Unsure about the flu shot? Your questions answered

fluAccording to Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robin Williams, some Ontario parents still have questions about getting the flu shot for their children.

When deciding whether you and your children should be vaccinated, it’s the facts that count. We sat down with Dr. Williams to get answers to the most frequently asked flu shot questions.

Is the flu shot safe?

In Canada, there are very strict guidelines for making vaccines and safety is a priority. The flu vaccine is safe in healthy children and adults. Serious reactions from the vaccine are rare. Most common reactions include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot has been given, lasting up to two days. Vaccine components rarely cause allergic reactions. Talk to your health care provider regarding the risks and benefits of flu vaccination.

Does the flu shot work?

Yes, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the flu shot reduced children’s risk of influenza-related admissions by 74 per cent during the 2010-2012 flu seasons.

Is living a healthy and active lifestyle enough to stop you from getting the flu?

While eating well, exercising and washing your hands are certainly important to living a healthy lifestyle, these practices alone can’t prevent you from getting the flu. The flu shot is the best way to avoid getting the flu and becoming seriously ill.

How does the flu shot work?

Vaccination helps strengthen your body’s natural immune response against the flu. The flu shot stimulates your immune system to build antibodies against the virus, making it stronger and ready to fight off the flu.

Can the flu shot cause autism or Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Some parents express concern that vaccines can cause health issues, such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) or autism. GBS may be associated with the influenza vaccine (1 per million recipients), but is more likely to occur after you get infected with the flu (1 per 60,000). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization indicates that alleged health effects from vaccines do not cause autism.

How does the flu virus spread?

The virus spreads mainly from person-to-person coughing or sneezing, but also by touching objects or surfaces with flu viruses on them and then by touching your eyes, mouth or nose. Studies show that flu viruses can survive on surfaces up to 48 hours. Sharing personal items like cell phones, eating utensils, pens and drinks also contribute to the spread of the flu.

What are the most common symptoms of the flu?

Symptoms can vary from person-to-person, but usually includes fever, chills, cough, runny eyes, stuffy nose, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, extreme weakness, and fatigue. Most people will recover within a week to 10 days, but some individuals, including children, are at increased risk of severe complications.

What is the difference between the cold and the flu?

Common cold and flu symptoms are often similar, however, the flu is not a cold. It has potentially serious consequences, such as hospitalization or even death for the most vulnerable, including young children. Last year in Ontario, there were more than 700 children under 10 with confirmed influenza that were hospitalized and eight deaths were reported. Symptoms accompanying the flu often include: fever or chills, body and muscle aches and extreme fatigue.

For more information about the flu, or to locate the nearest flu shot clinic to you, visit www.ontario.ca/flu.


Bringing attention to a silent epidemic

liverBob Walsh, Executive Director of the Canadian Society for International Health

(NC) Hepatitis C is a growing problem in our country, with an estimated 250,000 Canadians living with the virus. The disease can take many years to progress without causing noticeable symptoms, as a result, one out of every five individuals living with the virus has no idea that they are infected until the disease is very advanced. That is why World Hepatitis Day, marked on July 28th this year, has been established to raise awareness of chronic viral hepatitis worldwide.

If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to severe liver damage, liver cancer and the need for a liver transplant. Because many people do not have symptoms when they are infected, it is important for anyone at risk to take action to avoid infecting others. “We encourage people to get tested for hepatitis B and C so that they know their status, as these diseases can be successfully treated if diagnosed early,” says Bob Walsh, the executive director of the Canadian Society for International Health.

It is interesting to note that, baby boomers are much more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than other age groups because medical procedures, such as blood transfusions and dental work were performed before universal infection control measures became the norm. Hepatitis C is also more common among immigrants due to its high prevalence in their country of origin. Street youth and marginalized persons, such as injection drug users and prison inmates, are also more at risk of contracting hepatitis C.

“Hepatitis C is curable in the majority of patients. However, we continue to see an increase in liver cancer rates that are linked to this infection. There needs to be a concerted effort to identify and treat patients or we will face detrimental consequences to both individuals and our health care system,” says Dr. Curtis Cooper, the director of the Ottawa Hospital and Regional Hepatitis Program. “Because hepatitis C has such devastating effects on the liver if left untreated, and with decompensated cirrhosis estimated to increase by 80 per cent by 2035, we emphasize the need for early diagnosis and treatment.”

A recent study from the Canadian Liver Foundation revealed that Canada will experience a significant increase in cases of advanced hepatitis C-related liver disease over the next 20 years. By 2035, the population with chronic hepatitis C who have cirrhosis and more advanced hepatitis C-related disease will rise to 23 per cent from 8.7 per cent in 2013. The longer-term associated health care costs will increase by 60 per cent to $258.4 million at the peak in 2032 from $161.4 million in 2013 as patients age and their liver disease progresses.

The Canadian Society for International Health encourages individuals to talk to their health care professional to get tested. Testing for the disease is done with a simple blood test, the cost of which is covered by the government, and treatment is extremely successful if the disease is diagnosed early.

The society is a national non-governmental organization that works domestically and internationally to reduce global health inequities and strengthen health systems. More information is available at www.csih.org.


Getting on top of chronic disease

coupleHeart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease- chronic diseases affect all parts of life. The diagnosis is followed by testing, prescriptions and often dietary changes. But what about exercise? Each of these interventions has involved advice from a regulated health professional who ensures that you get the care necessary to support your recovery and to improve your condition.

Registered kinesiologists are regulated health professionals who are specialists in human movement and performance. They work with people coping with injury, disease or with limited mobility to enable and enhance movement, strengthening and improved functioning. They also work with employers to modify workplaces and processes, and provide return-to-work planning and assistance.

Kinesiologists in Ontario are regulated by the College of Kinesiologists. The College sets the standards for entry to the profession so that the public receives competent, safe and ethical services from qualified individuals. Registration with the College indicates that a registered kinesiologist has completed rigorous academic training and possesses the knowledge, skills and judgment to practise in the public interest. Only members of the College may call themselves a kinesiologist. The College requires registered kinesiologists to participate in a quality assurance program to ensure that they maintain current knowledge and practices.

Regaining strength and mobility following injury or while coping with chronic disease is challenging. It is important to receive advice and assistance from a regulated health professional, such as a registered kinesiologist, who is accountable to a regulatory college for the services that they provide. If you have concerns about the services that you receive from a registered kinesiologist, you can contact the College and they will investigate.

For more information, visit www.collegeofkinesiologists.on.ca.


Beat your spring allergies naturally

spring allergiesSpring brings different things to all of us. For some it’s a time to finally get back to jogging outside, for others it’s a time to clean the backyard and plant this year’s garden. Whichever way we decide to enjoy the spring weather, we must also be prepared for the arrival of nasty allergies

Nasal congestion, runny noses, sneezing, itchy palates, and red, watery, itchy eyes can become a nightmare for many. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, don’t dread the arrival of spring. Follow these recommendations from the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) to help soothe the symptoms of your allergies and beat the sniffles and sneezes altogether:

Vitamin C has been shown to reduce histamine levels. Made by the body, histamines are linked to allergy symptoms. Vitamin C has also been shown to help decrease the sensitivity of our respiratory tract to histamines.

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that prevents the release of histamines and other inflammatory chemicals that can cause allergy symptoms. It has been found to be extremely effective at reducing the symptoms of spring allergies. Quercetin can be purchased as a supplement from your natural health food retailer or alternatively cayenne pepper and garlic are also great natural sources.

Organic thyme can help to naturally relieve congestion that often occurs during the onset of spring allergies. It also aids in fighting infections caused by phlegm. To experience its benefits, drink a tea made from fresh thyme twice a day or take a supplement that preserves the natural properties of the herb.

Organic Peppermint teaalsohelps to relieve congestion; this is because the essential oils of peppermint tea are a natural decongestant. By eliminating the mucus and buildup in your respiratory tract, you also eliminate some of the allergens and irritants that may get caught there.

Organic chamomile‘s anti-inflammatory properties offer great relief to dry, itchy eyes. Place cold, wet organic chamomile tea bags over your eyes for 10 minutes for a lasting soothing effect.

Honey‘s healing qualities make it a great natural treatment for soothing sore throats caused by allergies. It’s also widely believed that eating honey produced by bees in your region can help relieve allergies. Bees transfer pollen from flower blossoms to honey, so if you eat honey produced in your region, you will gradually become inoculated against the irritating effects of the pollen in your area.

Organic Ginger is a natural pain killer and anti-inflammatory. It can also help soothe the irritation of the respiratory tract and is especially powerful when combined with honey.

Whatever natural alternatives you decided to try this spring, remember it’s always best to consult your health care practitioner before making any significant changes to your supplement regimen. More information is available at your local natural health retailer, or online at chfa.ca.www.newscanada.com

Intimacy and cancer: the side effect no one talks about

coupleApril is cancer awareness month, but one topic that hasn’t gained much awareness is intimacy after a cancer diagnosis. Sexual dysfunction affects up to 90% of women treated for breast cancer, and 79% of spouses and partners of women with cancer said that sex and intimacy either lessened or stopped altogether, according to a report published by the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CCTFA) Foundation. Yet more often than not, both health care practitioners and patients alike are hesitant to discuss the effects of cancer treatment on a woman’s sex life.

Lisa Skelding is a sex and couples’ therapist based in Oakville, Ontario and expert blogger on the topic of sex and intimacy for FacingCancer.ca, the leading online psychosocial support group for women with cancer. She says that changes to sexuality during or after cancer treatment can be associated with self-blame, rejection, sadness and lack of fulfillment for both parties.

“At the heart of the issue is lack of communication,” explains Skelding. “Not only do women undergoing cancer treatment feel anxious about their sexuality, they may feel awkward and exposed talking about intimacy with a professional or even with a sex partner.” Skelding explains that intimacy doesn’t always have to mean sex, and feeling connected during treatment and afterward can provide not only a sense of normalcy, but comfort, strength and hope. “The psychological benefits are significant,” she adds.

Skelding offers the following advice to help cancer patients regain intimacy:

1. Acknowledge feelings of hurt and loss in terms of sexuality, intimacy and sexual function. Feelings of loss often get acted out if they aren’t recognized and talked out.

2.  Muster up the courage and talk to your partner about your fears. Physical changes brought about by treatment can make many couples afraid to connect physically, but if it’s not discussed, both partners end up feeling disconnected when what they really want is to feel close again.

3.  Don’t stop asking until you get the help that you need. Schedule an appointment with your doctor, nurse or therapist, specifying that you have a couple of questions regarding your cancer treatment and sexual health. Write down your questions but start with the most pressing question first.

The online community can also provide information and support for the non-medical side effects of cancer. “When I was diagnosed and treated for cancer years ago, nothing like FacingCancer.ca existed,” explains Sherry Abbott, Executive Director of the CCTFA Foundation, which manages the FacingCancer.ca community, made possible by Shoppers Drug Mart. “For women to be able to face their cancer diagnosis head on, they need emotional support and a safe place to learn and connect.”


Help combat cognitive decline with Ginkgo Biloba Extract

Ginkgo Biloba ExtractIt is no secret that, with age, our bodies begin to lose their youthful vigour and our brains soon follow suit. We know that a healthy diet and exercise can keep the inevitable aging process at bay, but what exactly can you do if you, or your elderly relatives, are already beginning to feel the physical and cognitive strain of aging?

The Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) recently republished a study (Ginkgo biloba extract and long-term cognitive decline: a 20-year follow-up population-based study) showing the beneficial effect ginkgo biloba extract can have on elderly people who are suffering from cognitive decline.

This study showed that, compared to nootropic drugs, ginkgo biloba can significantly reduce cognitive decline in the elderly with fewer undesirable side effects. “The great thing about this, and many other emerging studies, is that it illustrates the efficacy, safety, and quality of natural health products available in Canada, as well as their role in our daily lives,” says Helen Sherrard, president of CHFA.

To give your body and mind an extra boost, consider supplementing your healthy diet with the four essential natural health products (NHPs) for any age: vitamin D, probiotics, Omega-3, and a multivitamin. Each of these comes in a variety of age and gender-specific formulations. This is important because getting a handle on illness and disease, both physical and mental, requires as much prevention as it does management. These four essential NHPs will boost your body’s systems and give them an advantage early on. As a bonus, they each come in formats for easy consumption; from vegan capsules, to liquid drops, to gummies.

“Natural health retailers are a great resource for Canadians seeking more information on natural health products,” says Sherrard.

Visit chfa.ca for more information on how natural health products can benefit your entire family, as well as a handy tool to help you find a natural retailer near you.


Timely tips for heart-healthy living

Timely tips for heart-healthy livingHealth-conscious Canadians are paying particular attention to cardiovascular health. Seasonal changes can sometimes throw us off our regular routines and some people discard heart-healthy habits for more convenient, unhealthy behaviours. In fact, statistics show that as many as 40% of Canadians have high cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

Experts say the most important factors in cholesterol management are healthy lifestyle choices like a nutritious diet, regular physical activity and not smoking. During the winter months, some people find they lapse in these areas as they spend more time indoors to avoid the chilly weather and enjoy more hearty winter meals. Here are some tips to help you stay heart healthy this season.

1) Try to consume more heart-healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and berries. Avoid foods with high levels of trans fats. If you do decide to indulge in convenience or comfort foods, try to reduce your portion size.

2) Get outside and enjoy all that winter has to offer. Bundling up and going for a brisk winter stroll can be a great way to get exercise and appreciate the snowy landscape. If you have a pair of skates, visit an outdoor rink – this is the only time of year they’re open.

3) If you are a smoker, try to cut down or quit smoking this winter. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family members for support.

When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, Dr. Chris Mohr, RD, PhD, recommends a probiotic supplement that can help bridge the gap between diet, exercise and drugs. “Cardioviva is the only probiotic that’s been clinically proven to help reduce bad cholesterol,” says Dr. Mohr. This supplement has been shown to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels by reducing the amount we absorb from food and the amount the body naturally produces.


Get to know your vitamins

Get to know your vitaminsIt’s easy to remember important vitamins by simply thinking of your ABCs. To ensure you and your family are getting enough of them in a balanced diet,nutritionist Louelle Levenberg outlines the key benefits of vitamin supplements from A to E:

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps maintain bones, teeth, skin and vision and also supports a healthy immune system. Food sources of vitamin A include liver, dairy products and fish—but did you know that the body also converts carotenoids from plant foods into vitamin A? Carotenoids are found in high quantities in dark green, yellow, orange and red vegetables and fruit.

Vitamin B

Important B vitamins include Thiamin (B1), Niacin (B3), Riboflavin (B2), Folate, B6 and B12. They work to make red blood cells, form DNA,keep the nervous system healthy and even help the body use energy from food. B-vitamins are found in all four food groups, so be sure to eat a variety of foods from Canada’s Food Guide.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is important for the growth and repair of bones, teeth, skin and other tissues and can increase the body’s ability to absorb iron from plant foods. Well-known for its antioxidant properties, vitamin C also helps prevent cell damage and supports immune health. Vegetables and fruit are the best sources of vitamin C; some foods, like peppers, broccoli, cabbage, guava, papaya and oranges, provide higher levels of vitamin C.

Vitamin D

It’s important to get enough Vitamin D because it helps the body absorb and use calcium and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth. It can also help protect against infections by keeping your immune system healthy. Food sources of Vitamin D include milk, yogurt, eggs and fish.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that helps protects cell damage by free radicals and also helps support healthy immune functions. Vitamin E is found in foods that contain healthy fats like nuts, seeds and cold pressed vegetable oils, and also in green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals.

“When you lack key vitamins and nutrients, feel stressed, or are sleep-deprived, your immune system can suffer, increasing your susceptibility to illness and fatigue,” says Levenberg. “If you can’t always eat healthily, you may want to add a supplement.” She suggests a spectrum multivitamin to top up vitamins A through E and other key nutrients. “Everyone has different nutritional needs depending on age, health or dietary needs,” she explains, “so it’s important to choose a supplement that is right for you.”

“A helpful online source for information is the vitamin finder at www.lifebrandvitamins.ca,” Levenberg points out. “If you would like to make it easier to take vitamin supplements, take a look at new formats the like latest vitamin D offering from Life Brand that comes in a chewable tablet.” Other formulas, such as vitamin C, are available in blueberry and citrus flavours. For kids, Levenberg recommends Life Brand vitamin D drops and gummy multivitamins.


4 golden rules for a gentle awakening

Fast asleepWeekday mornings are often a race against the clock, the alarm sounds and stress slowly takes control of your day.

If you think it is a nightmare to get to work on time, think again, it is entirely possible to wake up gently, even on Mondays! Here are the 4 golden rules that allow you to fully enjoy the early hours of the day, without being late for work.

1) Prepare as much as possible the day before

Prepare lunch, organize your work bag and choose your clothes for the next day. Having everything prepared in advance will be many less things to do next the morning. You will also sleep better knowing everything is ready for the next day.

2) Get rid of your assaulting alarm clock

Is there a worse way to start the day than getting out of bed from the sound of an assaulting ring of an alarm clock? For gentle waking nothing is better than a Wake-up Light like the one designed by Philips. This alarm clock emulates the gradual rise of the sun over a 30 minute period and can be accompanied by nature sounds. With over 100 years of experience in the field of lighting technology, Philips has developed the perfect way to wake you up naturally and gradually.

3) Enjoy a quick but delicous breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What will you say to change your boring breakfast for something that makes you excited? Just cut up fruit the night before and mix with yogurt and muesli in the morning. Prepare and freeze homemade pancakes to make a quick and tasty treat. Simply pop them in the toaster to warm.

4) Take time for yourself

With a little luck, these tips will help you be in less of a hurry. Why not give yourself a few extra minutes that make you happy? Extend your time in the shower, take the time to read your favorite book, or try a new look…. take some time for yourself before the day even begins.


Small changes can make a big difference to your heart health

coupleMore Canadians than ever are surviving heart attacks and strokes, even though these events are serious and can be life-threatening. In fact, the death rate from cardiovascular disease has declined more than 75 per cent over the past 60 years, and last year alone this resulted in 165,000 survivors. But there is still cause for concern.

According to a new report from theHeart and Stroke Foundation, not all survivors are able to make the healthy changes needed to make the best recovery possible and help avoid another event. Based on a poll of 2,000 survivors and their loved ones, survivors report success with eating healthier, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption. However, many survivors report that they struggle to maintain a healthy weight, to be physically active and to reduce stress.

“After going through a major event like a heart attack, it may be daunting to think about making many changes all at once,” says Dr. Beth Abramson, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and author of Heart Health for Canadians. “What people don’t realize is that small changes over time can make a big difference. This can be as simple as choosing a piece of fruit over a sugary or salty snack, or getting off the bus a few stops early to walk a bit more.”

Here are some tips that can help everyone – whether they are living with cardiovascular disease or not – get started on a healthier path:

Let the Food Guide guide you. Follow Canada’s Food Guide and ensure that half your plate is vegetables, one quarter meat or alternatives such as beans, lentils or tofu, and one quarter grains such as rice or pasta. Add in a glass of milk or some yogurt and fruit.

Planning makes perfect. Plan your meals each week and make a list before heading to the grocery store. Cook healthy meals in bigger batches and freeze them.

Accept all substitutes. Use healthier fats, for example olive oil instead of butter. Use fresh or dried herbs, spices, flavoured vinegars or lemon juice instead of salt to enhance flavour. In baking, cut down on the fat content by using fruit sauce and replace white flour with whole wheat.

Find what moves you. No need to go to a gym, just do whatever you enjoy – any activity can have a positive impact. And remember, if you are pressed for time, you can work in activity in 10-minute bouts.

Mix it up. Try new foods such as a new fruit or vegetable each time you shop, and choose a new recipe to try each week. Vary your exercise as well: yard work one day, an exercise class the next, and a ski or bike ride after that. Play in the park with the kids or take a walk with a friend or neighbour.

For more information, or to donate online, visit heartandstroke.ca.