Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

November 18, 1998

Women's health one of issues explored in U of G Research magazine

The following stories appear in the Fall 1998 "Health Promotion & Disease Prevention" edition of the University of Guelph's "Research" magazine. In addition to women's health, the magazine also covers nutrition, public health, disease treatments, cancer research and functional foods.

One of the first studies examining the role diet plays in preventing heart disease in women is underway at the University of Guelph.

The benefits of a diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids to reduce the risk of heart disease in men have already been proven. Now, University adjunct professor Julie Conquer, Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences, is studying the impact of an omega-3 diet and exercise on preventing the disease in women.

Omega-3s are a family of fatty acids, often found in fish. When taken as a supplement, or on their own, omega-3s raise high-density-lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol) levels in the blood and lower blood triglyceride levels. Omega-3 can also decrease platelet clotting, which reduces the risk of dangerous blood clots forming in places like the heart, lungs or brain.

Conquer said studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids have positive influence on men, but there are major biological differences among women that greatly affect test results. "There are many types of women -pre-menopausal, post-menopausal, women taking ‘the pill,' pregnant women and so on," she said. "You simply don't get that kind of variability in men."

Conquer's study examines pre-menopausal women not taking oral contraceptives. Half of the 20 subjects are on a diet that includes mega-3 supplement. The results have not yet been fully analysed, but Conquer anticipates that the omega-3 supplements will be found to have some impact on women, although not as dramatic as the effects seen in male subjects.

The research is sponsored by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario. Conquer is collaborating with Profs. Bruce Holub and Terry Graham, as well as two students.

Julie Conquer, Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences
(519) 824-4120 Ext. 3628/3721

Today's younger generation of women are less tolerant of domestic abuse than older generations due to society's changing attitudes, a study by University of Guelph professor reveals.

Professor Gail Grant, adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology, conducted a generational study of women and men in three age groups, 20 to 44, 45 to 69 and 70 to 95. She found that young people are more aware of their choices and more likely to act on them than previous generations because society is more resistant to abuse than it once was.

"Our life choices have to be negotiated in the framework society provides," Grant said. In her study, the oldest and middle generations had set and divided roles for men and women. Men were the breadwinners and women the homemakers. As a result, women were financially dependent on their husbands, and selfhood was not their priority, Grant said. In both groups, when women experienced abuse, they did not discuss it with anyone because of the slim chance of receiving any support. Grant said the mentality of the times assumed that a woman who was a victim of abuse must have provoked it.

"Women in abusive situations accepted it because they had no other choice," Grant said. "All they could do was try to avoid it, try to make everything better and hope it didn't happen again."

However, the youngest generation in Grant's study was resistant to the notion that women deserve abuse. Once they realize abuse is taking place, they are quick to take action due to available resources and societal attitudes, she said. Women of this generation also have more opportunities to make a livelihood for themselves. "Society will not tolerate violence as it once would," Grant said. "But the issue still needs attention, an awareness education must remain a priority."

Professor Gail Grant, Department of Sociology
(519) 824-4120 Ext. 3378 or (519) 565-2435

Low levels of body fat may not be the only culprit behind menstrual disorders in female athletes. The hormone leptin, which helps regulate body weight and energy expenditure, may also be part of the problem.

A study of the reproductive status of female athletes is being conducted by Professor Terry Graham, Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Science, and graduate student Farah Thong. Thong has found that athletes with amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation) have considerably lower levels of leptin than non-amenorrheic athletes. Thong thinks low leptin levels may signal to the body to shut down functions such as reproduction to ensure survival when there isn't enough energy.

The link between extremely lean athletic women and menstrual disruptions has been widely accepted, and is mainly attributed to body fat. But Thong says there is more to it, and her research and other studies involving mice show that leptin may play a role.

Leptin is a hormone secreted by the adipose tissue -- the fat stores in the body. Obese humans often have high levels of leptin, but for some reason, the body does not respond to it, which may play a role in their obesity. Conversely, lean people such as elite athletes, have low leptin levels.

Farah Thong, Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences
(519) 824-4120 Ext. 3084 or (519) 766-9989 (home)

For media questions, or to obtain a copy of the magazine, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3338.

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