Chatelaine health briefs

Herbal remedies

Chatelaine, Holiday issue 2008

Caught with your defences down during sniffles season? We asked three naturopaths for their favourite antidotes.

ASTRAGULUS Even before the cold strikes, keep your cabinet stocked with a tincture of this antiviral, immune-system-boosting root, advises Melanie Leppelmann, a naturopathic doctor in Selkirk, Man. “If you feel a cold coming on, take a few drops, in water or juice, a few times a day.” It’s available at drugstore and health-food stores.

EUCALYPTUS Relieve sinus congestion with a steam treatment of this natural antimicrobial. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat and add 10 to 15 drops of essential oil. “Use a towel over your head to create a steam tent, breathing slowly and deeply,” says Samatha Frey, a naturopath in Banff, Alta.

GINGER Cure the chills with this antioxidant-filled plant. “Ginger is a warming root,” says Wendy Presant-Jahn, a naturopathic doctor in Regina. Toss a few slices in boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes before straining, then drink up.

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How yoga chases the blues away

Chatelaine, January 2009

“Anecdotal evidence for 5,0900 years has shown that we feel better after yoga,” says Chris Streeter, a U.S. neurologist who looked at brain scans taken before and after a one-hour yoga session. Sure enough, she found a 27-percent boost in gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that’s low in people who are depressed. Streeter now feels that doctors should consider adding yoga to depression treatment. A healthy brain hits its lowest GABA levels just before your period–another persuasive reason to hit the mat.

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Medical news: Drug abuse

Chatelaine, January  2009

Are you a drug abuser? You might be surprised by the answer: Women between the ages of 18 and 44 are more likely to share prescription drugs than older women, reveals the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “The most common reasons I’ve heard from sharers is that they already had that prescription, or got the drugs from a family member,” says Sonja Rasmussen, a pediatrician and senior scientist for the CDC. But she cautions that sharing medications poses serious risks: “People could get the wrong dose, have an allergic reaction or become addicted,” or the prescription could react adversely with another one they’re taking. So ditch the courtesy, and keep your stash to yourself.

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Sniffing out Mr. Right

Chatelaine, April 2009

If you’re looking for the perfect math, being on the Pill might sabotage your search. British researchers recently confirmed that the oral contraceptive interferes with our natural ability to sniff out genetically ideal mates. One hundred women were tested for their “odour preference,” both before and after they took the hormone-altering contraceptive. Normally, the scent of men who are genetically different from us is alluring because duos with similar genes can run into fertility problems. But this major study proved that, once on the Pill, women–against instinct–prefer men whose odours are genetically similar to our own.

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How healthy is your doc?

Chatelaine, April 2009

Only 21 percent of doctors exercise as much as they tell their patients to, reveals a study of British physicans, who blamed fatigue and lack of time for their inactivity. It’s too bad: Previous studies have shown that doctors who discuss their personal workout habits with their patients are more likely to convince them to exercise more, says the lead researcher, Kunal Gupta, a neuroscientist, who admits that he, too, is guilty of ignoring his own advice.

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Knock your socks off

Chatelaine, May 2009

Want to feel virtuous about your dirty deeds? Why not green your sex life then, as Carlyle Jansen, founder of Toronto’s female-friendly sex shop Good For Her, suggests. Avoid toys made with plastic or rubber; they’re full of chemicals and end up in landfills. Try glass (it’s recyclable) or medical-grade silicone (safer for you and way more durable). Condoms are trickier: Although latex is biodegradable and natural, condoms contain eco-unfriendly additives–but they’re still your beset protection against infections. Toss them in the trash instead of flushing them to keep nasties out of the water system. And ditch your synthetic lube for something purer: Jansen loves Monsieur Capotain’s organic lubricants, which are made in Montreal with recyclable packaging and tastes like oranges or strawberries.

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Got a lump?

Chatelaine, May 2009

Finding a lump can be scary. But unless it’s hard and immovable, is in the genital area, lasts longer than a few weeks or is growing, it’s probably nothing to worry about, says Catherine Cervin, an associate professor of family medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax. It’s likely one of these harmless knobs:

SWOLLEN LYMPH NODES These pop up under your jaw or in your armpits, and they’re usually caused by an infection. “If the lump is soft and easy to move, it’s likely fine,” says Cervin. Use warm compresses to relieve the pain.

CYSTS Roundish, water-balloon-like sacs, these lumps are ugly and can show up almost anywhere; most are the result of plugged oil glands. “To avoid infection, leave it alone,” Cervin says, or ask your doctor to drain it.

BREAST LUMPS “Breast tissue feels pebbly,” says Cervin. “Women may feel many tiny lumps just under the surface of the breast.” Those bumps are benign, and can change with your menstrual cycle. But if you feel a single hard lump, be sure to get it checked out.

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Ask an expert

Should I take my vitamins at the same time every day?

As told to Dana Lacey, Chatelaine, June 2009

Debbie Reid, a dietitian at the BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre in Vancouver, responds:

There’s no biological reason to take your vitamins and supplements at the same time–whether you swallow them at 9 a.m. or 9 p.m., your body will absorb the nutrients in the same way. But when it comes to remembering to take your pills, I find it helps to have a specific time in mind, like mealtimes–just place the bottles beside your salt and pepper shakers to make taking your pills part of the routine.

And as an added bonus, if your multivitamins or supplements make your feel queasy, taking them on a full stomach should help prevent the nausea.

Of course, if you’re taking any prescribed medications, talk to your pharmacist about any possible interactions between those drugs and certain supplements. Calcium, for example, may interfere with osteoporosis or thyroid medications.

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Eco Tip: Greener fibres

Chatelaine, August 2009

ORGANIC COTTON Instead of using pesticides, farmers sow rows of smaller plants bewteen the cotton to divert insects and help the soil retain water. Try it: Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Isla Sport tank top is a blend of organic cotton and stretchy Lycra. $19.

BAMBOO The world’s fastest-growing grass is disease-and pest-resistent, so it doesn’t need chemical protection. Try it: This fabric’s silk-like texture makes Bamboobino’s crib sheets a soft option for baby. $44.

SOY SILK It looks and feels like the real thing, but instead of farming silkworms, this cloth is made entirely of soy protein, a by-product of the tofu-making process. Try it: Slip on a pair of soy-silk blend panties from HTnaturals. $12.

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Breasts and the city

Chatelaine, October 2009

A U.K. study has found that women living in London have denser breasts than those living in rural and suburban areas. High density can hike the risk of breast cancer by up to four times, says Nick Perry, director of the London Breast Institute, and it makes reading mammograms a lot tougher. “It’s a double problem.” City gals in England are also less likely to book regular screenings, notes Perry. He advises them to seek out digital mammography, a technology that’s becoming available in more Canadian hospitals. “It performs better than the usual analog type in women with denser breasts.”

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Give it a rub

Chatelaine, October 2009

Here’s a study you’ll want to leave out on the nightstand: Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah studied two groups of married women, aged 20 to 39. One enjoyed half-hour massages three times a week from their husbands–and they produced nearly twice as much of the stress-busting, relationship-bonding hormone oxytocin as their deprived counterparts. Just be sure to return the favour: The men in the study received regular massages from their wives, and they experienced an identical hormone rush.

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Flabby little Pill?

Chatelaine, November 2009

If you lift weights and take oral contraceptives, you could be undermining your workout. In a recent study conducted by Texas A&M University and the University of Pittsburgh, 73 young women performed strength exercises three times a week; those not taking oral contraceptives gained a whopping 60 percent more muscle mass than the Pill poppers in the group. More studies are needed to reveal why this happens, but until then, take note: If you’re not bulking up as much as you’d like, your birth control may be partly to blame.

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A better cancer screening tool

Chatelaine, November 2009

We consider our regular Pap a necessary evil. That’s why we’re intrigued by a recent eight-year study involving 130,000 women that found screening for HPV (the virus that causes cervical cancer) was more effective than Pap smears (which don’t test for HPV but instead highlight abnormal cells) in reducing the incidence of advanced cervical cancer. These findings have prompted the New England Journal of Medicine to recommend widespread implementation of HPV screening.

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