Posts Tagged "Hormones"

Aging and wrinkles and menopause. Oh my.

Posted by on Nov 15, 2010 in appearance, women's health | 10 comments

In my weekly research, I ran across the following headline:

White women’s skin may show wrinkles sooner

The story? That after menopause, white women develop wrinkles more quickly than their black peers — not as a result of differing levels of estrogen and its decline — but because of aging.

Okay. Um. So what?  Is this really news deserving Google search result after search result? And why does it matter? Is this yet another racial divide we need to concern ourselves with, that is, that my black female friends are going to look better than me in 10 years time? Moreover, do I care?

In all fairness, the news was based on a study of 21 black and 65 white women in their 50s who had gone through menopause. The study’s goal was to evaluate skin elasticity and facial wrinkles. And while skin elasticity, which was found to be equivalent among all women despite race, is thought to be related to estrogen levels, wrinkling, which is at the skin’s surface, is believed to be subject to aging and the environment. This is not conclusive but merely speculation.

The overall message is that younger white women might want to limit sun exposure to stave off some of this wrinkling. Good advice. For black women in particular, it’s not that they won’t wrinkle but that they may not wrinkle as soon as their white friends.

Of note, this small study is part of a larger trial that is examining the effects of hormone therapy on heart disease. And as a substudy, the researchers will be collecting information on how hormones might affect (or benefit) skin aging. However, data have already shown that the reality is inconclusive when it comes to hormones and aging skin.

That’s the scientific part. Now, let’s get the larger issue.

Another wrinkle has developed in the story of discrimination (sorry for the pun): how we can add race to the “aging sucks” equation.

As women, we are already guaranteed the disappearing mirror, invisibility dilemma as we age. It interferes with our self-esteem, our relationships and our careers. So we botox and implant and lift and smooth to keep the ‘dream’ alive. Now, researchers have not even provided another reason to hate ourselves but also, to abhor friends who are racially different than we are and may have an advantage when it comes to their appearance.

Want to hear something really ironic? Research shows that as women, we possess the ultimate weapon against aging: our friends. Black, white, hispanic, asian,  native, round, thin, tall, short…yup, all flavours, all sizes, all colors. Our friends will keep us young and they will keep us healthy too.

So can we spend a bit more money, time and energy on issues that really matter to our health? Wrinkles? They just are.


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HRT and breast cancer – more red flags

Posted by on Oct 22, 2010 in breast cancer, HRT | 2 comments

More bad news from the Women’s Health Initiative study and hormone replacement therapy (HRT, combined estrogen and progestin) front: not only does combined HRT appear to double the risk for breast cancer in some women, but these cancers are more invasive/agressive and more likely to lead to death.

The WHI findings have been repeatedly criticized by HRT advocates, who claim that the the women who were studied were not representative of the typical menopausal population, e.g. they were older and well past menopause at enrollment. So it is true that the potential benefits of HRT that might have been experienced by younger women were not explored. Indeed, time on hormones and the relationship between hormone use and how far into menopause a woman is can influence risk, as can the progestagen component. (If you want to read more about these specific factors, click on the links.) Nevertheless, what is also clear is that following the 2002 findings and the significant decline in HRT prescriptions, a substantial decrease in breast cancer rates were observed in both the US and Canada, so much so that the Canadian Cancer Society recently recommended that HRT be taken only as a last resort.

And the latest study findings?

In their continuing quest to determine insights into the risk-benefit ratio of HRT, researchers continued to follow and evaluate data from 83% (12,788) original trial participants. They found that HRT increased the incidence of invasive breast cancers by as much as 8% (compared with placebo), and that these cancers were also likelier to spread to the lymph nodes (24% of women taking HRT were found to have lymph node tumors compared to 16% of women taking placebo). Moreover, twice as many women on HRT died as the result of their cancer.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Peter Bach, a health outcomes researcher from Sloan-Kettering Medical Center in New York City, suggests that the latest study findings may only be the tip of the iceberg and that “it is possible that the increase in breast cancer deaths due to hormone therapy has been underestimated in the current study and that with longer follow-up, the deleterious effect will appear larger.” Additionally, he notes that “available data dictate caution in the current approach to hormone therapy, particularly because one of the lessons from the WHI is that physicians are ill-equipped to anticipate the effects of hormone therapy on long-term health.” Nor, have short-term approaches to hormone therapy been proven in clinical trials. As Dr. Bach points out, how can practitioners help patients make informed decisions if they are ill-informed themselves and the information, “speculative.” Nevertheless, the North American Menopause Society is taking the opposite stance, stating that ” clinicians can help women put the breast cancer risk into perspective by informing them that the increased risk of breast cancer using estrogen plus progestogen for 5 years is very similar to the increased risk of breast cancer associated with having menopause 5 years later. This increased risk of breast cancer occurs with a woman’s own internal, natural estrogen and progesterone.”

If this study and its accompanying editorial don’t raise a few flags, nothing will. And despite the pro-HRT stance of the North American Menopause Society, I encourage all women to start educating themselves before making the HRT leap. What’s more, be aware that once you start taking hormones, your practitioner might not be able to provide evidenced-based information on how to stop them, should you decide that they are not for you.

Ask yourselves, what is the trade-off here?

(Reuters Health, as usual, has a few more gems from this study that are required reading. You can find them here.)

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Got Sleep? Zeo Personal Sleep Coach helps with those Zzzz’s. Want one?

Posted by on Oct 8, 2010 in sleep disturbance | 4 comments

Did you know that sleep problems have been reported in as many as 40% of women in the late perimenopausal stage and as many as 35% to 50% of women in postmenopause? The culprit? In addition to vasomotor symptoms, i.e. hot flashes and night sweats) lower estradiol and fallopian stimulating hormone levels can interfere with both falling and staying asleep. Add stress, emotional arousal, environment and alcohol or caffeine to the mix and you’ve got a woman on the verge. Personally? My sleep stinks; I wake up several times a night and regularly early in the morning, even though I rarely have trouble falling asleep. In fact, I don’t recall the last time I slept through the entire night.

So, how can I get more of those much needed Zzzzs? Well, I am hoping that Zeo can help.

Zeo is a home-based tool that uses SoftWave™ technology to track sleep patterns. The Zeo system is geared towards helping individuals understand how they are sleeping so that they can address factors (e.g. diet, stress, or environment) that may be profoundly hindering or interfering with their sleep.

Zeo collects information that summarizes the previous night’s sleep, including time spent in each sleep phase (i.e. light, deep and REM sleep), total time asleep, time it takes to fall asleep, and number of times awakened during the night, and displays it in a graph at bedside monitor.This information can then be uploaded so that sleep patterns can be tracked and trended along with individualized input about environmental and social factors that might disrupt sleep from night to night. Zeo also includes personalized sleep coaching. As the company says, the power of Zeo lies in its personalization, so that you can scientifically track your sleep phases and correlate them to the impact that daily habits have on your sleep. What’s more, I have looked at the scientific studies and the technology it uses to track your sleep not only favorably compares with what experts consider the gold standard for measuring sleep (polysomnography) but also does so in a range of healthy and “disordered” sleepers.

I’ve used Zeo for two nights so far. And guess what? It’s telling me that the fatigue I’ve been feeling is truly due to the fact that I’m not getting the restful sleep that I need. So, I am going to collect six nights of sleep information to create a foundation or baseline of my sleep pattern, and then undergo the Personal Sleep Program to see what I can change to optimize my sleep health.

I met a Zeo, Inc co-founder at last week’s epatient conference and after a conversation regarding sleep and menopause, he graciously sent me two units to share with my readers. I’ve given one of these units to a reader who is an insomniac and who is perimenopausal. But I’d like to give another Zeo to you. Here’s how:

Tell me in the comments section about your general sleep and how your symptoms or habits might be affecting it, along with steps you’ve taken or not taken to deal with the problem.  The caveat? You must be experiencing some sort of menopausal symptoms or be in menopause and be willing to share your experience (anonymously) on Flashfree after a month’s use.  If I get enough comments, I will  randomly choose one winner to receive a Zeo Personal Sleep Coach monitor. What’s to lose? How about one more night’s sleep?!

[Disclosure: Zeo, Inc. provided me with three Zeo Personal Sleep Coach monitors – one via the epatient conference and two directly. Although this post was neither paid for or solicited by the company, I have eagerly agreed to write a post on menopause and sleep for their blog.]

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Stressed out? No wonder you can’t remember…

Posted by on Sep 24, 2010 in estrogen, memory/learning | 7 comments

I have a friend on Twitter who coined the phrase “can’t remember shit.” This phrase greets me throughout the day because I am constantly forgetting even the simplest things. Why did I enter this room? What was I going to look up?  How did I get here? Why can’t I focus?  And lists? Fuggedaboutit – they don’t do squat; even when I have them, I forget.

I blame  my memory and focus problems on hormones all the time. However, if this were true, then the addition of hormones, in particular estrogen, would balance out the forgetting and boost my attention and focus, right?

Hence, I was intrigued when I ran across a small study in Menopause looking at cognition and stress, which seemed to back an earlier contention that stress plays a huge part in recall ability in menopausal women.

In this rather small trial, 22 postmenopausal women  (50 to 83 years) took either placebo or an estrogen tablet (1 mg estradiol daily for one month and then 2 mg daily for two months). After three months, they were asked to ingest a substance that depleted certain compounds (called monoamines) that the body manufactures and uses to stabilize mood, perform a mildly stressful test, and then undergo a series of tests on stress levels, mood, anxiety and cognition.

It appears that at least in this small group of women, taken estrogen was actually linked with poorer cognition following a stressful event, including the ability to recall words and slower reaction time. Because this occurred independently of the depletion of  mood compounds or negative mood, the researchers say that the effect of estrogen, which has been shown in some studies to improve cognition, is not as straightforward as previously believed. What’s more, the significant increase in stress and stress reactions during menopause may actually interfere with estrogen benefits in so far as memory and recall go.

Our lives are increasingly busier, especially now that we can be connected 24/7. Personally, I can’t even get a work out into my day without some sort of interruption. That’s why it’s so important to figure out  how hormones interact with stress, so that we can make informed decisions — not only about menopausal decisions — but also about general life decisions.

Look, memory recall and attention are undoubtedly linked to aging, at least to some extent. But now? Stress may be playing a role in how hormones impact our reactions, focus and attention span, and memory. So the next time you can’t remember shit? Maybe a few deep breaths can help.

No wonder!

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Fat…to boldly go where where none has gone before

Posted by on Jun 28, 2010 in herbal medicine, weight gain | 2 comments

That body tire around the middle that tends to plague most women in their late forties and fifties and into old age reminds me of Star Trek – boldly going where no fat has ever gone before. Despite an hour at the gym daily, eating healthy and moderate (okay sometimes more than moderate) intake of alcohol, I still can’t seem to conquer that bulge that’s creeping into my midsection. I’ve spoken to trainers and nutritionists about it and have even tried conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which theoretically helps reduce deposits of body fat. And still, fluctuating hormones and aging seem determined to redistribute that midsection bulge in ways that remain unacceptable (at least, to me). More importantly, however, is the fact that fat that settles in the abdominal areas increases the risk for impaired blood fat and insulin levels that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

I’ve written about weight and the middle-aged bulge several times in the past and you can find some of these posts here. My friend Mollie Katzen and I collaborated on a post earlier this year about eating habits, food and midlife. And still, an effective solution to the bold bulge continues to elude women, trainers and researchers alike.

Still, a very small study published in the online edition of Menopause shows that hope may still spring eternal. In fact, results suggests that women who took 70 mg isoflavones daily (i.e. 44 mg daidzein, 16 mg glycitein, 10 mg genistein) for six months and then added at least an hour of intensive aerobics, circuit training and resistance training at least three times weekly for another six months experienced significant declines in blood pressure, fat mass and total body weight, and a small reduction in waist circumference (of about an inch and a half). In this particular study, the researchers selected women who were known to respond physically and beneficially to exercise. However, only the women who supplemented their exercise with isoflavones had demonstrable improvements in their fat mass and distribution. These women also experienced improvements in their insulin levels.

Clearly, the benefits of isoflavones added to exercise from both a weight and health perspective need to be explored more thoroughly and with larger numbers of women. However, it is possible that the addition of soy to a regular exercise routine may help to address that elusive bulge from entering the black hole that we call midlife.

Stay tuned!

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