With Guest Expert: Dr. Vivien Brown
Should I have a mammogram or not?
What about perimenopause: is HRT the way to go or is it a health risk?
Should I stay completely natural and go the naturopathic route?
And what about vaccines, and anti-depressants and…
OMG – you get the picture. Life is super busy these days and juggling our health with all of our other commitments can be a stretch.
I know my opinions on all of these topics (and they’re not always in line with ‘popular’ opinion), so when I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Vivien Brown to hear what she had to say about keeping healthy into and through menopause, I jumped at the chance. She is not only the Vice President of Medical Affairs at Medisys Health Group Incorporated – a large provider of healthcare services within Canada – but she is also a recipient of the 2012 Family Physician of the Year award for the region of Toronto, Canada. I figured there could be no better person to talk with about some of the most up-to-date medical opinions on women’s health at midlife and beyond.
Use It or Lose It
The first thing I wanted to know (of course) was what Dr. Brown considered to be the very best way for women to stay libidinous and “juicy” as they go through perimenopause and beyond. Dr. Brown’s answer didn’t surprise me – “use it or lose it”. Our libido changes and can decrease as we age if we are not diligent. As women, I always maintain that ’our orgasms start between our ears’ and that becomes even more true as we move through this stage of our lives. The stresses of work and children and life mean that the thought of initiating intimacy can seem daunting or just plain exhausting.
Dr. Brown’s advice is take the plunge, so to speak. Sex is a habit that you don’t want to break and for women, it is a cycle. Once you start having sex regularly, you will want to keep going and will find it easier to get into the experience; but if you stop, it is hard to work up the momentum again. Although it may seem daunting to initiate, most women enjoy the experience once they are in it, so you may have to be completely ‘unromantic’ about it and actually schedule time for intimacy. If you make a point of finding the time, you will likely enjoy it while you are in the experience and it gets simpler to keep the momentum.
Is It Hot In Here?!
Then we moved on to another topic near and dear to my heart – HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy). One of the really surprising things that I learned from Dr. Brown was that a lot of the ‘fear’ of HRT causing cancer and heart problems came from the way the original trials were done more than 10 years ago. The original studies used high doses of hormones on women of an average age of 63 – the majority were smokers and overweight. Not surprisingly, the conclusions of those trials led to linking HRT with heart disease and cancer. How could it not, with a group so predisposed to those problems to begin with!
In newer studies, Dr. Brown explained, the test subjects have been conducted with overall younger (50-55), healthier and more active women, which has led to much more positive results under the right circumstances. They were given low doses of hormones, topically and orally, and compared against groups given no hormones. Many women responded remarkably well and the group that was on oestrogen alone even showed a lessened risk of breast cancer.
I know that for myself, HRT has been something I have been avoiding. My body does not do well with chemicals and my doctor and I work together (with my naturopath) to figure out what is best for me – something that Dr. Brown fully supports. She jokes that women’s health should be a “team sport” and that doctors now are open to women having the ultimate decision concerning their health when the decisions are well thought out and well researched .
The ‘Booby’ Trap
Mammograms: another potential minefield of women’s health and one where there has been a lot of controversy over the last couple of years. Dr. Brown recommends following the current Canadian guidelines which mean no mammograms for women under the age of 50 unless there is a lump detected, or if there is a close first degree relative who has had breast cancer (daughter, sister, mother). After 50 mammograms are done every 1-2 years depending on the doctor’s recommendation and the density of the woman’s breast tissue.
Having grown up with needing a lot of xrays (including mammograms), I don’t personally want more radiation going into my body if I can help it. It can be tempting to request a ‘baseline’ mammogram in your ‘40s but you need to remember that there are a fair number of false positives in this testing and based on that, the discomfort and the radiation, are they worth it? I know it isn’t for me. In fact, for some people I take it to an ‘extreme’ and avoid the new airport security scanning and choose to get a hand scan. I know of way too many frequent flyers (including the airline personnel) that have some serious and pervasive health issues and they are starting to do the same thing.
Oh, My Aching Back!
Here is where I learned something new about peri/menopause. You know those aches and pains in your joints? Those are (potentially) symptoms of your decreasing oestrogen levels. I think sometimes we forget that there are more symptoms to peri/menopause than hot flashes!
Many women have a lack of energy, depression, insomnia and vaginal dryness. But, the #1 complaint that Dr. Brown gets is achiness and pain in the joints (and here I just thought it was my old fibromyalgia health issues flaring up). Oestrogen acts as a lubricant in your joints and when your levels decrease, as in perimenopause, you can get stiffer and more uncomfortable. So, Dr, Brown suggest mentioning it to your doctor and don’t just write it off as the perils of ageing.
The Eye of the Needle
Somehow I didn’t think at the age of 50+ I would still be talking vaccinations with my doctor but the ‘new’ HPV vaccine had changed all that. I wanted to ask Dr. Brown what the common medical opinion was for who should be getting the shot.
There has been so much controversy over whether we should be vaccinating our daughters, that we don’t even think of ourselves – yet Dr. Brown says that the HPV vaccine has been approved for women up to 45 years of age, and should be a ‘consideration’ for those of us who are single, (or newly single) and who are regularly sexually active. The point she makes is that, for the first time, we now have a vaccine which can actively reduce the risk of cancer: cervical cancer by 70%, oral cancers by 35%, as well as penile and anal cancer. Add to that a vaccine for Hepatitis B, which reduces the risk of liver cancer as well, and maybe you can give yourself extra peace of mind while you are out there in the world (my interpretation of the possible good ‘side effects’).
Deep Cleansing Breaths
If you look at the statistics, 80% of women in perimenopause will have symptoms and 20-30% of those women will feel disabled by them. Just like with pregnancies, every woman goes through it differently and will need different solutions. While I have become over the years not shy about sharing my personal health symptoms with the world, I am usually part of the 80% that can get on with things despite what my body is doing (why did nobody ever tell me that hot flashes are followed by bone-deep chills?!!). Dr. Brown agrees that a big reason for that is because although stress is my achilles heel, I generally live a healthy life, I eat well, I exercise, I do things that help my mental health and I keep blissing out in the bedroom.
Whether you choose to follow more closely the naturopathic route like I did or follow the traditional medicine route, being in touch with your body and speaking to a professional about your symptoms is the most important thing you can ever do. Your menopause may not be just like anybody else’s but there is never a reason to endure it alone!?
- Get your butt moving: Anything you do to get moving is great. Take the stairs, get off the subway a stop early, go for a walk on lunch. Be conscious of ways to move more during your day and don’t ever let them slip by. They are free exercise time!
- Try a quickie: An hour at the gym can occasionally be murder to schedule. Get an aerobics step and use that for 10 minutes at a time, or jump rope for 10 minutes or take a quick walk outside for 10 minutes. Get your body moving and blood flowing.
- Breathe! When you are stressed your breathing becomes shallow. Exercise deepens out breathing into the diaphragm, fills up the lung capacity and lets all your cells get better and fresher oxygen.
- Release the happy hormones: Exercise not only creates endorphins which are the ‘feel good’ hormones, but it also releases and gets rid of cortisol and adrenalin which are two hormones that cause stress.
- Drop the drugs: Evidence shows that exercise has as many benefits as some antidepressant drugs on the market – with a ton less side-effects.
- Quit making excuses! The busier you are, the more you need to exercise so you can manage the stress and demands of your life, versus “I’m so busy, I don’t have time to take care of myself.”
- ‘Burst’ training or high intensity interval training burns a lot of calories in a short amount of time.
Start with a warm-up for about two minutes, and then begin your chosen exercise, whether it is running outside, biking, or using a treadmill. It is important to exercise for 1 minute as hard as you can.
Scale down your intensity slightly for 2 minutes, then repeat another minute of intense exercise. Go through this cycle 6 times!
This will give you an excellent 18 minute workout which burns a lot of calories, gets tons of oxygen into your system and challenges your body.
- Everything that happens, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, is seen as a message or a gift.
- There is no negative, there is no positive, there is only information.
- Whatever occurs during Surrender is simply feedback about your future.
Ready or not the holidays are full steam ahead!During this time of year there is an abundance of delicious food and treats available almost everywhere we go: gigantic family dinners, tasting events at local restaurants, and of course personally wrapped fresh baked goodies from neighbors delivered right to your front door. I love to go to festive social events and enjoy delicious foods during the holidays—but, I especially love maintaining my health practices throughout this season of indulgence. There is a way to “have it all,” – the freedom to enjoy the holidays, without having to pay the price of gaining those extra pounds. Here are three key principles that will allow you the freedom to enjoy the holidays, surrounded by abundant food, while still maintaining your waistline. Principle 1: Abundance vs. Scarcity: Changing the way we view holiday food A mindset of scarcity can make it easy to overindulge during the holidays. If we view eating certain foods as an expiring opportunity, our tendency will be to overeat. Yes, the pumpkin cheesecake is amazing, and the homemade rolls are to die for….but this isn’t the only season of the year when fine dining can be enjoyed. Take an honest assessment of the diversity of opportunities you have to eat calorie laden desserts and rich foods. You may be surprised to note just how many pieces of fudge and other delicacies are presented to you throughout the year. Being honest and accurate in assessing the abundant opportunity to enjoy good food empowers us to partake of smaller portions, savoring the bites we choose to enjoy, and perhaps passing altogether on foods we don’t truly love.
Principle 2: Everything is a choice: Say “Yes” to yourselfHave you ever been told that something you wanted was “off-limits,” and found yourself wanting that thing even more? There is something very alluring and enticing about things that are placed in the “off-limits” category in life. It is human nature. So, get in the habit of saying “yes” to yourself, and realize you are in control of your choices. Several years ago my uncle told me how frustrated he was that his three year old daughter wasn’t interested in playing with the multitude of toys he had purchased for her. What she did want to play with were all the breakable items that she had been told “no” to time after time. Naturally, she wanted most what she couldn’t have, and her tantrums let everyone know that. Consider the foods that may be in your “off limits” category. The psychology of human nature is similar to that of my young niece—our desires are often magnified by the “forbidden fruit.” Saying no to ourselves over and over again can allow a residue of pent-up emotions to build within us, perhaps eventually manifesting as an all out binge session. Choose instead to say “yes” to yourself. On one occasion saying “yes” may mean ordering a chocolate molten cake. On another occasion you may choose to say “yes” to your healthy lifestyle and refrain from eating dessert altogether.
Principle 3: Keep moving forward: Indulge and move onQuite easily, the holiday season can morph from being a few great meals to an all out stuff-fest for several months. After indulging on one occasion it may be tempting to just twirl a white handkerchief in the air and “give up” and just choose to eat anything and everything for the entire holiday season in an unconscious blur. To feel better you may even tell yourself that you will “start” a diet at a popular future date……the New Year! Realize that when you choose to indulge at an event or feast, you can also choose to do so moderately, and then move on. Having a few good meals during the holiday season is not going to destroy all of your hard work and good daily habits. If you have a few occasions that you consciously give yourself permission to indulge, your health goals can still be maintained. Don’t give up the war simply because you may have lost one battle.
With these simple ways of changing the way holiday food and events are viewed, you can have it all this holiday season. Focus on what you want most for yourself in health, wellness, and enjoying life. Through doing this, your food choices will be more balanced and fulfilling this holiday season and for the entire year!
Why do some of us seem to suffer an endless string of illnesses from November to April while others sail through these rough waters completely unscathed?The degree to which we become sick can vary from person to person. Expose three people to the same set of germs:one develops pneumonia, one experiences a mild cold and the third won’t be bothered at all. Why is that? There is little doubt that viruses are responsible for colds and flus. Although western medicine has been unable to effect a cure, alternative health-care practitioners now believe that once you’re exposed to a virus the end result (whether you get sick and how sick you get) will depend upon your body’s ability to defend itself. In other words, the strength of your immune system determines the severity of your cold or flu. In seven years of practice I have observed that immune response is influenced more by the quality of diet and the stresses and strains of lifestyle than by any other factor. Implement the following four steps in your life and be one of the few left standing the next time everyone else is dropping like flies!
Step #1: Feed Your Immune System:
The standard North American diet is overly processed, refined, and overcooked. As a result, it lacks many of the nutrients we need to maintain a healthy immune response. For example, vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene and the mineral zinc, all vital nutrients for a strong defense, are in short supply in the average American’s diet. Low protein intake and deficiencies in essential fatty acids (found in nuts and seeds), B-vitamins, and the mineral selenium also contribute to suppressing your immune system. Eating a diet high in “live” foods, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pure water, and a modest amount of animal or vegetable protein is important.Unfortunately, there are many more factors that suppress immune function than enhance it:
Consumption of sugar, including “natural” sugars like honey and concentrated fruit sugar as well as the sugars in alcohol, wallops our immune response. Sugar competes with vitamin C for transport into our white blood cells, weakening the white blood cells’ ability to fight infection. A sugar sweetened soda or piece of cake you nibble at the office party can stun your immune system into inactivity for as long as five hours.
Meats and animal products cause difficulty in digestion and can also put a stress on your immune response. During cold and flu season, try to limit your intake of animal foods to three or four times a week. Poultry is better than red meat, and fish is best of all. Whenever possible, purchase “clean” meats at a health food store. Animal products sold in other stores may contain bacteria, hormones, pesticides and antibiotics that put an extra strain on your immune system.
Non-food additives such as synthetic colors, synthetic sweeteners, flavorings, preservatives and synthetic oils such as margarine can stress your digestive and filtering organs and hamper immune response as well. Do your best to eliminate them from your diet.
Alternative practitioners have linked two of the most common food allergens, wheat and dairy, to increased mucous production. Whether this increase is a direct result of eating these foods or our body’s response to them is debatable, but either way the result is increased susceptibility to viral infection. During cold and flu season, try reducing or, better yet, eliminating wheat and dairy from your diet. Make a list of all the things you eat on a daily basis that contain wheat, dairy, or their derivatives. You’ll be shocked at the amount of this stuff you put into your body.
Step #2: Improve your Elimination:
Many natural health care providers believe that catching a cold is one of the ways the body does its housecleaning. This line of thinking holds that when the body is laboring under the weight of its own debris, or toxins, it will actually attract a virus to create the cleansing effect of a cold or flu.To boost your immunity, put yourself on a good internal detoxification program. After you’ve “cleaned house,” stay away from foods that are clogging and congesting such as white flour products, dairy (especially cheese), and high-fat foods.
Step #3: Manage Your Stress:
Have you ever noticed how after a particularly stressful event, such as moving or changing jobs, your resistance is diminished? During stressful times, hormones are released by the body that can shrink the thymus gland, weakening your immune response. The more stress you are under, the greater your chance of viral infection.
Step #4: Get Enough Rest:
Sleep is one nutrient for which there is no replacement. Nor is there a supplement that will make up for a lack of it. The immune system functions best when you are relaxed, resting, meditating and especially when you are sleeping. There is a natural ebb and flow of energy in the body’s organs and systems over the course of a day. The immune system gathers strength during the dark hours when we are at rest. When you are ill, the biggest regeneration of viral-damaged cells occurs between midnight and 4:00am.Most of us require between six and eight hours sleep a day. If you’re not getting this much or if you rely on an alarm to wake you, there is a good chance you are sleep deprived. To make sure you are giving your body the amount of sleep it needs, try going to bed five minutes earlier each night until you are able to wake up before the alarm goes off.
SAFEGUARD YOUR HEALTH WITH “BODYGUARD” NUTRIENTSThe following nutrients can help you boost your immune function: Vitamin C: This enhances white blood cell function and increases interferon production (proteins released by white blood cells that fight viruses). Vitamin A and Zinc: These help strengthen the immune system and speed tissue healing. They kill viruses directly and help heal mucous membranes that get inflamed with a cold. They increase T-cell activity and the function of white blood cells. Along with vitamin C, they activate the thymus gland. Vitamin E and Selenium: They improve antibody production and response and cell membrane integrity. Echinacea: This mobilizes the lymph system, the source of much of our immune response. It reduces inflammation anywhere in the body. Use it for short periods of time and don’t use it with HIV or with auto-immune disorders. Astragalus: This is toning to the immune system. It balances the energy of all the internal organs and combats fatigue by nourishing the adrenal glands. It can be alternated with Echinacea. B Vitamins: These counteract the effects of stress on the central nervous system, which is essential to the healing process. Free-form amino acids: The sulfur-containing amino acids, L-cysteine and methionine are free radical trappers. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and immune system enhancer. Taurine is used as a shield by white blood cells when they go into battle. Ninety percent of all the taurine in the body is in the white blood cells. Magnesium: This increases the number of white blood cells, especially T-cells. Garlic: This possesses strong anti-microbial and antiviral activity. Allicin, the active element in garlic, is deactivated in heat. Garlic should be eaten raw or in deodorized capsule form.
- You’re a successful 30, 40, or 50-something professional, but you have a lot of stress in your work and home life, so you can’t find the time to exercise like you used to when you were in your 20s.
- You’ve manage to keep your weight down because there isn’t a diet that you haven’t tried over the years. You are the yo-yo queen but that’s okay, because it helps to keep you slim even when you overindulge in sweets or wine.
- And yes, you might still smoke (you’ve been meaning to quit) but you need some kind of stress relief in your crazy day and it’s a way to get away from being chained to your desk. And those cocktails after work are just another way to unwind (although sometimes the nights out with the girls do get out of hand).
- Maintaining your weight through dieting alone: 15% of new cases are not overweight on the outside (National Institutes of Health statistics), but something much more scary instead. These people are called ‘Fat on the Inside,’ which means that dangerous fat stores internally surrounding key organs instead of showing outwardly around the middle as a paunch. Dr. Jimmy Bell coined the term when he made his recent discovery. He determined that these internal fat deposits cause inflammatory substances to affect your liver and pancreas, and lower your insulin sensitivity, putting you on the road to Diabetes.
- Yo-Yo dieting: Every time we drop weight, we lose muscle, but when we gain the weight again, we don’t get that muscle back. Your body clings to that extra fat because it is afraid of being starved again and this kind of fat produces more hormones and proteins, which affects your glucose levels and triggers the start of type 2 diabetes.
- Eating processed ‘diet’ foods or bingeing on fatty, sugary foods: Let’s face it; many diet foods are a minefield of bad choices. Sugar-free foods often add fat, and fat-free foods often add sugar. If you live on anything marked ‘low-cal’ or ‘diet’ you could be doing more harm than good. Add to that the tendency for women to ‘comfort eat’ by indulging in fatty or sugary foods and you elevate the real risk of becoming ‘fat on the inside’.
- Being stressed out all the time: Whenever we experience stress, our body produces the hormone cortisol which gives you that jolt of energy but it also elevates your blood sugar levels. If you are stressed all the time, it is going to take a toll on your body and its ability to handle sugars and fats over the long-term.
- You are smoking and/or drinking: Whether your vice is cosmos or Corona, if you drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol on a regular basis (1 drink a day for women) you will have more of that dangerous internal fat. You also run the risk of chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which can impair its ability to secrete insulin and ultimately lead to diabetes. Tobacco can increase blood sugar levels as well and lead to insulin resistance.
1) Get Moving: Statistics show that overweight people who exercise regularly are at lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes than thin people who are sedentary. Get off your couch, push away from your desk and get moving. Your life might depend on it.
2) Eat ‘real’ foods high in fibre: Legumes, oats, brown rice, fruits, and berries high in fibre all help to regulate blood sugar levels. You get the added bonus of lowering your cholesterol as well.
3) Cut out processed ‘diet’ foods: Don’t believe what the label tells you. A cookie is still a cookie. Think twice about what you put in your mouth.
4) Slow and steady wins the race: Yo-yo dieting is called that for a reason. Get off the yo-you and embrace the slow and steady approach to weight loss. Crash diets will only harm you in the long run and they just aren’t worth it.
5) Take vitamin D: There is some evidence that a lack of this vitamin in your diet can hinder insulin function and glycemic control so make sure you get in those fatty fish, tinned tuna, fortified milk products, and supplements
6) Find a way to fight stress: Exercise is already a great stress reliever, but find other ways to relax and decompress, whether it’s through yoga, meditation, or a lunchtime walk.Most importantly though, speak with your doctor. It is recommended that women over 40 are to be tested for diabetes every 3 years. Make sure you bring up your concerns with your physician. Diabetes is a very old disease but it is developing a new face because of the stressed, desk-strapped, diet obsessed lifestyles that we women are leading today. Be aware, be informed, and be healthy. We need you rocking your life in the world!
Is it hot in here, or is it just YOU?They say (those in the ‘know’) that these are the best years of your life – the kids are gone, you’re old enough to know what you want, and you still have the energy to get it all done! Then why do women’s bodies play this cruel or awkward joke on them just as the going gets good? Hot flashes, weight gain, mood swings, headaches, water retention, breast tenderness, osteoporosis, and to top it off, potential increased risk of breast cancer! Ah, the joys of peri/menopause. But the transition from child-bearing years to a new period of personal fulfillment doesn’t have to be rough. Let’s take a closer look at what causes it and what you can do about it.
Why is menopause so “bad”?1. Decreased progesterone/estrogen levels: This is normal. A woman’s body announces it’s ready to stop making babies by shifting these hormone levels. However, decreasing the level of estrogen in the body does result in many of the symptoms listed above. 2. High levels of xenoestrogens: These are man-made compounds that act like estrogen in the body but block natural estrogen from functioning properly. Often, meat and dairy products contain xenoestrogens as a result of hormones given to the animals, but they can come from everyday industrial products (eg. cleaning products, pesticides) as well in many personal care products (eg. shampoos, conditioners, lotions, deodorants). As levels of natural estrogen drop, the effects of xenoestrogens become even MORE prevalent in the body .
So what are your options?
1. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT):
Taking what is called “bio-identical” hormones to replace what you’ve lost is NOT SUGGESTED! Studies, such as the ‘Million Woman Study’, have shown that HRT increases risks of breast cancer, stroke, and heart attack, and that longer treatments produced higher risks.Essential oils can be a great alternative to balancing the hormonal fluxes. Smells are one of the most powerful ways to relieve symptoms as they cause specific physical and psychological reactions by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters in the brain to balance hormones and increase feelings of well-being. Skin is the largest organ of the human body so applying essential oils through your skin is also a tremendous way to effect relief. (NOTE: I suggest using doTERRA essential oils which are Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade. Follow all warning labels carefully when using any essential oils.) 2. Cleanse the body of Xenoestrogens: Removing xenoestrogens from the body will help improve symptoms to a more natural state. Suggestions: doTERRA’s LifeLong Vitality PackTM; doTERRA’s ZendocrineTM;milk thistle; lots of soluble dietary fiber (to help cleanse the body) 3. Take Phytoestrogens: Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that are adaptogenic regulators of estrogen function (ie. they help to regulate estrogen in the body). That means it will increase estrogen function if it is low or decrease function if it is high! And….therefore ….NO MORE HORMONE SWINGS! Phytoestrogens also protect the body from the effects of xenoestrogens. Suggestions: flax seed oil; soy (in moderation); doTERRA’s Phytoestrogen Lifetime ComplexTM, essential oils of Clary Sage, Geranium, Lavender, and Basil; doTERRA’s SolaceTM essential oil blend (I have seen this one stop hot flashes FAST!!) 4. Take supplements to support healthy bones: Strong, healthy bones are important for all of the activities you’ll be doing in this time of your life. You don’t want to break a hip so stay active and take care of your bones! Suggestions: supplements high in Calcium, Magnesium, and D vitamins; doTERRA’s Bone Nutrient Lifetime ComplexTM; regular exercise including strength bearing exercise as your body allows. As you transition through this period in your life, do it with the grace and style that befits your magnificence! Reduce your stress, limit your sources of toxicity, eat whole foods, develop healthy lifestyle habits, and take care of your symptoms. And don’t forget to be the goddess you are meant to be! It really can be some of the best years of your life.