Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

May 13, 2008

Touring Your Body, One Story at a Time

The New York Times today published a pull-out special section, “A Guided Tour of Your Body,” with articles and advice on healthy aging for every body part.

The graphics are a bit surreal to look at in print, but it makes more sense online, where each body part is an interactive link to a related story (don’t say you weren’t warned that the shoulders and knees lead to nowhere). Online additions include links to exercises, test-your-knowledge quizzes and health risk calculators.

Update: The knee now connects, as you might expect, to a story on knee surgery.

April 27, 2008

Double Dose: Illinois Court Rules on Sterilization; Choosy Mothers Choose … Well, Not This C-Section Story; Fundamentalism Comes Under Public Health Scrutiny; Botox, Body Image and Aging; Coming of Age on Antidepressants; and More

Court Denies Bid to Sterilize Mentally Disabled Woman: “Disability rights advocates and medical ethicists praised a precedent-setting ruling Friday by the Illinois Appellate Court denying a bid to sterilize a mentally disabled woman against her will,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

The woman’s guardian had sought a tubal ligation, but a three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the guardian did not prove sterilization was in the woman’s best interest. There are “less intrusive and less psychologically harmful [birth-control] alternatives,” read the opinion.

“It’s extraordinarily significant” because it guarantees the disabled a court hearing, said Katie Watson, a Northwestern University professor who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of about two dozen medical ethicists.

“In the past, this was a decision that could be made between a guardian and a doctor,” she said. “The decision must be moved into the light.”

Choosy Mothers Choose … Well, Not This C-Section Story: Time magazine’s “Choosy Mothers Choose Caesareans” is problematic on multiple levels — but mainly for overplaying the role of women requesting elective c-sections as the reason being the skyrocketing caesarean rate, and downplaying the risks involved. Lucinda Marshall rocks with a great response.

Plus: For more information, read “Maternal Request for Cesarean Delivery: Myth or Reality?” — a summary of the latest research and articles compiled by Our Bodies Ourselves.

Fundamentalism Comes Under Public Health Scrutiny: From Women’s eNews: “Amid the growing influence of fundamentalism around the world, Asian researchers say women in almost any affected religion — Christian, Muslim or Hindu — pay the price in eroded health and safety.” Read the story by Swapna Majumdar, a journalist based in New Delhi.

Take Two on Time Off: “This year marks the 15th anniversary of the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act, which made it possible for many workers to take unpaid job-protected time off to care for their newborn children or sick relatives,” writes Nancy Trejos at the Washington Post. “But instead of celebrating, workers’ rights advocates and the Bush administration are battling over what would be the most sweeping revisions ever to the law.”

Trejos notes that a “fierce debate” has been sparked by some proposed changes, which have yielded more than 4,000 public comments:

Under proposals being considered by the Labor Department, workers would have to tell their bosses in advance when they take nonemergency leave, instead of being able to wait until two days after they left. They would have to undergo “fitness-for-duty” evaluations if they took intermittent leave for medical reasons and wanted to return to physically demanding jobs. To prove that they had a “serious health condition,” they would have to visit a health-care provider at least twice within a month of falling ill. What’s more, employers would have the right to contact health-care providers who authorized leave.

Botox and Disrespect of Aging: “The 2,775,176 Botox treatments in 2007, at a cost of more than $1 billion dollars neatly expresses the desperation some people feel about physical signs of aging,” writes Ronni Bennett, before going on to discuss recent studies on the potential dangers of Botox and the FDA’s make-your-own-personal-judgment advice to consumers.

Coming of Age on Antidepressants: Writing in The New York Times, Richard A. Friedman, MD, reflects on the remarks of a 31-year-old patient who has been treated for depression since she was a teen: “I’ve grown up on medication,” she said. “I don’t have a sense of who I really am without it.”

The patient credited the medication with saving her life, “but now she was raising an equally fundamental question: how the drugs might have affected her psychological development and core identity.” Friedman continues:

Her experience is far from unique. Since their emergence in the late 1980s, serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac and Zoloft have become some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, for depressed teenagers as well as adults. Because depression is often a chronic, recurring illness, there are certain to be many young people, like Julie, who are coming of age on these newer antidepressants.

We know a lot about the course of untreated depression, probably more than we do about very long-term antidepressant use in this population.

Plus: Friedman and Norman Rosenthal, MD, were both guests on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” on Thursday, discussing the physical and psychological effects of taking antidepressants long-term.

Ireland Releases Study on Menopause: Ireland’s Minister for Health, Mary Harney, published “Menopause and Me,” hailed as the largest ever study in Ireland on awareness, attitudes and experiences of menopause, according to The Irish Times. Ireland’s Women’s Health Council carried out the study, which is available online here.

Performance Artist Killed on Peace Trip: An Italian performance artist, Pippa Bacca, 33, was raped and killed by a driver who offered her a ride just three weeks into a hitchhiking trip from Italy to the Balkans to the Middle East. Bacca and her friend, Silvia Moro, 37, both wore wedding dresses as part of their “Brides on Tour” project, created to send a message of peace and “marriage between different peoples and nations.” Elisabetta Povoledo writes in The New York Times:

The performance piece, a trip through nearly a dozen countries in the Balkans and the Middle East, many of them ravaged by war recently, was meant to underscore that “by overcoming differences and lowering the level of conflict,” individuals and cultures could come together, Ms. Moro said in a telephone interview. “Meeting people was the key.”

Accepting rides with strangers was crucial to the art performance’s success, Ms. Moro said. The artists’ statement at their Web site,, says, “Hitchhiking is choosing to have faith in other human beings, and man, like a small god, rewards those who have faith in him.”

Ms. Moro explained: “It’s a poor way of traveling, and we wanted to underscore that you can’t foster love between people if you’re holed up in business class. You can’t go to, say, Mauritius, and eat pasta. You won’t understand people until you break bread with them, because it’s in the small diversities that you find similarities.”

April 12, 2008

Double Dose: Breast Implants and Illnesses; Lawsuit Over Ortho Evra Birth Control Patch; Abortion Has Left the Classroom; Aging and Quality of Life; Mothers Movement Online; Digital Mammograms Lead to More Call-Backs; Razor Blades and Inner Goddeses

Dumb Quote of the Week: “Eighteen is certainly an age where we’re putting men and women in uniform on a battlefield … I think they can decide if they want larger breasts.” — Dr. Alan Gold, a Great Neck, N.Y., plastic surgeon, as quoted in this Newsday story on breast implants.

The story notes that “according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of women 18 and younger who have had breast enlargements has risen nearly 500 percent over the last decade, a sharper climb than the 300 percent increase in breast augmentations among all age groups,” but it doesn’t cover the health risks except to note the recent death of Stephanie Kuleba, 18, of South Florida, who died of what may have been a rare genetic reaction to general anesthesia given during breast-augmentation surgery.

It does, however, include this important point:

Traci Levy, an assistant professor who teaches courses in feminism and gender studies at Adelphi University, said the growing perception that it’s a common procedure, along with ads for plastic surgery, may contribute to its popularity.

“To say that you need to have a very expensive surgical procedure with real health risks in order to be considered beautiful, I think, is a problematic image,” she said.

Plus: Kacey, who got breast implants when she was 19 and tells her story at, blogged recently at Beauty and the Breast about the illnesses she experienced (and is still experiencing) that she believes are linked to her implants.

Kacey was a recent guest on Fox’s “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet,” and she wrote that another guest — an 18-year-old who wants breast implants — commented off-stage, “They’re just breast implants. It’s just like getting your hair cut!”

“I just got my hair cut – no scalpels, drains, anesthesia, surgeons or nurses necessary,” writes Kacey. “I will never wonder if my hair cut will cause joint pain. Can anyone say the same about breast implants?”

Aging Among the Haves and Have-Nots: “Seniors are living longer, healthier and more financially secure than past generations, according to a federal report released by several government agencies last month. But large disparities separate the quality of life for seniors of different genders, ethnicities, education levels and incomes,” reports the Ventura County Star, which headlines the story with this statistic: 71,500,000 Americans will be 65 and older in 2030, compared with 37 million people in 2006.

Plus: Read more on The Older Americans 2008 study, released by the National Institute on Aging.

Behind a Legal Shield: Here’s an extremely frustrating legal story concerning the Ortho Evra birth control patch, as reported by The New York Times:

For years, Johnson & Johnson obscured evidence that its popular Ortho Evra birth control patch delivered much more estrogen than standard birth control pills, potentially increasing the risk of blood clots and strokes, according to internal company documents.

But because the Food and Drug Administration approved the patch, the company is arguing in court that it cannot be sued by women who claim that they were injured by the product — even though its old label inaccurately described the amount of estrogen it released.

This legal argument is called pre-emption. After decades of being dismissed by courts, the tactic now appears to be on the verge of success, lawyers for plaintiffs and drug companies say.

Naturally, the Bush administration backs this doctrine. Read the whole story. And here’s a powerful op-ed on FDA oversight.

Abortion Has Left the Classroom: RH Reality Check has an excellent package of stories on the shortage of abortion doctors, all written by members of Medical Students for Choice.

“As recently as six or seven years ago, abortion was included in my medical school’s curriculum, but no longer,” writes Louisa Pyle, adding:

Medical school is, in many ways, a language school. Someone told me once that a medical student learns over 20,000 new words in their first two years of school, and in addition to the new vocabulary, I soon became capable of saying things over dinner that one should never say. “Rectum” no longer induces giggles and “vagina” is boring, not sexy or empowering. And yet, the word “abortion” is still said with a pause, a nod, a little quieter than the rest of the sentence. I’m happy when we talk about it at all: for me, the problem is the deafening silence. That a procedure more common than an appendectomy would never be named: In the halls of science and healthcare, that to me is an abomination.

Nicole Wolverston writes about the work of Medical Students for Choice. Jalan Washington, who is also a member of Advocates for Youth, writes about her frustration since starting medical school “with the lack of widespread action to address many of the educational, social, and economic determinants of health.”

“Hearing bleak statistics about Black and Latino health is a commonplace, routinely accepted, and unquestioned part of the American medical landscape. Very seldom do our discussions then proceed to the ways in which health care providers and the medical infrastructure directly contribute to these trends,” she writes.

Mothers Movement Online: The most recent issue of Mothers Movement Online is the pregnancy and childbirth issue. Included among the engaging and informative essays is an interview with OBOS executive director Judy Norsigian.

MMO Editor Judith Stadtman Tucker (read her editor’s notes) is a contributor to the new OBOS book on pregnancy and birth, specifically the section on advocating for the workplace rights of pregnant and parenting women.

In Shift to Digital, More Repeat Mammogram: As doctors learn to interpret digital mammograms, they are more likely to request second tests, reports The New York Times. Denise Grady writes:

At many centers, these nerve-racking calls are on the rise, at least temporarily — the price of progress as more and more radiologists switch from traditional X-ray film to digital mammograms, in which the X-ray images are displayed on a computer monitor.

Problems can arise during the transition period, while doctors learn to interpret digital mammograms and compare them to patients’ previous X-ray films. Comparing past and present to look for changes is an essential part of reading mammograms. But the digital and film versions can sometimes be hard to reconcile, and radiologists who are retraining their eyes and minds may be more likely to play it safe by requesting additional X-rays — and sometimes ultrasound exams and even biopsies — in women who turn out not to have breast cancer.

Over at Well, Tara Parker Pope put up pictures showing the difference between a normal digital mammogram and a normal mammogram from traditional X-ray film.

Plus: Here’s a brief but important post from the L.A. Times health blog on how MRIs may affect breast cancer treatment decisions.

Estrogen Linked to Benign Breast Lumps: “Add another risk to hormone therapy after menopause: Benign breast lumps,” reports the AP. A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute re-examines data from the Women’s Health Initiative pertaining to women who took estrogen only (women who had hysterectomies) instead of the estrogen-progestin combination hormone therapy.

Those estrogen-only users doubled their chances of getting non-cancerous breast lumps. That’s a concern not only because of the extra biopsies and worry those lumps cause, but because a particular type — called benign proliferative breast disease — is suspected of being a first step toward developing cancer 10 years or so later.

Razor Blades and Inner Goddesses – Get the Connection?: I missed this story about the latest in razor blade technology when it first came out, but it’s worth noting if only for the silly take on how shaving razors are marketed to women. The piece looks at the new advertising campaign around the Gillette Venus Embrace, which turns users into deities. (Any readers feeling transformed? Do tell.)

“Now we’ve given women the permission to reveal her own goddess,” said Gro Frivoll, who has worked on the Venus account at BBDO for eight years. “Every woman can be the goddess of something, because this allows you to be your most feminine self.”

Ack. Read on and the message is less, um, smooth:

When Gillette pitches razors to men, it tends to emphasize technological innovations. But on the women’s side, “we focus more on the emotional end benefits,” Ms. Frivoll said. ‘Men want to know, What am I paying more for? If a man were paying $25 for lipstick, it would have to have more than the Chanel name on it.”

January 27, 2008

Double Dose: New Study on Caffeine and Pregnancy; “Drive-By” Mastectomies; The Pill Protects Against Cancer; Treating Aging Like a Disease

Caffeine and Pregnancy: A new study (PDF) published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology says too much caffeine during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage. Researchers found that “pregnant women who consume 200 milligrams or more of caffeine a day — the amount in 10 ounces of coffee or 25 ounces of tea — may double their risk of miscarriage,” reports The New York Times.

Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif., and lead author of the study, said pregnant women should try to give up caffeine for at least the first three or four months. But some physicians had reservations about the study.

“Just interviewing women, over half of whom had already had their miscarriage, does not strike me as the best way to get at the real scientific question here,” said Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and of epidemiology, at Columbia University Medical Center. “But it is an excellent way to scare women.”

Kindness RX: Women’s eNews looks at a social-support campaign by and for pregnant African American women, who are nearly four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women.The community-based campaign is called “100 Intentional Acts of Kindness Toward a Pregnant Woman.”

No More Drive-By Mastectomies: Celebrities, activists and lawmakers called on Congress this week to pass the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007, which would require that insurers cover up to a 48-hour stay in a hospital after a woman has had a mastectomy if the doctor and patient deem it necessary. Lifetime’s website collected 20 million signatures in support of the legislation.

According to the Baltimore Sun, only 10 states require up to 48 hours of coverage after mastectomies, and 10 states have no specific time limit. The remaining 30 have no protections.

Interview with Lisa Jackson: Melissa Silverstein interviews fillmmaker Lisa Jackson, who went to the Congo to take the testimony of women and girls being raped and sexually assaulted for the last decade in her new film, “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.” The film made its premiere at Sundance and will appear on HBO in April.

Plus: Chances are you saw the Oscar nominations this week, but did you catch the nominees for the 19th Annual GLAAD Media Awards? Here’s the full list of nominees.

The Pill Protects Against Cancer: “British researchers found that women taking the pill for 15 years halved their chances of developing ovarian cancer, and that the risk remained low more than 30 years later, though protection weakened over time,” reports the Washington post. The findings were published Friday in The Lancet.

In response to the study, The Lancet’s editors called for oral contraceptives to be made more widely available to women over the counter.

Calcium Effects Boosted by Vitamin D: The combination of calcium and vitamin D is more effective than calcium alone in preventing bone loss in elderly women, according to a new study that will appear in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

Buying into Botox: In a story about “How Not to Look Old,” a new advice book by Charla Krupp, a former beauty director at Glamour and columnist for More magazine, New York Times writer Natasha Singer notes that the book “is the latest makeover title to treat the aging of one’s exterior as a disease whose symptoms are to be fought to the death or, at least, mightily camouflaged.” She continues:

But the book offers a serious rationale for such vigilant attempts at age control, arguing that trying to pass for younger is not so much a matter of sexual allure as of job security. [...] Many people would shun a book if it were titled “How Not to Look Jewish” or “How Not to Look Gay” because to cater to discrimination is to capitulate to it. But the success of “How Not to Look Old” indicates that popular culture is willing to buy into ageism as an acceptable form of prejudice, even against oneself.

“Teeth” Provides Feminist Bite: In a review of the new film “Teeth,” a satire based on the myth of vagina dentata, Wesley Morris writes: “[T]here’s something almost subversive about Lichtenstein’s affection for his heroine and the pleasure she ultimately takes in re-appropriating a misogynistic myth. By the end of the film she’s not some virginal damsel. She’s on the verge of becoming a vaginal vigilante.”

Pop Goes Abortion: Yep. Another story about recent films that have avoided abortion … but this Newsday story goes further, addressing television’s representation (and lack thereof) as well: “More frequently, shows duck the issue by having characters back out at the last second (“Beverly Hills 90210,” “Melrose Place,” “The O.C.,” “Felicity,” “Sex and the City”) or miscarry (“Party of Five,” “Beverly Hills, 90210″ and “Melrose Place” – twice.) And Erica Kane? In 2005 she learned her baby wasn’t aborted after all, but transferred to another woman’s uterus.”

OK, it’s been ages since I watched “All My Children,” but he’s joking, right??

Plus: Susan J. Douglas puts in context “The Jamie Lynn Effect.”

November 16, 2007

Double Dose: Sexism in the ICU; Time Spent On Housework Linked to Women’s Pay; Paging Dr. Cliche; Ricki Lake’s Documentary on Birth – The New “Inconvenient Truth”?

Is There Sexism in Lifesaving?: “Want a surefire prescription for dreading old age? Delve into every study that explores the gender gap in medical care,” begins Carol Lloyd, who cites several studies, including one published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that found “women over the age of 50 are one-third less likely to be admitted to ICUs, and then once in ICUs are far less likely to received lifesaving medical interventions like mechanical ventilation and pulmonary artery catheterization than their male counterparts.”

Future Nobel Prize Winner?: Jennifer Block, author of “Pushed Birth,” notes that Ricki Lake’s documentary, “The Business of Being Born,” is such a hit in Australia, it’s being likened to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Legalization Opens Doors for Women in Mexico City: “Abortion remains illegal in the rest of Mexico, as it is in nearly all of Latin America,” writes Hector Tobar in the L.A. Times. “But in Mexico City, legalization is bringing a profound, if quiet, change to the way thousands of women lead their lives. In a country where unwanted pregnancies often strip women of their independence and ambitions, the extraordinary number of legal abortions taking place every day is beginning to diminish the procedure’s considerable cultural stigma.”

Plus: The New York Times profiles abortion doctor Susan Wicklund. “In her forthcoming book ‘This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor” (Public Affairs), Dr. Wicklund describes her work, the circumstances that lead her patients to choose abortion, and the barriers — lack of money, lack of providers, violence in the home or protesters at clinics — that stand in their way,” writes Cornelia Dean. “But she said her main goal with the book was to encourage more open discussion of abortion and its prevalence.”

Plus 2: Roman Catholic bishops this week approved voting guidelines for Catholics that are somewhat less rigid on abortion. Neela Banerjee writes in the Times:

“Abortion is among a few evils greater than others, the document asserts. But it also concedes that Catholics face difficult decisions when voting and in some cases might be able to vote for those who support abortion rights or stem cell research. ‘There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons,’ the document says.”

More Money = Less Housework: “In married working couples, the more money a woman earns, the less housework she will do, regardless of how much money her spouse makes, says Sanjiv Gupta, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst,” according to this release based on a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. “Gupta goes further and says, based on his newest research, that for every $7,500 in annual earnings a married woman working full time makes, she can expect to do one hour less of routine housework each week.”

Paging Dr. Cliche: Disability Studies blog critiques a couple of recent episodes of “ER,” but as Penny L. Richards writes, the NBC series used to do much better by the disability community. “Characters with physical, mental and sensory disabilities have been presented as rounded human beings with full civil rights, at least as well as any other 44-minute network TV drama has done (admittedly, that’s a low standard to achieve).”

Geneticist Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch Dies at 100: I only learned about Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch this week when I came across her obit. After fleeing Nazi Germany, she first worked as a researcher at Columbia University and later became chair of the department of genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. And that’s not the half of it. Meet an underappreciated “truly great woman of science.”

Plus: There are approximately 40,000 Americans who are 100 years old or older, according to the New England Centenarian Study — and 85 percent of these centenarians are women. More from the L.A. Times.

October 14, 2007

Double Dose: Women’s Mags & Camel No. 9; More Pink … Stuff; National Coming Out Day; and Are Annual Check-Ups a Thing of the Past?

So Not Pretty in Pink: Cheers for U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), for taking on women’s magazines for running Camel No. 9 cigarettes ads — the pink version of Joe Camel aimed at female smokers.

“In June, 40 of my congressional colleagues joined me in writing to the publishers of 11 leading women’s magazines: Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, InStyle, Interview Magazine, Lucky, Marie Claire, Soap Opera Digest, Us Weekly, Vogue and W. We asked them to stop accepting misleading advertisements for deadly cigarettes, particularly for Camel No. 9,” Capps writes in the Washington Post. “Not one of the magazines bothered to formally respond. We wrote again on Aug. 1. Seven of the 11 magazines responded, but none has committed to dropping the ads.”

National Coming Out Day: Oct. 11 was the day, and Pam Spaulding has a great post about it, with video.

Plus: The New York Times last week looked at the prejudices elder gays and lesbians face, particularly those living at long-term care facilities where little thought may have been given to sensitivity training. Also see the accompanying audio and photos of Fred and Emile, and there’s a good list of related reports and demographic information.

Pink That: Lucinda Marshall at Feminist Peace Network put together a list of some of “the most crass, opportunistic list of supposedly cure-supporting crap I’ve ever seen.” And there’s more where those came from.

Being Anita Hill: “Back then, she was either a charlatan or a heroine, depending which side you took in the epic, gut-wrenching showdown that was the Clarence Thomas confirmation battle,” writes the AP’s Jocelyn Noveck. “Sixteen years later, Anita Hill can be found on a tranquil New England college campus, sifting through thousands of documents to try to answer this question: Have things gotten any better in our nation’s workplaces?”

An Emphasis on Homework: Interested in perfecting your housekeeping skills and learning how to defer to your husband in all matters? Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, offers an academic homemaking program — open only to women — that includes “lectures on laundering stubborn stains and a lab in baking chocolate-chip cookies,” reports the L.A. Times.

Linking Stress to Disease: A commentary in the Oct. 10 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association explores whether psychological stress increases the risk of disease. “The evidence from studies of depression and heart disease is most convincing. The HIV/AIDS data are a little weaker. The evidence for stress playing a role in cancer isn’t all that good, even though there is supporting evidence from studies of animals,” said lead author Sheldon Cohen.

“Perfecting” Ann Coulter: Gloria Feldt, writing at Huffington Post, shares the inspiration for her new list: “Full disclosure: I am mentioned 10 times — more than even Jane Fonda or Betty Friedan — by the anti-feminist Kate O’Beirne in her book, Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports. From my perspective, this means I must be doing something right. With those credentials as well as being an aficionada of Keith Olberman’s nightly ‘Worst Person in the World’ shtick, I recently decided to start my own list of the Stupidest Women in America (SWIAA ™).”

Vaginal Cosmetic Surgery: Self magazine takes a close look at vaginal surgeries. One 21-year-old dipped into her student loan money to pay for a labiaplasty that cost $5,000 — and left her “deformed” and in unbearable pain. The reconstructive surgery cost an additional $8,700.

Are Annual Check-Ups a Thing of the Past? According to medical organizations like the the American College of Physicians and other professional groups, it’s no longer recommended. “That’s because there is scant scientific evidence showing that yearly checkups help prevent disease, death or disability for adults with no symptoms. Many tests and procedures performed during the visits have questionable value, experts say,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which does not endorse yearly physicals, “interventions that help patients change health-impairing habits or that spotlight emerging illnesses for which reliable and effective treatments exist” do make a real difference. Some examples, according to the Trib, are “Pap smears, mammograms, cholesterol tests, blood-pressure checks, and counseling to stop smoking, lose weight, get more exercise and eat a healthier diet.”

UK Promotes Water Births: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, a UK health watchdog group, issued guidelines stating that all expectant mothers should be offered water births. From The Guardian:

“There is a perception that water is just nice,” said Dr Julia Sanders, a consultant midwife and member of the group which drew up the guidance. “But it is the most effective form of pain relief barring an epidural in labour. I would like to see more women using water and fewer women using the types of pain relief that are less effective.”

Nice also said clinical intervention should not be offered or advised when labour was progressing normally and the woman and baby were well. Once a woman was in established labour, she should receive supportive one-to-one care.

The guidance is expected to mean longer labours for some but could also mean fewer medical interventions, which can result in more painful and complicated labours.

June 27, 2007

Good Bones: Prevention and Treatment for All Ages

Our Bodies Ourselves Executive Director Judy Norsigian and Managing Editor Heather Stephenson recently wrote about the potential side effects associated with some medications for post-menopausal osteoporosis, and they offered smart tips to help navigate the pharmaceutical hype.

Writing in the Washington Post, Nancy J. Nelson personalizes the challenge of determining one’s risk for bone fractures and making informed decisions about treatment options:

I share an anxiety with several women friends in their 50s and 60s. We’ve all been told that because our bone mineral density is low — though not low enough to meet the definition of the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis — we need to take medication to reduce our chance of fractures. This means primarily hormones or Fosamax, the top-selling osteoporosis drug, for which doctors wrote more than 20 million prescriptions last year, nearly $2 billion worth. Knowing the associated risks — heart disease, stroke and breast cancer for hormones; ulcers of the esophagus and stomach, and jaw decay for Fosamax — none of us is eager to follow our doctors’ orders. [...]

I also suspect my friends and I are a lot less at risk than someone in my parents’ generation. My mom and three of her pals have all fallen and had fractures; no one I know in my generation has done either.

My search of the scientific literature suggests we are right to be wary of over-medication.

Low bone density is only one of several well-established risk factors for bone fractures. Age and fracture history are just as important, according to Michael R. McClung, director of the Oregon Osteoporosis Center and a member of the council of scientific advisers for the International Osteoporosis Foundation. None of these factors alone is very good at predicting fracture risk. But some doctors don’t appear to have gotten the message.

“Many younger women whose bone density is borderline low are getting treated, although their risk of fracture in the next five to 10 years is fairly low,” said Nelson B. Watts, director of the University of Cincinnati Bone Health and Osteoporosis Center and chairman of the Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Committee for Endocrine and Metabolic Drugs. “And many patients who have had fractures are not being evaluated or treated, even though their risk of a second fracture in the next five to 10 years is fairly high.”

Nelson reports on a new fracture-risk tool that may be published later this year by the World Health Organization. The tool, which will combine bone density with other risk factors, could end up altering osteoporosis treatment guidelines.

And it’s still important to remember the basics when it comes to good bone health: quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per day, exercising (particularly weight-bearing exercises like running or tennis) and making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D.

Plus: It’s never too early to start educating girls about good bone health, note Newsweek columnists Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert:

Getting that message across is the focus of a new public service educational campaign sponsored by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The campaign ads feature a young girl with the headline “Almost Past Her Prime.” “This is a prevention campaign,” says Dr. James H. Beaty, AAOS president and a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Campbell Clinic in Memphis. “We’re trying to prevent future problems rather than treat them when the kids become adults.”

January 29, 2007

The Medicalization of Midlife and Menopause

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and a contributor to “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause,” has written a compelling piece for The American Prospect Online calling out hormone replacement therapy, not menopause, as the public health issue with which the medical community should be concerned.

Ever since the National Institutes of Health cut short a hormone therapy study called the Women’s Health Initiative estrogen-plus-progestin study, which found a higher risk of breast cancer, stroke, blood clots and heart attacks among women taking the combined therapy, the pharmacy industry, argues Gullette, has taken the position that the WHI overstated the risks, scaring too many women away from hormone treatments.

And the media has played along, presenting menopause as a condition that must be treated despite the fact that “the end of menstruation is unremarkable to about 90 percent of American women — the vast majority that never sought help,” writes Gullette, adding, “Even before the 2002 findings, rates of estrogen use varied — from a low of 8 percent in Massachusetts to 40 percent in California. Most women soon forget menopause.”

In December 2006, researchers announced a startling drop in the rate of breast cancer cases. This decrease is believed to be tied to the reduction of women taking hormone treatments since the publication of the WHI study. Gullette writes:

Feminists had long sounded warnings: feminist health activist Barbara Seaman called hormone treatment The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women in 2003. A companion experiment may be on midlife men. Big Pharma has lost so many women customers since 2002 that promoting testosterone (and human growth hormone) is next, according to cultural historian John Hoberman in his 2005 book Testosterone Dreams. Men will be at risk unless they understand that the drummed-up “disease” of menopause has created a model for selling hormones to them as well.

Before 2002, Americans could read about volumes about menopause and never discover that women’s health advocates thought hormone treatment dangerous. Far from teaching the controversy, the media acted as if it didn’t exist. And even since 2002, despite clear evidence of estrogen carcinogenesis, many in the media are in effect promoting the hormone comeback that Big Pharma wants. Estrogen bias drives what we are told about midlife women, what women are told in advance, the language that gets used, and the facts that remain hidden.

Continue reading here.

Related Reading: “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause” has a section titled “Can We Trust the Evidence in Evidence-Based Medicine?” that’s available online. And you can read Gullette’s terrific personal essay about body image here.

December 29, 2006

Friday Double Dose: More House Work = Less Breast Cancer, The Role of Beauty Queens and a Flexible Wish for the New Year

I’m traveling this week, so here’s a shortened version of the “double dose.” Have a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Wish for the New Year: Increased use of flex time.

Housework Cuts Breast Cancer Risk: Yes, that’s the actual headline, but the real point of the study, as reported by the BBC, is that “moderate forms of physical activity” may be more useful in reducing breast cancer risk than “less frequent but more intense recreational physical activity.” So of course housework is the recommended activity — as it was in 2004.

Living Longer, Saving Less: The Los Angeles Times this week reported on scientists searching for the key to longevity and women having less financial security as they get older.

Silicone Over Saline?: With the recent FDA approval of silicone implants, more women are likely to choose silicone, despite lingering health concerns.

What Are Beauty Queens For, Anyway?: Just asking.

When Nature Calls, Women in House Hike: Add to the New Year’s wish list: a women’s bathroom off the House chamber. Margaret Talev writes:

The members-only House men’s room, with its shoeshine stand, fireplace and television tuned to floor proceedings, is nestled a few paces from the House chamber, beside the speaker’s lounge, flanked by Capitol police. How convenient.

Reaching the women’s equivalent entails traversing a hall where tourists gather, or entering the minority leader’s office, navigating a corridor that winds past secretarial desks and punching in a keypad code to ensure restricted access.

When Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., takes the gavel, she may revisit, along with the Iraq war and raising the minimum wage, the question of potty parity.

November 24, 2006

Friday Double Dose: More on Keroack, Pelosi’s Clothes and Notable Books

The Doctor Is In: Amanda Schaffer writes for Slate about Bush appointee Eric Keroack, the anti-family planning advocate who was put in charge of family planning. Which makes perfect sense in the Bush scheme of things. Besides providing medically incorrect information about contraception, “Keroack also promotes a wacky piece of pseudoscience: the claim that premarital sex disrupts brain chemistry so as to create a physiological barrier to happy marriage,” writes Schaffer, adding:

Keroack’s appointment, as deputy assistant secretary of population affairs within the Department of Health and Human Services, did not require congressional approval. The Bush administration picked him on its own. And women’s health advocates (PDF), editorial pages, and bloggers, along with Democratic members of Congress, are right to think he’s a crazy choice for this job.

Feministing has more on Keroack’s lack of qualifications (he’s not even board certified as an OB/GYN), and take-action links.

Political Vogue: AP Writer Jocelyn Noveck asks, “Why do we focus on Pelosi’s clothes and not those of our president, or any male in Washington? Is it inherently sexist, detracting attention from her obvious accomplishments? Or is it merely a reflection of the obvious truth that, while clothes matter for both men and women, female attire is more noticeable, more expressive and more interesting?”

Dressed for Success: Rebecca Traister tackles a New York Times story that truly irked me this week about so-called inappropriately dressed doctors. Once again, the photo illustration commissioned for the story demonstrate the Times’ desire to appeal to Maxim subscribers.

Women’s Voices For Change: A new blog launched this week seeking nothing less than to revolutionize the meaning and perception of menopause in the 21st century and to celebrate the vitality of women over 40. Women’s Voices For Change board members have already written about former Gov. Ann Richard’s wit and inspiration, Wall Street Journal’s “50 Women to Watch,” and trying to get a story assignment from Gloria Steinem at the dawn of Ms. magazine. Full disclosure: I worked with WVFC on the launch, so I’m particularly thrilled that it made Page 6.

100 Notable Books of the Year: I haven’t delved into this NYT list yet, but I can’t think of a better starting point for holiday shopping …

October 11, 2006

A Quiz from Our Bodies Ourselves

If you’re procrastinating working by blog surfing, stay an extra minute and test your menopause knowledge … Answers follow below, but no cheating!

October 10, 2006

Elderbloggers Shift the Universe

A reader recently asked if I knew there was a category of bloggers called “elderbloggers.”

I had to confess that while I know bloggers come in all ages, I was unaware of the well-established elderblogger network of blogs. I’ve since added women who identify themselves as elderbloggers to the blogroll and will be including more. (Please send your blogroll suggestions — I’m open to considering anything, but keep in mind that feminist blogs that at least occasionally discuss women’s health issues are a particularly good match.)

But let’s highlight a couple here … Start your visit with Roni Bennett’s blog, Time Goes By. Benett, a former radio and television producer and the first managing editor of, recently wrote about The New York Times series on the science of aging; ordering prescription drugs from Canada; and age bias in the television series starring Julia Louis Dryfus, “The Old Adventures of New Christine.”

Read her informative about page, from which this excerpt was taken:

One of the best parts of running Time Goes By is being part of a cultural phenomenon – blogging – discovering and promoting its particular benefits for elders. Blogging enhances critical and analytical thinking, increases access to quality information, and combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction. At a time in life, due to retirement from the workforce, children and grandchildren living in faraway places and friends dying, blogging creates a vital social network that is keeping more elders healthier and involved than they have ever had the opportunity to be.

You can also listen to Bennett discuss blogging at a 2005 BlogHer panel titled “How to Get Naked” — referring not to bloggers who undress for webcams but rather what it’s like to discuss personal/private issues in a public forum.

Bennett’s blog features a long list of male and female elderbloggers and some honorary elderbloggers who have not yet celebrated their 50th birthday. Bloggers of all ages are welcome to take part in the Elderblogger PhoneCon Oct. 24 — a chance to talk with other bloggers during a six-hour window. It may even include a few performances.

Another blog you should visit soon is A Little Red Hen, where Naomi Dagen Bloom writes about “peace, politics, yarnlife after 60.” Bloom’s posts often include lovely photos of her work or other art.

If it all sounds a bit too tame for you, well, know that Bloom is also a crafty composter, creator of Condom Amulets — cool handknit pouches for carrying condoms — and an activist who focuses on HIV awareness for women over age 50. Here’s the safe sex archive of entries.

“Feminism, women in community, concerned grandmothers. elderbloggers — whatever title you choose — we have many faces,” Bloom wrote this summer, channelling Emma Goldman. “We are shifting the universe.”

September 18, 2006

Popular Drug to Treat Menopause Symptoms Lacks Approval

“In the first half of 2006, women in the USA spent nearly $90 million on unapproved estrogen-plus-testosterone pills, says IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information company. Estratest, made by Solvay Pharmaceuticals, represented 75% of the market,” writes Rita Rubin in USA Today.

Would it surprise you to learn that Estratest, a combination of estrogen and testosterone, has never received FDA approval?

Last month, the National Women’s Health Network petitioned the FDA to stop marketing estrogen-and-testosterone combination pills such as Estratest and Syntest (a generic version of the same drug). From the NWHN’s Aug. 28 health alert:

Both products carry a label indicating that they should be used for treatment of moderate to severe vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes, that don’t respond to estrogen alone. But the NWHN has filed a citizen’s petition with the FDA demanding that it stop the manufacturers from marketing these products due to lack of evidence of effectiveness and concerns about serious health risks to women.

“This is an outrageous example of drug companies manipulating the FDA regulatory process for their own benefit at the expense of women’s health,” says Cynthia Pearson, NWHN Executive Director. “The FDA determined several years ago that there’s no evidence that combination estrogen/testosterone products are effective for this use, yet Estratest still remains on the market years later.”

[...] The NWHN is not just concerned about the use of a product that hasn’t been proven to work; it also points out that there’s evidence that estrogen/testosterone combinations may pose a serious threat to women’s health. Recent findings from the Nurses’ Health Study show that Estratest significantly increases a woman’s risk for invasive breast cancer. [1] In addition, there are other serious health risks associated with testosterone use by women, and an FDA advisory committee recommended against approval of a testosterone product for women in 2004 due in part to concerns about the safety of long-term exposure to testosterone.

The NWNH’s citizen petition on Estratest and Syntest is available here (PDF). The footnote cited above refers to a study published in July in the Archives of Internal Medicine: Combined Estrogen and Testosterone Use and Risk of Breast Cancer in Postmenopausal Women.

According to USA Today, Solvay spokesman Neil Hirsch sent an e-mail to the newspaper in which he stated the company “stands behind the safety and efficacy of Estratest brand products. After more than 40 years of patient use and 39-plus million prescriptions written for the product, Estratest continues to serve as an important therapeutic alternative.”

Rubin adds, “Yet, in April 2003, the FDA stated in the Federal Register that it no longer believed there was ‘substantial evidence’ of the hormone combination’s effectiveness. The FDA invited manufacturers to ask for a hearing if they disagreed. Solvay and Breckenridge, maker of Syntest, quickly did so. The hearing has yet to be held, so the makers can keep selling their products.”