Posts made in February, 2011

Mindful living: learning to ask for help

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in women's health | 4 comments

How often do you ask for help? Better yet, how easily do you ask for and receive help?

Reading Karen Rosenthal Hilsberg’s “Lessons in Living” and her struggle to make sense of a life unraveled as her husband dies, I can’t help but reflect on a close friend who is ill. Despite a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, he has had trouble acknowledging the seriousness of his condition and even more trouble asking for support. Quite honestly, he doesn’t do too well in that department and neither do I. However, like him, I readily offer assistance to those I love and care about, whenever I can.

So, why the divide between offering and taking?

Hilsberg writes that “what I learned during this intense time of life was profound. I learned to ask for help from others.” Utilizing the mindfulness practice of the Zen Master, Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddhist Master Thich Phuoc Tinh, she says that she discovered that asking for help really wasn’t much different than providing it, that the helper and ‘helpee’ were intertwined, unable to exist without the other.  By allowing assistance, she was able to provide others who cared about her and her family an opportunity to “be of service and to practice generosity” and in doing so, make a shift away trying to do everything on her own. Most importantly, by reflecting on how much she personally enjoyed being of service when loved ones needed her, she was able to accept how appropriate and okay it was to actually ask for help from others — to allow them to “do” as much as she did. The result? Her “wellbeing improved as [she] felt [her] burden shared by many hands.”

As caretakers, many women often do not adapt well to being on the “receiving end.” And yet,  most of us are aware of the importance of social ties, friendships and support to our health and wellbeing, particularly as we age. So why do we find it so difficult to ask for and receive help? How do we acknowledge that be cared for does not equate to losing power or control but actually improves outlook, wellbeing, and ability to deal with any challenges that we might be facing, that allowing others to “do” empowers and does not ‘de-power?’ Is it fear of refusal? Or fear of letting go?

Mastering the art of asking for help is difficult. However, it behooves us to do so, not only for our wellbeing but for the wellbeing of those around us who wish to help.

My friend deserves the kind of care that he has provided to others in his life for most of his life.

Guess what?

So do you.

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How dry I am…

Posted by on Feb 25, 2011 in health, general, menopause | 1 comment

Bet you think I’m talking about vaginal dryness or dry skin. I’m not.

Actually, I am referring to another dry condition that affects women in peri and postmenopause: dry eye.

Yikes. Do women really need more dry in their lives?!

Dry eye affects almost 5 million people over age 50 and is one of the most common reasons for an eye doctor visit. It  is related to an imbalance in the tear system that interferes with the ability to produce tears, tear quality (meaning that it’s mostly water and less lubrication needed to moisturize and protect the eye) and function (meaning that the three layers of oil, water and mucus surrounding and protecting the eye — the tear film — starts to thin and loses its stability). This imbalance can lead to symptoms like itching, burning, irritation, redness, tearing, light sensitivity and blurred vision, as well as infection and injury.

Sounds like fun, right?

Even worse? Recent estimates suggest that dry about twice as common in women than in men, especially as they age. And while environmental factors like insufficient intake of fluids, excessive alcohol, excessive exposure to air conditioning or forced hot air and excessive bathing all contribute, one of the most important factor are the sex hormone receptors in the eye.

It’s true that sex hormones, namely estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, are produced by the ovaries in females. However, they are freely available to all tissues in the body, and in fact, regulate tissue in the eye as well. In fact, researchers are increasingly discovering that hormonal changes may directly influence certain eye disorders, and it is believed that the altered hormonal balance at and around menopause may affect tear production.

What can you do about dry eye?

Quite simply, the easiest way to combat dry eye is to hydrate! Lifestyle measures like drinking lots of water and other hydrating fluids, modifying alcohol intake, using humidifiers, avoiding too much air conditioned or heated air and not drying completely post-bathing before moisturizing can help. Practitioners also recommend the use of artificial tears, gels and ointments (not the type that “get the red out”) can help to increase the humidity of the surface of the eye and improve lubrication. If you are suffering from dry eye and using any medications, you should also speak to your doctor. Anticholinergic-containing drugs like Benadryl for example, can cause dry eye. Eyelid hygiene is also important as any offenders like infection or inflammation can just make things worse.

Importantly, taking hormone replacement therapy appears to worsen, not improve dry eye, especially as it relates to the ability to produce tears. This is especially true for women taking estrogen-only. Yet another reason to stay away from HRT.

There are prescription treatments for moderate to severe dry eye and at the extreme, surgery may required. The best course of action is to try some of the simpler measures and if they don’t work or if dry eye worsens, see your doctor.

I don’t know about you but I do see the humour in this, however deeply it may be hidden. Throughout menopause, many of us sweat and flash and produce all sorts of moisture. Except in the areas that matter most.

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Wednesday Bubble: is menopause relief right under your nose?

Posted by on Feb 23, 2011 in aromatherapy | 3 comments

Evidently, the relief for better sex. restoration of hormonal balance and hot flash relief has been right under our noses the entire time.

No, really!

NOXO Menopause Relief ™, available as an inhaler or a balm, relies upon Nobel prize-winning science that focus on the olfactory glands and stimulates the olfactory receptors in the brain. The goal? Evidently by inhaling the proprietary blend of phytonutrients and phytochemicals, one can actually alter perception. The result? “A smoother, less turbulent transition into the menopause phase of life.”  With just three inhalations a day, NOXO Menopause Relief “stimulates the release of powerful neurochemical transmitters that act on the limbic system and the limbic system acts to regulate body functions.”

Wow! Almost sounds too good to be true. And Nobel worthy?

According to the site, unrelated Nobel prize research into brain’s olfactory receptors showed odorants possessed an ability to transmit signals to brain receptors in order to influence mood and discomfort and other senses. Theoretically, this would mean that there was a way to utilize the brain’s inherent response to scent in order to influence wellbeing.

I am an advocate of  aromatherapy and I personally believe that certain scents can influence mood or calm nerves. However, I am not entirely convinced that scent can be used to actually alter hormonal balance or influence sexual function. Indeed, some readers of this blog may recall the test drive me and several others gave Zestra, essential arousal oils geared towards improving sexual desire; not only did the product fail to arouse but it actually had the opposite effect.

Can NOXO do what Zestra couldn’t?

All that, and more!

Check this: NOXO has a full line of olfactory wonders to resolve anxiety, stop smoking, control appetite and even curb attention deficit disorder.

Wednesday Bubble? I smell something a bit fishy…don’t you?

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Working through the menopausal transition..the first step is the deepest

Posted by on Feb 21, 2011 in Work/occupation | 1 comment

Back in July of last year, I wrote a post entitled ‘Working through the transition? Or is the transition working you?’ In it, I discussed some research being conducted in the UK that is looking at the effect of menopause and its accompanying symptoms on the work environment and preesenteism, i.e. impact on productivity while at work. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of women surveyed reported that their symptoms, namely fatigue and insomnia, were impacting workplace functioning and relationships with managers and co-workers. Less clear, however, were the roles of other factors, like perceptions and stress.

This raises one of the most common and yet inconsistently addressed issues during menopause: quality of life.

Quality of life is a subjective construct and one that is significantly influenced by a multitude of factors that intersect at any given time, factors such as how well we function, what we think about our lives, how we deal with stress, the type of social and economic support we have and overall wellbeing. And when you throw a bunch of symptoms like hot flashes, depression, anxiety, insomnia, backache, joint pain or forgetfulness on top of any of these, well, all hell can and does break loose!

When researchers looked at 184 women in both early and late transition to menopause who were part of the larger, Seattle Women’s Health study, they learned just how intricate the interrelationship between all these factors truly is. Indeed, among women in their mid to late 40s who were juggling work, families and relationships, the degree to which symptoms interfered with work most relied on how they perceived their health, their life stress and how depressed they were or were not. The findings:

  • Symptoms like hot flashes, mood issues, sleep issues, pain, or concentration had a significant impact on work productivity.
  • However, when researchers started to tease out and analyze the symptoms over time, they found that  how symptoms influenced how women felt about their health was most important. If women felt that their health was excellent or very good, symptoms tended affect their work productivity to a lesser extent than if they perceived their health to be poor or only moderate.
  • Perceived stress levels reportedly influenced both work productivity and social/intimate relationships.
  • Depression and difficulty concentrating were the final straws in the work/relationship back, affecting performance and the ability or interest in socializing or engaging in intimate or family relationships.

The one thing that these reports and the UK reports had in common were nighttime awakening.

So, let’s take a look at this. How we feel about our wellbeing affects work productivity, as does stress. If we are depressed or have difficulty concentrating, the ability to focus and be productive, either at work or in our worlds in general, starts to fall apart. Frequent awakening during the nighttime hours as a result of both aging and hormones can cause fatigue, depressed mood and concentration issues. In turn, this can influence how well we function  at work and at home and the quality of our relationship, to ourselves, our children and our partners.

The conclusion is that we need to step back, take stock and think about how we feel and how that is affecting our wellbeing and our lives.

The solution isn’t simple. Part of it lies in learning how to best address symptoms like sleep disturbances, depression or focus. The other lies in openly communicating to our work colleagues, our managers, our partners and our friends how productivity and our relationships may be suffering and actively involve them in finding solutions to improve wellbeing.

It’s hard work, no doubt. But the more insight we have, the better we are able to deal. And while it starts within, without it, the menopausal tendrils can extend far and widely into our lives.

The first step? Step back deep within yourself, and take stock. It may ultimately be the insight that you need to turn those symptoms on their side where they belong.

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Mirror, mirror…your aging skin

Posted by on Feb 18, 2011 in appearance | 5 comments

Ugh. Talk about a red flag topic. I can barely look in the mirror these days without cringing! Sure, years of tanning (read: burning) in the sun without the proper SPF cream and lots of time outdoors hasn’t done me any favours. But, it’s difficult to deal with the changes that I see in my skin. And while I truly believe that my wrinkles have been well earned, there are times when I would like to turn back the clock and regain some of that suppleness that 20-somethings take for granted. Uh-oh; is that my vanity showing?

In any case, we’ve explored some of the ‘wrinkles’ in the search for the fountain of youth, dispelling claims that hormone replacement therapy may improve skin appearance or that regular use of over the counter moisturizers can actually melt away the years. In fact, only topical preparations containing antioxidants such as retinoids are believed to help the skin to repair itself; antioxidants have been proven to do this by preventing the activity of of chemically reactive oxygen molecules that live in the body, are promoted through ultraviolet light exposure and attack healthy cells.

However, retinoids are not the only antioxidants that may improve the appearance of photodamaged skin. Indeed, researchers have started to look into the potential of another topical antioxidant — idebenone complex — which is the biologically engineered (and possibly more effective) form of coenzyme Q-10. At last month’s American Academy of Dermatology meeting, Dr. Michael Gold from the TN Clinical Research Center in Nashville presented findings from a study of 32 women (ages 25 to 65)with moderate to severe photodamage who were asked to used a facial cleanser, skin brightener, eye serum and moisturizing cream containing 0.5% idebenone complex. This regimen was used twice a day for 8 weeks and the women also added an SPF 30 sunscreen during the day.

The results are fairly impressive. Not only did rough/dry facial skin, fine lines and wrinkles and patchy skin improve by 36%, but the researchers also reported a 41% improvement in skin elasticity and tone, a 42% improvement in skin brightness and a 42% improvement in skin radiance. Similar reports were made by the women in the study as well.

Thus, it appears that when used consistently, topical skin preparations containing idebenone complex may significantly improve the appearance, texture and tone of photodamaged, prematurely aged skin. Overall, 42% of participants had a global improvement in their appearance.

Is idebenone complex the fountain of youth? Probably not, because as the American Academy of Dermatology recommends, fighting photoaged skin is a multi step process that also includes avoiding sun exposure at certain times of the day, using sunscreen/protective clothing. However, even with the small number of women that have been treated with idebenone so far, I wouldn’t be averse to trying it.

These wrinkles might build lots of character and I’ve earned them. But sometimes a little help can’t hurt, can it?

Hat tip to Journalist Bob Finn,web content editor of the International Medical News Group for pointing me to this study. You can find their coverage of it here on the Internal Medicine News Digital Network.


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