The One Area of Mental Health Going Unaddressed

Why We Need to Pay Close Attention to Our Mental Health (And Sarcopenia) As We Age

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20% of individuals aged 55 years or older experience some form of mental issue. Most commonly, these include anxiety, depression, severe cognitive impairment, or bipolar disorder.

But with Mental Health Awareness Month in full swing, I want to take a moment and touch on an area of mental health we don’t talk about enough.

As we age (and especially during menopause), muscle degeneration happens. What’s not being discussed is how sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) may influence neurotropic factors, leading to cognitive and mental health declines. We know mental and physical health intersect, so why aren’t we doing MORE about it? Keep reading…..

On top of this, when mental health and cognitive function take a hit, so does our life satisfaction. And this can actually lead to a slow decline of our overall health, leading to chronic ailments, inflammatory conditions, and life-threatening diseases that occur with accelerated aging.

So, here’s the thing: When we contract our skeletal muscle, this actually improves many brain factors, like BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF is actually linked to various psychiatric conditions, hinting at the idea that brain health (and physical health) is crucial for overall mental health and functioning. BDNF further helps regulate synapses in our brains, so with reduced BDNF, inevitably, issues ensue.

Let me clarify this…. Stay with me… Skeletal muscle degeneration and cognitive decline follow the same pathway. And women in menopause (and beyond) are often more at risk due to increased muscle degeneration caused by inflammation and changing hormones.

Most doctors don’t look at these connections. It’s so ingrained in the traditional healthcare system to slap a band-aid or pill on the problem. I’ve even personally seen women go through regular doctor visits where this is not addressed, and it largely impacts how independent they are toward the end of their life. In other words, it greatly impacts their mental health and quality of life.

So, let’s change the direction of the tides. Let’s make it a point not to strictly turn to pills or treatment when problems arise but to seek out comprehensive preventative measures. In light of Nurses’ Week (which ran from May 6th to May 12th), we also see this in the healthcare world; burnout, exhaustion, mental health issues, and more. It’s time we start opening our eyes and paying attention; Not only that, but taking this step further and taking action so we can lead healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives well into our later years—especially since around the years of menopause, we also experience significant grief in the form of loss of youth, loss of life, loss of relationships, loss of loved ones, and more.

Okay, so what does “taking action” look like?

According to various research, exercise is very important for muscle retention, including regular strength, balance, and power exercises. This can help us maintain muscle mass, prevent muscle wasting, and prevent associated mental health and cognitive conditions. We need to fill in this blind spot, especially if we want to keep our independence for as long as possible (or potentially even throughout our entire life; Yes! This is possible!). If you are 35 and up and heading closer to midlife than your 20s, then resistance and strength movement is critical for metabolic, bone, and muscular health and composition.

Lastly, we can use technology and data metrics to guide us through this journey toward better health. We can use wearable fitness trackers, such as FitBit or Whoop, to let us know how much we’re moving throughout our days and help us set goals (and achieve them). Some of these devices can further give us an estimate of our HRV (Heart Rate Variability), which can be used to determine how hard to push in your next exercise session. For instance, a lower HRV than your norm may mean you need to go for gentle movement today as your body continues to recover. High HRV, on the other hand, likely means you can push it in your workout today!

Are you interested in learning more about how you can level up your health? Sign up here!

Get more information about the future of telemedicine and hybrid services being offered by Thrive Beyond Wellness. This is a concierge style women’s health practice that I is geared for the woman who has been told:

  1. Your labs are NORMAL, but you still feel like CRAP!
  2. Need a holistic approach to hormone replacement and not sure if it’s right for you.
  3. Know your hormones are contributing to unwanted weight and poundage and ready to feel good and confident about yourself again.

 There are limited patients accepted, so register while you still can!

Start with a FREE Consultation with one of our team members and see if we are a good fit for you.

Heal Women… Heal the World

Let’s Talk About Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs)!

CGM can help us understand how our body is responding to food. This way, we can make changes before a diabetes diagnosis happens.

How Can You Use This Device to Take Your Health to the Next Level?

Is a CGM worth it? Research is leaning toward YES!

But it depends on how you use and interpret the data…

Studies show that CGMs can provide data regarding stress levels, nutritional strategies, exercise impact, and more. With over 70 million adults in the United States reported as obese and another 99 million adults categorized as overweight, our health has never been more important than now. 

But this doesn’t mean CGMs are limited to those that are overweight or those that have diabetes. For example, when using a CGM, Leann Spofford learned that her favorite low-sugar Greek yogurt didn’t spike her insulin. However, adding a side of ginger sauce to another favorite meal did cause an insulin spike. Thus, Leann made an easy change and dropped the sauce to maintain insulin consistency.

So, what’s the big deal with insulin? Well, when insulin is high, the body shuts down fat burning, which can be detrimental to weight loss efforts. This is because high insulin indicates glucose (energy) is readily available in the bloodstream. 

Case in point, one of my team members noticed that eating her routine RX Bar and favorite low sugar greek yogurt caused more blood sugar spikes.  Also, a casual side of ginger sauce to her healthy meals did the same.  Those little tweaks made a difference in meeting daily body needs and how well her body’s metabolism could recover and effectively use insulin for fat burning and glucose for energy.

At the end of the day, insulin is a hormone that promotes the synthesis of proteins and the storage of fats (besides its most critical role in regulating the metabolism of carbohydrates to promote the uptake and storage of glucose from the bloodstream into cells to use for energy).  

Insulin resistance, where cells become less responsive to insulin function, is becoming more prevalent in aging adults.  This is often due to our diet and lifestyle.  This can lead to metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.

But a CGM can help us understand how our body is responding to food. This way, we can make changes before a diabetes diagnosis happens. It allows us to use personal data beyond the mere scale to adjust our habits for healthy weight loss and maintenance, as well as optimal health.

For women, specifically, we have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, which we know is linked to weight gain and obesity. Not only that, but being overweight can increase your chances of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disease, and reduce metabolic health. All of this can impact our hormones—and not in a good way! 

In fact, these risk factors can significantly increase our mortality and shorten our lives (and prior health and happiness).

So, where do CGMs come into play? Well, when used and interpreted correctly, CGMs can provide info regarding our blood sugar. And this can offer insights into our stress levels, aka our cortisol hormone response, where abnormal levels can further alter blood sugar balance, promote cravings, and lead to more unnecessary weight gain or hitting a plateau.  

CGMs can help gather information about how our nutrition or exercise is impacting our bodies. Do certain foods spike your blood sugar faster than others? Does exercise lead to better-balanced blood sugar levels?

Overall, CGMs and corresponding apps, like NutriSense, ZOE, or Levels, can provide crucial real-time feedback and data that allows us to optimize for good metabolic health and, thus, make lifestyle changes. These apps even allow us to interpret this data better so we know exactly what we need to do.

All of the above can help us balance stress better and prevent extreme hormonal imbalances (and even get through perimenopause and menopause with greater ease). But, as mentioned, how we interpret and apply this data is inevitably important, and this is where having a physician or clinician on your team as an accountability partner and data analyst can help you determine the best path forward for better health and a better life.

Where lifestyle modifications used to be the last treatment option on most doctors’ minds, it’s now becoming more and more of a priority. Yet, this means that we need a certain level of accountability, or else we won’t form the habits that drive change.

When left to our own devices and just like a new toy or shiny object, building new habits or using new devices eventually lose their sparkle. Then, we often get frustrated (and sometimes, we throw in the towel!). 

If COVID has taught us anything, community, and human connection are of the utmost importance to our happiness and health. Joining a community of like-minded women and with the proper accountability partner can accelerate your health journey, propelling you toward where you want to be. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We all have our own personalized and unique paths to take.

Go beyond the app and partner with a health professional who can help you untangle the data and encourage you to take steps forward.

Get more information about the future of telemedicine and hybrid services being offered by Thrive Beyond Wellness. This is a concierge-style women’s health practice that is geared toward the woman who has been told:

  1. Your labs are NORMAL, but you still feel like CRAP!
  2. Need a holistic approach to hormone replacement and not sure if it’s right for you.
  3. Know your hormones are contributing to unwanted weight and poundage and be ready to feel good and confident about yourself again.

 There are limited patients accepted, so register while you still can!

Start with a Contacting US today with one of our team members and see if we are a good fit for you.

Heal Women… Heal the World

GYN Cancer Awareness Month: The Big 3 & What You Should Know

September marks Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. So, I wanted to take some time to highlight not only the awareness of these cancers but also the symptoms and screening measures that women should be aware about. After all, early diagnosis can lead to early treatment—and thus, improved survival rates, recovery, and health outcomes. 

So, how can you reduce your gynecologic cancer risk? What kind of testing should you undergo? Below, I highlight the big three; cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer. Yes, the “C” word sounds scary, but knowledge is power! So, let’s dig in.

1. Cervical Cancer

My personal experience with HPV came from a negative pap smear and a positive high-risk HPV test.  Due to other concerning symptoms, I requested additional testing, and I am glad I did.  Here I am, a non-smoker, healthy, in a monogamous relationship, and ended up with a diagnosis of adenocarcinoma in situ (AIS), an early-stage pre-cancer.  In the end, I’m glad I listened to my body and took the necessary steps beyond routine recommendations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that over 95% of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). In fact, HPV is the most common virus that impacts the reproductive tract. Surprisingly, most of us will be infected with this virus at some point in our lives—we just might not know it!

This is largely because HPV tends to clear up all on its own. Furthermore, any pre-cancerous tissue produced from HPV also tends to resolve all on its own. 

Yet, a small percentage goes on to develop cervical cancer. Not only that, but HPV can also lead to other cancers, including vaginal, vulva, anus, and oropharynx. Now, I’m not voicing this to freak anybody out. Rather, I want to get the word out about how HPV can manifest into various cancers, not just cervical cancer.  

Okay, so what is HPV exactly?

HPV is actually a broad term used to describe over 100 viruses. Typically, it doesn’t cause any problems. Yet, some may experience the development of warts—or, worst case, cancer. HPV spreads via skin-to-skin contact, vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and even by sharing sex toys. 

Luckily, there is screening and testing available for HPV. It involves a screening test offered in routine gynecologic visits, and speaking as an OB/GYN with prior AIS, it is one of the most preventable ways to prevent cervical cancer, as well as knowing and understanding your status. If you’ve ever had an abnormal pap smear test, you might be familiar with this. Your doctor may send you to a specialist for a cervical screening, where a small sample of cells is taken and tested for HPV. 

Additionally, there is the newer HPV vaccine, thanks to scientific and technological advances. Since this vaccine was introduced in 2006, the CDC reports a significant drop in HPV infections and cervical precancers. The first dose is recommended for girls between ages 11 and 12, and the second dose is recommended six to 12 months after the first. Usually, it isn’t recommended for sexually-active adults due to the high likelihood that they have already previously been exposed to HPV.

2. Ovarian Cancer

Sadly, ovarian cancer accounts for the most deaths than any other cancer affecting the female reproductive system. Each year in the United States, almost 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, with another almost 13,000 dying from it.

The unfortunate truth is that there is no “true” regular screening regime for this type of cancer. Rather, when signs that something isn’t right arise, a woman may undergo testing in the form of a transvaginal ultrasound or a CA-125 blood test.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer often include:

  • Abdominal swelling/bloating
  • Feeling full quickly when eating
  • Pelvic discomfort/pain
  • Weight loss
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation or changes in bowel movements
  • Frequent urination

Yet, at the same time, FemTech companies are attempting to bridge this gap and make early screening possible, especially for high-risk women (Ovarian cancer commonly occurs in women ages 55-64 years old). Some research shows that potentially collecting data from vaginal secretions, which have a higher amount of biomarkers than blood, could give way to early detection. And there’s more than one FemTech research group focusing on this! 

AOA DX is one of the companies determining whether liquid biopsy tests could offer early detection of this type of cancer, leading to improved survival rates. It’s exciting! Just think, in a matter of a few years, we could have a much better way to screen for ovarian cancer, potentially saving thousands and, eventually, millions of lives!

3. Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer comes in two forms; endometrial cancer and uterine sarcomas. Endometrial cancer impacts the lining of the uterus. This type makes up about 95% of all uterine cancer cases. Meanwhile, uterine sarcoma is much rarer and happens when cancer develops in the muscle tissue of the uterus.

In the United States, almost 66,000 women are diagnosed with uterine cancer each year. The most common symptom of this type of cancer is unusual vaginal bleeding, particularly vaginal bleeding occurring after menopause.

Some other symptoms may include:

  • Heavier periods
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Continuous periods
  • A watery discharge with a potent smell
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Trouble urinating
  • Abdominal pain

Shockingly, women of color have the highest death rates from uterine cancer. In fact, non-Hispanic Black women experience double the death rates from uterine cancer than other groups of women. The New York Times further reports that non-Hispanic Black women are more likely to develop non-endometrioid uterine cancer, which is actually a more aggressive type. In many ways, uterine cancer is an outlier when it comes to narrowing the racial gap in cancer rates. 

Another twist: It’s not entirely known why this is the case. However, we can develop a few theories here. Uterine cancer is higher amongst those with high estrogen exposure, which is often due to obesity. Obesity can be attributed to a lack of funding when it comes to health care, and health care access. Obesity is a rising epidemic influenced by many factors and also our environment and diet.

On top of this, according to the statistics, Black and Hispanic women are less likely to undergo hysterectomies than Caucasian women, less likely to have a biopsy performed on their lymph nodes to detect cancer, and less likely to seek out chemotherapy with a cancer diagnosis. There are also stories of Black women seeking out health advice due to potential uterine cancer symptoms but not getting a proper diagnosis for months and, sometimes, years. Some experts attribute this to the fact that ultrasound scans can’t necessarily detect this aggressive form of cancer, or even women feeling like their concerns are not valued, heard, or trusted by their health care provider.  And to me, this is a clear sign that something is broken in our healthcare system. Guidelines need to be reviewed and changed to cater to every woman, especially for those noted as being potentially higher risk.

Know the Signs & Get Tested

Like I said, knowledge is power! Knowing the signs of the above cancers and seeking out appropriate screenings can help you and your loved ones receive early diagnosis and early care. 

At the end of the day, we all know someone that has had cancer or died from cancer. It’s an awful disease to face. Yet, with early detection and regular screenings (C’mon FemTech and research!), we can go forward into the future hopeful. At the same time, raising awareness and funding still reigns supreme to propel this research and innovative development forward. So, during this GYN Cancer Awareness month, walk that walk. Donate. Discuss testing and screening for these cancers with your doctor. And get involved in your local area! 

When we heal women… We heal the world.

LaReesa Ferdinand, MD


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