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On Monday night, I watched supertrainer Jackie Warner‘s new Bravo TV show Thintervention. One thing that particularly resonated with me was the situation of 23 year-old client Stacy. She could be me. I kind of was her. Like Stacy, I would chalk up my problematic relationship with food to being Jewish. Like Stacy, I would smirk and think to myself, “Wow, I’m the Queen of Camouflaging my chub!” And like Stacy, I have a hormonal issue that makes it easier for me to gain weight and harder for me to lose.
In the first episode of Thintervention, Stacy discusses one of her major health setbacks with the doc on (casting) call. He says, “You have PCOS, which can make you put on weight… But you can’t let it be an excuse.” For those of you who aren’t familiar, PCOS is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, an endocrine disorder caused by lifestyle and/or genetic factors and typically marked by resistance to insulin (a hormone that governs carbohydrate metabolism). Interestingly, 1 in 27 Ashkenazi Jews (myself included) have an adrenal disorder called Non-Classical Adrenal Hyperplasia, which mimics PCOS. I’d be interested to see if Stacy has been tested for NCAH, since she, like me, is a young Jewish woman.
Either way, PCOS affects as many as 30% of women total. And it clearly has a detrimental effect on weight. From what I can gather from the doctors I’ve seen and the info I’ve read on my own, research on the matter right now is kind of a chicken or the egg situation. Do lifestyle factors make you gain weight and in turn, worsen symptoms of PCOS (or NCAH)? Or does living with these conditions cause you to not as effectively store/burn calories? Based on my own struggles, I tend to think it’s more of the latter.
That’s not to say that women who suffer from either problem can’t lose and keep off excess weight. It’s just incredibly difficult. There are a couple of nutritionists who advocate a low GI diet, which is pretty much just a high fiber/low-fat/lower-carb and limited sugar diet. And some experts recommend women with PCOS work out for at least an hour a day, at least 5x a week. Sure, if you’re being trained by Jackie Warner on a Bravo reality TV show, that time commitment is nothing. But for most mere mortals, that’s a serious chunk of time.
I’m just saying I feel like there’s really not much research and health information/guidance out there for women living with PCOS and especially those with NCAH. Especially when it comes to weight management. And that’s definitely frustrating.
But it was great to see someone on TV come out as dealing with it in her effort to shed pounds, and I can only hope that might drive some awareness about the problem. That way, hopefully more women start asking questions and getting answers about how they can follow a weight-loss program that fits their specific health needs—instead of being told they should just suck it up and struggle to succeed on a One Size Fits All plan.
What do you think?
I just read something on Jezebel that blew my mind.
Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New—of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University—thinks that she can prevent lesbianism by treating pregnant women with an experimental hormone, a steroid called dexamethasone. She claims that certain prenatal hormonal combinations (in particular, those associated with a condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia) may lead to the birth of little girls with ambiguous genitalia. OK, that seems fair. But the news here is that she says CAH can result in little girls who exhibit an “abnormal” disinterest in babies, don’t want to play with girls’ toys or become mothers, and whose “career preferences” are deemed too “masculine.” Should Mommy and Daddy want to ensure that their little girl prefers to play only with Barbies and crush on Kens, then New advocates prenatal treatment of “dex.”
Not only is this completely insane, offensive and disturbing on its own, but I’ve personally seen this doctor.
In late 2006, I got fed up with having to get threaded so frequently. So, I visited an Upper East Side spa for a laser hair removal consult, and the owner suggested I see an endocrinologist to rule out any hormonal issues that might make the treatment less effective. I ended up being referred by my OB/GYN to Dr. Maria New’s office. One of her assistants saw me, drew up a quickie family health history and ran some tests… Turns out, I have a genetic hormonal imbalance referred to as nonclassical adrenal hyperplasia, or NCAH. The symptoms are similar to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and it affects 1 in 27 Ashkenazi Jews. 1 in 3 are carriers. In my case, the only truly noticeable symptoms have been wonky periods/cycles and having to pluck, thread or shave a bit more often than I’d like. Nothing that serious in the scheme of things, really.
As soon as they confirmed my diagnosis, New’s staff was on me to start taking “dex.” But as soon as I heard the word ‘steroid,’ I thought ‘weight gain.’ And then I thought, maybe I should look up the other symptoms.
-“Dex” can suppress your immune system. It can raise your risk of getting an infection or of reactivating an old infection.
-“Dex” can lead to swelling in the face, hands, or feet. Fluid may also collect in the abdomen, which could make you feel bloated.
-“Dex” can irritate your stomach. When used for extended periods it may increase the risk of ulcers or bleeding in the digestive tract.
This was more than enough to have me say, “No, thanks” to filling a Rx for the drug. I’d find natural methods to deal with my minor symptoms. But, but, but! They kept warning me that should I decide to have a child with a man who is also a carrier of the gene, our kid could end up with CAH and potentially ambiguous genitalia. So when the time came, I’d have to be treated with dex throughout my pregnancy—at least until we knew whether the baby was a boy or a girl. (If it’s a girl, their advice is to stay on the drug until the birth.)
Since getting into holistic medicine and deciding that the Pill wasn’t for me, I’ve become more and more skeptical of this Rx. I’m not saying my diagnosis is wrong…even though Dr. New is now coming off as a total whack job. The fact is, my latest blood work does point to a—very low-level—diagnosis of NCAH. And I’ll have to do some research on what will be the best preventative treatment for the well-being of my one-day baby. But especially knowing what I now know about the questionable safety of dex, I am 99% sure I will say, “Hell no” to prenatal use of the steroid.
But that’s my own personal medical challenge. Scarier by far is that Dr. New thinks that women not even diagnosed as CAH carriers, should consider taking dex prenatally to prevent homosexuality or “male behaviors” in little girls.
Says Seattle newspaper, The Stranger: “The existence of adult women who are not interested in “becoming someone’s wife” and “making babies” constitutes a medical emergency that requires us to treat women who are currently pregnant with a dangerous experimental hormone. Otherwise their daughters might grow up to, um, be nominated to sit on the Supreme Court, serve as cabinet secretaries, take 18 Grand Slam singles titles, win Grammies, and take their girlfriends to prom.”
I’m freaked out. But I am so glad that the media is furiously questioning and exposing Dr. New and her collaborators. Their whole “mission” sounds like something along the lines of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. Given that, I surely hope that the medical community and mothers-to-be steer clear of Dr. New’s mad science experiment.