Monday, June 27, 2011

Sexy After Sixty?

After doing a lecture this afternoon to a room full of women at Markham Stouffville Hospital on menopause, curious as to what I would find, I googled "sexy after sixty". After filtering through a few websites dedicated to keeping your sex life alive into your golden years, I came across a recent video of Helen Mirren (The Queen, Arthur). Helen Mirren is an inspiration to women everywhere: she embodies confidence, grace, talent and genuine character. She radiates with that je ne sais quoi: a feminine elegance combined with a sultry, sex appeal that extends beyond age. And so the nagging question in my head becomes, "how did Helen Mirren remain poised in the midst of the dreaded hot flash"?
Women begin the journey into hormone change as early as 30 years of age (hence declining fertility rates post third decade). Hormones play a massive role in our lives as women: estrogen increases bone density, influences fat deposition (which makes women curvy), has an effect on vascular function, tissue elasticity, menstruation, thyroid function and mood. You can imagine what happens when this magical, little molecule begins its decline: bone remodeling becomes less efficient leading to osteopenia and possibly osteoporosis, vessel elasticity is compromised leading to possible hypertension, cholesterol profiles change as a result of decreased thyroid hormone production (a consequence of fluctuations in both estrogen and progesterone). It does not end here! Testosterone also begins to decline: all of a sudden instead of toning up after a few weeks at the gym, we find ourselves unable to build lean muscle tissue. And not only are we flabby but now we don't even have flabby sex because our libido has taken a nose dive! We can console ourselves with laughter but we can't laugh too hard for fear of urinary incontinence as a result of a weakened pelvic floor! It doesn't sound pretty - but somehow women like Helen Mirren not only get through it, but get through it and maintain their sexy selves!
Throughout my research I have found some interesting statistics: hot flashes affect 75% of North American women but less than 10% of women in Japan, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Mexico. What is going on here? Let's consider that hot flashes are associated with LH (lutenizing hormone) surges. LH surges can be magnified with increases in stress hormone - so increases in stress hormone can lead to a increase in number and intensity of hot flashes. Is it possible that we are more stressed in North America than our non-flushing neighbours? In addition, an increase in prostaglandin PGE2 and PGF2a can overstimulate the hypothalamus and produce dramatic temperature fluctuations. PGE2 and PGF2a are typically increased in people who's diets contain coffee, red wine, chocolate, red meat, dairy fat, peanuts, sugar and shellfish. Is it at all possible that perhaps the North American diet is a little richer than the diets of those in Japan, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Mexico?
Can stress and diet have THAT much of an impact? Apparently so! A study out of the University of Massachusetts Medical School evaluated the impact of a weekly mindfulness-based stress reduction program on women's hot flashes. After 7 weeks, the women's scores on quality of life had increased significantly with hot flash severity score decreasing by 40%!
When it comes to food, a study out of the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy showed the synergistic anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of combined curcumin (from tumeric), EPA and DHA. Together, these agents demonstrate a decrease in PGE2, NO (nitric oxide) production, COX2 and an increase in HO-1 (haem oxygenase). This result not only contributes to menopause symptom relief but also decreases long term cancer risk.
So, instead of the red meat, wine and chocolate, we women might be wise to consume more PGE2 and PGF2a reducing foods like fish oil, tumeric (curcumin), antioxidants and bromelain (pineapple). Maybe after another 30 years of deep breathing and fish oil pineapple sandwiches, I too will embody that ageless je ne sais quoi!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Journey of Trust

My mom and dad met at a picnic when my mom was sixteen years old. My dad was twenty-three and had, as he describes it, "just gotten off the boat" (immigrated from the Netherlands). He was (and still is) a handsome man, a gentle spirit, a calm, kind and caring soul. Back then, he would have spoken broken English with a charm only Europeans seem to have. My mother grew up in Whitevale: a small hamlet of a town, with one street, one library, one corner store, a river and a whole lot of beautiful forest for morel mushroom and fiddle head harvesting.
That first meeting didn't last long. My father recalls leaving the picnic shortly after meeting my mother. My mother has said that after that first, brief interaction she turned to one of her girlfriends and whispered, "If that man ever asked me to marry him, I would". She used to describe the feeling as a "knowing" often affirming my worst fear about my latest boyfriend saying, "Gail, when the man that you are going to marry comes along, you are just going to know. There will be this feeling and you'll just know. And well, if you don't just know now, then he's probably not the guy". Typically, my relationships would end shortly after this conversation!
After that picnic and that fateful meeting, a number of years passed before my mother and father saw each other again. He dated a few women, becoming serious with one in particular - Eleanor was her name. My mom also dated and, in fact, became engaged at the age of 19 to a guy named Lloyd. The engagement didn't last long though: Lloyd, apparently a promising business man conducted a business trip to BC to embezzle money from his sick and delusional aunt. After discovering what kind of "business" Lloyd was in, my mom broke her engagement off by sending her ring back to him through the mail! Around the same time that my mom's engagement fell apart, my father's girlfriend, Eleanor, had decided to go travelling through Europe - sans my father! Subsequently, they "took a break". As fate would have it, my mother and father reconnected through some mutual friends. Nine months later, my father was asking my grandfather for permission to marry my mom and voila! A matrimony of soul mates!
I can recall growing up witnessing moments of love between my parents: my mom washing dishes, my dad drying and them sharing a kiss between each plate. My mother has since died; a devastation that is still felt by the members of my immediate family. Despite his getting on with his life and dating someone new, my father still misses my mom every day. He is the first to say that, although the time was short, a short time with the love of his life was better than a long time with anyone else on the planet.
Life is an interesting journey. A journey that doesn't necessarily go in a straight line. Although we can try to direct the path, we never really know where we'll end up and how we are going to get there. It's a journey during which we make connections: some fleeting, some lasting, some with distinctive purpose, some that we wish never happened. It's a journey in which we come across our soul mates; those individuals that leave us breathless and who make our hearts sing. It's a journey in which we give ourselves to love (hopefully at least once), which makes us feel alive in one moment and dying with heartache the next. All we really have on this beautiful roller coaster of a ride is trust: a faith that things will somehow work out the way they're supposed to (even though it really doesn't seem like it sometimes)!
I asked my dad recently, why he didn't pursue my mom after meeting her at the picnic that day and why he let so much time lapse before seeing her again. He answered simply, "There was a connection but your mom was going off to BC for the summer. I figured, if it was going to happen, we would just come together again when it was more right". Then he added, "Life is strange: you don't really know what's going to happen. I would have never believed that, after your mom died, I was going to find companionship with Eleanor's sister! You just never know ..."