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What’s the Deal with Prenatal Vitamins?

Vitamin for future mothers

What’s the Deal with Prenatal Vitamins?
By Kristen Dunleavy

Last weekend was my 31st birthday, and I celebrated like any other 30-something would. And by that I mean pretending it was, in fact, my 21st birthday all over again and eating and imbibing way too much on very little sleep. After my debauched weekend filled with one too many shots of Fireball and birthday cake, I was delighted to realize that my liver was still functional. I wanted to keep it that way, so I headed to the grocery, stocked up on a zillion juice-able veggies and basically any product that contained the word “detox.”

I also decided to re-up my vitamin intake, as I’ve been slacking pretty hard as of late. I grabbed a multivitamin formulated especially for women, along with some milk thistle to help promote my liver’s continued functionality. NOW I was back in business!

Part of the reason I suck at remembering to take vitamins is because I just don’t know WHAT to take to begin with. I know a lot of women who take prenatal vitamins who have no intention of getting pregnant, just because they’re jam-packed with so many nutrients most women need anyway.

But what is the actual difference between prenatal vitamins and, say, a regular women’s multivitamin? I did some research to find out.

Calcium: Prenatal vitamins are a great calcium supplement, containing about 200-300mg. However, women should be getting a total of about 1,000 mg of calcium daily – so prenatal vitamins will give you an extra boost, but a balanced diet should provide the rest.

Iron: Women between ages 19 and 50 need about 18 mg of iron daily, and pregnant women need 27 mg. Now, getting TOO much iron in your diet isn’t good, because it can eventually build up in your body and become toxic. However, if you’re a vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions that prevent you from getting enough iron, prenatal vitamins could be a great solution.

Folic acid: Many women’s vitamins contain folic acid, as there is evidence that it prevents certain birth defects. A recent study also found that women who take folic acid significantly reduce their risk of developing high blood pressure. Prenatal vitamins contain an extra boost of folic acid that proves helpful if you’re not eating enough green leafy vegetables, fruits and dried beans – but those things are delicious so I have no idea why you wouldn’t be!

Remember, prenatal vitamins, like any other vitamins, are dietary SUPPLEMENTS – they are meant to supplement an already healthy diet. You can’t just binge on pizza, pop a vitamin and expect to feel awesome. It doesn’t work that way!

FemmePharma currently has prenatal vitamins for just $4.99! Click here to order yours today.

Do you take prenatal vitamins even though you’re not pregnant? Tell us in the comments!

Why the F**k is Skin Cancer Still on the Rise?

Baking in the Sun


Why the F**k is Skin Cancer Still on the Rise?
By Kristen Dunleavy

When I was 14, I did what was probably one of the dumbest things ever. I had chronic acne and was taking a veritable smorgasbord of medications (topical and otherwise), including Accutane. None of it was working, and I was too young and naive to realize that this was likely because human skin doesn’t enjoy being attacked with half a dozen chemicals every day. My pale, Irish complexion was certainly having none of it.

So on a family trip to the shore (I’m from New Jersey and we go to the shore, not the beach), I donned my blue wraparound sunglasses (very chic in ’97) and laid out on my Hello Kitty towel… without sunscreen.

Yep, I purposely didn’t apply sunscreen on a swelteringly hot July day. I figured that I would get a wicked burn that would rid me of my acne once and for all. Like I said, dumbest idea ever. What I got was an extreme case of sun poisoning and a week indoors watching re-runs of Real World: Miami. I’d never been more miserable.

Today, nearly every personal care product I use includes SPF. My own experience plus the countless melanoma horror stories that surface every year around this time have been more than enough to keep me hitting the sunscreen hard. And yet, skin cancer is still on the rise.

In fact, basil and squamous cell carcinoma have been increasing in women for some time. Now melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers, is suddenly skyrocketing among young Caucasian women as well. Between 1973 and 2004, melanoma in men between ages 15 to 39 increased from 4.7 cases to 7.7 cases for every 100,000. In women, that number doubled from 5.5 cases per 100,000 to 13.9 in 2004.

A big part of this is actually good news – we’re getting better at detecting melanoma. But on the other hand, tanning beds are prevalent as ever, despite many state-wide laws banning them for minors and new FDA regulations requiring tanning machine manufacturers to warn consumers about the risks of indoor tanning. Oh, and then there’s the fact that getting a tan is still as cool as my wraparound shades were back in the ‘90s.

I won’t lie, I do love laying out in the sun. It feels amazing, especially after the long and ridiculous winter we’ve had. But so help me god if I’m not covered head-to-toe in SPF 50. I recently got a wicked burn from a 30 minute car ride after forgetting to apply. Those UV rays DO NOT mess around.

Obviously, not everyone has the complexion of a Russian nesting doll. But that by no means indicates that your skin is immune to any kind of skin cancer. In reality, everyone should be wearing sunscreen at all times, forever and always – but especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is strongest. Also, wear a hat! Hats are awesome.

Remember to check your skin about once a month for any irregularities using this handy chart from SkinCancer.org. And get yourself a dermatologist if you don’t already have one. A skin check is one of the easiest exams ever and usually takes less than 10 minutes.

Don’t let skin cancer win – or end up like my angsty, sun-poisoned 14 year-old self.

Do you use sun protection daily? Do you love to bake in the sun like an adequately roasted turkey? Let’s hear it in the comments!

The Freshman 15: Fact or Fiction?


The Freshman 15: Fact or Fiction?
By Kristen Dunleavy

Prior to my first semester away at college, I was looking forward to exactly one thing. It wasn’t the parties or the freedom or even choosing my elective classes (though my haiku class was every bit as awesome as it sounds). Nope; I was excited about the food.

See, I went to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. This campus in particular has something called the Grease Trucks, where you can order an array of ungodly, gluttonous sandwich combinations. Want an abundance of mozzarella sticks and fries shoved haphazardly into a kaiser roll? You got it. Need roughly a pound of falafel at 2 a.m.? It’s all yours. Want a fast, healthy alternative to any of these things? Ha! You’re on your own with that one.

My friends and I took our gluttony to the next level at the dining hall. We’d have breakfast and hang out until they switched over to lunch to avoid extra swipes on our meal cards. Our table often resembled the feast of a Roman war hero. And don’t even get me started on Taco Tuesday.

Weight gain is a totally valid concern for many incoming freshman – especially those who eat like I did back in the day. But it’s not like you’re going to start popping buttons the second you’re handed your first syllabus. In fact, the term “Freshman 15” isn’t even a real, scientific thing. It was coined in a 1989 edition of Seventeen Magazine and has been used ever since.

Plenty of students do gain some weight in their first year at college, but it’s usually in the neighborhood of five pounds. That extra weight isn’t necessarily from the dining hall food, though. It’s likely stressed-related – or even more likely, drinking related. Students who drink heavily in college are on average about a pound heavier than those who don’t drink. Yes, even those cheap, alleged “light” beers still pack in a hefty amount of calories

While the myth of the Freshman 15 was originally created to help sell magazines, it did instill a certain amount of fear into lots of young people – particularly women. But it’s not impossible to lead a healthy lifestyle while you’re away at school, even if the Grease Trucks are literally right in your backyard.

These days, most schools have a bigger selection of healthy, nutritious options and will cater to various dietary needs. Look ahead at what the dining hall is serving each day, and try to plan your meals to some extent if you can. If your dining hall offers takeout, it can be tempting to take enough food back to your dorm room to feed a family of four. That’s where Taco Tuesday was my downfall. As a result of being poor and always hungry, I turned into a complete food hoarder. Because, you know, should the zombie apocalypse go down, I could hole up in my dorm room with enough nachos to last me for years.

There are a plethora of ways to stay healthy while away at school. Take your vitamins! Check out local, cheap fitness classes! Heck, join a frisbee golf league. Your health should always be a top priority, no matter where you are. Even if it’s Taco Tuesday.

Why Whey?

FemmePharma Chocolate & Vanilla Whey Shakes

When I think about protein, the first thing that comes to mind is a chalky-tasting shake with some alleged vanilla artificial flavoring that one is supposed to chug shortly after pumping iron while grunting loudly in front of the mirror in a local gym. Perhaps a sweaty selfie is thrown in for good measure, just to make sure the universe is aware of your fitness humblebrag.

I honestly don’t think about how much protein I need on a daily basis, and apparently I’m not alone. In a recent survey by Luna, 50 percent of women ages 18-50 didn’t know if they were getting enough protein in their diet. The amount of protein you need depends completely on your weight and lifestyle. Unfortunately (for people like me anyway), it depends on a bit of math, too. Here’s how to figure out how much protein you really need:

  1. Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kg
  2.  Weight in kg x 0.8-1.8 gm/kg = protein gm.

If you’re in good health and mostly sedentary, use a lower number on the scale between 1 and 1.8. If you’re under stress, pregnant or involved in consistent, high-impact weight training, you’ll want to choose a higher number on that scale.

Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues. Your protein synthesis, or production of protein, must be greater than the destruction of those tissues that occurs when those tissues are breaking down – or when you exercise, for example.

Many women THINK they’re getting enough protein, but really most women need between 50 and 60 grams a day, or about 30 grams per meal. In addition to being pretty clueless about this, I also wrongly assumed that protein in these quantities would turn me into the bulked-up, shake-chugging meathead I mentioned earlier. Not so! But if you’re still paranoid, there IS an easy, low-calorie alternative way… Whey!

While protein is in a lot of delicious things, such as peanut butter, there is often a lot of fat that comes along with it (in this case, a whopping 18 grams). But whey protein is a whole different ballgame. It’s fat-free, filling and is absorbed by your body more quickly and easily than traditional protein sources.

Whey itself is a derivative of cow milk and is a great daily alternative for those in need of a leaner source of protein. You can scoop some into your oatmeal, throw it into a smoothie or yogurt, or even add it to a soup or pasta sauce. There are also whey protein bars out there that provide a fast meal on-the-go – or for those of us who are culinarily challenged.

So there you have it. Where this is a will, there is a whey!

FemmePharma’s whey protein dietary supplements are on sale now! Get yours today.

Diagnosed at 25: A Young Survivor’s Story.


FemmePharma is excited to partnering with Living Beyond Breast Cancer for their upcoming Yoga On The Steps Event May 18th and in future endeavors.

Check out our guest blog “Diagnosed at 25: A Young Survivor’s Story”.

Diagnosed at 25: A Young Survivor’s Story.
By Kristen Dunleavy

“Think about life in your 20s for a minute. It’s a decade of learning, growing, falling down and getting back up – often more than once. It’s a hopeful, exciting time when you’re just getting the hang of this crazy thing we call adulthood.

Katy Wagnon was a typical 25-year-old. At the time, she was living in Arizona with her boyfriend of four years. She had a steady job and was perfectly content with the life she’d created for herself.

When Katy discovered a lump on her breast in the shower, she initially brushed it off. Like any good procrastinator, she decided to wait it out to see if it went away on its own. Katy had a co-worker around her age who had been diagnosed with breast cancer six months earlier – but there was no way that’s what this was!

Still, Katy kept this thought in the back of her head. When the lump didn’t go away, she made a doctor’s appointment to have it checked out. A mammogram and a few biopsies later, Katy was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer.

The diagnosis on its own was a punch in the gut – adapting to life with cancer was another story altogether.

“All of my friends were in their 20s and couldn’t understand what I was going through,”Katy said. “They were going out to bars, and I was at home with my boyfriend, always in-between chemo and surgery.”

The first surgery Katy endured was supposed to clear everything out – but it didn’t. It turned out that the cancer was further along than her doctors initially suspected, and she would require chemotherapy.

So Katy got a second opinion. Then a third. She eventually landed on a doctor in Tucson that made her feel at ease. At the age of 25, Katy went through a double mastectomy, with her reconstruction beginning that same day.

Katy now thinks of her experience as a blessing in disguise. While it was difficult to relate to other 20-somethings, Katy found plenty of support in her parents, grandmother and her boyfriend who is now her husband.

“In the end, it turned out to be an awesome experience,”Katy said. “Nothing is too big of a challenge for me now because I’ve been to hell and back. For anyone who is going through it now, know that it will get better.”

As young women like Katy know all too well, finding support in the wake of such a diagnosis isn’t easy, and sometimes it can feel like you’re totally alone. But that simply isn’t true.

In fact, that’s why Femme Pharma exists. With the mission of improving the health and quality of life for women through superior therapeutics, Femme Pharma has your back – and the backs of millions of women like Katy nationwide.

Gerianne Tringali DiPiano founded the company in 1996 to better address women’s healthcare needs, specifically in the areas of diseases and disorders. Ever since then, the company has been an advocate for all women, working to develop new treatment methods that promote healing across a broad range of therapeutic categories. Today, Femme Pharma is the go-to women’s health resource and community.

FemmePharma is enthusiastic about working with the women of LBBC; since both organizations’ missions and visions are very much aligned. We share the passionate mission of improving the quality of life and understanding how to accomplish that goal for women survivors of breast cancer.

And Katy knows this better than anyone – she’s FemmePharma’s graphic designer!

For more information about FemmePharma, visit FemmePharma.com.”

You can also read the article posted on Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s blog at: www.livingbeyondbc.wordpress.com

Understanding Food Labels

Over the last few days, I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington D.C. to participate in nutrition policy work. Nutrition policy can be quite daunting. It is hard enough for us to know how to figure out the food rules that dictate our daily lives (“Eat this, don’t eat that”). One item governed by nutrition policy that may be present in your life, many times a day, is the food label. The label can be helpful in meeting your goals, whether you are aiming to increase, decrease, or just be aware of your intake of a number of nutrients.

Share with us!
Do you use the food label to help you decide what to eat?
a. Yes, I don’t eat anything until I have analyzed it!
b. Sometimes, it depends how I am feeling that day.
c. No, I don’t want to know!
d. No, there’s a label on foods?

Tell us, what is the first thing you look for on the label?

Is there anything you find confusing about the label and if so, what is it?

For those of you who answered EVERYTHING, here’s a few tips on reading the Nutrition Facts Label:

  • Notice how many calories are in the product you are choosing. Use a food tracker, such as the SuperTracker (https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx) to compare what you are eating to recommendations personalized for you.
  •  Compare labels to choose foods lower in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and higher in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.
  •  Take a look at the ingredients, which have to be listed in descending order. If you see sugar (or syrup) listed first, you know that the product has more sugar than any other ingredient.
  •  When buying cereals, crackers, pastas, and other carbohydrate rich foods, look for items that have whole grains (whole grain wheat flour, whole grain oats, etc.) as the first ingredient and more grams of fiber.
  •  Choose items lower in trans fats. Even if the label says 0 g of trans fat, look for partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list to see if there are hidden trans fats.

Enjoy your day!

The Magical Age of the Mammogram


The debate rages over the “magical age of the mammogram”.  The media fuels concerns by making statements about the risks of mammography for young women.  It’s been reported that radiation exposure, stress of “over-diagnosis”, biopsy and the period waiting for results, creates overwhelming anxiety for women.  There is no question all of this is stressful.  However, as a young breast cancer survivor I find this reporting infuriating.  I was only 25 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and luckily, my doctor did send me to get a mammogram instead of telling me “don’t worry, it’s nothing; you are too young”.  Luckily, my cancer was caught early and I underwent conservative treatment to increase the probability of success.

My experience compels me to encourage women to have a mammogram, if warranted, regardless of age, and proceed with further diagnostic tests if necessary. It’s far better to know the results, good or bad, than wait until the “magical age of mammogram”, (in my case it would have been 25 years later if I followed the recommendations) where the outcome/treatment options are likely to be far more aggressive and the prognosis worse. Through my own treatment, support groups, and general awareness, I’ve learned that breast cancer is no longer an older woman’s disease. No, not every twenty five year old woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer, but unfortunately an increasing number of women under the age of 40 are being diagnosed everyday. I guess the lesson from all of this is do what YOU think is best for YOU.

Here are my personal recommendations:

Do your self -exams every month!
Trust your instincts.
Talk with a trusted doctor especially if you have a family history.
Obtain a second opinion.

Early detection is the key to survival. A breast cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence especially if it’s found early.


March is National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month! Thus, advice columns and advertisements on what to eat and what to avoid are as plentiful as the forbidden indulgences on a Sunday brunch buffet. As we celebrate nutrition as a nation and attempt to digest all the news, it is important that we leave room to consider our individuality when it comes to food. What is your food style? How does the way you nourish yourself reflect who you are?

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to enjoy my young children, tend to a home, work with FemmePharma, and volunteer with other professional organizations—all at once. You could say that I like to pack things in, which means that I strive to be efficient in all that I do! When I take a moment to contemplate my eating patterns, I see that same tendency towards efficiency in the foods that I choose. Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants such as dark leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale, and broccoli), berries, sweet potatoes, and all colors and varieties of peppers, squash, melons, tomatoes, citrus fruits, grapes, apples, bananas—they are all the mainstays of my meals and snacks. Of course, there’s always green tea and dark chocolate, super dark for me, with health promoting properties as the added bonus to the pure enjoyment!

Why does it help to know how your food style reflects who you are? So that you can draw on your strengths when you need a little direction. For me, taking time to be aware of what I am eating can point out that here and there I may have slipped into some less-than-ideal food habits. I can use this to remind myself that I like to be efficient, to pack in the activities I enjoy and the foods that are nutrient-dense, those that offer the most nutrients per calorie.

Take some time this National Nutrition Month:

–        Celebrate the things about yourself that you like the most;

–        Be aware of what you choose to eat and consider how it helps to nourish you and support your lifestyle;

–        Consider the benefits of a healthy diet full of nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and lean protein;

–        Let your individuality guide you toward a healthy diet that reduces your risk for chronic disease and improves your health and wellness!

Enjoy your day!

Highs and Lows: One woman’s story.


At 21 Susan became pregnant, married the father of her child, and gained 55 pounds with her pregnancy.  She was elated to have been blessed with a child and concluded the pounds would come off as she breast fed her baby, and attended to household chores.  Three years and two more pregnancies later, and Susan had not shed much “baby weight”; in fact, her weight had hit an all time “high”.  With three babies and all of the challenges of motherhood she had no time for herself.   Susan was always tired, stressed out, and hungry even though she seemed to eat constantly.  She placed her “cute” clothes in a trunk and went for the “stretchy pants, and oversized sweatshirts.  They became her uniform.

Susan was at an all time low.  She felt unattractive, old, and she was bored with her routine.  Susan’s husband could see his partner deteriorating, and suggested she start taking time off beginning with a visit to the local nail salon for a pedicure. Although the appearance of her swollen feet, varicose veins, and ugly overgrown toenails horrified her, she put on her “big girl pants” and made the move. It was only short “vacation” but she desperately needed a break.  As the nail technician began to do her work, she noticed that Susan had a sore on her big toe; it was very infected.  Susan said she had injured her foot at least one month ago but hadn’t noticed or felt the pain of the sore.  The technician was concerned, stopped the pedicure, and recommended Susan see a podiatrist. Angry and frustrated, she had to abandon the idea of the relaxing pedicure.  Instead, she decided to treat herself to lunch at a local pub.  She did call a podiatrist!

(Fast forward) Susan’s podiatrist learned she had had other sores that had not healed, she was fatigued, had excessive thirst, she was experiencing vaginal infections, and waking during the night to go to the bathroom.  He suspected type2 diabetes and suggested Susan see her physician for diagnostic tests.  Susan was concerned; her Mom had diabetes and had developed a series of complications resulting in her death.

Nearly 79 million adults are at risk for developing diabetes.  If left untreated it can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, amputation, and death. Susan’s symptoms are consistent with the symptoms some women experience as early warning signs of diabetes but it’s important to routinely check your blood sugar and have other diagnostic tests such as the hemoglobin A1C test.

With proper diet and exercise diabetes can be prevented.  If diagnosed with diabetes, there are tools that may prevent the disease from progressing.  Susan started by making adjustments in her diet including increasing the amount of protein she consumed and decreasing her carbohydrate and fat consumption.  She began walking with her children to and from the bus stop and then walking around the track at her local high school.  After one year she’s back at an all time low; she is ten pounds lighter than her pre-pregnancy weight.