Aromatherapy and menopausal symptoms; what’s the 4-11 on neroli oil?

Posted by on Aug 11, 2014 in stress, Uncategorized | 0 comments


[Photo credit: Los Angeles Arboretum]

Stress. Lord only knows that it wreaks havoc on our bodies and on our moods. And when it’s exacerbated by the tide of hormones that wax and wane over menopause, it can take an enormous toll. Importantly, the essential oil of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium L. var amara), better known as neroli oil, has been shown in animal laboratory studies to reduce anxiety and depression. However, does it work in humans as well?

In a study published in Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine journal, researchers assessed if inhaled 0.1% or 0.5% neroli oil might relieve the psychological symptoms of menopause, i.e. stress, depression and anxiety. While the study included less than 100 women, it was a scientifically controlled trial and the women, all of whom were in menopause, healthy, and not using meds for their mental health  were randomized to neroli oil dissolved in almond oil or to almond oil only.. They were asked to inhale either preparation for 5 minutes twice a day for five days. Measures of sexual desire, stress, quality of life, blood pressure and pulse rate and blood serum and estrogen were taken at the start of the study and the day after.

Interestingly, inhaling neroli oil  significantly improved physical menopausal quality of life scores compared to inhaling the almond-only oil.  The 0.1% formulation also had a significant effect on vasomotor symptom scores. While stress levels were shown to decline in all three groups, the differences were not scientifically significant. And while the neroli oil did help to improve cortisol levels, it had no effect on estrogen. However, it did appear to significantly reduce blood pressure.

Aromatherapy is a practice that is not taken very seriously among medical practitioners yet it’s important to note that neroli oil interacts with the very same neurotransmitters that play a role in regulating body temperature (i.e. the 5-HT receptors). Hence, it is not surprising that in this study, the 0.1% dose significantly improved vasomotor symptoms, Moreover, while the neroli oil did not appear to reduce stress, it did have a positive, significant impact on blood pressure measures, which indicates a role in relieving the body’s cardiovascular responses to stress. The researchers say that neroli oil’s influence on blood pressure might be due to how it interacts with the autonomic nervous system, which among many functions, controls heart rate and breathing.

While neroli oil can have side effects when it is ingested, I have been unable to find similar reports when a small amount (i.e. two drops) is rubbed on the skin and then used as aromatherapy. Nevertheless, you should speak with a licensed, knowledgable practitioner before trying this strategy as people as rubbing it on the skin may cause allergic reactions and does risk that some of it will be absorbed, thereby causing a drug reaction. Most importantly, one study does not proof make. Be vigilant and let’s see if there are other reports in greater numbers of women.

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Road trippin – let’s go places!

Posted by on Jul 7, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

I have written a lot about the power of friendships to wash away stress and the everyday grind. So, when Shift Communications offered me a Toyota Venza for a week, I jumped at the opportunity to grab a gal pal, hit the road for the holiday weekend and refresh.

The 2014 Toyota Venza Limited AWD has a V6 engine with great pick up and good handling around curves. I drive a luxury car so I’m a wee bit picky when it comes to both but surprisingly, the Venza did not disappoint as we hurried to get out of Dodge for the windy Virginia countryside ahead of traffic and in enough time to beat Hurricane Arthur. And as skeptical as I might have been, I am now a convert.






A mid-size SUV, the Venza is still roomy enough for a couple of women who really couldn’t decide what clothing to bring so as usual, packing took on a mind of its own. In other words, lots of clothes for a short weekend but lots of options as well! After all, how do you pack properly for antiquing, hiking, fine dining and a few trips to buy Virginia wine?! #letsgoplaces!



If you find yourself in the Charlottesville area, home to Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia, look for accommodations off the beaten path. We lucked out with Bailey’s Retreat, four separate cottages perched high above the Brown Gap Valley but only 9 miles or so from downtown, close enough to the entrance to the famous Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Mountains and 15 miles from antiquing in Barboursville, home to the Barboursville Winery and the ruins of Virginia’s 19th Governor , James Barbour  (pictured to the right).IMG_1809










Bailey’s Retreat is also only an hour away from the scenic Crabtree Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi. There is a great hike at Crabtree – switchbacks all the the way up and a pleasant trip down after the hard work.

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The view from the top is incredible!



Also close by and a must is the Trump Winery, which is located in the heart of Monticello Wine Trail. Mind you, I was the designated driver so I didn’t sample the wines but my friend said they were wonderful. Trump offers outdoor picnic and cafe tables and a great selection of small plates. However the true draw is the view. They’re also dog and kid friendly and appear to be the place to be on a beautiful afternoon for the locals too!


But I digress. The #Venza is a great road trippin car. Aside from a great handling around tight curves, it offers a Bluetooth, butter soft leather seats, a moon roof and a panoramic viewing panel for second row passengers (and it gets surprisingly good gas mileage to boot). I am beginning to understand why the Toyota folks are so in love with their Let’s go places tagline. It is truly a great vehicle for hitting the road on a whim when a little time with good gal pals is just what the doctor ordered!



[Disclosure: Shift Communications provided me with the 2014 Toyota Venza free of charge and with no strings attached. Along with the use of the car, they provided a drop off service, a $50 Home Depot gift certificate and a great portable chair. Thanks Shift and Thank you Toyota!]

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Guyside: Caveat adventor

Posted by on Jul 2, 2014 in Guyside, health, general, herbal medicine, homeopathy, men, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Earlier this week, FlashFree took a look at a homeopathic “Menopause spray” that promises relief of menopause symptoms.

It reminded me that there’s a universe of treatments out there for all sorts of disorders and diseases. When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer eight years ago, I spent lots of time reading about the conventional treatments (surgery, chemo, intravesical chemo, immunotherapy, radiation), and about some of the alternative treatments.

To this point, I’ve only used one form of treatment, because my tumours are relatively minor — a surgical removal of the tumours when they occur.

But alternative treatments or prevention strategies are important for many people. The problem comes with the sheer volume of information out there about all sorts of treatments, especially the less conventional ones, and the way things can change. Here’s one example:

For a long time, people concerned about prostate cancer were advised to take selenium and vitamin E supplements. But that advice changed a few years ago when a major trial began to discover that instead of being associated with reducing probability of prostate cancer, no benefit was being observed, and there were concerns.

Then late last year a research report found that instead of reducing likelihood, the supplements were associated with increasing the likelihood of a prostate cancer diagnosis.

The selenium-vitamin E research illustrates a few things. First, science changes. That’s the point of science — to understand more about a process or mechanism. And that’s why if you’re managing your health, you should be always ready to learn and to adapt to new findings.

Second, it’s good to have trusted professionals on your side. I enjoy being an involved patient, and I also enjoy helping family members or friends with medical issues if they ask for help. But I don’t believe that I’m necessarily more knowledgeable than a medical professional. It’s finding the balance between unquestioningly accepting every action recommended by your doctor or doctors and striking out on your own with no expert interventions. Using skills like those listed in the National Coalition for Cancer Survivors’ page on self-advocacy can make you a better patient and maybe a healthier one.

Third, miracles are rare. Google is a great asset, but there’s a lot of information out there that’s sketchy at best. Maintain a healthy skepticism about EVERYTHING you read or encounter. Ask yourself — or a professional — how likely it is that a root, a supplement, or some other unconventional treatment is a MIRACLE CURE for a disorder or disease. Don’t let depression or desperation colour your thoughts.

And for myGuyside readers: Happy Fourth of July!

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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 comments


There is something very odd about passing the 50 yard line. Increasingly, I am becoming familiar with loss. And while it is absurd to assume that there is a correlation between entering one’s 50th decade and loss, it does seem that the older I become, the more aware I am of how truly transient life is.

Over the past several months, I have watched friends lose parents and loved ones, friends divorce, friends end relationships, and friends become ill. And just last week, I personally experienced a sudden loss that created a chasm that was so profound that I currently feel as if I am drifting without a clear direction or purpose.

This is what they call midlife, when we are forced to wake up and pay attention. And, perhaps this is why we are advised to live in the moment, because that moment is gone in a blink of an eye and things change so very rapidly.

I awoke this morning with an indescribably heavy heart, tinged with loss and love and hope. And then, I realized that today was Memorial Day. Ironic? I think not.

On this Memorial Day, please take one or two moments to reflect on those women and men who lost their lives protecting our country. The faces may be unfamiliar but they were once someone’s daughter, son, husband, wife, partner, friend or confidante. As I contemplate my loss, I cannot imaging the anguish that these families went through. My loss pales in comparison.


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Guyside: In the Garden

Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Guyside, Inspiration, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Even a modest garden like ours can be a source of great relaxation and exercise (photo: Bob LeDrew)

Even a modest garden like ours can be a source of great relaxation and exercise (photo: Bob LeDrew)

In my part of the world, spring has finally given us some warm sunny days. It seems as if the plants in my back yard were impatiently waiting to get on with the business of blooming.

And that meant that my partner and I spent some hours over Canada’s Victoria Day weekend tending our little piece of the planet.

When it comes to gardens, I am more inclined to be a passive appreciator. I don’t know much about flowers, but I do like to look at them and smell them. And for the next six months or so, I am lucky enough to be able to take my notebook out to the garden and work in the middle of what we jokingly call “the cottage.”

But I lack the strategic sense when it comes to our garden. Cathy sees what could be, what needs to move, what needs to split. I don’t. And to be honest, digging and weeding and hoisting stuff isn’t of less interest to me. So when it comes to gardening, I’m the brute force and the cheap labour, doing what I’m told by the person with brains.

But even if you’re like me, there are a lot of benefits to be derived by working in the garden. Even some moderate gardening can have similar effects to other forms of exercise, according to Weight Watchers. One implication of that: prepare for gardening the same way as you would for other forms of exercise. Do a little warmup, stretch, and the like. Most important for me is to vary my tasks. Don’t rake for three hour stretches (not that I could rake for that long in my plot anyway); don’t be bent over weeding for hours. Take breaks and change up the task to keep your muscles limber.

There are also psychological and spiritual benefits of working in the garden. The University of Nebraska College of Public Health published a great two-part article outlining the benefits of gardening. Their focus was not only on your own garden space, but on community gardening. If you live near a community garden, you may not only be able to put food on your own table, but to help others who need it to have the freshest, healthiest food that can be imagined. We grow tomatoes every year, and there’s nothing like a fresh tomato plucked right off the vine, or a pasta sauce made with tomatoes and herbs you grew yourself and harvested that very day.

Maybe it just comes down to some very simple truths: it feels good to take responsibility for even a little part of what we eat. It feels good to be in the sun, to watch the rain come down and help your plants grow, to enjoy the harvest. For a white-collar dude like me, it feels good to get your hands dirty from time to time. It’s nice to be the cheap labour and not have to make decisions once in a while!

Spending time in the garden — whether working or enjoying — gives us windows of time when we can simply let go of the other stuff in our lives and just be in the moment. And damn, it’s nice to be lying in the hammock with a beer in reach, and a book open on your chest, idly looking around at your own patch of green. 


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Guyside: what the Michael Sam backlash teaches us about us

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Guyside, men, relationships, sexual desire, Uncategorized | 0 comments

If it hadn’t been for two men kissing, I doubt I would have taken any notice at all of the NFL draft last week. While there are lots of people in Canada who are big NFL fans, I’m not; frankly, if I’m watching football, I’m watching the Canadian game, with its bigger field, fewer downs, and more freewheeling style. But I’m not here to talk about our superior game.

The big story out of this year’s NFL draft was the selection of Texan Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams. Or, more precisely, the big story was the video of Sam sharing a celebratory kiss and hug with his boyfriend Vito Cammisano (who, Wikipedia tells me, is also an accomplished athlete.)

Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones tweeted the word “horrible.” Others criticized ESPN for broadcasting the display of affection, saying “kids are watching.” A former Ole Miss basketball player tweeted that he was boycotting ESPN because his 7 and 11-year-old brothers were exposed to the video clip, then after being subject to a large backlash, said that his tweets had been part of a friend’s psychology project.

Suffice it to say that there was a lot of shock and horror that this athlete would engage in a display of same-sex affection on camera, and that it would be broadcast.

My friend Joe wrote about how he talked with his daughter about this, and it got me thinking about us heterosexual guys and our complicated relationship with gayness. When I was a kid, the worst thing that you could call another guy was one of the pejorative terms for “gay:” fruit, faggot, fairy. And certainly in my world of popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s, there were very few examples of gay men. It was known that Elton John was gay. There were rumours about David Bowie. But certainly there were no out gay men in my world, and I never met someone who was out until I went to university in 1983.

Things have changed since then. I now count many GLBT people as both casual and deep friends, and I’m part of one of  city’s major events for the GLBTQ community. So what have I learned? First off, none of that has led me towards changing my sexual orientation. I’m as straight as I was in my teens, or even back further than that (if you can have a sexual orientation at that age.)

Second, I can’t imagine a set of circumstances that would turn me from a guy who likes women to a guy who likes other guys. And that lack of imagination has led me to believe that it’s unlikely circumstances exist that would change a woman who loves other women to a woman who loves men, etc. So I can’t get behind the idea that someone (child or adult) seeing two men kiss on television is going to be “twisted,” “scarred,” etc. I also don’t see how it’s difficult to explain that behaviour to a kid — “Those guys? They love each other, so they’re kissing. Some guys love other guys.” Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Third, objecting to something does not mean you get to be insulated from that’s thing’s existence. Nobody has the right to tell you that your opinion on gay men is wrong. But you don’t have a right to never see or be exposed to gay men in your life, and it would be a lot easier for everyone if you can say to yourself and others “The Bible tells me that homosexuality is wrong.”

Finally, we straight guys have to get past the double standard that seems to exist around gay men. I don’t think I need to tell you that there’s a lot of attention paid to women kissing women — and men watching them. But when it comes to men kissing men, there’s what many would say is a visceral reaction of revulsion. I believe that reaction is learned and reinforced by society.  (And to be clear, I have no evidence to support that beyond that of my own life.) We are taught to be revolted by it. We then write scripts to justify it, that often involve either direct damage (based on the broadly-debunked belief that homosexuality and pedophilia are related) or psychological damage or scarring (based on the broadly-debunked belief that gayness can be “taught.”)

We need to accept people and things and behaviour at face value. Two guys kiss? Yup, they kissed. No more than that. A guy likes guys? Yup. As men, let’s get past the taunts and the immaturity that we grew up with around this stuff.

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