Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

If it ain’t broke, should I fix it??

October 8, 2012

A while ago I purchased a Groupon for a microdermabrasion facial from a local laser skin care and rejuvenation center. Included in the bargain basement price was a consultation with a skin care specialist. Aware that the business offered several expensive cosmetic procedure I wasn’t entirely surprised that although I had listed dry skin and occasional breakouts as my only skin concerns, the “skin specialist” I spoke to suggested I “really consider Botox” for the “lines around my eyes and on my forehead.” In a bid to reassure me that Botox is safe and effective, she let me know that she herself had regular injections. True, she had nary a line on her face. She also appeared to be about 25 years old. Granted, she could be 50 and her apparent youth the result of the wonders of Botox. Yet a glance at the stud through her cheek, Lulu Lemon tights and Sketchers sneakers suggested this to be highly unlikely. (So as not to undermine her credibility, I will also point that she was wearing a white lab coat, the epitome of professionalism). Even still, I declined the Botox. At 31, if I choose to look closely, I can certainly see where my face folds when I smile, frown, squint, laugh, or furrow my brow. I just feel that as long as I can still get away with referring to these as “expression lines” I will continue to age gracefully. (With the exception of my Vitamin A face wash, 2 eye creams, retinol serum and day and night anti-aging moisturizers). We’ll see how I feel in 10 years.

Botox is only one tool in the anti-aging arsenal. The technology available to essentially “turn back the clock” seems to grow every day. Procedures are also becoming less invasive, more convenient, and involve less downtime, meaning people can literally walk into their doctor’s office and walk out a newer, younger person almost instantly.  It seems every other week I’m reading about a new technique to treat some cosmetic condition that I have never even heard of or never would have thought about as a physical defect. A few posts ago I wrote about cosmetic surgery for feet. I have often cursed my wide feet while shoe shopping, but never would have thought about this feature of mine as a treatable deficiency. I have just accepted that I would have to live with this trait. Alas, not anymore! With advances in cosmetic surgery, wide footism is treatable! It makes me think: Are these advancement in cosmetic surgery serving to address existing weaknesses that impede people’s lives either physically or psychologically or are these new procedures actually generating anxiety and perceived imperfections out of the normal variations among us?

Let me illustrate this quandary using the prescription lash enhancement drug Latisse. You have likely seen the advertisements for this product featuring gorgeous spokesmodel Brooke Shields. The preparation itself was originally (and still is) used as an eye drop to treat glaucoma when it was noted that patients using the solution developed thicker, longer eyelashes. Result: Latisse. The cosmetically marketed product is brushed on the lashline, and about 12 weeks later you have longer, darker, thicker lashes. Of course any substance seeking FDA approval to be sold by prescription requires a valid medical indication. And this is the kicker. Allergan, the company marketing this “medication” has identified a medical condition called hypotrichosis, defined as “inadequate or not enough lashes”. That’s right, if you are a person born with thin, lightly colored or short eyelashes, you now suffer from a treatable medical condition. The bad news is that hypotrichosis is a chronic, debilitating medical condition that will plague you for the rest of your life. There is no known cure. The good news is that the good people at Allergan have come up with an effective treatment. As long as you keep using Latisse you will have longer and thicker lashes. But you can’t stop using the solution or your eyelashes will shrink back to their original form. Hypotrichosis requires lifelong treatment.

Beyond the now routine procedures such as Botox, Restylane, lasers, implants, tummy tucks and liposuction, the cosmetic surgery industry has progressed to produce processes to “treat” the natural variations that make us unique and distinguishable from one another. Enemy number one is any natural sign of aging. Newer additions: surgery to fix a cleft chin, liposuction to treat “cankles”, turning an outie bellybutton into an innie, iris implants to turn brown eyes blue, abdominal etching (selective abdominal liposuction to give the appearance of a “6-pack”), butt implants, bicep implants, calf implants, and even pubic hair implants. What next??

Cosmetic surgery can be a touchy subject with people feeling strongly in one direction or another. There are those who feel that any attempt to be physically altered is wrong. Others are more accepting of such a metamorphosis. I find most people are in the middle. The majority of us see some of our traits as requiring reinvention, while other deviations from the middle ground are the result of simple human uniqueness. Whether demand is influencing supply or vice versa, it seems that as people continue to seek physical perfection, advancements in the cosmetic surgery field will continue. Perhaps we need not attack the industry itself, but rather take a hard look at the way men and women are represented in the media and society as idealized specimens. Finally, we have to remember that we have the autonomy to refuse to buy into the message that we are being sold. We still have free will until it goes out of style.

The Wonderfully Spun Wizardry of Dr. Oz

June 6, 2012

As a pharmacist, I die a little bit inside every time I hear the question “Do you have (insert Product X here)? I saw it on Dr. Oz…” As I work and have a social life, and also a fair amount of love and respect for myself, I don’t watch Dr. Oz, and therefore have usually not heard of said wonder product. The herbal, nutraceutical, aruvedic and homeopathic market is growing quickly and it is virtually impossible to keep up with every product being marketed. Not to mention that most of these alternative health care products are not well studied, and have unknown actions, side effects and drug interactions. Products that claim to have “science” and “clinical studies” proving their effectiveness may have small scale experiments or very small, often biased studies paid for by the marketing company in their favor. That being said, if a product is considered a “nutraceutical” it does not need to go through the rigorous clinical trial process that drugs do in order to be marketed. A lot of people don’t consider the possible harm these products can cause, assuming that because a product is “natural” it must be “safe”. Has nobody told you not to eat wild berries in the woods because they are poisonous and can kill you? Some wild mushrooms can also be fatal if ingested, while some are used as illicit drugs for their hallucinogenic properties. The list goes on. In fact, many of the western medicines we have today are derived from “natural” or plant medicines. Asprin or ASA is derived from Willow Bark, and in large amounts can cause gastric ulceration, metabolic acidosis and death. A commonly used class of chemotherapy agents, the taxanes, are also derived from plant structures. These agents are extremely toxic. Digoxin, a powerful medication for heart failure, from the digitalis leaf. This is not to say that it is never appropriate to recommend herbal products to patients. Many are well studied and useful in certain situations. However it is important to consider each individual’s medical conditions, medications, and what they are treating, weighing the benefits and risks for each person based on their particular situation. Health care professionals have an ethical responsibility to put patients first above all else. This is why it angers me that the good Dr. Oz is touting the benefits of these “safe” natural products to millions of impressionable and trusting people watching his show every day. And it really pisses me off that I have to clean up his mess.

First of all, who the hell is Dr. Oz? Even the name sounds fake. In fact, he is a real doctor. The problem is, he is a cardiothoracic surgeon. Meaning, his expertise lies in the operating room. He is not an expert in nutrition, herbal remedies, exercise, microbiology, dermatology, homeopathy, diabetes, obesity etc. However, if you watch his show you would believe he knows everything there is to know about health. He gives tips on everything from vaccinations to weight loss and nutrition to diabetes.Of course, he always has a panel of experts on board to back him up. These “experts” often have something to gain from advocating the point of the day. For example, a recent show discussing the fad HCG diet featured the doctor responsible for the recent resurgence of the diet’s popularity and who has published numerous recent studies supporting the diet. Advocating this diet which consists of starving by eating a mere 600 calories a day (the average is about 2000) and receiving expensive daily shots of the hormone HCG (the pregnancy hormone) will of course gain her patients, notoriety, and money. This does not change the fact that the data supporting the diet is very weak and the diet is dangerous.

For the good of the public and the clarity of my conscience I would like to draw attention to a few of the good doctor’s most recent and most dangerous claims:

1) Raspberry Ketone:
Claim: Raspberry Ketone is great for weight loss and has no side effects

Fact: Raspberry ketone is structurally related to synephrine (a stimulant) and capsaicin. As a stimulant, it has been associated with heart palpitations and shakiness. Syneophrine and norepinephrine, as well as ephedrine, similar stimulants, have been associated with increased blood pressure, heart rate, heart palpitations, chest pain, and cardiac arrest. Ephedrine has been restricted in Canada to use as a nasal decongestant.
There is some evidence that it helps rats lose weight. There is not enough evidence in humans yet.
This medication can significantly decrease INR and require a larger dose of warfarin and require much more frequent monitoring of levels. However there is an unpredictable effect.

2)African Mango
Claim: It’s a wonder pill that will make you lose tons of weight without changing a thing in your life.
Fact:Yes, the African Mango group loss some weigh over the placebo group in a small study. However, they also consumed fewer calories Quite a lot fewer calories. Hmm. I wonder why they lost weight. Apparently the African Mango acts like a fiber making you feel full. Eat more fiber. This has been in every nutritional guideline for years. Take heed people!!

Claim:A natural byproduct of the DHEA hormone we naturally produce that helps keep us young and regulates our metabolic rate. After the age of 30 this drops, slowing metabolism and causing weight gain. 7-Keto stimulates the thyroid to increase your resting metabolic rate causing weight loss, less fat, more muscle and a smaller belly, especially with diet and exercise.
Fact: Some preliminary evidence of a decrease in body weight and fat in obese females but more evidence is needed. Decreased hemoglobin in some patients. Also has been associated with an increase in T3 hormone in some patients. Could be a concern for people with overactive thyroid, heart disease or uncontrolled blood pressure.

Claim: Helps promote breakdown of stored fats in fat cells. May also release fatty acids from fat tissue. Results in loss of body fat and theoretically increased lean body mass.
Fact: This is a potentially dangerous herb for many people. There is some evidence for its use in asthma and congestive cardiomyopathy, but no statistically significant clinical evidence of efficacy for weight loss. It can cause decreased blood pressure and flushing. There are many significant drug interactions. It can also interact with many other herbs such as anise, arnica, capsicum, chamomile, clove, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, ginseng, horseradish, licorice, red clover, tumeric, causing risk of bleeding or serious decrease in blood pressure. Any patients on anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs, calcium channel blockers or nitrates should not take this herb. For patients on warfarin, INR may be increased if forskolin is used. Anyone with a bleeding disorder should not take this herb. Anyone with a heart condition should not use this herb. It should be stopped 2 weeks before any surgery to prevent serious bleeding.
This sounds really scary? Is it really worth it to lose a couple of pounds?


We live in a society that has been taught that everything can be cured with a pill. This is the combined fault of doctors, drug companies through marketing and advertising, retailers, and probably even pharmacist. But it is also the fault of patients. It is each person’s own responsibility to take ownership of their own health. There has been a big push towards an empowerment model of health care, that is one where the patient is a partner in their own health, and is an active voice in the decision making process with respect to how they are going to prevent and treat their medical conditions. In order to make informed decisions, people need to have knowledge. Shows like Dr. Oz give the facade that people are making healthy lifestyle choices for themselves, but really they are being manipulated by someone who is often spewing misinformation under the guise of health promotion. What needs to happen is that people need to look into what is right for them, consult other sources, and not assume that everything they hear on TV is gospel. If something sounds too miraculous to be true, it likely is. Weight loss is still only possible with diet and/or exercise. You won’t get abs without sit-ups. This is why I will never have any. And Dr. Oz will only go away if everyone stops watching him.


May 30, 2012

I am getting married in the next few months. For many women, wedding planning is a joyous process in which a lifelong dream is brought to life. It is a series of carefully weighed decisions involving vital elements such as invitation fonts, floral arrangements, table runners and cake icing which culminates into the happiest day of a woman’s life. For me it is a nightmare. I am overwhelmed with choices. Give me a nice white dress, my family and friends and some 90’s hip hop and I call it a wedding. One thing I am looking forward to planning: the bachelorette party. It will be a great chance to get together with girlfriends I don’t see all the time, take a trip, and let loose. The downside? My fiancee will be having a bachelor party the same weekend.

I do not consider myself the jealous girlfriend type. I have had my moments, but I think I am a reasonable person. I don’t freak out when my fiancee glances at half naked girls on the street when he thinks I’m not looking. I know it’s not his fault, he is a heterosexual man. I don’t get angry when he has crushes on actresses or reality personalities on TV, even if I think they’re cliche and ridiculous. (Paris Hilton???) I even put up with his infatuation with Kristen Kreuk, a B-list actress who lives here in Vancouver who he sometimes runs into while out walking our dog Oscar. As a fellow French Bulldog owner and lover, she has at times stopped to pet Oscar, leading my man to believe they are kindred spirits of some sort. But I willingly admit I have some reservations about the bachelor party.

My firsthand experience with bachelor parties is limited to one. In high school a friend was having an outdoor pool party. We were told we could go into the house to use the bathroom on the main floor but that the basement was off limits because his older brother was hosting a bachelor party for a friend. We saw the “entertainment” arrive. There were 2 women, both about 30, both blonde, both with names ending in ‘i’. (I don’t know that for sure, but I would wager on it). At one point I needed to use tha washroom, and seeing as how the one on the main floor was occupied, I decided there was no choice but to venture downstairs. As I walked down the steps I observed a naked man (the groom perhaps?) lying on the ground, a naked woman atop him using a feather boa to stroke his chest, while the other men stood and watched while R&B played in the background. I quickly made my exit but not before my opinion of bachelor parties were forever tarnished.


Most men I know don’t have private bachelor parties, opting instead for nights out on the town or weekend trips. Most of these excursions will however inevitably involve a visit to the strip club. That’s alright with me, I have no objection to these dwellings. I have visited a few myself, although you won’t find me at any for my bachelorette party. There is nothing more disturbing than a man in a leopard thong that can shake it better than you can. But I do understand that strippers are part of the tradition that is the male bachelor party. But when does an innocent trip to the strip club violate the trust between a man and a woman? I encountered this scenario a few months ago when my fiancee visited Las Vegas for another bachelor party. In addition to just watching the show, the men had opted to pay for private dances in private rooms. I was livid. Through the roof livid. Now, a lap dance is one thing. In the club. In front of everyone else. I am not keen on the idea of another woman with fake breasts and a fake tan and long, flowing hair extensions, covered in coconut scented lotion gyrating on my partner, but at least I know there is a no touch policy. The private dance is another ballgame. First of all, they are expensive. Hundreds of dollars expensive. The fact that he thought this woman was worth this much money made me squirm. Also, in the ‘private room’, the no touch policy goes out the window, so my boyfriend was essentially paying to touch another woman’s breasts. This led to a fight of epic proportions where I argued this was cheating (with a prostitute), and he argued that it was just innocent bachelor party fun. So who’s right?

First of all, how common are these dalliances, and who is making them? David Boyer, author of Bachelor Party Confidential: A Real-Life Peek Behind a Closed Door Tradition, says “One thing I learned is that the groom is a little bit less likely than his friends to do something; and I think the married men are more likely to do something. This came up over and over when I was talking to strippers and talking to married men. It’s his friends that [are more likely to] get an extra-curricular activity, whatever that may be—a blow job, a hand job or further—because all eyes aren’t on the friends and for a lot of guys it is a chance to let their hair down.” He estimates 1 in 10 men will get some sort of extra-curricular activity. Other statistics show that up to 1/4 of men will engage in some type of sexual activity at their bachelor party. But what this activity can be is not clearly defined. What do the men think is cheating? 94% say having sex with another woman is cheating. 82% think kissing another woman is cheating. 64% think touching another woman intimately is cheating. 8% say getting a lap dance is cheating. 19% of men say they have seen a groom cheating on his fiancee at a bachelor party. As for us women, 83% of us don’t consider lap dances to be cheating.

So it seems my fiancee and his friends were not alone in their belief that this behavior was acceptable. However, I was not wrong to find it disrespectful and hurtful. In the end he apologized and we discussed boundaries for future excursions. For his upcoming bachelor party I will make sure we review the rules. I know he loves me and had no intention of hurting me. He treats me well and with respect every day. He is sensitive, sweet, kind and loving. He works long hours as a physician yet still cooks and cleans and makes me a priority. He is not a chauvinist and I do  not mean to make him come across that way. If your intentions are not malicious it isn’t hard to assume no one will be hurt by your actions but sometimes you have to put the shoe on the other foot. For any men reading this, I have some tips:
1)All my friends were doing it wasn’t a good excuse when you were a kid, and it isn’t one now
2)When your girlfriend is enraged about you getting a private dance from a naked stripper, the excuse “she wasn’t naked, in Las Vegas the law dictates all strippers must leave their panties on” won’t help your case. A thong is not considered a piece of clothing. Also, you don’t want to interrupt a ranting woman.
3)Touching another woman’s breasts is never acceptable. If your girlfriend let another man touch her breasts, would it be okay? What if he paid her $200? Now say it’s okay.
4)What if she kept her underwear on?
5)What if all her friends were doing it?

And it’s a healthy baby……(How much does it matter?)

May 1, 2012


I have often pondered whether I would rather be a parent to a male or female child. I weigh the types of activities I feel I could perform with these two imaginary children, what kinds of adorable outfits I could dress them up in, the type of bond I would forge with them, the life lessons I would be able to teach them. In gender-equal societies, when a parent has a preference for a particular sex of child, it is usually due to issues such as their perceived ability to socialize and raise boys vs. girls, gender identity issues, ideas about relationships, perceived characteristics of gender, a wish to keep the family name going etc. For me, I ultimately I think about which gender would be most resilient to the mistakes I am bound to make as a mother. Am I more likely to screw up a boy or a girl? I have no reason to think I will be any worse at motherhood than the next gal (other than the fact I forgot to feed my dog twice last week), it is
simply fear of the unknown that drives my insecurity. But in reality if whether fate or chance (whatever you believe) brings me boy or girl, I would be equally elated. Furthermore, I am more than happy to wait until I am in the delivery room to find out if chromosomal mixing means I will be painting the nursery pink or blue. Many choose to find out earlier, to plan accordingly or simply because the suspense is just too much, and technology has made this possible with fetal ultrasound. It is even possible to know the sex of your baby before it is implanted in the case of in vitro fertilization. And with the work that has been done and continues to be done on the human genome project, there is growing potential for testing for various diseases while babies are still in the womb. While technology can be a wonderful thing, it can also have sinister implications. And in the above cases, there is concern that technology has and possibly will be used as a tool to continue misogynistic practices that have been going on for thousands of years. I am referring to the practice of purposely selecting for male offspring.

In Ancient Greece and Rome infanticide was routine and even encouraged. Often babies were simply abandoned, and died of exposure rather than outright murdered, which was considered barbaric. Infants were killed if they had birth defects or medical problems, if the parents could not afford to raise them, or if they were born out of a wedded union or out of incest. Another common reason for infanticide was simply that the baby was female. In 200 BC in Delphi only 1% of the 6 000 families living there had more than one daughter. This practice has occurred in a number of societies throughout history. Theories for why female infanticide may have occurred more often than male infanticide include the fact that males were valued more in society, that the father may want to avoid eventually paying a dowry,  or that if there were too many women in the society their daughter may not marry thus shaming the family and being an economic burden. Most cultures have long since abandoned the practice of female infanticide, but it is still an issue in certain countries, the most notorious being India and China. In rural India census statistics for 1994 indicated there were 929 females to 1000 males which had actually decreased from 1901 data of 972 females to 1000 males. In 1993, 196 girls died of suspicious circumstances. John-Thor Dahlburg, author of the article “Where killing baby girls ‘is not big sin’” in the Los Angeles Times says “Some were fed dry, unhulled rice that punctured their windpipes, or were made to swallow poisonous powdered fertilizer. Others were smothered with a wet towel, strangled or allowed to starve to death.” What occurs more often today is that female infants are killed before birth by sex-selective abortion. Women can learn the sex of their child through ultrasound or amniocentesis and choose to abort if carrying a daughter rather than a son. Male heirs are greatly preferred. They are considered higher up in the caste system than females. They contribute more to household income through work, and many families in India are very poor. The average civil servant earns $3 500 a year. Furthermore, although outlawed, the payment of a dowry to the groom’s family from the bride’s family is still often practiced in India. This, combined with the cost of the wedding which is also the responsibility of the bride’s family, can be extremely expensive. (Up to $30 000 or more). And if the dowry is deemed insufficient, the woman can then be killed by the groom’s family. In China, female infanticide was rampant before formation of the People’s Republic in 1949 but almost disappeared afterwards until the 1980’s after the “one-child” policy was instituted in 1979 to control the rapidly growing population. By 1997 the WHO issued a report claiming that “more than 50 million women were estimated to be ‘missing’ in China because of the institutionalized killing and neglect of girls due to Beijing’s population control program that limits parents to one child.” The imbalance in the female to ratio also increased drastically, so much so that one study reported by Jonathan Manthorpe estimated 111 million Chinese men would not find a wife. The number of women kidnapped and forced into sex slavery and forced marriages increased. But this hasn’t stopped the rampant female infanticide. China has the highest sex disparity among infants:120 boys for every 100 girls. No one likes to talk about it, but everyone knows it is going on. In China, families can only have one child, with the exception being families in rural communities whose first child is a girl. Chinese culture holds men in higher regard than women. Women have always been victimized, starting with the ancient tradition of foot binding which went on for over 1000 years. Historically, when a woman marries, she is no longer financially responsible for her own parents, only her in-laws, so parents know they will be better cared for if they have a son. Sons will pass on the family lineage, can better provide for the family, are heads of households etc. There are many reasons Chinese parents want their one child to be a boy.

When we hear about these practices that take place in other areas of the world often we turn the other cheek. It doesn’t affect us. This doesn’t happen in industrialized nations like ours. But it does. Currently in Canada it is illegal to use reproductive medicine to select the gender of a child. This is not the case in the US. Recently here in British Columbia a local Indo-Canadian newspaper came under fire when it published an ad for the Washington Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Bellevue which promises to “Create the Family you Want: Boy or Girl” The clinic will tell the parents whether the embryo they have fertilized is a boy or a girl before it is implanted into the mother’s uterus, thus allowing them to decide whether they want to go ahead with implantation. In this way the parents can effectively select the gender of their baby, or at least select against the sex they do not wish to have. The president of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society feels the ad was inappropriate and that they targeted this newspaper because “they know the Indo-Canadian community wants more boys.” On April 16 2012 The Canadian Medical Association Journal released a study confirming previous research showing that the male-to-female ratio for third-born children to women born in India and living in Ontario was higher than the natural rate (136 boys to 100 girls for Indian women vs 105 boys to 100 girls for Canadian-born mothers, close to worldwide average). The lead researcher Dr. Joel Ray states that “these findings are highly unlikely to be due to chance”. The study raises the issue sex-selective abortion which has played a part in other studied high male-female sex ratios in other ethnic groups in Canada.  The results are also similar to other studies performed in the US. Although it is illegal to use reproductive medicine for gender selection, however families can still use sex-selective abortion to ensure they do not have female children. Many hospitals are refusing to reveal fetal sex during ultrasound, or at least withholding the information until the 30th week of gestation when abortion is illegal. However even when this is the case, many private clinics are popping up where parents can learn the sex of their unborn child for a fee.

The real solution is not necessarily preventing women from using the technology available. It is changing their attitudes about the information the technology affords them. We need to work on changing these cultural biases towards males and teach these families the value of women. We need to help these mothers to love, respect and believe in themselves so that they can see that their daughters can be of as much worth to them as their sons. Hopefully one day in all societies the only worry parents will have is whether their children will be happy and healthy.

Thanks, Guilt and Pity (But no thanks for guilt or pity)

March 31, 2012

My Oma-Would you want to make this woman sad??

Working in a hospital I am surrounded by the ailing and afflicted. I can’t say I am desensitized to suffering. I feel for many of those who are battling painful, frightening, and possibly life-threatening  conditions, as well as those who love and care for them. However when everyone you come into contact with has some type of malady, you do begin to reserve your sympathy and emotional energy for those who are truly in agony in order to preserve your sanity. Every so often I meet a person who touches me and I can’t help being drawn into their pain. My father once told me never to feel sorry for other people. I understand what he was trying to tell me. He isn’t a heartless person without concern for his fellow man. But rationally speaking,  feeling sad for others can accomplish nothing but just that: making you sad. Feeling pity for another person is passive rather than active, and actually can harm someone more than it can help them by further validating and solidifying their role as a victim when in fact most people don’t want to be viewed in this light at all. However it tends to be human nature for our hearts to go out to the weak and the suffering.

Today as I was sitting and eating lunch in the foyer of the hospital, a lovely elderly lady started to chat me up about nothing in particular. As we continued to talk she told me that her husband had just had a stroke and was getting out of the hospital that day at 4pm. He would require a home care nurse since he couldn’t walk properly yet, he had difficulty swallowing, his speech was garbled and it was unclear how much function he would regain. She teared up a little as she spoke, and I must admit my eyes got a little watery too. She wasn’t asking for sympathy, it was evident she felt alone and was reaching for someone, anyone to talk to. It was right about then that a young man about my age in a wheelchair approached a ramp leading up to the café. He was attempting to maneuver himself at the correct angle to enable him to go up the ramp and was having quite a bit of difficulty. He finally realized this feat, only to have to get up the actual ramp, which seemed to give him some trouble. I saw that there were many people watching him, and it seemed as if quite a few looked poised to jump in and push him. No one did though, and I believe it was because he looked so determined wheeling himself up that nobody seemed to know if this was the right thing to do. I assume they were afraid of embarrassing him or insulting him by insinuating he was unable to make it himself. The old woman and I watched him fight his way up the ramp silently, and then I felt her touch my hand with hers. “We are very fortunate” she said. I looked at her, this woman who felt blessed though her husband would very likely never say her name again, and I felt humbled. No, this woman didn’t need my pity. In many ways, she may be better off than I. I’ll explain.

On my way home, I started thinking about all of the little things I take for granted on a daily basis. The fact I have friends and family that love me, I live in a great city, I have a secure job and a roof over my head. I take for granted my health, and that I have enough food to eat. It may sound repetitive to talk about how deplorable it is that in North America portion sizes have increased 2-5 times since 1970 while obesity rates are epidemic, and at the same time there are people in the world still dying of starvation. But regardless of how often you hear it, it is still wrong. I am a second generation Canadian. My grandparents lived in Europe during WWII when people often didn’t have enough food to fill their stomachs. When they moved to Canada, they were extremely poor and had to work harder than I or my children will ever understand to make a life for themselves. To people like them and countless others who came to this country for a better life, being able to feed your family well was no small blessing, a validation for all of their tribulations. There was a time in history when being plump was a sign of high social standing. The poor could not afford good food and so were thin and wasted looking. It is alarming how things have changed such that now “thin is in”. In fact, with fast food and pre-packaged food usually costing less than fresh fruit and vegetables and lean meats, those in lower socioeconomic classes are more likely to be overweight than the middle and upper class in today’s day and age.

When you ask people what’s really important in life, one of the most popular answers is being healthy. Another is having enough food to eat. However, at any given time it is estimated that 45% of women are dieting.  At some point in their lives, most women will actively deprive themselves of food. While not all diets are harmful, and in some cases losing weight will improve health, many women engage in practices that are potentially dangerous under the guise of health, such as fad diets, detoxes, fasts or juice and soup diets. In the poorest nations such as India and northern Africa, the average caloric intake is between 1400-1900 calories daily for women. The daily requirement for most women is about 2000, with about 900 being the amount needed for human functioning. Many diets today recommend caloric intakes of 1500 calories daily or less making their devotees at least if not more malnourished than many “starving” women in 3rd world countries. When you think of the focus we put on our bodies in this light, it seems so shallow, doesn’t it?

I may sound judgemental but that is not my intention. I do not mean to be the pot that calls the kettle black. As a woman who has battled an eating disorder since a teenager I am no stranger to body image issues or depriving myself of food. I have likely binged and purged enough food to feed a small starving village. When I think about how important I once thought that being thin was or how happy I thought that losing 5 more pounds would make me it seems so irrational now. I know that an eating disorder is a disease and I have the insight now to understand that it isn’t really about food or how you look, but I still carry around a lot of guilt about the damage I did to my body and what I took for granted during the time I was abusing myself. One image that stays in my mind is the look of concern and pain on my Oma’s face whenever I would go over to her place for dinner and I would avoid eating the things she would prepare for me and try to shovel onto my plate in true mennonite fashion. For her, cooking for her family is showing love. I’m not sure how much she knows about my eating disorder, or even if she could fathom such a thing, but I know she realized I was sick by how frightened and sad she looked. Even now, every time I go there she is so concerned about what I can and can’t eat, and if I’m OK. I was relieved when finally the last time I saw her she deemed me “good and healthy”. Someone like her could never understand why a person would deprive themselves of food on purpose. She has seen what real hunger looks like. Her idea of a light meal is Rollkuchen (fried bread made of flour and whipping cream). Food nourishes your body and keeps you alive. It is vital to survival. It also can be an excuse to bring family together. My Oma grew up in a different time, but as I was reminded today, it seems we could all learn a thing or two from our elders.

For $1000 it better be better than a face lift!

March 21, 2012

Is it worth $1000?

Estee Lauder has just launched their luxury skincare line ‘Re-Nutriv Re-Creation’. The face cream and night serum will set you back a hefty $1000 while the eye balm and night serum for eyes is about half that amount. The active ingredient in all products is ‘Glacial BioExtract’, a concentrated essence which is purported to boost the skin’s collagen network, restore skin’s strength and resilience, improve skin’s clarity and inner radiance, optimize hydration, reduce lines and fade discolorations. In short, they seem to be promising a miracle. According to the April issue of Flare magazine, the Glacial BioExtract is actually a glycoprotein that “switches on dermal fibroblasts, which are cells that crank out the proteins needed to keep skin youthful.” It was first discovered in the Antarctic in bacteria which were able to withstand the treacherous conditions as a result of this protective glycoprotein. It is now produced in a lab, and the process is very costly. The cream also contains other high end ingredients: ancient algae, micro-minerals, colloidal gold, South Sea pearls. Much thought and money was also invested in the aesthetic appeal of the product. The packaging is streamlined and elegant, but not gaudy or showy. The bottles are grey and gold, and come on ‘pedestals’ for display.  It is lightly scented with water lotus, hyacinth and orchid, and feels silky to the touch. It is designed to make you covet it. But the question is-who will buy a $1000 face cream?


Estee Lauder is certainly not alone in the luxury skin care market, although this new skincare line is one of the pricier ones, especially from one of the more recognized department store brands. Other exorbitantly priced products include Revive Peau Magnifique ($1500 for a 4 week supply), Revive Intensite Volumizing Serum ($600), N.V. Perricone M.D. Neuropeptide Facial Conformer ($570), Kanebo Sensai Ex La Crème ($500), and Cle de Peau Beaute La Crème ($475) just to name a small handful. If sales of these and other luxury brands are any indication, it seems there are a lot of people willing to fork over a thousand dollars for a face cream. According to CNN, in 2010 prestige skincare sales in US department stores was 2.7 billion, an 8% increase from 2009. So if people are buying, these creams must be delivering on all of their promises, right?


This is a hard question to answer. It seems that every cream claims to be able to turn back the hands of time, offering ‘clinical evidence’ of anti-aging and damage reversing effects. In addition to being physically appealing, the most costly creams also contain the most lavish and valuable ingredients. These include things like caviar, crushed pearls, gold, and extracts from plants found only in exotic locales. Other ingredients which drive up the price are proteins and other cellular components that are involved in cell renewal and other processes which make them useful against aging skin cells. The problem is research and development as well as production can be very expensive. Is all of this money well spent? states that “In the cosmetic industry, the term “clinically proven” is often more marketing than science. Typically, the phrase means that at least one component of the cosmetic product has been shown, in one study or another, to have had some biological action, such as helping wounds heal faster by stimulating cell division. That the product has been demonstrated by a well-controlled, independent clinical study to have significant effects in skin, however, is not necessarily true”. Unlike drugs, cosmetic products do not have to undergo rigorous, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies to prove their efficacy. Claims made are often subjective rather than measurable. “80% of women saw a reduction in wrinkles”. Even when outcomes are measurable, they are rarely measured against outcomes from similar products. Tools called corneometers can measure skin’s hydration level before and after application of a face cream to prove it is increased by said cream. So while all of the ingredients in a $500 cream sound luxurious and are ‘clinically proven’, how do we know a $10 face cream would not increase skin’s hydration just as well? The drug store brand creams, while costing significantly less, make similar claims of efficacy to the much more expensive department store creams.

Being 31, I’ve started to look at products that use words like ‘reduce’ and ‘minimize’ rather than ‘prevent’ when referring to lines and wrinkles. I have noticed a line on my forehead that seems to be there even when I’m not furrowing my brow in thought. There are a couple of ‘laugh lines’ under my eyes which I would like to prevent from becoming ‘crow’s feet’  although I’m not sure of the distinction other than I prefer the sound of the former. I’m not alone. Women spend billions of dollars annually on skin care in order to reverse the signs of aging and reclaim their youth. I recently had to buy a new eye cream. I was at a “beauty mart” where several brands were displayed side by side. I felt overwhelmed by the seemingly endless choices in front of me. I was not looking at couture brands, but mid-priced department store brands ranging from $20-$50. All made essentially the same claims, to reduce wrinkles, firm skin, reduce circles etc. I must admit, I felt more drawn to the more expensive creams. Part of it was that the packaging of the more expensive lines was more appealing. However, I think the main reason is that on some subconscious level I believe that the more expensive something is, the better it must be. I have heard similar comments from others, and not just about skincare products. If there are 2 brands of olive oil, the more expensive one is better quality, brand name must be better than generic, the most expensive car is the best.  I ended up buying a $46 cream. I still have wrinkles under my eyes, but I’m certain I will be one of the 80% who will notice an improvement in 4-6 weeks. Another reason women may be shelling out cash for youth in a bottle is to increase their happiness. A study on PsychCentral led by Cornell University researchers showed that people were more likely to make more expensive purchases when they were feeling low, and they were most likely to pay with their credit card, perhaps to offset some of the guilt about the purchase. It seems that purchasing a luxury item, like an overpriced face cream, can temporarily lift a woman’s mood.

Many women swear to the effectiveness of these very expensive luxury creams, to the extent that some of them even have a cult-like following. Crème de la Mer is revered by so many Hollywood celebrities you would think it was Botox in a bottle. So, if you have $1000 to burn, go ahead and try Estee Lauder’s Re-Nutriv Re-Creation Collection. Just don’t expect a miracle. Me, I think I’ll just work on embracing my wrinkles. (While continuing to use my antiwrinkle serum, day cream, night cream, dark circle minimizer, eye cream and blemish fighter).