Most people have heard of the condition referred to as shingles. It is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that gave you chickenpox as a kid. Almost anyone can get shingles. It is thought that one in three people will experience shingles during their lifetime. The reason why people develop shingles is not known. This month we shall discuss signs and symptoms of shingles and if there is a means of prevention. This year there is a new shingles vaccine, that is thought to be more effective than the previous vaccine

Almost everyone has had chickenpox at sometime in their life. This is usually a short-lived affliction that causes a lot of skin itching and goes away after a week or two. The truly sad part is that it doesn’t really go away. It is thought that the virus that causes chickenpox (the varicella-zoster virus) is also responsible for shingles. After your body successfully fights off chickenpox, some of the virus travels up into nerve fibers and becomes dormant. Later, the virus reactivates and travels down the nerve fibers to the skin surface. This causes the classic symptoms of shingles:

  • Numbness, tingling, itching, or pain in the place where the rash is about to appear
  • Fever (sometimes with chills), nausea, or headache
  • The appearance of bumps or blisters that contain clear fluid
  • A rash or odd sensations usually appearing in a band or patch on just one side of the body (Any part of the body can be involved, including the back, chest, abdomen, arms, legs, or face

Remember these symptoms, it can save you a great deal of misery one day. If you, or someone you know, mentions these symptoms, GO DIRECTLY TO A DOCTOR. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL MORNING OR A MORE CONVENIENT TIME. Generally, your Physician will order a course of antiviral medications. This slows down the rapid growth of, and subsequent nerve damage caused by, the varicella-zoster virus. These medications help your immune system to “catch up” and fight off the virus. It is essential to start the antiviral drugs as soon as possible. Delaying treatment will not lead to a good outcome and can leave you with long lasting nerve pain.

This year there are two vaccines to help prevent shingles. The original one is called Zostavax. In studies, people who received this single dose vaccine had a reduced occurrence of shingles by about 50%. But this effectiveness decreased with age. A new multidose vaccine, called Shingrix, has been shown to reduce the incidence of shingles by 90% in all age ranges. Shingrix just became available in Canada in early 2018.  Both vaccines are indicated for all people over the age of 50 years old. If you have had shingles in the past 12 months, speak with your Doctor or your Heart Pharmacist to see which vaccine is right for you. There are a few side effects experienced after receiving these vaccines. It might sting at the injection site for a day or two. You may also experience mild flu like symptoms for a few days. There is also a chance that you might develop a short lived rash at the injection site.

It is not certain what causes the varicella (chickenpox) virus to reactivate. People have told me that they were feeling “run down” at the time. Sometimes it was after a particularly bad bout of the flu. Others have said it was after a very stressful event; such as a death in the family. Another person told me that they hadn’t been getting enough sleep. There is also a thought that with routine vaccination of children against chickenpox, which I think is a good thing, there is a possible increased incidence of shingles in the middle aged and elderly. With fewer children with active chickenpox, there will be reduced virus exposure to parents and grandparents. This is increased risk is only a theory.  All of these things can lower the activity of your immune system, so stay healthy and get lots of rest.


AuthorDanielle Cooper

I shall make a bold claim, most people take better care of their cars than they do their own bodies! People take their cars in for regular maintenance and screenings. Cars have recalls, oil changes and scheduled tune ups. I know that I don’t delay my car appointment too long. But how often do we delay, or skip, the maintenance for our bodies? How often do you floss your teeth or go in for regular dental cleanings? Do you take a multivitamin and eat 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies daily? I’m speaking to the men here, have you ever ignored a medical symptom longer than normal? Routine screenings and medical appointments are important.  Perhaps this rant was overly dramatic, but I needed something to hook you in. It will also keep you reading when I start talking about awkward bits.

Has everyone undergone routine screening for colon, cervix, breast and prostate cancer? I warned you it would get awkward. These screenings are important and should not be delayed, there will be a heartwarming story at the end of this article. These screenings for cancers do involve awkward and uncomfortable tests but the benefits of early detection far outway the risk and inconveniences.  

Cervical cancer is a routine screening that most Physicians perform on their female patients. This is why your Physician does a Pap test every 2-3 years. In fact, screening for cervical cancer every 3 years can reduce your risk of developing this cancer by 70 percent. Survival rates with early detection are over 85%. Cervical cancer rarely causes symptoms, but they may include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge and pelvic pain. If you have experienced any of these symptoms, or have not had a Pap test in the last three years, please see your Physician.

Prostate cancer was diagnosed in over 3,000 BC men in 2012, that is about 1 in 7 men within their lifetime. The most common sign of prostate cancer, or an enlarged prostate, are difficulty urinating, blood in the urine or urinary frequency (especially at night). At this point, your Physician will perform a quick finger rectal exam to check the health of the prostate, or send you in for a blood test. This blood test is checking for a protein called Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). If these results come back with positive results there are several treatment options. One treatment option is to do nothing. Well not really nothing, but it is call active surveillance. You go have your PSA checked on a regular basis and monitor prostate symptoms. If there are no significant changes, no further treatment may be required. Prostate cancer screening can be a relatively minor procedure and no further action may be required, but it is still good to know.

Colon cancer is the second most common form of cancer and third most common for women. It is thought that 1,300 BC residents will die of colon cancer each year. My youngest aunt was one of them. Unusual symptoms of blood in the stool, narrow stools, unexpected weight loss or changes in bowel frequency should be brought to the attention of your Physician. Normally screening tests might include a stool sample or a colonoscopy. Screening is very important because they can detect colon polyps (clumps of cells), and remove these before they become cancerous. At this point there is an issue with the stool sample testing, so check with your Doctor's office about screening options.

I always save the best for last.  Breast cancer always gets the attention and rightfully so. It is the most common form of cancer in women, if you ignore non-melanoma skin cancer. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. While it is true that screening is a little bit uncomfortable, it can lead to early detection. Most women over the age of 40 are eligible for a mammogram without a Doctor’s referral. This is where the heart warming story comes in. A friend and important member of our staff was one of these early detection stories. A routine mammogram picked up a lump so small that neither her surgeon nor Physician could feel it. For the holidays we are wishing her a speedy recovery and thankful that she had the vision to take charge of her health.

May you and yours have a happy and healthy holiday season.


AuthorDanielle Cooper

Last article was about some of the important B vitamins. Let’s keep going with the next in line, niacin. Niacin and its related vitamins (nicotinic acid, nicotinamide and niacinamide) are responsible for assisting in over 200 chemical reactions in the body. It is also plays a part in the creation of fatty acids and cholesterol. The current focus for niacin is its ability to help lower cholesterol. Higher doses of niacin, 1-2grams a day, can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower triglycerides. These higher doses should only be taken under recommendation from your physician. The most troublesome side effects of niacin at these doses are a very intense flushing and stomach upset. Taking it in divided doses after meals, and slowly increasing the dose over several weeks can reduce these problems. Some people take a ‘no-flush’ version of niacin called Inositol Hexanicotinate. While it does not cause a flushing reaction; there is some evidence to suggest that it might not work as well as regular niacin in reducing cholesterol. Niacinamide also does not cause flushing but is ineffective in lowering cholesterol.

Vitamin B6, Pyridoxine, has many therapeutic uses in the body. It is helpful in improving immune system function and helping to preventing kidney stones, PMS, depression, morning sickness, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Perhaps the most important use of vitamin B6 is in the reduction of homocysteine. Homocysteine is a semi-toxic byproduct produced when your body creates the amino acid methionine. It is not entirely clear how it is toxic to your body, but studies have shown that it is. It is known that high levels of homocysteine can increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. There is also early evidence that suggests that it may be a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease. Your body requires a regular supply of folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 to rid itself of homocysteine. The recommended dosage for vitamin B6 is 10–50 mg per day.


After six comes seven; which brings us to vitamin B7 or biotin. I fear that I am beginning to sound like a broken record; biotin (like niacin and pantothenic acid is used in many chemical reactions in the body). Deficiency is very rare because the bacteria in our intestines make this vitamin and it is found in so many foods. It has only one real known use; that is to help strengthen finger nails. Some small studies have shown that taking 2.5mg of biotin a day can help to increase finger and toenail strength. One interesting observation is that the demand for biotin is thought to be increased during pregnancy. Some people take biotin in hopes that it will help to prevent hair loss; sadly there is no proof that this actually happens.

We skip number eight, which brings us to folic acid, vitamin B9. Yup, you guessed it right; folic acid (like biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid) is used in many chemical reactions in the body. It is also used to help reduce homocysteine, treat certain kinds of anemia and prevent birth defects. I think folic acid is one of the most overlooked vitamins. It has so many important uses in the body and many medications can deplete your body of this vital nutrient. Concerns about deficiency caused the US FDA to recommend that flour and other grain products be fortified with folic acid. Folic acid primarily is found in green leafy vegetables. To get the recommended daily amount of folic acid one would have to eat one cup each of spinach and asparagus. Take a critical look at your diet and see if you eat these many greens every day. I’m a vegetarian and some days I’m doubtful. So take your multivitamin and don’t worry about it. You should still eat your greens though.

The last vitamin on our list is B12 (cyanocobalamin). This vitamin is mainly found in meat and fermented soya products. A deficiency of this vitamin can be a problem with people who do not eat meat, such as vegetarians and vegans and is also a concern for the elderly. Vitamin B12 deficiency is estimated to affect 10%-15% of individuals over the age of 60.  Your body requires sufficient stomach acid and something produced by your body called intrinsic factor to absorb B12 into the body. As one ages, your body generally produces less of these two items. Also people may be taking medications to treat reflux disease, heartburn, or other stomach disorders. These medications can reduce the amount of acid produced by your stomach. A medication for diabetes call metformin, can also reduce absorption of this vitamin.  Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your Physician. A simple blood test can determine the amount of B12 in your body.

I admit this is a lot of information to digest, no pun intended. What should one do? Simple, take a multivitamin that contains plenty of the B vitamins. Taking vitamins is not a substitute for eating well, but it will help to fill any nutritional gaps. Ask your Heart Pharmacist to recommend a vitamin supplement that is best for you. You could also visit our Fairfield location and have a chat with our natural health adviser Angeline. Don’t forget to eat your fruits and veggies.


AuthorDanielle Cooper

There are two thoughts about taking a multivitamin. One group thinks if you eat a well balanced diet, you shouldn’t need to take supplements. This might be true if you ate 7-10 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every single day. That is almost 5 cups of fruits and vegetables, that are minimally processed and have not been in storage for months. Take an honest look at what you ate yesterday, did you get enough fruits and vegetables? You spend approximately 2 dollars per day on car insurance. Shouldn’t you spend about 25 cents a day ensuring that your body gets enough vitamins and minerals? I think you know where I stand on this matter.

One of the more important parts of a multivitamin are the B vitamins. There are seven essential B vitamins that I will discuss over the next two articles. The B vitamins are essential for the general day to day functioning of our bodies. Their uses range from energy and fat metabolism to wound healing to memory. Your body doesn’t store a large reserve of these vitamins and is constantly using its reserve. That is why eating your fruits and veggies and taking a vitamin is important; they help to replace the lost B vitamins.

The B vitamins are sometimes numbered; this numbering system is loosely based on the order in which they were discovered. This is also why some of the B vitamin numbers are not found in multivitamins. Further research has shown that some were not true vitamins; such is the case with Vitamins B4, B8, B10, B11 and B13-17. This leaves the true B vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid) and B12 (cyanocobalamin).

I guess the logical place to start is at number 1. Vitamin B1, also called thiamine, was the first chemical to be recognized as a vitamin. Your body primarily uses thiamine for carbohydrate (sugar) metabolism and the proper functioning of nerves and muscles. A deficiency of this vitamin is almost unheard of these days, but it is called beriberi. Symptoms of beriberi include weakness in the arms and legs, ‘burning feet’, edema, swelling of the heart and difficulty breathing.  Alcoholism or excessive consumption of sugary foods may lead to thiamin deficiency. Some plants contain anti-thiamin factors that can render thiamine inactive in the body. The most notable are tea, coffee and betel nuts. There are also thiaminases, enzymes that can breakdown the thiamine found in food. These thiaminases are found in some raw freshwater fish and raw shellfish. Excessive consumption of these food items may also lead to thiamin deficiency. There are also some medications that can deplete the body of thiamine; they include, diuretics (water pills) and phenytoin. While the above evidence may suggest otherwise, thiamine deficiency is rare these days. The recommended daily dosage of thiamine is 1-2mg per day. At these doses side effects are rarely seen.

Next up is number 2, riboflavin. Vitamin B2 has too many functions in the body to mention them all. It is primarily responsible for carbohydrate and protein metabolism and energy production. Sadly, taking more riboflavin will not give you more energy, unless you are deficient in this vitamin. Deficiencies are rare. One of the most notable uses of riboflavin is the prevention of migraine headaches. Doses of 400mg per day have been shown to significantly reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Best results were seen after three months of continuous use. There are no side effects with riboflavin, except that it can turn the colour of your urine bright yellow. There are also some medications that can reduce the effectiveness of riboflavin in the body, such as tri-cyclic antidepressants.

Now we skip number three and four for brevity to discuss vitamin B5, pantothenic acid. Vitamin B5 specific use is the production of the brain chemical acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is associated with memory; unfortunately taking more of this vitamin doesn’t help increase your memory. Deficiency of this vitamin is very rare. It is so rare that special diets and drugs must be used to study vitamin B5 deficiency.

Well I ran out of space rather quickly. Perhaps this will be a three part article or maybe I should just not write so much. Nutrition is very important as it is one of the easiest ways to keep our bodies healthy. The next few articles will feature the other B vitamins and why they are so important to our health.


AuthorDanielle Cooper

Despite its caustic sounding name, acid reflux is not the newest rock band the young people are listening to. Acid reflux is sometimes referred to as heartburn; a condition where your stomach contents rises up into your esophagus. Like loud music, heartburn can be painful and irritating. Luckily, for most of us, we simply take an antacid and the pain goes away. For others, the pain can be quite intense and  return frequently. This month, we shall learn what acid reflux is and what it isn't.

 What normally happens when we eat or drink is the food travels down our esophagus and then into our stomach. There is a tight band of muscles at the top of our stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) which keeps all of your stomach contents where it should be. Sometimes the muscles of the LES can relax, allowing the acidic contents of the stomach to come up into the esophagus. This is referred to as acid reflux. The resulting irritation to the esophagus causes a burning sensation, which is usually felt just behind the breastbone and below the throat. The onset of this pain can be quite intense, but it usually goes away when a person takes antacids.

There is one thing that acid reflux is not: a medical condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can be thought of as a persistent form of acid reflux. The symptoms of GERD are the same as for acid reflux, except that people who have GERD may also show symptoms of a dry cough or difficulty swallowing. GERD can also cause asthma-like symptoms. If you are having persistent acid reflux symptoms, more than twice a week, it might be wise to bring these symptoms to the attention of your Physician.

For many people, non-drug options work very well. The first thing is to avoid any foods or beverages that trigger your acid reflux. Some foods that can trigger heartburn are coffee, mint teas, spicy or fatty foods. If you must eat your trigger foods, take an antacid prior to or just after the meal. If you smoke, stop. Try not to lie down for at least three hours after eating a meal. If acid reflux is a problem at night, try raising the head of your bed. You only need to raise it by approximately 6-8 inches, about the thickness of a large phonebook. Some people find it helpful to eat smaller meals more frequently, about 5-6 meals throughout day.

One health tip that I feel is over looked is to eat slowly. People tend to eat their meals too fast, I feel this causes them to eat too much.  This is an old weight loss tip that can be helpful for heartburn sufferers. Consciously eat your meals. As a parent, I am often at fault for this. I fill my plate and stuff my face so fast that I am done before my little one is done. The next time you have a meal; take reasonably sized bites, put your fork/spoon down between bites and chew your mouthful at least 20 times. This delay in eating may seem odd at first, but it can be very helpful. It allows your stomach to fill slowly and gives you the signal that you are full, before you eat too much and feel 'stuffed', which can lead to heartburn.

The other way to help treat acid reflux is to reduce stomach acid content. The best treatment for mild and infrequent heartburn is calcium carbonate tablets (Tums, Rolaids, etc). These products neutralize stomach acid and help to reduce that burning feeling caused by the stomach acid. They tend to work quite well and have few side effects. You can also get sodium bicarbonate products that act similarly to calcium carbonate tablets. Usually these products are effervescent (ie. Bromoseltzer). These products contain a lot of sodium and might be contraindicated for people with high blood pressure. Ask your Physician or Heart Pharmacist if these antacids would be right for you.

Another option for acid reflux relief is an alginic acid containing product (Gavison, etc). This is a natural product, as it is derived from brown seaweed. The alginic acid forms a layer of foam that floats on top of the stomach contents. This helps to protect the esophagus from the acidic contents of the stomach, and thus stops any burning sensation.

 If these two options do not help your heartburn, you can try the group of medicines referred to as the H2 blockers. You might know them better as ranitidine (Zantac) or famotidine (Pepcid). These medications work by actually stopping your body from producing stomach acid. They are especially helpful if you know that a certain meal will cause heartburn. They are more effective than the antacids, but should be taken about ½ hour before meals. There are a few side effects with taking medications to help reduce stomach acid. The most common ones are digestive problems; bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation. This is because your body needs some stomach acid to completely digest your food. With prolonged use, these medications can lead to  vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The most common deficiencies  include: vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium and other minerals. If you are taking acid suppressing medications you might want to consider taking a multivitamin. Make certain any mineral supplements you are taking are in the citrate form (ie. calcium citrate). The citrate form of minerals are not as dependent on stomach acid for adequate absorption.

I hope this article has answered all of your burning questions about acid reflux. If you do suffer from acid reflux, first try the non-drug ideas I mentioned above. These options will usually help to relieve your symptoms. Another worrisome issue is that the pain from a heart attack is similar to that caused by acid reflux. If chest pain appears suddenly, does not occur after eating or happens after physical exertion, you should seek medical attention quickly. Eat well and eat slowly; you should only have to experience your meal once.

AuthorDanielle Cooper