Posts made in December, 2011

Wednesday Bubble: What did you forget? And why?

Posted by on Dec 14, 2011 in aging, memory/learning | 0 comments

If you are like me, you often get up, enter rooms and spend at least five minutes wandering aimlessly around trying to remember why you are there in the first place. And these memory challenges? They tend to worsen as we age and certainly as we move through menopause, not only do to hormones but largely to stress. However, researchers still haven’t completely discerned the ‘what’ from the ‘what’ when it comes to memory, although a current exploration of the topic in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology certainly lends an interesting perspective: doorways.


Yes, doorways, or more specifically, walking through them from one location to another, which according to a team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame, causes us to forget information. The reasons, although fairly complex, appear to be linked to a shift that occurs when one’s boundary or environment does; crossing the threshold causes the brain to go into overdrive to update understanding of ongoing events. So, as we analyze our new environment (i.e. the contents of another room), information that was present in our brains before we crossed the threshold is no longer so readily available.

In a series of three experiments, researchers teased out the ‘why’ of recall or lack thereof.  In the first, 31 women were seated in front of a computer simulated game, in which they became totally immersed in moving objects from a table in one room to a table in the same room or in another. However, once they started moving on the screen, the object they were carrying became invisible. And when they were asked to repeatedly recall the objects that they were carrying  immediately after entering the new location, recall apparently became slower and less accurate than the recall right after they moved the object across the room.

In a second task, 28 women and 32 men moved through a real world environment, where they chose and then carried covered physical objects from one room to another and then were asked to take a recognition test. Again, their memory appeared to worsen between the rooms rather than within them.

The researchers then conducted a third task, in which they discovered that context is not important and contrary to what many believe, we don’t encode information when we sit in a room, leave it and then return.

The upshot is that it appears that we keep information at hand until some sort of shift occurs and the brain needs to purge it to deal with new information. That shift is as simple as walking through a doorway and once it’s gone, it may be gone forever and irretrievable.

Do hormone shifts make this worse? Who knows? But, your daily memory loss appears to be only a doorway away.

p.s. Writers Charles Brenner and Jeffrey Zacks wrote a great piece about this study in Scientific American. Definitely check it out for more about this research.


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Breast cancer: is your environment placing you at risk?

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011 in breast cancer | 0 comments


Last week, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a new report on breast cancer and you will want to take note of their recommendations.

Entitled “Breast Cancer and the Environment, a Life Course Approach,” the goal of the undertaking  (which was sponsored by Susan G. Komen fo the Cure) was  to examine how a woman’s genes interact with her environment outside of her DNA to increase breast cancer risk. For the purposes of this report, environment was defined broadly to encompass all non-inherited factors, including:

  • How a woman might grow/develop throughout her lifetime (including body fat, abdominal fat, weight gain as an adult)
  • what she eats and drinks (alcohol consumption, use of supplements)
  • Physical, chemical and microbial agents encountered (e.g. dyes, BPA, parabens, tobacco smoke, metals, dioxins, pesticides, industrial chemicals)
  • her participation in physical activity
  • Social and cultural practices
  • Any medical treatments or interventions (e.g. combination hormone therapy, oral contraceptives, radiation)

Although research has long focused on the potential interaction between breast cancer and the environment, rarely has it concluded in determining or explaining preventive actions that a woman might take to counteract risk. That’s why I wanted to share some of the key findings on Flashfree.

First a bit of context:

Breast cancer, like many adult cancers is believed to develop as a result of accumulating damage to cells and tissues caused by internal and external factors. According to researchers, timing is everything. In other words, it is possible that a woman’s susceptibility to developing breast cancer increases at key periods during her life; this means when she is exposed to various contributing factors may be important. Overall, girls born in the U.S. have a 12% risk of developing invasive breast cancer sometime during the lives and among White women who are currently age 50 , 24 out of 1,000 can be expected to receive a diagnosis within the next 10 years; this figure declines slightly in women who belong to other ethnicities, including Black women (22 out of 1,000), Asian women (20 out of 1,000) and Hispanic women (17 out of 1,000).

The researchers write that trying to “determine which environmental exposures may influence rates of breast cancer poses substantial challenge,” explaining that how breast cancer develops, where it originates and how it progresses are not entirely clear. They also emphasize that by solely focusing on exposure to these factors during adulthood, it is very possible that they are missing other critical windows earlier in a woman’s lifetime or while she is growing up, that could influence breast cancer risk later in life. Still, even without these missing pieces, they have made some key recommendations that a woman might take to reduce her risk for breast cancer from environmental exposures:

  • Avoid inappropriate exposure to medical radiation, especially x rays and gamma rays (i.e. ionizing radiation)
  • Avoid combination menopausal hormonal therapy  unless medically appropriate (note that not only does this include HRT but also long term use of oral contraceptives)
  • Avoid or end active smoking
  • Avoid passive tobacco smoke
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption
  • Maintain or increase physical activity (e.g. increasing specific exercise types or frequency or a combination of the two)
  • Maintain weight or reduce overweight or obesity before menopause starts
  • Limit workplace and general exposure to chemicals that have been linked to breast cancer

Importantly, some of these steps are not without risk or ramification. For example, avoiding exposure to radiation could result in a loss of clinical information that might be otherwise useful. Likewise, they point out that eliminating alcohol drinking could increase heart disease risk. And, increasing physical activity levels always raises the risk for injury.

The Committee who drafted the IOM report concluded that these steps are only the tip of the iceberg, and that there are still only limited opportunity for evidence-based preventive actions. Moreover, these steps are truly individualistic; what will work for one woman may not work for another. And, any risk reduction may be minimal at best. Still, it is heartening that researchers are starting to tease out how our environment affects our health, if not for us, then for our daughters and granddaughters. Ultimately, we need a better understanding of the relationship between breast cancer risk and environmental factors, of the changes that the breast undergoes through a woman’s lifetime, timing and windows of opportunity. Meanwhile, try to change the course of your life by changing the life of your environment. It can’t hurt.




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Bringing back the woo-woo…or the ‘ain’t no woo woo.’ Mindfulness, meditation and stress

Posted by on Dec 9, 2011 in anxiety, health, general, Meditation/mindfulness therapy | 0 comments

Are you familiar with the end of the year crunch? I’m in the midst of it and although life is scheduled to slow starting next week, I am finding that I am having difficulty keeping up. So, today, I’m bringing back the woo woo in hopes that it might influence my own inability to calm down the adrenals right now.

Apologies for being self-serving. To be truly honest, this is one of my favourite posts of this year so I’m bringing it back. One word at a time. Let’s start with the first:



It’s so elusive for many of us. And yet, so important to our overall health and wellbeing. In fact, researchers are finally discovering how relaxation actually counters changes that occur in our bodies that result from exposure to constant stressors.

For decades, Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Institute in Cambridge, MA and an associate professor at Harvard University, has been writing about the relaxation response, a “mind-body intervention that elicits deep changes in the physical and emotional response to stress.” Strategies that elicit the relaxation response include meditation, yoga, tai chi, Qi gong, deep breathing, controlled muscle relaxation and guided imagery. And although many would like to point to the “woo woo” factor at-play, an evolving and wide body of published literature is indicative of how interested the medical community is in the mid-body connection and the positive changes that these practices promote, including a slowing or heart rate, a reduction in blood pressure, improvements in blood sugar and fats, and even boosts in our immune system. However, what has long eluded researchers is what actually happens in the body to achieve these improvements.

In a novel study published in 2008 in PLoS ONE,  Dr. Benson and his colleagues looked closely at 19 volunteers who had practiced relaxation response strategies (e.g. meditation, yoga, repetitive prayers) for as long as 20 years and compared them to 20 novices, individuals with no relaxation practice experience. These novices were provided with training sessions for 8 weeks that included information about how to reduce daily stress and the relaxation response and a 20 minute, individually-guided session comprising diaphragmatic breathing, a body scan and meditation.For 8 weeks thereafter, the novices then used a 20-minute relaxation CD at home and were asked to review the informational brochures. Blood samples and analysis of gene expression between experienced and novel relaxation practices, and pre- and post-training were then compared.

Importantly, while the researchers observed distinct changes in the genes in experienced relaxation practitioners compared to novices, when the novices started to incorporate relaxation practice into their lives, they also started to express similar positive alterations in their genes. Moreover, these changes are directly related to how cells respond to stress and create free radicals and inflammation that can lead to long-term damage. Additionally, type of relaxation strategy that was practiced was of no important; by achieving a relaxation state, individuals could make positive changes in their cellular structures thought to promote health.

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?

While I’ve long embraced the idea, I’ve never actually made a concerted effort to incorporate some sort of relaxation strategy into my daily activities. I’m going to change that. Ain’t no woo woo but a woot woot so far as I can tell.

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Guest Post Roundup: Sex, Generations and A Whole Lotta Love

Posted by on Dec 7, 2011 in aging, appearance, Boomer, breast cancer, emotions, humour, Inspiration, politics, sexual desire, sexual health, Uncategorized, women's health | 0 comments

As we come closer to the year’s end, I’d like to express my gratitude to a few of my colleagues who took the time to publish their thoughts on Flashfree this year. And, althoughI receive a lot of solicitations, there are few that I feel are worthy of your time or your close read. These, on the other hand, rocked my world, not only because of their breadth and finesse but also because of the love behind the words and thoughts.

This is a Roundup that you don’t want to miss.

[Credit: Special and enduring thanks to artist Darryl Willison of Please visit his site and support his work!]

  • Should fatties get a room? Dr. Brian Hughes has lent his fine prose to this blog several times and often writes insightfully about how our society takes advantage of women. When I stumble across something on his blog that screams Flashfree, I reach out and say pretty please. Brian rocks!
  • Should I or shouldn’t I? Oncologist, journalist and educator Dr. Elaine Shattner has spent most of her online bandwidth on discerning the facts about breast and other cancers. Let’s face it; there is a  lot of information swirling around the Interwebz and when it comes to figuring out what it means, well, the challenge can be daunting. Want to know more? Elaine’s your girl for the 4-11.
  • Anti Anti-Aging, Pro Great Glow. Do you want to fight your years? Or fight FOR them? Writer and author D.A. Wolfe dishes up some provocative prose and challenges the inner you. This one’s got “win” written all over it.
  • Counterterrorism, women and 9-11. Doesn’t sound like a topic for Flashfree, does it? But my friend Anne Weiskopf shares a poignant piece about what it means to be a woman. And a mother.
  • Want to get your groove on? Move. Alexandra Williams, motivational speaker, fitness writer, radio host and inspirateur nails it with a wonderful post on sex, exercise and wellbeing.
  • Vagina’s are like self-cleaning ovens. Wait! What?! Yes, gynecologist and sex expert Dr. Jen Gunter makes a guest appearance to shake up the idea that douching is a good idea.
  • Have you crossed the Big M finish line? Author Sarah Bowen thought she had. And tells us how she hit the reset button before the race ended.
  • On Becoming Bendy. Author Patti Digh is at it again. She’s changing our world, one day at a time. And wow, has she ever changed hers’ this year. Want to be a better you? Bendy. Who said that Gumby didn’t have an alterior motive?
  • Are you becoming your mother? When was the last time you looked in the mirror and asked yourself the very question that my friend, motivational speaker and author Cherry Woodburn asks in this post? Are you a generational profiler?
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Just 60 minutes a day…

Posted by on Dec 5, 2011 in aging, exercise, menopause | 2 comments

keeps the symptoms at bay?

You know that I’m all about exercise, not only to maintain fluctuating weight but also to chase those moody blues away . But did you know that increasing your workout to at least 60 minute a day may actually improve  wellbeing and lessen menopausal symptoms?

I stumbled across this piece last week and just knew that I had to share. And I am especially interested because it appears that too much exercise can set off early menopause (I’m still looking into this story). But to the study at hand.

Researchers, intrigued by the relationship between physical activity and menopausal symptoms, randomly assigned menopausal women to one of three groups:

  • Less than 30 min/day physical activity
  • Maintained or increased  physical activity from 30 to 6o min/day
  • Maintained or increased their physical activity to  more than 60 min/day

During the time that participants were studied, their regular, habitual activity was defined as whenever they did something active for at least 10 minutes, e.g., household chores, transportation, etc. Additionally, all  were encouraged to be more active (e.g. taking stairs versus an elevator) or at the very least, maintain their current activity levels during the time that they were enrolled in the 12 week study period.

Granted, while the outcomes were modest, the research did show that women who engaged in moderate to rigorous activity for at least an hour a day benefitted both in terms of feeling more positive about themselves and begin able to focus as well as in their personal relationships compared to peers who did 30 minutes or less a day. Overall, almost all menopausal symptoms were also lessened with the highest degree of physical activity. And, the researchers likened the improvements in mental wellbeing to the ability to, at the very least, maintain weight.

An hour of moderate physical activity daily? That’s a lot when your life is filled to the brim and your hours, maxed out. But, at the same time, mid age changes in body composition, hormonal fluctuations and increased risk of heart disease all point to one conclusion: it may be worth it to make the time. If you can’t get to the gym, at least take the stairs.

Treat yourself. You’re worth the hour.

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