Let’s face it, we all have bad habits and personality quirks that can undermine our ability to achieve ultimate success in whatever arena we want to succeed in. This could be health, relationships, or work; or all three!
How many diets have we tried, how many times have we promised ourselves we will quit smoking or drinking too much? Bad habits are part of human nature as we are all flawed individuals. Are all bad habits really bad for us?
Sometimes these habits or quirks give us a personality that we embrace, and we do not want to give up our habit as it is part of us. Maybe these bad habits are short cuts in life that give us time for work, creativity and productivity. After all, exercising and eating healthy can be time consuming. Most famous people in history, art and literature were flawed and unhealthy to some degree.
The problem arises when we want to be a certain way, or achieve a certain goal; and our habits are preventing that. This is when it is time to do some soul searching, and figure out what we are trying to gain from a particular habit. What deficit are we trying to fill by this bad habit.
The reward center of the brain is a powerful place. This is where we get positive reinforcement from pleasurable experiences. Add to this the primitive desire to eat and procreate, and you have a perfect storm for positive reinforcement from unhealthy habits. That bite of chocolate or fatty hamburger lights up this center immediately. This is how we can become addicted to food, sex, drink, gambling, cigarettes and drugs. All through this pleasure center.
So why aren’t we all addicts of one sort or another? Some of us have bigger holes to fill than others. That is what it is all about, why we feel the need to continually trigger our pleasure centers. It is not just the food, or just the thrill of gambling operating independently of everything else. There is a reason within ourselves as to why we engage continuously in activity we know is not good for us.
Take some time on this holiday, hopefully you are not working; to figure out what void you are filling by overdoing whatever it is you are overdoing. Then, address that void. That is how you will conquer whatever habit you want to conquer.
Are you working so hard at trying to achieve a dream that you are harming yourself in the process?
Are there other options for you that will help you cut back and create more time and energy for yourself?
Who are your helping with these habits, maybe it is time to take some time for yourself.
Did you ever think you are at risk for a stroke? There are some surprising risk factors you may not have considered , even events from younger years!
Every year 425,000 women suffer from a stroke. That is 55,000 more strokes than men. As with heart attacks, strokes in women are increasing and also present differently from men. In addition to this, women are more likely to delay going the the hospital or seeking medical help at the onset of their symptoms.
This delay can be very detrimental as many successful therapies require quick and early action.
There are 2 types of strokes. One type is caused by bleeding, called a hemorrhagic stroke. This type accounts for 15-20% of strokes. The far more common stroke is caused by a blood clot, called embolic stroke. Embolic strokes account for 80-84%, and are also called ischemic strokes.
The symptoms of a stroke occur when the blood supply to a portion of the brain is interrupted. Symptoms are usually related to what part of the brain has been affected. Hemorrhagic strokes occur due to bleeding, either from a ruptured aneurism or trauma which ruptures a blood vessel. Embolic or thrombotic strokes occur when a clot travels and blocks a blood vessel, causing damage to that part of the brain.
There are risk factors for stroke that are common to both men and women; as well as risk factors specific to women.
Common risk factors to both men and women include:
- atrial fibrillation
- depression and stress
Risk factors specific to women include:
- use of oral contraceptives
- use of post menopausal hormone replacement
- history of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy
- history of gestational diabetes
- history of migraine with aura
The symptoms of stroke commonly experienced by both men and women include:
- numbness or weakness of face or an extremity
- difficulty speaking, seeing, or understanding
- difficulty walking, balance, and coordination
- severe headache with no known cause, often nicknamed “thunderclap” headache
Stroke symptoms that tend to be more common in women include:
- nausea, or hiccups
- sudden pain in face or limb
- general weakness
- sudden chest pain, cardiac palpitations, or trouble breathing
It is still unclear why women tend to experience stroke differently then men. The subtlety of symptoms may be related to the location of circulation that is interrupted, but more research is needed to tease this out. It is clear however, that the more subtle symptoms can easily be overlooked or attributed to a more benign process.
It becomes important for you to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of stroke for both men and women, as we all live in communities and groups where we can help identify a family member or friend who may be experiencing a stroke.
Early intervention with getting to a hospital for treatment within hours of the onset of symptoms can prevent permanent damage.
Sunshine and milk, what do they have to do with heavy menses?
The absence of the monthly menses is one aspect of menopause to look forward to, but getting there can be a challenge when your periods are extra heavy. Heavy menses, or menorrhagia, can interfere with work and life.
Fibroids can exist without many symptoms, but for a few women they can cause excessive bleeding. Sometimes this bleeding can result in severe anemia and necessitate surgery to remove the uterus.
Fibroids are benign growths within the uterine wall, and extruding from the uterine wall. These growths can rarely become a type of tumor, resulting in rapid growth. The sign of this can be very heavy periods. Oftentimes, the changing hormone levels of perimenopause can make the menses heavy; but having fibroids can make this bleeding even heavier.
Researchers have recently found in a study involving over 1,000 women that a higher percentage of women with fibroids also have low Vitamin D levels. They were questioned regarding sun exposure and those with an average of more than a hour outside daily had a 40% decrease of risk of fibroids. Prior research has shown that a metabolite of Vitamin D inhibits cell proliferation, the very problem of fibroids.
Research still needs to be done to prove that increased Vitamin D levels will actually inhibit the growth of fibroids and the increased bleeding that goes along with fibroids.
There are many benefits of Vitamin D supplementation including improved bone health, support of skin, bones and hair. Additionally, research has suggested adequate Vitamin D levels may prevent colon polyp formation.
It is important to use Vitamin D 3, or cholecalciferol; over Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol. Taking 1,000 IU or 2,000 IU’s daily will help raise your levels. Getting a Vitamin D blood level can help you and your provider better tailor the dose needed to raise your levels to normal.
If you are a woman reading this post, chances are you have experienced a urinary tract infection at some point in your life. Burning with urination, frequency, and discomfort in the pelvic and genital region are all familiar symptoms to many of us by the time we reach menopause.
Having these symptoms and seeing a medical provider for antibiotics may seem like an automatic “no brainer” therapy. It would certainly be a surprise to be told there is no infection present. Your next questions would most likely involve what could be causing your symptoms.
All that burns is not a UTI! There is a condition that many women suffer from called Vestibulitis. The vestibula is the region inside the vulvar tissues and the entrance to the vagina. This area is loaded with nerves, and can easily become irritated by vaginal or urinary infections. For some women however, this irritation becomes cyclic and persistent, never seeming to completely go away with the standard UTI or vaginitis treatment.
Vestibulitis can be uncomfortable or downright painful. It can affect sexual relations, and it can affect the ability to exercise or even sit for long periods of time. This pain is often felt as burning, stinging, raw or an irritated sensation. Surprisingly it affects white women between ages 20-60 almost exclusively; researchers are unsure why this demographic is most affected.
The two main types of vestibulitis are cyclic and vulvar. Cyclic vestibulitis occurs mainly with triggers such as intercourse, bike riding for extended periods; and tends to be more intermittent. It is felt to be a reaction to a prolonged mild or undetected yeast infection. It is treated with an extended course of antifungal medications such as Diflucan.
Vulvar vestibulitis is more constant and unremitting. It too can be from an undetected yeast infection but can also be from atrophic tissues experienced in menopausal or peri-menopausal years. This type of vestibulitis is most likely to occur with menopause when it does occur. It can be treated with topical estrogen cream, sometimes with steroid creams for short periods of time.
Vestibulitis can become chronic primarily due to irritated nerves that release chemicals which further inflame the vestibular tissues, creating a vicious cycle. Because of the potential chronicity of this problems, treatment is usually carried out for many weeks. Along with medication to relieve the symptoms, dietary changes are often helpful. Taking calcium and consuming a low oxalate diet is felt to neutralize the urine and reduce irritation to vulvar tissues.
This problem can have a major impact on a woman’s life and it is important to get to a professional that specializes in vestibulitis if your symptoms are ongoing for months or years. Many medical centers and university hospitals have specialist within their gynecology divisions that specialize in vestibulitis. A specialist is often required for treatment as many gynecologist and family practice providers are not trained to treat this condition; as well as that surgery is sometimes required.
If you are experiencing vaginal or vulvar burning, first see your regular provider to get an exam. Your provider can examine you for a urinary tract infection, vaginal infection, atrophic changes, or other skin conditions that can cause your symptoms. A simple short therapy may take care of your symptoms. If it does not however, I suggest asking your provider for a referral to a specialist.
You may feel your symptoms are too embarrassing to discuss with a specialist, but pain that affects your life should be evaluated and treated. This will give you quality of life.
Gluten free diets are very popular, and gluten free products seem to be overtaking the shelves in many supermarkets. Gluten free products are a staple for those that have celiac disease, but can they benefit those of us who do not?
The sense that you may be allergic to wheat may increase as you get older. Lots of people are adopting a gluten free diet to cure all that ails them, including joint pain, allergies, heartburn to name a few. You may be wondering what an allergy to wheat, something that goes into the mouth and gut; has to do with migraines or arthritis.
It is all about inflammation. There is true gluten sensitive enteropathy, or celiac disease. These are the people that will have horrible diarrhea, lose weight to the point of malnourishment; if they eat wheat or gluten containing products. It is often inherited, or prominent in certain ethnic groups including those of Anglo Saxon (Scotland, Ireland, England) descent.
There is also gluten sensitivity, which may becoming more prominent. The increase in Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is felt by some scientists, to be due to the increase in use of antibacterial products. This can impair the immune system of the developing gut leading to altered function and perhaps other food allergies. Other scientists are speculating the increase of gluten allergies and gluten sensitivities may be due to the strain of wheat that is currently grown today.
A slightly different strain of wheat was developed in the 1940-50′s to increase crop resilience. There is a protein in this hybrid wheat product that some of us may not be fully able to breakdown, thus giving increase in gastrointestinal complaints.
There is no mistaking that aging can bring on weight gain and a sense that you are no longer metabolizing food as you once did. There is also an increase in many ailments as we age, most likely attributed in large part to wearing out of body parts and systems. Whether or not you feel that some of your ailments may be due to a wheat allergy, or celiac sensitivity; cutting out gluten from your diet may cause you to lose weight. As a result, many other ailments may improve.
This reduction of gluten consumption and improvement of well being may be due to less inflammation from gluten sensitivity. Or it may be a result of less caloric intake. It is important to keep in mind that many important vitamins are in wheat products, and you will want to be sure to get these vitamins in other foods. It is also important to avoid gluten free products that mimic their gluten containing counterparts. If you have true Celiac disease, you will want to use some of these products as most likely you are not battling being overweight also. However, gluten free starches tend to be made from refined carbohydrates and can be high in calories.
So how do you decide to go gluten free or not? Chances are if you have true gluten allergy, you would have been diagnosed by menopause or the later years, as the diarrhea and malnutrition of Celiac disease is profound. But a gluten sensitivity is less obvious and can be easily diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome or constipation.
A relative gluten free trial for a few weeks may be easy enough. This would involve eating whole grains, no wheat products, rye or barley. You would want to do the following:
- No bottled or canned sauces or dressings, make your own.
- No desserts using flour, crusts, thickeners.
- No beer or brown alcohol; wine is probably ok.
- No packaged breads, pastries, cereals, cookies.
- You can have fruits and vegetables, any and all.
- Meats and seafood as well as poultry are safe but watch the fat and cholesterol content!
- Anything you make from vinegar and oils as far as dressings is recommended.
- Sugar is ok but it won’t help you lose weight if that is what you want.
In considering this way of eating, it is pretty much like to South Beach diet, Mediterranean diet and numerous other diets that help fight diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and obesity. It’s success is probably due to low sugar and low processed carbohydrate consumption resulting in weight loss.
Whether a gluten free diet will cure arthritis, migraines, allergies and asthma, and numerous other inflammatory based diseases remains to be proven.
But it can’t hurt to try as long as your diet is balanced with protein, healthy fats and high fiber whole grains.
Cancer is often thought of as the dreaded big “C”, and most types of cancer can be devastating. I suspect all of us would do whatever we could to prevent getting cancer if we thought we were at risk. But what to do? There are so many types of cancer and risk factors for these cancers, it seems impossible to keep it all straight.
Now you can improve 7 simple rules or habits and this may very well decrease your risk of cancer by over 50%. That sounds pretty easy!
It has been shown in a recent heart study trial looking at reducing heart disease through lifestyle habits; that reducing the seven risk factors that contribute to heart disease also reduces the risk of cancers. In this study, the participants that adhered to these seven healthy habits had a reduction of incidental cancers by 51%.
Some of us are at a genetic disadvantage for many serious medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and cancer. This does not mean however, that you will definitely develop these diseases. There is the genetic predisposition, but it also takes a trigger to turn on these genes. These triggers are what you can control, thereby lessening the potential for these illness and diseases.
So what are these 7 health habits that are so important to develop and maintain?
- being a non-smoker or user of tobacco products
- maintaining a healthy blood sugar or glucose level
- maintaining a healthy blood pressure
- maintaining a healthy cholesterol profile
- maintaining a healthy weight or BMI
- being physically active
- consuming an ideal diet
It comes at no surprise that these 7 habits are linked to a healthy cardiovascular system, but to also know that being healthy in this way can reduce cancer risks is very empowering. These seven habits can also contribute to increased energy, lessened joint pain, improved sleep.
Feeling overwhelmed on how to start? Try these simple habits:
- stop salting your food, and limit salty meats and snack foods
- stop drinking sodas, sweet tea, candy bars and sweets every day; make it a treat.
- add fresh whole foods into your diet by eating a fruit and salad daily and build on that
- get out and move any way that appeals to you:dance, garden, walk, join exercise class or a walking/running club
- cut out junk food and if you must have a snack, make it healthy (fruit, vegetables, nuts, yogurt)
- work on reducing and eliminating tobacco and nicotine products
Not only will these habits help reduce your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol; you may also lose weight! As a result, your joints will hurt less, you will sleep better and have more energy. It can be a win-win situation!
ZZZ, ahhh, sleep! How many of us menopausal women struggle for a good nights sleep? Well, probably most of us! We all know we need sleep, that sleep is restorative. Now there is something even more important regarding getting sleep at night.
A surprising possible link has been suggested between working at night and some forms of ovarian cancer. A small study recently revealed that shift work for women over 50 can slightly increase the risk of certain types of ovarian cancer.
The major risk factors for ovarian cancer include a family history, age over 40, never having been pregnant, obesity, a high fat diet, possibly use of HRT and hx of fertility drug use. We can now potentially add working the night shift!
We accept and understand many risks for cancer, such as genetics and smoking; but when we choose to work has not usually been included in the discussion. Women who worked more than 1/2 their work life during a night shift were statistically at higher risks for invasive and borderline ovarian cancer if they were also over 50.
It seems the key may be melatonin, a hormone responsible for sleep and regulating your body clock. Melatonin is produced in the brain and is suppressed by light and secretion is triggered by darkness. So it would seem that if you worked the night shift and came home during daylight hours, it would be hard for your brain to secrete melatonin in order to help you sleep.
Melatonin is also an antioxidant and works on free radicals to reduce damage to cells and inflammation. This is one of the reasons sleep is so important; because of the repair that occurs when we are sleeping.
This study was small and certainly not definitive, so don’t quit your jobs yet!
What this does mean however, that as you approach menopause; it may be important to look at changing when you work if you are a night shift worker. It may also be a good time to improve your health habits if you are at increased risk for cancer, to lessen the effect working nights may have for you.
There are some risks that cannot be changed, such as family history.
There are many risks that you can affect such as quitting smoking, losing weight and exercising, eating a healthy diet. These are life style changes that help many health problems, and will help with sleep also.
Many expert menopausal societies now agree that HRT can be more beneficial than harmful in the right clinical setting! Previous studies have been reviewed and felt to be flawed in the assumption that estrogen therapy is unsafe for all menopausal women.
In a recent position statement arising from a meeting of The International Menopause Society, estrogen therapy for treatment of moderate to severe menopausal symptoms is recommended for women under the age of 60 or within 10 years of menopause onset.
There is good evidence that HRT can prevent osteoporosis, although prevention of heart disease is still not proven. It is suggested that estrogen alone may lower risk of heart disease but estrogen plus progesterone has not shown any benefit. It is still felt that estrogen plus progesterone HRT may increase risk if breast cancer to a small degree, therefor caution is advised.
Some specific recommendations were stated:
- The risk is felt to be outweighed by the benefit of HRT therapy in women under 60 who have not had breast cancer.
- HRT is felt to prevent osteoporosis related fractures when used in the same time frame as above.
- Use of HRT in breast cancer survivors is not recommended, nor is use of customized bio identical hormones.
- Use of vaginal estrogen therapy for strophic vaginitis is felt to be safe.
- No comment was made regarding oral vs. transdermal estrogen use and improved safety.
It is also recommended to always consider an individualized approach to treatment within these recommendations.
What this may mean for you:
If your menopausal symptoms are significantly impacting your life, and you are within a few years of menopause without existing heart disease or breast cancer; HRT can be an effective and safe treatment for few years.
Talk with your provider about this option. If you chose to start HRT, it is important that you continue with as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Take care of yourself, don’t start smoking, manage your weight and exercise habits. This will help ensure your cardiovascular health and minimize potential risks.
Heart disease claims the lives of 1 in 4 women. It continues to be a significant issue for women and unfortunately, often presents in different ways as compared to men. For this reason, it is often overlooked as a potential problem for menopausal women.
The factors that contribute to heart disease for women are still unknown. It is felt that lack of natural estrogen somehow potentiates plaque formation in the large and small arteries supplying heart muscle.
Recent analysis of date from a nurses study has also highlighted the increased degree of heart disease in depressed women. Again, the mechanisms for this are not yet fully understood. There has long been observation and knowledge that depression can occur after a heart attack or heart surgery. The question remains, which came first and is this a coincidental association or is there a link?
It is not new that menopause can be a challenging time! With sleep deprivation, fatigue, problems with concentration; it is no surprise that women feel over whelmed and at times moody and depressed. Not every women however, becomes clinically depressed.
The unknown however, is whether the estrogen fluctuations of menopause can cause someone to experience depression for the first time. And if experiencing depression for the first time, do you have an increased risk of heart disease? There is 2 fold increase in the rates of depression known to occur during menopause; and depression has been shown to increase rate of cardiovascular disease.
There is currently a study undergoing at UNC called the PERT study, the Peri menopausal Estrogen Replacement Trial; to look at this issue further. This study is evaluating the (hopefully) beneficial effect of the use of estrogen in treating a new, or newly recurrent depression in perimenopausal women. They will be evaluating the incidence of heart disease for women being treated for depression with estrogen, to determine the efficacy of this treatment for both depression and heart disease in depressed women.
If you are interested in participating in this trial, or would like to know more; click on this link: UNC PERT study.
Knowing the potential cause of a woman’s depression can help tailor treatment, as well as determine what sort of pharmacological treatment may be most beneficial in alleviating symptoms. Knowing the link between depression and heart disease may help dictate surveillance testing for heart disease as you transition through menopause.
Because this is a major cause of illness and death in post menopausal women, it is important to educate yourself regarding your risk factors for heart disease. Many factors are known to contribute to heart disease, such as diabetes, elevated cholesterol, smoking, obesity and family history. It important for women to now understand that depression is now added to the list of risk factors.
Know your risks, know the symptoms of heart disease; and change what you can!
The identification of the HPV virus has been revolutionary for hopes of developing treatments for prevention of cervical cancer and genital warts. Little did we know years ago that genital warts and cervical cancer were linked.
The HPV virus includes many strains, and 4 strains in particular have been found to cause both of these conditions. A vaccine has been developed for protection against these strains of HPV, and it remains to be seen if we see a significant reduction in the occurrence of cervical cancer and genital warts.
One condition caused by HPV is on the rise however, and is poised to cause significant problems. That is throat cancer. You may have thought this was a cancer of tobacco users only, but sadly that is not correct.
While throat cancer from tobacco is on the decline, throat cancer from HPV is on the rise. In an era where it is felt that the majority of sexually active people are already infected with the HPV virus, the chance of being exposed to HPV through oral sex is assumed to occur. Research has shown that up to 7% of adults have oral HPV.
This is not to say that you definitely will get this virus, or that your immune system will not be strong enough to keep it suppressed. It is very important however, that you have an honest and open discussion with any potential new sex partner about STDs.
In addition to a strengthened immune system, not smoking and utilizing good oral hygiene are ways to decrease your susceptibility to the HPV virus. The only prevention is complete avoidance of sexual contact, however monogamous relationships with a healthy and non infected partner is the next best option.
It is important to understand that most HPV infections are cleared by the immune system, up to 90% are cleared within 2 years from the genital and anal area; researchers are determining how long for throat HPV. While very few oral HPV infections result in cancer, the majority of throat and tonsil cancers are from HPV.
What can you do if you think you may be at risk or an oral HPV infection? Check yourself regularly for any changes within your mouth, tonsils, and tongue. See your provider or see a specialist for changes, painful chewing or swallowing, or evidence of bleeding.
There is no screening test for oral HPV at this time, however research is under way to determine more about detection and prevention. For more information on a study under way, go to the following websites: