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Why Tuesday?

The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dressing Up... Way Up

Truth be told, I am a sucker for a great outfit. You who share such fondness- an you know who you are- know exactly what I mean.... The type of outfit that transforms you. You put on the pieces of it- dress, pantsuit, chemise, frock... whatever and just zipping it up makes you feel better. And then there is that look in the mirror- that final affirmation, that life as you know it will forever be transformed... for the better. There is no need to confirm with a friend or a photo. There is no need to ask another person, "what do you think?".

THIS little black dress or perfect power suit or fabulous frock will "uniformly" be the fashion victor. Cut, colour, size, clarity- this IS the little black dress, the ultimate power suit and the frickin frock to end it all. You will be buried in this outfit if you have any say. This dress will make you whole.

My problem is that I have this attitude every time I step into a dressing room. Each new outfit I try on holds with it the potential to be THE ONE. Like a twenty something hopeful on a string of blind dates, I walk into each dressing room with the optimism of a schoolgirl at her first prom.

I could never figure out the nature of my serial dressing monogamy. Was it an illness? Was I plagued with a perpetual deep seated need for the perfect outfit as some subconscious way of making my life whole? Was I trying to affirm some shattered belief system through silk, leather and lace instead of the usual methods of prayer, chastity and practice?

Or was it to fill some deep hole in my life? Was there a spiritual void in me that only the most perfect McQueen fall line could attempt to repair? Was there a significant problem with my psyche that had me substituting a Prada for Prozac?

NO, this soul searching was bullshit.

It was quite simple.... Life is a series of outfits.... from baby clothes to blue hospital gowns and the little black dresses in between. My journey was a standard one that every woman goes through.

Studies show that children (both boys and girls) who are encouraged to play "dress up" at a younger age develop a better sense of imagination as adults. In fact the American Society of Pediatrics encourages parents to allow their children to use costumes as part of regular play.

Yes, girlfriends, that is the extent of my evidence....

No there is not a double blind randomized trial comparing patients who match their accessories to those who wear sweat pants professionally. However, I will say from my 10 years of medical experience (and yes I AM playing the DOCTOR card... ie: I AM pulling this one out of my ass... ) my patients who dress up for me are if not healthier; happier. NO, I am not suggesting that a Vintage Chanel is the key to prevent cancer (although if there is a randomized trial for this, please give Karl Lagerfeld my name and dress size). I am claiming that a good outfit can make the most out of a day....

I bring this topic up on this of all weeks.... because, well.... I think I found it. Last week the perfect outfit arrived by Purolator Courier. NO it does not make my butt look smaller and yes, in fact it fits funny in places. But... safe to say, my Vancouver 2010 Olympic torchbearer's uniform may very well be "up there" with my top ten perfect outfits of all time. On the surface it is a white track suit with reflective markings of the Olympic rings on the back and blue and green Vancouver 2010 graphics on one arm. There is a cute little white toque and the now or soon to be iconic red mittens with maple leafs on the palms. At first glance, white nylon tracksuits are not the definition of style according to any conventional means. It does however define me.

This sport tracksuit will be one of my finest hours. With head held high, my torchbearer's uniform will symbolize all that is hopeful and healthful and good in life.They say that "The clothes don't define the woman, the woman defines the clothes. I do believe this is true in many ways. But some day when my Louboutins are well worn and my hair is as grey as the new black.... I will look back on that one white track suit and that one moment in time when an outfit really did define a woman. I will remember that day in January when it arrived and like a kid on Christmas morning I tore open the package and immediately tried it on in the middle of my living room and refused to take it off for at least a good 45 minutes.

So think of me dear girlfriends next Thursday as I don my Olympic best and run the torch for all things great and small. Here's to playing dress up as children and developing our sense of selves. Here's to dressing up for doctor's appointments and feeling better for it. Here's to being fashionable and fabulous and not having to defend ourselves any longer. In the words of Oscar Wilde...
"It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world can be found in what is visible not in what is invisible."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Detox?... MY ASS!

Girlfriends I ask you? What is with the colon these days? Make no mistake, I have spent a good deal of my almost forty years on this planet devoted to one body part or another. I am, as one might say, an equal opportunist when it comes to anatomy. The heart deserves as much attention as the hands... I myself wonder about the state of my various organs. Will my liver not hold it against me for the 1990's and their Las Vegas Daquiri rituals? Will my skin forgive and forget the baby oil days of the 1980's. Will my lungs find it in themselves the strength to move beyond the time when I thought smoking really was cool?

This is not an obsessive rant of a neurotic hypochondriac. More of a healthy "check in"... like calling an old friend you have not spoken to in some time and seeing how they are doing. Make no mistake.... I do wonder about the STATE of MY COLON... we all do. Those of you who are not at least mildly obsessed with your bowel movements, are just bullshitting yourselves (pun intended). So it is clearly no surprise when my dearest friend of over 25 years presented me with a wonderful conundrum this past weekend... and curiously the topic for this weeks GUIDE.

"What's the health benefit of a herbal cleanse? Is there anything to them?" she asked sitting on the floor of my closet (MY happiest place on earth)

"I think they are a bunch of crap...." and yes, like the teenagers we once were when we first met... we both burst into giggles at the play on words... (that and we had drank wine with dinner)

Yes, I have patients who have spent thousands of dollars on colonic irrigation and coffee ground enemas. I have in the course of my career admitted more than a dozen people to hospital with the horror story after effects of some herbal detoxification that has left them with dangerously low blood levels of one electrolyte or another and dehydration the like of only a desert treck could replicate. That was my only scientific "measuring stick" of the risks and benefits of herbal cleanses.

UNTIL NOW. Guess what my dear Girlfriends? There has yet to be a published study in a reputable scientific journal showing the benefits of herbal cleanses in preventing.... ANYTHING.

Here’s where all the thinking began….

In the late 1800’s many physicians accepted the concept of AUTOINTOXICATION. This was the idea that things we ingested sat around in our colon and “made us toxic”….. Think LANDFILL on a sunny day. Scientific observations through to the early 1900’s showed that in fact the liver is a pretty impressive organ and no…. your colon is not a landfill. Direct observations of the colon during surgical procedures or autopsies found no evidence that hardened feces accumulates on the intestinal walls. Symptoms of headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite that accompanied people who had constipation were found to be caused by the mechanical distension of the colon and not by the production or absorption of toxins from feces.

We now know that most of digestion in fact takes place in the stomach and small intestine (well before anything hits the colon). It is in the small intestine that nutrients are absorbed into the body.

The primary role of the colon is to be a 40 inch long tube which transports waste out of the body. There is reabsorption of water at the level of the colon in order to concentrate this waste but as for reabsorption of “toxins”…. It is just not so…. In other words…. By the time your s#@% hits your colon… you’ve absorbed whatever “toxins” you were going to from your food. As for those supposed “toxins”…. That is what your liver is for. In fact your liver is probably the best detoxifying machine you own… think of the amount of Tequila you have consumed in your lifetime and you will undoubtedly give praise to this organ as the superhero that has saved you from more Spring Breaks than you can imagine.

As for bowel movements; we are as varied as the cut of a good pair of jeans. Several observational studies have shown that the bowel habits of healthy individuals vary greatly. Some people have one a day; others two; others one every other day. Think of it as Goldilocks meets your intestines and you can imagine why variation is acceptable. People and their bowel movements are like snowflakes…. Everyone is unique.

Some chiropractors, naturopaths, and assorted food faddists claim that "death begins in the colon" and that "90 percent of all diseases are caused by improperly working bowels." The practices they recommend include fasting, periodic "cleansing" of the intestines, and colonic irrigation. There is no scientific evidence to support fasting and cleansing as a means of overall longevity. In fact small subsequent studies have shown that fasting actually increases a person’s level of “hunger hormones” as well as increasing their amount of fat free muscle loss.

When you go off the starvation and “cleanse” as you will inevitably do… You actually run the risk of gaining weight. Furthermore, you have been taking laxatives for 5 days and can be slightly dehydrated and thus can often be somewhat constipated for a period of time afterward.

In other words… you don’t have to be a trained physician to know that 10 days of laxatives no matter how “HERBAL” they are might not be the way to go on a path to physical enlightenment.

If you want a “socially sanctioned eating disorder” have at it… other wise how about you try my special GGTH special cleanse.

For the next 14 days try eating 3 meals a day, well balanced in terms of nutrition, 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and not drinking alcohol. Go for a walk for 45 minutes a day every day and don’t take any supplements, tonic or snake oil that has been sold to you by some clerk at a health food store promising the fountain of youth.

You never know… guaranteed you won’t be running to the bathroom three times a day, BUT it might be actually good for you. Now go forth my cybersisters. Be cleansed and report back soon.

FYI: for more info… check out:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Everything's Coming up Roses

What does one do about that one person in your life who inevitably wears too much perfume? Normally one would think this is an age related phenomenon. People turn sixty, lose their sense of smell and pile on the fragrant, flower like (and for lack of a better word) toilet water in such a way as to make eyes water and children squirm. It is such a distinct scent that inevitably we all have one person in our lives who wears it. It is as if this very perfume entices its users to "pile it on". I have encountered several patients in my practice who have engaged in such a noxious crime.

In fact... true story (hand to heart) I was called to a cardiac arrest once where the patient went into anaphylactic shock and stopped breathing all because her room mate in the hospital beside hers had a visitor who was wearing too much perfume. As I rushed into the room to intubate the woman and perform CPR, I could smell the evidence everywhere. There it was, lingering... my elementary school singing teacher. The scent hit me and I was back in the back of a classroom somewhere on the prairies trying to hit a high C, eyes watering, stomach reeling.

We all have it. A person in our lives who piles on the scent and none of us are brave nor brash enough to ask them to put down the bottle and step away from the perfume counter at Sears.

Mine was Mrs. K (she has long since passed away and I am sure that she is not reading this blog.... nonetheless her name has been changed)... She was my Grade 3 music teacher and although she was a lovely woman (if memory serves me correctly) she smelled like rose toilet water. You could sniff this woman half a kilometre before her arrival. It was not only the potency of her scent but its distinct nature. She was the perfect mix of rose water, Coty cheap perfume and a really nice, high end nursing home rolled into one fierce spray from a bottle that no doubt had an atomizer attached.

I loved singing class. It was MY American Idol moment (before there even was an American Idol).... Singing class in 1979 was the only Karaoke a little diva girl had and it was the best part of my school day. But for all the songs in my heart, there was the, well, the smell of Mrs. K and her Rose Water Grail water which would make my eyes water with each note. If not for the fact that she let me sing the entire scores from A CHORUS LINE, CABARET and JAQUES BRELL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS (I was a strange child... but I LOVED that musical), I would have skipped the classes all together. But despite the roses, I could not resist....

Truth be Told, every time a person passes me by and the smell of their perfume lingers long past their footsteps, I think of Mrs. K and A CHORUS LINE and I am back in that broken down 1970's parochial classroom belting out "If We Only Have Love (Quand on n'a que l'amour)". It is a sense memory in the true meaning of the word.

So here I sit on another Tuesday, pondering life in the Vancouver Public Library and it might as well be the fragrance counter at Shopper's Drugmart with better books....

There is significant data on such scents causing asthma attacks in adults but very little on the non-asthmatic population.
One example of a study in The Annals of Allergy and Immunology in 1995 included 29 asthmatic adults and 13 normal subjects. Histories were obtained and physical examinations performed. Asthma severity was determined by clinical criteria of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Each subject was asked to "SNIFF" perfume strips (like the ones from magazines). Symptoms and signs were recorded before and after challenges. Pulmonary function studies were performed before and at 10, 20, and 30 minutes after challenges. Chest tightness and wheezing occurred in 20.7% of asthmatic patients after perfume challenges. Asthmatic exacerbations after perfume challenge occurred in 36%, 17%, and 8% of patients with severe, moderate, and mild asthma, respectively. These correlated to objective testing changes in lung function testings among the asthmatics. There was no such findings in non-asthmatics.

The message here? If you are reading this.... smell yourself. If you can smell your scent... it is probably too much. One spritz, ladies... two at most. That is all. It is time for a "scentual budgetary cut"... consider yourselves on notice. If you are not sure... give me a call... I will come over, smell you and provide instant feedback. Until then.... obey the ever favourable fashionista rule... LESS IS MORE.

As for lessons learned and my trip back to '79... it is good to know I really did have a good set of lungs.... not just for songs but for the rose water Mrs. K was belting my way every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Eyes watering, heart full.... I really won't regret what I did for love....