Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk

October is breast cancer awareness month!  My mother, aunt and grandmother all had breast cancer, so reducing MY breast cancer risk is of pretty high interest to me.

Lots of women don’t think about their breast cancer risk except when they get their yearly mammogram.  Early detection makes treatment easier and more successful, so it’s definitely important, but getting your mammogram will not reduce your risk of getting breast cancer.

So what WILL reduce a woman’s breast cancer risk?


Even 30 minutes of walking will reduce your risk.  In fact, 30 minutes of brisk walking 4 days per week reduced breast cancer risk by 30-50%.  That’s a huge reduction from just a little effort!

Maintain your weight

Obesity significantly increases a woman’s risk of all cancers including breast cancer.  There is an enzyme called aromatase that is present in fat cells.  It changes male hormones into female hormones.  Even after menopause women’s adrenal glands still make male hormones.  The more fat cells you have, the more aromatase and the more estrogens.

Breast cancer cells are often responsive to estrogens, and so obesity increases the stimulation and growth of these estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells.  Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight decreases breast cancer risk.


Increasing alcohol intake raises the risk of breast cancer.  Even 3-4 glasses of wine per week has been shown to raise the risk.  The more you drink the higher the risk, but there is no evidence of a “safe” level of alcohol intake.

The most important risk factors for breast cancer are, of course, age and gender.  Women get breast cancer 100 times more often than men, and the risk goes up as we get older.  There are inherited genetic risk factors as well, and there are links to how early menstrual periods started, how many children you’ve had and how late menopause occurred.  Breastfeeding also decreases the risk.  Some of these, like age, are things we can’t control.

But there ARE risks that we can control!  Don’t smoke or drink, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight and you will be doing a lot to control your breast cancer risk.


ER Visit Denials

Imagine you just flew home from a dream trip to Europe and after getting a good night’s sleep in your own bed, you wake up with chest pain and trouble breathing.  Now you’re a young woman so heart attacks really aren’t on the top of your list of worries, but you’re really uncomfortable and a little scared.  A quick call to your doctor’s office and, once informed of your recent airplane flight and the fact that you take birth control pills, you are told to head to the ER.

The ER staff and doctor are very kind and you get an exam, some labs and a scan of your chest which show your pain is from a rib that’s out of place and NOT from a blood clot.  That’s a relief!  Sleeping in funny positions on trains and planes isn’t good for you!

Anti-inflammatories, heat and rest are just the trick to settle the pain and you’re feeling better in just a few days.  However, a different kind of pain starts about 6 weeks later when you get the bill for your ER visit.  Your insurance company has denied the claim, stating that they won’t pay for you going to the ER for a “non-emergent” visit.

Turns out insurance companies like Anthem are trying to control costs by denying claims for ER visits for what they consider non-emergency reasons.  A report published in JAMA recently analyzed what percentage of visits would not be covered and how that relates to the symptoms patients are experiencing.

The researchers found that about 15% of ER visits would be denied with the retrospective review policy.  The problem is that these denied claims had the same symptoms (chest pain, abdominal pain, etc.) as claims that were not denied.  The insurance companies expect patients to distinguish between different types of chest pain and abdominal pain without the benefit of medical training.

This is a mistake.  The researchers in this study noted that patients are going to be hurt by this policy.  If patients with chest pain are afraid their ER visit isn’t going to be covered if it turns out to NOT be a blood clot or heart attack, they will be less likely to get checked out in a timely fashion for problems that could be very serious.

I have a hard enough time getting patients (especially women) to go to ER for chest pain or stroke symptoms.  If insurance companies start denying claims for chest pain that turns out to be bad reflux, or stroke-like symptoms that turn out to be from migraine, people are going to be more likely to ignore their symptoms until it’s too late.

People should NOT go to ER for problems that aren’t emergencies.  Someone who goes to the ER for a sore throat (unless they are directed to go there by their primary care doctor) should have the option of an urgent-care level of care.  Too many non-emergency visits to the ER slows down care for those who have a true emergency.

It’s often hard for us with medical training to be sure someone isn’t having a serious problem.  I send folks to the ER all the time to be evaluated when I can’t reassure them in the office that nothing life-threatening is wrong.  Asking patients without medical training to make those decisions is going to lead to people being hurt.

QUESTION: Have you been to the ER for something that seemed serious but turned out not to be?  What do you think of this new policy?


The Danger Of Adulterated Supplements

When swimmer Jessica Hardy set two world records in 2008 and was getting ready to compete in the Olympics in Beijing, she had no idea her world was about to come crashing down.  She tested positive for a banned substance right before the Olympics.

Turns out she had taken adulterated supplements that contained the banned substance, undisclosed by the supplement company.  Because she was able to prove the supplement she took contained the substance, her suspension was reduced to one year instead of two.  Still, she missed the Beijing Olympics.

Given the danger of adulteration, why would ANYONE risk taking supplements?  In the United States the supplement industry is only lightly regulated so companies are free to make all sorts of outlandish claims about their products.  My personal feeling is that people are so desperate for a “quick fix” they’re susceptible to too-good-to-be-true product claims for weight loss and other problems.

A report was recently published in JAMA about adulterated supplements.  Turns out almost 800 supplements have been found to have drugs in them, including sildenafil (Viagra), sibutramine (Meridia) and anabolic steroids.  The adulterated supplements are most often marketed for – unsurprisingly – sexual enhancement, weight loss and muscle building.  You can access the database yourself here at the FDA website.

Whether you’re an Olympic swimmer like Jessica Hardy, a world-class wrestler like Narsingh Yadav or Vinod Kumar, or a runner looking to PR your next half marathon, SHOULD you use nutritional supplements?  Which ones should you choose?

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you probably know my answers to these questions 😉  Good nutrition improves athletic performance, that much is very clear.  And supplements are an efficient way to make sure the body’s nutritional needs (for vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein) are optimally met.

So given this information, taking supplements make sense.  But before choosing a nutritional supplement, you have to ask yourself some questions.  If you have access to a representative for the company (especially if it’s a direct sales company) here are some good questions to get answered.

  • Does the company sponsor Olympic athletes?  How many medals have the sponsored athletes won?  If there are no Olympic athletes, do they sponsor athletes competing in “clean” events – i.e. subject to drug testing?  If not, steer clear.  Many sports supplements have disclaimers in the product literature stating they are not meant for athletes subject to drug testing.  Don’t take those!
  • What research has been done with the company’s products?  Ask to see the publications.  Are they peer reviewed?  You can search in the NIH’s research database to see if it’s a “legit” research article or not.
  • What are the company’s quality procedures?  Is there a money-back guarantee?  How are recalls handled?  Who do you call with a problem?

Ultimately, with supplements the reality in the United States is “let the buyer beware.”  Customers are responsible for doing their own research because the industry isn’t well regulated.  If the product is advertised to produce results that seem too good to be true, they probably are.  Do NOT buy products advertised to improve sexual performance.  No supplement has ever been shown effective for that problem – only pharmaceuticals work.

If you aren’t aware of the company I chose to partner with, I have easy and transparent answers to these questions.

  • Yes, Shaklee sponsors Olympic athletes.  We have nearly 100 athletes and a total of 144 medals to our team’s credit.  That’s a lot of hard work (and a lot of supplements)!  Learn more about the Shaklee Pure Performance Team at this link.  No athlete ever has, or ever will, fail a drug test due to a Shaklee product.
  • Over 100 publications is a LOT of science to Shaklee’s credit.  Published in respected journals like Nutrition, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, and Journal of Gastroenterology.  You can check out research Shaklee has sponsored about athletic performance, weight management, blood sugar support and other topics at this link.
  • Every lot of raw materials is tested for 350 different contaminants like pesticides, molds, heavy metals and other toxins before it is accepted to make Shaklee products.  Shaklee is BETTER than organic, since organic products can still become contaminated in many ways.  In addition, over 100,000 quality tests are done every year on finished products before they head out to customers.  Shaklee has never had a recall.  They don’t need to!  And if you have a problem, everything is guaranteed, even if you just don’t like a flavor.  You call me, or your distributor if it’s not me, and it gets fixed.  Period.

Again and again, we see in the news reports that supplements aren’t safe, that supplements don’t work, that supplements are at best a waste of money or at worst dangerous to your health.  This isn’t true.  Nutritional supplements are a vital part of supporting health and optimizing outcomes for athletes as well as for the rest of us.  It’s just important to make sure you know what you’re buying!

QUESTION:  Do you take supplements?  Why or why not?  Is this information surprising to you?


The Power of Optimism

Do you know anybody who seems to walk around under a black cloud of doom?  Everything is always horrible, nothing good ever happens, and worse, nothing good ever WILL happen.

Are you one of those people?  Do you find yourself assuming there will be a bad outcome?

It turns out that ASSUMING there will be a bad outcome tends to lead to HAVING a bad outcome, in terms of health.  There is a lot of new research that shows pessimism is associated with negative health outcomes.  Studies on such different problems as unplanned C-section, cardiovascular health, quality of life after stroke, and sleep quality in children show an association between health and optimism/pessimism.

So what is optimism?  The dictionary defines optimism as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.”  It is the tendency to look on the bright side, to assume things will work out for the best.

Some people are natural optimists, they seem to have a sunny disposition from childhood.  However, most of us have to consciously choose to look for the silver lining.

Are you a pessimist?  Do you tend to imagine terrible things, to assume things will turn out badly?  If so, you are probably not only living with anxiety and depression but you may also be hurting your health.

How does someone overcome their tendency to be a pessimist?  Is it possible to change?  Turns out the answer is yes!

Shawn Achor, a researcher at Harvard, has devoted his career to the study of happiness and optimism.  His book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work talks about how optimism leads to success.  More importantly, it also details HOW TO BECOME AN OPTIMIST.

Not only is optimism helpful at work, it improves your life in many other ways.  Most importantly, as shown in Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, optimism is one determinant of long life.

Being healthy, living longer and being successful are goals that most of us have.  Optimism helps make achieving these goals more likely.  Get and read these two books, I promise you will be glad you did!

You are important to me, and I want you to be happy, healthy and successful.  Optimism is a choice, a skill that anyone can learn.  Make the choice to learn it, practice it and make it YOUR happiness advantage!

QUESTION:  Are you an optimist or a pessimist?  Why do you say that?