Can eating yogurt or taking a probiotic help prevent the common cold? At first, it does not make sense. How could a pill or a fermented milk product help increase your immunity? Well it is true and there is science that confirms my wild claims. Let us look deep into the bacteria that inhabit our intestines.

What do we mean when we say probiotic? You might also know them by their generic name, acidophilus.  In this context we are referring to the good bacteria and yeast that live in your digestive tract. It is thought that there are over a trillion bacteria and yeast cells in your digestive tract. In fact, they outnumber your own cells by tenfold. If you think about it, there are more of them than there are of you. These numerous microbial friends perform many functions deep in your bowels. They keep out foreign bacteria, help you stay regular and synthesize certain vitamins. We get these helpful bacteria from our diet. Most, non-alcoholic, fermented foods contain helpful bacteria. Foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha and kefir are sources of probiotic. Or you can get them in a supplement pill form. I take my probiotics everyday.

The next question is how does something in your gut improve your immune system?  Well let me tell you. These gut bacteria love to eat non digestible carbohydrates (sugars) and dietary fiber and produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA). It is these SCFA that have unique health benefits. They have a positive effect on maintaining gut integrity, appetite regulation and stimulating the immune system.  This is all good in theory, but does it actually work in the real world? It does. One small study of nursing home residents received a 3 billion strength probiotic supplement daily for two weeks. Those that got the probiotic, responded better to the influenza vaccine and experienced fewer respiratory infections during the following five month flu season.

Many of the questions I am asked about probiotic supplements involve what kind to take. Should one get a single strain or multi-strain version? Should it be kept in the fridge and how many billions do I take? My answer is simple. If you want the absolute best, get the probiotics that are kept in the fridge. I personally don’t take these kinds as they are more costly. If you are treating something specific or acute, like antibiotic induced diarrhea, look for a single strain product. Our Heart Pharmacists should be able to find a suitable supplement for you. For general health,  a multi-strain formulation is fine. It is thought that over 2000 unique strains of bacteria could be found in the human digestive tract. So to say that one strain is the best to maintain a healthy gut is hard to argue. In terms of numbers, if the need is more acute take a higher amount. For general health, I recommend around 6 billion cells a day.

But don’t forget to have fermented food whenever you can. It might contain unique and helpful probiotics. Also these foods will provide different, as possibly, delicious flavours. Variety is the “fermented” spice of life!

 

Posted
AuthorDanielle Cooper

This is a medical term that made news a few years ago, but we may not remember why. Homocysteine is bad for our health, but how? If you have too much in your blood it is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  Where does it come from and how can I make it go away? This month I explain almost everything you need know about homocysteine.

Homocysteine is a semi-toxic byproduct produced when your body creates the amino acid methionine. 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. The next question you might be asking is, "Why would our body produce something so harmful?" Homocysteine is meant to be changed quite quickly into other harmless substances, but it is thought that certain nutrient deficiencies may delay this conversion. Your body requires a regular supply of folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 to rid itself of homocysteine. Coincidentally, it has been found that people who have higher levels of homocysteine in their blood have lower levels of the three vitamins I just mentioned.

 

So why don't you just take these three vitamins and be done with it? Some people do; either on their own or under the advice of a Physician. The recommended dosages for the three vitamins will vary, but a good amount is 400–1,000 mcg of folic acid per day, 10–50 mg of vitamin B6 per day, and 50–300 mcg of vitamin B12 per day.  I would recommend that you take a good multivitamin that has these ingredients in it. Check with your Heart Pharmacist to see which multivitamin may be right for you.

While it is true that taking folic acid, vitamins B12 and B6 will help to reduce homocysteine and thus your risk of heart disease, this does not mean that taking these vitamins makes you completely safe or that you can eat pizza and ride the couch all day. Homocysteine is only one of the many risk factors for heart disease. Other things that your can do to lower your risk of heart disease include; get regular exercise (30 minutes five times a week), reduce your intake of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, and quit smoking. Diet is also important: eat more fruits and vegetables, reduce your intake of meat, and increase your intake of fish and soy products.

Stress reduction is also very helpful in reducing your risk of heart disease. Reducing the stress in your life need not involve quitting your job and practicing yoga on a mountaintop, but it would work very well. All you need to do it get some exercise and perform some other tasks that relaxes you. Some people like to garden, while others take long walks or read a book.  Removing stress from your life can be hard. One of the easiest things to do is to avoid watching the news on TV. Many of the stories involve unhappy situations or disturbing images of war, famine, tragedy, and government overspending. Almost all of which does not directly affect us, but can still cause us a great deal of stress. It is hard for compassionate people, like us, to view these images and not feel some distress.

February is heart month and a good time to focus on your health.  Get lots of rest, drink plenty of clean water and relax. Take some time to learn about the many ways to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Your heart will thank you for it.

 

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorDanielle Cooper

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.

 

Posted
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.

 

Posted
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.

 

Posted
AuthorDanielle Cooper