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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, January 31, 2012

Those Three Little Words

Newsflash dear girlfriends… wait for it….


Woo Hoo.

Yes, a few weeks ago I sat in a chair for a cut and colour for two hours while a lovely Italian man called Antonio talked me into what he called “Dah FRREEENGE” (AKA – “The Fringe”- say this in a fake Italian accent and you will get the full effect – trust me it works like a charm)

“Ahli” Antonio began, “I Lika you with a dah freenge”.

Antonio is from Napoli- he’s the Italian version of Warren Beatty in Shampoo (For my younger girlfriends who have no frame of reference? Warren Beatty was to Shampoo in 1970 what Ryan Gosling is to every movie… to date)

Yes, dear cybersisters I did have ½ a milligram of ativan on board in order to sit still for almost 3 hours (how do we do it my sisters?) and still Anotnio ws truly charming.

Firstly- no disrespect to the love of my life but Antonio is fabulously Italian.

As my girlfriends know- I do love me all things Italian.

I would argue that all of my essential food groups are in fact Italian:
Ice Cream
Designer footwear
All things Prada

Milan has provided me with more happiness than I could ever hope for. And so given my relationship with the “Mother Country”?”Happiest place on earth”. I took Antonio’s words of wisdom and let him snip away.

Afterall- Italy had given me such goodness thus far- I did not think the land of plenty would let me down.

Turns out- Italy’s track record with me remains strong. The bangs (or as Antonio calls them “Dah Freenge”) makes me look 10 years younger. This of course makes me wonder how old I looked with my forehead exposed to the elements- but alas I can not dwell.

As it happens my fringe and I are now very happy together. Having bangs of course now take a bit of extra effort. I cycle to work and now need a straightening iron at the office in order to primp the bangs before starting the day. Nonetheless, it is worth it.

Why only last week a group of twenty somethings were admiring my new “Zoey Deschanel Do” (their words, I swear) and I made a comment that after 40 it’s “Bangs before Botox”.

“You’re 40?” one of them said in what was a bit of horror? “You don’t look 40! You look great for your age.”

And right then and there these cute little twenty somethings went to the top of my shit list. Just like that. Those 3 little words…. FOR YOUR AGE… put that little generation Z girl onto my “no fly” list.

In fact in my experience:

What does 40 look like?
Does it look bad?
Why is “for your age” the shittiest disclaimer alive?

Here’s the problem with being over 40- my girlfriends- people constantly tell you “You look good… FOR YOUR AGE”. Those three little words “FOR YOUR AGE” – well they suck.

One might say that they are just 3 little words- what’s the problem? Ever a fan of language I highlight for you the power of the “three little words” in our history:


See? Three little words can really pack a punch, n’est pas?

No science this week my girlfriends- just a much needed rant.

FOR YOUR AGE- is a really shitty disclaimer and I propose we abolish it entirely.

Here’s the thing- My mother is 71. She’s amazing. Yah, sure she’s a bit of a pain in the ass (who’s mother isn’t?) but she is amazing. She works out for an hour a day on a treadmill and wears no makeup with the exception of lipstick. She has never dyed her hair and is blessed with the best head of salt and pepper curls I’ve ever seen.

The only thing artificial on my mother is her right hip. But even she is told that she looks amazing….FOR HER AGE. Hell I’ve even said that to her.

So here I am- calling out to my sisters- a plea for us to abandon the disclaimers and just tell each other how freaking awesome we look… PERIOD. Let’s get rid of the three little words that start the war and raise our (reading) glasses and toast one another once and for all.

Here’s to Antonio! I am forever grateful to him- he talked me into something that I again do not regret- As with his countrymen from seasons past- he is yet another Italian who when it comes to looking and feeling good- did not let me down.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

7 of 9

Pet peeve my cyber sisters. I officially hate people (yes, hate is perhaps too strong a word) who keep their blue tooth devices in their ears while they are doing anything BUT driving.

Let’s be clear about the blue tooth device- it was invented so that you could talk on the phone while driving, shopping, running and have your arms free for loftier pursuits. It was NOT meant to stay in your ear from dawn until dusk.

My colleague (you know who you are) keeps his in his ear all day long at work AND on weekends. He says it gives him a sense of comfort that he’ll never miss a call. WTF? Is this not what voicemail is for?

Are you really that important that you CAN NOT miss a call? Shit, I’m a doctor and I have voicemail.

I’ve seen photos of Barack Obama at work and play and he’s not wearing a fucking blue tooth. (sorry to my mother for the profanity- but I’m in a bit of a rage)

I understand if you are driving or moving about that holding a cell phone to your ear is neither safe nor practical. Hell, I have a blue tooth for my bike rides to work. In fact I often schedule conference calls during my rides to work. I do warn those on the end of the line that my heavy breathing is due to the ride up the Stanley Park Causeway and not to my excitement over taking their call. But the moment I reach my destination- the blue tooth comes out of my ear and the world is a new.

At this very moment I am at my usual café enjoying the best Americano Vancouver has to offer and sure enough some guy is sitting at the table next to me involved in a technological three way- with two other women AND a blue tooth in his ear.

Let’s be clear my girlfriends- I am writing this blog in order to distract myself from pulling the little piece of technology out this cyborg’s ear right now and yelling “shame on you, dude!”

About six months ago I met a man who did not have a cell phone. Yes they do exist and walk among us- it really was a trip. When I sarcastically asked him why he refused to join the new millennium, he looked down at the floor and said, “when I was younger I had a brain tumor removed and I’ve always been scared of the radiation”.

Yah. My cybersisters- I am officially an asshole. I apologized profusely there and then (and in two follow up emails) but I’m still an asshole- damage done.

In addition to making me wonder how I could possibly be such a wiener, I also took a moment to ponder his concern. What exactly is the radiation risk of a cell phone? Moreover, what is the radiation risk of a blue tooth device? Is it possible I should be a little more sensitive to the cyborg sitting next to me at the café as he will soon be stricken with a brain tumor in addition to his rude manners and need to take a call from his radiation oncologist at a moment’s notice?

Turns out- the cyborg has a lower risk of brain tumors than those of us who hold the phone at our ear moving about, holding it up the sky, yelling, “Can you hear me now?... Now? Can you hear me? What about now? “

In May, 2011, the World Health Organization announced officially that cell phones cause cancer. The judgment did not stem from new research, however. It turns out the WHO convened a panel of 31 scientists from 14 countries to review the scientific literature. The panel was put forth to itemize items on what I will call the “WHO Cancer list”. This is a list of items that have been deemed by the WHO to be carcinogenic. The list essentially classifies everything from coconut oil to DDT to HPV in terms of its ability to cause cancer. The list is graded according to the risk of the exposure and its ability to give you the “Big C”. Sure enough cell phone have now made it onto the list.

Where on the list you might ask? There are gradation of cancer risk, as I mentioned- and the grading system looks something like this:


Cell phones fell into the “possibly” category.

The evidence on cell phone use is sketchy at best.

A 13 country INTERPHONE study is the largest case-control trial done to date on cell phone use and cancer risk. It looked at 5000 people with gliomas and meningiomas (brain tumors) in the developing world and compared their behaviour with healthy age matched controls who did not have brain tumors. Overall the study found no link between frequency of calls or use of phones in the brain tumor group versus the non-brain tumor group. A large long term study followed 420,000 people in Denmark between 1982 and 2002 found similar results. There was an exception in both studies in that the group with the highest amount of cell phone use (greater than an hour a day) did have an increased risk of meningiomas.

According to an article published in JAMA in February, 2011 cell phone use of 30 minutes daily increases the risk of developing a glioma (a brain tumor) by 40% over 10 years. Now understand that gliomas are pretty rare to begin with. However when you are talking about a technology that 5 billion people are now using, the question of numbers becomes a little bit more important.

My conspiracy side of me thinks that there is no way we’ll see a randomized trial on cell phone use and brain tumors given the amount of money and technology at risk here.

Even if we do- I suspect none of us will care. I have an IPhone. I love my IPhone. I think I’m invincible on the best of days. Will I stop using my IPhone just to reduce my risk of getting a cancer that is pretty rare to begin with?

Here’s where a headset does come into play. The WHO has recommended head set and Bluetooth use to reduce the risk of radiation to the head. It turns out that a Bluetooth device emits 800 times less radiation than a cell phone. How does that translate into a reduced risk, science has yet to do the leg work….

In the meantime- here’s what I propose:

You know those lovely ear phones that allow you to listen to music AND take a call? Cyborg of the world- wire up. On the fashion front- you would look like just a dude listening to tunes as oppose to “7 OF 9” trying to get a message from the mother ship. On the cancer front- you may be reducing your risk of brain tumors.

Not a bad exchange if I do say so myself. My message for the week my cybersisters…. You don’t have to look ridiculous to lower your risk of a brain tumor- you heard it here first. Now go forth my girlfriends and spread the word.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Lies Beneath

On January 12, 2012 I wore my very best underwear. This was a very good thing. For on that very date while travelling from Toronto to Vancouver, I was body scanned. Some perfect stranger was paid $45 an hour plus benefits to see me naked in order to ensure airport safety.

I am getting scanned a lot lately given the amount I travel and therefore have made it a rule to always travel in my very Sunday best and ensure that my bra matches my panties. If you are presently giggling at the mention of the word “panties” – grow up my girlfriends- I can’t help using it- I am afterall, old school.

So there I was standing with my arms above my head in a vertical CAT scan machine waiting to be told if the “eye in the sky” was satisfied that I was not in fact carrying any explosive on my person.

First of all my girlfriends, I should say that I am of course a fan of a good and safe flight. No one wants their plane highjacked mid-air. This is not to make light of the atrocities performed in the name of terror of course. It is a given that when someone wishes you a “safe Flight” it really is implied that your flight should not be subjected to an explosion of any kind.

I am not sure however if a random CAT scan on the odd passenger is really going to make the skies any friendlier for us all. I do know this whole fancy pants process of seeing me naked in the name of airport security certainly does a good number for job creation.

Think about it- There is the man/woman who ushers me into the machine- of course he/she must first give me the option of being patted down first or having a little radiation in lieu of human contact.

Then there is the two or three people that need to stand around the CAT scanning machine to make it seem like a rather important piece of machinery. Nothing says TAKE ME SERIOUSLY like 3 dudes in uniform standing at its gates…. Look at Buckingham Palace. Nuff said. (yes I know I have switched to Gangsta rap- in my defense I’ve been watching a lot of HBO lately and it has caused my vernacular to take on a street induced edge. Yo.

On December 25, 2009 a passenger was stopped at the airport and apprehended while he was trying to smuggle explosives onto a Detroit bound plane.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Homeland Security immediately began pushing forward a plan to place full-body scanners in all American Airports.

With the Olympics coming to Canada in 2010- my home and native land also joined suit. It is estimated that there are 1000 scanners in airports across the US and at least 50 in Canada.

There are 2 types of full-body scanners in use. Each generates a detailed out- line of the human body for the purpose of identifying contraband hidden under clothing. The millimeter-wave scanners emit extremely low-energy waves—each scan delivers a small fraction of the energy of a cell phone—and the scanners capture the reflected energy.

Naturally occurring radiation is higher at the altitudes of commercial air flights because of the greater proximity to the sun. The radiation associated with a flight will vary with altitude and latitude, but overall, air travel is associated with an expo- sure of approximately 0.04 μSv/min of flight time. This is the equivalent to a chest x-ray.

Airport x-ray scans deliver the radiation equivalent to around 1 to 3 minutes of flight time. Put into context of the entire flight, if a woman embarks on a 6-hour flight, she will be exposed to approximately 14.3 μSv of radiation from the flight and 0.03 to 0.1 μSv from passing through the scanner at the airport. The scanner increases exposure to radiation by about 1%.

According to an article published in the Annals of Internal medicine in 2009, it has been estimated that amoung the 1 million frequent flyers who take 10 trips per week for 1 year, each lasting longer than 6 hours (60 hours of flying per week) 600 cancers occur in the lifetime of those 1 million people. There is estimated to be an additional 4 excess cancers as a result of the CT backscatter scans. Furthermore, remember that these 1 million people will get 400,000 cancers in their lifetime anyways….

Look at me doing cancer math! Such fun… in any case the issue here is that the CT scan at the airport is not going to kill me. That being said, I insist on wearing my best underwear for travel at all times.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Then A Hero Comes Along

As I write this my dear girlfriends I am “hanging out” at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Listen to me sounding all casual about it…. Truth be told- I am a giddy schoolgirl.

I grew up watching this network- it is as much a part of my cultural identity as the pages of Vogue magazine are a part of my closet.

As a kid it was Mr. Dressup, the Friendly Giant and Fraggle Rock. Nights were spent snuggled up on the couch next to my Dad watching the National with Nolton Nash or the news with Barbara Frum. Years passes and then came Mr. Peter Mansbridge or as we called him in my house- the Wizard of Oz.

From the Nature of things, with David Suzuki to the Fifth Estate the CBC was my national network and a part of who I was.

My parents watched Air Farce and I became hooked on This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

Now Rick Mercer makes me laugh out loud and George Strombolopolous, Canada’s boyfriend is my boyfriend too..

So here I sit at the CBC for two days of News reporting as their “resident health expert”. Make no mistake, I’ve done the research and this really is one of those days where I do know what I am talking about. I am trying not to take things too seriously and I have of course brought enough footwear to get me through the stories.

But here I am a little schoolgirl giddy at it all. Nerves are a given but on top of it all is the excitement and the shear fun at being with my network heros.

WE all need someone to look up to in this ever uncertain world don’t we? Whether it’s our fellow girlfriend, our iconic television heroes past and present or my personal favourite- Manolo Blahnik- we all need an idol that inspires something better in us.

Last week my girlfriends I had the chance to spend a little time up close with a few of my heroes and I came out the other side a little more inspired and of course a little more enthused to be a part of the good in the world- whatever that may be.

A paper published in 1997 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, entitled, "Superstars and me: Predicting the impact of role models on the self", shows there is something to my little experience last week.

The authors propose that superstars are most likely to affect self-views when they are considered relevant. Relevant superstars provoke self-enhancement and inspiration when their success seems attainable but self-deflation when it seems unattainable. Participants' self-views were affected only when the star's domain of excellence was self-relevant. Relevant stars provoked self-enhancement and inspiration when their success seemed attainable in that participants either still had enough time to achieve comparable success or believed their own abilities could improve over time.

I other words... I identify with Steven and Chris- those are MY boys and as such- they make me want to be better. Rick Mercer doesn't just makes me laugh, he makes me think- about MY country and MY actions.

A star's greatness affects our beliefs when we identify with them- when they speak TO us. Huh. Sounds good to me...

As for Peter Mansbridge? He Peter Freakin Mansbridge. He IS the wizard and the voice of this nation- I'm not being dramatic- I'm keeping it real. The Psychological science shows he really does help us identify and improve.

Forgive me, my girlfriends, if I abandon the science for just a few moments. In medical trials we have a saying when there is a single case study to show a certain benefit for a treatment- we call it our “N” (as in the letter N) of ONE.

This week I don’t have a randomized controlled trial on the evidence of heroes in our every day life. This week I have my N of ONE…. Me.

As for my clinical trial- it was truly fabulous. We live in a cynical world- much of what we see and do never really makes sense and most things don’t happen for a reason.

But hey- we all still get out of bed and put on the day’s finest and dwell in the fact that good clothes do open all doors. And every once in a while to quote Miss Mariah Carey, “a hero comes along” and the shoes and stars collide and yes my dear girlfriends life has one of its great moments where you just sit back and smile.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Solitary Woman

I should say it plain my dear girlfriends…. I enjoy spending time alone.

In fact some of my favourite moments are those spent at a café or a museum with only my thoughts (and my neuroses) t keep me company. Although I do happily participate in the company of others I will admit that I am, I guess a bit of a loner.

I realize this is a bit of a shock, given my overwhelming extroverted nature. Most extroverts need to be around other people. I too enjoy spending time with others.

That being said- I do like playing it solo. Make no mistake- I am not one of those people who wants to sit in a silent room alone with their thoughts. That is JUST NOT ME. No, I like to sit in a rather noisy café or march along a rather crowded street or play it solo in a fabulous shopping experience. I like to be what I would call… NOISEY ALONE. Alone in concept but not in actual fact. It is heaven.

Let’s take today for instance… no not Tuesday, the day this blog will be read, but rather New Year’s Eve- the day this blog was written. Here I sit in a café having just had a lovely soup and reading my newspaper. I am by myself at a table and can feel myself relax as the moments tick by.

Make no mistake my girlfriends, I do love enjoy the company of others. I find people to be really interesting and stimulating most of the time…. Except those who aren’t and I try not to spend time with them…. You know how you are…. It’s not your fault your boring- I’m sure you are good at other things.
I am the only one in this café who is flying solo… but I do know that a table for one is more and more common nowadays than one would think.

What is that? Is there a science to solitude? Don’t human beings function better in packs?

According to an article published in The History of Social Behaviour in 2003, there is a benefit to SOLITUDE.

The authors of the article, “ Solitude: An exploration of the Benefits of Being Alone” (yeh, they state their bias up front) make a clear distinction between solitude and loneliness. Solitude in contrast to loneliness is a positive state- one that has been chose by the individual. IN that it s already empowering because someone had a choice in who they were going to spend their time with.

Solitude is sought out actively, rather than avoided (as is often the case with loneliness). Furthermore the authors are quite clear in stating that solitude is a state of being whereas loneliness is more of a feeling as result of being alone.

The authors point out that time spent alone is different across a lifespan. People who actively seek times of solitude have been shown in two specific examples in the article to be more productive and more creative.

For example two studies highlighted in the article out of Harvard University show that students study better by themselves than they do in groups. Retention of information and test scores were higher among groups of students who study independently than those who engage in group study. Now, girlfriends- this could be selection bias…. If you have to study in a group- you might not be able to do as well on a test than if you have to study by yourself…. Think on it. Get back to me.

Another area where solitude has been shown to be beneficial is in the creative arts arena- writers, painters, artists- all do better with their craft on a solitary basis.

There you have it. I’m not suggesting the whole “we live alone, we die alone” theory. But isn’t it nice once in a while to shut the world away and be in the company of perfect strangers- no commentary necessary, no one there to ask you what you are thinking or how was your day?

Me? I get it. Fuelled by this new scientific data I will continue my solitary habits. Sure, no woman is an island but as for me? I shop alone.