Last week I told you about research findings linking green tea to a lower stroke risk. However, while green tea rocks your socks off when it comes to health, one of my favourite elixirs – coffee — isn’t too far behind in that department. In fact, despite years of negative publicity surrounding coffee, its rightful place in health and diet is being reclaimed. Mind you, too much of a good thing is never a good thing, but there has been renewed interest the multitude of compounds in coffee that extend far beyond the most popular, i.e. caffeine.
Globally, 7 million tons of coffee is consumed per year. Wow! That’s a a lot of beans. Moreover, just think of the infinite tons that have been consumed since coffee’s energizing properties were first discovered prior to the start of the 14th Century in Ethiopia. Aside from it stimulative properties, what other treasures lurk each time we reach for a cuppa?
According an extensive review in the online edition of Maturitas, there may be a lot to be gained by consuming this delightful beverage (can you tell how excited coffee makes me?!). Indeed, when the researchers searched and evaluated 22 years of articles, they discovered that the compounds in coffee that are most beneficially linked to health are polyphenols, the most abundant antioxidants in the human diet. Much like chocolate and even green tea, coffee is rich in polyphenols, and the most common are known as phenolic acids, which appears to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. This may be an important reason why research has repeatedly shown that coffee has a protective effect against diabetes, although one needs to have a moderate to high intake (4-6 cups a day) to achieve the best protection.
Drinking coffee may also help defend against liver damage, regardless if the culprit is a virus, drugs, alcohol or abnormal, malignant cells, although experts can’t yet explain why. Still, in studies, this protection was seen in both healthy and at-risk populations in numerous studies.
Another potentially important benefit of coffee is a reduced risk of Parkinson’s Disease; significant reviews have suggested that this reduction may be as high as a third. An important part of this story is that in postmenopausal women, HRT may shift this benefit to the negative side, and actually convert the protective role of caffeine into a risk factor for Parkinson’s (yet another reason to reconsider taking hormones).
So, what about heart disease? The buzz has long been that drinking coffee can increase blood pressure, worsen irregular heart rhythms and raise cholesterol levels. The review authors say that better and more ample clinical data, coupled with a greater understanding of the multiple components of coffee other than caffeine, have changed the paradigm. Importantly, the very compounds mentioned earlier — phenolic acids – and the pattern they form depending on the variety of coffee, roasting and processing, may help neutralize or reverse the negative. The most important hero in this story is a derivative of a common type of phenolic acid: chlorogenic acid.
Chlorgenic acid improves the function of cells that line the blood vessels and may work to attenuate increases in blood pressure. In women, coffee intake and perhaps the activity of chlorogenic acid may lower coronary heart disease. Moreover, detailed evaluation of available evidence fails to demonstrate a higher risk for abnormal heart rate or sudden cardiac death. And, while the verdict is still out, the researchers say that coffee may even exert a protective effect against cancer, possibly asa result of its antioxidant/antiinflammatory effect.
Before you up your daily caffeine intake, keep in mind that there is still much to be discovered about coffee. Many of these studies were observational studies, meaning that there was no attempt to control the outcomes with treatment. And response to certain compounds within coffee may be individually-driven. Still, in moderation, coffee may be less harmful (and more beneficial) than we have been led to believe.
Coffee equals the black, irreplaceable elixir in any language. To your health? Indeed!
For years, I’ve received requests to write about thyroid disease and menopause. And for years, I’ve swept the topic under the table; that is, until now. However, in light of recent news, I’d like to approach it in a slightly different way. I hope that the following is helpful.
Symptoms of menopause and an underactive thyroid (inability to produce enough thyroid hormone to run the metabolism) can be very similar. In fact, hypothyroidism is 10 times more common in women than in men, and experts say that as many as 10% of all women have some sort of thyroid deficiency. Additionally, risk increases exponentially as we age. Moreover, symptoms like fatigue, depression, weight gain and sexual dysfunction can all be signs of an underactive thyroid and not menopause. More troubling are data from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists demonstrating that only one in four women who discussed menopausal symptoms with their practitioners were also tested for thyroid disease.
But what about thyroid cancer? Is there a link to hypothyroidism? And what’s the latest news in that area?
Thyroid cancer is currently one of the fastest growing cancers in the world, and is 2.9 times more likely to occur in women than in men. In fact, last year, doctors from Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston reported that for every four patients they were seeing with thyroid cancer, three were women.
Researchers have hypothesized (but have not concluded) that the interaction of the environment, reproductive and menstrual factors account for the disparity in cancer rates between women and men. And just last week, Japanese researchers reported that study findings show that postmenopausal women who consume seawood daily have 3.8 times greater risk for thyroid cancer compared to women who ate it 2 days a week or less. The reason for this may be due to the level of iodine in the seaweed, which has been shown to impair thyroid function and has been specifically linked to the most common type of thyroid cancer — papillary carcinoma.
Importantly, in most cases, thyroid cancer has no early signs or symptoms, and as the cancer grows, it may be diagnosed by a painless lump on the neck, hoarseness, swollen lymph nodes or difficulty swallowing. But take note: while hypothyroidism may increase the risk for heart disease, it has not been linked to a higher risk of thyroid cancer.
It’s all very confusing but the main take-away points are that if you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, be sure that your practitioner tests your thyroid to rule out any sort of thyroid condition. Moreover, if you notice a nodule in your neck, contact a health professional to rule out cancer. Most importantly, 95% of thyroid masses are benign. But you may want to keep iodine intake moderate just to be safe.
Two years ago, I wrote a post about breast cancer and the fact that it was personal. Very personal. I want to share a portion of that post today and also add a few thoughts. The reason? It’s personal. Again.
Location: Department Store dressing room stall. Circa: late 1960s, early 1970s.
The characters: Me and my mom.
Scene: She is covering herself as she removes her shirt. I notice the scars. Lots of scars….to the side of one breast. I meet her eyes and she meets mine. Then I learn what the term ‘ breast cancer’ means.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 30. Thirty. Even today, less than half of women under the age of 40 are likely to develop breast cancer and the majority of cases are diagnosed after the age of 50. So, imagine the shock. What’s more, imagine the time. 1960… when breast cancer awareness wasn’t at the fore and people didn’t discuss it, when breasts and surrounding muscle were literally hacked off rather than carefully removing the tumor with clean margins, when many men left their wives after they became disfigured.
My dad didn’t leave. And my brother learned about it through a ‘friend’ in school who was teasing him.
I’ve spoken to my mother about her cancer, about the fear of it returning, and about how she feels about not being able to wear sleeveless tops or strengthen/firm those muscles even though she has exercised regularly her entire life. How she felt when my brother came home from school and asked her about it. How she feels now when a friend is diagnosed with cancer. Her answer is always pretty much the same.
But cancer can return. And even though this time it’s not in her breast, it looks like she’s may go down that road…again. And my heart is breaking. Because the fear in the tone of her voice says more than any words can.
She is afraid.
I don’t blame her. I would be afraid too.
Only this time? She’s 80, not 30 and although she’s tough as nails and very, very active, cancer has an insidious nature, sometimes too insidious. And even though in my heart of hearts I believe that she will be fine, I still feel awful about it.
In the past two years, I’ve had two friends who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, not for the first but second time. Recently, another close friend developed a very rare form of cancer and despite its severity, emerged in one piece and better than ever. Others in my life are four-, five-time survivors. Hell, even my dad has had bladder cancer since the early 90s. People survive. People move on with their lives. And yet sometimes, we lose people that we love.
Although it may be too early for a Mother’s Day post, it’s never too late to let someone know how you feel about them.
Thank you. The relationship has been a difficult one for most of our lives, threatened by personality and character and actions and words. Often, this road has not been an easy one. But you brought me into this life and I want you to know that despite all, the forks we’ve taken to get to this place have converged and our road is paved with mutual love and respect. I. Love. You. That is all.
And the cancer, I am not certain of the outcome this time. But I am certain of one thing: a mother’s love, and my mother’s love, is one of the most important gifts.
This one’s close to the bone. It’s close to my heart. It’s personal.Read More
Hey, stop the presses! There’s a brand new, one-size-fits-all solution to menopause – Don’t – as in, Don’t Pause. Billed as a breakthrough advancement in treating early menopause symptoms (according to the press release), Don’t Pause contains a proprietary mixture of pomegranate extract, green tea, chromium and selenium especially geared towards helping you ‘grow young responsibly.’
Um, okay. So what does that mean? It appears to mean that this wonder formulation will not only halt symptoms of menopause but also improve youthfulness and sexuality, reduce the risk of cancer, osteoarthritis, heart disease and epilepsy and enhance the effects of exercise on weight distribution. Wow! All that in a single pill. Have I mentioned that it’s also Hallal and Kosher?
There is one bit of messaging surrounding this wonder product that I believe is responsible and right on: the time to start addressing menopausal symptoms is before they start. That means you – 30 some year-olds and 40 some year-olds – there is no time like the present to build bone and preserve bone health, get into shape and start managing your weight, eat healthy, address stress and build those support networks. These are the type of steps that can go a long way to addressing menopause symptoms and also to take poetic license, truly help you grow older responsibly.
Don’t pause? What do you think?Read More
Here’s a disturbing piece of news:
Stanford University School of Medicine researchers are reporting that when it comes to prescribing practices, physicians across the country continue to lag behind recommendations from FDA and other organizations cautioning that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) should be used at the lowest dose and shortest period of time possible or only as a last resort. This, despite accruing evidence warning of the dangers of hormone therapy.
While use of hormonal therapy has gradually declined ,some 6 million women continue to place themselves at risk annually. This risk appears to be somewhat exacerbated by the fact that that their doctors, especially ob/gyns, have not changed their prescribing habits very much. Indeed, less than a third of hormone therapy users surveyed in the IMS National Disease and Therapeutic index (which formed the basis for this latest bit of information) were given prescriptions for lower-dose hormone pills, vaginal suppositories or patches. Especially at risk are women old than 60 years in whom the risk/benefit of HRT is very unbalanced, more than a third of whom continue to use hormonal therapy to address symptoms. Thankfully, however, women younger than 50 and up to age 59 appear to be paying attention to the headlines and giving up hormones altogether.
Although the reasons that doctors aren’t paying attention are unclear, the researchers suggest that perhaps clinical practice has not caught up with data or that older women in particular, are satisfied with symptom control and don’t want to rock the boat. Or perhaps many women in this age group remain unaware of the increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer (among others) associated with menopausal hormonal therapy. Regardless, the message isn’t getting through.
How do you change prescribing habits when there’s a breakdown in communications or when study investigators suggest that “it takes a huge event to change clinical practice?” A huge event? I don’t know about you but I think that increases in heart disease and cancer risks are pretty big events. Ladies – it’s time to take this matter into your own hands. Speak up. Work with your doctor, discuss the treatment strategy he or she is recommending and especially when it comes to HRT, ask the hard questions.
Right now, like Robot from ‘Lost in Space,’ I don’t think that we can accept any other course of action other than to take action.Read More