# Friday, December 12, 2008
                 

Health Canada has found that three quarters of soft plastic children's toys contain chemicals that have been linked to reproductive harm in children. These toxic chemical additives have been voluntarily banned in the European Union; the United States is joining this ban in February of 2009. Toys containing phthalates are still on sale in Canada legally so no enforcement of the voluntary ban can be taken.

Phthalates are used to soften the plastic in toys that are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Phthalates are not chemically bound to the plastic that they are added to; this results in the chemicals continually leaching from the plastic. This leaching process is accelerated when the toys which contain the chemicals are sucked on or put in the mouth of children. This exposure can pose serious health risks during a child's crucial development stage, causing such problems as reproductive defects, early onset of puberty, and/or lower sperm counts. Phthalates can cause disruption to the endocrine system and block production of testosterone. Some phthalates have also been linked to cancer when people are exposed to large doses.

Health Canada, along with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission called on toy manufacturers a decade ago to remove these harmful chemicals in all products that were intended for sale for children aged 3 years and younger that were likely to be chewed and/or sucked on. However this voluntary ban did not include toys that are produced for children above this age range where there still is a high risk of health problems due to these additives. Due to a higher cost in replacing these additives, some toy manufacturers are continuing to use phthalates despite the risks. As these toys are banned in Europe and will be banned in the United States in 2009, Canada will become a top market for these products.

Fortunately some toy companies have voluntarily discontinued using phthalates in the production lines; as well some retail stores are voluntarily no longer stocking these items. Hasbro and Mattel Inc. discontinued using these chemicals in their toy production shortly after the ban in Europe. As well, Sears Canada, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us have announced that starting in 2009 they will no longer carry toys that contain phthalates.

As of this date, there is no scheduled ban for these harmful chemicals in Canada. It is the responsibility of the Canadian consumer to be aware of the types of toys they purchase to ensure that it is not harmful to their children. The majority of toys that contain these chemicals originate from China where the use of phthalates is still predominating in the manufacturing of children's toys. These products usually do not carry a label that identifies the type of plastic that they are made of; consumers should look for words such as vinyl and/or PVC in the toy's description. As well, most toys that are composed of PVC often have a strong odor that is described as 'disagreeable'.  Toys comprised of PVC tend to feel soft and rubbery and most often do not immediately return to their original shape once they are twisted and/or bent.

For those consumers who are concerned about purchasing potentially toxic toys, there are alternatives. A variety of teethers are available that are made of fabric as well as non-toxic plastics. Wooden toys (that do not contain toxic paints) as well as hard plastic toys are also a safe option.

posted on Friday, December 12, 2008 4:27:10 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Friday, November 21, 2008
                 

With the lessening of daylight hours, many Canadians are prone to experiencing the 'winter blues'. For many people the lack of sunlight causes only slight depression, but for others it can be cause of clinical depression. In very rare cases Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also occur in summer months as well. Canadians who are affected by SAD can be much debilitated throughout the winter months, unable to function at their normal level of productivity.

Since the days get shorter the further north someone is, SAD is more common in northern countries, i.e. Canada. It is estimated that 3% of the Canadian population will experience symptoms of SAD within their lifetime and 15% of all Canadians will experience the milder form of SAD, i.e. the 'winter blahs'. Episodes of SAD are very similar to the episodes of depression and can be difficult to diagnose. Medical conditions such as thyroid problems can cause the same symptoms that people who have SAD may experience.

Although awareness of SAD as a condition affecting mental health has been around for 150 years, it was only recognized as a disorder in the early 1980s. As such, many people who have SAD may not be aware of the disorder and/or that treatment is available. Research is still ongoing as to determine the causes of SAD, as of yet there is no one confirmed cause. However the disorder seems to relate to the seasonal variations in light "A";a biological internal clock in the part of the brain which regulates the circadian (daily) rhythms. Circadian rhythm responds to changes in the season, partially because of the difference in the day length. With electricity and other modern implements of society, the circadian rhythm is telling the body to sleep as the hours are dark, but unlike past centuries, society rarely goes to bed when the hour turns dark; electricity means being able to be productive well past sunset. Other research shows that neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) that help the regulation of sleep, mood and appetite may be disrupted in people who have SAD.

The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder may be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms can be very similar to other forms of depression and/or bipolar disorder. Generally symptoms that recur for at least 2 consecutive winters without any other possible explanation for the changes in mood and behavior indicate the presence of SAD. These symptoms may include:

• Appetite change, particularly a craving for sweets and/or starchy foods.
• Weight gain.
• Decreased energy/fatigue.
• The tendency to oversleep.
• Difficulty concentrating as well as an increase in irritability.
• Feelings of despair and/or anxiety, some may experience thoughts of suicide.
• Avoidance of social situations.

For those who do suffer from SAD, these symptoms will generally disappear when the spring arrives. Some people's symptoms may disappear quite suddenly with a short time of heightened activity; others may experience the gradual dissipation of their symptoms.

Although some teenagers and children may experience SAD, it generally begins in people who are over the age of 20. It is more prevalent in women than in men. The risk of SAD does decrease with age. SAD may also affect shift workers and those who are naturally deprived from natural sources of light in their work environment.

For those people who suffer from long periods of depression during the winter months as well as major changes in sleeping and eating habits, consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. There are effective treatments available that can relieve these symptoms. As with other forms of clinical depression, anti-depressants may be prescribed in order to help cope with the symptoms. Anyone displaying symptoms of clinical depression are strongly urged to obtain medical help immediately.

For those who are experiencing milder symptoms of SAD there are ways of lessening these negative effects. These include:

• Spending more time outdoors during the available daylight hours in order to have the maximum exposure to sunlight.
• Rearranging your furniture (or work space if possible) in order to be near a window; make sure to keep the curtains open as much as possible.
• Install skylights; add more lamps.
• Maintain a physically active lifestyle since exercise relieves stress, builds energy and increases both your physical and mental well-being.
• Taking a walk during your lunch period in order to experience sunlight.
• If affordable, try to book a vacation in a sunny part of the world; be aware however, that symptoms may occur once you come back home. Make sure that you have the appropriate travel insurance for your trip!

Light therapy has proven to be effective for many people who suffer from mild to moderate SAD. Light therapy involves sitting beside a specialized fluorescent light box for several minutes a day. Before starting light therapy, consult with your physician about whether this is the best alternative for your needs. If light therapy has been approved by your doctor, be sure you are buying an approved light box. The box you purchase should be labeled CSA approved for use in Canada. Make sure that the device has a filter that blocks ultraviolet rays, which are harmful to human skin. It is always a wise idea to purchase your light box from a reputable company that has a history of good business practices.

For more information regarding Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website.

posted on Friday, November 21, 2008 2:39:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Friday, November 7, 2008
                 

Diverticulitis is a condition that affects many Canadians as they get older. It generally occurs in people over 40 and becomes more common as they age. Diverticulitis is the condition of having one or more diverticula (sacs that form by a fold in the lining of the intestinal wall). These sacs can trap feces that move through the intestine. It is quite common for Canadians to already have diverticula and be unaware of the condition as there are usually no symptoms until inflammation and/or bleeding occurs. Diverticulitis can also appear in the gastrointestinal tract above the stomach which can trap food. Esophageal diverticula do not cause any serious health problems, but trapped food can cause the food to back up when a person bends over and/or lies down.

Once the diverticula have become inflamed the condition is then known as diverticulitis which can become a serious health problem. It is believed that diverticula are usually caused by muscle spasms, or by pairs of muscles that do not contract in a synchronized manner. This puts pressure around the blood vessels that pass through the inside of the wall of the large intestine (colon). The most common symptom of inflammation is abdominal pain which usually occurs in the lower left side of the abdomen. Cramping, nausea, vomiting, bloating, fever, chills and sudden change in bowel habits can also signal diverticulitis.

Bleeding can occur when feces get lodged in a diverticulum and the bowel draws fluid out of feces before ejecting it. If the feces stays lodged for a long time it can become hard and dry, which can erode the blood vessels. This can cause a large amount of blood to be released from the rectum, as well as small amounts of blood being released on a continual basis. Any bleeding that does not stop always requires medical attention. A colonoscopy can be used to identify the site of the bleeding as well as to stop the bleeding. For people with chronic bleeding surgery may be necessary to remove the affected part of the colon.

Diverticulitis can cause infections that are easily treated with antibiotics. If an infection is left untreated, an abscess (localized collection of pus) can form in the wall of the colon. An abscess can cause swelling as well as destroy the surrounding tissue. If the abscess remains small and in the wall of the colon it usually can be treated with a course of antibiotics. If the abscess does not respond to antibiotics a doctor may need to insert a catheter through the skin in order to help drain the abscess.

Peritonitis can occur when large parts of the abdominal cavity become inflamed. It always causes a fever and the belly very often is bloated and feels very hard. As well, a person may feel extremely ill with nausea and vomiting. Peritonitis can cause death within a few hours if it is not treated. This can be caused by perforations that leak pus out of the colon and in turn form a large abscess in the abdominal cavity.

Diverticulitis is more common in North America, Australia and England where diets typically are not high in fiber. Industrialized countries that have diets that are high in processed foods have higher cases of diverticulitis than countries in Asia or Africa, where these food products are not as common in people's daily diets. If you have been diagnosed with diverticulitis, changing your diet as well as regular exercise can be very beneficial. Talk to your health care professional about the best way to manage your condition, as well as possible medical procedures that may be required.

posted on Friday, November 7, 2008 4:20:19 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Wednesday, October 22, 2008
                 

A fast food restaurant has been linked to over one hundred suspected and confirmed cases of E. coli in North Bay, Ontario. Health officials have reported that the outbreak appears to have originated from a Harvey's restaurant. The particular restaurant in question was ordered to close after initial laboratory tests traced the strain of E. coli 0157:H7 to the specific location.

There are currently 158 cases of suspected E. coli; so far 35 have been confirmed. Health officials speculate that the origin of the outbreak stems from improper food handling (i.e. improperly sanitized counter surface) rather than originating from the food products, as no symptoms have occurred from patrons of other Harvey's restaurants throughout the province which would have received the same food products.  However, there are cases being reported from other parts of Ontario as the particular Harvey's location was patronized by travelers. Cases are being investigated in Toronto, Muskoka, Simcoe, Sudbury, Belleville and Trenton, as well as other neighboring communities in Northern Ontario. Currently 18 cases have been ruled out as originating from the Harvey's location.

Many Canadians still remember the E. coli outbreak that occurred in Walkerton, Ontario in May, 2000 where 2300 people became ill and 7 people died as a result of the town's water supply becoming contaminated. The Walkerton outbreak which was ultimately found to be a result of manure from a farmer’s field that was located near one of the town wells was Canada's most severe outbreak of E. coli. Canadian health authorities usually report only a few thousand cases of E. coli sickness per year for the whole country.

The term E. coli is an abbreviation for Escherichia coli and is a form of bacteria most commonly found in the intestines of humans as well as animals. There are hundreds of strains of the bacterium, with many strains being harmless to humans. However E. coli 0157:H7 is identified as the most dangerous to humans as it produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness. While the bacterium is mostly found in meat, it can also be found in unpasteurized milk and apple cider, as well as raw vegetables, cheese and contaminated water. Fruits and vegetables that grow close to the ground are susceptible to contamination as they can come into contact with improperly composted cattle manure that is used as a fertilizer. It can contaminate water as the bacteria that causes E. coli can be washed into creeks, rivers, etc. that may ultimately end up in sources for drinking water.

The symptoms of E. coli are generally characterized by severe abdominal cramping. This cramping occurs from merely hours after exposure, but can also take up to 10 days to show up. Diarrhea (sometimes bloody) can also occur in people who have been exposed to E. coli. It is possible for someone to have no symptoms, but still spread the bacteria to other people, who can then become quite ill. People who have suffered E. coli 0157:H7 poisoning are at a 30% higher risk of developing either high blood pressure or kidney damage, according to a Canadian study that was released in 2008. While most cases will resolve on their own within 5-10 days, a small number of cases of E. coli contamination can lead to a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This is a life-threatening condition which is treated in the intensive care units of hospitals. HUS kills approximately 3-5 % of people who contract it; it can also lead to lifelong complications for its survivors. These complications can include lifelong health issues such as blindness, paralysis as well as kidney failure.

 As E. coli can also be spread via human contact, it is also urged that people who are exhibiting symptoms do not go to their workplace so as to prevent spreading the bacteria. The bacteria is most often spread from person-to-person but can also be spread by hand-to-mouth contact. Anyone who has been infected with E. coli should not share dishes, glassware and/or cutlery with anyone else. As well, all bedding, towels, facecloths, etc. should be washed separately with hot water and bleach. Washing hands often and thoroughly will help reduce the possibility of spreading E. coli to other people, as well as not handling food products when actively sick (i.e. diarrhea). Ensure that all raw fruits and vegetables are washed thoroughly before cooking and/or cutting them; disinfect all cutting surfaces and utensils before and after as well.

If you suspect that you may have been exposed to this (or any other) E. coli outbreak it is important to contact your local health department to advise them of your situation. It is also important to receive medical care to ensure that all steps are being taken to ensure a speedy and full recovery. For more information regarding this or any other related topics, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada.

posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 3:26:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, October 6, 2008
                 

Ontario public health officials are trying to contact 27 people who have been exposed to tuberculosis from a passenger on a bus traveling from Toronto to Windsor this past August. The passengers are being publicly urged to contact their local health units in order to be tested for TB as a safeguard. As the TB bacteria cannot be detected for at least 3 weeks following exposure, people may not be aware that they could potentially become ill. The risk that other passengers may have been exposed is low, but it is still necessary to be tested to determine if anyone else has caught the disease.

Approximately 1600 new cases of TB are reported in Canada every year, so the risk of developing the disease is relatively low. However, it can have serious health risks, so it is important for Canadians to recognize the symptoms as well as minimize the risk of becoming infected. TB is transmitted by frequent exposure to someone that has active tuberculosis; the bacterium is spread via sneezing, singing, coughing, etc. It is not as contagious as other diseases such as influenza or the chicken pox.

Most people can be exposed to TB bacteria and not develop the disease. It is possible for the immune system to effectively kill the germs. If this doesn't happen the bacteria can remain alive in the body which is called TB infection. Someone with TB infection will show no symptoms and not fall ill; they are also at no risk of spreading the disease. TB infection occurs when the immune system cannot stop the bacteria from growing; this risk is highest within 2 years of becoming infected. Approximately 10% of people will become infected with tuberculosis within their lifetime.

The symptoms of tuberculosis in the lungs are:

• bad cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks
• pain in the chest
• feeling very weak and/or tired
• coughing up blood and/or sputum
• loss of appetite
• fever and/or night sweats

A simple skin test can determine whether or not a person has a TB infection. This is accomplished by a very small amount of non-infectious TB protein being injected under the surface of the skin; a hard swelling will develop within 48-72 hours if the person is infected. At this point the health care provider will probably recommend antibiotic treatment in order to prevent the infection from developing into TB disease. Additional tests as well as chest x-rays may be needed in order to determine whether or not TB disease is present.

For those people who have TB disease it is extremely important to be treated as soon as the disease has been determined. A course of antibiotics for a minimum of 6 months is needed in order to kill all of the TB bacteria. Finishing the course of treatment is vital in order to prevent the risk of developing a strain of the disease that will be drug resistant, which is harder as well as more expensive to treat. As well, people who do not finish the treatment also pose a risk of spreading TB to others.

People with a weakened immune system are more at risk of developing TB infection and/or disease. People who have HIV/AIDS are 50-170 times more likely to develop TB disease; therefore this population group should always be tested for TB. Conversely, people who test positive for TB infection and/or disease should also get tested for HIV in order to help the physician determine the best course of treatment. Other populations that have an increased risk for TB infection are anyone:

• who has come into close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have active TB
• with a history of active TB and/or has had an x-ray suggesting that they had TB in the past but did not receive treatment
• who is living in an Aboriginal community that has a high rate of TB infection and/or disease
•  who is living or working at a long-term care facility, correctional facility
• who has had an organ transplant and is being treated with immunity-suppressing drugs
• who has a lung disease known as silicosis
• who has chronic lung failure and requires dialysis
• who has cancer of the head and/or neck
•  who has been infected with the TB bacteria within the past 2 years
•  who has had a chest x-ray that shows signs of old TB
• who is being treated with glucocorticoids
• who is receiving treatment with tumor necrosis factor alpha inhibitors (for auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis)
• who has any type of diabetes
• who is underweight with a body mass index of under 20
• who smokes one pack of cigarettes or more per day
• who is under five years old when first infected with the bacteria

If you suspect that you have been exposed to someone that has tuberculosis, make an appointment with your health care provider for testing. You can also visit The Lung Association website for more information regarding tuberculosis.

posted on Monday, October 6, 2008 3:40:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Wednesday, September 24, 2008
                 

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has long been the leading cause of severe vision loss in Canadians. As age is one of the predominant risk factors for developing this condition, all Canadians over 50 years of age are strongly encouraged to learn more about the warning signs, as well as having an understanding of what this condition entails.

AMD gradually takes away central vision by the slow degeneration of the macula (a small area located in the very centre of the retina). Due to the slow and painless progress of this condition, AMD can remain undetected until it reaches the more advanced stage; routine eye exams however can detect it in its earlier stages. Therefore it is highly recommended that all people over 50 have their eyes regularly examined. In rare cases AMD can progress incredibly fast, i.e. weeks and/or months, resulting in permanent central vision blindness. It is imperative that AMD be caught as quickly as possible as earlier treatment usually results in less vision loss.

AMD is characterized by either 'dry' or 'wet'. Dry AMD occurs first; all people who have wet AMD have had the dry form of the condition. For 85-90% of people however, AMD will stay at the dry level and not progress to the advanced wet AMD. Dry AMD happens when light sensitive cells in the macula begin to break down; this causes gradual blurring of the central vision. As it progresses some individuals may see a blurry spot in the center of their vision. This loss of central vision increases as less of the macula can function. This can happen to either one eye or both; it is possible that both eyes may be affected at different times as well. For those who have AMD in one eye there is an increased likelihood that AMD will develop in the other eye. It is also possible to have AMD in both eyes and have the eyes progress to wet AMD at different interval.

A common early sign of dry AMD is drusen, which are yellow deposits located under the retina. Scientists are uncertain about the connection between drusen and AMD; what is known is that an increase in size and/or number of drusen raises the likelihood of developing into advanced dry AMD or wet AMD. Drusen alone does not cause vision loss, and many people can have a few small drusen in their eyes and not progress into AMD. However, people who have drusen should be regularly tested by their eye care professional in order to monitor this condition.

Wet AMD (also known as advanced AMD), occurs when abnormal blood vessels start to grow under the macula. These blood vessels are usually quite fragile and often leak blood and fluids, which raise the macula from its normal location at the back of the eye. This damage occurs rapidly, resulting in a greater loss of central vision. Wet AMD tends to be quite unpredictable and can appear very suddenly. There is no set schedule of when dry AMD changes into wet AMD; one of the early symptoms of wet AMD is the appearance of straight lines that are suddenly wavy. This, as well as any other vision change, should be reported immediately to your eye care professional as a comprehensive dilated eye exam is necessary.

There is currently no known cure for either dry or wet AMD. However, there are different treatments, depending on which type of AMD you have that can halt the progress of the condition. People who have the dry form of AMD can slow the progression and/or reduce vision loss by using specific high dose ocular vitamin therapy. As well, lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and/or and improved diet can have a positive impact on reducing the chance/speed of progression of the disease. As well, vision should be monitored on a regular basis in order to track the progression.

Currently effective treatment is not available for all forms of wet AMD. Research is progressing, but at this date only 3 treatments for wet AMD have been approved by Health Canada. Although these treatments will not cure the condition, they can be very effective in halting the progression of wet AMD. They are:

Laser Photocoagulation (LPC): This method uses a high energy beam of light (laser) to destroy the fragile, leaky blood vessels. However, this method poses a risk of damaging surrounding healthy tissue as well as some vision. As well, there is a high risk of developing new blood vessels after this treatment; repeated treatments are usually necessary. Laser surgery is only used to treat a very small percentage of people who have wet AMD; it is usually most effective on those whose leaky blood vessels have developed away from the fovea (central part of the macula).

Photodynamic Therapy: This method involves injecting the drug verteporfin into an arm, which then travels throughout the body. This drug will 'stick' to the surface of new blood vessels; when a light is shined on the eye for 90 seconds the light will activate the drug, destroying the new blood vessels. It does not destroy the surrounding healthy tissues, but those who are being treated with this method must avoid any bright lights (indoor and outdoor) for five days after the treatment. It is a painless course of treatment that can be done in a doctor's office and usually takes 20 minutes. This treatment may need to be repeated as the results are often temporary.

Injections: This is the latest method to treat wet AMD and involves injecting drugs directly into the affected eye. Also known as anti-VEGF therapy, the injections work by blocking the growth of new abnormal blood vessels that tend to grow at an abnormally high level in eyes with wet AMD. Injections may need to be done as often as monthly. Successful injection treatments can help slow down vision loss; in some cases it can also improve vision. Injections may need to be done as often as on a monthly basis depending on the rate that the wet AMD is progressing. It is done in a doctor's office; the eye is numbed before injection and afterwards the eye will be monitored.

Research shows that AMD occurs more in people of white origin than those of African American descent. As well, women appear to be at greater risk for this disease than men. Having a family history of AMD can also increase the odds of having the condition. However, there are lifestyle choices that can either lessen the risk, and/or slow down AMD. Smoking has been linked to the increased risk of AMD; obesity has also been linked to the progression of early and intermediate stages of AMD to advanced AMD. Eating a healthy diet of fish and leafy green vegetables can reduce your risk of developing AMD; it is also important to maintain a healthy weight, exercise and maintain a normal blood pressure.

More information can be found about Age-related macular degeneration at AMD Canada, as well as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2008 4:29:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, September 1, 2008
                 

So far, 15 Canadian deaths have been linked to the listeria outbreak that has now spread throughout most of Canada. Nine deaths in Ontario, one in Alberta and one in British Columbia have been attributed to listeria, either as a contributing factor or the direct cause. 4 deaths in Ontario as well as one death in Quebec and another in Saskatchewan are currently being investigated to determine whether listeria was a contributing factor. As well, the number of listeriosis cases has now reached 33, from the original 17 that had been diagnosed. Another 25 illnesses are being investigated as well to determine whether listeriosis was the cause, as well as 6 more deaths.

The outbreak has been definitively linked to a north Toronto plant of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. The plant has since been closed for mass sterilization. Maple Leaf Foods has recalled almost all products that were produced at this plant; so far over 20 different meat products totaling over 500 000 kilograms, have been recalled. Supermarket chains Loblaw Co. and Sobeys Inc. have recalled close to 50 ready-to-eat sandwiches and other deli products that contain meat that could be contaminated as it originated from the affected Toronto plant. This is due to the uncertainty of what lines have been contaminated in the food plant. Currently, the only meat products that have tested positive for listeria were manufactured in July, but all products that were manufactured from June 2 and forward are being recalled as a preventative measure. King Bean Wholesalers is also recalling 4 different varieties of roast beef sandwiches from stores that are located throughout British Columbia.

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has taken full responsibility for the listeria outbreak. They have released television commercials as well as full page newspaper ads apologizing to the Canadian public and vowing to do to everything in their power to rectify the situation. The spokesperson for Maple Leaf has stated that the company is in no way is blaming Canada's current food inspection laws and guidelines. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are supervising and monitoring the food recall at the Toronto plant.  Maple Leaf Foods and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have set up toll-free phone lines that consumers can call with any questions or concerns. These phone numbers are 1-800-568-5801 and 1-800-442-2342.

Public health officials are warning that the current amount of Canadians that have become ill, or may become ill, from listeriosis will likely increase. Every illness and/or death must be investigated in order to determine whether or not the strain of listeria that has been linked to the tainted meat is actually responsible. They are currently locating and interviewing people in order to establish whether they have been ill with listeria, and to determine the likely source of the contaminated food.

To see the list of all recalled products visit the CFIA website. Remember that there is the possibility of more products that will be recalled. Although this outbreak was initially thought to be in Ontario, other provinces are reporting cases that may be linked to Maple Leaf products. Check with your local health agency to see whether or not these products may have been sold in your region. You may want to check every few days in order to be aware of any new recalls.

posted on Monday, September 1, 2008 6:17:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Friday, August 8, 2008
                 

The Health Minister of Canada has announced that Canada will be increasing protection for Canadians who suffer from food allergies. This will be done through new labeling requirements for food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites contained in prepackaged foods. Health Canada has also announced that they will also launch several studies related to allergies, including a large national study of food allergy prevalence. They will also conduct 2 studies on the dietary habits and coping skills of people who have celiac disease and are on a gluten-free diet.

Currently, the Food and Drug Regulations requires that ingredients of food products be declared on the labels of most prepackaged foods; however components of certain ingredients are exempted from this declaration. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency does have the ability to recall foods that are currently exempted from the labeling requirements if a health risk is identified; however the tougher labeling regulations will provide manufacturers with clear rules establishing procedures to be followed in a consistent and systematic fashion, thereby reducing the number of food recalls and/or preventable allergic reactions. The improved regulations would require that manufacturers now declare all food allergens, gluten sources as well as added sulphites on prepackaged food labels. The new regulations would detail exactly how these are to be listed on the food labels.

Some Canadians may be unaware between the differences of food allergies and intolerances. You are not necessarily allergic to a particular type of food just because it does not agree well with you. Although certain foods may make you sick, food allergies are much more serious and can be fatal if untreated quickly.

• Food intolerance: is a food sensitivity that does not involve the immune system. Unlike food allergies, or chemical sensitivities, where a small amount of food can cause a reaction, it usually requires a more normal portion of food to produce symptoms of food intolerance. Although these are commonly mistaken for a food allergy, intolerance is more likely to originate in the gastrointestinal system and caused by an inability to digest and/or absorb certain foods, or food components. One of the most common forms of food intolerance is lactose intolerance. This occurs in people who lack an enzyme called lactase, which is needed by the body to digest lactose (a sugar in milk). Symptoms of lactose intolerance may include abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and/or diarrhea.
• Chemical sensitivities: This occurs when a person experiences an adverse reaction to chemicals that naturally occur in, or are added to foods. This may be the caffeine found in coffee, tyramine in aged cheeses, and flavor enhancer MSG.
• Celiac disease: This is an inherited intolerance to gluten. The main sources of gluten are cereal grains; the only current treatment for celiac disease is a strict diet that is completely gluten free.
• Food allergies: are sensitivities caused by a reaction of the immune system to specific proteins in a food. Currently, it is estimated that food allergies affect as many as 6% of young children and 3-4% of adults. In allergic individuals, a food protein is mistakenly identified as harmful by the immune system. The first time the body is exposed to such a protein the immune system responds by creating antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When the individual is exposed again to the same food protein, Ige antibodies and chemicals such as histamine are then released. Histamine is a powerful chemical that causes a reaction in the respiratory system, gastrointestinal track, skin and/or cardiovascular system.

It is also a wise choice to carefully read all labels of prepackaged foods that you are buying. Make sure you also understand what the labels mean, and what the ingredients are. Some people can become confused with the long, confusing names of products; some research of your own will give you a better understanding of what you are buying, as well as what the nutrition value of that product is.

posted on Friday, August 8, 2008 6:46:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Tuesday, July 15, 2008
                 

Summer can be an ideal time to take part and/or all of your accrued vacation days from work, especially for those who wish to have a family holiday. Taking time off from your work environment is essential in order to maintain mental and physical health. This time is also valuable in terms of maintaining your relationships with your family and friends. Not taking time off from work often leads to higher levels of stress, which negatively impact health. For those who already have health issues such as cardiovascular problems, acute stress can be quite dangerous.

A study which started in 1948 had women filling out questionnaires over a 20 year period that tracked their vacation time, as well as health status. Back then the study showed that women who took a vacation only once every 6 years were almost 8 times more likely to develop health issues such as coronary disease and/or heart attacks than those women who took a minimum of 2 vacations a year. The published study in 1992 also factored in health issues such as obesity, diabetes, smoking and the amount of income; once again those at a higher risk level were those that did not take regular vacation time.

Another study was conducted in 2000 which studied 12,000 men who were considered high risk for coronary disease over a 9 year period. The results showed that those men who did not take a yearly vacation had a 21% higher risk of death from all causes and 32% more likely to have a fatal heart attack.

A study has shown that 23% of Canadians have canceled and/or postponed their vacation plans due to their obligations at work. Canadians also "give back" an average of 3 days of their vacation time that though they are entitled to, do not take due to work. This is in part due to the fact that most Canadians are conditioned to value employment productivity sometimes more than their work-life balance. To maintain work-life balance, it's also important not only to take your vacation days, but to take them properly. 42% of Canadians seem to use all their time at once, taking a 2-3 week vacation from work, while the rest seem use their days here and there. Taking 2 weeks off seems to be the ideal amount of time; it allows the body and mind the chance to properly unwind and become rejuvenated. However, breaking up your vacation time into a series of long weekends does not seem to give you enough

Every company will have their own policies regarding when to submit your vacation days in order to get them approved. This does require sometimes making plans a few (or more) months in advance. You will need to be proactive as your vacation time approaches, in order to let all the other staff know exactly when you are leaving, and for how long. If someone is temporarily filling in for you, you should make sure they are aware of what their responsibilities will be, and what realistically you expect them to accomplish. Due to this advance planning, you may find that when your vacation finally comes, you are swamped with work, i.e. in the middle of a project. This may require you to be in contact with your office while you are on vacation. If this is happening to you, designate with your office a certain time of day that you will be available to them. Try and deal with your work within that window of time, so you can actually relax and enjoy your vacation the rest of the time. Make sure that all people involved are aware of this schedule, as well as that your cell phone/blackberry/laptop etc will be turned off until the next appointed time.

Remember that by not taking time off you are reducing your productivity as well as optimum health status. Whether jetting out of the country, or simply staying home, all Canadians need to take time to unwind and relax in order to be at their peak performance for work.

posted on Tuesday, July 15, 2008 5:33:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, June 23, 2008
                 

With summer here bringing the hot weather, air quality can be a big concern for Canadians, especially depending on where you live. Even for those who do not have respiratory problems, smog can be quite harmful and pose a health risk. For those with existing breathing problems, smog can be very dangerous.

Originally, the word smog was a definition of the mixture of smoke and fog. However, today smog defines the harmful mixture of gases and particles and is considered air pollution. Although it is usually visible as haze, it can also be invisible, due to particles that are too tiny to be visible. Weather factors such as humidity, as well as the type of pollutants determine what type of smog you experience on that certain day.

Many air pollutants combine to make smog. These pollutants are usually:

• Ground-level ozone: Ozone that is found high in the atmosphere is known as "good ozone"; it helps protects us from the sun's rays. However, ground level ozone is harmful to human health when it is inhaled. It can exacerbate respiratory problems for those who already have asthma, COPDS and other lung diseases, as well as those who suffer from cardiovascular diseases. Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds from vehicle exhaust, factory emissions, etc. react with sunlight.
• Fine Particulate Matter (PM): A broad term for particles of liquids and/or solids that are air pollutants. PM 2.5 is matter that is very small but that can be breathed deeply into a person's lungs and remain there. It also stays in the air longer and travels further than other large particles. It is usually a result of vehicle exhaust, wood burning, paved and/or unpaved roads, construction, industry and forest fires. This tends to be the matter that makes people cough and/or sneeze as well as irritate the lungs, eyes, and/or throat. This also exacerbates breathing problems for those who already have respiratory disorders, and can actually cause heart attacks in those who have existing heart diseases.
• Sulphur Dioxide: A colorless gas that usually smells like burnt matches; this is a main ingredient in acid rain. When this combines with Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC) and sunlight it creates ground-level ozone. The main causes for this gas are burning fossil fuels, industry mills, volcanoes and hot springs, and diesel vehicles. Exposure to sulphur dioxide can actually cause lung disease. It also irritates the nose and throat and causes breathing problems, as well lowering the lung's natural defense system. For those with cardiovascular and/or respiratory problems, exposure can make these worse.
• Nitrogen Oxides: This is caused by the same things that cause sulphur dioxide. Exposure can lower the body's resistance to lung infections as well as cause shortness of breath and irritation of the upper airways.
• Total Reduced Sulphur Compounds (TRS): A mixture of gases that usually smells like rotten eggs. This is common around areas that contain steel, pulp and/or paper mills, refineries and sewage treatment plants. Exposure usually results in headaches and/or nausea.
• Carbon Monoxide (CO): Odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that is poisonous at high levels. This is usually caused by burning fossil fuels in vehicles, the production of metals as well as emissions from heaters. At low levels, it can cause headaches, dizziness, lack of breath as well as slower reflexes and perception. High level exposure can result in unconsciousness, seizures, coma and respiratory failure that can result in death.
• Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC): These are gases in the vapors of gasoline, solvents as well as oil-based paints. They react with nitrogen oxides when it is sunny and/or warm and cause ground level ozone. The most common causes for VOCs are burning gasoline, the production of oil/gas products, wood burning and the evaporation of liquid fuels and solvents. Exposure can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and/or throat, headaches, nausea, loss of coordination and can also worsen lung and heart conditions.
• Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH): This is caused by the incomplete burning of carbon materials, i.e. wood, oil, garbage, coal, etc. Over 10,000 compounds make up this group of pollutants, which are responsible for lung irritation as well as skin rashes. Some PAHs have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals when they are inhaled, ingested, and/or come into contact with skin. The major sources of PAHs are furnaces, exhaust from vehicles, cigarette smoke, wood burning, and fuel producing plants.

It is estimated that smog causes 5900 early deaths in Canada per year. The majority of these early deaths occur in Canadian major cities. While smog is harmful to everyone's health, those who are at high risk are:

• People already suffering from lung disease, i.e. asthma, emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis
• Children and teenagers as their lungs are still developing and they tend to be more active outdoors. Their smaller size also means that they are breathing in more pollutants per pound of body weight which leads to a higher absorption rate.
• Seniors
• Anyone who does vigorous outdoor activities during high smog days, especially those that work outside (construction workers, etc)

Although April – September is usually considered "smog season", it can and often does occur all year round. Ground level ozone generally is more prevalent in the warmer months, while fine particulate matter occurs during the winter. Everyone should be aware of how air quality affects their breathing, especially those listed above. Pay attention to air quality advisories, and try to avoid being outside during times when smog is prevalent.

For those who are sensitive to smog, or suffer from pre-existing heart and/or lung problems, try to stay inside in an air-conditioned environment. Air conditioning can help make breathing easier during the hot summer months, especially in hot and humid weather. If you can’t avoid being outside, make sure to avoid exerting yourself physically. Try to stay in shady areas, as well as roads and streets with heavy traffic. Drink plenty of water, and rest often. Exercise indoors, such as a gym or your home. Going outdoors in the morning instead of the afternoon is also advisable; the pollution levels are usually lower during this time period. If you have asthma, never leave home without your inhaler; chances of having an asthma attack are much higher when the air quality is poor.

Smog can have a negative affect on your health for up to a day after being exposed. If you experience problems breathing, make sure to contact your physician as soon as possible. For severe asthma attacks or other serious difficulties breathing, go to your nearest emergency room.

posted on Monday, June 23, 2008 4:36:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Wednesday, June 11, 2008
                 

While everyone will experience a sleepless night every now and then, chronic insomnia can have a very negative impact on health. Lack of sleep is one of the main causes of preventable traffic accidents as well as work-related accidents. Sleep is also required to bolster your immune system, as well as restore physical and mental energy. Long term sleep deprivation can also increase the severity of chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Everyone's sleep requirements are different; while some people only need 4-5 hours of sleep others require 9-10 hours. The average amount of sleep required for optimal health is usually 7-8 hours per night. The amount of sleep you need will change throughout your life, depending on such factors as your age, physical activity level as well as any medications you may be on. Insomnia also becomes more prevalent as people age and is usually more common in women.

Insomnia can be either temporary or chronic. Temporary insomnia can be situational, i.e. not being able to sleep before a stressful situation (exam, interview, etc). This usually resolves itself when the stressful situation is over. Chronic insomnia however happens on a regular and frequent basis, with either problems falling and/or staying asleep. Chronic insomnia often occurs for no apparent reason. Symptoms include such things as:

• Difficulty falling asleep at night
• Waking up often during the night
• Waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep
• Daytime irritability due to lack of sleep
• Daytime fatigue

The most common reasons for insomnia include:

• Stress and/or anxiety: Worrying about work, school, family, health, etc. can result in your mind being too active to be able to relax. Everyday anxiety, as well as anxiety disorders can have the same effect.
• Depression: Depression can result in either sleeping too much or not being able to sleep. The chemical imbalances that can cause depression can result in the brain not being able to relax enough to be able to fall asleep.
• Using stimulants: Certain prescription drugs such as high blood pressure medication, some antidepressants as well as corticosteroid medication can cause insomnia. As well, over the counter medications such as decongestants, weight loss products and some pain medications contain caffeine and/or other stimulants which will interfere with the ability to fall asleep.
• Change in circadian rhythm: Jobs that require rotating shift work can interfere with the body's natural circadian rhythm and cause sleep problems. Jet lag is also another known interference, but usually resolves itself within a few days.
• Eating habits: Eating too much before bedtime can cause some people to feel uncomfortable when they lie down. As well, heartburn can cause discomfort which can result in keeping you awake.
• Pain: Medical conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc. can cause pain that is great enough to keep some people awake.
• Behavioral insomnia: Worrying excessively about not being able to sleep can result in prolonging the pattern of insomnia. Trying too hard to force sleep can cause stress which in turn keeps the body awake.
• Changes in physical activity: A decrease in physical activity, which is common among people who are older, can cause sleeplessness.
• Change in lifestyle: Drinking more alcohol and/or caffeine can cause insomnia. As well, people who tend to nap during the day may find themselves not being able to sleep as well at night.

While there is differing opinions about the time length to wait before consulting with a doctor (a few days or a few weeks) it is advised to seek help from your physician if your insomnia is such that it drastically interferes with your daily activities. Because insomnia is not a disease, there is no specific test to diagnose it. Your doctor will ask very detailed specific questions about your regular sleep patterns and habits, i.e. snoring, medications you are currently taking, pain, and whether or not your legs jerk when you sleep, as well as other related questions. You will probably be asked to keep a sleep journal, where you can record when you go to bed, how long before you fall asleep, how many times per night you wake up, and when you get up in the morning, as well as the quality of your sleep. Your physician may also require that you spend a night in an accredited sleep disorder clinic, where your sleep can be monitored by professionals.

There are different ways that your doctor can recommend to help deal with chronic insomnia. The most common treatments are:

• Stress reduction: If your insomnia is due to increased stress, then reducing your stress will help solve the disrupted sleep patterns. Daily exercise can help as it can reduce stress, improve mood as well as deepen sleep. It is recommended to complete exercising at least 4 hours before bedtime. As well, your doctor may recommend therapy to help you manage your stress in a more productive manner.
• Sleep hygiene techniques: There are certain strategies that can be used in order to help promote a better sleep pattern. This includes such things as having a "buffer zone", in which you spend 90 minutes before your scheduled bedtime consciously trying to relax. Another successful technique is the "20 minute rule", where if you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, you get up; only returning to bed when feeling 'drowsy'. This should be repeated throughout the night if necessary. This technique does result in mild sleep deprivation, which should increase the pressure to sleep the following night. When repeated, over time this technique should improve sleep.
• Medications: Your physician may prescribe sleeping pills which will help you sleep. This can be especially effective for those who are going through a stressful period, as once the stress is over, a more normal sleeping pattern will return. Sleeping pills are usually prescribed as a short term solution; if used for too long insomnia can return when you stop taking them. As well, dependency will result in needing higher doses in order to obtain the original effect. However, there are cases where your doctor may extend the time that sleeping pills are used.

Getting enough sleep is essential for not only your physical health, but also your mental health. Leading a healthier lifestyle can promote better sleep patterns, as well as being aware of the amount of caffeine, nicotine and/or alcohol you consume. Talk to your family doctor if you are consistently having difficulties sleeping; finding the origin of the problem will result in a quicker resolution.

posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 9:33:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, May 26, 2008
                 

With summer soon approaching, many Canadians are planning their summer vacation. For those who plan on leaving Canada, attention should be paid to not only what vaccinations are mandatory, but which ones are recommended. It is important to remember that not all countries face the same potential outbreaks; for every visit outside of Canada you should consult with your physician as well as reputable travel advisories in order to be informed of any potential health risks.

Certain diseases are far more common in developing countries than in Canada, however as Canadians are usually immunized early in childhood, there is very little risk of becoming infected. Check your childhood immunization chart to make sure you have been vaccinated for diseases such as rubella, tetanus, polio, and diphtheria. While outbreaks of these have not been prevalent in Canada for a long time, epidemics do occur in other countries. If you are traveling with young children, consult with their pediatrician about the status of their vaccinations, as well as any health risks concerning the area of travel.

The most common diseases that you can be vaccinated for and are at risk of acquiring are:

• Hepatitis A and B: Can be caught from "unclean" water, including fruits and vegetables that are washed in this water and ice cubes and is also transmitted by sexual contact. There is a combined vaccine that provides lifetime protection against both Hepatitis A and B consisting of three doses given over a 21 day period.
• Influenza: The flu vaccine in Canada is based on projections of what type of flu will be prevalent for the season. While this is usually consistent with flu outbreaks around the world, it does vary. Timing as well is a factor, as the flu season in the Northern Hemisphere occurs in wintertime; the Southern Hemisphere has their projected flu season during the summer, and flu season typically lasts all year round at the equator. As well, due to the recycled air on airplanes, the risk of catching infectious diseases is quite high.
• Typhoid: Be advised that the vaccination for typhoid only lasts for 3-4 years, and typically only provides 70% protection. Anyone traveling to a country with under-developed water treatment systems and/or sanitation systems should be vaccinated. New Canadians who are traveling back to their homeland are at the highest risk of becoming ill with typhoid.
• Yellow Fever: One of the only vaccinations that is required by health officials to cross international borders. 21 countries in Central Africa as well as South America require a yellow fever vaccination certificate for all entries; 102 countries demand this certificate from anyone who has been in the "yellow fever zones". There is a high mortality rate among people who become infected with yellow fever. The current vaccine only lasts for 10 years, so it is important to keep your immunization records, and be aware of when you need to be vaccinated again.
• Meningococcal (bacterial) meningitis: This is recommended for anyone traveling throughout sub-Saharan Africa, especially if you plan on living closely among the local population. This is a very dangerous disease and is highly contagious; it is passed between people through coughing and/or sneezing. This vaccination is now required for anyone going to Saudia Arabia to participate in the Hajj. As your risk of infection is lower when staying in a quality hotel, you may not need this vaccination. It is a wise idea to consult with a travel health professional in order to determine your individual risk.
• Japanese encephalitis: Is transmitted through mosquito bites, as is malaria and yellow fever. This is prevalent mostly in rural areas of South and Southeast Asia and can be fatal, as well as causing severe neurological damage. It is mostly contracted in the summer months by an evening-biting mosquito and the symptoms are similar to those of meningitis. The vaccine offers protection for 2-3 years; be aware that there have been allergic reactions associated to this vaccine. It is highly recommended for those who plan on spending more than a month in areas that are affected with this disease.
• European tick-borne encephalitis: Has similar symptoms to the Japanese version, but often has more severe consequences. It is a viral infection carried by ticks, and is found in Russia, the former Soviet Union, as well as other parts of Europe, and is most prevalent in the summer months. Anyone planning to stay in these areas for a long period of time should be vaccinated; this vaccine does need to be ordered, so you must plan ahead. It is also important to follow procedures that reduce the risk of being bitten by ticks.
• Rabies: A fatal disease of the brain and nervous system that is transmitted through animal bites, especially dog bites. Rabies is common throughout the world, including North America. Although this vaccine is expensive, it is very safe and effective. For those who have been vaccinated and are bitten by an animal, 2 additional doses are required. However, for those who have not been vaccinated, 5 doses of vaccine and one of rabies immune globulin are required for effective treatment. The rabies immune globulin is not widely available in the developing world, which poses a huge health concern if bitten. It is important to know whether or not this is easily accessible in the country you plan on traveling in, as well, consult with a travel medical professional. This is usually recommended for long-stay travelers, especially those traveling with children.
• Malaria: There is currently no malaria vaccine. There is however, three first-line antimalarial drugs that are recommended to help prevent becoming infected. These drugs should be taken for several weeks or even the day before potential exposure, as well as during the travel period, and for 1-4 weeks after returning. It is important to know that none of these drugs offer 100% protection, so it is important to take safety measures to prevent being bitten by virus-carrying mosquitoes. These include using insect repellants, as well as mosquito netting, screened accommodations, and wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts after dark.

You should consult with your physician as soon as possible when making your travel plans. This will allow you enough time for the slower vaccines to take effect. A 2 month time period is usually recommended to consult with your doctor. Your doctor will have the latest information on any outbreaks, as well as the latest vaccines that are available. As well, it is very important to tell your doctor that you have been abroad if you become ill within 2 months of returning to Canada, in case you have caught a foreign-based illness.

There are also websites that offer the latest information about these diseases globally. The Public Health Agency of Canada offers travelers advisories and/or warnings of any outbreaks throughout the world. This is an important tool when making your travel plans in order to decide if your destination is a safe one. Before booking your travel plans, make sure you have the latest information available about the country/region. Be aware that the health status of a country can and does change; make sure you read all travel advisories every time you plan on leaving Canada.

posted on Monday, May 26, 2008 3:13:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Wednesday, May 14, 2008
                 

Chances are that at some point in your life, you've taken antibiotics to fight a serious infection. Traditionally antibiotics have been very effective in combating illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. However, misuse and/or overuse can lead to strains of these diseases becoming resistant, and therefore very hard to treat.

There is global concern now as there is an increased finding in antibiotic resistant forms of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that up until now were easily treated. This could potentially lead to outbreaks of diseases that have been assumed eradicated, i.e. tuberculosis. As well, these outbreaks will be more difficult to treat, as they will not positively respond to the standard treatment protocols.

A major cause of this resistance can be traced to misuse of antibiotics; as well the unnecessary prevention of infections in people, plants and/or animals. Germs are living organisms that are capable of adapting to their environment, and often will take on the characteristics of other, more potent germs. This means that overuse of products such as antibacterial soaps can end up causing germs that are not very harmful to mutate into germs that are. It is important to realize that germs that become resistant to one antibiotic are likely to become resistant to another antibiotic.

In order to help prevent your body from becoming resistant to antibiotics, it is essential to use them only as prescribed, and exactly as prescribed. Antibiotics are not effective for treating such common ailments as a cold and/or the flu. If you are sick, and not getting better, you must visit your physician to be properly diagnosed and treated. This will usually involve a culture being taken, in order for your condition to be properly identified; this is important as certain viruses will respond better to certain types of antibiotics. If you are prescribed antibiotics, you must take them exactly as prescribed; even if you are feeling better, it is vital that you finish all the pills prescribed. If you do not finish the cycle of antibiotics, it usually will result in only the weak bacteria being killed off, with the stronger bacteria remaining and possibly growing stronger in order to survive. This will possibly result in a more serious illness that is not going to respond as well to antibiotics.

Using anti-bacterial products kills off "good" bacteria. The human body needs to be exposed to bacteria in order for the immune system to effectively be able to combat them. By killing off the "harmless" bacteria, your immune system does not have the chance to develop antibodies, leaving you more at risk for serious illnesses. Washing your hands with soap and water regularly throughout the day is a great way to reduce your exposure to any harmful bacteria. As well, cleaning products that are labeled anti-bacterial have the same result; using normal products such as vinegar and water will leave your house clean and allowing good bacteria to remain. Proper food handling and preparation will ensure that the bacteria responsible for illnesses such as salmonella are destroyed.

It is also important to be current in your vaccinations. This is the most effective way of reducing your risk of becoming ill and ultimately needing antibiotics. Make sure you discuss this with your physician; remember that vaccinations for adults will differ than those for children. If you do have unused antibiotics in your home, do not flush them down the drain; this increases the risk of these drugs going into the water table. Bring them back to your doctor or pharmacy, where they can dispose of them properly. Never share your prescription with anyone, even if they are exhibiting the same symptoms you have as it's important for everyone to be diagnosed by their own doctor.

Using antibiotics in the proper way still remains one of our best options in treating certain infections and diseases. Make sure that you reduce your chances of becoming resistant, so that if and when you do need antibiotics, they will be the most effective. It is also important to see your physician as early as possible when you are ill and suspect that it is not just a common cold or flu; not only will you get better quicker, but you will reduce the risk of those around you by decreasing the contagious period of the virus.

posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2008 4:04:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Friday, April 25, 2008
                 

Canada is the first country in the world to declare a chemical used in the manufacturing of hard plastic items as toxic, and is taking steps towards banning its use. Officials for the Canadian health ministry, as well as the Canadian environmental ministry announced the news last week, and said that it is very likely that the use of BPA in the manufacturing of baby bottles will be in effect within the next year. After being declared toxic, a 60 day commentary period comes into place where it seems highly unlikely that the toxic status will be overturned. After this 60 day period, if no new evidence is brought forward that clearly shows the chemical is safe, the chemical can be eligible to be banned within a year.

Health Canada's screening assessment of bisphenol A focused primarily on the impact of the chemical on newborns as well as infants up to the age of 18 months. Exposure to bisphenol A comes primarily from heating baby bottles that contain the chemical, as well as the migration from can liners into infant formula. The current studies show that while the exposure to the chemical is below levels that may pose a risk, the gap between exposure and effect is not large enough. Studies conducted by Environment Canada have shown that even low levels of BPA is harmful to fish and aquatic organisms over time; tests already show that the chemical can be found in waste water and sludge treatment plants.

Bisphenol A is an industrial chemical that is used to make a hard clear plastic known as polycarbonate. This plastic is used in many consumer products such as reusable water bottles, as well as baby bottles. The chemical is also used in epoxy resins, which act as a protective lining for the inside of metal-based food and beverage cans. This lining prevents corrosion of the can to protect the food or beverage from any dissolved metals, as well as helping to preserve the quality and safety of canned foods. The chemical is also used in other products such as medical devices, dental sealants, sports equipment such as helmets, electronics and automotive parts.

Certain studies have shown that exposure to even low levels of BPA during pregnancy, infancy, and/or early childhood may effect normal development. It can also cause sensitivity to the onset of diseases later in life, especially the potential for mammary and prostate cancer. Laboratory studies have shown that when infants are exposed to BPA, it can lead to neurological as well as behavior problems later in the future. However, there does not seem to be any risk associated with the chemical and adult humans.

For parents who use baby bottles to feed their newborn or infant, precautions should be taken. Do not pour boiling water in baby bottles that have BPA, as very hot water causes the chemical to migrate out of the bottle at a much higher rate. Water should be boiled and then allowed to cool to a lukewarm temperature in a non-polycarbonate container before being transferred into the baby bottle. This precaution should also be used when preparing infant formula that comes from cans that contain the chemical. If you are unsure about whether or not the baby bottles you are currently using contain BPA, check the bottom of the bottle. Typically a number 7 can be found in the centre of the recycling symbol. Note that the number 7 is used to denote a broad category; you can only be 100% sure if the container has BPA when the initials PC are beside the number 7. If the bottle has no recycling symbol, there is no way to determine if it is a polycarbonate or not. You can also switch to using glass baby bottles, as well as alternative plastic bottles that do not contain the chemical. As there is no discernable risk in the exposure of BPA through canned drinks and foods, there is no reason to stop using these products.

Health Canada is continuing to study the effects of Bisphenol A, especially in pregnant women as well as infants. However, as the current completed studies have shown some risk, the Department of Health has decided to be "safe, rather than sorry" when it comes to this particular chemical.

posted on Friday, April 25, 2008 3:36:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, April 14, 2008
                 

There is a common assumption that over-the-counter drugs and vitamins are safe because they do not require a prescription. Very few people read the labels and instructions about the safe use of these products, as well as investigating whether or not they negatively interact with other products and/or prescription medications. Many people also do not think it is important to tell their physician about any herbal supplements they are taking because they mistakenly think that herbal supplements are safe; however, these, mixed with other medications, can prove to be very dangerous.

Using herbs for their medicinal properties has been practiced for centuries. The problem is that people assume that because it is a natural remedy, it is 100% safe. While these supplements can definitely be helpful for some health issues, they must be taken in a safe manner, and with your physician's knowledge. Many times people take too much of these remedies, assuming that because they are natural, they can be consumed in high doses.  Herbal supplements and vitamins can be dangerous if taken in higher doses than suggested, the same as prescription medications. People with certain health issues need to be aware that certain herbal properties can exacerbate their condition, even when taken as directed.

Ginkgo biloba is a common herbal supplement that is used for memory enhancement. This is a very common supplement with Canadian seniors as a natural way to combat the effects of aging. However, many are not aware that ginkgo biloba should never be taken by anyone who is taking prescription blood thinners. Ginkgo biloba contains properties that naturally thin the blood; these combined greatly increase the risk of strokes and/or severe bleeding. Dong quai and ginseng are also dangerous for those on blood thinning medications.

 St. John's Wort is an herb that is commonly used to combat mild or moderate depression, but should never be used with prescription anti-depressants, especially those that are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, i.e. Prozac, Serzone, Luvox, Paxil, or Zoloft. This combination causes an imbalance, and can cause symptoms such as feeling weak, tired and confused; totally defeating the purpose of taking the medication to begin with.

Echinacea is a very popular herbal supplement that is designed to fire up the immune system. Millions of people take Echinacea at the beginning of the winter to help ward off colds as well as the flu virus. As well, many products such as cough drops and multi-vitamins contain Echinacea without the consumer's knowledge. Echinacea however, should never be taken by anyone who uses corticosteroids, or any other prescription medication that is designed to suppress the immune system.

Valerian is an herb that is a natural sedative, and is used by people to help those who are suffering from insomnia, or other sleep disorders. It can be dangerous, however, when combined with other sleep aids, either prescription, or over-the-counter, as it can cause over-sedation. As with any other sleep aid products, it should never be combined with alcohol.

Glucosamine is a natural supplement designed to help with joint problems and arthritis. However, many forms of glucosamine contain sodium, which can be very harmful for those who are on a low-sodium diet i.e. those who have high blood pressure. People who are allergic to shellfish may also be allergic to glucosamine.

You may be unintentionally putting yourself at risk if you are taking herbal supplements and/or certain vitamins if you have health concerns such as:

• Problems with blood clotting
• Any type of cancer
• Any form of diabetes
• Enlarged prostate gland
• Epilepsy
• Glaucoma
• Heart disease
• High blood pressure
• Psychiatric problems
• Parkinson's disease
• Immune system problems
• Have suffered or are in danger of suffering a stroke
• Thyroid problems
• Liver problems
• Are scheduled for surgery

It's important to recognize that the vitamin and herbal supplement industry is not as strictly regulated as prescription pharmaceuticals. This means that often warning labels are not included detailing the potential dangers of a certain product, or other drugs that the product may negatively interact with. And while the majority of natural supplements are safe and effective, they must always be taken in the manner prescribed. Taking too much of natural supplements can be harmful, the same as prescription medication. For optimal health results, tell your physician about everything you take, including vitamins in order to prevent any potential negative interactions. You can also do your own research about these vitamins and supplements to learn about the benefits as well as the dangers. Before buying any supplements, talk to your pharmacist, who is aware of all your prescription medications; they will also be knowledgeable about any potential harm.

posted on Monday, April 14, 2008 3:57:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, March 31, 2008
                 

Winter sports such as snowboarding or skiing are a great way to stay active during the colder months. It's important though, to make sure you are properly equipped in order to prevent serious injuries. While the number of snowboarding injuries does not surpass injuries incurred while skiing, they do tend to be more severe. The number of snowboarding injuries in Canada has risen drastically in the past ten years, with 88% of injuries being sustained by those between the ages of 10-19, with 80% of those being male. Half of those injuries were fractures, with over 40% being to the arms. While traumatic brain injuries, as well as spinal cord injuries are rare, they are on the rise, probably from the rising rend of acrobatic and high-speed moves.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 1997 over 84,000 skiing injuries and over 37,000 snowboarding injuries were treated in various American emergency rooms. Out of those injuries over 17,000 were head injuries. Their studies have found that 11 skiing and/or snowboarding deaths could be prevented each year and over 7,000 head injuries could be either prevented or reduced in severity simply by using helmets. Many of these accidents occur due to loss of control; either moving too fast on the slopes or being on a slope that is beyond the skiers/snowboarders ability. In 1999 a new report was released showing that helmet use could prevent or reduce the severity of 44% of head injuries incurred by adults, and 53% of those incurred by children under the age of 15.

It is estimated that 25% of all snowboarding injuries occur during a person's first experience, and almost 50% occur during the first season of snowboarding. This is due to the fact that snowboarding is an extreme sport that requires balance and a stable stance on the board. As both feet are fixed in non-release bindings, ankles are susceptible to being injured as the snowboarder cannot "step" out when falling or colliding. This also leaves the upper extremities at high risk of injury as a person's natural instinct is to outstretch their hands in order to break the impending fall. It is essential that anyone learning how to snowboard takes lessons in order to learn the fundamentals, including how to fall properly in order to avoid these injuries.

It is important to have the right equipment in order to either prevent injuries, as well as lessen the severity of any injuries that may occur. The snowboard you use should be in good condition and is fitted for your weight, size, and skill. Purchase a helmet that is specifically designed for snowboarding; helmets designed for other purposes such as bicycling, will not give you enough protection, as well as being too heavy or bulky which can result in whiplash injuries. Snowboarding helmets consist of three layers and are cut higher in the back than in the front. The outer shell varies depending on the model you choose, but is designed to protect against any objects penetrating the shell. The middle layer consists of polystyrene, which will absorb shock during a fall. The inner layer is simply designed for warmth, so that no other headgear will be required. If your helmet has sustained a major blow, you will need to replace it. Make sure the helmet fits snugly and is comfortable.

Snowboarding boots come in three different types; each differs in the support they give to the ankle and foot. Soft boots are the most common type of boot used and offers good stability as well as flexibility. Hard boots are typically worn by racers. Hybrid boots offer the support of the hard boot, but with the comfort and maneuverability of soft boots. It is important to select the proper type of boot for the style of snowboarding you are participating in. Ankle injuries are more prevalent in those who wear soft boots due to their moderate ankle support; people who wear the hard boots however, are more at risk of knee injuries due to the lack of movement. Make sure that you buy the boots and bindings together as these are inter-related.

Wrist and elbow guards are also important to reduce fractures. Wrist guards that are used for inline skating or skateboarding can also be used for snowboarding. Knee and tailbone pads are very important for beginners, as falling backwards is more apt to happen when learning to snowboard.

If you are traveling to Canada, or are a Canadian traveling outside the country to participate in snowboarding, it's important to make sure that your travel insurance will cover any injuries sustained in this activity. Certain travel insurance policies will not reimburse medical bills that are a result of these types of injuries; you may require Adventure Travel insurance. Make sure to check with your broker before you leave to make sure you have the right coverage.

posted on Monday, March 31, 2008 10:28:11 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, March 17, 2008
                 

Skin Cancer Prevention

Many Canadians are escaping the cold winter months by traveling to countries that have a warmer climate. It's important when enjoying your time in the sunshine to make sure you are not exposing your skin to potentially harmful UV rays, which can increase your risk of skin cancer. As children and infants are especially at risk due to having sensitive skin, precautions need to be taken.

Skin cancer is the one form of cancer that can be prevented. There are 3 types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant carcinoma. The first two are the most prevalent forms of skin cancer found in Canadians. They tend to develop later in life on areas of the skin that have been repeatedly exposed to the sun such as the face, neck, and/or hands. They are rarely fatal as it is uncommon for this form of cancer to spread to other areas of the body. Minor surgery easily removes the affected areas of skin. Malignant melanomas on the other hand, are quite fatal as they progress very rapidly and can develop on virtually any part of the body. This form of skin cancer also occurs a lot earlier in life and accounts for 5% of people affected by skin cancer.

Everyone is at some risk of developing melanoma, but certain factors can determine if you are at an increased level of risk. These are:

• Exposure to the sun. UVA as well as UVB rays are dangerous to skin health and can induce skin cancer. Blistering sunburns in early childhood as well as cumulative exposure are factors that can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. This applies to both natural sun and tanning booths.
• Moles. Most people have small brown moles or "beauty marks" that appear in the first several decades of life. These are normal moles which are harmless. Atypical moles however, can be dangerous. Also known as dysplastic nevi, these are moles or patches of skin that are abnormally dark, or moles that are bleeding, crusting or changing in their color, size, and/or shape. These should be checked immediately by your physician. It's important to realize that regardless of type, the more moles you have, the greater your risk is for melanoma.
• Skin type. People with fairer skin are more at risk for all forms of skin cancer.
• Family history. It's estimated that one out of ten patients diagnosed with skin cancer has a family member who has also had it. Therefore, it's important to know if your parents, siblings or children have been diagnosed with melanoma, as you are in a melanoma-prone family. A person who has a first-degree relative with melanoma has a fifty percent greater chance of developing skin cancer than those with no family history of the disease. You also have a slight increase in risk if anyone such as aunts, unless, cousins, grandparents, etc. have had skin cancer.
• Your own personal medical history. Having any form of skin cancer automatically increases your risk of occurrence. People with a compromised immune system that is a result from chemotherapy, organ transplant or HIV/AIDS are also at a higher risk level for melanoma.

The main cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). These rays cause skin cancer by directly damaging skin cells, as well as weakening the immune mechanisms in the skin. Consequently, most cases of skin cancer can be prevented by limiting your exposure to UV rays. Things you can do to minimize your exposure are:

• Try and spend time in the shade when outdoors during the hottest parts of the day
• If you're spending long periods of time in the sun, wear a broad-rimmed hat, as well as clothing that has a tight weave, and covers your skin
• Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 and offers both UVA and UVB protection. You should apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going in the sun, as well as 15-30 minutes after exposure. Make sure to reapply often after swimming, vigorous activity, or toweling off.
• Certain medications can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays, so read the labels and inserts for all your medications. If you're still unsure, consult with your physician or pharmacist.

If you are taking infants and/or children outside follow the above recommendations as well as:

• Never letting infants or young children play or sleep in the sun in a playpen, stroller, or carriage.
• Even when wearing sunscreen, do not let your children stay in direct sun for long periods of time.
• Make sure your children are wearing plenty of sunscreen, and reapply often as they are more active then most adults which can make it wear off more quickly.

Make sure to regularly check for any changes in moles on your skin, if you think there has been any sort of change, consult with your physician.

posted on Monday, March 17, 2008 1:22:22 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Saturday, March 1, 2008
                 

Living With Chronic Pain

Every year, millions of Canadians suffer from chronic pain. More than half of these Canadians do not receive adequate treatment to alleviate this devastating pain. A recent study actually showed that in one large Canadian medical centre the majority of patients who were in moderate to severe pain were not even asked by medical staff if they were in pain. Statistics Canada has recently released a study which showed that over 25% of Canadian seniors who live at home, and nearly 40% who reside in a institution are living with chronic pain, severe enough that it interferes with daily life.

While pain is a natural part of everyone's life, chronic pain has distinct characteristics. There are 2 basic types of pain, acute and chronic, which are very different from each other.

Acute Pain: Results usually from disease, inflammation or injury to tissues. It generally comes on quickly, i.e. after surgery or trauma. It may be accompanied by emotional distress and/or high anxiety levels. The cause of acute pain can usually be quickly diagnosed and treated. As well, the pain is usually confined to a given period of time as well as severity. Only in rare cases does acute pain become chronic.

Chronic Pain: Lasts for a much longer duration than acute pain and is more resistant to medical treatment. Chronic pain is widely believed to represent disease itself, and can be made much worse by environmental as well as psychological factors. Chronic pain can be a result of an initial accident such as sprained back, infection, or can be the result of an ongoing condition such as cancer, arthritis. Chronic pain can also occur without any previous injuries and/or evidence of body damage. Severe and frequent migraines can also fit into this category.

There is no test that tells a physician just how much pain a person is in, or how intense their pain is. The physician can ask questions about whether the pain is dull or sharp, location, burning or aching, etc, but these are only general indicators. Physicians can however, use technology to find the source of the pain. The most common are:

Electrodiagnostic Procedures: Electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies, and evoked potential (EP) studies can help physicians tell precisely which nerves and/or muscles are affected by pain and/or weakness. EMG consists of thin needles being inserted into the muscles so the physician can see or listen to the electrical signals displayed. Nerve conduction studies involve the use of two sets of electrodes that are placed on the skin over the muscles. The first set sends a mild shock that stimulates the nerve that runs to the muscle. The second set makes a recording of the nerve's electrical signals, from which the physician is able to detect nerve damage. EP test follow the same theory, but with the second set of electrodes set on the patient's scalp in order to determine the speed of nerve transmission to the brain.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A MRI provides the physician with pictures of the body's tissues and structures, which can help determine where and why pain is occurring.

Neurological Exams and X-Rays: The physician will test movement, reflexes, balance, sensation as well as coordination. X-rays will show if any bones or joints are the cause of the chronic pain.

It is important for those who suffer from chronic pain to communicate effectively with their physician in order to receive the appropriate treatment and relief. Many different people in the medical field may be helpful in pain management, includes nurse, physiotherapists, psychologists, and occupational therapists, as well as your physician. If needed, your family doctor can refer you to a pain specialist if the pain is not self-resolving. To help your physician give you the proper care, be prepared for your appointments. By keeping a daily pain diary, and recording the amount of pain, the time it occurred and what you did to alleviate this pain get be a great assistance to your doctor. Make sure to use descriptive words such as throbbing, stabbing, burning, aching, tingling, dull, sharp, deep, pressing etc as well as rating it from 1 to 10. As well, keep a list of any and all medications that you take or have taken for pain control. It can also be helpful to list any activities you participated in either just before or at the onset of the pain.

Chronic pain can be managed in different ways, depending on the individual. This can be achieved usually through the proper pain medications, as well as such therapies as acupuncture, massage and chiropractic treatment. Some of the most common ways drugs that physicians use to treat chronic pain are:

Analgesics: The class of drugs that includes most painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. It is used in most nonprescription medications for mild to moderate pain.

Anticonvulsants: Usually used for seizure disorders, but can be effective for pain that is associated with neuropathic origins.

Antidepressants: Depression is now being associated with chronic pain, especially back pain. Some antidepressants in the psychotropic drug class can be used for treating both conditions. Some anti-anxiety drugs also contain muscle relaxants, and can be effective as well.

Antimigraine Medications: These medications are only for people who suffer from serious and/or frequent migraine headaches. The are only available by prescription, and should only be used under a physician's care, as some do have serious side effects.

COX-2 inhibitors: Used for the treatment of arthritis pain. These drugs are relatively new to the market, and have not yet been tested for long-term side effects. They do, however, seem to lessen some of the negative side effects commonly associated with older anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS).

Nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS): These drugs are effective for relieving pain by reducing the inflammation in the affected tissues. These can however, cause some people to suffer from upset stomachs.

Opoids: The oldest class of drugs known to mankind; they derive from the poppy plant. Codeine is a very mild form of opoid; morphine is one of the strongest forms of this drug. Opiates are a narcotic, and can induce sedation as well as pain relief. Opiates are physically addictive, and should only be taken with a physician's supervision and monitoring. Opiates do have such side effects as nausea (including vomiting in some cases) and constipation.

Methods other than medication can also be an effective measure to combat chronic pain. These may be used alone, or in conjunction with pain medication, depending on the individual.

Acupuncture: Is a traditional Oriental method of healing which involves applying needles to precise parts of the body. Although some consider this method controversial, it has been a popular method to help various conditions.

Biofeedback: Used mostly for headaches and back pain. A special electronic machine is used to train the patient to become aware of and ultimately control certain body functions. By learning to control things such muscle tension, heart rate and skin temperature, the patient will be able to effect a change in their response to pain by using techniques such as relaxation exercises.

Chiropractic: This can be very effective for those with acute lower back pain and other back disorders. This involves a licensed chiropractor manually manipulating the spine.

Counseling/Therapy: Psychological help and support can help patients by giving them much need coping skills to deal with chronic pain. Support groups can be helpful for those going through multiple surgical procedures as well as diseases such as cancer.

Physical Therapy/Rehabilitation: Exercise, massage, and/or manipulation can help not only alleviate pain, but help to speed up recovery from certain injuries.

It's important to let your physician know if you are experiencing pain that doesn’t seem to go away, or appears for no particular reason, as it may be symptomatic of a serious condition. There is no one specific cure for chronic pain; one of the above methods, as well as a combination of methods may be the right choice for you.

Many individual health insurance plans, as well as employee benefits packages offer coverage for not only the prescription costs, but for non-medicinal treatments. If you do not currently have coverage for such items as chiropractic visits, you can always enquire about adding these features to your current coverage.

 

posted on Saturday, March 1, 2008 2:14:36 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Wednesday, February 20, 2008
                 

Seniors And Rising Prescription Costs

All Canadian seniors 65 and older are 'supposedly' covered by a provincial drug plan. However, new research shows that out of pocket costs paid by seniors for their prescriptions greatly varies between the provinces. Canadians in 2007 spent $26.9 billion dollars on prescription medication; out of that amount over $4 billion was directly out of pocket. This discrepancy in coverage means that some Canadian seniors are not able to afford much needed prescription medications.

Take, for example, a 65 year old woman on a government pension who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and needs 4 prescription medications in order to control her condition. If this woman lives in Ontario her out of pocket expense is eight dollars; if she lives in Manitoba she will have to pay five hundred and three dollars. A 73 year old man who needs five different medications to treat his heart failure will spend 60 dollars in New Brunswick; in Manitoba this expense soars to one thousand, three hundred and thirty two dollars.

These costs are based largely on age, level of income, marital status and your province of residence. It is estimated that the number of Canadians who are eligible for prescription reimbursement varies from 9% in Manitoba to 43% in Quebec; this can also depend on which jurisdiction the person resides in.

The income bracket of a Canadian senior can determine the amount of prescription reimbursement that they are entitled to. New Brunswick and P.E.I. are the most comprehensive provinces, offering seniors either full coverage or paying up to 35% of prescription costs, regardless of income. Ontario and Nova Scotia's reimbursement plans are based on income level. Seniors living in Quebec generally pay more for prescription costs, although there is some relief for low-income as well as those who require long-term and extensive drug treatment. When it comes to Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland, seniors will only be covered if they qualify as having a low income status.

Most seniors lose their drug coverage which they had through employee benefits at a time when they need it most. For seniors who are living on a fixed income, these prescription costs may not be affordable, thereby putting their health in jeopardy. For most seniors, prescription coverage is essential in order to make sure that if health problems do occur, they have the means to afford the medication.

A new study has been conducted by SunLife Financial to assess how many Canadian seniors have actually saved money to cover their healthcare costs. They found that only 9% of working Canadians have actually factored in healthcare costs when calculating their retirement savings. 80% of Canadians expect these costs to be covered by their provincial health care program. 65% of Canadians say that they do realize they will have to spend some of their retirement savings on healthcare expenses, but only 37% of this group said they have actually saved for it. 36% of Canadians are under the impression that their employee benefits will provide them with health coverage in their retirement years. And while those who say they are aware that they will need to save money for healthcare costs, the majority admits that they do not know exactly how much this will cost them.

Healthcare related costs need to be correctly assessed when planning retirement. If not, many Canadians may be running the risk of not being able to afford treatments, prescriptions, etc. when it is most needed. For those who have employee benefits, it is important to thoroughly understand what, if any, coverage will be provided upon retirement. It is not feasible to rely on provincial coverage to cover all your costs; private health insurance will more than likely be a much cheaper solution.

Canadian seniors who are retiring and losing their benefits may want to consider purchasing FollowMe coverage. There is no medical exam required if applied for within 60 days of the termination date of the employee benefits coverage. For those whose group insurance expired and it is longer than 60 days, or for those who didn’t have employee benefits, guaranteed issue health insurance is available. You will have your choice of plans depending on your needs, and acceptance is automatic with no medical questionnaire.  As prescription costs can be expensive, as well as subject to being raised, health insurance premiums offer several advantages. For those on a fixed income, the cost can be budgeted for, with a set amount having to be paid. This can be financially more feasible than trying to second-guess how much needs to be saved in the event of having to suddenly require medications. Health insurance will also cover other expenses, such as vision care costs, hospital benefits and dental coverage. Having health coverage will provide the security of knowing your hard earned savings will not be spent on having to cover these expenses, or the uncertainty of not being able to afford treatment.

posted on Wednesday, February 20, 2008 12:04:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Tuesday, January 29, 2008
                 

Canadian Weedless Wednesday

Last week was National Non-Smoking Week across Canada, with the focal point being Weedless Wednesday. Started in 1977, National Non-Smoking Week is one of the longest running Canadian public health education efforts. It's goals are to educate Canadians about the dangers of smoking, to prevent people from starting to smoke, and to help smokers quit. Coincidentally, this national event took place on the heels of Wolfville Nova Scotia's ban on smoking in vehicles in which children under 16 are present. Presently Nova Scotia, British Columbia and the Yukon have had bills or motions introduced to make this ban province-wide.

Most Canadians are unaware of just what makes smoking so lethal. Not only is the smoker as well as non-smokers who breathe in second-hand smoke exposed to nicotine, but many other toxins are in cigarettes. All of these toxins are harmful to anyone who inhales them. A sample of the toxins found in cigarettes are:

   • Tar: found in tobacco smoke. Tar is a sticky black residue that contains hundreds of chemicals, most of which are classified as carcinogenic and/or hazardous waste. Found in tar are such chemicals as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, aromatic amines and inorganic compounds
   • Nicotine: is the addictive substance in tobacco. It occurs naturally in tobacco plants and is harmful to cardiovascular and endocrine systems in humans. It causes chemical and/or biological changes in the brain. Nicotine is extremely poisonous in large amounts
   • Carbon Monoxide: is in tobacco smoke as a result of burning tobacco, and is responsible for the reduction of red blood cells delivering oxygen to human tissue. This has the greatest potential for causing damage to the heart, brain and skeletal muscles.
   • Formaldehyde: Is registered in Canada as a pesticide and causes eye, nose and throat irritation as well as other breathing problems
   • Hydrogen Cyanide: One of most toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke; frequent exposure to low concentrations of this cause weakness, headaches, vomiting, nausea, eye and skin irritations and rapid breathing.
   • Benzene: has been declared toxic by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and is believed to be harmful at any level of exposure. It has been described as a Group 1 carcinogen.

It is obvious from this list that smoking and/or exposure to tobacco in any form is extremely harmful. Smoking is directly related to such potentially fatal diseases as:

   • Cardiovascular Disease: This includes heart attacks, strokes, hardening of the arteries and/or dilation or rupture of the aorta. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 2 out of 5 tobacco-caused deaths. It is responsible for the death of approximately 17,500 Canadians every year.
   • Cancer: This includes lung cancer, cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and/or esophagus, cancer of the pancreas, cancer of the kidneys and cancer of the bladder. Cancer is responsible for 2 out of 5 tobacco-caused deaths, and kills approximately 17,700 Canadians every year.
   • Respiratory Disease: Including pneumonia and influenza, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic airways obstruction. Respiratory disease is responsible for 1 out of 5 tobacco-caused deaths with a mortality rate in Canadians of approximately 9500 per year.

Smoking is also directly related to other serious health issues. Smokers are more likely to suffer from peptic ulcer disease; the ulcers are also slower to heal and more likely to reoccur. Smoking is also a risk factor for Crohn's disease, also known as chronic bowel disease. Smoking affects oral health; as well or oral cancer, smokers are more likely to experience tooth decay and/or gum disease. As smoking reduces bone density, it can cause and/or aggravate osteoporosis. Smokers with osteoporosis have increased chances of bone fractures. Because smoking decreases blood flow in the small blood vessels in the skin smokers are more likely to experience premature aging and more skin wrinkles. For women who smoke, they can experience menopause 1 to 2 years earlier than non-smoking women. For men, smoking may cause impotence.

The statistics surrounding the life expectancy of smokers is highly alarming.  The Canadian Council for Tobacco Control estimates that for every 1000 Canadians age 20 who smoke, about 500 will die from a tobacco-caused death if they continue. Out of these 500 deaths, half will occur before the smoker turns 70. Approximately 45,000 Canadians every year die from tobacco-caused illnesses, and smoking causes the highest number of preventable illnesses, disabilities and/or deaths in Canada.

Obviously, it is vital that Canadians quit smoking in order to prevent death and/or illness. There are many different theories about the best way to quit smoking. However, it is up to the individual to choose a plan and/or method that works for them; not everyone will benefit from the same method. For smokers who wish to quit, it's important to find a method that works for you and to be prepared for what quitting smoking entails.

While there are various unproven methods such as hypnotherapy, acupuncture, etc, the 2 major smoking cessation aids are:

Prescription Medications: Your doctor can prescribe certain medications like Varenicline tartrate which may reduce the sense of satisfaction that you get when smoking. It can also help reduce the cravings and help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. This drug works by weakening the chemical reactions in the brain caused by nicotine that make smoking feel pleasurable. However these types of medication are not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is also not recommended that nicotine replacement therapy products such as patches, gum or inhalers be used when taking this drug. Certain anti-depressants can also be helpful in quitting smoking. Although it is not certain how this works, studies have shown that smokers who have been treated for depression with certain prescription drugs reported that along with the symptoms of depression going away, so had their urge to smoke. These medications are only available with a prescription, so consult with your physician to see if this is an option for you.

Nicotine Replacement Therapies: Nicotine gum and the patch.

   • Nicotine Gum: Releases a dose of nicotine that when chewed helps with the withdrawal symptoms. Chewing nicotine gum can satisfy the cravings quickly and also helps to keep the mouth busy. It is available without a prescription, and can be purchased at most pharmacies. It is available in different doses for all levels of smokers.
   • Nicotine Patch: This consists of small self-adhesive patches that slowly release nicotine into the bloodstream. It can be placed anywhere on the skin between the waist and the neck. The patch allows the smoker to gradually reduce the amount of nicotine they use. It can however, cause the skin surrounding the patch to be irritated and may also cause headaches, dizziness, upset stomach and blurred vision. The 24 hour patches may cause sleep problems as well. Although this is available without a prescription, consult with your physician about using it, especially if you have angina, irregular heart, have had a heart attack, are pregnant and/or breastfeeding and if you are taking other medications.

It is important to be prepared to quit smoking. Consult with your physician; discuss the above-mentioned options to see what is right for you. You should also come up with a strategy to help avoid the pitfalls. Some good ideas for planning ahead to quit are:

   • Pick a quit day. Try and pick a date within 2 to 3 weeks of making the decision to quit. This deadline will help you decide how to handle the situations which make you want to smoke. Try and choose a time that isn’t very stressful. Remember, there’s never going to be the "perfect" time, so pick your date and stick to it.
   • For some people it can help to cut down first. You may also want to purposely leave your cigarettes at home when going out, cutting down on your cigarette breaks at work, etc.
   • Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit smoking and post them in every room of the house and/or work.
   • Get rid of all your ashtrays and make your usual smoking areas as uncomfortable as possible.
   • Plan ahead for ways to combat the urge to smoke. This can include going for a walk or working out; make sure you also have plenty of healthy snacks on hand for when the hand-to-mouth urge strikes.
   • Through the first few days, take it hour by hour. View each smoke-free hour as an accomplishment. It can be daunting when thinking of never smoking again, so break it down into manageable time frames
   • Drink lots of water to help flush the nicotine and other chemicals out of your system.
   • Change your routine for your usual times to smoke. For instance, if you smoke right after a meal, you need to replace that activity with another one.

Most relapses occur within the first three months of quitting smoking. They are usually caused by triggers, i.e. an incredibly stressful event. However, relapsing does not mean that you have to become a smoker again. If you do happen to slip and have a cigarette, don't overact, but become recommitted to being a non-smoker.

Being able to identify the symptoms of withdrawal can better prepare the smoker for what to expect, as well as how to alleviate them. Knowing what to expect and the general time taken to be rid of these symptoms can help the smoker come up with an effective quitting plan. Nicotine is physically addictive and it does take time for the body to expel itself of not only the nicotine, but the other chemicals that are being ingested with every cigarette smoked. Most smokers who quit experience physical effects such as:

   • Irritability: This generally lasts 2-4 weeks and is caused by the physical craving for nicotine. It is important to recognize that this is a withdrawal symptom and spend extra time devoted to relaxation methods such as hot baths, music, etc.
   • Lack of energy: Nicotine is a stimulant and keeps your brain active. The body generally takes 2-4 weeks to readjust to living without this boost. During this period don't push yourself too hard; if possible take naps when needed.
   • Insomnia: Nicotine affects brain waves and sleep patterns. Sleep pattern disruption usually lasts for a week. During this time try to avoid caffeine, especially at nighttime
   • Dry throat and cough: This usually only lasts a few days, and is caused by the body getting rid of trapped mucus in the airways. Make sure to drink lots of water and juice to help get rid of the mucus.
   • Dizziness: As your body is now receiving more oxygen, you may feel dizzy for 1 to 2 days. Make sure to get up slowly after sitting or lying down.
   • Difficulty concentrating: This can last for up to a few weeks and is caused by your body readjusting to not having the constant stimulation from nicotine. Reduce your workload and take a lot of breaks if possible.
   • Chest tightness: Chest muscles may be sore from excessive coughing as well as muscle tenseness from the cravings. This usually lasts for a few weeks; deep breathing can help alleviate the soreness.
   • Stomach pain, gas, and/or constipation: This can happen as bowel movement drops very briefly. When you quit smoking, make sure your diet is high in fibre as well as fruits and vegetables.
   • Hunger: Your body may confuse nicotine craving as hunger pains. As well, the hand-to-mouth action from smoking can be hard to break. This can last anywhere from 2-4 weeks. Make sure to have lots of healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, popcorn, fruit, pretzels, etc on hand so you can enjoy lots of guilt-free munchies.

The actual nicotine craving is usually the worst in the first few days of quitting, although some people can experience occasional cravings for long periods afterwards. Nicotine generally takes around 3 days to come out of the bloodstream. Recognize the cravings for what they are and try to wait them out, they tend to only last for a few minutes. Keep yourself busy with another activity during the cravings to take your mind off of it. If using nicotine gum as part of your plan, then this is the time to have a piece.

Smokers who quit before they experience irreversible heart and circulatory disease can greatly improve their health. In fact, after 20 minutes of quitting, blood pressure, pulse and body temperature all start to return to their normal state. Within 8 hours the oxygen and carbon monoxide levels in blood return to normal and smoker's breath disappears. In the first 24 hours of quitting smoking carbon monoxide will be eliminated from the body. As well the lungs will begin to clear out the smoking debris and mucus. 72 hours after quitting lung capacity begins to increase and breathing becomes easier. 3-9 months after quitting lung function increases by up to 10%. Being smoke-free for one year reduces the risk of heart disease by up to one-half of a smoker’s. Within 10 years the risk of lung cancer falls to one-half of the risks of a smoker’s, and within 15 years the risk of heart disease is about the same as someone who has never smoked.

Along with improved health, quitting smoking can be financially beneficial. For instance, Canadians who smoke one pack per day at $8.00 per pack will save $2920 in the first year alone. Smokers who quit will also experience savings in their health and life insurance premiums. As these premiums are based on health status, the more healthy you get, the more you can save. When you quit smoking let your health and life insurance broker(s) know so that they are aware of your new and improved health status.

For more information on the effects of smoking, and advice on how to quit please visit these websites:

Canadian Cancer Society
The Lung Association
Health Canada Quit4Life

 

posted on Tuesday, January 29, 2008 8:35:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
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