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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 25, 2011

Counting Down My Generation

All right my girlfriends let the countdown to forty begin. Yes, my cyber sisters…. In less than one month, I will hit the big one. Yes, yes, I know, forty is the new thirty and you are only as old as you feel…. Blah, blah, bullshit.

I, like many of my sisters out there am taking my fourth decade on this planet like most women would… I am taking it like a bullet. In fact, I can safely say that I have chosen the most appropriate way to celebrate this mid life birthday by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Yes, y dear girlfriends, in order to find the most appropriate fete, I will spend 12 days wandering the largest peak in Africa in the hopes of proving to myself and all of my Facebook friends, that I STILL GOT IT.

Interestingly as I have found out over the lat six months, this birthday party of mine takes a bit more preparation than one would have thought.

First there is the physical training. Yes, I am one with my bike and know my way around a pool and a running path. But lately, I have taken it up a notch and added a hundred flights of stairs to my nightly regimen.

There I began in the stairwell of our apartment building climbing up and down until I hit one hundred. Fearing a dramatic death in the stairwell and wanting avoid the embarrassment of being discovered days after the fact, I took to the Gauntlet machine at the YMCA. This is essentially the treadmill equivalent of a stairwell and allows me a much more fashionable work out, complete with Aveda products after the fact.

My fitness regimen complete and underway, it was time to get my health in line for the trip.

Thus past week, my beloved and I made a trip to the travel clinic in Vancouver to get our vaccinations in line for our African adventure.

My list of shots required is as follows:
Yellow Fever
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B

Now, I had most of these vaccines either for medical school or for other trips, but I did not escape from the clinic without a booster for Typhoid, Hepatitis A and Yellow Fever. Safe to say, my arm is killing me.

Vaccines work by presenting a foreign antigen (or trigger) to our own immune system. They are essentially a way to prime the immune system in a similar way to an infection without the person having to get sick in order to be immune.

This antigen can present itself in one of four ways. Most vaccines today are either inactivated viruses (which are killed and can not replicate) or virus-like particle based vaccines (where the vaccines contains pieces/proteins from the virus that elicits an immune response similar to an actual infection). Inactivated vaccines such as the one for Tetanus require a booster periodically to reinforce infection. Virus-like particle based vaccines such as Hepatitis B and HPV do not require boosters.

Attenuated or live vaccines are vaccines, which contain very low weak levels of the actual virus that do replicate very slowly and as such are essentially a low-grade infection. Boosters are required less often and there is a VERY small risk of actual infection in immunocompromised hosts. One such example is Yellow Fever.

Nothing scares you more than having to sign a release form before some lovely woman shoot you up with the Yellow Fever virus.

Google Yellow Fever and you will see what I mean. It’s a freakishly scary disease.

Further more, attenuated vaccines hurt like a mother funhouse. Four days later, my arm is still sore and I am anything if not a whimp.

I can however rest knowing that my immune system is having a frat party right now in preparation for what is to come.

Fitness in check, vaccines in tow, I am healthfully ready to climb my proverbial mountain.

Yes, I am a lunatic. Blame forty, blame Africa, and blame the birthday of all birthdays…. If there is, however a Yellow Fever outbreak in Vancouver…. I’m ready. BRING IT ON.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Life on TV

Does television indeed rot the brain? I ask this question in earnest because I have been watching Gossip Girl for 3 seasons now and sometimes when I shake my head too quickly I get a bit dizzy.

I have tried to stop the television addiction. I have tried to “go without”. But life is too real to not have a few hours of fantasy on a daily basis.

I love it all. I love the crap, the reality television that is engineered to lower my intelligence. I love the witty comedy that allows me to laugh out loud. I love the drama ala HBO which never has a resolution and always ends badly.

This weekend, I was on call in the ICU. I am embarrassed to say that my only wish on Sunday night was purely prime time driven. No, I did not hope that my lovely man on a ventilator would come off the life-supporting machine. I did not hope for peace on earth and good health for all…..

No the shallow, vapid woman in me put on my bestest Louboutin heels and watched the Golden Globes awards. All I could hope for was 3 hours of blissful silence from my pager so as to ensure that I could watch all the splendor and the (lack of) substance that is Hollywood. I loved and judged them all.

From the what the hell was she wearing January Jones, to the perfection that was Anne Hathaway. From the Bride of Frankenstein Hair that was Scarlett Johansenn to the fabulous shag of Olivia Wilde (that made me want to cut my own bangs there and then!!) I sat in my hotel room in Southern Alberta a watched and learned an prayed to the goddess that all would be well in my professional life so that my television world could live in peace and health.

And then this morning, my aftermath began. Awaiting me in my email inbox was the results of recent study from the Scottish Health Survey.

According to the Scottish Health Study, people who spend two or more hours a day in front of a screen (be it television or computer) during their leisure time have more than double the risk of heart attacks and strokes that those who spend less than two hours a day. The findings correlate mostly with watching television and exist even after adjustments were made for physical activity.

The results also show a 50% increased risk of all-cause mortality for those who sit in front of a screen for four hours or more a day compared with those spending less than two hours on this activity.

The researchers in this study followed 4512 people over the age of 35 from 2003 to 2007 and assessed them for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events (heart attacks and strokes).

The information on sedentary time was taken from a question about how much time participants spent in front of a screen during leisure time, both during the week and on weekends and averaged out to a screen-time-per-day exposure. Participants were put into one of three categories: less than two hours of screen time a day, two to less than four hours per day, or four hours or more per day.

There were 215 cardiovascular events and 325 any-cause deaths during the four years of following up. The adjusted hazard ratio for all-cause mortality, including adjustment for physical activity, was 1.48 for those engaging in four hours or more of screen time relative to less than two hours, and for cardiovascular events, the adjusted HR was 2.25
This means that people who watch 4 or more hours of television have 2.25 times the risk of a heart attack or stroke as those who don’t and one and a half time the risk of dying.

The researchers found that approximately 25% of the association between screen time and CVD events was explained collectively by body-mass index, and cholesterol. The remaining 75% could be attributed to other factors that were not considered, such as diet and psychological factors.

I’m a bit saddened, my dear cybersisters. I will say it plain…. I love my TV time. I have even bought a trainer to hook my beloved bike Stella up so that I may turn her into a stationary bike for the winter. All so that I can ride and watch without an ounce of guilt. I had a dream dear sisters. I had a dream where everyday I sit or bike and escape to a world of entertainment. A world where surgeons are really good looking AND really smart, a world where 20 year olds can afford couture, a world where there really is America’s Next Top Model and a world where Quickfire Challenges and Immunity really mean something.
And now some Scottish study has killed my dream.

So there you have it…. I’m officially on a TV diet. Cutting back to an hour a day…. Two at the most. And now in the name of my good health, I stare at my new blank flat screen and wonder…. WHY ME? At this rate it will take me a week to see the Oscars in their entirety. .

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chicken Soup and My Soul

I have the flu.

It began on January 1, 2011 at 4 am. My husband still is convinced that it was a left over from New Year’s Eve.

Let’s be clear, this was not the alcohol. I know you are thinking that this was purely a hangover masquerading as a viral illness, but yes (I’m gonna play the trump card) TRUST ME…. I’M A DOCTOR.

First began the nausea, then the vomiting. Man that was fun. Twenty-four hours of fevers, chills and feeling like I was going to lose my stomach contents at a moments notice.

Make no mistake- I am not looking for sympathy. We all get the flu. Hell I am sure some patient somewhere coughed the wrong way and bingo I’m a Petri dish. It happens. I work around a lot of sick people… this was my first flu of the year… my time had come due.

And normally I would have taken it like a champ. After all it WAS flu season. I am all about being IN SEASON.

But, my flu came about on the morning that I was scheduled to get on a plane for five hours for a cross-country flight to Toronto.

Everything is magnified at 35,000. A viral illness is a perfect example of the phenomenon.

Let’s be clear, I came prepared, despite my predicament.

I had an empty stomach, a fist full of Advil, a bottle of fluids, Gravol and the window seat. Couple this with 2 milligrams of Ativan and one of those travel pillows and I was ready to go.

The plan was simple.

Keep my stomach empty.
Take the Gravol first and a small amount of fluids, so as not to vomit up water in the lavratory of the airbus 757.
Down the Advil 45 minutes after the Gravol giving the antiemetic (anti-vomit medication) time to work and allowing the anti-inflammatory to kill the pounding in my body and brain.
Slip two milligrams of Ativan under my tongue.
Put the Neck pillow in place.
Fall asleep in Vancouver and wake up in Toronto.

The goal here was clear. I needed to get from my bedroom on the Pacific to the hotel room on Lake Ontario alive so that I could fall asleep dying, let this freakin virus run its course and wake up a healthy woman once more.

And so it began. My journey from one time zone to another as a vessel for a viral illness. I felt like some twisted drug mule.

Let’s be clear. I am NOT debating the benefits of the flu shot. I had my flu shot this year. I’m a fan of the flu shot. I love it that as human being we have been able to harness medical technology to our advantage and fight disease at any turn.

I like immunity- on Project Runway AND in life. Unfortunately, my flu shot only covers 3 of last year’s most common viruses and again I find myself a visionary.

This means that whatever made me feel like I wanted to die on Air Canada flight 212 was just another virus not covered in this year’s flu shot. Shit.

And so began my flu of the season. Dayquil followed Nyquil. I sampled a variety of sugar free cough drops to the point of exhaustion. I know that the only thing that will cure my real ills here is time. This is a virus. The only thing that will fix my current state of illness is to allow this bastard of a virus to run its course.

But for now, more than a week later, I am breaking out the big guns…. Chicken Soup.

As I write this I have two large chickens boiling away circa Fatal Attraction on the stove.

A study published in CHEST magazine in 2000 showed that chicken soup may in fact inhibit the activity of white blood cells during infection causing an “anti-inflammatory effect”. The study was spear headed by Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Using the blood from healthy volunteers, Dr. Rannard looked at the activity of neutrophils. the most common type of white blood cells, after being exposed to chicken soup from the Rannard’s wife’s family recipe. Dr. Rennard theorizes that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup essentially helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms.

The researchers couldn’t identify the exact ingredient or ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds.
In another study published in 1978 in CHEST magazine, researchers in Miami at Mount Sinai looked at how chicken soup affected airflow and mucus in the noses of 15 volunteers who drank cold water, hot water or chicken soup. In general, the hot fluids helped increase the movement of nasal mucus, but chicken soup did a better job than just the hot water. The thought was that some of the proteins in the chicken soup might improve the function of protective cilia, the tiny hair like projections in the nose.

So it really is touch and go when it comes to the soup. The evidence is weak at best. I realize that there is no magical cure for my flu of the season. All I can do is rest, drink fluids and wait for the storm to pass.

As far as the soup goes…. It can’t hurt. Sometimes, dear girlfriends… you have to just believe- like good credit, good style and good faith…. There has to be a power bigger than ourselves that makes us sit up and take notice.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bite me.

I firmly believe in mathematical genetics. Translation? God divides. Allow me to elaborate... I have enormous hair and tiny teeth. God divides. A small waist and a rather generous behind.... God divides. A bad sense for business but a great sense of style.... you guessed it... she divides, all right.

Back to my teeth. They ARE tiny. In fact for a sister with a very big mouth (I can stick my whole fist in my mouth if you ever need a good party trick) I have very small teeth. This is not an observation but rather a fact. My dentist has confirmed the observation at my last appointment.

We took impressions of my teeth in order to make my new bite guard. This involves holding two plates of medical grade plaster in your mouth for about 90 seconds without vomiting. It is a feat but fortunately I was well prepared. I have a new bite guard made about every two years.

Yes my cyber sisters...I am a professional tooth grinder. I know many of you are. I know this is a rather common afflication. Let me just say that within my teeth grinding community, I am GOOD. I can easily grind through a bite guard in a year and a half and still have the wear with all to chew steak and function in society.

My grinding has been know to wake up my beloved on many an occasion. I do not snore or talk in my sleep. Instead I rub my jaws together at 3 o'clock in the morning and wake up the neighbourhood.

The affliction is so great that according to my Dentist, I am in fact making my teeth smaller by the day. Each night at 9:30 pm (yes I have a bed time and YES it is early) I wash my face, brush my ever vanishing teeth and go to sleep. For the next 8 hours I let my lower jaw beat the crap out of my upper jaw in a UFC smash up that only the likes of Pay per View is familiar with.

My Dentist is a lovely man. I do believe you will recall me mentioning him in a previous blog. We go way back. This was not personal. This was enamel medicine. I'm not a bad person, I'm not stressed out. I just have a wicked case of Temporal mandibular Joint disorder and I am apparently very good at it. In fact according to Dr. N. my mouth looks like I've "been chewing gravel on a daily basis".

Could this be a cry for help? Could this be that I am a significantly stressed out woman who is mild mannered by day and a neurotic mess by night? Do I have a stressed out alter ego that emerges only when I sleep to grind her jaws together in an act of superhero release?

According to the Mayo clinic, several factor are at play in a person's risk of BRUXISM (teeth grinding). They include:

Sleep disorders
Stress levels
Temporal Mandibular Joint disorders
Temporal Mandibular Joint Malalignment

I suppose I have stress and anxiety, but I always thought my shoe closet was the perfect treatment plan for this. My Manolos had always seemed to be able to keep my stress level under check.

I did have braces as a teenager and according to my dentist, this may in fact be the key problem. My jaw has been misaligned and so it grinds in response.

Turns out, I am not alone. According to a study published in Cranio in 2003, 27% of people suffer from bruxism. 1014 subjects on the island of Sardinia (Italy) were interviewed regarding the habit of clenching and grinding their teeth. They had to specify if this activity occurred during the day, during the night, or both. Other information recorded was their age, gender, marital status, and occupation.

Overall prevalence of bruxism was 27.2% (276 subjects). No association was found between bruxism and age, gender and job or self reported stress levels. Even differentiating daily, nightly or both daily and nightly bruxism, associations were non-significant. Marital status seems to make some difference: divorced people reported higher parafunctional activity compared to widows and widowers who reported the least. AThe study concluded that it could not site stress as a cause for bruxism.

So I grind my teeth. Each night I wear my bite guard and hope for the best. Not many things last in life. Friends come and go. From dinner parties to last seasons fashion, life is fleeting. And now so is my tooth enamel. But the one thing that WILL help me sleep tonight is the knowledge that I have bruxism NOT because I am a bad woman who neurotically worries about the state of the world.

No, I have bruxism because I had a bad orthodontist who did not worry enough about the alignment of my bite.

And grind or not, tonght, I'll sleep just fine.