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!

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