women’s health

Spilling the beans on coffee and caffeine

Posted by on Jun 22, 2012 in Uncategorized, women's health | 1 comment

Coffee, alcohol, chocolate. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them, right? Well, if you are like me, you may be intrigued by evolving research into these three substances in terms of health. In fact, back in May, I wrote about published research examining the effects of coffee on longevity. You can find that piece here.

Meanwhile, back on the research front, I ran across an editorial in the online edition of Maturitas that provides a deeper dive into coffee and what we, as consumers, are actually drinking every time we purchase a cup in a coffee shop. And the data may astonish you because while the serving sizes of espresso are within similar ranges, the caffeine content varies as much as two to almost six-fold. And let’s face it; most of us drink coffee for the taste. And for the caffeine effects.

However, as the authors point out, when it comes to commercially purchased coffee, it’s almost impossible to determine how much caffeine one is actually ingesting. This makes it difficult to stay within guidelines outlined by the International Food Council that suggest that moderate intake of caffeine equates to roughly three 8 oz cups a day, or 300 mg per day. (FYI: on average, it takes 5 hours for most adults to metabolize and excrete about half the caffeine consumed — in scientific circles, this is called “half-life”). And while this may seem unimportant to most, too much caffeine not only promotes insomnia or feeling jittery, but in amounts over the moderate intake level, may be downright dangerous for pregnant women (whose fetus can’t metabolize the purine akaloid in coffee). On the flip side? Regular coffee intake can help control gycemic levels (so long as you don’t add sugar), reduce the risk of depression and reduce cognitive decline, especially in women.

So, what do you need to know before you buy that next cuppa?

  • Different coffee shops used differing amounts of coffee to prepare their coffee drinks.
  • Barista methods vary from shop to shop and factors like water temperature, steam, time brewed, etc, all play a role.
  • If you are a latte or cappuccino lover, your espresso is diluted but to what extent is a mystery.
  • Beans are harvested, roasted and ground differently from one cup to the next.

The authors say to have no fear but to insist on “good quality, 100% arrabica beans,” and to start paying attention to the process. I think that this advice is a bit far fetched because short of being one of ‘those’ customers, I don’t see how one can control or demand. Starbucks is Starbucks, right? BTW, while the analysis was conducted in Scotland, Starbucks espresson had the lowest level of caffeine per serving — only 51 mg, which begs the question, what are you paying for when you drop $5 on the double espresso?

So, “what’s in your cup?” It’s fairly intuitive that a few visits to the same coffee shop will yield a lot of non-scientific answers; if two espressos cause a whole lotta jitters, have one the next time. That aside, I suggest a home brew to take all questions off the table.


Read More

Unleash your power. Unleash your Talk.

Posted by on May 4, 2012 in women's health, Work/occupation | 6 comments

When you think ‘Bootcamp,’ you probably think fitness or the military, right? But what about a boot camp geared towards helping you grow professionally as a speaker, boost your self-confidence or develop new skills? All within the safety and support of two of your most trusted colleagues or friends? That’s what is so intriguing about my longtime friend Jill Foster’s Unleash Your Talk program.

I contacted Jill when I first heard about Unleash Your Talk, namely because I was so intrigued. And when we started to delve into exactly what it was, format resonated deeply — not only because of the deep respect I have for Jill and her skills — but also because it reflected on of my long time goals to encourage women to support one another.

No matter our age, situation, relationship status, creed, religion, or color we rely on our friendships and networks to raise us up and bring us out of the darkness into the light, to fully blossom, thrive and grow, to create, express and love.

  • Data from a study published in Psychological Review in 2000 suggests that women’s inherent response to stress is to ‘tend and befriend’ rather than ‘fight or flight;’ in other words, there is a biologically-defined strategy or pattern that involves caring for offspring, joining social groups, and gravitating towards friends under stressful circumstances. This is driven, at least in part, by the release of the hormone oxytocin, which coupled with endogenous opioids and other sex hormones, promotes maternal behavior as an alternative to the male-oriented fight and flee response.
  • Findings from the Nurses Health Study have also shown that friendships help prevent the development of physical impairment and facilitate a more joyful existence. What’s more, having a strong social network can lower blood pressure and heart rate and improve cholesterol levels.

The bottom line is that Mama Nature has provided us with a built-in prompt to maintain those ever important bonds. Our inherent tendency to nurture completes the picture. It appears that as women, we possess the strongest alternative strategy to aging in existence: our friends.

So, let’s get back to Unleash your Talk.  Jill has taken the premise of achieving long term gains in health and wellbeing, i.e. strengthening friendships and support networks and has applied the same philosophy to public speaking. Unleash Your Talk provides a means for women who want to explore new facets and avenues for growth in their professional lives to do so in an intimate, supportive environment. The ultimate goal is not only to identify your personal, professional beliefs that drive you but also to provide a strategy that allows you to share those skills with others in a meaningful fashion. And Jills says that whether or not participants select a four-hour or full-day intensive, they will achieve, at minimum, a stronger ability to assert and present themselves in a public setting,an approach to communicate persuasively in power situations (e.g. client/boss scenarios) and means to break through the barriers that keep them from achieving success, whatever that looks like (e.g. what if I look or sound imperfect?). The more intensive full day also includes three take-away speaker proposals, a video content/performance project and review, and ongoing access to a coach for 30 days.

For women in midlife, reentering the job force, changing careers or delving into more professional speaking roles can be paralyzing. I love that Jill has taken the basic tenets of health and wellness, i.e. support, caring for one another, trust and communication, and applied them to a strategy to empower and enable. When we think about it, most of us have one or two people we bounce ideas off of consistently, whether they are personally or professionally-oriented. Unleash Your Talk promotes the medical and social concept of trusted peers and utilizes this dynamic as a means to move us forward in a professional, structured capacity.

Jill says that “public speech is public power.” I would like to add that public speech is personally empowering and personal power.

Check out this recap of a bootcamp that Jill conducted a few weeks ago. Isn’t it time to unleash your power? And Unleash your Talk?


Based in the Washington, DC region, she is a speechwriter and delivery coach, helping people develop distinct message & voice as public speakers.

About Jill…

Cited by ForbesWoman as one of 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter, Jill Foster is principal of Live Your Talk. Based in the Washington, DC region, she is a speechwriter and delivery coach, helping people develop distinct message & voice as public speakers. Believing strong communities come from strong conversations (and public speaking skill) — Jill works with award-winning entrepreneurs, CEOs, and innovators makin’ it happen as public speakers — on stages likeTED and TEDxIgnite, plus a variety of keynotes around the globe. A social technology advocate, her work has been in conversation in The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Guardian UK, Washingtonian Magazine, and a range of media outlets.

Read More

Menopause, an occupational hazard?

Posted by on Mar 30, 2012 in aging, women's health, work | 1 comment

Two years ago, I wrote about a UK-based study examining the challenges that women face while working through the transition. Among working women surveyed, a majority reported that the primary factors affecting their ability to function in their job were menopausal-related fatigue and insomnia. During an email exchange, the study’s author noted that “evidence suggests that some women do experience a lot of difficulty – largely tiredness – much of which can be resolved with sensible line management and flexible work. ” However, “as with any other long-term health condition, employees should feel empowered to discuss health conditions with their line manager/supervisor,  otherwise the latter are not in a position to help.” Not soon after, I wrote about a study examining how menopause affects occupational health specifically, with study findings showing that total work ability scores declined by almost a half a point for every one point on the total symptoms scale score.

Importantly, these results have finally been published and appear  in the March issue of Menopause. 

Let’s step back a moment.

If you are unfamiliar with the term “work ability,” it refers to a concept “built upon the balance between a person’s resources and her work demands” and can be used to “predict future impairment and duration of sickness absence.” Within the confines of this definition, it’s no surprise that by and large, women have higher raters of sickness absence than men; just look at the multitasker caretakers in your own circle of friends! Moreover, women that are in the age range most commonly associated with perimenopause and menopause, i.e. 44 to 60, also reportedly have the highest incidence of absence from work, begging the question, is menopause playing a role?

In case you missed the first post on this study, women were asked questions about individual and lifestyle factors that might influence work ability, e.g. BMI, physical activity, smoking status and education. Additionally, menopausal symptoms were measured and analyzed using a scientific scale, and a tool – the Work Ability Index – was employed to evaluate how well the 208 women participating in the study were able to currently perform work. The latter tool focused on work ability compared to best of a lifetime or current demands, impairment due to illness, how often they took sick days over a year’s time and what life was like in general, both at work and at home.

Overall, menopausal symptoms were negatively associated with work ability, in particular, physical symptoms (body aches, joint pain, numbness, feeling dizzy/faint),  psychological effects (irritability, feeling blue, anxiety, depression) and education level.  Moreover, both physical and psychological symptoms accounted for as much as 36.5% of the different results in work ability among women. Yet, vasomotor symptoms — hot flashes and night sweats — appeared to have little influence on the ability to work, most likely because in this particular set of women, vasomotor symptoms were reported as existing but not (yet) bothersome.

What was lacking in this particular assessment were women who worked outside health and social service industries, who might be engaged in jobs that are less strenuous and physically challenging. Indeed, even in the earlier study, the women were mostly civil servants, i.e. police officers. The researchers note that the group of women they followed may have also had easier access to self help and lifestyle interventions because of their occupational backgrounds, which could have also influenced outcomes. Still, it seems that on some level, symptoms influence work ability and contribute to absence from work. More troubling is the fact that it is well known that women who work appear to have better menopause quality of life.

In essence, we define ourselves, at least in part, by our work. And when we suffer, our work suffers. How do we bridge the gap between work, life and demands of the transition if those demands impact our quality of life in ways that we might not have previously considered? I don’t have any answers.  Do you?


Read More

Wednesday Bubble: Got Steam?

Posted by on Mar 28, 2012 in Uncategorized, women's health | 0 comments

This one’s a doozie and I knew when I saw it that it was Bubble material!

Vaginal steam. Have you heard of it?

This 600-year old Korean remedy better known as “chai-yok” is suddenly taking hold in spas in the West. The practice, which entails an infusion of 15 or so herbs into a pot of water, over which a woman sits on an open seated stool, is believed to maintain uterine health, rid the body of toxins and even promote fertility. The two primary herbs in the concoction are mugwort, a perennial that is part of the daisy family, believed to have antifungal and antibacterial properties and is often used herbally for menopausal and menstrual complaints, and wormwood (the key ingredient in absinthe), which is often used to detoxify and in some circles, is believed to quicken childbirth.

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the beneficial effects of steam; when was the last time, for example, that you took a steam bath? Nevertheless, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, there is nothing to suggest that steaming the va jay jay is going to yield much benefit beyond cleansing, improving circulation and an overall good feeling (if that’s your thing).

And there’s even a DIY home kit with an open stool available for a mere $330.


Got steam?!!


Read More

The gender divide: women’s healthcare in crisis

Posted by on Mar 23, 2012 in women's health | 0 comments

This one’s a hot button that keeps getting worse. And yet, there is no war on women’s healthcare. Right?!

This past Monday, the New York Times ran a piece on gender disparities in health insurance costs. The practice, also known as the “gender rating,” is acknowledged by insurers across the nation, who charge women more than men, theoretically because data demonstrate that women use healthcare services, including doctor visit and prescription drugs more than men and have a greater prevalence of chronic illnesses. Quoting Marcia Greenberger, president of the National Women’s Law Center, reporter Robert Pear writes that these disparities are questionable because they vary from insurer to insurer: “In Arkansas for example, one health plan charges 25-year-old women 81% more than men while a similar plan in the same state charges only 10% more.”

If passed, the new health care law will theoretically prevent the ‘gender rating.’ But meanwhile? According to a newly released study conducted by Medco Health Solutions and the Society for Women’s Health Research, another gender divide exists: while women use more prescription drugs than men, they are significantly less likely to be prescribed those drugs in alignment with clinical guidelines. The distinction is apparently most critical and dramatic among individuals suffering from heart disease and diabetes, where on average, women demonstrated poorer outcomes than men in 100% (25 of 25) of clinical measures. The result is that women tend not to adhere to medication as directed, and may discontinue medications shortly after starting them, possibly due to side effects, tolerance issues or unreasonable expectations about outcomes. According to the study authors, some of the reasons for the inadequate response to medication may be that women are often prescribed drugs and drug regimens (dosing etc) based on data from men.

The study, which was based on claims data from over 3o million Americans over a 12 month period in 2010, demonstrates that women particularly fall short in their use of blood glucose testing, use of cholesterol lowering medication and use of beta blockers after a heart attack. And despite recent news that would lead one to believe otherwise, use of contraceptives accounted for only 4.5% of chronic medication use, implying that where women are falling short is not only with regards to their reproductive healthcare but with regard to equally if not more critical care.

Leadership from both Medco Women’s Health and the Society note the need to pay consider the gender gap early in the drug development process so that future disparities can be avoided. But with this latest dataset, it is becoming even more apparent that we are facing imminently greater challenges when it comes to women’s health. Not only are we paying more for services but the service we are receiving is subpar.

How can we solve this crisis if the crisis is coming from within the system itself?

Gotta wonder.


Read More

Wednesday Bubble: Viagra bill?

Posted by on Mar 14, 2012 in Uncategorized, women's health | 3 comments

With the latest attack on women’s reproductive freedoms coming from conservative male politicians, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner decided to fire back…with her own bill: The Viagra Bill, AKA Bill 307.

According to Senator Turner, who appeared on MSNBC this week, this bill is focused on showing “men [as much] love in the reproductive health arena as they have shown us over the years…and making sure that we look out for men’s sexual health.” Turner claims that the bill, which would require men seeking a prescription for erectile dysfunction to first discuss the problem thoroughly with their physician to determine whether the underlying problem is medical or ‘mental,’ and then follow up with a sex therapist before receiving a prescription. She adds that “we have to make sure we guide men to make the right decision that maybe these drugs may not be the best decision for them to make. Celibacy is always na option or natural remedies.” However, Turner also makes it clear that this is about setting and leveling the playing field. The full copy of Bill 307 can be found here.

I’ve got to hand it to the senator; she is certainly hitting those male policymakers who want to control abortion and contraception (and attacking single mothers to boot) where it hurts most – their groins. And she’s not alone.  Turner is among a few female state senators in the nation who are fighting the attack on women’s rights with sarcasm, joining OK Senator Constance Johnson and her ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ amendment and VA Senator Janet Howell’s amendment requiring men seeking erectile dysfunction prescriptions to first undergo digital rectal examinations and cardiac stress testing.

If anything, these bills provide fodder for the argument for gender equality, and particularly, women’s health rights. Regardless of which side of the aisle you reside, you’ve got to admit that we’ve reached the point of absurdity. With a tanking economy, millions out of work and continuing foreclosures, is reproduction truly a priority?

What do you think? Sometimes humour hits the hardest. Below the belt? It really can sting.


Read More