Posts made in August, 2010

The social ties that bind…life

Posted by on Aug 6, 2010 in emotions, women's health | 0 comments

[Henri Matisse, Dance II, Late Summer 1909]

Research has shown that social support networks are essential to our overall mood and well-being, especially as we age. Now, it appears that social support, i.e. relationships whether it comes from friends, partners or other family members, can actually prolong our lives.In fact, researchers who analyzed 148 studies in over 300,000 men and women say that  people with strong social relationships are as much as 50% likelier to survive than individuals without them or whose relationships are poor. Moreover, having good social relationships may be as beneficial as quitting smoking, while bad relationships can more harmful than being obese or sedentary.

While these findings certainly don’t mean that poor habits and risky behavior can be wiped out by having strong relationships, they do imply that social support is critical to more than our mental health. Still, the researchers say that over the past 20 years, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who report having no confidant and that globally, people are actually becoming more isolated. This runs counter to the proposition that social networks á la the web foster stronger social connections. Although this may be true for the some individuals, it isn’t for others and the quality of these online relationships appear to have quite an impact on our health.

So, what is social support exactly?

Social support is actually multifaceted and highly individual. It deals with how we perceive the support we receive, be it emotional, informational, tangible or intangible (such as a sense of belonging), the size of our networks and how they are defined (e.g. marital or intimate relationship status, number of social contacts,  degree of active engagement in activities or relationships, and whether or not we live or alone or with others) as well as an integration of the two. People who were able to successfully integrate the two were actually shown to have a 91% increased likelihood for surviving longer.

One of the most striking things about this report is the fact that the researchers believe that the estimates on the benefits of the social relationships in terms of having a longer life may be conservative. However, they do caution that many of the data they looked at did not account for the quality of the relationships, an important and risky variable.

The bottom line, it seems, is something that women have known all along: strong, quality friendships are critical to our emotional health and well-being. However, we’ve not been able to link that to lengthier survival…until now. As always, keep it real, go for quality not quantity and keep sowing those seeds. Who knew that the social ties that bind us are truly life?

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Wednesday Bubble: protein, weight and bones – keep it in balance

Posted by on Aug 4, 2010 in bone health, diet | 1 comment

Weight loss improves health, right? Well, yes, and no. Because it turns out that weight loss also increases the rate that the bone loses density, so in midlife and menopause, weight loss can be a double-edged sword.

In two recent studies published in the online edition of the Journal of Gerontology, researchers are reporting that women already at risk for osteoporosis due to their age and menopausal status may want to pay attention to what they eat when they try to lose weight. In fact, consuming large amounts of protein derived primarily from animal sources, e.g. lean meats like pork, beef and chicken, may negatively impact bone density and in turn, further increase osteoporosis risk.

Here’w what you need to know:

  • In the first study, women between the ages of 43 and 80 reduced their daily caloric intake by 750 calories. Over three months, about half of the women ate meat-free diets that derived about 18% of their daily protein from vegetarian, dairy and egg sources and other half, ate diets comprised of about 30% protein derived from lean pork.
  • In the second study, women between the same ages consumed about 1,250 calories a day in five meals over nine weeks. While the bulk of these calories were from a vegetarian diet, women were asked to eat either 250 calories of carbs daily (shortbread cookies, sugar coated chocolates), chicken (plus 10 grams of butter) or the equivalent in fat/saturated fat but as beef.
  • Although women in the first study lost about the same amount of weight (~19 lbs), those eating animal protein has a 1.4% greater loss of bone mass. Likewise, in the second study, all the women lost weight but those women eating animal protein sources lost significantly more bone mass compared to women eating carbs.
  • Women in both of these studies were considered overweight or obese based on their body-mass indices (BMI).

Importantly, many of the today’s popular diets for weight loss (e.g. South Beach, Atkins) emphasize increased intake of protein over carbohydrates (although the former also emphasizes good versus bad (i.e. glycemic index) carbs. What this means is that while you are cutting back, you may also be losing more bone mass than you normally would with weight loss.

Consequently, one of best approaches for women who are going through menopause and trying to keep the weight off may be to increase the daily  amount of so-called “good fats,” which as my friend Mollie Katzen, suggests should include nuts, avocados and fatty fish like salmon. Many of these foods are also good sources of protein and while not necessarily working to build bone, may stave off bone mass loss while you are trying to lose a few pounds or maintain your current weight.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balancing the good, the bad and the ugly. Our skeleton is fragile and it’s critical that we do all we can to keep it in one piece.

Want to learn more? I’ve dedicated several posts to osteoporosisbone loss and bone health.

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FDA: Keep children away from topical hormone spray

Posted by on Aug 2, 2010 in HRT | 0 comments

Do you remember the post back in June about topical hormones, i.e. transdermal sprays, lotions, gels and patches harming your pets?  Evidently, they may also be harmful for your children as well. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has just issued a warning that children should not come in contact with any skin area where Evamist®, a low dose estrogen spray for menopausal symptoms, has been applied.

Similar to reported side effects in animals, the FDA is review reports in children between the age of 3 and 5 years of age who have developed signs of premature puberty following unintentional exposure after a caregiver uses Evamist (the spray is applied on the skin on the inside of the forearm between the elbow and wrist). They include:

  • Nipple swelling and breast development/mass in young girls
  • Breast enlargement in young boys

The FDA is now saying that exposed pets, especially small animals, who lick or rub their owners’ arms while being held may develop similar symptoms aw well as swelling of the vulvar.

To quote the FDA: “Keep kids and small pets away from skin sprayed with Evamist.”

Yet another reason to stay away from use of hormonal agents and drugs during menopause.

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