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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, November 29, 2011

Leaving Normal

Here’s the thing my girlfriends…. I think neuroses gets diffused in every generation… just a little bit. Yes, perhaps I might be just a bit neurotic. Those of you reading this who do in fact KNOW me have now just spit out your morning coffee all over your computer screen and are now chocking quietly while you mop up the mess.

Yes I know this is no real shocker… the fact that I feel the need to WRITE about this in fact confirms my diagnosis. I really do believe that 40 is the decade for self-awareness so, hey, bring on the knowledge….

But here’s the interesting thing about MY neuroses. I’m WAAAAY less neurotic than my ancestors. Hah!

Allow me to explain….

My grandmother (may she rest) grew up in an age where you kept three currencies in your wallet along with your passport at all times. You stocked your freezer with enough food to last at least 1 month solid. You bought pickled and canned goods by the case. WHY? Well in case there was another war for God’s sake! There was a level of social, political and economic fear that purveyed her generation so much so that I do believe it gave birth to what we now know to be modern day neuroses.

Fast forward one generation and you have my mother…. A beautiful woman who kept mints, a sewing kit, an unending supply of Kleenex and a small pharmacy in her handbag. My mother’s generation considered their pocket books to be the embodiment of “In Case of Emergency” in a leather handbag. My mother keeps a full set of the yellow pages in the glove compartment of her car. I kid you not. She has a case of water in her trunk at all times. Her car breaks down and she can rehydrate for months AND order take-out from anywhere.

Me? My purse is my accessory- for my outfit AND for my life. My handbag changes daily depending on the mood or the movement. I don’t own a car and therefore I don’t own a glove-compartment (or a set of yellow pages for that matter). I can’t keep mints in my bag without eating them all in a single sitting and as for extra currency? I am the woman who spends all her money at the duty-free before departing whatever country I am in order to “use up the extra cash”.

But lately I have noticed the odd occasion where I am worrying more than usual. Such experiences have made me wonder if I’m becoming a bit more neurotic…. I had always thought myself to be relatively care free in this department.

Of course if your foremothers were the kind of people who would make boy scout troop leader look completely disorganized- you undoubtedly come off looking like you are as neurotic as Gandhi. (Hint- Gandhi? Not neurotic. Gandhi = Prince of Peace)

I remember the joke in medical school…. In your first year of medical school you are convinced you have all of the diseases you are studying. By the time you graduate you are still suffering from these same diseases, but you no longer care that you have them.

I suppose as a doctor- seeing all that life can offer in its unexpected ways- I have to be a little neurotic. That and I had some pretty good neurotic role models in my life.

So I thought …. How neurotic am I? Is the fact that I’m worrying about such a thing automatically put in the running? Is there a test I can take, (perhaps Cosmo has one) that would help quantify such concerns? If so…. What would such a test look like…?

1. Do you have an earthquake kit?
2. Are there mints in your purse?
3. Do you carry a supply of band-aids with you at all times?
4. Do you have a phone book in your glove compartment?
5. Is Woody Allen your cinematic hero?
6. Do you make airline reservations at least 3 weeks in advance?
7. Are you aware at all times of you bank balance?
8. How many AIRMILES do you have? Quick… right now…. Off the top of your head?
9. Do you use a credit card specifically to collect the points?

Full disclosure? I have an earthquake kit in my house and two band aids in my purse. I live on a fault line and my husband who is IMPOSSIBLE to buy gifts for wanted one- it became a very sweet joke/birthday gift. It is also a fabulous and funny story to tell at parties. The band-aids? I wear four inch heals at all times and on occasion they have been known to chafe. I keep these band-aids in a lovely Prada pouchette in my bag and so it makes them less anxious.

As for Woody Allen? I confess… LOVE his movies. What’s not to love? Paris, New York and the quirky/crazy girl is the star of the show. “Bullets over Broadway” and the “Manhattan Murder Mystery” are regularly quoted in my home. “Don’t Speak”. Nuff said.

I can’t (or rather I chose not to) plan my life more than 4-5 days in advance. My bank balance is like the number on my bathroom scale- subject to change at a moment’s notice. As for AIRMILE? I have a bunch. I fly a lot. Credit cards should be used to collect joy first and foremost… the points are a happy side-effect to the spending.

There… I score 2.5/9 on the scale. My mother? She’s a solid 8/9 or a clear sweep if you only count “Annie Hall” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo”.

It turns out that there are in fact REAL scales to measure and diagnose neuroticism. There are three main questionnaires officially used to diagnose neuroticism. I have not officially taken any of them…. Ignorance is bliss.

Furthermore a study published in 1996 in Science magazine found an association between neuroses and a specific gene regulating serotonin production (a neurotransmitter) in the brain.

Further studies since then have confirmed a genetic association between neuroses and have also shown variation in PET scans and MRI’s in patients with neuroses.

So there… it’s not just a learned behaviour necessarily. Then why is it that my so called neuroses is being watered down across the generations? Could this be a genetic effect like with so many other traits…. The family gene pools shuffles the dice and the numbers come up differently? Or could this be that environmentally my generation needs less mints in their purse to cope with the world.

My formothers gave me a lot of their good gifts in the world… a sense of self and the knowledge that a woman could do whatever she wanted if she had the right brains a little bit of moxy. From them I learned the power of a woman who’s not afraid to speak her mind, and even less afraid to have her own opinion.

As for the power of a good pencil skirt and pumps to go with it? I picked that little lesson up all on my own….

And here I sit neurotic or not or maybe just a bit and postulate and all the while the world turns on. I will continue to look forward to Woody Allen’s next project and hope that I never need the earthquake kit in my front hall closet. 2.5/9 is not bad…. And so the world turns on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting in the Game

When I was a kid- I watched alot of football.

I know my girlfriends- I don't seem the type.... but never judge an outfit based on accessories alone.

We had season's tickets to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Go Blue!) and I was a fan. No not the type of fan who paints shit on their face and stands in some ridiculous outfit waiting for the camera to pan on you so you can fist pump for all the country to see.... but I was a fan who sat in the stands (or on my couch in front of the TV) and cheered my beloved team on.

I remember those days all too clearly. you see the CFL play off season is in November in Winnipeg. November in Winnipeg is when mother nature loses all sense of sisterhood. November in Winnipeg (or anywhere on the prairies for that matter) is minus 30 and sunny. (yes, fellow Winnipegers.... we know- it's a dry cold- tell yourselves what you need to just to go outside)

So there I was in the stands one sunny day in November circa 1982 watching the Blue Bombers play. There I was cheering for my team dressed in.... a sleeping bag. Dear papa was not the most fashionable man but he was a freakin genius. I was warm as toast. That and he had a thermos of hot chocolate with Kahlua. You can see why the man was my hero.

Back then, the Bomberettes (the cheerleaders) wore snow suits in bright blue and gold (think 1970's snow bunny). Back then you could buy popcorn and beer and coke and hot dogs at the game, if you dared to take off your mittens and eat the damn things in the first place.

Fast forward 30 years to the Western Canadian Final of the Canadian Football league at BC stadium in Vancouver.

BC is playing Edmonton for a place in the Grey Cup and there I sit 20 rows up on the 45 yard line.

Gone is my Dad (sniff). The hot chocolate and Kahlua have been replaced by a quinoa and kale salad which I brough ina very stylish Tupperware container. And yes, in lieu of a sleeping bag- I'm wearing Helmut Lang. Full disclosure? When in doubt... that German genius dose fit a little small but does go a long way to making anyone look a bit like a rock star in his clothing.

This was a sporting event.... the fashion called for a one part "rocker chick" one part "rugged". Helmut was my guy.

But I digress....

I sat down in the stands with my foam orange "Go Lions" finger placed firmly on my right hand and p[prepared myself for 4 quarters of football nostalgia. Along with 42,000 of my closest friends I yelled at referees, cheered for my team and told complete strangers in orange tights and protective cups to "move your ass".

I spent 180 minutes strolling down memory lane, my father smiling over me as I shamelessly uttered profanities as if I was in the comfort of my own home.... and yes, my girlfriends... it was NOT frowned upon. This WAS my home and these were my peeps.

But I could not help but notice that my "peeps" were eating crap.

The man in front of me ate two servings of fries over the period of 4 hours. THere was a row in front of me who were eaitng fish and chips by the basket. To my left was the proverbial hot dog monster and to my right was a lovely young man eating what can only be called a "yard of popcorn". Yes, it was a bag the size of one's leg filled with popcorn- I do not exaggerate. THese were the items (more or less) of my childhood but their size had really exploded.

All that and above me was the club section where two platters of chicken wings and a buffet of nachos was in full swing.
And all around me was a beer garden.

It was somewhere in the middle of the second quarter that it donned on me how much a celebration of sport is conducive to the most unhealthy behaviours around.

How is it that a spectator of athletics is encouraged to worship that which is so NOT athletic. When did the sport of it all become so much about watching and so little about getting in the proverbial game?

And then it dawned on me.... Sponsorship of such events is often done by fast food chains and beer companies. The exposure that the average kid gets from the commercial advertising at a football game or a hockey game is easily 2000 calories worth of hurting.

There I was with my container of quinoa salad watching the consumption around me.

According to several studies by both the Harvard School of Public Health (2008) and the Sydney school of public health (2006), children exposed to food advertising during sporting events are significantly more likely to recognize certain products. These effectively increase consumption of such items. One perfect example is the rise in sport drink consumption among kids not engaging in sports.

Yah, I know. I WAS at a football game. Would it have killed me to keep it light and just have a corn dog? Yes, dear girlfriends it would. After all- I was wearing my skinny jeans and corn dogs are not my thing. But I hear you, dear girlfriends... keep it light. I just think sometimes we need to rage against the machine. Turns out this week's machine was a yard of popcorn and 3000 calorie tailgate party.

And so my girlfriends, here's my message.... love the football. Go team, go. At Sunday's Grey Cup.... I'll bring the PRIDE... you bring the fruit plate.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All My Shots

Perhaps I am grasping dramatic this week dear cybersisters, but I am currently fully vaccinated. Yes my girlfriends, it’s flu season and as a healthcare provider I do like to give my immune system every added advantage possible.

And so last week, I rolled up my sleeve and took one for the herd. Currently no significant side effects. Perhaps a little sore throat, but that could be from spending a week talking my ass off and hoping the world might listen. Other than that, my arm hurts. To be more specific, medically speaking, my left deltoid is tender.

I should state my bias (what has ever stopped me before?) in that I am a fan of vaccinations. As someone who has spent the last few decades surrounded by diseases I have always thought that preventing them was a rather happy concept.

Times were different when I was a kid. My parents were the polio generation. They had all too vivid memories of a school friend or neighbour who wound up contracting the illness. My parents came of age when Jonas Salk revolutionized the way we look at diseases.

Infections were no longer messes to clean up after. No longer did we hope and pray…. We vaccinated.

Then came Jenny McCarthy and her brilliance/bullshit and the waters were muddied once more. Make no mistake- I welcome the dialogue. I think it’s important that people know risks and benefits when it comes to diseases… but really- should Jenny McCarthy really be the voice of reason?

But I digress….

When I was a kid- you vaccinated your kids. Measles, Mumps, Rubella? You got your shot. Hell my pediatrician had to chase me under the table at his office just to give me the damn thing. Sure, I screamed like a girl. I kicked and even had a tantrum (yes, girlfriends… a true feet stomping tantrum). But I got my shot. I of course got to go out for ice cream afterward as well as payment for my shot. Incidentally, I really thank my mother for encouraging this aspect of my emotional eating and teaching me that yes, blue licorice ice cream really can dull any pain.

When I was a kid- we did not have the vaccine for Chicken Pox and as such- my mother did the next best thing. Any time she heard that a neighbour’s kid had contracted the disease- she sent us over to play with them. This was my mother’s way of ensuring we’d get exposure to the virus at a young enough age so as to protect us when we were older. You see perhaps my mother knew that chicken pox in kids is a rather benign nuisance of an illness (in the majority of cases) compared to contracting the virus as an adult when the disease can be quite severe.

This is of course only a generalization and in fact chicken pox can be a severe illness in kids- but hey- it was the seventies- parents dressed their kids in courdoroy and poleyester. They left their kids with the 14 year old neighbour as a babysitter. There were some numbers on the kitchen table and 10 dollars for pizza. Parents in the 70’s fed their kids formula you bought at the grocery store and said things like “I’ll give you something to cry about”. They really were doing their best before the Baby Bjorn generation came about and told them how shitty their parenting skills were.

And so decades later- here I am relatively unscathed. I have grown up to be a rather well adjusted adult. Should you have a different opinion on this… please feel free to post your comments and I will promptly delete them.

I will however state it plain…. I’m all for vaccinations. If there is a shot that prevents small pox (and there is) BRING IT ON. I can’t help but think that if only we had a vaccine to prevent the big guns like cancer, heart disease, bad manners and unwanted facial hair?

When it comes to the flu- it turns out that it really is a big deal. It’s estimated that 30,000 Canadians die each year as a result of Influenza. The first influenza epidemic occurred in 1580. Since then scientists have been working their asses off to figure out what caused it. In 1930 it was discovered that influenza was caused by a virus in the ORTHOMYXOVIRIDAE family.

In 1931 Ernest Goodpasture and his colleagues at Vanderbilt University grew the first influenza viral culture in embryonated hens’ eggs. This work lead to the development of the first flu vaccine in the late 1930’s. In 1940 the US military approved their use and they were used in the WWII.

Today’s vaccines are dramatically safer and more refined than those used 50 years ago. In February of every year, Public Health authorities, epidemiologists and molecular virologist look at the three most common Influenza strains from the preceding year. They make their recommendations according to which viruses were most common in their country. In Canada, we rely on Health Canada and the CDC in the U.S.A for these recommendations. These viruses are then ennoculated and grown in fertilized chicken eggs.

The 2011 Influenza vaccine also contains the H1N1 vaccine in addition to the three most common influenza strains from last year.

As of 2009, there were 70 clinical trials on the use of the influenza vaccine.
Realize that most of this science is targeted at the elderly who are in fact at highest risk of dying from the flu.

According to a 2006 Cochrane review, in a non-pandemic year, a person in the United States aged 50–64 is nearly ten times more likely to die an influenza-associated death than a younger person.

A person over age 65 is over ten times more likely to die an influenza-associated death than the 50–64 age group. Vaccination of those over age 65 reduces influenza-associated death by about 50%

However, it is unlikely that the vaccine completely explains the results since you could make the argument that elderly people who get vaccinated are probably more healthy and health-conscious than those who do not.
That being said- nothing is perfect- Just ask my eye concealer. Things let you down all the time.

We do our best in life dear girlfriends. I am still under 65 year old… tick tock. But I do care for those most vulnerable to the influenza virus and let’s be frank- I have to take an ativan just to have my hair done…. Three days in bed with the flu would pretty much kill my spirit more than anything.

So…. Here I am… fully inoculated while my immune system is as busy as the shoe department at Barney’s.

Nothing in life is guaranteed my dear cybersisters… but just as I do with my Visa card limit and the upcoming spring lines…. I try my best to hope for the best and sometimes just BELIEVE.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Voltair Was A Vegan... and so am I

Here’s the deal, dear girlfriends…. November is upon us and I have taken a stand. No I am not growing a mustache in the spirit of Movember (thank heavens for laser hair removal- or perhaps I could really take those dudes).

I have decided to spend the month as a vegan. Gasp shock or exclaim WTF?? But yes, for the thirty days of November, I will take lemons and make tofu.

I’ve given up all animal and dairy products and switched to plant based proteins. I have not had a piece of cheese in 8 days and I love cheese almost as much as I love shoes. I am now spending my days eating fruits, vegetables and plant based proteins (such as soy, and grains- the names of which I can not pronounce without a bit of practice.)

You know you are a vegan when the names of the food you eat need phonetics to help speak them properly. (Quinoa= Keen-Wah)

Understand that I have spent the last decade drastically modifying my approach to nutrition and exercise in a systematic pattern that has been anything but a fad.

So why for one month should I drastically change what I eat? Why give up eating anything that had parents. Well- I blame The Half Iron Man.

Here’s the deal- I have signed up for a half iron man race in May. Yes I know I need therapy but I figured after the year I have had with the mountains and the cross-country adventures that I needed something more. So apart from swimming the English Channel (which I did in fact look into- newsflash- it’s a NO GO) I wanted a new challenge for 2012.

In came the Half Iron man. In reading about this crazy motherfucker- yes this is what this endeavor will here-to-for be called – I came upon the writings and nutritional philosophy of Brendan Brazier.

Brendan’s an Iron Man athlete and a Vegan. He’s written a few books- one of which is called the Thrive Diet. This is not an endorsement of Brendan. Make no mistake- dude has a point- but some of his philosophies are a little too herbal for my liking.

Girlfriends- you know how I feel about the whole Yoga-Holistic-Organic shit. I take it with a grain of Himalayan red rock salt and call it a day….

Brendan’s got some interesting ideas about the body as a wonderland… and I as open minded about food as I am about fashion. Always worth a new look-see.

So I am trying it out for a month. As my cybersisters will know- I am NOT a Half- assed kind of girl… I am putting Almond Milk in my coffee and coconut water in my smoothies. Needless to say- my fibre content has now surpassed my shoe budget.

I have eaten more “super foods” in the last 8 days than I have worn little black dresses in my lifetime….
It’s been a journey.

It turns out 0.2% of North Americans and 0.4% of people in the UK are vegans. Vegans consume no animal based products including no dairy products. For some vegans- honey is also off the menu (bee vomit that it is).

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared a vegan diet and a low fat diet over a 74-week period in a randomized pattern. Over 200 diabetic women were randomized to either a vegan diet or a low fat diet. Both diets resulted in similar weight loss but the vegan diet had statistically significant improvements in glycemic control and lipid profiles over the low fat –meat based diet.

A study published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2009 looked at the relationship between vegetarian diets and breast cancer risk in a prospective study. In a population of 37,600 British women with a wide range of diets there was no evidence for a strong association between either a vegetarian diet or total daily isoflavone intake and risk for breast cancer. The same study showed a lower risk of colon cancer in vegan woman than their meat-eating counterparts.

One final study in the British Cancer Journal in 2000 showed that vegan men had a 10-12% increase in testosterone levels and Insulin like peptide in the blood than do meat-eating men. There has been an extrapolation of this data to hypothesize that this may correlate to a lower risk of prostate cancer- the studies however are pending.

This leaves me- maybe a lower risk of colon cancer, no prostate and well… my breasts? Their just small- not safer.

One week down and 3 to go and I must admit I’m feeling pretty good. Perhaps it’s just a placebo effect or perhaps it’s my colon speaking to me in song… Maybe my body is thriving in the absence of the lions and tigers and bears that I normally subject it to. I do love the fruits and veg and I find the walks to Whole Foods with my beloved to “stock up” on Kamut and Hemp seeds and Chia to be some of the best parts of my day.

Eight days down, 22 to go- a nice little adventure that may teach me a thing or two. Maybe I’ll be nutritionally smarter at the end of all this… Maybe my skin will shine and my insides will be better than before. We’ll have to see what happens in December when I may in fact embark upon a cheese-tasting adventure will undoubtedly make the state of Wisconsin very proud….

Or perhaps I’ll just miss meat and that will be all. I’m trying not to read too much into the process. Make no mistakes- dear girlfriends- I’m strong in my beliefs- but I tend to confine my battles to the accessory counters at Barneys rather than the produce section at Whole Foods… Call me shallow? That’s just how I roll.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Blood Suckers

I’ve been staying in a lot of hotels these days my girlfriends…. Between the Cross Canada trip this summer and the conferences and work this fall, I am having my bed made more days in a month than not, I must say.

On the plus side, there is something to be said for maid service. Not having to clean up after oneself really is quite the treat.

Let me confess my cycbersisters…. I suck at making a bed. I have tried my best to master this task but my technique is alas subpar and really I can’t get the sheets to sit just right. Overall my hospital corners are in a word, pathetic and really I leave the bed in much of the same mess as I found it unmade to begin with.

So, it can be said that leaving my room in the morning and returning in the afternoon to have it magically transformed, bed made, towels cleaned and bathroom sparkling has become something I am getting frighteningly used to.

This is of course a problem because like a fabulous pair of strappy sandals…. All good things must come to an end.

But it got me thinking about how we tend to get used to certain behaviours in life.

When I was a little girl, my mother made my bed every morning. Even when I wanted to join the work force so to speak, Mama insisted on making the bed. This continued- I kid you not, my cybersisters- until I moved out and went to University.

Yes, dear girlfriends, I had my bed made for me for the first twenty something years of my life.

As such, I suck at making a bed. I mean really suck- my mother ruined me for a good set of hospital corners.

And now when I stay at hotels, I am left in a wonderland where my bed is magically made every day to the perfect maternal specificaltions I once knew.

And then came bedbugs.

I never really thought much about the little buggers until this past weekend while in New York City, me best friend and I had a little girls weekend. The moment we walked into the hotel, she began a bedbug check.

This apparently involves putting your luggage in the bathtub while you lift the sheets at thte corners and basically flip the bed in order to see if in fact you have “company”.

There we were- two fabulous women in a five star hotel (yes I wore heels) flipping a matteress for a vermin check. NONE. YAY.

Not only was I in NYC for the weekend (cue music) I did not have an infestation in my perfectly made bed.

Bedbugs were quite common during the first and second World Wars. They were pretty much eradicated after WWII but since 1995 have seen a resurgence.

The biggest health effect of bed bugs apart are skin rashes and allergic symptoms. Yah THAT and the psychological mine field of knowing a little insect is sucking your blood each night….

Diagnosis involves finding the source of the bugs and the offending rash on your skin. Treatment is purely symptomatic.

According to the CDA approximately 20% of all hotels in the USA have Bedbugs at some point in the year. Fear not dear girlfriends- there is a website of NYC hotels that do and do not have the little suckers….

And so on this day after Halloween, I am home in my own bed- my clothes unpacked, my shoes back in their boxes….

Today I made my own bed and I did a shitty job.

Yet I slept soundly last night knowing that I would not be an unforeseen blood donor to a bunch of pests wanting a free meal. My hotel was not on the bedbug list and yes, I did inspect every inch of my skin on several occasions to rule out the telltale rash…

Turns out this Halloween- I dressed up as neurotic.