Category Archives: Brain Health

ESTROGEN IS BACK IN THE NEWS

Estrogen Supplements May Reduce Dementia Risks

musicinbrainTwo recent studies show a possible benefit of estrogen supplements in menopausal women to reduce dementia risk. These studies are very important because women are living longer and any improvement in mental function or delay in the onset of dementia could provide great benefit for women.

Loss of ovarian hormone production following menopause or surgical ovarian removal, results in important changes throughout the body. Bone density decreases, osteoporosis develops and more fractures occur. Hot flashes, mucus membrane dryness, reduced libido, hair loss, skin wrinkling, all become issues. The list goes on. Some problems related to estrogen loss seem minor, but decreasing risks for heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia are major considerations for long term health.

In the past, physicians provided prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women following menopause. In the summer of 2002, physicians stopped prescribing hormone replacement therapy after the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) concluded the risks of estrogen treatment far outweighed its benefits. The large WHI study also reported the combination of estrogen plus progestin not only increased the risk of both breast cancer and heart disease, but women had an increased risk for dementia.

The following studies suggest estrogen alone (without progestin) may be beneficial for the brain and memory and not detrimental as the WHI study reported:

+ Neurobiology of Aging published a Norwegian study where researchers studied MRI scans of women taking estrogen. They found an important area for memory, the hippocampus, showed preserved brain volume in women who started taking estrogen supplements before or at the beginning of menopause and continued for a number of years. Since the hippocampus is the area affected in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the findings in the Norwegian study are hopeful.

+ The National Proceedings of Science reported that a team of scientists at Guelphsynapse photo University in Ontario studied the effect of estrogen on synapses in mouse brains, the location where brain cells communicate. Within minutes of an estrogen injection, a large increase in synapse activity occurred in the hippocampus. Boosting estrogen levels may help strengthen brain connections and result in improved learning and memory. Human studies are needed to validate their findings and any long term benefit.

WHI conclusions are being revisited by practicing physicians and research groups. Estrogen replacement in women may once again be prescribed as an anti-dementia aid. However, if a woman has had clots, strokes or cancer, estrogen is not appropriate.

For additional information on benefits of estrogen from new studies see our blog at:Your Heart Book Cover- Final FINAL
www.yourheartbook.com

http://tinyurl.com/mvpm2y9

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The Benefits of Daily Exercise after Menopause

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Women experience menopause with lost ovarian function due to aging or surgical removal. Loss of estrogen in the postmenopausal state affects the body in both obvious and subtle ways. Obvious effects are hot flushes, thinning hair and skin wrinkling, but there are many more silent harmful effects.

Early menopause contributes to osteoporosis. Gradual weakening of bones occurs without the estrogen stimulus to calcium metabolism and bone strength. Further bone loss may evolve to fractures and disability.

We also know the effectiveness of high-density-lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” blood fat, is reduced without estrogen effect. This transporter molecule is responsible for removing cholesterol buildup in arteries. HDL particles without the effect of estrogen are less efficient and the risk for heart attacks increases in women following menopause. Postmenopausal women can offset some of this effect by eating healthy and staying active. Statin medication to modify abnormal blood lipids may also be needed.

A study reported at the North American Menopause Society stated women after menopausal tend to weigh more, have larger waist lines, and a higher percentage of body fat than younger more active premenopausal women. Sedentary behavior correlated with a larger waist size – no surprise. But their findings showed regular exercise brought benefit to both pre- and post-menopausal women. When women increased their daily exercise – energy, mobility, and bone density all improved, along with reduction in waist size. Increased activity and weight control can also reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Last year, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research reported a four year study examining women who walked the equivalent of thirty minutes per day had a lower risk of invasive breast cancer. The exact mechanism is unknown, but we do know exercise carries many positive benefits. Researchers stressed the benefit of lowered risk of invasive breast cancer was lost when exercise stopped — so daily exercise is key.

Walking daily can become a positive routine and is as important to overall health as brushing your teeth. Dogs love to walk. Our dogs provide encouragement to take a hike even in the rain. If you don’t have a dog, find a friend to join you. Exercise and social relationships correlate with happiness and longer life. Find a route that makes you smile and take a daily walk.

Some good advice from Dr. Seuss:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.

20151018_142608Betty and Bev

Alcohol, Women and the Economy

k9293041Alcohol abuse has ruined many lives and relationships. There are few families without these problems. Child abuse, partner abuse and self-abuse are all intertwined when it comes to the use of mind-changing substances. Some people are successful occasional users, many are not.

Recent research articles and experiences with alcoholic friends stimulated this series of blogs on the topic. This will be our last one for now, but I wanted to end with recent information on the topic to help you analyze your own behavior and possibly intervene when you see dangerous behavior occurring.
Microbreweries and small distilleries have become popular everywhere. Tasting a “flight” of either beer or hard liquor samples may put you over the safe driving blood alcohol limit of .08. A designated driver is essential. One in ten deaths among working-age Americans between the ages of 20-64 is caused by excessive alcohol. Drunk driving kills.

Two days ago, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study showing alcohol consumption and costs have accelerated. The economic costs are due to reduced work productivity, the cost of treating people for health problems related to alcohol, and crime. These statistics did not examine the pain and suffering from alcoholic behaviors.
We all understand why pregnant women must be wary of alcohol and its harm to an unborn child. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, also called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a constant reminder that mental and physical changes are attributable to a mother’s behavior while pregnant. There is no amount of alcohol consumed while pregnant that has been proven safe. The primary concern is that small amounts of alcohol could negatively affect the developing fetal brain. Each woman has to decide. Our advice to pregnant women is to wait and have a glass champagne to celebrate after the birth of your child.

Many have a glass of wine for social reasons. Others drink to get drunk, or are addicted and don’t stop until their blood alcohol level causes them to pass out. Tragedies happen every day due to alcohol. Think twice before you drink, and never drive after drinking.

Betty and Bev

I’ll Drink to That!

Some water flowing in high mountain streams is pristine enough to drink without the need of additives to kill or filter out disease-causing microbes. But, in many places on planet earth, water clean enough for consumption is in short supply. In California and other drought-ridden locations, plants and animals are dying due to insufficient water. In many areas around the world, dysentery from drinking contaminated water is prevalent and life-threatening.

We take water purity for granted in the US where chlorinated water pours from our taps. But, during much of the past 10,000 years, before the availability of pure water, the only safe liquid to drink contained alcohol. Today, we see alcohol through many lenses, with both good and bad views.

Alcohol is the metabolic byproduct of the natural process of fermentation that occurs when yeasts metabolize sugars. In the Middle Ages, alcohol was called “the water of life,” aqua vitae. They learned to make wine from grapes, and beer from fermented grain. People of all ages, including children, drank alcoholic beverages as their primary consumable liquid. The alcohol destroyed many microbes causing disease and made it safer to drink than water. The processes for making wine and beer are simple. Today, many people make them for fun. Microbreweries have sprung up everywhere. There are many suppliers, even health food stores carry the products.

All alcohols are not consumable. Some can cause blindness and death. Disinfectant alcohol is applied to surfaces of the body prior to medical procedures, and is the primary ingredient in liquid hand purifiers. Windshield cleaners spew various colored fluids containing alcohol. There are many industrial uses.

20150626_195841The drinkable form is ethyl alcohol. It is used in celebratory toasts, paired with elegant dining, and has been shown to contribute to cardiovascular health. Undisciplined drinking carries health risks and tragedy. Alcohol is a sedative drug and a toxin. Excessive consumption contributes to loss of mental function, also causing addiction and liver failure. Alcohol has become a common social drink and a problem for many who drink to excess.

Our next blog will review a new powdered alcohol product called palcohol. Additional blogs will provide information on health and social issues related to alcohol consumption, common early signs of problematic drinking, and will discuss blood alcohol determinations.

Here’s to safe drinking, designated drivers, and moderation in all things.

Betty and Bev

EXERCISE FOR LIFE

DSCF3133Fall is an invigorating time of year for many people. Even if you are not into fitness, it is a good time to start a plan. Walking in crisp fresh air, surrounded by evolving brilliant foliage colors, can help stimulate daily activity that will generate better health in years to come.

 A recently published medical study noted advanced planning can change the course of your life. Americans are living longer, but not always better. Our current life expectancy is seventy-eight, but with longer life more people are dealing with chronic diseases. So, the goal should be to begin modifying your risk base as soon as possible. Developing fitness in middle age, even if exercise was never a priority for you, reshapes your personal health landscape and can make later years more vibrant.

 In the longitudinal study of 18,000 people beginning in 1970, most of those who were the least fit at the time of their middle-aged checkup, had developed some of the following conditions early in the aging process: dementia, diabetes, heart disease and colon or lung cancer. Those who were most fit in their forties and fifties typically did not develop chronic illnesses until the final five years of their lives, instead of 10-20 years earlier like the less physically fit individuals.

 So if you look at the big picture, exercise is beneficial in delaying illness and living well in later years. Longevity without dementia is determined by genetics, fitness and staying involved mentally and socially. Even walking half an hour a day can improve your health.

 An article reviewing 45 studies, examining physical activity in people with cancer published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute this year, emphasized the benefits of exercise. There was a decrease in all-cause mortality, including cancer-related death. Many of the studies examined involved women with breast cancer. With exercise, there are improved insulin levels, reduced inflammation and an increase in cells known to attack tumors.

 Muscle cells strengthen with exercise. Balance improves. But another important benefit is better blood flow to organs including the brain. In an animal study published in the journal Learning and Memory, fit animals not only showed improved memory, they generated new neurons in areas of the brain involved with learning.

 We all have many excuses for not being able to exercise. However, if you evaluate your interests and abilities, usually there is something to do to remain active, even if you have physical problems that interfere. Water exercises for individuals with joint and balance problems can increase muscle strength and be relaxing, too. If you have joint or back problems, consider riding a stationary bicycle for non-weight-bearing activity. Talk with your physician. Maybe a consultation with a physical therapist could set you on a course to improve muscle conditioning and your overall health.

If you say, “I’m too tired to exercise” consider this: studies have found exercise energized people, even those undergoing cancer treatments. Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous. Just taking a slow walk outdoors in the fall sunshine can brighten your day, increase bone-density to ward off osteoporosis, strengthen your muscles and help you live a longer healthier life.

Betty Kuffel, MD

ARE COFFEE AND TEA HEALTHY?

Cup of coffee in a sea of coffee beans Cup green tea 2

HEALTHY CHOICES

If you are a confirmed coffee drinker like I am, it may be hard to convince you to buy a few green tea bags and join tea drinkers around the world. Below is an excerpt from our first volume of Lipstick Logic Health Series which will become an e-book available in February. As I am sure you know, heart disease in women is different in some aspects and can be more difficult to diagnose.

Volume One, Your Heart, covers the latest information on heart disease, interventions and lifestyle changes to improve health.

February is not only Valentines day, the first Friday, February 1st, is also the annual Go Red For Women Heart Association alert to educate yourself and live healthier and longer. If you would like to know when the book becomes available, please sign onto our website readership.

Coffee

Coffee is good for you, but like everything else you do, use moderation. Numerous studies show a reduction in Type II diabetes in those who drink either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee. In one study of about 193,000 people, those who drank 6-7 cups a day were 35% less likely to develop Type II diabetes than those who drank less than two cups a day. Even drinking 4-6 cups per day lowers the risk.

Freshly brewed coffee contains antioxidants. Minerals including magnesium and chromium in coffee are involved in insulin function. Lowering risk for diabetes reduces the risks for both heart attack and stroke.

One would think the stimulant effect of coffee would be detrimental because caffeine can stimulate epinephrine and raise blood pressure. Studies show an actual reduction in heart rhythm disturbances.

Two studies showing favorable effects from coffee consumption are the long-term study on 83,700 nurses enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study which showed a 20% lower risk of stroke in those who drank 2 or more cups per day over non-coffee drinkers. In another study on 130,000 people who drank 1-3 cups per day, they were 20% less likely to be hospitalized for heart rhythm issues than nondrinkers.

In addition to the above benefits, there are clear links to decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s dementia in coffee drinkers.

The downside is the things you add to coffee. Plain black coffee has fewer than ten calories. Add a teaspoon of sugar and you have added 23 calories. Adding half and half or liquid non-dairy creamer increases the calorie content by 50. Check the calories of what you add and see if you want to spend daily calories that way or learn to drink it black. Some coffee specialty drinks contain as much as 500 calories, a meal in itself. Also, if you are having daily barista coffee drinks, these hidden calories can jeopardize weight control goals and are expensive. Second only to crude oil, coffee is big business.

If you look around, may find a “new” coffee drink to interest you-tea made from coffee plant leaves. This drink was popular for a while in the 1800s but didn’t catch on in England. A recent article in the Canberra Times reports an Annals of Botany publication stated “Coffea arabica leaves have higher levels of antioxidants, which is thought to be beneficial in combating heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, than tea or coffee.” Coffee plant leaf tea is currently available in some health food stores.Coffee beans and hands

Green Tea

Benefits of drinking green tea have been touted your years. Does this mean a confirmed coffee drinker should acquire a taste for tea? Maybe. It sounds bland, uninteresting and if it is calorie-free, how good can it be?

Green tea contains micronutrients called catchins. These are antioxidants which scavenge the free radicals we want gone. An animal study at McGill University in Montreal on one component of the catchins found it effective in treating prostate tumors. Human studies are hopeful. In the lab, the green tea substance inhibits cancer growth and kills abnormal cells. In a study involving 500 Japanese women with breast cancer, those who drank increased amounts of tea before and after surgery had lower cancer recurrence. Another cancer that may be suppressed is lung cancer. Twenty-two studies analyzed showed drinking two cups of green tea (not black) resulted in an 18% decreased in developing lung cancer. If you are already a tea drinker, but it isn’t green, give it a try.

Another healthy aspect of green tea and others from the Carnellia sinensis plant (Black and Oolong) is the content of bronchodilators. If you know someone with asthma, you’ll know what we mean. Theophylline and theobromine in tea both act on the lungs by relaxing tight airways allowing better airflow. Tea can help calm cough in mild lung conditions.

Some studies show green tea aids weight loss, reduces LDL cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and relaxes blood vessels improving heart health.

If all these positive aspects of tea haven’t convinced you to drink a couple of cups a day, maybe this will: Green tea suppresses bacteria in the mouth and GI tract and may not only combat tooth decay, it might help infectious diarrhea. Because of its medicinal effects, lotions, bath salts and even a prescripted green tea ointment clears warts!

I’ll drink to that!

Betty Kuffel, MD

LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE

Do You Have Winter Blues?

If this time of year tends to dampen your spirits and your energy, it could be the result of shorter days and longer nights. A condition known medically at SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called the “Winter Blues” – is a documented mood disorder where people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year, become depressive in winter months.

Although experts were initially skeptical, this condition is now recognized as a common disorder, prevalent across the U.S.  SAD was formally described and named in 1984 by Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, a researcher, professor, psychiatrist and author of the book “Winter Blues.”

The National Library of Medicine notes “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.”

If you feel a dampened-down mood change coming on, considering adding more lights inside and outside your home. Energy efficient bulbs now offer instant-on bright white and daylight options while actually reducing your electricity bill if used to replace older filament bulbs.

Our small Minnesota town has a delightful tradition. On the Eve of “Black Friday” – a parade of lighted horses and over 20 floats make their way through main-street. Family and friends gather on the sidewalks wrapped in winter coats and warm blankets (if weather demands), to watch the parade and join in the sounds and songs of merriment that fill the air.

The last float, a shiny fire truck covered in twinkle lights, ushers in Santa. With a wave of his hand and his jolly “Ho-Ho-Ho” the truck siren is sounded and the entire downtown and waterfront area comes alive with sparkling lights.

It doesn’t have to end there. Stores are filled with packages of inexpensive lights designed to adorn your home and landscape. Lighting contests are held throughout our area bringing people of all ages out to tour the spectacular scenes.

Sparkling starlight elicits a feeling of joy whether it is in summer or winter. With longer, darker winter nights now with us, even a few sparkling lights within our homes can add a feeling of joy.

“Deck the Halls” both inside and outside to increase and spread your own holiday cheer throughout your home and neighborhood.

Wishing you a bright cheery Holiday Season.

Bev Erickson