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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, March 20, 2012

Happy is as Happy Does

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness these days my girlfriends. This is not because I am particularly unhappy. On the contrary. I’m pretty blissful. No I am not one of those women who “protests too much”. You know the ones. The ones who tell you they are gleeful when really they are one step away from misery.

Nor would I say that I am a sister who likes to sit and sulk. Sure, I have been known at times to be a bit manic in my moods- somewhere between outright joy and downright postal. But these days I find I’m a bit more centred. My Chakras seemed to be aligned where once they ran free and I’m grateful for the stability. Stay tuned of course- the winds could change, but I could not help but ask myself why the sudden change in perspective?

In short, I’m kind of wondering what is it that makes us happy?

According to researchers at Harvard University there is in fact a “happy gene”. The gene called 5-HTT is responsible for how well nerve cells in the brain manage to distribute serotonin. Serotonin is essentially a chemical produced by the brain that is known as the happy hormone. It is a neurotransmitter that controls mood. People with lower levels of serotonin in the brain are more prone to depression. The study published in the Journal of Human Genetics in May, 2011 shows that the gene is found in either a LONG or SHORT form in our DNA. If the gene is found as a “long” version- it transports more serotonin. If it found in a “short” version- it transports less serotonin

Now, a lesson in genetics. We inherit a copy of each gene from each parent. So if you think about it the combinations of this gene could be:

These different combinations are called VARIANTS.

Dr. Jan Emmanuel De Neve asked more than 2500 people in the US how satisfied they were with their lives and then sequenced their DNA for the presence of the variants of the 5-HTT gene. Sure enough the results showed that people who were either VERY satisfied or satisfied with their lives were twice as likely to carry the LONG-LONG variant of the gene. A total of 69% of these people had this variant. Furthermore, only 20% of people who were not satisfied with their lives had the LONG-LONG variant of the gene.

What this study shows is that happiness can be genetically predetermined but by no means is this a done deal. According to further researchers Dr. Read, Dr. Deiner and Dr. Burns who are neuroscientists and doctors in the fields of positive psychology happiness is about a 50:10:40 split. This means that 50% of our happiness is genetically predetermined. This is our “genetic set point” This means that we always fall back on this innate genetic set point to our happiness. Fascinatingly our circumstances account for only 10% of our happiness. This means your job, your car and yes, girlfriends, you closet only accounts for about 10% of how joyful you are.

Yes, I know what you are thinking my cybersisters… these science dudes have not seen my closet- but nonetheless, my 10% runneth over.

The remaining 40% of our happiness is up for grabs and can be shaped by what certain patterns of behaviour and certain techniques. According to psotive psychologists- this remaining 40% is a function of our interpersonal relationships, our sense of connectedness with the world around us, our physical acitivty (such as exercise) and our sense of community (our ability to feel compassion for others and to do good deeds). We can increase our level of happiness by increasing any one of these things in our lives. A greater connection with friends and family or a greater commitment to the world around us or, yes, even a greater commitment to moving one’s ass can increase one’s happiness.

And so I reflect upon the year that has been and the years to come. No I will not have my genes sequenced to find out what variant of the 5-HTT gene I have. I am furious enough at my lineage for giving me a genetic code that I am now forced to make the best of.

Instead, when it comes to my happiness I will flourish in the valley of my 10% (AKA: my shoe closet) and I will dwell in the possibilities of the remaining 40%. Here goes me my girlfriends blazing forth into it all with a renewed sense to make a difference in the world and to foster meaningful relationships with others. Rest assured my cybersisters, I will, of course be dressed appropriately.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bitch Stole my Hummus

May I preface this rant by telling you my girlfriends that travel does take its toll on a cybersister. It has been my personal and professional experience that even the mildest mannered, lovely individual will become somewhat of a nasty given enough time in an airport environment. Allow me to explain.

This past week I read an article in the New York Times ( my new favourite obsession, next to shoes of course) about the effects of solitary confinement on the average prison population. According to the Sunday edition of the Times several studies have shown that solitary confinement is not all it is cracked up to be. Who knew? Turns out that if you put a group of criminally inclined individuals alone in an isolated room for 23 or so hours a day and subject them to external schedules and regimens and you take away any sense of control… well, the lose their shit.

A further study done in the elderly and published in Geriatrics in 2007 showed that perfectly lovely law abiding citizens react to said lack of control in a disturbing manner as well….,They die. The study randomized senior citizens living in nursing homes to one of two groups. One group was allowed to plan their own schedules of visitors and was given small independent chores around their homes such as watering their plants. The other group- was subjected to external scheduling and had no autonomy in their daily routine. Bedtime, mealtime and even plant watering was left up to someone else. Guess what? This group died faster and in greater numbers.

Lesson? People not only like to being in control- it helps keep them alive. Furthermore- not only is this sense of control a means of autonomy- it is what keeps us from turning into the worst form of ourselves.

It is my observation, dear girlfriends that anyone who travels by plane a lot is pretty much a senior citizen in solitary confinement who can not water her own plants.

Allow me to elaborate. Firstly- let’s take the act of actually getting on a plane. Before you confine yourself to 3 or more hours in a very small area with a stranger who violates your personal space at every turn and does not say a word to you…. You must have all of your things examined. This brings me to security.

Ahhh, security. As some of my girlfriends will know from my previous rants… I do have a bone to pick with airport security. Yes, these are the mean girls from years gone by who continually pass judgement on my handbags (yes, the PRADA is real bitch) and constantly go through my toiletries with a judgement the likes of which a beauty editor has never seen. Yes, I realize it’s for my safety but since when is a bomb made of hummus?

Allow me to explain.

Cybersisters- I am still vegan and I wanted a snack on the plane. Cue my hummus and carrots. To me it was a healthy snack. To Svetlana at the TSA it was a potential firearm. Bitch stole my hummus.
In prison, they delegate what you bring in and what you eat…. Hmmmm.

Next, come the flight. Once you have been made to feel completely powerless and like a criminal, they stick you on a plane where 8 overworked, underpaid individuals responsible for your safety scowl at you with contempt as they get you from point A to point B.

I cannot help but compare airline staff to nursing home staff, just as I compare Svetlana and her hands stained with my hummus to prison guards.

And so my girlfriends…. I have got to stop with the flying for a bit. I suspect the lack of control (and the lack of chick pea paste) is not good for me.

Fret not my cybersisters…. My head will always be in the clouds. But for the next couple of months I must make a concerted effort to ensure that my feet are planted firmly on the ground.

PS- Svetlana, if you are indeed reading this- bitch, I want my hummus back. My carrots tasted like crap without it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Whip Lash

Have my girlfriends over 40 noticed that facial hair is like a petulant child? It disappears from where you want it and reappears where it is not welcome? I say this because I notice that my eyelashes really are thinner than they were a decade ago and well… the little hairs on my chin? Let’s not talk about them. Safe to say when I am 80, I’m hiring myself a “senior’s Nanny” to come to my house and pluck my chin hairs.

Perhaps I’ve been staring into too many of those unforgiving magnifying mirrors they have in hotel rooms or perhaps I am just a bit neurotic (yah, fine, whatever) but facial hair with me has become somewhat of a continental drift situation.

I used to have great eyelashes. I don’t mean to brag my girlfriends, but if you have them, bat them. When I was a kid I had these great long thick lashes. These of course came with a cost- as I also was blessed with one very large unibrow. Nonetheless, with the help of many an esthetician over the years, I’ve managed to separate my one eyebrow into two and until recently had some pretty decent lashes.

But last year I noticed that my eyelids were losing their luster. And so like any good cybersister with a Visa card and some connections I spoke with my Dermatologist friend about my options.

He suggested I try Latisse- an eye drop solution that was initially developed for glaucoma patients. Yes, like most ingenious medicines the “side effects”of this one were extreme eyelash growth. Don’t you just love a medication that was developed for one thing and sure enough its side effects make it appealing to a whole new market of people.

It certainly bring to mind Sildenafil (aka: Viagra). Recall my girlfriends that Viagra was initially developed as a medication for high blood pressure. Patients took the medicine to lower their blood pressure and found that there were other rising benefits instead. Incidentally- Sildenafil is a really shitty blood pressure medication but it is currently being used to also treat a disease called Pulmonary Hypertension.

I have taken Viagra once- no not for that girlfriends- get out of the gutter- I took it for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema at 19,000 feet while on Mount Kilimanjaro last year. (if you say this last sentence with an English accent it sounds far more adventurous)

So as you can imagine I had some experience of taking a medication designed for one thing but benefitting another. Viagra had been good to me above the earth’s atmosphere. Could Latisse be my new buddy at sea level?

Latisse first came to market in 2008 when the FDA approved it for use to help lengthen eyelashes. Be it known that this drug has been on the market to control the progression of glaucoma. It reduces the intraocular (in eye) pressure that causes glaucoma. People have been using this class of drugs known as ophthalmic prostaglandins for glaucoma for years and anectdotally found that the drug increase the density, length and diameter of eyelashes. Sure enough three large scale trial followed that confirmed this exact thing.

And in the spirit of free market the drug has now moved forward as an eyelash growing drug.

Settle with the judgement, my girlfriends…. This is not my gateway. I’m not going all Botox on you next. I do like the fact that this drug makes me bat my eyelashes with ease. Does it work you may ask? Holy shit yah. No this is not a commercial for the drug and no, my girlfriends don’t be taking this as medical advice but my lashes are pretty long. Several flight attendants on three separate flights just last week remarked on their length.

You know you have arrived when a flight attendant acknowledges your individuality.

So there you are my girlfriends, one grandmother’s glaucoma is a granddaughter’s eyelash bat. A different way of looking at the world through good pharmacotherapy. And with that I leave you for another week…. A little more enlightened and my work here is done.