Sleep your way to a faster metabolism

So by now you know that regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet are essential to achieve your fitness and weight loss goals. But did you know that adequate amount of sleep can also affect your goals? Well it is…. sleep is probably the most overlooked component of health and fitness.

Sleep has a key role in supporting a wide array of the body’s hormones and metabolism. Chronic sleep depravation is often a factor in obesity. This is caused by several factors. First of all, people that sleep less tend to eat more because they have more time to eat and also tired individuals tend to eat more to combat exhaustion. Secondly, research indicates that sleep affects two important hormones that are related to appetite. Those hormones are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, which increases appetite, is higher with lack of sleep and leptin, which decreases hunger is lower with lack of sleep. That combination causes an individual to be more likely to overeat.

Research shows that everyone needs between six and nine hours of sleep every day. Several studies show that even a short period of sleep deprivation affects our memory, reaction time, and our ability to handle stress.

So do yourself a favor and sleep a little more!

Stay happy and healthy

– Dr. Maria


The “M” Word – Let’s Talk Menopause

We’ve all heard about menopause, but what really is it? When does it start? How long does it last? How will I know if I’m in menopause? What are the symptoms? Does everyone have the same symptoms? These are just a few of the many common questions that I’m asked on a regular basis. This natural phase in every woman’s life is still a big mystery surrounded by misinformation, confusion, and yes, quite a bit of secrecy. In the next few installments of this series, I will address hormone replacement therapy, alternative therapies, the role of nutrition & physical activity, and any questions you may have. Let’s blow the top off this taboo topic – let’s talk menopause!

Menopause has morphed from an experience that only a small percentage of women lived through to a natural part of every woman’s life today. At the turn of the 20th century, women were not expected to live past 50. Now life expectancy for women is 78 years of age. If you’re a woman in your 20’s or 30’s, you might ask yourself: why should I care? I’m way to young for this. Well, I hate to be the bearer of truth but the reality is that you will eventually go through it; so you might as well be educated.

The fact is that 75% of all women will experience hot flashes and night sweats, and many experience insomnia, weight gain, and irritability. Menopause symptoms can be debilitating for many women, often appearing before they realize hormonal changes have begun to take place. Women don’t expect to experience these symptoms in their mid-thirties, but it happens all the time. Yet an alarming number of women still think they don’t have to “worry” about menopause until their 50s. Don’t wait! Educate yourself early. So let’s start with the basics: what is menopause?

The Menopausal Transition Defined
Menopause is not a singular event but rather a transition lasting on average 3.8 years. It is often described in three phases: premenopause, which is the time when menstruation is normal, to perimenopause, which is the time when menstruation becomes more infrequent and also includes the one year after the final period, after which postmenopause begins, which is defined as the time in a women’s life when the ovaries stop functioning and menstruation has ceased for at least 12 consecutive months. You’re also considered postmenopausal if the ovaries were surgically removed or were damaged during chemotherapy. (Note: a hysterectomy, where only your uterus is removed, does not affect your ovaries or menopause). For a more detailed breakdown of the adult female reproductive life , the most recent Stages of Reproductive Ages Workshop (STRAW) is a great resource (Harlow, et al., 2012). It provides guidance on the different stages, their lengths, characteristics, and signs. Although there is no exact test to determine perimenopause, STRAW also provides guidelines for hormone levels that play a role in determining the stages in the menopausal transition. The most common hormone used for determination of perimenopause is the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), with levels greater than 25 IU/L indicating decline in ovarian function and beginning of perimenopause. As estrogen drops, FSH climbs to kickstart the follicle cycle and make up for the lack in estrogen.

Symptoms – oh no!
Menopausal symptoms are often summed up to hot flashes and night sweats although that couldn’t be further from the truth. Both hot flashes and night sweats are symptoms of menopause but there are many more, often subtle symptoms, that are not commonly attributed to the menopausal transition but are indeed symptoms linked to declines in ovarian function.
Menopausal symptoms fall into four categories to include vasomotor, psychosocial, physical, and sexual.

Vasomotor symptoms (VMS)
About 75% of women experience VMS
Hot flushes, night sweats, sweating

Anxiety, impatience, poor memory, depression (prior depression is the highest risk factor for subsequent depression)

Body aches, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, changes in skin appearance, migraines

Vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, avoiding intimacy, lack of sexual desire

In addition, reduced levels of neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin) can cause changes in brain function and behavior, and declines in cognitive function, mood, and memory.

I know, I know, this all sounds very scary and depressing but this article is not designed to scare you into expecting the worst. Its purpose is to inform you of changes that will happen and that can come in all forms and intensities. Every woman is different; some women experience all symptoms to the extreme but there are also women that don’t experience any symptoms at all. It is impossible to predict what your experience will be. My goal is to equip you with the knowledge to be able to identify changes that are attributable to the menopausal transition and how to successfully and hopefully happily transition through this time in your life. Let’s start this conversation.

Have a comment or question? Leave me a note on the blog or tweet me @doctorluque

Stay happy and healthy
– Dr. Maria Luque

“Older women need 1-hour workouts to fend off flab” Really?

A while ago, the headline in the local newspaper stated: “Older women need 1-hour workouts to fend off flab”  Wow!

The first time I heard about it, someone merely mentioned that there was an article about a study that said that middle-aged women have to workout 1 hour per day to be able to keep their weight constant. The more I heard about it, the more dramatic and gloomy it got. By the end, pretty much if you were a woman 54-years and older, you would have to workout like a maniac for 1 hour per day or be doomed to a future of constant weight gain. Who has time to workout that much? I don’t think I can do that! Well, I might as well don’t bother!…..Panic!!!

Neverfear… Of course I couldn’t help myself but dig a little deeper, find the actual research paper, read the findings from the source itself and find out if the results of this study really that drastic.

So here are my findings:

The actual research paper, Physical Activity and Weight Gain Prevention, was published 24 March 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study was conducted over 13 years and involved 34 079 healthy US women with a mean age of 54.2 years. The goal of the study was “to examine the association or different amounts of physical activity with long-term weight changes among women consuming a usual diet”

Physical activity was defined as recreational activities to include walking, hiking, jogging, running, bicycling, aerobic exercise, dance, use of exercise machines, yoga, stretching, toning, tennis, squash, racquetball, and swimming. There is no mention of what “usual diet” means, so one can make an educated guess that it consists of the USDA’s dietary guidelines, but as I said, the research paper does not specify.

There are two main findings of the study:

(1) The rate of weight gain in this study was 2.6 kg (roughly 5 lbs) over 13 years. (I don’t want to take away from the importance of minimizing weight gain, but the impression I got from the hearsay, was that unless you workout for 1 hour per day, your weight will be out of control. 5 lbs over 13 years is definitely not out of control)

(2) Physical activity (consisting of 60 min/day of moderate-intensity physical activity) was associated with less weight gain only for women with a BMI of <25. For overweight participants, physical activity was not associated with less weight gain. (Translation: those women that took care of themselves before their 50’s had much more success)

So what does that mean for you? Are you doomed to endless weight gain unless you become an exercise fanatic? Absolutely not!!

Short version:

The key is how you treat your body throughout life not at a specific age! Eat healthy and don’t wait until 54 to start exercising! J If you take care of yourself throughout your life and incorporate good health behaviors into your daily life, you have nothing to worry about.

The slightly longer version:

–       Weight gain happens when more calories are consumed than used, no matter the gender and age. With age, activity levels tend to decrease, which demands a decrease in caloric consumption. If that doesn’t happen, you will gain weight!

–       Age-related loss of muscle, also called sarcopenia, affects everyone and causes our metabolism to slow down. Less muscle = less calories burned. This highlights again the importance of resistance training in combating muscle wasting and keeping your body working as efficient as possible.


Healthy nutrition and regular physical activity are a MUST –

No matter your age or gender!

Be good to your body and it will be good to you!!!




Lee, I-M., Djousse, L., Sesso, H.D., Wang, L., Buring, J.E. (2010). Physical Activity and Weight Gain Prevention. JAMA, (303)12; 1173-1180.

Body Image – Eternal Battle with Yourself

Do you like what you see in the mirror?

Mirror mirror on the wall, do you like what you see at all?

Body image is a multifaceted construct of perception, imagination, emotions, and cognitive components about our relationship with our bodies. Unfortunately this term is mostly used with a negative connotation in conjunction with topics such as eating disorders, depression, and low self esteem. Rarely do we hear about positive body image and that is part of the problem.

Here are some stunning facts:

– 50 % of 3-6 year old girls worry about being fat

– 80% of girls have tried a fad diet by the time they’re in 4th grade

– 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance


On a daily basis we are bombarded with artificial, photoshopped images, advertised as “real” women. Even articles in magazines promoting healthy body image and being happy with your body use photos that have been retouched/altered to the extreme. Reality check: those bodies don’t exist in real life!! Children grow up in a society that glorifies an ideal body that doesn’t exist. Every day young girls and women tell themselves they’re not thin enough, not pretty enough, not young-looking enough, their breast aren’t big enough, that wrinkles, stretch marks, and cellulite are disgusting. Who decided this and why? It surely wasn’t based on promoting health. No, it is based on making money. If everyone felt good about themselves, imagine the decline in plastic surgery, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals, not to mention all the other industries benefiting from your negative body image.

The quest for the unachievable body is futile, explaining why more women feel the pressure to resort to plastic surgery in an effort to keep that ideal image alive. The futility of this battle is based in a process that is natural and happens to everyone, no matter your gender, race, and economic status: Aging!! As we age, our bodies will go through changes and with that, aging inevitably moves us further away from the sociocultural ideal body that is supposed to be thin and young forever. It’s a lost battle.

Negative body image is not inborn but learned! Unlearn it!!

“Approve of yourself before seeking approval from others.” – Iman

So how do we fix it? There is no simple answer to it but here are some tips that can help:

– Kill your inner supermodel! Don’t try to look like someone else; Be your own best self

– Pay attention to your own body and know what you can and cannot achieve, what’s realistic and

what’s not. Push yourself to be the best you can be but never chase someone else’s version of yourself. 

It’s pretty simple: you can’t be someone else!

– Focus on health & quality of life vs appearances; health has no age limit, appearances will change!

– Spend time with real people instead of watching the media’s version of what’s real

– Don’t pay attention to the media

– Talk to your children about body image


Note: I would like to note that this article focuses on women because they consistently report greater dissatisfaction with their bodies than men, but the issue of negative body image does not exclude men.


The Soy Controversy – Is There A Dark Side to Soy?

Since the 90’s, more than 10,000 studies have been conducted on evaluating different soy products, their nutritional and metabolic benefits, and their function in disease prevention and reduction.

But, as with all studies, the more you know, the more confusing and contradicting information seems to get. It is difficult and time-consuming to weed through all the information that is thrown at us and it is even more difficult to find credible and peer-reviewed research that has actual scientific backing. Loads of information that is being put out by “experts” is nothing but clever marketing ploys to sell a product without any research to back it up.

Always question information, 

especially if it is supposed to be “good” or “bad” for you. 

Don’t just take somebody else’s opinion; ask them to tell you what they are basing their “expertise” on.

What makes the soy bean so special and controversial is its unique source of isoflavones, called phytoestrogens. These phytoestrogens exhibit weak estrogen-like  effects and have received a lot of scientific attention because of the concern that they might stimulate the growth of existing estrogen-sensitive breast tumors. However, the majority of  of studies researching the association between soy consumption and breast cancer risk, have found an inverse relationship between the two. Studies show that the soy intake during early life may both reduce breast cancer risk and risk of recurrence and that a diet rich in isoflavones from soy products also reduces the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.

Results from several studies also suggests that soy consumption might reduce the risk of prostate cancer and coronary heart disease. Clinical studies of soy-based diets revealed that soy consumption significantly decreased total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.  Promising research studies also show the potential benefit of increased soy consumption on bone health especially for postmenopausal women but more research is needed.

I was not able to find any credible evidence to suggest that consumption of traditional soy products high in isoflavones has adverse effects in healthy individuals. The latter (healthy individuals) is very important. You should always consult a health professional before increasing your soy consumption considerably as it may have adverse affects depending on your particular health condition. As with everything, moderation is key. Don’t replace every protein source with soy and when consuming soy products, be sure they are quality products. Beware of many commercial soy products as they have little or no isoflavones but are high in sugars and fillers. Another factor to take into account is that a large number of soy crops in the United States are genetically modified and therefore can have significantly different effects.

Be informed about what you put in your body!

My little disclaimer: as mentioned above, thousands of studies have been done on soy and of course I have not read every single one of them. I chose about 20 peer-reviewed articles and reviews published in well-known and reputable magazines. This article is designed to give you unbiased and factual information obtained from those articles so you can make a more informed decision when consuming soy products.


Dai Q, Franke AA, Yu H, Shu XO, Jin F, Hebert JR, Custer LJ, Gao YT, Zheng W. (2003). Urinary phytoestrogen excretion and breast cancer risk: evaluating potential effect modifiers endogenous estrogens and anthropometrics. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 12(6):497-502.

Goodman MT, Shvetsov YB, Wilkens LR, Franke AA, Le Marchand L, Kakazu KK, Nomura AM, Henderson BE, Kolonel LN. (2009). Urinary phytoestrogen excretion and postmenopausal breast cancer risk: the multiethnic cohort study. Cancer Prev Res., 2(10):887-94.

Guha N, Kwan ML, Quesenberry CP Jr, Weltzien EK, Castillo AL, Caan BJ. (2009). Soy isoflavones and risk of cancer recurrence in a cohort of breast cancer survivors: the Life  After Cancer Epidemiology study. Breast Cancer Res Treat., 118(2):395-405

Harkness, L. (2004) Soy and bone. Where do we stand?  Orthop Nurs. 23(1):12-7

Hilakivi-Clarke, L., Andrade, J.E., Helferich, W. (2010). Is soy consumption good or bad for the breast? Journal of Nutrition

Messina, M. (2010). Insights Gained from 20 Years of Soy Research. Journal of Nutrition

Song WO, Chun OK, Hwang I, Shin HS, Kim BG, Kim KS, Lee SY, Shin D, Lee SG. (2007). Soy isoflavones as safe functional ingredients. Journal of Med. Food;10(4):571-80.