This month’s blog will be in the form of easily digestible “pearls”—little tidbits of knowledge to help guide San Franciscans, Sacramentans and Californians towards better breast health, less depression and illness, and better overall wellbeing!
Alcohol and Breast Health
A lot of alcohol increases breast cancer risk. A modest amount does not.
How much is considered “a lot”? More than 2-3 drinks per day. (12 oz. of beer, 6 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of spirits = 1 drink)
The higher the alcohol content, the greater the breast cancer risk—and the calories. (2 glasses of wine at 13.5% alcohol = around 250 calories!)
Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health
Believe it or not, there is actually less risk of a heart attack with 1-3 drinks a day than with no alcohol. There’s also less risk with 1-2 cups of coffee a day. Small quantities of dark chocolate are also good.
The best diet to observe? A “Mediterranean-type diet,” also known as the “Polymeal” (see here for more on what that looks like)
Bottom line? Increase your protein intake, diminish calories and consume modest amounts of alcohol (plus the other advice below…).
Junk In = Illness Out
Clinical consequences of obesity (those with a BMI of greater than 30) include a much higher risk of sleep apnea, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, auto-immune disease and “oxidative stress.” Increased oxidative stress leads to more illness and lower longevity.
To calculate your own BMI, click here.
70-90% of the chronic illnesses we see are related to lifestyle and the environment you live in. As the saying goes, “Pay the grocer, or pay the doctor…”
Remember, your lifestyle trumps your genes! Food is medicine. Don’t get crazed about fats vs. carbs. It’s not specifically one or the other—it’s the calories that count. Too much sugar can make you feel awful (what I like to call a case of the “sugar blues.”) High glycemic foods (white rice, potatoes, refined flower, sugary stuff) increase your waistline and decrease your energy.
Vigorously exercising for 30-45 minutes a minimum of 3-4 days a week will lead to:
- Lower blood pressure
- Better sleep (the best sleep aid I know of is 30-45 minutes of vigorous exercise earlier in the day)
- Less depression
- Much lower risk of diabetes
- Less heart and vascular disease
If your daily work could be done while you were engaged in slow walking instead of sitting, this would result in 20-30 lbs. of weight loss per year. In a study of identical twins, the twin who exercised regularly was biologically younger by about 10 years than the twin who did not exercise regularly.
75-90% of visits to health care providers are related to stress.
Stress increases insulin resistance (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease), increases cholesterol, increases blood pressure, increases blood sugar, increases weight, increases cardiac arrhythmias, diminishes memory and focus, diminishes self-esteem, diminishes sleep quality and exacerbates aging.
Stress also increases blood cortisol levels, increases insulin resistance, lowers DHEA levels and accelerates aging.
There is very interesting new research on the relationship of menopausal hot flashes to stress and cardiovascular health. Higher risks of cardiovascular disease have been found in women with a higher concentration of menopausal symptoms. Stress and negative attitudes towards menopause and greater fear of menopause therapies has been shown to greatly increase negative symptoms. Those women experiencing a more “symptomatic” menopause had significantly increased risk of coronary heart disease. Their risk of stroke was also significantly elevated.
In other words? Negative attitudes and stress = more difficult menopause = more cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Additionally, it’s been proven that there is a significant decrease in cerebral blood flow during a hot flash, which helps to explain a women’s inability to continue her tasks during a severe hot flash.
More compelling perhaps is data regarding stress, menopausal symptoms and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Researchers have shown that beliefs about coping and control over hot flashes and beliefs about sleep and night sweats regulated symptoms. Women who completed CBT therapy had far fewer symptoms while having the same physiologic changes as their counterparts.
It turns out that women’s beliefs create or alleviate their symptoms. An individual may evaluate the sensation of a hot flash as either normal, problematic or bothersome. This perception is effected by the environment and that individual’s propensity towards somatization (translating psychological distress into physical symptoms) and negative affect. A key finding in these recent studies is that women’s beliefs about their hot flashes/night sweats matter more than their individual symptoms. If beliefs and attributions can be changed, symptoms are alleviated.
Health care providers can truly help their patients by understanding this and working holistically and integratively with information, hormonal therapy, lifestyle work (and especially stress reduction), mindfulness and, in many cases, CBT.1
Your long-term health is not just in a pill or a hormone or a 10-minute doctor’s visit with “cookbook therapy.”
For more information, see a certified menopause practitioner (go to www.menopause.org, the website of the North American Menopause Society, to find a certified menopause practitioner near you.) There are NAMS-certified practitioners in the Sacramento and San Francisco areas. The time and effort is worth it!
1. This information derives from an editorial in the journal Menopause by Miriam T Weber, PhD, and Pauline Maki PhD, discussing an article in the June 2014 issue of Menopause by S. Norton et.al.