Posts made in March, 2011

Friday Folly…gone fishing

Posted by on Mar 18, 2011 in humour | 0 comments

This just places an entirely new spin on the term “on ice.”

And the double entendre – gone fishing. Some of my readers will understand.

Happy Friday and may your day be Flash Free.

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Wednesday Bubble: Hot flashes? Try a little mindfulness…

Posted by on Mar 16, 2011 in mind-body therapy | 1 comment


No bubble bursting or woo woo. I’m talking the real deal. And if mindfulness doesn’t lead to a wee bit of tenderness, well, I don’t know what will. But enough of me taking poetic license with Otis.

Back in January, I wrote about a piece about the relaxation response and how a daily relaxation practice can actually alter gene structure and induce cellular changes believed to promote health. In the post, I said that “both inner and outer psychological states and environmental factors play a role in how women experience peri and post-menopause, their self-esteem, attitudes and severity of symptoms. If a daily practice of some sort of relaxation strategy can actually alter genes in a way that improves health and well-being, why can’t that daily practice also improve the menopausal/midlife experience?”

Guess what?

It appears that I might have been correct.

Writing in the Advanced Online edition of Menopause, researchers say that women who learn to recognize and more accurately discriminate the components that make up an experience, e.g. thoughts, feelings and sensations, or more specifically, the degree of bother and stress related to hot flashes, may be able to reduce the impact of the flashes on wellbeing.

In this 20 week study, women who were late into the transition into full menopause or in early menopause who reported experiencing, on average, 5 or more moderate to severe hot flashes/night sweats a week were assigned to 8 weekly mindfulness-based stress reduction classes  plus one, all day weekend class or to a waiting list. These classes, which lasted 2.5 hours at a time, involved the following:

  • Focused awareness of gradually moving thoughts through one’s body from the feet to head while lying down, paying close attention to bodily sensations
  • A sitting meditation focusing on breathing
  • Mindful stretching
  • Learning materials that discussed how to apply mindful stress reduction practice to everyday life and specifically in response to distressing symptoms and situations.

All participants also completed daily hot flash diaries to rate how bothersome their hot flashes were throughout the study period. Additionally, the researchers analyzed the intensity of hot flashes, quality of life, sleep quality, anxiety and perceived stress, as well as medical history, smoking, previous experience with mindfulness practices, and factors directly related to flashes such as smoking, body mass index, alcohol use and physical activity.

Granted, this study is a small one. But the researchers found that mindful stress reduction practice significantly reduced hot flash bother over time by almost as much as 15% after nine weeks and by almost 22% by 20 weeks, compared to at least half as much in women who were on the wait list. Moreover, sleep quality improved considerably!

Overall, the researchers say that their findings truly highlight the role that stress in general, and mental stress in particular, play in how we perceive hot flashes, how much we are bothered by them, and even their severity and frequency. However, they also say that the fact that mindfulness practice did not affect the intensity of hot flashes shows that it might simply help women cope better with them. Less clear is how the degree to which the placebo effect played a role; studies of pharmaceutical treatments report a subjective placebo effect of up to 30% so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Still, they believe that their data show that mindfulness stress reduction may be a significant resource for reducing the bother of hot flashes. Overall, it’s a win-win. Calm the mind; calm the body. Why not try a little tenderness with yourself?

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Up in smoke…smoking and breast cancer in the postmenopausal years

Posted by on Mar 14, 2011 in breast cancer | 5 comments

Cigarette smoking is something that appears to keep on giving. And giving. Not only do former smokers find that their habits, even once discarded, might come back to bite them in the hot flash ass and even lead to early menopause, but both active and passive smoking habits are being linked to a increased risk of breast cancer, even 20 years past the expiration date. So, when I was hanging with my bestie behind the fence of my childhood home sucking away at those Kool cigarettes, I guess was I truly making an unconscious choice that is starting to rear its ugly head.

Listen up: don’t smoke.

Okay, enough of the lecture; here are the facts.

Researchers have recently taken a look at the association between smoking and breast cancer risk in almost 80,000 women enrolled in a larger trial (the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study) that took place in the ’90s. Granted, the study relied upon self-reports, which of course, are subject to some degree of what scientists call “recall bias,” meaning that the findings can be subject to some discrepancies. Nevertheless, after collecting information on smoking (never, former or current), age when started smoking, number of cigarettes smoked daily and number of years that cigarettes were smoked, along with age when quitting, as well as potential exposures to passive smoking (as a child, in the home or at work both formerly and currently), they discovered the following:

  • Former smokers had a 9% increased risk of breast cancer and current smokers, a 16% increased risk. These figures were related to smoking intensity and years of smoking.
  • If a woman had started smoking before their first full time pregnancy, she had a 21% increased breast cancer risk.
  • Among former smokers, time since quitting was relevant, and it took as long as 20 years for a former smoker to return to a risk level that would be considered equal to someone who had never smoked.
  • Passive smoking was also a huge factor; in fact women who’s exposure to passive smoke in childhood, at home and at work for 10 years or more had a 32% excess risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who had never been exposed to passive smoke. Note that that the researchers emphasize that this particular association is only suggestive and since this is the first study to so closely examine the link between passive smoking and cancer in postmenopausal women, more data are needed.

So, what about the factors that might have influenced or skewed these findings? Well, the researchers did account for age ethnicity, education, body mass index, physical activity, alcohol use, whether or not women had ever been pregnant or brought a child to term, and history of hormone therapy use. And still, the results remained solid.

The upshot of this is that many of us grew up during a time when smoking was a rite of passage, “cool,” or simply habitual. Many of us quit during our 20s or 30s. Some of us still smoke. However, not only does smoking make those menopausal symptoms ever so much worse, but it’s also risky as hell when it comes to breast cancer.

It’s time to do due diligence. Conduct monthly breast checks. Despite controversy as to their value or lack thereof, make a conscious decision about mammography. Instill healthy habits now, including physical activity, a healthy diet and moderate alcohol intake. We might not be able to take back past habits but we can certainly do all we can to alter current habits.

If I knew then what I know now, I might not have picked up those Marlboro Lights so frequently. Oh well. Payback is certainly a bitch.

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Your bone health: the role of diet

Posted by on Mar 11, 2011 in bone health | 1 comment

Osteoporosis. That scary condition that can result in bone fracture in up to 40% of US women after the age of 50. In the UK, it’s been estimated at least half of women over age fifty will have some sort of osteoporotic fracture. So it’s truly no laughing matter.

I’ve tried to cover osteoporosis extensively since starting Flashfree and you can find many of those posts here. However, I am especially intrigued by novel research that demonstrates that dietary pattern, that is, particular combinations of foods that we eat, may influence bone turnover, a term used to describe the balance between bone formation and bone loss (a process that goes on constantly through our lives) resulting in a net loss or gain in bone tissue. Moreover, dietary pattern may also specifically influence bone resorption, i.e., the process by which cells called osteoclasts break down bone so that minerals (like calcium) can be released into the bloodstream.

The researchers, who studied 3,236 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 59, say that to date, most research has focused on link between specific nutrients and bone health, nutrients such as vitamin D or calcium. However, they point out that most individuals eat a variety of foods the contain combinations of nutrients. Therefore, they believed that there might be value in actually examining how the whole diet and the presence or absence of certain nutrients, affects the skeleton.

Consequently, they took initial body mass index measures, bone mineral density measures, assessed dietary habits by consumption of 98 foods, how often they were consumed and by portion size, and then, based on evaluation of how often these foods were consumed by the participants, further characterized them as the following dietary patterns: “healthy,” “processed,” “bread/butter,” “fish and chips” (the study took place in Scotland!) and “snack food.”

Overall, the women in the study actually consumed a large proportion of fruits and vegetables and on average, at least three cups of tea daily. Bread and potatoes tended to comprise the greatest source (at least percentage-wise) of “energy” to the diet. To a lesser extent, yogurt, cream, fats, oils, biscuits and milk also contributed a substantial amount of energy to the diet. However:

  • Of the five types of dietary patterns, a healthy diet was most associated with better bone health, and specifically, a reduction in bone resorption. Specific foods included fruits and vegetables, white meat, white and oily fish and dairy, all nutrients that have been previously associated with beneficial bone health.This combination of foods also provided adequate protein.
  • Conversely, eating mainly a ‘processed foods’ (i.e. cereal, processed meats, cake, desserts, dried fruits, soup, bread, and fats and oils) diet, and a “snack foods” diet (i.e. candy/cookies, potato chips, sauces) were both associated with reductions in bone mineral density.
  • The results didn’t change when factors, such as whether or not women were taking drugs to fight osteoporosis, were taken into account.

The bottom line is that when it comes to bone health, it’s important to eat healthy, pack your diet with fruits and vegetables, and stay away from junk and processed foods. Focus on foods that are risk in calcium and balanced levels of good protein. Although this may seem intuitive, the findings emphasize that  a poor diet may ultimately result in poor bone health and increase fracture risk as you age.

Time to restock the fridge? No bones about it!

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Wednesday Bubble: celebrating Women…a reprise of my conversation with chef/author Mollie Katzen

Posted by on Mar 9, 2011 in women's health | 0 comments

I know that yesterday was International Women’s Day. So I’m one day late reprising this post from last year. And ever so grateful for the women whose company I keep. So far as I am concerned, every day is women’s day. So here’s to all you ladies I know and love. And to you, my dear readers, without whom, this blog would not exist.


It’s International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate women of all ages, races, ethnicity and religion, to celebrate women as essential and relevant beings. Yet, as I write today in a post onWomen Grow Business, although women are more engaged and successful than ever, the woman in the mirror might not have much to say about the fact that her image is likely disappearing right before her eyes — just as she’s reaching the pinnacle of her career.  In fact, in a ‘visual culture’ like ours’, where youth and beauty are often valued more than experience and ‘foundation,’ many women find that they eventually cease to exist.

The Woman Grow Business post primarily focuses on how ageism affects our careers and the steps we can take to overcome inherent societal challenges. My friend, chef/author Mollie Katzen,played an important role in shaping that post.  In fact, it evolved out of an initial conversation that we had when we were discussing women, food and aging.

However, I’d like to share some additional insights that Mollie lends to concept of the disappearing woman. Let’s face it: although we live in a society that is “no country for old women,” [Credit for tag – Sadhbh Walshe,] perhaps we can shift the societal gaze to within and not without. Like Mollie, I know a number of middle-aged women who feel the need to adjust their physical appearance in order to compete. The gambit runs from hair color and botox to face lifts and labiaplasty. The question is, are these things taking time and focus away from our work (or who we are)? Granted, I color my hair and have been doing so for decades. I am not ready to embrace my gray. Does this mean that I am not ready to embrace myself or that I am somehow exacerbating my disappearing act?

Mollie is fortunate in that her chosen career is one of the few where, she says, “women are not only allowed to age but that [age] is seen as an enhancement to credibility.” However, she suggests that the more women are out there looking their age, the likelier it is for older women to do so.

However, here’s the rub: What does your age look like?

Mollie says that throughout her life, she’s been greatly helped by Gloria Steinem’s famous quote when told she didn’t look 40: “this is what 40 looks like,” said Steinem. “That phrase has been my mantra,” explains Mollie; “this is what I look like.”

For me personally, this gives me permission to dress in ways that make me feel good about myself, and perhaps even color my hair to reinforce that feeling. Mollie concurs:  “instead of hoping to look 35, try looking your best for who you are. Emphasizing that she dislikes and tries to avoid platitudes at all costs, Mollie agreed to share a few strategies that she and her friends have created. “They seem like small things,” says Mollie, “but they make a huge difference in how you come across:”

  • Posture! The first sign of “older” is often stooped shoulders. Standing tall conveys confidence and strength. “Anyone who is not attracted to that is someone you don’t need in your life.”
  • Keep a focused gaze. “Looking sharp sharpens, Mollie explains. “Glazing over glazes you over.”
  • “A smile is the best and cheapest face lift. Especially when it is genuine; your smile, not theirs.”
  • Breathe deeply. Then speak. “When you do speak, let your voice come from your abdomen and be fueled by that deep breath.” (This isn’t easy, btw.)
  • “Don’t ask your sentences unless they are questions.” (Remember Valley Girl by Frank Zappa?)
  • “Try to find the love in all situations.” (I need work on this!). Mollie explains that in most cases, this needs to come from within. “Recognize that sometimes that love can take the form of putting up a boundary. Recognize also, that putting up that boundary can be cloaked in warmth and humor, even while you are being assertive.”  She adds that “true personal power can be a warming and loving representation.”

Additionally, perhaps we need focus more on playing up our strengths and working on self-acceptance.  “Develop your own style of centering and use it to solidify,” advises Mollie. “Change or leave bad relationships.” (This could also refer to bad business relationships.) Seek support.

Platitudes or reality? As middle-aged women, can’t we create (or redefine) our reality. Most successful revolutions start with small steps. Our evolution as women depends on it.

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