Just How Important is Breakfast?

I recently posted about the upcoming changes to Canada’s Food Guide and that piece got me thinking about my own eating habits. In general, I’m pretty good about keeping everything balanced, though I probably succumb to the lure of junk food a bit too often.

However, one area in definite need of improvement is breakfast. I’m one of those people who is perpetually running late in the morning and given my duties, I absolutely need to be in on time at work. I have tried getting up earlier, but as I get older, my body is cooperating less and less. So, on those days when I am running late, breakfast usually doesn’t make the cut.

Of course, the old saying we know from childhood is “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” I have always doubted that (supper is the most important for me because it is the most elaborate and tasty), but will confess that I do feel rather lethargic during the mornings where I skip that first meal. I’m also more likely to fortify myself with caffeine until I get some of that lunchtime protein.

Leaving aside the vitamins that quality breakfast foods provide (sorry, Sugar Smacks don’t qualify), there is apparently a definite cognitive benefit. Breakfast helps to get your glucose levels up where they should be and your brain functions improve as a result. That means better memory and concentration, as well as a more stable and consistent mood. Basically, breakfast helps your brain to wake up, and does a healthier job than that big mug of coffee.

People who eat a proper breakfast are also less likely to be overweight. That seems counter intuitive (you’re eating less, right?), but as your energy needs are being met, you are less likely to snack and eat junk food laced with sugar for a quick fix.

Canada’s Food Guide is Changing

If you grew up in Canada, you probably learned about Canada’s Food Guide in grade school. It has been the hallmark nutritional guide for this country’s citizens since its inception 75 years ago. While some changes have occurred since that debut, it is now undergoing a major revamp that will reflect the latest data regarding what constitutes a healthy diet.

Last updated seven years ago, the guide’s new edition still aims to influence Canadians to make the best choices, though there are some concerns that must be addressed. Specifically, people in the medical community feel that the current incarnation does not do enough to address the growing problems of obesity and illnesses brought about by inadequate or unhealthy diets.

Environmental sustainability and animal welfare will receive more emphasis, so those who support a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle will no doubt applaud news that the new version reportedly has a reduced emphasis on meat and milk. Also, as the country has become more diverse with a wide range of diets, the guide seems behind the times with its largely North American outlook on food choices.

One thing that might represent a major change in approach is the four food groups. These have been part of the guide for decades, but may no longer be used.

The current guide has also received much criticism for the amount of calories it encourages people to eat per day, so expect that to go down.

Something everyone seems to agree on is that the guide is simply too long and too involved. At six pages, it is not something easily condensed into a size that is easily carried. Also, people will be more likely to follow the recommendations if they are more straightforward and easier to implement.

Do you use Canada’s Food Guide to plan your meals? Or is it just a vague memory from your school days?

Have You Disposed of Your Old Medications?

I’m going to bet that none of us are great at cleaning out the medicine cabinet. While we are supposed to finish most prescriptions, most of us stop taking the drugs when we feel better. The bottle with the remaining pills goes into the medicine cabinet and sits there. Sometimes for years. We justify this by thinking, “If I feel sick again, I can just take these instead of seeing the doctor again and getting another prescription.”

Well, you can try that, but it’s not very smart. In fact, it can be downright dangerous not only for yourself, but for other people in the household.

Most pills have a definite shelf life. After a certain amount of time, they will not be nearly as effective. That next time you get sick and reach for that old bottle of pills, you might find out the hard way that the medication is now useless and you end up in worse shape because you didn’t see the doctor sooner.

You must also consider the danger to children and the elderly. Having old medications sitting around in unlocked cabinets provides temptations for kids and seniors with cognitive issues. They may think they are vitamins or candy, and the results could be tragic.

Do yourself a favour and collect any old drugs you have lying around and take them to a proper place for disposal (chances are your pharmacy offers this service). Don’t just flush them down the toilet or wash them down the sink as they can taint the water supply in ways that normal filtration cannot address.

If you must put them in the trash, mix the pills into something that no one would eat (e.g. used cat litter) and place them in a sealed bag. Then place this bag in a sealed garbage container. We don’t want animals getting sick on our old meds either.

Vets Now Part of the Opioid Problem?

Most everyone knows that opioid addiction is an increasing problem in many parts of the world and various steps are being taken. One of these is more closely examining the source of the drugs. Doctors that have been prescribing large amounts are being scrutinized more closely, and border officials are discovering new ways in which the pills are being smuggled in from overseas.

However, another type of doctor has become involved in such investigations and you probably weren’t guessing that it could be your local vet. Animals receive medication for pain just like humans do and, as it turns out, many of those drugs are identical, including opioids like fentanyl and hydromorphone.

Investigation has revealed that addicts in search of a fix are now taking wounded or otherwise ill pets to their vets eager to receive prescriptions for pain medication. However, they are instead ingesting the drugs themselves and ensuring a steady supply by “vet shopping.” Yes, just as addicts used to bounce from one doctor to another in search of what they desired, some individuals are doing the same with vets. Others are using the opportunity to sell the drugs to other addicts. As a result, authorities are finding animal medication circulating on the street.

This scheme is working because vets, unlike doctors, do not have restrictions placed on them when it comes to prescriptions. While many officials have expressed agreement for a plan to put restrictions on the way vets can write scripts, others are worried that animal pain management could also be compromised in the process.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever had to give a pet pain medication of the sort described above? Do you think there is a happy medium or do we need to place limitations on how vets operate in this area? Click the comment button and let us know!

Is It Time for Your Parent to Go Into Managed Care?

One of the certainties in life is that we will all age. Taking good care of your health will help to ease age-related mental and physical infirmities, but no matter what you do, the Grim Reaper will get us all in the end.

Prior to that, you may reach a point where independent living is no longer an option. This can be quite painful for yourself, and the discomfort is no less when we see a parent decline in this way.

Here are some signs that your parent(s) may no longer be capable of living on their own:

  • Home Safety. Is your parent having problems getting around in their home? As we age, our bones become more brittle, which means that a fall which would have little effect on a younger person could prove very serious for a senior. If the home has stairs, is the elderly person still able to safely navigate them?
  • Cognitive Impairment. Does your father or mother show signs of mental fogginess? Our memory does not work as well as it used to when we age, but if a person starts forgetting where they are going, the name of a family member, or how to get home, this is quite serious and can lead to accidents and even death.
  • Advanced Care Needs. We all want to be there for our parents and many adult children act as caregivers so that their parents do not have to go into managed care. However, being a caregiver is a major responsibility that can take a toll on a person if they do not have a sufficient degree of help and periodic breaks. A caregiver suffering from exhaustion and depression cannot properly look after themselves, let alone another human being.

If any of these issues are apparent, it is probably time to have a serious conversation with your family member. Putting someone into managed care can be a difficult decision, but, in the end, the right one.

Almost 50% of Canadians Will Develop Cancer

The Canadian Cancer Society issued a press release yesterday stating that almost one out of every two Canadians (49% of men and 45% of women) will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. On top of that, one out of every four will perish from that malignancy.

Those are very sobering statistics. The number of cancer deaths each year is on the rise and the disease is now the leading cause of death in Canada.

The cancer society “emphasizes that the rise in cancer cases is primarily being driven by an aging and growing population…an estimated 206,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and almost 90% of these cases will be among Canadians 50 years of age and older. As more people live into old age, the number of cancer cases will continue to rise.” About 90% of all cancer cases in 2017 will occur among people 50 and over.

The scourge of pancreatic cancer continues. Only 8% of those afflicted survive the disease, which will soon be the third largest cause of death among Canadians.

Is there a silver lining? It doesn’t seem like one is obvious beyond the fact that about half of all cancers are preventable.

However, as depressing as this news sounds, it is important to remember how far along we have come:

  • In the 1940s, the survival rate for cancer was 25%; it is now 60%.
  • Certain cancers, like thyroid and testicular, now have a five-year net survival of over 90%.
  • The CCS continues to aggressively target cancer and invested $40 million into cancer research in 2016.

You can do your part by financially supporting cancer research and living a healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise, a proper diet, and regular cancer screenings.

Cancer will touch our lives in one way or another, but you can help to reduce the suffering. Take the time to do the right thing for both yourself and your fellow Canadians.

Graphic showing normal and cancer cell division

Misuse of Antibiotics Inadvertently Threatening Everyone’s Health

Antibiotics have saved countless lives over the years and the world has benefited tremendously from their creation. However, like all drugs, these can be misused and the results can be catastrophic for everyone.  They can indeed be too much of a good thing.

While our current crop of antibiotics has been effective at largely neutering some diseases, new strains are appearing. The drugs we have on hand are not working and scientists are having trouble creating new ones that will have the desired effect. While it seems impossible to consider in this advanced age, we could be facing a new era comparable to the times when major outbreaks like the black plague killed millions of people.

There are several theories as to why doctors are relying too heavily on antibiotics in their treatment regimen. One of the most prominent is the thinking that, if they do not prescribe something that will make a patient well quickly, they will be deemed ineffectual. The unfortunate fact is that many people are given physician approval to take drugs for conditions that don’t require them.

Possible solutions include changing the way in which young doctors are educated. Instead of relying on prescriptions so heavily, the new crop of physicians need superior diagnostic skills in order to recognize when drugs are truly the answer to a patient’s problems.

While the burden of responsibility is on the medical side, it is important for people to do their part. Think about how you are feeling. There is nothing wrong with seeing a doctor, but if this is something you have had before, can you remember how you got through it previously? People just need to take a few sick days filled with rest in order to overcome certain ailments. If that is the case, try to go this route instead of automatically reaching for antibiotics. We will all benefit from your restraint in the end.

 

 

Overcrowding in Ontario Hospitals an Increasing Problem

Do you find that you are having to wait longer and longer for surgery in Ontario? When you have had a procedure or are in hospital for another reason, do you find that you are being discharged faster than in the past?

Well, both of these are true and are symptoms of the increasing issue of overcrowding in Ontario’s hospital system. Part of the issue is population growth, particularly among senior citizens. As the province’s continuing care system is already strained to the limit, there can be long wait times before such beds become available. This means that seniors in fragile health with nowhere to go end up remaining in hospitals longer. That reduces the number of acute care beds available to other members of the public.

The need to free up beds can make hospitals seem particularly uncaring, as illustrated by this recent case in Toronto. Frail elderly people need attention and care that the overburdened health system is not managing to provide for them.

Over the period running from 2012 through the present, seven Ontario hospitals routinely had occupancy rates over 100%. This results in patients being put into hallways and other areas not generally used for care. The result is undue stress for these individuals and a lower quality of care due to overburdened doctors and nurses.

After being the victims of budget cuts for a number of years, Ontario’s hospitals are badly in need of additional funding. How to make the provincial government come through with this badly needed cash is the question. One strategy the government has proposed is to put seniors into private retirement homes, in order to make more hospital beds available.

This would be done at no cost to the patients. The price would actually be lower for the province and such accommodation would be better for the patients’ mental health. Still, the best situation would be to provide our health care system with the money it needs to improve efficiency and effectiveness for everyone.

Are Hospitals a New Target for Hackers?

Hacking is becoming an increasing problem around the world. Possible Russian meddling in the recent U.S. election received much coverage, but hacking actually occurs far more often than you might suspect. Not surprisingly, countries and companies do not want people to know when they have been hacked and do not reveal such cyber intrusions unless forced to.

Hacking can have a very real effect on the average person. Cases of identity theft are on the rise and various malware programs can turn your computer into a bot that is used for cyber attacks. One of the worries about the increasingly computerized state of cars is whether they can be easily hacked and used as deadly weapons that can ram other vehicles or plow through crowds of pedestrians.

Hospitals are viewed as bastions of safety that help us when we are at our most vulnerable. However, they rely on high tech, computerized equipment that is vulnerable to hackers without the proper cyber security and due diligence on the part of IT staff.

Health care records are the primary target of hackers as they provide a wealth of personal information that can be used for identity theft purposes. Older versions of Microsoft Windows that lacked the most recent security updates were exploited by the Wanna Cry virus, which led to problems in countries all over the world.

There is also the possibility that malicious hackers could take down hospital security systems just for the hell of it. They could cause power failures, take out vital operating systems, interfere with environmental controls…the results could be catastrophic and lead patients to reconsider having even simple procedures done.

It is up to hospital administrative teams to make sure their IT departments are keeping on top of this issue. The amount of time required is minimal, but the added security is extremely valuable.

Could Legalizing Pot Reduce Opioid Use?

Opioid addiction has proven to be a difficult problem for governments around the world and the situation is approaching crisis levels here. In Alberta and British Columbia, the number of fentanyl-related deaths have increased by a factor of ten in just three years.

It is also taking a financial toll. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the government spent $93 million in 2014 on medications that treat people with opioid addictions. That is up more than $35 million from the total spent three years earlier.

People with chronic pain conditions absolutely deserve relief, but scientists have struggled as to how they can provide that respite from sometimes crippling discomfort, without also causing the recipient to spiral into addiction.

Medical marijuana has been increasingly accepted as a source of pain relief for people with people with neuropathic conditions. In sharp contrast to opioids, pot is rarely addictive and it is largely impossible to overdose on it. Marijuana is also effective at reducing discomfort from muscle spasms brought on by multiple sclerosis, as well as other forms of relief. Some scientists feel that we would be much further along in medical marijuana use if the drug’s legal status was made clear across the globe.

Scientists report that pot interacts with the same brain receptors as opioids. Tests are currently under way on how medical marijuana compares to drugs like fentanyl when it comes to effectiveness at treating both chronic and acute pain. There is also hope that pot can help to alleviate the serious discomfort one undergoes from opioid withdrawal.

Recreational marijuana becomes legal in Canada in 2018, and that will no doubt lead some with various types of pain to feel more confident about trying it. The official prognosis remains to be seen, but it is hopeful that medical marijuana will help provide a solution to one of the most serious health crises in some time.