Women's Health Conference was most ambitious yet

DOWNEY - Giggy Saab was so excited about the Third Annual Rancho Women's Health Conference last Friday at the Rio Hondo Event Center that she not only attended the half-day workshop herself, she also brought her mom. She was glad she did.

"It was very informative, enriching and active," said Giggy, the current president of the Soroptimist International of Downey. "We meditated, did tai chi, yoga and Zumba. Both my mom and I loved it!"

Giggy wasn't alone. She was one of more than 120 women from the local community who heard presentations from a series of renowned doctors from Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center at the conference, entitled "Healthy Aging...Mind, Body & Spirit." The conference, which has become one of the premier women's health events in the region, was presented by the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation and the Los Amigos Research and Education Institute.

"We are so glad that women leaders from our community such as Giggy, Martha Sodetani, Dr. Jacquelin Perry, Joan Frey and so many other remarkable women were able to join us for our most ambitious women's conference yet," said Rancho's Chair of its Department of Medicine and Conference Chair Yaga Szlachcic, MD.

Rancho neurologist Susan Shaw, MD was first up, teaching the audience about stroke prevention strategies and how to recognize the warning signs for the disease. An accomplished researcher, Susan is also Associate Director of Rancho's Stroke Medical Home and Co-Director of the hospital's Epilepsy Program.

Dr. Shaw drew a gasp from the audience when she revealed that women now have more strokes than men, and that women were having strokes at younger ages than men. She said that Rancho now admits far more patients who have stroke than any other diagnosis. In fact, approximately two-thirds of Rancho inpatient admissions are stroke-related. She also shared that Rancho now treats more stroke patients than any other County hospital.

"We have created protocols for our patients that have been very successful at preventing a second stroke," Susan said. "Learning what to do is critical to preventing future strokes." Rancho provides its patients with binders that give them not only comprehensive information about strokes, but guidance on how to improve their overall health, she said.

"I learned so much more about strokes, and more importantly, how to prevent them by maintaining a healthy diet, managing stress and exercising," said Soroptimist member Claudia DeLeon.

Dr. Szlachcic then spoke about "Preparing Your Heart for Healthy Aging." She reported that heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined. "Women can greatly improve their overall health with a consistent pattern of a healthy diet and exercise," she said. "In fact, the MacArthur Foundation reports that physical activity is perhaps the single most important thing a person can do to improve their health."

She also advocated eating lots of fish. "Focus on fish such as wild salmon, catfish, tilapia and shrimp," she said. In addition, she said to avoid swordfish and other fatty fish that often carry high levels of mercury. "You should also learn to love cinnamon, turmeric and ginger," she said. Rancho Chief Medical Officer and noted neurologist Mindy Aisen, MD then outlined how neurologic breakthroughs of the last decade have allowed patients to experience much more neurologic activity after stroke and other neurologic disorders.

She said that she has personally increased her exercise to improve her health. "I go hiking for several hours each weekend day, and I feel 10 years younger," Dr. Aisen said. She finished her comments by telling the audience that recent advances have substantially improved the hospital. "Rancho is on a rocket ship to the stars!" she said.

Then Rancho Recreation Therapist Christina Webster slowed the pace by leading the conference attendees in a Tai Chi break, showing everyone how to do simple movements that they could replicate at home or in the office.

Next up was Rancho Internal Medicine and Holistic Medicine specialist Rashmi Desai, MD, who discussed "Meditation and How it Helps in Age-Related Issues." She outlined her opinion that aging can be postponed by controlling one's mental state. "We are what we think," Dr. Desai said, "and what we think is what we become." She explained how meditation can help soothe the body and improve its function, and how a clear mind can lead to a more fulfilling life. "If you change your thoughts, you can truly change your destiny," she said.

Dr. Desai led the audience in a meditation exercise to show how effective replacing a coffee break with a daily meditation break could be. "When we meditate and when we exercise, endorphins are released into our system that make us happier," she said. "If you begin meditating daily, I can guarantee you will feel its positive effects in less than three months."

"The meditation exercise was fascinating and it was an incredible gift to all of us," Claudia said. "I felt in touch with myself...it was a wonderful feeling of peace and care. Just amazing!"

Sylvia Shaw, MD, the President of Rancho's Professional Staff Association and the hospital's Chief of Endocrinology and Diabetes, then led a discussion of "What Every Woman Needs to Know about Metabolic Syndrome."

Metabolic Syndrome is a collection of heart disease risk factors that increase your chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. According to a national health survey, more than one in five Americans has Metabolic Syndrome.

The number of people with the condition increases with age, affecting more than 40 percent of people in their 60s and 70s.

Someone is diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome if they have three of the following:

* A waistline of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women

* A blood pressure of 130/85 or higher (or you are taking blood pressure medications)

* A high triglyceride level

* A high fasting blood glucose (sugar) level (or you are taking glucose-lowering medications)

* A low HDL (high density lipoprotein) level

"There are clear early warning signs for this disorder," Dr. Shaw said. "These include headaches, depression, low energy, skin tags, low libido, memory loss, snoring and sleep apnea."

Dr. Shaw said that as a general rule, women should avoid having waistlines larger than 35 inches and men should keep their waist under 40 inches to reduce major health risks. She passed out measuring tapes so those in the audience could measure their waistlines and continue to monitor this important indicator of health.

"There are a few things you can do to help you avoid Metabolic Syndrome, all of which will dramatically improve your overall health," Dr. Shaw said. "These include decreasing stress, increasing exercise, stopping smoking and decreasing your intake of carbohydrates, which are milky, fruity and starchy foods that all turn to glucose."

Dr. Shaw also advocated "mindful eating," which includes developing personal approaches to better appreciate the food one is eating and to discover ways to eat in peace. She also said that controlling portions at different times of the day is critical.

"I like the advice to eat like a queen in the morning, eat like a princess at lunch, and eat like a pauper at night," Dr. Shaw said.

After Dr. Shaw's presentation, Rancho Occupational Therapist Heidi Dombish led a yoga break that introduced conference participants to movements they could use in their everyday lives.

Then Stefan Bughi, MD, an Endocrinologist and Rancho's Patient Safety Officer, spoke about "The Role of Minerals and Supplements for Healthy Aging." He discussed the fact that most American adults have diets with intakes of Vitamin D and Magnesium that are substantially below recommended dietary allowances.

"Vitamin D deficiency leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes and can also affect bone health," he said. "Magnesium deficiency can lead to atherosclerosis, which leads to heart problems. There is also evidence that it can also lead to mental illness."

He also said that an increased level of magnesium intake is associated with a decreased risk of colon and retinal cancer.

Dr. Bughi also revealed the existence of a "miracle food" that is by far the top antioxidant in the world-dark chocolate. "If you eat 30 grams (about one ounce) of high-quality dark chocolate made from raw cacao, you will benefit every part of your body," Dr. Bughi said. Needless to say, the audience thought that was a great idea.

Dr. Bughi also said that his three other keys to healthier aging were healthy eating, getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night and reducing stress. He also advocated drinking tap water rather than bottled water, primarily because of tap water's higher levels of magnesium.

Finally, Rancho's Chief of Dentistry,Terrie DeBord, DDS, spoke about "How to Preserve the Healthy Smile," which instructed conference participants how to maintain excellent dental health as a vital part of a healthy aging strategy.

A major highlight of the event was the Zumba demonstration put on by a team of Rancho Zumba instructors, which got everyone in the room moving after several hours of presentations.

Praise for the conference was virtually universal. Community leader Pat Heineke said, "I enjoyed the women's conference very much. The information provided is so important to women's health. I was extremely pleased to be able to participate." She said that she also very much enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the Zumba class and Yoga, and that she especially liked the professionalism of the presenters. She added that "the presentations were very professional and the fact that good healthy food was provided was a real plus."

Fellow community leader Beverly Mathis said, "Every year the Women's Health Conference gets better, and the Third Annual event was the best yet. The caliber of speakers was outstanding. "It's amazing to have all that intellectual power at Rancho," Beverly said. "How fortunate for our community. I'm sure all attending enjoyed it as much as I did!"

Claudia Camarena said, "Thank you for bringing us such a great conference. When I learned that the Rancho Wellness Center was open to the community, my daughter and I joined immediately and the seniors in my walking club at the senior center are planning to join, too!"

"I learned more from this conference than I have ever learned from my own doctors," said Mary Lou Schmidt of the Assistance League of Downey. "It was absolutely outstanding."

"The reaction from the attendees makes all the time we spent creating this year's conference worthwhile," Dr. Szlachcic said. "We are already working on next year's Women's Health Conference, and we plan on making it even more fun and meaningful for the women who join us."

********** Published: November 1, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 29