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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, September 25, 2012

Fashion Really is the Best Medicine


Yes, my girlfriends, it is the most wonderful time of the year. What time you ask? It’s Fashion Week season. Yes, my girlfriends every diva must have her holiday and this one, of course is mine- all 28 days of it.

The week before last of course was NYC fashion week with it’s allure and its glamour. I sat glued to my computer from the safety of my office for daily updates of the shows. Between patients I scanned STYLE.COM for updates. Between samples of antihypertensives I sampled Marc Jacobs and Maria Cornejo and Proenza Schouler.

However, I must admit that I am more of a fan of European fashion than of the North American designers. And so I took it into high gear last week as London Fashion Week began. There I was on call at the hospital writing orders for everything from  Morphine to Maxeran soothing my soul with live feeds from some of my favourite designers show. From Mary Katrantzou to Temperley London to Jonathan Saunders I relished in the magical. There I was among sadness and sickness but somehow the desolation fell away.

This past weekend I found myself at the National Obesity Conference in San Antonio Texas. Between talks of Ghrelin and Leptin and Sugar Sweetened beverage taxes I had one eye on Milan eager to see what my girl Miuccia Prada would have in store for the coming season.

Let me be clear my sisters- I love my job. I love the daily grind of it all- the patients and the problems. I do not want my girlfriends to go away thinking that I only work for shoes. My work is a huge part of my life. But I have learned over the years that a well balanced life really is the best way to go.

And so amidst the medicine and the mayhem, the conferences and the concerns my escape has been the runways the world over. I love the pomp and the circumstance. Checking the schedules of the various fashion shows and then following along when  a time change will allow.

The European shows offer a specific time zone challenge. For example Milan is 8 hours ahead of Vancouver. Imagine my surprise waking up every morning to the Likes of Fendi and Dolce and Gabbanna being presented at 4 am the night before and there it is in my inbox just like Christmas morning!

It turns out that my fascination with fashion may actually be beneficial.

In a paper published in 2007, researchers at the UK's Brunel University noted that shopping is associated with increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that has been linked to pleasure and positive thinking. In fact, levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter released during pleasurable experiences including sex, can rise sharply even when you're merely window shopping.

Could it be that my obsession with STYLE.Com is helping my neurotransmitters. With Paris fashion week coming this week could my Dopamine levels indeed benefit from another boost??

In another study, published in the journal Neuron, researchers at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Stanford strapped volunteers to an MRI machine and showed them photos of products. When shoppers saw something they wanted to buy, a flood of dopamine to the nucleus accumbens--the brain's reward center--lit up their MRI images like a dashboard.

And it's not only about pleasure. Shopping may also help women maintain their mental acuity in old age, says Guy McKhann, M.D., a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University and a co-author of Keep Your Brain Young. "People who are doing really well as they get older tend to be mentally engaged, physically active, and socially involved," he says. "And women are all of those things when they shop."

Who new my love of fashion would help me train for my mature years.
Studies show that picturing several different outfits engages the brain and the prefrontal cortex which are all important activities as we age. In fact as we plan out our outfits in our head functional MRI studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the area which controls goal oriented behaviour goes into action.

Could it be that my medical breaks spent in the land of Lagerfeld indeed were an added work out for my neurons beyond the medical lessons learned?

On that note, I bid thanks to the gods of fashion for their dopamine and a glimpse of the Spring 2013 lines. If my sisters will excuse me- I’ve got some neurotransmitters that need to be let loose- Paris fashion week begins in the morning.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sleeping with the Enemy


Have my girlfriends noticed any disturbance in their sleep patterns lately? Yes? No? Enough about you. Let's talk about me. My sleep lately has been... well... how do you say it? It's been shit. This is not for lack of trying my cybersisters for THIS girlfriend does love her bedtime.

I love the whole ritual of it all. You know, the whole getting ready for bed. When the day is done and I can finally go upstairs, into my closet (my happiest place on earth) and change into my pajamas. It's like taking off the armour that I wear against the world and just exhaling for about an hour or so.  I love the removing of the makeup and the washing of the face. It's as if I am rinsing my day's damage down the sink and all will be well in the morning.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that if I had had a bad day, I should go to bed early. I must admit it has been perfect advice on many a day since. Needless to say over the years there have been some days where I wanted to crawl into bed at about 2:30 in the afternoon but for the most part, Mama's wise words usually insight an 8pm bedtime about three or four times a year.

We’ve all had the days when we struggle to keep our eyes open at about 8:30 or so in the evening, no? There you are lying on a couch watching some America’s Next Top Model (no judgement my girlfriends- we all have our paths in life) and you can barely stay awake to bear witness to Tyra’s lunatic rampage. It does take so much away from the show when you can no keep your eyes open long enough to yell obscenities at the screen.

Why just yesterday I was lying on the couch after a 30km run trying desperately to enjoy the “Say yes to the Dress” marathon I had pre-recorded on my PVR and before I knew it, it was two hours later and I was waking up from a 3 hour “nap” with drool down my cheek and no mouthgard in sight.


And so I did what any self-respecting girlfriend would do…. I went to bed. It was 7:45pm. On a Monday. There you have it my girlfriends- this sister is anything but cool.

Fast forward 8 or so hours and there I was wide-awake at 4 am on a Tuesday. Yes, too much fun. Thanks be to the fashion gods that it is London Fashion week. Instead of spending hours staring at the ceiling, I spent 2 hours on the internet seeing what I might be wearing in Spring 2013.

How has this happened that now I have developed the sleep patterns of a senior citizen? I am unconscious by 9 pm and wide-awake at the crack of dawn.

Could it be the marathon training that is messing with my sleep patterns or could it just be my 40’s fucking with me?

Turns out its likely a bit of both.

According to a study published in 1982 in the Neurobiology of Aging our sleep is affected by our aging. The study took three groups of people of different ages- one group was aged 20-23, one was 40-45 one was 60-65 and one was 80-85. Each group had formal sleep studies and EEG performed on them. The study showed that as we age our body temperature fluctuates less as we age during our sleep. Furthermore as we age our REM sleep time decreases as does our sleep wake cycle. This was found in both men and women. The authors concluded that although menopause can account for some changes in sleep cycles- the changes continue even after menopause.

Thrilled. So much to look forward to my sisters.

One bright shiny star, however…. Exercise. According to several large-scale trials exercise does indeed improve sleep patterns in both men and women.

My own scientific studies have shown that yes…. Running 50km a week is making me sleepier than usual.

And so, I may not know if it’s my age or my running that messing with my sleep schedule- only time will tell. The marathon is November 4 my sisters- we will know once it is finished. Of course by then I will be 6 weeks older. Only time will tell…..

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shine a Light


Girlfriends… it’s really light in my bedroom. I don’t say that to elicit a giggle. Get your minds out of the gutter.

We have southern exposure and no blackout blinds. I live in downtown Vancouver. As such, I can almost read a book…. At 2 am with the lights out in my bedroom… full moon or not.

Sure we have a great apartment but unfortunately it comes with those shitty white bottom of the barrel blinds. These are the crappy white lever blinds that come with most standard apartments in the downtown.

Make no mistake, I love it that these blinds are my key to privacy. I close the blinds and my neighbour can’t see me when I walk around my bedroom in my underwear. Yes, I understand that all things come at a cost but is it so much to ask that I get a set of drapes that black out the light and prevent me from having my very own underwear based You-Tube video?

Me and my shitty blinds have pretty much reached the end of our relationship. I need me some black out blinds.

I am tired (excuse the pun) of sleeping in a room that is lit up like Times Square.
I am tired of sleeping with a sleep mask on my face at all times.
I am tired of walking to the washroom in BROAD DAYLIGHT at 3 in the morning.

This really has become a problem.

You see, I really like to sleep in a cave. I like to get out of bed in the middle of the night and fumble to find the bathroom. I like to trip over things and want for a night light because it is so dark in the room.

My time spent travelling and staying in hotels allows me to see how the darker half lives. On the down side of course is bed bugs…. On the up side is the black-out blinds.

Yes my cybersisters I will risk the threat of vermin for the sake of not having to wear another one of those “sleepytime masks” with the word “Princess” scrolled across the front in glued on rhinestones.

Most people don’t sleep well in hotels. They talk about how the room is foreign to them and how they miss their own bed, their own room and their own pillow.

Me? Sure, I miss the familiarity of it all, but I welcome the dark.

You see our brains are pretty specific when it comes to being influenced by light.

We all have a biological clock in our brains that help to regulate our sleep and wake cycles and other key physiological systems that allow us to live in harmony with our natural surroundings such as day and night and the changing of the seasons.

This is same system that helps to tell us when we are sleepy or awake. It is the same system that gets “off kilter” when we travel and suffer from jet lag for example.

The most important function of a biological clock is to regulate certain biological rhythms like the sleep/wake cycle. The biological clock is also involved in controlling seasonal reproductive cycles in some animals through its ability to track information about the changing lengths of daylight and darkness during a year.

There are two types of biological rhytms. Exogenous rhythms are directly produced by an external influence, such as an environmental cue. (think time of day). These are not generated internally by the organism itself, and if the environmental cues are removed, the rhythm ceases. For example put someone in a dark room for days on end and they will eventually lose their usual day/night cycle.

Endogenous rhythms, by contrast, are driven by an internal, self-sustaining biological clock rather than by anything external to us. Biological rhythms like changes in core body temperature, are endogenous. They are maintained even if environmental cues are removed.

Humans have a circadian rhythm that has a natural day length of just over 24 hours. This “clock” needs to be reset to match the length of day for what is called the “environmental photoperiod”.

This is the amount of daylight in a 24 hour period. As you can imagine the body’s internal clock goes haywire in times where day and night are prolonged. For example- move to the arctic in the summer where the daylight last for 20 or so hours and you have a problem with your internal clock.

The cue that synchronizes the internal biological clock to the environmental cycle is light. Photoreceptors in the retina (the back of the eye) transmit light-dependent signals to a blace in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This is an area that sits right on top of the optic nerve behind the eye. Drill a hole between your eye and your ear straight into the brain and you are there. I don’t mean to be gross or dramatic but it’s the visual I’m after.

Interestingly, our usual visual system receptors, the rods and cones, are apparently not required for this photoreception.9This mean that even some blind people still have a sense of a biological clock.

Special types of retinal ganglion cells are photoreceptive and project directly to the suprachiasmatic nucleus, and appear to have all the properties required to provide the light signals for synchronizing the biological clock.3 At the suprachiasmatic nucleus the signal interacts with several genes that serve as “pacemakers.”

A study published in Neuroscience Letters in 1986 exposed 8 healthy controls to bright light starting at 6 am and ending at 9am. These people were monitored for their sleep patterns for 10 days at first and in rooms where the light gradually became lighter at around 6am and progressed until 9 am. This had little effect on their day/night cycle.

The study then went on and exposed the same subjects to a bright light at 6am. Within 7 days the day/night cycle of these subjects was significantly altered. All subjects would now wake up at just before 6am almost as if they had anticipated the “light wake up call”.

Girlfriends- I’m a shitty sleeper at the best of times but I will bet my suprachiasmatic nucleus that my lack of black out blinds has something to do with it.

Now if you will excuse me, I must go… Barry from Levalor Blinds is coming over today to fit my bedroom window with some serious hardware and a blackout blind for the ages.

Look out my girlfriends… I feel a serious nap coming on.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Cat Came back.

Observations my girlfriends for this Tuesday of all days.... Cat owners lose their pets more often than any other animal owner.

Allow me to place this in context. My beloved and I take the fuzzy monsters for a walk every morning through Vancouver's West End. Inevitably there are always a bunch of hand made signs plastered on mailboxes and trees announcing the loss of a beloved family feline. The signs boldly display a photo copied photo of NORMAN or JUNE or Mr. Kettles and announce that he/she was "last seen on the front porch". Norman or June or Mr. Kettles is always billed as being very dear to their owner and very friendly.

Here is my immediate question. If your cat is both dear to you and friendly to strangers, why the hell do you let him roam free in a  neighbourhood where he could easily be run over or taken home?

I should state my bias from the beginning. I am not a cat person. This is of course in part because of the fact that every cat I meet prompts me to have a full blown asthma attack. But of course, the hate for such domestic pets goes deeper.

I find cats stand offish. When I come home from a long day at work I want my pet to run to the door and practically pee on the floor out of the sheer joy of seeing me. You will not get this level of excitement from a cat. Instead a cat, if he/she greets you at the door is flippant and expectant.

A cat is the kind of animal that you can leave alone for days with food and water and maybe a scratch post and they are good to go. While I admire this level of independence in a house pet, I am not about to support this aloof behaviour in any mammal in my home.

Sure, it's great to let your pet roam about the hood and feel a sense of independence. But when that pet winds up on the neighbourhood equivalent of a milk carton it is time to shut that shit down. Bring Mr Kettles in and lock that sucker up. No more born free, my friend.

I know what you cat people out there are thinking.... cats don't get lost as often as we think. Bullshit. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there are 86.4 million pet cats in the USA. There are about 60 million feral cats living in the USA. Approximately 5 million cats are found in animal shelters each year. More than 60% of the cat owning population allow their cats to go outside. CUTE? Let's let Mr. Kettles roam free in his natural habitat? Not so much. Those little shits eat song birds. Mr Kettles is domesticated but still knows how to hunt. According to the American Songbird Society, about 4 million song birds are killed each year by cats. Furthermore- karma is a bitch 3 million cats are killed each year by cars. Mr. Kettles- you eat the bird or the bumper.

Let me not leave you with the impression my sisters that I hate cats (but I do). According to a study presented in 2011 at the International Stroke Conference cats may indeed save lives.

This finding was based on data extracted from people aged 30 to 75, from the second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. Participants were recruited from 1976-1980 and followed over a 10 year period. Of the 4,435 Americans in the study, 2,435 of the participants were current or former cat owners, while the remaining 2,000 had never had a cat.

Using the main outcome as death from all causes, including stroke and heart events, the researchers found that over a 10 year follow up period, cat owners showed a 30 per cent lower risk of death from heart attack compared to non cat owners.

So there you have it- cats do indeed save lives and serve a purpose beyond the weird videos that their owners feel the need to post about them on the internet. (Have my sisters not noticed the ridiculous amount of cat videos on the net these days??)

Yes, we all have our path in life and yes, we all have our choice in pets. I'm not asking you all to get a dog and get on with it. But if you must own a cat (fine- we can still be friends) do keep the little sucker indoors.... for the sake of you and your pet- and the robin redbreast out back- it's best we all try to have nine lives, no?