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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Chains that Bind

I am really not much of a fan of the usual grooming activities. Make no mistake dear girlfriends… I do enjoy being a girl. However, the primping and maintenance that can often go into the long term upkeep of being “presentable” can be taxing on my sometimes fragile psyche.

Let’s say it plain…. It takes a lot of work to look, well, good. Two hours in a stylists chair every five weeks to have my roots dyed, a cut a blow dry lasting no more than 70 minutes (I like to give my stylist some limits) every eight weeks. An hour a day on a bike just to keep my insides happy. That combined with a low sugar, low fat, high fibre, nutritionally balanced diet and I am tapped out.

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed these days, dear cybersisters…. The grooming really is adding up. I say this because just last week, I did the math… I had my roots dyed for two hours, my hair cut for 90 minutes, and I gave myself a pedicure (I don’t like people touching my feet) for almost an hour. It took me another 45 minutes to polish my fingernails….

Add up the time my cybersisters and you have the equivalent of five and a half hours of productive time that I can no longer get back. Sure I am primed and polished but I could have spent that time contributing to the planet…. Learning Italian, hunting for THE perfect pair of spring sandals, watching season one of Gossip Girl. (What am I doing with my life?) Had I gone for a massage and a facial- I would still be somewhere having something “fluffed and folded” and I would get nothing done in life…

As it is this blog entry is rather late in the day. I am a mess dear girlfriends… I’ll say it plain. But damn if my hair has never looked better.

So there I was in the chair at the salon waiting for “keratin mask” to take effect and make me perfect when it dawned on me…. What the hell am I doing? Why is it that hair is always the great equalizer?

What is it about the stuff that makes women crazy?

There I was mid afternoon on a Monday and I looked around the room to see almost a dozen women just like me all slaves to the hair shafts that bind? There we were THE SISTERS OF AVON, so to speak, primping together like a COVERGIRL coven all hoping for the best. “YES, this cut and colour will make me whole” repeated in the air like some unspoken chant and promise.

The average women in North America spends at least 20 minutes a day and $200 a month on hair care and hair care related products.

I still maintain that if we as women did not have such a hold on our hair, we could take over the planet. Look at Hillary Clinton- the woman could have been president of the United States. Then she got a new hair cut and BOOM… secretary of state.

What is it about the hair shaft that has us chained like wild animals??

The primary component of hair fiber is keratin. Keratins are proteins, long chains of amino acids. Keratin proteins form the cytoskeleton (a miniature skeleton within a cell) of all cells that cover the body. Keratin filaments run within a cell and weave a "basket" around the nucleus (brain) of the cell. Keratins are a principle part of the cells in the outer layer of the skin, hair, nails, feathers, hooves and the enamel of teeth.

In hair fiber, keratin proteins comprise 65-95% of the total hair fiber by weight. Each molecule of keratin is very small - about 10 nanometers across.

There are several subtypes of keratin proteins, some are called "soft" keratins and others are "hard" keratins. Basically, soft keratins are found in the skin and are relatively easy to break down. Hard keratins do not dissolve in water and they are highly resistant to breakdown by certain enzymes. Hair fiber is mostly made from hard keratin proteins.

Hair contains a high amount of sulfur because the amino acid cysteine is a key component of the keratin proteins in hair fiber. Sulfur in the cysteine molecules sit side by side and are linked together by “disulfide bonds”. . These disulfide bonds are very strong and very difficult to break apart.

Stick with my little chemistry lesson my sisters. Because it is these disulfide bonds that are targeted in certain chemical treatments such as perms and chemical straightening techniques.

Alkali solutions are used to break the bonds and the hair then becomes very susceptible to forming new shapes. Neutralize the solution once you’ve reshaped the hair and BOOYAH (did I really just say that?) straight hair curls and curly becomes straight.

This really is breaking the ties that bind.

Back to my keratin mask… Well it’s bullshit.

It turns out that the cells in hair follicles make all the keratin protein that they require from amino acids supplied via the blood. Eating keratin protein does not help hair growth. Eating hard keratins as found in hair fiber is pointless as they cannot be broken down and absorbed. The keratins simply pass straight through the gut.

It would be much better to eat the constituent amino acids from which the hair follicle cells can make keratin. That being said… we already do. It is extremely rare in North America and Western Europe to have a deficiency in amino acids so severe that it affects hair fiber quality. Topically applying keratin to hair also has no long lasting effect. The keratins are mostly washed away in the shampooing process.

And so my sisters, I left the salon (looking like I just stepped out of a salon) 3hours later in life. I join the millions of women, salves to vanity, all to ready to lay down their time, energy and hard earned “Shoe Money” in search of the next great “Do” to make whole.

I submit and succumb. Gossip Girl season one be gone….. Good new is… at least for today… I have reached the female Nirvana… I am having one hell of a good hair day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Time Travel

WE sprung ahead last week as I am sure you are all aware. This year I wholeheartedly welcomed the idea. As my cycbersisters know- jet lag was kicking my ass. Another hour ahead for a person who was walking up at 4 am ready to take on the planet…. Well, it was a gift. Couple that with the fact that I WAS on call last week in ICU and I would say, I welcomed moving the clocks forward as much as I welcome the new Spring lines to my closet…. BRING IT ON.

I realize I AM a week late to write about Day Light Saving time but I’ll blame the time change for messing up my internal clock and call it at that. A big shout out to one of my cyber sisters who sent me an email about the idea in the first place.

I’ll state my bias up front…. I love sleep….. I really LOVE it. I love getting ready for bed, I love the feel of those cool clean sheets at 8:30 at night when the rest of the world is just finishing dinner. Those of you who read my blog regularly (thanks- I should have the ten or so of you for dinner sometime) know that I really am a fan of getting my eight hours a night of slumber…

For me- sleep is like the perfect pair of strappy sandals… it should be cherished and protected. I keep my Manolos in their preassigned boxes. Why would I piss away an hour or two of sleep? I will multitask like a maniac. I will milk every hour out of every day doing three different things at once. But I WILL NOT loose sleep over any of it. Unless I’m on call, I’m getting eight hours a night. Let’s be clear dear girlfriends… if it is 2 am and I am awake… someone better be sick.

So you can imagine that springing ahead an hour should put me off. Losing one precious hour was akin to breaking a heel. It turns out, I am not alone….

More than 1.5 billion men and women are exposed to the transitions involved in daylight saving time: turning clocks forward by an hour in the spring and backward by an hour in the fall. These transitions can disrupt internal clocks or chronobiological rhythms and influence both the quality and quantity of sleep. This effect can last up to a week after the change.

A study out of Sweden examined the influence of these time changes and transitions on the incidence of myocardial infarction or heart attacks. The researchers examined a Swedish Registry of heart attacks comparing the of acute myocardial infarction during each of the first 7 days after the spring or fall time change. They then compared these numbers to the incidence of myocardial infarction on the corresponding weekdays 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after the day of interest.

The incidence of acute myocardial infarction was significantly increased for the first 3 weekdays after the transition to daylight saving time in the spring. In contrast, after the transition out of daylight saving time in the fall, only the first weekday was affected significantly.

The researchers saw an increase in myocardial infarctions of more than 100 heart attacks on the Monday following the SPRING AHEAD period versus almost 50 less heart attacks on the Monday following the FALL BEHIND corresponding Monday.

This was also a significant increase over the previous and the following Mondays during the two weeks prior and following.

There I was in the Lethbridge ICU on the Monday morning after Day Light Saving. Did I see a lot of heart attacks that morning? Sure. I see a lot of heart attacks all the time. It’s ICU. That’s what happens….

But the whole process makes sense. WE know from previous evidence that heart attacks and strokes are more prevalent at certain hours of the morning. The rise in cortisol for example that occurs at around 5 am in early morning increases blood pressure and in turn increases the risk of an acute event such as a heart attack and a stroke…..

There you have it my girlfriends… SPRING AHEAD is a risky business. One week later and the dust is just settling….

As for me… my previous jet lag has run its course…. I am back to bedtime at 9pm and up walking the fluffy monsters just after 6ish. The world really is falling apart…. But for now, my little corner has returned to some sense of routine…. For this week at least.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stream of Consciousness

I can no longer count the amount of times I have squatted like- well – like a squatter (???) and peed in the bushes. Yes my dear girlfriends, for 10 days I hiked through Tanzania in pursuit of a sense of peace and in the process… well, I’ll say it plain- I pissed all over Africa.

There I was on the Shira Plateau, crouching on the side of 750,000 year old volcano and letting nature call, answer, wipe and button up. Up Mount Kilimanjaro and down Mount Kilimanjaro. Everywhere from 6,000 feet above sea level to 19,374 feet above sea level, I crouched and squatted and released my bladder for all it was worth. Yes I realize this has painted less than a glamorous picture but after 10 days on the peak of Africa dignity was not my friend. Dignity was a bitch who made fun of me in highschool. Make no mistake, I was a master. I avoided showering my boots with urine and only once did my Gortex suspenders get a golden shower. It turns out that Wet Ones really can clean up any spill.

Safe to say, I have used more antibacterial hand gel in the last month than I have in the last decade, and let’s not forget my dear girlfriends, I am a doctor. I wash my hands a lot. And now after the pursuit of the dream is over, I can begin my forties with a mountain climb to the roof of Africa and the title of expert wilderness pisser . This is truly a skill to master. I now can safely say should I find myself in a rather precarious situation without the availability of a toilet to be found… I can in fact make due. Let us hope however I never need to rely on my new found skill of squat and release so to speak…. But in a pinch my dear cyber sisters, I am sure I can answer the call.

I love being a girl. I love the way we think, the way we talk…. And of course the fashion itself is reason enough. Stick me in a pair of heels with a fabulous dress and I will never wish for a Y chromosome… EVER. That is until I found myself without a penis in the middle of an 8 hour hike having to squat in the rain in the bushes at 15,000 feet above sea level just to give my bladder a break. Man… and yes, I mean MAN did I want to be a boy. Hell I would have traded my entire shoe closet in that moment- Manolos and all for just one little penis.

I’m not asking for a big one… just 4-5 inches- enough so that I could just whip it out, urinate and get back to the hike at hand. Make no mistake- I did not want to keep it. I’d give it back… I just wanted the use of a penis for hell about 7-10 days (not even every day- only the rainy ones) so that I could give my quadriceps a break and NOT have to squat on a volcano.

So here is the 411 on a woman’s right to pee…

In women, the urethra opens straight into the vulva. Because of this, the urine does not exit at a distance from the body and is therefore harder to control. And so we sit or squat. Just as in life- it is all about the angles.
It is possible for a woman to pee standing up. Stand, make sure that all clothing is really (and I mean really) far away from the stream of things and well, form a wide stance and have at it. The urine will generally travel more or less straight down.

In certain communities, women do urinate standing up. This is done by spreading the labia minora open and orienting the pelvis at an angle, and rapidly forcing the urine stream out. Reports indicate that it is common that women in the Ivory Coast use this method when they urinate.[

Some sources seem to indicate that women urinate this way in some countries in West Africa including Ghana, Malawi and Laos. In Ghana, signs which forbid public urination often show a picture of a female urinating in a standing position.

Studies fail to support an increase or decrease in the risk of urinary tract infection with this “style” of urination.

There you have dear sisters… the untold story on vertical female urination. You will rest easier I am sure.

I realize this is not as much of a medical Tuesday as my girlfriends are used to…. But when you’ve got to go, my cybersisters… you’ve got to go.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Synchronize Your Watches

Man or shall I says, Girlfriends, am I Jet Lagged. Less than one week ago I was half way across the world and well beyond the Greenwich Mean. Yes, cyber sisters, it was Africa and the time difference was a wonderful 11 hours.

Translation? Now that I am home 6 am is 6 pm. Suppertime is breakfast and I am now at the pool at 4 am. It’s really a motherfunhouse. Why just last there I eyes wide open, mind racing, stomach growling and ready to go. It was 2 o’clock in the morning. Recall dear girlfriends, I am a woman who LOVES going to sleep at 9pm. I am now in a time warp from hell.

Make no mistake, this allows for certain benefits. I do have a pretty good level of energy. I am a fan of multitasking and ever the one to love an extra hour or two in the day. A lot can be said for having some “free time” at two or three in the morning. I am fully up to date on my blogging and my laundry. My bathroom has never been cleaner and I have cleaned my closet out at least three times. Truly a productive week for me.

Problems do arise however at around 6pm when my internal clock thinks it’s 7 am that morning and all I want to do is lie down go to bed for the night. This can especially be of concern when lovely friends (shout out to them) take a certain jet-lagged woman out to dinner for a belated birthday celebration. There I am among fabulous company, fabulous Chinese fusion bistro cuisine at one of my favourite restaurants. I have one ginger margarita followed by a nap over appetizers at the table. Stunning conversation be gone. I was not witty. I was an asshole. Correction, I was an exhausted asshole who barely made it through dinner and had to excuse myself at 8:30pm on a Saturday in order to get home and go to bed. Yes, I had a little snooze in the cab.

So here is the new schedule for the next little while:

1. I’m up at 2 am, bright eyed, the world is my oyster.
2. I take a sleeping pill (prescription of course- what do you take me for?)
3. I watch an episode of Southland or Top Chef or Shameless while waiting for the drug to take effect (also trying to catch up on the episodes I have lost while away on the mountain)
4. I wake again at 7 am, take the dogs for a walk. By this point I am hungry beyond reproach. My stomach thinks I have missed all three meals while I slept and I am not one for fasting. Just ask my mother- I am a huge disappointment come the Day of Atonement.
5. I return home from the walk having some time off before I go back to the office and spend the rest of the day trying to stay awake. My body thinks it is the middle of the night. My coffee consumption is higher than normal. I have watched every episode of Grey’s Anatomy in an effort to convince my physiology that in fact I AM ON CALL not just jetlagged and therefore fully capable of staying awake.
6. I am hopeless by 7 pm. No coffee will save me. I crawl into bed and give up the ghost.

Africa was amazing. My trip was phenomenal, mountains climbed, animals seen…. All those great life-affirming moments. And now I am in body clock hell.

Jet lag is an ill-defined phenomenon resulting from rapid flight across several time zones. It is considered to be due to desynchronisation of circadian rhythms such as the sleep wake cycle and times of wakefulness and sleep. A means of rapidly resynchronising body rhythms to local time would benefit people who suffer badly from jet lag.

Various remedies for alleviating jet lag have been proposed including certain foods, exposure to light and even the use of melatonin. Melatonin is chemical known as methoxyindole secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It has been shown in animals to play a role in resynchronizing animals to a day and night cycle. It is thought to play a role in an animals ability to distinguish between night and day.

A study published in 1986 in the British Medical journal recruited seventeen healthy volunteers. (10 women and seven men aged 29-68) from the University of London. The subjects flew from London to San Francisco (eight time zones west), where they remained for 14 days so that they had adapted to local time before their return home. Before their flight half the subjects were randomized to placebo and half to melatonin. Subjects were “blinded” to whether they were taking melatonin or placebo.

For three days before their return flight the subjects took a daily dose of melatonin (5 mg in gelatin lactose) or placebo at 1800 (local time). On their return to Britain they continued taking the same preparation at 2200-2400 (local time) for a further four days. On day 7 after arriving home the subjects were asked to rate their jet lag on a 10 cm visual analogue scale from 0 (insignificant) to 100 (very bad). Jet lag was deliberately not defined as its nature and severity vary from person to person but it was considered to be present at scores of 50 or above.

Six of the nine subjects who took placebo rated their jet lag greater than 50 on the visual analogue scale. None of the eight subjects who took melatonin rated their jet lag at more than 17. None of the subjects taking melatonin had appreciable jet lag, whereas six of the nine treated with placebo did.

The study has been criticized as being a small trial but still it is a place to start.

Lesson learned. I have been back from my time zone journeys for almost a week. It is too late to take melatonin given that this trial showed a benefit of melatonin only before return to one’s home time zone.

Who knew an herbal could be so significant?

So, the next time I fly across the globe in pursuit of a dream…. I’ll be sure to hit the local Health Foods store (what fresh hell) for my stock of melatonin. For now, until this wave passes, I have a dysfunctional schedule to keep. It’s 2 am and my closet could use another cleaning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Was Told There Would be Cake

Did you know that the London lounge at Heathrow airport has Hot Dog Fridays? Yes. IN a world where technology is king and things change as quickly as a sun sets, something are still old school. The London lounge is truly 2011. Fabulous chique Danish Design…. Cool interior with just enough kitsch. There is wi-fi and showers and two… count them two buffets. There are three cappuccino machines and yes, on Fridays…. It’s hot dog day.

There just past check in is a silver tray of old school hot dog buns and a chafing dish filled with hot dog wieners. A bottle of Ketsup and mustard and a line up of business men waiting foor a taste of nostalgia.

Make no mistake… I find them too dishonest. Hot dogs really are several unable meat scraps in disguise. Sure we at them as kids and yes they are reminiscent of ballgames and goodness, ut they are an exercise in fakery. I’m not a fan of fake- neither in my handbags nor in my food.

But when it comes to food and nostalgia there is no denying it- we all have something. Admit it dear girlfriends, I say birthday cake and boom you are back to your fifth birthday party… frilly dress, party hat, loot bags and a face full of white and pink frosting. Yes, I know- you put your whole face in the cake- who didn’t?

I love cake. Hell I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on my 40th birthday and the highlight was NOT reaching the summit but in fact the guilt free cake that was served afterward (with champagne of course) Turns out that alcohol consumption above 15,000 feet above sea level is really fun. If you combing it with Diamox (a medication for altitude sickness) the buzz is tremendous. Between the booze, the sugar rush and the relative lack of oxygen at 19,000 feet above sea level…. Man wa I giddy. As for the cake…. It was freaking fabulous.

Turns out this kind of food sense memories so to sepak have a science behind them afterall.

We’ve long known that there is a link between the “pleasure centres” in the brain and certain foods. In fact certain anti-obesity medications have been targeted towards blocking this very system.

A study done in June 2005 by the Centre of Neuroimaging Sciences at the Institute of Psychiatry in London showed that eating ice cream “lights up” certain pleasure centres in the brain.

Participants in the study, commissioned by Unilever, had their brains scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging - fMRI - a non-invasive technique that allowed researchers to see which areas of the brain were activated when participants ate a particular brand of ice-cream.
The results showed that eating the ice-cream had an immediate effect on parts of the brain that previous research has shown were activated when someone is really enjoying themselves - the pleasure areas - which include a major processing area at the front of the brain, the orbitofrontal cortex

SO there you have it… we’re hard wired to have an emotional connection tocertain ffoods. Whether it is me and my white cake with white buttercream or Hans Von Sombody in business class choking down a dog on his layover in London.