Posts Tagged "cancer"

Health Rx: The Buddy System. A guest post by Sheryl Kraft

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010 in women's health | 4 comments

Last year, I was asked to sit on an Advisory Board for the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s Life…Supplemented Campaign. What I found (or should I say “who”) were several like-minded souls who not only embraced their health and wellness, but also recognized that relationships and support are an integral part of both. If we lose our ‘sistahs,’ we lose a huge part of our hearts and our souls, not to mention our health. Research supports this contention, which is why I’ve written about relationships and support networks several times on Flashfree.

Sheryl Kraft is not only a fellow Board member but also writes about all matters of midlife. In the blogger world, she is the cheese to my macaroni, so to speak. I am grateful for her voice and her wisdom, and mostly for sharing this post on Flashfree. Thanks Sheryl!

Sporadically throughout my life, I’ve been without lots of things: sleep, money, the right dress, electricity, the perfect pair of shoes, an inspired idea. You get the picture.

But there’s one thing that’s been a consistent comfort; one thing I’ve never been without. And I am always so very grateful for that one thing.

That one thing? It’s FRIENDS.

Friends are essential for a happy life. For me, they keep me afloat when I feel myself going under; they’re my first line of defense when I’m down or troubled. There is something about the solidity of friendship that feels thrilling and comforting all at once. Some people might say: if you have a husband, a boyfriend, a partner that you enjoy a good relationship with, why do you still need friends?

To that, I say: it’s different. Friendships, at their best, are uncomplicated and sustaining; reasonable and free of emotional hurdles. They’re an invisible force that holds your hand securely and keeps you in a safe place.

The importance of friends and social networks is finally being acknowledged. Indeed, friendship has a profound effect on your physical and psychological health. Friends can be a powerful weapon in keeping your immune system functioning at its peak; study after study bears this out.

Need proof?

Strong social networks go a long way: During a 10-year study period, older people with a large network of friends were 22 percent less likely to die than those with fewer friends.

Friends are important for your head:  Harvard researchers found that having strong friendships is a champion of brain health as we age.

Close friends and cancer: A 2006 study of 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times more likely to die of the disease than women with 10 or more friends.

Low social interaction was compared with other well-known health risk factors by scientists at Bringham Young University . Here’s what they found:

–       Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day

–       Equivalent to being an alcoholic

–       More harmful than not exercising

–       Twice as harmful as obesity

Losing a friend can have a powerful impact on health, too. Whether it is through death or disagreement, the pain and mourning packs a punch on immunity. Stress, sadness, loneliness, grief – they all follow loss. And what follows such intense emotions is a downward dive in your overall health. Stress hormones are released, causing a spike in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels. And if stress hangs on for the long-term, other health problems crop up: depression, anxiety, obesity, and more.

Over the years, I’ve lost friends. I’m sure you have, too. It’s inevitable they will come and go. Lucky is the woman who is able to keep their childhood friends well into adulthood.

My two best friends both died within a year of one another; both of breast cancer. With each loss, a piece of myself was torn from me. With each loss, sadness and a huge empty space followed me wherever I went. I felt exposed and raw, yet strangely alone in my grief.

As with everything else, resiliency eventually surfaces and I moved on. I nurtured my other friendships, cherishing them even more than before.  But I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if those two friends were still here.

Keep your friends close. Take pleasure in the benefits you gain from one another.

Your health depends on it.

About the author… Sheryl Kraft is a health writer and essayist. Her work has appeared in JAMA, AARP the Magazine, Prevention Magazine,, and more. Her blog, MidlifeMatters appears on the website, which was named the top women’s health website by Good Housekeeping magazine. In addition, Sheryl is the health & wellness editor at

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Wednesday Bubble: No pain, no…killing two birds with one stone?

Posted by on Mar 24, 2010 in breast cancer, menopause, ovarian cancer | 0 comments

Got pain? It is possible that if you regularly use aspirin, acetaminophen or NSAIDS (e.g. ibuprofen) during menopause, you may be reducing your risk for breast or ovarian cancer as well. Sort of a two birds with one stone approach. I like it!

This latest bit of great news comes from analyses of blood samples and questionnaires collected from  740 women who participated in a breast cancer trial as part of the Nurses Health Study, an ongoing investigation of factors that influence women’s health. At the time that information was collected, the women had no cancer, were in menopause and had not used hormones.Study findings, which are published in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention showed that on average, mean levels of naturally  estrogen (i.e. estradiol), were more than 10% lower among women who reported regular use of aspirin or NSAIDS, and 15% lower among women reporting use of any sort of analgesic agent.

Although this specific study did not look at the link between hormones levels and cancer, previous studies have shown use of NSAIDs may lower breast cancer risk by as much as 12% to 25%; the evidence for ovarian cancer isn’t quite that strong.

Mind you, researchers say that these results don’t actually confirm if aspirin-like drugs cause estrogen levels to drop but there is an association. More research is needed to see if there is a firm link between declines in hormones after analgesic use and lower risk or breast or ovarian cancer. If it is true, there is a possibility that aspirin-like drugs could be used more regularly in this fashion.

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Wednesday bubble: flava flavonoid

Posted by on Jun 24, 2009 in diet | 5 comments

With the acai berry craze hitting its peak, I thought it was high time to devote a post to flavonoids (compounds found in plants, fruits and beverages that have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties) — namely, those found in berries.

Yes, berries, This sounded a bit preposterous until I dug a bit deeper and located a current review in Maturitas, suggesting that berry flavonoids might be important for long-term health in menopausal women. However, researchers still can’t define the most important details, for example:

  • berry type
  • preparation
  • regimen

The amount of berry flavonoid that becomes available and used by the body after eating also varies by individual make up and by the different types of flavonoids.

All of these factors are critical to designing a strategy that will yield the maximum health benefit. Nevertheless, evidence from clinical studies suggests the following:

  • Cancer prevention. Note that this has been controversial since increased consumption of dietary fruits and vegetables and not just berries, have been shown to impact certain cancers such as esophogeal cancer. In the small studies that the researchers cite, cranberry juice and freeze dried black raspberry have been shown to control signaling that promotes the proliferation of cancer cells.
  • Age-related declines in motor skills, learning and memory impairment, specifically, those linked to a decline in the body’s ability to fight circulating free oxygen radicals that can damage cells. Evidence for these benefits are primarily derived from animal and not human studies, and concentrate on strawberries, blueberries and cranberries.

The researchers caution that it’s impossible to define how much of a single berry or combination of berries might help in disease prevention. Hence, it’s too early to make any definitive claims about berry consumption. However, they do emphasize that to date, research supports the importance of berries as part of a healthy, balanced diet for menopausal women.

Personally, I love berries and health benefits or not, I plan to eat as much of them as I can get my hands on this summer.

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More joys of soy

Posted by on Apr 13, 2009 in heart disease, menopause | 5 comments

More news on soy. Researchers have discovered yet another component of soy isoflavones that may prove useful in improving symptoms of menopause: soy aglycons of isoflavones (SAI). Soy aglycons are a group of chemicals found in fermented soybeans and comprise a great portion of diets for Chinese and Japanese individuals. Of note, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and menopausal symptoms are often seen in a smaller percentage of these women than their European and American counterparts.

Among the various chemical molecules of soy, SAI are absorbed faster and more efficiently than other components.

In this particular study, which was just published in Nutrition & Metabolism, researchers fed rats whose ovaries had been removed either high or low doses of SAI-supplemented diets. These animals were then compared to rats with intact ovaries who were fed a regular diet.

The researchers found that rats fed supplemental SAI had significantly lower cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL)  values , higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels and faster liver metabolism.  The lining of the uterus was also enhanced by dietary SAI supplementation.

They said that these results suggest that SAI may help protect against or lessen symptoms during menopause that are associated with the natural decline of estrogen.  SAI might also be an effective and safe alternative to HRT, which has been linked to breast and uterine cancers. In general, SAI may protect against menopausal heart disease.

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Wednesday Bubble: Reproductive cancers and estrogen

Posted by on Mar 25, 2009 in estrogen | 1 comment


I’ve written previously about HRT and its definitive link to increased breast cancer risk. But how much of a role does natural estrogen play? Moreover, is exposure time important?

I ran across an interesting study in the the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention that suggests that the amount of time a woman spends in the transition to menopause may influence risk for reproductive cancers. The reason: overall exposure to total levels of natural estrogen and unopposed estrogen (i.e. estrogen with little or no progesterone as the result of aging).

In this study, researchers collected daily urine samples from 108 women (ages 25 to 58 years)  for 6 months annually over a total of 5 years and tested them for total estrogen levels.  Using models that evaluated variations in the length of the participants’ menstrual cycles, they also estimated where study participants were in the menopausal transition.

The findings

The results showed that mean levels of total estrogen increased with age in the pre- and peri-transition stages and decreased in the late transition stages. What’s more, the number of days of exposure to unopposed estrogen was higher during the transition to menopause compared with the pre-transition period; it also did not decline until after the menopause.

What these results mean

In general, the study results indicate that women are spending more time exposed to both total levels of estrogen and unopposed estrogen than previously thought. However, because the time spent in perimenopause varies from women to women, exposure to natural estrogen also varies.

The bottom line? Because studies have linked reproductive cancers to lifetime exposure to estrogen, determining the length of time that a women spends in perimenopause may  help researchers determine cancer risk.

Stay tuned – these findings could ultimately  impact how we go through the menopause and what we can do to conquer our risk of developing certain cancers afterwards!

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