Posts made in March, 2010

Wednesday Bubble: this is your brain on midlife

Posted by on Mar 31, 2010 in memory/learning | 13 comments

Got brain? If you still have yours’, maybe you’ve seen mine also.

I’ve noticed that as the days and weeks pass, my recall seems to be declining. I remain uncertain as to the cause – is it overload, life or declining hormones? Has middle age truly taken my brain? If so, I’ve got a small but important request for the universal goddesses: I’d like it back.

Just last week I received an important notice from the New York State Division of Taxation with approval to dissolve my Corporation. Any of you who know me or know of my former company know that this has been a drawn-out and arduous process. But I got the letter! And permission for closure. The thing is…I lost it.

Perhaps it’s in the black hole of all things Liz, amongst single earrings, lone socks and that piece of family jewelry that I’ve been looking for for over a year now. Maybe I threw it out; I have a genetic disease that I refer to as ‘anti-hoarder syndrome or AHS,’ as in, “I must discard any bit of clutter that enters my humble abode.” (My father has this illness so it resonates deeply with me, irritatingly so I  might add.) Or maybe, it’s sitting in that pile that I’ve gone through about 15 times and will bare its ugly head once I receive its replacement.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with bubbles or bursting illusions, well I’d like to take a stab at one that’s been bothering me for some time now; memory in midlife (aka, your brain on midlife). Researchers who specialize in women’s health and menopause have been consistent in their attempts to decipher the ever-present mind meltdown, attributing it to declining testosterone, a loss of the brain’s gray matter or as I suspect, stress. Yet, regardless of its cause, I am becoming increasingly aware of its presence and the fact that its become a part of who I am.

Whether I am entering a room with a mission or surfing the web, I seem to constantly arrive without my original purpose and then stand (or sit) there desperately seeking the key as to why I went there in the first place. Typically, that key reappears during inopportune times when the goal has lost its relevance, or when I am nowhere near a computer or a room to complete the task.

This is my brain on midlife. Forgetful, spacey, devoid of information. A blank bubble lingering above my head.

Truly, if you run across it, can you send it home?

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Is black cohosh a flash in the pan?

Posted by on Mar 29, 2010 in bone health, exercise, herbal medicine | 3 comments

I am a true believer of black cohosh, that wonderful herb that for many women, simply stops hot flashes in their tracks. The clinical evidence in support of the effect of black cohosh on symptoms has also been pretty positive, except when it comes to bone health. Admittedly, I’m a bit in the dark on this one because I had never read anything associating the two…until now.

To examine the effect of black cohosh on bone density, researchers randomly assigned 128 postmenopausal to one of three regimens:

1) Six weeks of  highly intensive exercise directed towards protecting bone mass (e.g., strength training, aerobic activity) interspersed with 10 weeks of moderate intensity exercise (e.g. brisk walking)

2) The above program plus 40 mg/day black cohosh

3) Wellness program (light exercise for one hour a week, such as stretching, walking, balance)

Although exercise had a definite and positive effect on bone mineral density, taking black cohosh provided no additional benefit. However, women who were assigned to wellness only did experience a minor decrease in the bone density in their spine compared with women who exercised. Other variables, including lean body mass, heart disease risk and menopausal symptoms, were also favourably impacted by physical activity but again, not by the addition of black cohosh. The study was published in the online edition of Menopause.

Clearly, when it comes to bone density, exercise is the winner. Black cohosh does not appear to add any additional benefits, although it may ultimately prove to enhance any positive effects on menopausal symptoms, especially since previous clinical trials have been favourably in this regard.

Time will only tell. In the interim, keep moving and don’t rely on black cohosh to preserve your bone health.

As always, Reuters Health has done great reporting on this same study. I encourage you to check it out!

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Just an hour a day keeps the weight away

Posted by on Mar 26, 2010 in physical fitness, weight, weight gain | 2 comments

Yikes! Seems like every time you turn around, there’s another study upping the ante on exercise. Last year, I wrote about 2005 USDA guidelines suggesting that adults need about 60 to 90 minutes of moderate physical activity a day for health and weight maintenance, i.e. at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily to stave off gradual, unhealthy body weight combined 30 minutes daily can help prevent chronic diseases.  To achieve optimal physical fitness, the recommendations suggested the incorporation of cardiovascular conditioning, weight training, and resistance exercise to improve strength and endurance. Conversely, 2008 Federal Guidelines suggested that adults needed about 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise to maintain health, while the Institute of Medicine suggested 60 minutes a day to prevent weight gain. Confused yet?

Researchers followed a group of over 34,000 women (mean age ~54) for 13 years, examining their amount and type of weekly physical activity (e.g. high versus low intensity), body weight, height, menopausal status, use of hormones or not, chronic disease, alcohol use, smoking and diet. (If you’re wondering, high intensity refers to running. bicycling, aerobic exercise or dance or use of aerobic machines, while low intensity refers to yoga, stretching, tennis, squash or racquetball, and lap swimming.)

Overall, study findings showed that on n average and regardless of physical activity level, women gained almost 6 pounds over the course of the study. However, women who exercised anywhere from 2.5 hours to less than 7  hours a week gained significantly more weight then women who exercised at least 7 hours a week (or one hour a day). In fact, women who exercised less than an hour a day were significantly more likely to gain at least 5 pounds over the first three years of the study. Note that these results apply only to normal weight women (body mass index <25).

I’ve recently increased my level of physical activity to an hour a day, not because of these study results but because I’ve been unhappy about the hormonally-driven tire that’s starting to appear around my midsection. I must tell you; it’s a huge time commitment. Undoubtedly, if you are busy in your career or with your children, finding an hour a day to exercise can be difficult. What remains unclear is whether or not this hour can be divided into increments.

What do you think? Do you have the time? Are you motivated? Or does this information discourage you?

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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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Got fat? Soyrry but soy won’t help!

Posted by on Mar 22, 2010 in weight | 1 comment

Novel research suggests that eating soy protein won’t affect overall body composition, even though there has been some past evidence that isoflavones in soy may help build muscle mass and break down fat. What’s the 4-11?

In this latest bit of data, 299 postmenopausal women with body-mass indices of around 25 (signifying “overweight”) too either placebo or soy isoflavone tablets for a year. The findings? Ingesting soy isoflavones had no significant effect on either body composition or on specific hormones that control appetite. The one factor that contributed to fat mass? The amount of total fat consumed.

Seems that the way to a more muscle mass is not through soy but rather, through a healthy diet and of course, exercise. Still, can we women ‘of a certain age’ get rid of the tire that’s forming around our middle? I’d love to hear how if you’ve got some ideas. Even my trainer admits that hormonal changes add to the roll and that it’s difficult to get rid of it completely.

Fortunately, the folks at Rush University Medical Center will be studying this midlife dilemma over the next five years. While they say that there’s no way to completely eliminate the tire, there are ways to minimize it. Stay tuned!

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