Posts made in January, 2011

Does your mental energy need a boost?

Posted by on Jan 10, 2011 in diet, memory/learning | 10 comments

Mental energy. That elusive construct that is defined by our mood and feelings of fatigue or energy, our motivation, determination and enthusiasms and our ability to sustain focus and attention. I don’t know about you but I find that my mental energy is not always optimum. Moreover, I am not surprised;  between physical, work and life demands, I am often overworked, overextended and overstressed. Personally, I find that downtime, exercise and creative endeavors help to refuel and refresh. However, can foods do the same?,

According to researcher Michael C. Falk from the Life Sciences Research Center in Bethesda, MD, part of the challenge in determining whether or not certain substances can enhance mental energy is the diverse number of methods used to measure effect. So, a lack of proof of the benefit of a particular substance might be partially related to the method. Nevertheless, in a recent study, he and his colleagues identified the most widely studied substances in diet and supplements: Ginko biloba, ginseng, glucose and omega-3 fatty acids and examined how they might be impacting the different facets of mental energy.

The findings:

Ginkgo biloba Ginko has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries, mostly for age-related declines in cognition, dementia and for Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, it hasn’t shown much promise in this regard, but some data suggest that it might have use in improving mood, boosting how quickly individuals process information, and even improve attention. Less clear, however, how much should be taken and in what form (i.e. supplement or extract) or the length of time before results are seen.

Ginseng Like Ginkgo, ginseng is another herb that is common to TCM, either alone or in combination with others. An important challenge when using ginseng for medicinal purposes is that it quality is highly variable, which is why, similar to other herbs, you need to look for standardized formulations. When it comes to mental energy, the verdict is still out and research studies are inconclusive. The question remains, however, whether or not this is due to the fact that claims that it boosts mental prowess are false or that the actual ginseng being studied is too varied in quality and the part of the plant from which study formulations are derived are inconsistent.

Glucose Sugar. Not only is it an essential energy source for the body but it is the brain’s primary energy source. And yet, the studies that have looked at the effects of glucose on brain function, memory or even mood are all over the map and according to researchers, not very well documented. So before you start in on the next sugar buzz, you might want to find another boost for your mood, fatigue or focus.

Omega-3 fatty acids I love fish oils. Researchers continue to study them because their utility is so broad, although the source of omega-3, dosage and ratio of EPA and DHA appear to be important factors in terms of mood (i.e. depression in particular) and mental energy. Overuse of fish oils can also impair the ability of blood to clot and depress overall immune functioning. Still, out of the dietary components that researchers studied, omega-3’s were by far the one most backed by clear data. Most recently, they’ve also been shown to help prevent stroke. In so far as mental energy goes, the researchers note that evidence suggests that fish oils may help delay or reduce cognitive decline in the elderly or improve verbal fluency. Less clear is whether this benefit is stronger if the they are taken earlier in life before cognitive decline. And of course, there is litte agreement on whether or not fish oils supplements convey the same benefits as obtaining the through dietary sources.

The upshot is that the evidence is scattered, inconclusive and downright shoddy in some areas. And mental energy might need more than certain foods to reach its optimum level. Personally, I’m going to stick with my current program to maintain the mental mojo. But I’m open to suggestions. What about you? How are you dealing with the overworked, overextended and overstressed paradigm?

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Flashfree – End the “shhh” and embrace the conversation

Posted by on Jan 7, 2011 in Inspiration, menopause | 11 comments

I am discovering a pattern: when women learn about Flashfree, they inevitably tell me that they wish that they had a sounding board, someone to talk to about the aging-symptom paradigm, more exchange, more discourse. When I started this blog four years ago, I wanted to become a conduit for that conversation or at the very least, an inspiration. And I know that I’ve been inspired by the interest and the support.

Lately, it’s become so apparent that we need to talk more, listen more, explore more. We need each other.

The following was written during the early days of Flashfree and it’s as relevant now as it was then. So, in a bold move, I am reprising it, in hopes that it will begin that spark that I would like to see carry us through the rest of this year. It’s been a challenging one for many of us. And every day becomes a reminder of what’s most important and what is really not so important. Mostly though? I hope that this space continues to be as much yours’ as mine.

I was talking to a colleague/old friend the other day about this blog. She is a few years older than I and we got into this great conversation about generational gaps when it comes to discussing health issues. Perimenopause and menopause in particular have been huge taboo issues for women for decades.

Take for example, an episode from ‘That 70s Show,’ in which Kitty learns that she is not pregnant but rather, has entered menopause. When she asks her mother (played to a T by none other than Betty White) about her experience, she’s informed that she never went through menopause and has always been “healthy.” It’s funny and sad simultaneously. And definitely well worth the watch. (Fast forward to timecode 3:59.)

As the last of the baby boomers enter middle age, their appetites for health information appear to be ever more insatiable. And yet, some of the savviest and most practical women I know confess that they rarely, if ever, discuss their symptoms, moods or concerns about the changes that they are going through with their friends, let alone their mothers.

I’m fortunate. I have a mother who is pretty open about these sort of topics. And although she’s 70+, she tries hard to maintain an open attitude about certain things. When I approached her a few months ago about what I was going through, she was very forthcoming about her own experiences. And while her experiences were not exactly like mine (let’s face it; no two women’s experiences will ever be exactly the same), being able to talk about it was very liberating, even if I didn’t find “why” behind my own symptomatology.

Janine O’Leary Cobb, a former professor at Vanier College in Montreal, author of Understanding Menopause and founder of ‘A Friend Indeed,” once said that “it seem[s] to be one of the last things women talk about because it’s so entangled with aging and we don’t want to talk about getting older.”

And yet, research suggests that when we do talk about “it” and about getting older, hopefulness and positivity dominates, even as we acknowledge the more negative, i.e. loss and bodily changes, at the same time. And there a majority of women in this study who said that they feel a greater willingness to embrace personal growth and opportunities being presented to them with ease and sense of self as they age, a liberation, if you will.

So, what’s my point? Well, I’m not suggesting that we embrace the sugar-coated version of perimenopause and menopause that many advertisers would lead us to believe. But if we start having conversations with our gal pals and our mothers and colleagues, well, maybe we can begin moving towards removing the stigma that surrounds the “change” and aging once and for all.

Knowledge and exchange are certainly positive, powerful aphrodisiacs for growth.

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Wednesday Bubble: Got a Shmirshky?

Posted by on Jan 5, 2011 in humour, menopause | 0 comments

It starts with “got a shmirshky?” and ends with ‘the pursuit of hormone happiness.’ Hmm, why does this sound like a really bad movie on Lifetime Network?

Truly, when I first laid eyes on, I wanted to hate it. Why? Because I don’t like cutesy names for vaginas like “shmirsky.” And I don’t really understand the tagline or book title – ‘think inside the box’ or  ‘pursuit of hormone happiness’. Nor do I care for abbreviations like “PM and M” (i.e. perimenopause and menopause) or “SUMO,” the author “E’s” (read: everyone) imaginary friend who makes her feel bad about herself.

Shall I continue? Or stop right there? Because I know that if you’re reading Flashfree, you’ve got the picture.

HOWEVER…I applaud E for taking a light approach to a daunting subject. And while I’ve not read her ‘quintessential Cliff notes to menopause,’ admittedly I did get a chuckle out of her YouTube video. And I really do love her message of reaching out; after all, one of my primary mandates since starting this blog has been to promote dialogue among women and between women and their providers so that they are better equipped to deal with the many aspects of the changes that are occurring within and without. Moreover, we know with certainty that a little humour and laughter go a very long way towards promoting health and wellness.

So, I’m going to give E a free pass. Menopause certainly is not a tropical vacation but shmirsky cutesie acronyms aside, she may be onto something.  At the very least, I’ll read the book before drawing my any final conclusions.

What about you? Got a Shmirshky?

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Soy. Is it safe?

Posted by on Jan 3, 2011 in diet, herbal medicine, osteoporosis | 0 comments

For years, researchers have been exploring the potential of soy isoflavones — naturally-occurring plant estrogens — for alleviating menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, atrophy and bone loss. Thus far, certain components of soy, including genestein and S-equol have shown the most promise. However, are they safe?  And, as the adoption of soy as a viable alternative to risk-ridden hormone replacement therapy continues to grow, and women turn to supplements rather than food-based soy, is there anything that they need to worry about in terms of side effects?

Researchers recently evaluated this question in a study of 403 postmenopausal women who took  either 80 mg soy tablets, 120 mg soy tablets or placebo tablet daily for  two years. The particular type of soy isoflavones used were hypocotyl isoflavones, which are a byproduct of soy protein and (very rich in daidzein – the second most plentiful isoflavone in soy. The effects of the supplements were measured at the study’s start, at one year and at the end via blood tests and a well-woman examination (i.e. mammogram, pap smear, x-rays to measure bone density). A smaller group of women also had ultrasounds done to determine any possible effects on the lining of the uterus or development of fibroids.

Although the primary goal of the study was to determine the effects of this type of soy supplement on osteoporosis and bone loss, the researchers discovered that taking soy supplements during this time period did not present any major risk to health and did not affect thyroid function. Although one participant developed breast cancer during the study and one, endometrial cancer, 1) utrasounds in the subgroup of women who received them did not show any uterine thickening and 2) the rate of cancer development in this study, only two women over a two year time period, was considerably lower than statistically likely in a general population of women. Both of these factors support the contention that soy isoflavones are not likely to promote either cancers.

So, is soy safe over the long-term? It appears that it is. HOWEVER, bear in mind that the type of soy used in this study is are very different that the type that is commonly sold over the counter, which commonly contain higher percentages of genistein, the most plentiful isoflavone component in soy.

And what about osteoporosis? This particular paper did not address those specific results, although others have. Thus far, the results have been mixed. However, this particular study, better known as OPUS (Osteoporosis Prevention Using Soy)is one of the largest and most comprehensive to date and those findings are likely to come to light soon.

In the interim, if you are going to be taking soy in supplement form, be mindful that your exposure is likely to be as one to four times that a typical Asian diet and as much as 100 times that of a typical Western diet. While these level do not appear to be harmful, herbal and plant medicines are not without risk so as always, the rule of thumb is be vigilant and speak to a health practitioner first.

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