fewer or less severe symptoms. Still, perceived control ruled the day, leading to a significant beneficial impact on severity of flashes and night sweats. The reason? It’s possible that feeling in control leads to other behavioral changes, such as dressing in many layers to allow for adjustments as the inner temperatures increase, avoiding spicy foods or effectively controlling stress. However, the results also imply that how much control we feel we have strongly influences how we ultimately feel.

Clearly, more research is needed. But when it comes to hot flashes and night sweats, mind over matter may play a strong role.

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