Posts made in September, 2011

The Incredible Counterterrorism Efforts of Two 9/11 Widowed Mothers: Guest post by Anne Weiskopf

Posted by on Sep 19, 2011 in politics, women's health | 1 comment

I am proud to feature this wonderful post by my friend and blogger Anne Weiskopf. Although it focuses on 9-11 (a topic that those of you who know me personally understand that I avoid like the plague), the larger story is really about the importance of support and sisterhood, and reaching outside our comfort zone.

Although the post is considerably longer than usual, it’s well worth every word. Please show some love.


[Photo credit:]

Imagine being the wife of a passenger on American Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles on September 11, 2001.  Now imagine being 7 months pregnant with your 3rd child at that moment.  Imagine still, meeting another Widow (8 months pregnant with her 2nd child) whose husband was on United Flight 175, from Boston to Los Angeles on that fateful day.

So begins the story of Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, who were both pregnant, and widowed, on 9/11. These two women, residents of Boston-area suburbs, met for the first time months after September 11th.  Through their suffering they created a strong bond, each woman uniquely understanding the other’s experience, especially of having a baby who would never know her father.

As Susan and Patti were being comforted and supported by so many, including family, neighbors, co-workers of their late husbands, and the government itself, they began to research the conditions and circumstances facing other widows, those halfway around the world in Afghanistan.  Their situations were far from analogous.  According to Susan, “Decades of conflict had ravaged Afghanistan, leaving hundreds of thousands of women without husbands — a culturally necessity for Afghans — or basic resources. In many cases, Afghan widows had no means to feed, clothe, or shelter their children. Their situation was desperate.”

As it explains on their website:

The approximately 2 million Afghan widows are among the most impoverished and vulnerable peoples in one of the poorest countries in the world — yet they are often overlooked. Culturally displaced, widows in Afghanistan are stripped of whatever resources and respect they had when they were married. About 90% of Afghan widows have children, and the average widow has more than four.(1) Approximately 94% are illiterate.(2) It is difficult to overstate the bleak reality of everyday existence for these women as they struggle to feed their children and simply survive. Suicide sometimes seems like the only way out. According to a 2006 UNIFEM survey, 65% of the 50,000 widows in Kabul “see suicide the only option to get rid of their miseries and desolation.”(3)

Impoverished and utterly without resources, these women cannot lift their focus beyond day-to-day survival. As a result, their children are also trapped in the cycle of poverty without hope for a better future. The only way to break this cycle is by enabling Afghan widows to lift themselves out of the abyss. When a mother improves her life situation, her children have a chance at a better future — a chance not only to survive into adulthood, but a chance to attend school, which is vitally important on a global scale. As Colonel Jamie Cade, deputy commander of Canadian troops in Task Force Kandahar pointed out, the enemy in Afghanistan is not just the Taliban — it’s illiteracy.(4) If we are ever to affect meaningful social change and deter terrorism in Afghanistan, it is through education and empowerment from the lowest echelons of society — the very place where Afghan widows dwell.

This is the work of Beyond the 11th.

As the Bush Administration started wars on two fronts while simultaneously attempting to “win the hearts and minds”  of the enemies of the United States, Susan and Patti started to raise awareness, and money, through donations to Beyond the 11th.  First by traveling from Ground Zero to Boston by bicycle in 2006, and then by providing micro loans for Afghani widows to start small businesses so that their children could go to school, become educated, and not suffer the poverty and ignorance that led to Afghanistan becoming a training ground for Al-Quaeda and the 9/11 hijackers.  As Susan stated in September of 2010 “The hijackers did not wake up on September 10th with so much hatred for the US that they decided to commit suicide and terror. The hatred had been learned over a lifetime of despair, illiteracy, and poverty.”

The documentary “Beyond the 11th” chronicles Susan’s journey to Afghanistan in 2006 and the bond she created with the Afghani widows whom her organization had helped to set up in business, creating the opportunity for them to feed their children, send them to school, and to give themselves a sense of pride and purpose, something they had never had before.  For her humanitarian efforts, Susan was one of 13 Americans to be awarded a 2010 Citizens Medal by President Obama.

So why, on September 15th 2011 does this story seem all the more urgent?  The Sunday September 11th, NY Times “Reviews” section leads with “And Hate Begat Hate”. This story, written by Ahmed Rashi, a journalist and the author of “Taliban” and “Descent in Chaos” chronicles that the “wave of anti-Americanism is rising in both Afghanistan and PakistanThe reasons?  Because after 11 years at war (our longest war ever) those who once admired the United States resent that our efforts to bring peace and development to Afghanistan is failing, and with the war extended into Pakistan – the number of dead Afghan soldiers and civilians has greatly increased.  This, according to Rashi, leads many Afghanis to ponder:  “Why do Americans Hate us so much?”

Americans don’t hate Afghanis.  More to the point, the majority of Americans have little understanding of the Afghani people, and what life is like in Afghanistan. To that end, Susan Retik is all the more remarkable, for focusing not on revenge, but on better understanding the circumstances that would lead to a country becoming a terrorist training ground. In doing so she is dedicated to helping Afghani widows eradicate hunger and illiteracy in their villages so that they can imagine a future different from their past.  

Americans may not understand Afghanis.  And, Afghanis may not understand Americans.  But mothers understand their responsibility to their children and want to make a better life for them – no matter what their nationality, color, or religion.

And Susan Retik understands this best.


About the author.. Anne Weiskopf lives in the Boston area, with a husband, 2 teenage boys and 3 cats. She has spent many years in the tech media and B2B market. She provides sales and business development services to agencies and companies who are in the social media and technology space. You can find (and follow) her at @AnneWeiskopf on Twitter, and, her new blog




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Exercising to your max? Try the “talk test!”

Posted by on Sep 16, 2011 in exercise | 0 comments

Have you heard of  the “talk test?”

Evidently, the talk test may be an easy way to gauge how hard you are exercising and if you need to “up” or “lower”  your intensity level. And we know that exercise is an excellent way to maintain overall wellbeing, keep the blues at bay, improve bone and heart health, boots sexual function and possibly even ameliorate certain menopausal symptoms, which is why gauging how you’re doing may be important.

For those of you unfamiliar with the talk test, its underlying premise is that if you can respond to conversation while exercising, you are exercising at an intensity level that is “just about right.” Studies have shown that if an individual can talk comfortably during exercise, he or she is likely exercising at about 75% of their maximal oxygen consumption and 85% of their maximal heart rate. These targets are commonly used in exercise training. However, if an individual is unable to talk comfortably during exercise, he or she is likely pushing target rates up to 90% and 92% respectively. Still, it all gets a bit fuzzy after the age of 40 since in aging individuals, target heart rates vary fairly widely. Moreover, certain exercise intensities may be inappropriate for someone just starting out on an exercise programs or with health or weight issues.

While experts have been fairly certain that the test is an accurate gauge of how much oxygen is being used up during exercise, they are less certain if the test corresponds with how much lactate the muscles are producing during activity, and more importantly, if the body is producing more than it is using up. Too much lactate leads to sore muscles and less productive exercise; in other words, individuals are forced to slow down. Ideally, the goal is to work out at an intensity that best uses our oxygen capacity and doesn’t cause too much lactate to build up in the bloodstream.

In this very small study of 15 men and women, researchers from the University of New Hampshire first measured lactate and oxygen reserve levels while participants exercised on a treadmill at different speeds and inclines. The next day, they administered the talk test by having the participants read the Pledge of Allegiance while exercising on a treadmill at differing intensities that mimicked those the day before. Every three minutes, they were asked if were able to speak comfortably or not or if they were unsure.

Surprisingly, it appeared that the talk test actually corresponded more closely with the lactate threshold than the ventilatory threshold. When people in the study were exercising at the lower end of their exercise intensity and could speak comfortably, they were consistently well below their lactate threshold. However, when they started to suddenly breathe harder and were unable to speak comfortably (i.e. likely outside American College of Sports Medicine guidelines not to exceed 94% target heart rate or 79% maximal oxygen capacity), they were consistently above their lactate threshold. With regards to heart rate and maximal oxygen capacity, being able to speak comfortably did correspond to exercise intensity but not as closely as to the lactate target.

The researcher suggest that if you are beginning an exercise program and can still talk while exercising, you’re doing okay.  But, to increase and enhance endurance, you may want to think about pushing it up a notch or two, not quite to the ‘out of breath’ stage but closer to “heavy breathing,” which will correspond more closely to the line between using muscles to the max and overdoing it.

On the plus side, this is truly an easy way to gauge your training efforts. On the minus side, the study was in a very small group of healthy people who were no older than 35. So, more information is definitely needed on more sedentary populations. Still, it can’t hurt to try.

This time, talking the walk, and not simply walking the walk,  may be the way to go…


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Wednesday Bubble: More on maca – not ready for prime time

Posted by on Sep 14, 2011 in herbal medicine, menopause, sexual health | 0 comments

Remember maca? The aphrodisiac of the Andean plains that is even used in fjords of Norway? When it comes to menopausal symptoms and female hormonal balance, it seems that maca is not all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, before you spend your hard earned dollars on this Andean wonderherb, you may want to hear more.

In case you are unfamiliar with maca, it is a plant indigenous to South American countries that has been used for centuries by Peruvians and other cultures to manage conditions such as anemia, infertility and as mentioned, hormonal imbalances in women. More recently, it’s been introduced in Europe, the US and Asia as a potential treatment for impaired sexual function and desire.

However, despite its touted benefits and burgeoning marketing buzz, maca may not be “all that.”

In the scientific world, researchers often look at published studies and data in composite in order to evaluate the effectiveness or worthiness, if you will, of a product or strategy. These efforts are call meta-analysis, and consist of culling, pooling and then evaluating information that was collected over certain time periods. Importantly, when they tried to do this with maca, searching 17 international databases for studies up to June of this year, they discovered the evidence was lacking, forcing them to synthesize or qualitate what they were able to find based on the strength of the evidence that did exist. In summary:

  • Out of 17 scientifically rigorous studies that they were able to locate, only four held up to standards and therefore, worthy of inclusion.
  •  In total, 202 healthy pre- or post-menopausal women took pre-gelatinized or dried commercial maca or placebo, in different doses (1.0 to 3.5 gram daily) for up to 2 months.
  • Various menopausal symptoms were studied using scientific indices. They ranged from vasomotor and mental health to sexual dysfunction and overall wellbeing.

Although three of the four studies showed that maca had positive and even significant effects on menopausal symptoms compared to placebo, the researchers emphasize that “perhaps the most important finding of this systematic review is that there have been very few rigorous trials examining the effects of maca on menopausal symptoms.” Given that maca has been marketed as effective for the treatment of menopausal symptoms, they find the lack of data surprising. Moreover, the studies were so disparate in terms of how maca was used that it’s difficult to draw any worthwhile conclusion about its effectiveness. In fact, the optimum amount of maca is still not known.

Tell me, how can you treat your symptoms effectively if you don’t know what dose to use?

Experts also don’t know how maca works; theories include that it may stimulate the production of estrogen or that it fortifies the body’s ability to maintain hormonal balance. Nevertheless, others argue that despite the clear evidence, maca appears to cause fewer side effects than conventional drugs for menopause. In fact, none of the studies examined in the review showed any adverse events (some claim that there are no reports of adverse effects whatsoever, although Peruvian authorities recommend that it is boiled before consumption to insure safety, and Australian authorities report attention disturbances, weight loss, agitation, nausea, vomiting, abnormal liver function, abdominal pain and oral tissue bleeding). The reason it’s so important to clarify this particular safety profile is that if maca has an estrogen effect, it might be contraindicated in women with conditions that are sensitive to estrogen, such as endometriosis and breast cancer.

The bottom line is that we need more scientific studies and a heck of a lot more information. Meanwhile, although it’s definitely affordable (a quick Google search shows that pricing per bottle or in bulk ranges from $4 to $23), there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence to support regular use of maca for menopausal symptoms and sexual function. This is definitely a path wrought with lots of questions. Buyer beware. Maca isn’t ready for prime time, at least not yet.


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Be still my beating heart?

Posted by on Sep 12, 2011 in heart disease | 4 comments

Menopause causes a woman’s risk for dying from heart to disease to spike, correct? If you take a look at the studies I’ve been writing about since starting this blog, the answer would be an unequivocal “yes.”

What we do know to be true is that risk for heart disease increases with age and that heart disease is a leading cause of death among women. Yet, symptoms can be different in women and may even show up at a later age compared to men. Still, the long-held theory that menopause acts as an accelerator and an equalizer has just been turned on it’s toes by a newly published study in the British Medical Journal.

The study authors say that clinical and epidemiological data that demonstrate that menopause is key culprit are simply not there. Rather, they believe that women’s increase in deaths from heart disease can be attributed to a gradual decline of cells that act to repair and replenish our circulation. To prove their point, they reviewed death from heart disease over time in three different cohorts based on the time period when they were born (i.e. 1916-1925, 1926-1935 and 1936-1945).

Indeed, what they found was that none of the groups of women had any sort of significant upswing in heart disease deaths around the time of menopause. Instead, deaths from heart disease increased exponentially over time — by 7.9% per age year. In contrast, death from heart disease in men increased by about 30% per year up to age 45 and then slowed to about 5.2% per year thereafter.

When it comes to heart disease, the great equalizer between women and men appears to be age and not hormones. Even then, more men can be expected to die from heart disease than women, at least until an advanced age.

The reason this is so important is that the focus in women has long been on menopause and efforts to improve heart health based on that time period. The findings imply that we need a wake up call and that efforts to improve our hearts should be based on lifetime risk rather than the time from menopause and beyond.

The time is now ladies. Be kind to your heart; focus on diet, exercise and weight. And truly, still the risk for heart disease before it stills your beating heart for good.




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Botanically speaking…EstroG-100

Posted by on Sep 9, 2011 in estrogen, herbal medicine, hot flash, menopause, new approaches, nightsweats | 0 comments

Got botanicals? You might want to get this one. Although the traditional Japanese medicine Kampo supplement TU-025 doesn’t appear to offer  much hope in the hot flash department, a well-known botanical supplement widely used in Korea, EstroG-100, may. In fact, it appears that the proprietary blend of Korean herbs in EstroG-100, including Cynanchum wilfordii, Phlomis ubrosa and Angelica gigas are not only safe but help in a number of menopausal symptoms in addition to hot flashes.

So, what’s the lowdown on EstroG-100? Basically, the supplement has been studied in Asian women and we know from other alternative strategies that effectiveness among different ethnicities don’t always translate. Hence, I was pretty interested to learn that researchers decided to see if EstroG-100 would work on menopausal symptoms in a small group of white- and non-White Hispanics and African American women who were pre-, peri or menopausal. Over a three month time period, women either took 2 EstroG-1oo tablets or placebo twice daily and then using a scientific index, self-reported and rated symptoms, including:

  • hot flashes
  • cold swewats
  • numbness, tingling
  • insomnia
  • nervousness, depression or feeling blue
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • muscle and joint pain
  •  headache
  • pounding heart

The study results suggest that EstroG-100 is not only safe, but it has a significant impact on a few very troublesome symptoms, namely hot flashes and sweats, insomnia, nervousness, feeling blue, dizziness and fatigue. Overall, menopausal symptom scores declined by more than half in women using EstroG-100 compared to women taking placebo. Moreover, initial, favorable changes were seen as early as 6 weeks. Estro-G also appeared to have a beneficial effect on the severity of vaginal dryness, a condition that plagues many menopausal women as estrogen levels decline. Even better were findings that EstroG-100 does not have any sort of estrogenic effect, indicating that it may potentially  be safely used in women at risk for gynecological cancers. And, use of EstroG-100 does not appear to affect weight, body mass index or liver enzymes, all of which are affected by hormone replacement.

Less clear is how EstroG-100 will work in non-Hispanic white women and that study, along with studies in larger numbers of women may determine it’s overall benefit in menopause. Meanwhile, I’m pretty encouraged. This study addresses a lot of complaints about studies of alternatives; it is well designed, randomized, looks closely at adverse events and includes a variety of ethnic groups and menopausal status. Stay tuned for more on EstroG-100. This botanical may be here to stay!


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