Healing Hearts, Honoring My Mother

Whether it be a chocolate heart, a broken heart, or someone having your heart, Valentine’s Day has the word heart on all of our lips. While the clichés can be cute or sickening, depending on your general outlook of the holiday, the word heart has become an identity for our personality in reference to our emotions.

Very few people will first think of the pump-like organ that regulates blood circulation from its home in our chests. Even fewer people give thought to the health of that organ, which is unfortunate since 1 in 4 deaths is caused by heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. To refocus our awareness of the true definition of the word, February is American Heart Month.

You can be proactive about your heart health — and that of those you love.

There are different kinds of heart disease, which obviously means that there are different causes. While cardiovascular disease can refer to different heart or blood vessel problems, the definition is widely used in reference to damage done by a buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries. As that buildup thickens, the walls of the arteries harden, which obstructs blood from being distributed to your organs.

This process is called atherosclerosis, but we know it as coronary artery disease. While some heart conditions can be due to heart defects that you may have been born with, atherosclerosis is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease and is caused predominantly by correctable problems: obesity, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and smoking. Continue reading

Men’s Health Is No Joke

Father And Son In Park With FootballThe week leading up to Father’s Day is Men’s Health Week. One of the biggest issues when it comes to men’s health is that it just isn’t taken seriously. I realized this while I was spending time with some of my guy friends one day.

The group of friends I was with all work at a warehouse. They fit the stereotypical “dude” type that would rather wrap some duct tape and a few popsicle sticks around a broken finger instead of going to the doctor.

You can take control of your health at any age!

One of them was talking about a recent checkup he had. We are all in our early 20s and we’re reaching that turning point where our physical exams get a bit more … well, physical. He mentioned that he had a prostate exam and STD screening, and the rest of the guys in my group teased him about it. It was all in good fun, but a moment later it struck me that they were all making jokes about an examination that could potentially save his life.

I have overheard my female friends discuss things like seeing an ob/gyn or getting a physical exam, and while they occasionally joke about it, they do it in a very lighthearted manner that couldn’t possibly leave anyone embarrassed.

While my guy friends’ jokes themselves were not harmful, they indicated an attitude of dismissal that leaves them far less likely than women to see a doctor for preventive care and regular checkups.  Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 18: Cholesterol Testing

vegetablesWelcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.

It’s National Cholesterol Education Month.

Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in our country, and high cholesterol is a major risk factor for both of these conditions. Most people with high cholesterol don’t have it under control, even though it is both preventable and treatable. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, adults 20 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked every five years. And, with two out of three adults suffering from high cholesterol, keeping track of your cholesterol is important.

What is cholesterol?

plaqueCholesterol is a waxy substance, sort of like fat, that can coat the walls of your arteries, forming a “plaque.” This is also referred to as “hardening of the arteries” or atherosclerosis. You’ll often hear comments like, “Those fast-food cheeseburgers will clog your arteries” — regularly eating food that is high in saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol that circulates in your bloodstream, increasing your risk for health problems. When arteries have too much plaque, they narrow, and your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body.

Our bodies need cholesterol to function, but they’re able to synthesize it themselves — unlike many vitamins and minerals, we can make our own cholesterol and don’t need to get it from food. Cholesterol comes in two types: “good” cholesterol, or high density lipoprotein (HDL); and “bad” cholesterol, or low density lipoprotein (LDL). “High cholesterol” refers to high levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL is what forms plaque in the arteries, while HDL prevents plaque buildup, likely by carrying the LDL to the liver, which processes it before it’s excreted from the body. Continue reading

The History of the Birth Control Pill, Part 2: Barbasco and the Roots of Hormonal Contraception

Russell Marker. Image: Penn State University Archives

Russell Marker. Image: Penn State University Archives

Welcome to the second installment of our series chronicling the history of the birth control pill. Previously, we learned about the role a sex hormone called progesterone plays in inhibiting ovulation. Scientists had no easy way to isolate significant amounts of this chemical and wanted to find a quick and inexpensive method for synthesizing large quantities of progesterone.

Russell Marker was born to Maryland sharecroppers in 1903. Hoping to escape rural life, Marker was one of only two students in his junior-high class to attend high school. He graduated in three years and enrolled at the University of Maryland, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. He needed one more class to receive his doctorate, but refused to take it, believing he had already mastered his chosen subject, organic chemistry. He was only interested in working in the lab and thought the required course would be a waste of his time. (The university did eventually award him an honorary doctorate in 1987.)

A wild-growing yam in Mexico provided chemicals that could be refined into progesterone, the active ingredient in the Pill.

At the time, the scientific community was abuzz with discoveries being made about hormones. They held tremendous potential for research, but scientists couldn’t figure out how to isolate large quantities of them for study. Up for a challenge, Marker set out to find a way to synthesize one hormone, called progesterone, in abundance. He hypothesized that plants from the genus Dioscorea, which includes yams and agaves, would be cheap sources of steroid hormones. Marker was specifically hoping to find plants rich in sapogenins, which are chemically similar to cholesterol. Continue reading

Planned Parenthood Services for Men: We’ve Got You Covered

At Planned Parenthood, we’re passionate about women’s health, and indeed, our health care centers are well known for their top-notch services aimed at the female population. But not a lot of people associate Planned Parenthood with men’s health — despite the fact that we offer a wide range of services for men, ranging from those you expect (like condoms) to those you might not expect (like smoking cessation).

Planned Parenthood offers cancer screening and family-planning options for men, as well as an array of services that include cholesterol screening, diabetes screening, and even smoking cessation.

Sexually active people should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — even if your partner has negative test results, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear, so you can’t rely on your significant other to provide your STD screening “by proxy.” Especially because so many STDs are asymptomatic, it’s better to get yourself tested. We can screen and treat for STDs, as well as offer preventive vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Most people associate the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, with females, since HPV is behind 99 percent of cervical cancers. But males can benefit from Gardasil as well. Not only will they be protecting their partners, but they will also be protecting themselves from the viruses that can cause precancerous penile lesions as well as the majority of genital warts and anal cancers.

Men’s services also include life-saving cancer screening — we can check you out for prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, or testicular cancer. We can also evaluate penile lesions, which might lead to penile cancer if left untreated. These might not be the kind of check-ups anyone looks forward to, but they represent the kind of preventive health care that can save your life — or just your money — down the road. Continue reading