Posts made in February, 2011

Wednesday Bubble: Top Menopause Sites? You Decide!

Posted by on Feb 16, 2011 in general | 2 comments

From time to time, I receive a notice that Flashfree has been ranked in the top health blogs for women or something along those lines. I have to be honest; I typically take these rankings with a grain of salt because the most important ranking comes from you – not someone else vetting the site. And although I always insure that I acknowledge the nod, the things that matter most are feedback, comments, site traffic, subscriptions and most of all, my commitment to you. If I run out things to say or write about or if Flashfree no longer inspires, well, then it’s time to close the doors and move onto something else.

Meanwhile, I am sharing this 30 top menopause blogs list. I’ve not vetted a lot of these sites so I can’t add much comment other than to say it may or may not be a good resource. And honestly, based on the categories, Flashfree probably could have easily fit into all of them – general, comedic, remedies and support –  because short of general physiology (which you can easily find on other sites throughout the web), I try to provide all that and more.

So, how about this time you burst the bubble. You decide. Check them out and let me know what you think!

After all, it truly is about you.

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Are you getting the sleep you need?

Posted by on Feb 14, 2011 in sleep disturbance | 4 comments


Sometimes I don’t even know what that means any longer. I long for the day (night) that I sleep a solid eight hours without awakening. However, that may the thing that my dreams are made of.

As I’ve written previously on Flashfree, sleep becomes more of an issue as we grow older.  Factors like less efficient sleep and a greater difficulty staying asleep can lead to depression and affect overall wellbeing. More frustrating than  the lack of sleep however, is the fact that experts can’t quite agree on the key factor underlying sleep disruptions: is it aging? Hormone fluctuations? Apnea? Moreover, do you treat the cause or the factor?

Besides my own personal interest in the topic, I do believe that the more that individuals understand the factors affecting their sleep quality, the greater their ability to proactively do something about it. That’s why I am always intrigued when I run across new research, like this study on isoflavones and sleep in the February edition of Menopause.

In it, 38 menopausal women who qualified as insomniacs (i.e. having difficulty falling or staying asleep or whose sleep is disrupted or insufficient enough to affect alertness and physical/mental wellbeing) participated. Over a course of four months, the women were asked to take a daily 80 mg isoflavone pill (primarily made up of genistein) or a sugar pill. During the study, all women had blood work done, were visited monthly by a researcher to discuss their menopausal symptoms/complaints, and underwent sleep assessments.

The researchers say that they found that use of daily isoflavones actually decreased the frequency of insomnia by as much as 30%, and increased sleep efficiency — the ratio of time asleep to time spent in bed — by as much as 6%. Apparently, women using isoflavones also had fewer and less intense hot flashes.

Importantly, the researchers say that there is a paucity of published sleep studies in menopausal women and even fewer that look at alternative or complementary therapies. Nevertheless they point out that by using a standard of sleep analysis — polysomnography – they were able to demonstrate significant objective improvements in insomnia among women taking isoflavones. In contrast, studies reporting improvements in sleep after hormone therapy have been based on subjective reports.

Another critical point that they make is that although this was a small study, almost 70% of women had objectively defined insomnia, demonstrating the breadth of the problem in menopause. Moreover, sleep disturbances that drove these women to seek help tended to be individualized, indicating that there is a depth of insomnia-related complaints that affect aging women in this stage of their lives that warrant a closer look.  Still, despite these differences, soy appeared to work well across the range of complaints.

Are closer to unlocking the chicken versus egg, ie aging versus factors mystery surrounding sleep? Perhaps not. And it’s unlikely that soy will work exactly the same for each person. No medicine does. However, soy appears to be a safe and potentially effective treatment for sleep disturbances during menopause.

How’s your sleep? And what steps are you taking to improve it? `

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Heart disease, flashes and sweats, oh my!

Posted by on Feb 11, 2011 in heart disease | 1 comment

Heart disease is a major issue in women, especially as they age. In fact, more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer, including breast cancer. During the time right before and up to five years after menopause starts, cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels soar, placing women at even greater risk.

I’ve written previously about the link between waning estrogen levels and heart disease risk and steps you can take to address specific risk factors. But what about vasmotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats? Unfortunately, in addition to being linked to elevated cholesterol and LDL, researchers are discovering that vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats actually cause calcium deposits to build up in the arteries and aorta, negatively blood pressure and increase body mass index compared to women without these symptoms.

In the latest bit of news from the research front (published in February issue of Menopause), it appears that night sweats might be the larger culprit. In fact, when researchers examined data culled from 10,787 Dutch women (mean age 53) participating in another study who were free of heart disease at the start, they discovered that over a period of approximately 10 years, women reporting night sweats had a 33% increased risk for heart disease compared to women who were asymptomatic. In comparison, hot flashes did not appear to increase risk in any significant way. What’s more, risk remained even after the researchers accounted for factors that might influence risk, such as BMI, blood pressure and total cholesterol. Additionally, elevated risk was even seen among women both who had used hormone replacement and had never used hormone therapy or oral contraceptives.

Before you become anxious about these findings, it is important to note that when the researchers did a second analysis that adjusted for sleep and mood (both of which have been linked to vasomotor symptoms and heart disease), and found that while risk was still elevated, it was no longer significant. This implies that factors other than night sweats might also be contributing to heart disease risk, and that the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for increases in nervous system activity and blood vessel abnormalities, may also play a role.

Meanwhile, prevention recommendations continue to be fairly straightforward:

  • Don’t smoke or quit if you do.
  • Exercise…at least an hour daily if you can.
  • Eat a health diet, rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, fish oils and low fat proteins.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Drink in moderation.

Ladies, we are in control of our destinies when it comes to altering how we age in that we can influence certain factors. There are no guarantees. But you can bet that we can change the odds in our favour.

Please, please care for your heart. It matters. A lot.

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Wednesday Bubble: Becoming Bendy. A guest post by Patti Digh

Posted by on Feb 9, 2011 in Inspiration, women's health | 2 comments

Are you a resolutionist, you know, one of those people who make a pact to change [fill in the blank] every New Year’s only to find that you’re slacking about three weeks later and by week four, you’ve already forgotten  your promise to yourself ?

Been there, done that. Yes, we all have. However, sooner or later, we all end up facing our demons and excuses and backtracks and are forced to a long hard look and truly acknowledge that we don’t like everything we see. Sometimes, it’s that constant nagging that just won’t go away, and others, it’s a health scare or the loss of someone close that kicks our butt one last night and propels us into real action. My friend Patti Digh, who’s previously graced the Flashfree pages, recently agreed to let me share the hard look she’s taken at herself and her quest to ‘become bendy.’ Welcome back Patti!

I had a revelation this past year. Two of them, actually. Okay, three. Or twelve.

One: My husband, John, created a video for our oldest daughter’s graduation from high school, one documenting Emma’s life since birth to that moment of leaving home, going to college, walking into the world on her own. As I watched this beautiful progression of her life, it became so, so clear to me that I have spent the last 18 years trying to hide behind other people in photographs, buying and wearing clothing I didn’t love but that fit over my hips. Eighteen years. And probably, yes, longer even than that. Not walking in the world in jeans, a simple t-shirt and flip flops, but in every outfit covered by a big overshirt. Not wearing a bathing suit, never wearing shorts. Hiding. I watched it a few times, each time realizing that I knew exactly how I felt about my body at that point in time. “Oh, that’s baby weight,” I said until Emma was 10, for example. Every pound a witness to a heartbreak, a change, a fear, a celebration.

Two: I’ve spent the past year being tested for things. Ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and repeat. The morning they first tested for ovarian cancer, I sat in the parking lot sobbing, and then drove to the Chocolate Fetish and bought a nine-pack of chocolate covered caramels with sea salt and ate them all in the car. When I found out that test was negative two weeks later, I drove back to the Chocolate Fetish, bought another nine-pack of chocolate covered caramels with sea salt and ate them all in the car. I told Michael Scholtz, a brilliant wellness coach and personal trainer. “So,” I said jokingly, “do you think this means I’m an emotional eater?” He smiled a quiet smile. “Well, Patti,” he said, “if you had only eaten them when you thought you were dying, maybe not.” He paused. “But the fact that you ate them when you found out you would live… yeah, maybe.” We laughed. Yes.

Three: In November, I ended up in the emergency room with what I thought was a heart attack. It wasn’t. But my blood pressure was very high: 188/144. I typically have very low blood pressure. And I am now on medication to bring it down. I am not fond of taking medication and want to find other less intrusive ways to lower my blood pressure. “I want you to sweat six days a week,” my doctor said when giving me the prescription. I knew what he meant: lose weight.

There was an article in Wired Magazine a few years ago called “Change or Die.” It reported, among other things, that 90% of heart patients, when told they had to change their diet and exercise or they would die, did not change anything. Not even the threat of death got them to change their Krispy Kreme couch potato habits. Not even death.

I will change. Yes, I surely will.

As I start 2011, I no longer have in front of me the “lose 50 pounds” mantra. It is gone, irrelevant. While I do know that my natural, happy, comfortable weight is less than where I am right now, but I am no longer measuring happiness–or the lack of it–by a number. I am not concerned with a size, but a measure of wellness.

I am measuring wellness from now on by how bendy I am.

What is bendy?

Bendy is flexible, strong, able to run when it wants to. Bendy feels connected to body, stretched, confident, able. Bendy is a body not in competition with other bodies, and not even in competition with itself. It just is. Stretched and tall and aware of its Self. Bendy is a body to go along with a head; it is learning from the neck down. It is embodied learning. Embodied living. Embodied mindfulness.

I’m spending 2011 becoming bendy. Again.

I’m documenting that journey here for myself, and for others who might find it helpful.

About the author:

Patti Digh is the author of Life is a Verb, Creative is a Verb, What I Wish For You and Four Word Self Help. She has also written two business books on global leadership and diversity, one named a Fortune magazine “best business book for 2000.”  Patti’s comments have appeared on PBS, and in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, the New York Times, USAToday, the Washington Post, and London Financial Times, among other national and international publications. She speaks around the world on diversity, global business, and living intentionally.

Patti is also co-founder of The Circle Project, a consulting and training firm that partners with organizations and the people in them to help them work more effectively and authentically together across difference.

She lives in Ashville, NC with her husband, two daughters and various animals. She also likes Black & White cookies although they are now off the list during her ‘Becoming Bendy’ stage.

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Dem bones! Isoflavones, S-equol and aging

Posted by on Feb 7, 2011 in bone health | 1 comment

I love it when readers of this blog point me to research that I might have missed or just not stumbled across. That happened a few weeks ago after I wrote a post on soy and safety. By following the links, reader Carol Land directed me to a newly published study on S-equol and bone health.

S-equol is a metabolite of a major soy isoflavone called daidzein. It has a particular affinity for estrogen receptors and possesses some estrogen-type activity of its own. S-equol  is produced in the gastrointestinal tract however the ability to actually manufacture it depends on the presence of certain microflora. Consequently, only 30% to 60% of individuals are actually able to produce S-equol on their own (although this figure is believed to be higher among Asians and vegetarians).

The surge in interest in S-equol is related to its potential for augmenting the benefits of isoflavones; in fact, it is possible that women who are naturally producers of S-equol actually experience greater effects from soy products, and this is especially true when it comes to bone health.

I cannot stress enough the importance of bone health as we age. Declining levels of estrogen are a primary cause of bone loss and resulting osteoporosis in women; indeed, one in five American women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and about half will experience a fracture in the hip, wrist or spine as a result. What’s more, because osteoporosis is silent in its early stages, causing no symptoms, it’s critical that bone loss is halted or at least slowed either before or during the most critical phases strike. There is no time like the present to take preventive measures, even if you are in your 30s and 40s.

Where does S-equol fit in?

For the first time, researchers have shown the daily S-equol supplements taken by women who are not naturally producers of S-equol, may improve bone metabolism and attenuate bone loss!

In this 1 year study of 356 healthy, postmenopausal Japanese women between the ages of 41 and 62, daily intake of 10 mg S-equol via supplement markedly reduced markers of bone resorption in blood and urine compared to women taking placebo pills or 2 mg or 6 mg of S-equol daily. In fact, in women taking the 10 mg dose for a year, declines in a  urinary marker of bone resorption (i.e. DPD) were roughly 21% greater compared to placebo. Measures of whole body bone mineral density also showed that S-equol supplementation protected against bone loss, although not to the extent as bone resorption. These results remained even after changes in height, weight, body mass index, lean and fat mass were accounted for. No participant experienced serious side effects from taking S-equol and hormone levels were not adversely affected.

Does this mean that you should rush out and purchase S-equol supplements?

One of the primary limitations of this study is that the process of bone recycling can take as long as 18 months and the time required to complete a cycle may actually increase with age. Thus, the duration of time that the women were studied might be too short to draw any definitive conclusions. Hence,  you may want to wait before you start taking S-equol. However, the evidence that’s building continues to put the weight on the benefits versus risks side. Only time will tell. Meanwhile – here’s to your bone health. Keep on doing all you can do to keep dem bones.

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