Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Archive for the ‘ Women’s Health ’ Category

18 Dec

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

HRT is all over the news again. This, from Newsday:

“Statistics from a major study revealing that rates of the most common form of breast cancer dropped dramatically between 2002 and 2003 are being greeted with applause and skepticism as the medical and advocacy communities digest the news.”

Yes, it’s a tough one to chew. In brief, cases of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer (which accounts for nearly 3/4 of breast cancer cases) dropped dramatically from 2002 to 2003. This was the same time that several key studies, including a famous government-funded study (the Women’s Health Initiative), found that hormone replacement therapy (or HRT), particularly that derived from mares – in drugs like Prempro and Premarin – was linked to a significant increase in breast cancer risk.

It makes sense. Estrogen is a powerful hormone and using it in drug therapy has been and continues to be a risky proposition. A dramatic drop in estrogen-receptor breast cancer cases, occurring in tandem with the much-publicized discontinued use of HRT by millions of women, isn’t something I think the drug industry or medical community ought to be stumped by. These are highly-trained, intelligent individuals, and frankly, I think the situation is quite clear. What’s to digest? In one year – the same year in which Prempro saw its sales cut by half – breast cancer rates dropped by over 7%; for women over age 50, the rate was 12%.

This is why it is so important to be critical of any drug therapy that is recommended to us, especially for treating health matters that are either part of aging or can be prevented or better addressed through lifestyle choices. Blood pressure pills and cholesterol-lowering pills and arthritis prescriptions can help, but as we see with the HRT scandal (and last year’s Vioxx and Celebrex disasters), there are always side effects. There are always unintended consequences.

This doesn’t mean you ought to toss your medications if there is a legitimate need for them; but arm yourself with knowledge, be ruthlessly critical of everything that anyone recommends to you, and consider whether there are safer, more natural alternatives. The alternatives are often not as easy in the short term, but they’re certainly easier than painful and even fatal side effects down the road.

pinkribbon

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11 Dec

We Take the Sting Out

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites

1) Taco Bell’s Fourth Meal Campaign – where they’re advising you to revisit mealtime late at night – is suddenly wrought with a lot of potential for humor in bad taste…and terrible puns. We’re not going to stoop to such low standards, but you can bet someone in the blogosphere will. And all because of scallions – scandalous. Clickativo. Good job, Big Agra. Way to win one for the team.

2) The intersection of morality judgments, motherhood and drugs: the debate over breast-feeding continues. The UK reports epidural drugs induce a desire in the mother to breast-feed; depending on when the drugs are given, there may be some unhealthy side effects; and doctors have concerns about another side effect: guilt in mothers who cannot breast-feed. Clickativity.

3) And the kids up at Evergreen U in Washington weigh in (sorry) on the whole Chicago-foie-gras-New-York-trans-fat fracas, which is apparently beginning to turn into a multi-city competition. Will Los Angeles (if it even notices) be the next to ban an unhealthy food? (What, no more white rice in the sushi?). Will Dallas come down on BBQ sauce? Will we start talking about “bootleg” buffalo wings? “Hooch” hamburgers? You know what the unintended consequences are of banning stuff people love: you get organized crime and mob syndicates. You’d think Chicago, of all cities, would remember that one.

Myspace, blogs, cell phones: the infrastructure exists, people. Soon we’ll see 14-year-old boys pelting city headquarters with ketchup packets on their way to deliver forbidden French fries to suburban housewives whose stressed-out husbands just have to have the hooch. Or not. Hey, we know this is absurd, but isn’t it absurd to live in a country where obesity is so out of control, cities actually ban certain foods?

The Evergreen U article suggests posting menu information instead of trying to tell people what to eat. That’s really logical and reasonable (one of the Worker Bees grew up a stone’s throw from Evergreen, and gosh, are they thoughtful people up there). But while it’s a nice idea, this food problem is way past logical. As Mark questioned last week in his musings on relative gluttony, would people really pay attention to the menu information? No one wants to be told what to do, but let’s face it, gluttony is the backbone of the American diet. So here’s the clickativity. Discuss, Apples!

15 Nov

Skinny-Fat

Ladies, I’m concerned about the skinny-fat among us. You know what I’m talking about. Skinny-fat women might look nice in a v-neck, but they’d sooner crawl into a hole than expose an upper arm or leg.

This is what happens when you become “skinny fat” instead of genuinely lean and fit (where the muscle and fat are fairly evenly distributed and you have a lot less cellulite). While you can’t fight your body’s natural shape, you can certainly maximize what you’ve got. What I’m talking about is the difference between curvy and super-fit Gabby Reece or Evangeline Lilly and certain starving-yet-sagging starlets (I won’t name names, mainly because there are too many these days and who can be bothered to keep track).

gabby

Skinny-fatness strikes women a lot more than men. I think this is mainly because men aren’t afraid of lifting weights to lose weight (and, to be fair, men naturally do have so much more muscle and far less fat). We women, on the other hand, evidently prefer inventing bizarre and complicated diet regimens revolving around arcane preparation rituals, subsistence on one food group or arbitrary calorie limits (whoever said women were bad at math has never met a woman 2 weeks before her high school reunion or 2 days before a date).

Simply dieting will eliminate weight, but it won’t tone anything. And because of our unique feminine physiology, the fat cells in our lower body are world-class clingers.

But before you get too depressed about the latest Kate Moss advertisement, consider this: I’m bringing this up because skinny-fatness is about a lot more than physical appearance. In fact, your dress size has nothing on the bigger issue – health. The good news: simply being skinny is not akin to being healthy. In fact, the skinnier you get, the more you’re at risk for things like osteoporosis! (There I go beating that llama again.)

The less muscle you have, the less work your bones have to do, and they begin to shed that incredibly valuable osseous material: your bones, which are, in fact, living tissues directly related to your blood, immune system, strength, longevity – even your mood. You know how coral reefs are actually living organisms that provide all sorts of vital and irreplaceable functions to the fish and plants and water surrounding them? Your bones are your body’s coral reef. You have to feed them, and weight-bearing activity = food for bones. In this country of aerobic fanatics and serial dieters, is it any wonder American women have such high rates of osteoporosis and a perpetual state of skinny-fatness? I watched my own mother live on Tab and jazzercise during the early 80s, and now, faced with bone trouble, she’ll be the first to tell you: lift something! Who wants to look like Nicole Ritchie, now seriously? I’d rather look like Evangeline!

evangeline

There’s only ONE solution to the problems we women face: osteoporosis, beach season, and the belly that won’t budge. The solution is weight-bearing activity. Aerobics will get your heart pumping and burn some calories, but it won’t maximize your shape. Dieting will help you shed excess weight, which is great for increasing your energy and reducing chances of myriad health conditions and diseases. But neither will make you look toned and sleek, and neither will do much to put a dent in your osteoporosis risk.

Are you lifting some weights yet? Get to it!

dumbbells

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15 Nov

My Beef with Beef

I can’t tell you how furious I am about what I feel is the meat industry’s blatant disregard for human health. While I’m no vegetarian, I saw this study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, and let’s just say, I’m not buying the “Happy Cows” line.

The researchers looked at 90,000 women. That’s a huge study. They compared US and UK women, and here’s what they found:

Eating more than 1.5 servings of meat daily doubles a young woman’s risk of breast cancer. What concerns me is the type of cancer which had double the risk: hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. To me, that says something pretty sobering about the meat industry’s production habits.

Both the study, and the BBC News article that covered it, are cautious to merely “suggest” a link between eating red meat and increasing – doubling – the risk of breast cancer. It doesn’t take much to read between the lines here.

The reason I think this study is really important to highlight is not because I hope to bandy a statistic like “double the risk!” about. (Remember the Statistics Game: always consider context and relative risk or results.) It’s important because the women who ate high amounts of red meat had double the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. That is a big issue, namely, because the American meat industry uses growth hormone like it’s manna from Heaven. Growth hormone helps the animals get bigger, faster, which translates more profit – but I’m pretty skeptical about how this practice could possibly be in the interest of public health. I just wonder how these people sleep at night knowing their profits come at the expense of other human beings.

Personally, I believe it’s clear that human physiology supports being omnivorous. No culture anywhere at any time has done without some sort of animal flesh, whether it’s fish, beef or reindeer. So I’m not “anti-meat”. However, I am strongly opposed to the way meat is produced in this country: quickly, unethically, with little regard for the animals or the people eating the animals. That’s why I only buy meat that is free-range, local, organic and definitely hormone-free.

The researchers were careful not to draw any ultimate conclusions. I think we can probably begin to draw our own, with some additional critical considerations:

1) Processed meats generally contain a chemical known as heterocyclic acid, which has been shown to cause cancer;

2) Red meat, of course, contains iron, which can sometimes encourage the growth of some types of tumors (though this isn’t a significant concern, likely);

3) The standard line: “The biggest risk factors for breast cancer remain gender and increasing age.” This from specialist Maria Leadbeater, quoted in the BBC article. Fair enough.

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3 Nov

Ladies: We Can Stop With the Calcium Chews, Already

Sara here. Osteoporosis has been in the news again, and I want to share some important missing information with you. (If you want the nitty-gritty osseous-related research, please shoot me a line on the Forum.) In brief, though, here’s what every woman, and especially all the moms out there, must know:

Osteoporosis is not going to be prevented, treated or cured with three glasses of milk a day or yogurt every morning. Never was, never will be.

A few things the dairy people don’t want you to think about:

1) Dairy is not a common food in much of the world,

2) Osteoporosis is not a common disease – often, it’s not even heard of – in much of the world. However, osteoporosis is most common in Europe and in the United States, where dairy intake is exceptionally high. Strange? Sure, because there are other factors you need to know about. Osteoporosis is not simply a matter of calcium depletion.

Osteoporosis is caused by many factors, but here are the four key ones:

1) Vitamin and mineral deficiency. Although the western world has incredible abundance and access, centralized mass production of food leaves a lot to be desired in the nutritional department. And our calcium emphasis is skewed. Though calcium is important, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, vitamin D, and countless other vitamins and minerals are crucial to bone health. In fact, recent studies show that magnesium may actually be more important to bone health than calcium is. Not saying calcium isn’t important. It is. It’s vital. It’s just not the only thing you need. I hate to beat a dead llama, but take a multi-vitamin, ladies!

2) Soda consumption. (Even diet soda.) The worst, and I mean worst thing you can do to your bones is to drink death-by-can. There are lots of studies that prove this, but a recent long-term study published in the much-respected American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consume just one soda daily have 5 to 7 percent less bone material than women who limit fizzy stuff to just once a month.

3) Lack of fruits and vegetables. Most Americans eat only 1-3 servings of produce daily. Blech! No wonder we’re all so chunkity chunk. A recent study from the British Journal of Nutrition found that postmenopausal women who ate adequate vegetable matter (at least 5 servings) in their daily diets were between 200 and 400% better in terms of bone mineral density loss. (Now, here’s a handy time to talk about studies and statistics. This doesn’t mean that these bone-hardy women have bones that weigh 2 to 4 times as much as other women. What it means is relative loss compared to veggie-avoiding women. So, that might mean a few ounces on up to a few pounds – scientists generally break things up into quartiles so they can examine a range of factors. Fascinating, I know!)

In other words, vegetables will not make you gain 300 pounds, and they will also not give you the bones of Hercules. But they’re still good for your bones.

Here was Mark’s take: the study was cross-sectional (good), population-based (fine in this case), long-term (good), used statistical regression analysis (sounds fancy but just standard) and was questionnaire-based (a little annoying, but still useful).

4) Lastly, but definitely not least, osteoporosis is caused by a lack of weight-bearing activity. This means resistance. This means weights. And there is no need to worry – weight-bearing activity will not make you look like a protein-shake spokeswoman. A lot of women are surprised to learn that “weight-bearing” activity can be going for a walk – ‘cuz you are bearing your own weight! Using ankle weights is great, as well. Purchase some dumbbells in the 2-10 pound range (depending on your fitness level) and learn to do 4 or 5 difference moves, 3 sets each, 8-10 repetitions per set. 2 or 3 times a week is plenty to keep your bones strong. Ask me for some moves. I’m happy to help out.

viactiv

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