Posts made in June, 2010

Ain’t no Wednesday Bubble: tick tock, part 2: the menopause blood test

Posted by on Jun 30, 2010 in fertility, menopause | 0 comments

I don’t usually  interrupt our regularly scheduled Wednesday Bubble but this one’s pretty hot off the presses. Researchers have once again confirmed that concentrations of the anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH – a protein produced by cells in the ovary and controls follicle development) can help predict when a woman will develop menopause .

I wrote about AMH levels being used in this fashion in a post last year, so this current study simply helps to support the hypothesis that science is gaining ground in the fertility/post-fertility arena. Similar to previous studies, researchers collected blood samples from 266 women between the ages of 20 and 49, thereafter, measuring AMH levels. Additional blood samples were taken at three  yearly intervals, along with information about participants’ socioeconomic status and reproductive histories. The women also had physical exams every three years. The researchers then developed a mathematical model that would enable them to predict  average age of menopause based on varying levels of AMH throughout the reproductive years, and compared these estimates to age at actual menopause in a subgroup of 63 women.

Presenting the findings at the European Society of Human Reproduction meeting this past Monday, researchers say that they were able to predict actual age of menopause within a margin of error of only three to four years. Moreover, certain AMH levels at certain years of age could accurately predict whether or not a woman was likely to start menopause early, before age 45 or at a more common age, e.g. over age 50.

If AMH is confirmed as a marker in further testing, the researchers say that a blood test could help women start family planning early in their reproductive life. As I wrote previously, it could also be used as a strategy to start effective interventions geared towards ameliorating menopausal symptoms and age-related diseases at specific points in a woman’s life. However, the potential of such a test is not without the negative. I wonder if a blood test that accurately predicts menopause could be used against a woman trying to obtain insurance for a pregnancy gone wrong due to age at which she “should have conceived.” Only time can tell the risks and benefits of such a test. In the interim, it seems that science is well on its way to controlling the tick tock of every woman’s biological clock.

What do you think?

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Fat…to boldly go where where none has gone before

Posted by on Jun 28, 2010 in herbal medicine, weight gain | 2 comments

That body tire around the middle that tends to plague most women in their late forties and fifties and into old age reminds me of Star Trek – boldly going where no fat has ever gone before. Despite an hour at the gym daily, eating healthy and moderate (okay sometimes more than moderate) intake of alcohol, I still can’t seem to conquer that bulge that’s creeping into my midsection. I’ve spoken to trainers and nutritionists about it and have even tried conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which theoretically helps reduce deposits of body fat. And still, fluctuating hormones and aging seem determined to redistribute that midsection bulge in ways that remain unacceptable (at least, to me). More importantly, however, is the fact that fat that settles in the abdominal areas increases the risk for impaired blood fat and insulin levels that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

I’ve written about weight and the middle-aged bulge several times in the past and you can find some of these posts here. My friend Mollie Katzen and I collaborated on a post earlier this year about eating habits, food and midlife. And still, an effective solution to the bold bulge continues to elude women, trainers and researchers alike.

Still, a very small study published in the online edition of Menopause shows that hope may still spring eternal. In fact, results suggests that women who took 70 mg isoflavones daily (i.e. 44 mg daidzein, 16 mg glycitein, 10 mg genistein) for six months and then added at least an hour of intensive aerobics, circuit training and resistance training at least three times weekly for another six months experienced significant declines in blood pressure, fat mass and total body weight, and a small reduction in waist circumference (of about an inch and a half). In this particular study, the researchers selected women who were known to respond physically and beneficially to exercise. However, only the women who supplemented their exercise with isoflavones had demonstrable improvements in their fat mass and distribution. These women also experienced improvements in their insulin levels.

Clearly, the benefits of isoflavones added to exercise from both a weight and health perspective need to be explored more thoroughly and with larger numbers of women. However, it is possible that the addition of soy to a regular exercise routine may help to address that elusive bulge from entering the black hole that we call midlife.

Stay tuned!

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Gender and age inequality in film…and all that jazz

Posted by on Jun 25, 2010 in Work/occupation | 3 comments

Back in March, 2009, I wrote a post about the lack of roles for middle-aged women in film. Of the many inspirations for the topic, the most important was that a good friend had just had her screenplay (which largely focuses on a middle-aged female cast) rejected by the powers that be in Hollywood.

Hence, I was not surprised to learn that findings from a study released earlier this year by the USC Annenburg School for Communication and Journalism demonstrated that women continue to comprise the minority both on the screen and behind the camera, except when they are driving decisions, e.g., as directors, producers and even as writers. After analyzing the top 100-grossing films of 2007 for prevalence/nature of male and female speaking roles, gender of behind the scenes workers and specific characteristics driving the story, the researchers found that:

  • Less than a third (29.9%) of 4,379 speaking characters/roles were female
  • Less than 20% (n=18) of the films sampled featured a solo female as a main character
  • Only 2.7% (n=3) of the directors, 11.2% (n=35) of the writers and 20.5% (n=174) of the producers were women; in other words, women comprised only 17% of all directors, writers and producers of these films, while men accounted for 83%
  • Films with at least one female director tended to depict a greater percentage of girls and women on screen (44.6% or n=70) although in this analysis, there were only 3 directors. The researchers state they they observed a similar interaction between the sex of the director and number of women on screen when analyzing Academy Award Best Picture nominated films between the years 19777-2006. Conversely, when men were the film directors, the percentage of women onscreen declined by almost 50% (to 29.3% or n= 1,238)
  • To a lesser extent, having female writers or producers tended to feature more women on-screen

More disturbing, women who played on-screen parts tended to function as eye candy, and were thin, physically attractive and wore more revealing clothing. This changed when they were in leading roles and given worthier pursuits, such as fighting societal and personal injustices. Not surprisingly, however, when the leading females were lost, they tended to turn to men or employment to fill their void. Female relationships, when explored, tended to provide conflict within the story and did not necessarily portray the supportive side of these relationships.

One thing I find especially interesting about this research is that it didn’t focus much on age divisions except for with regards to how women are portrayed on screen. In this regard, the researchers noted that the films that portrayed women were more concerrned with their nubile qualities, meaning that they were overwhelmingly young and sexy. When age was taken into account, women between the agers of 40 and 64 only comprised less than a quarter (23.8%) of the characters while women between the ages of 21 and 39 comprised more than half (53.2%). (Note that comparable figures for men were 38.6% and 44.1%, respectively.)

Not only does the gender gap in entertainment continue to exist within many layers of the industry, but it doesn’t appear to have changed much over several decades, despite the inroads made by women in other areas of society.

Clearly,  women need to leverage what little power they have in the industry to change this paradigm. Still, one troubling factor remains – middle age is equivalent to “has been,” even when the director, writer or producer is a woman. Women like Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren are not even a dime a dozen but exceptions to every rule that’s been made, at least when it comes to entertainment. I’ve read numerous articles on women in television news being pushed out their jobs because of their age.

Don’t you think that we we need to step back and ask ourselves how an empowered woman can better empower all of her female peers?

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Wednesday Bubble: An ‘Evolutionary’ not ‘Revolutionary’ Rx for Hot Flashes?

Posted by on Jun 23, 2010 in menopause, new approaches | 2 comments

This week’s bubble brought to you by the manufacturers of Amberen™, a new menopausal treatment that bills itself as revolutionary not evolutionary. What they mean by this is that Amberen, a novel, non-hormal treatment for menopausal symptoms, does not represent an evolution of the same herbs (e.g. black cohosh, chaste berry) used by other manufacturers but a revolutionary new approach and strategy to addressing troublesome symptoms during menopause. Personally, I believe that anything that isn’t HRT based is evolutionary, however that aside, this week’s bubble is pretty darn solid and early data, pretty encouraging!

What is Amberen?

Amberen is a food supplement mostly composed of an enzyme known as succinate that is involved in metabolism. Dramatic swings in estrogen that result during menopause significantly affect the sensitive functioning of the  hypothalamic-pituitary-ovary (HPO) axis (part of the neuroendocrine system that regulates many processes in the body, including interactions between the glands and hormones).  According to published research, very small doses of succinate help to restore the way that the aging HPO axis functions, thereby promoting hormonal balance. In turn, this appears to boost estradiol levels and alleviate menopausal symptoms.

In small clinical studies, Amberen appeared to act as hormones in the body, resulting in self-reported reductions in the frequency of hot flashes, declines in insomnia and headache, and improvements in mood, anxiety and impaired sexual desire. Honestly, it sounds a bit too good to be true, so I am not entirely convinced. However, the researchers are quoted as saying that this approach to jump-starting HPO sensitivity could open the way for safer treatments for a variety of conditions, and not just menopause.

Amberen is not for everyone as it is not inexpensive, requiring at least a $90 commitment upfront (although there is an offer on the website for a 30 day free trial, a further dive shows that it takes at least 90 days to realize its full effects). However a three month on, three month off dosing schedule might be more convenient for women who have trouble remembering to take pills regularly.

Importantly, I did not see any reported details on side effects in the clinical studies I looked at, although the website cautions against women using Amberen if they have any thyroid or high blood pressure issues. I”d like to see more information on that as well.

Like any treatment for menopause, it’s essential to speak to your healthcare professional before diving in and trying Amberen. Personally, I’d like to see larger studies and specific information on side effects before making any real commitment to the product. However, I am intrigued by Amberen’s potential and certainly by this new approach to treatment, a seemingly viable and effective alternative to hormone replacement.

Have you tried Amberen? What do you think?

[Disclosure – I was approached by Amberen’s PR agency to see if I’d be interested in the product. After requesting and reviewing the clinical studies, I decided to write about it. I was not compensated for this piece nor was I sent or accepted any product.]

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Ya know that male menopause?

Posted by on Jun 21, 2010 in men | 1 comment

Ya know that ‘Low T,” the male equivalent of female menopause, the “iT” condition to hit the airways?  It appears that male menopause is a whole lotta of hype based on not so much evidence.

In fact, in a newly published study in the online edition of esteemed New England Journal of Medicine, researchers show that low testosterone is a very rare condition, affecting only 2% of elderly men, most of whom have poor health and are obese.

Kind puts a an axe on the whole “shadow of one’s former self,’ eh?

In the study, researchers surveyed over 3,300 men between the ages of 40 and 79 (mean age, 59.7 years in order to collect information on general, sexual, physical and psychological health.  They also measured blood samples daily for testosterone, and then divided the groups so that they could be compared.

The results?

In the entire pool, only 32 men were found to have severe low testosterone that could not be caused by any physical problem. What’s more, the researchers learned that many symptoms of what is considered classic male menopause were not actually associated with decreased testosterone levels, including loss of energy, physical ability, fatigue and depression) highlighting that what has been largely touted as “male menopause” is simply non-specific symptoms of aging.

The researchers concluded that only three symptoms were actually associated with male menopause, i.e. decreased frequency of morning erections, decreased sex drives (i.e. sexual thoughts) and erectile dysfunction, and that these symptoms, in concert with very low testosterone levels, had to be present in order to devise a true diagnosis of male menopause.

This means that male menopause, low T, whatever you call it, is overhyped, overdiagnosed and simply does not affect an overwhelming majority of men who are being unwittingly prescribed testosterone therapy when they don’t need it.

Men – please, speak with your doctor before starting testosterone to boost your sex drive. The researchers say that “testosterone may only be useful in a relatively small number of cases.”

Think you’ve got  ‘Low T/ male menopause?’ It may not be your problem after all.

Want more? Reuters Health also has a piece on this study.

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