Posts made in September, 2011

Breathe. What you need to know about asthma and HRT

Posted by on Sep 30, 2011 in asthma, HRT, menopause | 0 comments



If you suffer from asthma, you will want to take note: researchers presenting at this week’s European Respiratory Society AnnualConference have shown that female asthmatics have an increased risk of landing in the hospital if they take hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Yet another nail in the HRT coffin, once again demonstrating that the health risks of taking hormone replacement may outweigh the benefits.

Notably, studies have shown that asthma risk increases in women after puberty. Moreover, hormones, most specifically fluctuating estrogen levels, can impact airways as much as allergies and hay fever (fluctuating estrogen levels can produce an inflammatory response and exacerbate breathing difficulties). On average, asthma symptoms develop in about 21% of menopausal women and more than twice as many using hormone therapy.

In this study of over 23,000 Danish women with documented asthma, researchers looked specifically at hospitalizations for severe reactions. They also collected information on smoking, exposure to smoke, body mass index, level of physical activity, history of hysterectomy and use of HRT.  The findings? Using HRT increased the risk for hospitalization for severe asthma reactions by as much as 40% compared to not using hormone therapy. What’s more, the longer the women used HRT, the higher their risk of ending up in the hospital; for example, if they used it for less than 3 years, they have a 29% increased risk and if they used it for more than 10, a 51% increased risk. Even more troubling was the fact that women didn’t smoke appeared to have the highest risk for being hospitalized in association with their HRT use.

Although this isn’t a randomized trial, and more information is needed, the researchers still recommend that practitioners be made aware of these findings. They say that the relationship between asthma and female sex hormones is hardly new, but that their findings confirm the relationship and further our understanding of it by showing the extent of severe asthma reactions that occur when women take hormones. “If a patient develops asthma or has a severe worsening of symptoms after taking HRT, they may need to stop hormone therapy altogether,” they add.




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Wednesday Bubble: chase the midlife blues away with a cup of java?

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in aging, depression, emotions, menopause | 8 comments


Coffee. The morning elixir that oh, so many of us rely on. Did you know that caffeine is the world’s most frequently ingested psychoactive substance?!

We’ve heard a lot about the blues and depression during midlife and menopause, with some experts saying that the two are connected and others, that they are not. However, regardless of whether or not menopause increases the risk for depression, it is clear that depression affects twice as many women as men, and at least 20% of all US women at some point during their lifetime. Hence, if there is an easy way to boost the success of antidepressants or behavioral or other strategies, I’m all for it. And it appears that coffee may be the part of the solution.

Coffee? Really?

In a newly published study in the esteemed Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers say that they followed over 50,000 women and examined their food intake including how often they drank caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, tea and soft drinks and and ate chocolate. During the 10 years of the study, researchers identified slightly over 2,000 cases of depression. However, it appeared that drinking two to three cups of coffee daily reduced the risk of developing depression by 15% compared to drinking one cup a day or less. Women who drank four or more cups a day had a decreased risk of 20%. And decaffeinated beverages? No dice.

In so far as this study goes, it’s not conclusive and it could be possible that mildly depressed women drink less coffee. And keep in mind that  too much of a good thing is well, too much. Studies have shown that long-term consumption of caffeine can lead to tolerance, meaning that you need greater amounts to achieve the effects that many of us crave.  Nevertheless, so far, the results show that  coffee may very well be mildly protective against depression.

English playwright and theatre director John Van Druten once  said, “I think if I were a woman I’d wear coffee as a perfume.” I think I’d rather just drink it than wear it!

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Talk health to me, baby…on ePatient Conference, Seduce Health and menopause

Posted by on Sep 26, 2011 in aging, Boomer, emotions, Inspiration, menopause | 0 comments

When was the last time talking health was considered sexy? Or creative? Or passionate? Well, if you are a long time reader of Flashfree, you know that I don’t mince words and I don’t attempt to turn menopause or aging into a steamy soap opera (unless we’re talking steamy as in night sweats and hot flashes). However, I do try to approach the ‘what you need to know’ with humor, integrity and candor and stay away from fear mongering. That’s why I was excited to meet a lot of people last week who not only shared my passion for healthcare but more importantly, for conversing about it.

If you have not heard of ePatient Conference, you may want to check it out next year. It’s two solid days of engagement, exchange and networking. But if you take away the buzzwords, you are left with an opportunity to put creativity back into the way that healthcare is approached, managed and talked about.

Among the many incredible experiences — from hearing Seth Godin’s keynote to witnessing the VGo Robot take photos of the audience — none were quite as inspiring as meeting Google’s Chief Health Strategist, Roni Zeiger. And while Roni is undoubtedly doing some very cool things with Search and Trends over at the Google Headquarters, I was most impressed when he started telling me about Seduce Health. Along with co-founder Alexandra Drane, Roni started the site “to get a public conversation started about how we can reframe how we ask people to change their behavior, to live healthier and therefore happier lives. To move from fear and lecturing to passion and dreams, hope and beauty.”

It’s not a bad goal. But is it achievable?

It’s fairly clear that health messaging often falls on deaf ears and that sometimes, the individuals, experts and organizations leading the charge are the ones who are also misleading the very public they seek to educate. Take overweight and obesity for example, problems affecting an estimated two out of three American adults and at least 17% of all children. Obesity is the elephant in the room, acknowledged but rarely discussed without fear or lecturing, under- or misestimated and frequently inadequately addressed. Menopause is also a good example, a natural transition in a woman’s life that has been turned into the disease of the 21st century, medicalized by many health practitioners, manufacturers and the media, and mongered to the point where we have a burgeoning Menopause Industrial Complex based on greed, profit, fear and self-loathing rather than empathy and education.

When it comes to women’s health, I do believe that can be sensuous and passionate, not dry and stale. Along these lines, I recently wrote that:

taking control doesn’t have to mean that the aging process is denied, stopped or obliterated, medicalized or industrialized. Rather, it means taking charge to feel better, more vibrant, healthier so that you/we/I can live the best life I can live while we are alive. For me personally, that doesn’t mean hormone replacement or botox or lipo; it means trying to make more healthier decisions, control or address my symptoms with evidence-based alternatives and accept the transition as a natural part of my journey. I consider this time an opportunity for shifting priorities and interests that open all sorts of possibilities. And,  I want to take the experience out of the closet and foster discussion and sharing. Ultimately, I’d like the see a more natural course driven by women themselves, as opposed to societal expectations and stigmatization of the aging process and as opposed to the Menopause Industrial Complex.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Let’s crowdsource menopause.  Let’s make it a goal to seduce our peers and practitioners into talking about it, embracing it and not trying to change it into something its not: a four letter word. Aging can be a hopeful, positive experience.

What do you say? You in?

p.s. If you are curious about ePatient Conference, organizer Keven Kruse has graciously posted presenter slides here.

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Menopause: the symptom? Or, the disease?

Posted by on Sep 23, 2011 in emotions, estrogen, menopause, women's health | 4 comments

A few years ago, I ran across the following story on the BBC:

“Woman’s Death Blamed on Menopause.”

“A woman who refused to take hormone replacement therapy died while suffering a menopausal episode, an inquest had heard. Margaret Drew…was killed when she walked out of her family home on to a nearby railway line and was hit by a train…There is no trigger to this at all, except hormones making her do things that she normally wouldn’t do, Dr. Carlyon [Cornwall Coroner) concluded…”

Menopause. The silent killer. Oh really?  Drew’s husband claims that his wife was “delightful, lovely and friendly” 99% of the time; the other 1% she’d become “totally irrational.” Yet, she refused to try HRT, he says. On the day of her suicide, he said that his wife was “clearly angry about something.”


Obviously, the conclusion is that that the “something” is hormones. This reminds me of vintage advertising copy that conveys the simple message that a pill a day can cure all that ails, wipe away the tears, mood swings and instability so that women can “transition without tears” (or better yet, without killing themselves).

Notably, a search in the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database turned up only one recent study specifically dealing with suicide ideation across reproductive stages. In it, researchers compared data in 8,794 women, and found an increased risk of thinking about suicide among women during perimenopause, not before or after entering menopause. These findings remained after controlling for risk factors such as anxiety and mood disorders. HOWEVER, the researchers noted that the study design did not allow them to form any definitive conclusions about the specific reasons for thinking about suicide.

Another search yielded information that the risk for a major depression increases during perimenopause, primarily as the direct result of vasomotor symptoms. The same does not hold true for women before menopause begins or once they enter menopause. Note that while major depression is a risk factor for suicide, not everyone who is depressed will actually kill themselves.

So, are hormonal fluctuations the sole cause of such deep unhappiness that women want to kill themselves?

Interestingly, just a week after the menopause/train suicide story hit the interwebz, a rather controversial set of data also emerged: since 1972, women’s overall level of happiness has dropped. These findings held true regardless of child status, marital status and age. Researcher Marcus Buckingham, writing in the Huffington Post, said that women are not more unhappy than men because of gender stereotyping and related attitudes, due to working longer hours or because of the inequality of housework/responsibilities at home, but rather, the hormonal fluctuations of menopause may be to blame. What’s more, he leaves us hanging so we’ll tune in for part two of the piece to learn the true cause of our declining happiness or better yet, read his book (which evidently guides women through the process of finding the true role that they were meant to play in life).

Importantly, reactions to this study (and various pundits’ assessment of it) have been mixed. One of the most poignant comments I’ve read asks the question “how is happiness measured? What does it mean?”

I have no idea what caused Mrs. Drew to walk into a train and kill herself. Perhaps she was depressed. Clearly she was suicidal.

I have no idea why research shows that women are less happier than they were three decades ago.

However, is menopause the cause? Aren’t these conclusions an example of how the Menopause Industrial Complex perpetuates societal myths that menopause is a disease that requires treatment? That as women, our attitudes, belief systems and actions are hormonally-based and driven? That we are hysterical beings who need guidance on how to find our way and fulfill our dreams, realize our paths, but only if we calm down?

Feeling angry? Blame it on menopause. Unhappy? Blame it on menopause. Not realizing your dreams? Blame it on menopause. Overworked, overstressed, undervalued? Blame it on menopause.

Blame it on menopause.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired, tired of hearing that menopause is not the symptom but the disease. Isn’t it time we start fighting back?

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Wednesday Bubble: Anti Anti-Aging, Pro Great Glow. Guest post by D. A. Wolf

Posted by on Sep 21, 2011 in aging, appearance, Inspiration | 4 comments

You know when you read something and you say “wow,” wish I had written this? This is how I felt when I read this piece on aging (or anti-aging) by freelance writer and journalist D. A. Wolf. And although I had never spoken to her before, I reached out on Twitter and asked her if I could run it on Flashfree.

We’re bursting some big bubbles today, the type that convince us that aging is a four-letter word. And it’s never a better time to remind ourselves that this line of thinking couldn’t be further than the truth.


I thought it was the usual – a skinnied-down version of a new magazine in a world gone virtual. Daring, I thought – attempting any sort of print publication in this age of the Internet. So I set aside the bills from the mailbox, and sat down instead to page through.

I hadn’t recognized the woman on the cover. Only after reading the table of contents did I glance back and scrutinize the face, discovering an 80s icon in the plumped, smoothed, and limpid likeness.

I won’t say who it was; I will say I was disappointed. The person gazing back at me seemed pleasant enough, somewhere in that tinkered-with range of 40 to 60, yet she spun no stories and held only the slightest resemblance to the woman I once watched and listened to.

I skimmed the lead article, and thumbed through the rest.

Hmm, I thought. A lot of sponsored copy.

Then I realized it was nearly all sponsored: lasik from my local clinic, Botox from the dermatologist in the nearby office park, full-fledged nips and tucks or, mini-lifts if you prefer.

A vibrant smile?

Not a problem. There were befores and afters from at least a half dozen providers of dental implants or pearly veneers.

Concierge-assisted recoveries?

Many to choose from.

There were case studies on European creams, on heart healthy diets, on the advantages of the now-accepting-new-members senior spa and health club. There were pictures and paragraphs on every conceivable cosmetic procedure.

I paged back to see the name of the publisher and more about the contributing writers. This thinly veiled advertising circular was little more than a targeted set of “senior services,” all of which were spouting the advantages of anti-aging this, anti-aging that.

Which is when it hit me, which isn’t to say it hasn’t occurred to me previously.

Anti-aging? Wouldn’t that mean death?

Shouldn’t we be pro keeping our eyes and ears open and making reasoned choices, including rejecting the concept that we must always appear young? Why is every sign of aging “bad?”

  • Why are my joyful laugh lines to be expunged?
  • Why must my abdomen reject the ripples that show I carried babies?
  • Why is aging – especially as a woman – so sorrowful that we feel “less” than worthy of love, worthy of jobs, worthy as people?

Why had this lovely 80s star allowed her individuality to be cosmetically and digitally altered?

I may not like the loosening of skin in all its inevitable places, but isn’t that natural and not without its own beauty? Is it impossible for us to appreciate the entirety of the package, rather than pointing to the shiniest wrapping and saying that is all that matters? Can’t we focus on health and its obvious advantages?

Of course I’m aware of ageist prejudice.

Of course I’m aware of my lessening marketability.

But doesn’t accepting the prevailing “wisdom” of fighting aging tooth and nail mean condoning that we are valueless as we mature?

I try to eat well, I walk when I can, I paint my gray, and I love to dress in a feminine fashion. I put on my mascara and gloss, and God knows I adore my shoes. I won’t say “never” to the possibility of a tweak someday, but nor will I apologize for my age, and with it – my acquired wisdom, my sexual maturity, and my stubborn vitality.

And I won’t be told that “aging” is anything other than natural.

Maybe it’s time we shifted our thinking, we the women of 40 and 50 and 60 and older – and rather than fighting our years, fight for them. So give me Meryl and give me Helen. Let’s toot our handsome horns and flaunt our fabulous fuller figures, knowing that great glow is more than show, and not the entitlement of a single demographic.

 About the author…

D. A. Wolf is a freelance writer, journalist, marketer, trainer, single parent, art collector, polyglot, traveler, and devotee of exquisite footwear & French lingerie. She believes we are all brimming with glorious contradictions, and capable of living fully – with whatever life dishes out, and whatever we can make of it. You can find a lot more of D. A. and her brilliant self at her blog, Daily Plate of Crazy.


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