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Category Archives: Research Findings

What I’m Reading: Research Suggests Ways To Reduce Risk of Developing Cancer

by on January 27, 2013

Is there anything we can do to reduce our risk of developing cancer?  These two recent articles explain what the latest research is telling us.

The 2000 Year-Old Wonder Drug (New York Times)

In this op-ed piece, Dr. David Agus, professor of medicine at University of Southern California and the author of The End of Illness asserts that “the data are screaming out to us;”

“Aspirin, one of the oldest remedies on the planet, helps prevent heart disease through what is likely to be a variety of mechanisms, including keeping blood clots from forming. And experts believe it helps prevent cancer, in part, by dampening an immune response called inflammation.”

He cited several studies published just in the last two years:  one showed that the risk of dying from cancer was 37 percent lower among those taking aspirin for at least five years. In a subsection of the study group, three years of daily aspirin use reduced the risk of developing cancer by almost 25 percent when compared with the aspirin-free control group.

Dr. Agus called for a more concerted effort from the medical community — doctors, pharmacists and insurance companies  – to proactively spread the word about the many benefits of this disease-prevention drug.

(In 2009, The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended … [Read more]


How Safe is Hormone Replacement Therapy? A Leading Expert Sums Up What We Now Know

by on January 21, 2013

More than a decade after the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was abruptly halted three years early, due to a high rate of breast cancer and heart disease among women taking combined estrogen and progestin hormones, many women are still concerned about the safety of hormone replacement therapy, choosing instead natural remedies that only help some women, some of the time.

Medical researchers have continued to parse and analyze the WHI findings and much more has been learned about when hormone therapy is most effective and for whom. But is it safe for most women? Or do the risks outweigh the benefits?

To explain what we now know about the safety of hormone use during menopause, I spoke with Dr. Margery Gass,  Executive Director of The North American Menopause Society.  Here’s a transcript of our conversation.

What do we now know about hormone safety, a decade after the WHI study was halted?

North American Menopause Society, menopause, hot flashes, hormone therapy, hormone safetyDr. Gass: Right now, we believe that hormones are relatively safe for most healthy women who are being bothered by hot flashes or menopausal symptoms in general. They do carry small risks but so do most things that are prescription drugs and even some over-the-counter products like aspirin, which has potential for GI bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke. So most medications do have risks, and now women can be aware of the small risks associated with hormone therapy and have some idea of whether their symptoms justify using hormones.

It’s really about individualized decision making, isn’t it?

Dr. Gass:  It’s really important to know what a woman’s health care priorities are. For example, if her number one priority is preventing osteoporosis, and not becoming stooped over the way her mother did, and she’s having hot flashes, she would get benefits for both these concerns by taking hormone therapy. That might be very attractive to her.

On the other hand, if she’s a woman whose primary concern is avoiding breast cancer, she may prefer to put up with a few hot flashes, rather than encounter a small increased risk of breast cancer with hormones.

It seems that we’ve come a long way in our understanding of the risks of hormone therapy, especially during the last decade.

Dr. Gass: There was a time back in the late 1990s, when it was expected that physicians would discuss the option of hormone therapy with every menopausal woman, whether she was having … [Read more]


The Latest News on Hormone Therapy, Hot Flashes & More From the Nation’s Leading Menopause Conference

by on October 21, 2012

I just returned from the annual conference of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), whose membership is comprised of clinical and science experts, including physicians, researchers, and nurses — who focus almost exclusively on women’s health in midlife. Most of those in attendance were gynecologists in private practice eager to hear the latest research findings on issues such as hormone safety, osteoporosis prevention, heart health and more. It was also an opportunity for these docs, who are on the front line of menopause management, to compare notes with their colleagues and seek advice on complex patient cases, such as those involving obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

During three days of the conference, I attended numerous presentations, roundtable discussions, and I talked individually with many physicians and researchers. I filled a notebook with information that I’ll share with you over the next several weeks. In this blogpost, I’ll preview just a few topics that I think you’ll find helpful.

HOT FLASHES - Gabapentin-ER (Extended release) is being studied as a potential, new treatment for hot flashes for women who can’t or don’t want to use Estrogen therapy, which remains the most effective remedy available now. In a six-month study of 600 women who were experiencing an average of 11 hot flashes daily, half of them were given Gabapentin-ER and the others were given a placebo. The Gabentin-ER users reported fewer and/or less bothersome hot flashes and they slept better too. The drug is under FDA review and could potentially be available for use by the … [Read more]


Eating Chocolate Makes You Thinner? I Knew It Was Too Good To Be True

by on April 2, 2012

Eat Chocolate and Get Thinner. Chocolate Makes You Fitter. Those were the headlines last week, based on the findings of a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and an a University of Calif.-San Diego press release titled “Regular Chocolate Eaters are Thinner.”  What delicious news! We all so wanted to believe that chocolate was a “free” food. But was it believable? I think deep down, we knew it must have been one of those PR type things. But heck, an ounce a day of chocolate can’t hurt anyway. There seem to be so many studies showing that chocolate is good for you!  We’ve even know about the benefits of Resveratrol thanks to a 2008 study by Hershey’s Center for Health and Nutrition.

But one doctor, Yoni Freedhoff MD, the founder of a nutrition and weight management center in Ottawa, has blown the whistle in an article that appeared last week on his blog, “Weighty Matters.”  He argues that there’s no growing body of evidence suggesting that chocolate is magically calorie neutral (or calorie negative). Moreover, he wrote, the study that these headlines were based on was grossly flawed (my words, not his);

“Basically here we have a study with no controls whatsoever rendering conclusions impossible, authors who rather than mention their study’s pretty much insurmountable methodological limitations instead made up a “growing body of literature” on magic calorie neutral or negative foods, a press release that spins it all as fact and as a result, as of early this morning, less than 24 hours after publication, there were already 443 ‘chocolate makes you thin’ stories on the newswire to further misinform an already nutritionally confused world.” … [Read more]


The Link Between Wrinkles and Bone Density

by on January 9, 2012

Is it possible that deep brow furrows are an early indicator of osteoporosis later in life? The findings of a recent study suggests that the more wrinkles a woman has in her early menopause years, the lower her bone density, putting her at risk for bone fractures. The association may seem like a stretch at first. But Dr. Lubna Pal, an endocrinologist who led the research at Yale’s School of Medicine, explained:

(Bones and skin) share common building blocks — a group of proteins called collagens. As we age, changes in collagen occur that may account for age-related skin changes… and also contribute to deterioration in bone quality and quantity.

In this study of 114 women in their late 40s and early 50s, none of whom were on HRT, skin wrinkles at 11 sites on the face and neck were measured and participants underwent DEXA scans. The researchers found that women with the worst wrinkles had the lowest bone density scores. Conversely, those with firm skin and the fewest wrinkles, particularly in the forehead area, had greater bone density.

If this research is further substantiated, and skin does in fact provide a glimpse into the status of the skeleton, it may be possible to determine our bone strength by simply looking in the mirror.


A New Study Suggests Annual Mammograms Are Unnecessary for Most Women

by on October 20, 2011

The debate over when and how often to get screened for breast cancer surfaced again this week following the release of a study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco that concluded that annual mammograms aren’t necessary for most women.  The timing of these latest findings, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when screening for early detection is being promoted, left a lot of women confused and angry. We reacted the same way in 2009, when federal guidelines recommended mammograms every two years starting at the age 50.

What makes annual screening such a hot button is the prevalence of false positives in mammography.  Besides causing a lot of fear and anxiety, these can led to more harmful and expensive interventions than required, according to those who favor less frequent screenings.  As explained in a UCSF statement released this week, ”more than half of cancer-free women will be among those summoned back for more testing because of false-positive results and about one in 12 will be referred for a biopsy.”

The study also looked at nearly 4500 women who had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and found that roughly a quarter of all breast cancers detected by mammograms were late-stage whether women were screened every year or every other year.

Once we set aside the emotion (as in “I don’t care what these studies show, I’m going to have my annual screening!) consider what Dr. Susan Kutner, Chair of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Breast Care Task Force had to say about this latest study on a local San Francisco Public Radio Program . … [Read more]


Flax Seed: If You Think It Will Help with Hot Flashes, It Just Might

by on October 17, 2011

Hot flashes and night sweats are the number one complaint of menopausal women.  For most women they last four to six years. For others, they can persist well into their 70s. That’s why, if there’s a glimmer of hope that something – anything – can help reduce their frequency, it’s worth a try.  Flaxseed falls into that category.  Some women find that adding a couple of tablespoons to their cereal every day helps cool them off.  Is it the estrogenic effect of the plant’s phytoestrogens that’s helping? Or is it just wishful thinking? And, as long as it helps, does it really matter? Consider these latest research findings:

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic randomly assigned 188 women to eat either a daily flaxseed bar containing 410 milligrams of lignans or one that was flax-free. Many of the study participants experienced hot flashes at least four times a day. Over six weeks, more than one third of the women in both groups had a 50 percent reduction in the frequency and severity of their hot flashes and they said that their symptoms were moderately to “very much” improved. … [Read more]


The Latest Bad Rap on Supplements: What Does This Week’s Study Mean to Women?

by on October 12, 2011

Yesterday, I set out to write about the latest findings of a government-funded research study that concluded that in older women, several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may do more harm than good; even, in some cases, causing a small increase in the risk of death.

Death?  Really?  From Vitamin B6 and multivitamins?

There must be more to this than was being reported, so I decided to go to the source, The Archives of Internal Medicine, where the findings were published,  and read the study myself.   Here’s what I learned.

First: The Facts

Researchers assessed the use of 15 vitamin and mineral supplements (including multivitamins, Vitamins B6, C and D, folic acid, magnesium, Iron and Calcium) in relation to total mortality in nearly 39,000 women in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. The participants were just under 62 years of age when they began the study in 1986.  Supplement use, which was self-reported via a health questionnaire three times over 19 years, was widespread among these women and increased over the years.

In yesterday’s news reports about this study, we learned that the researchers found a small increase in the risk of death among older women who took dietary supplements compared with those who didn’t.  However, what wasn’t reported in many news … [Read more]


An Important Research Study on Vitamin D and Fish Oil That You Can Participate In

by on October 6, 2011

A new research study is about to get underway that will investigate whether taking daily supplements of Vitamin D and fish oil reduces the risk for developing cancer, heart disease and stroke.  The study’s co-director, Dr. JoAnn Manson of Harvard Medical School, told me during the recent conference of the North American Menopause Society, that their goal is to enroll 20,000 … [Read more]


Will a Cup of Joe Stave Off Depression?

by on September 28, 2011

Drinking coffee not only helps you start your day, it just might make you feel better too, according to a recent study that found that depression risk decreases with increasing caffeinated coffee consumption. How much did it take to see a difference?  The women who consumed as much as 4 cups a day saw the greatest results — a risk reduction of 20 percent.

As noted in the study’s commentary, the effects of caffeine – both good and bad – has been explored in previous studies relating to cardiovascular disease, inflammation and certain types of cancers.   This is the first large-scale study of coffee consumption to evaluate a mental health outcome in women, who are particularly vulnerable to depression during periods of hormone changes such as peri- and post-menopause.  And while the results are promising, the researchers cautioned that more research is needed to confirm this finding and to determine whether usual caffeinated coffee consumption can contribute to depression prevention. … [Read more]