February 24th, 2014
March 7th, 2014
Can exercise strengthen and grow your brain? Recent research says yes—that regular endurance exercise, such as running or powerwalking, positively affects the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped, curved structure of the brain associated with memory and ability to learn.
Using technologies that examine the workings of individual neurons (nerve cells), and the makeup of brain matter itself, researchers have discovered that physical endurance exercise appears to prevent shrinkage of the brain, while enhancing cognitive flexibility. The hippocampus seems to be especially receptive to new neuron growth in response to exercise.
March 4th, 2014
Myth or Fact?
- If you swallow a piece of gum it will take seven years to digest.
- Each of us has three pounds of undigested meat in our intestines.
If you chose “myth” you are correct. The human body is very capable of digestion and elimination, and has many more mechanisms for “housekeeping.” But in this increasingly polluted world some people are rightfully concerned about exposure to toxic chemicals and wonder if “detoxing” is a wise choice.
Detoxing is a modern term but humans have practiced many types of cleansing rituals throughout the ages. These have included washing, fasting, prayer, chanting, meditation, burning smudge sticks and sweating. Special diets have also been employed. Most of these rituals have had a religious or spiritual element. Today, there is less of a religious attachment and more of a concern for removing toxic buildup from the world we live in. Common modern cleanses include fasting (water or juice only), omitting alcohol, sugar and red meat, using laxatives or enemas, or consuming herbals, vitamins and other supplements.
How does the body get “dirty”?
- Eating: food naturally contains compounds that are not digestible, such as fibre and resistant starch. Some ground meat products may also contain bone fragments or gristle. Processed foods contain multiple additives
- Smoking and alcohol: there are hundreds of harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke and alcohol is a known toxin
- Environmental pollutants: including compounds found in household cleaning products, air pollution, self-care products, medications, drinking water, and exposure to radiation
- Metabolism: by-products from the body’s normal daily chemical reactions.
As mentioned above, the body has many, many “built-in” methods for cleaning or recycling itself. Stomach lining cells live approximately two days, red blood cells about 120 days, and millions of skin cells are shed each day. In fact, most cells are eventually destroyed and renewed. The liver is constantly filtering the blood to collect toxins and waste products that are eventually removed through the urine and stool. Incredibly important too is the lymphatic system (a key component of immunity) and the amazing glymphatic system, a “brain-cleaning” mechanism that is very active while we sleep. Lastly, sweating removes toxins to a very small degree and even blowing one’s nose removes some bacteria, viruses and dirt. For the most part, we are not even aware of these cleaning mechanisms (unless you remember your last case of food-borne illness. Vomiting and diarrhea are powerful reactions to bacterial or viral contaminants in food and drink).
But now to the real question: do we need to detox, and if so, what are the proven methods?
Most medical doctors would agree that the body has adequate mechanisms to remove unwanted compounds from the body. Most alternative practitioners, however, would be supportive of detoxing and might recommend from a wide variety of teas, supplements or other practices. Indeed, the options are so vast they are far beyond the scope of this article but here is a summary of some key types.
Type of Cleanse
What’s in it for you
|Juice fasting: armed with a blender and an assortment of raw vegetables and fruit, one consumes nothing but freshly made juices for a few days||Your body will obtain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and other healthy plant chemicals and will likely be adequately hydrated||This regimen is very low in protein, fibre, fat and calories so can only be followed short term. Users are likely to lose weight from depletion of glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and body water|
|Vegan or other restrictive diet (e.g. no dairy/grains/red meat, etc.)||A well-planned vegan diet is nutritionally adequate||Depending upon the diet it may be low in protein, carbohydrate, fat and calories|
|Colon cleansing (laxatives or enemas)||Evacuation of your bowel contents-either in a slower fashion (laxatives) or immediately (enemas)||Not applicable as these products are usually used very short term and add little or no nutrients to your body|
|Specialized products: some are used on their own while others are used with some basic foods||Usually liquid concoctions including teas, herbals, vitamins/minerals and sometimes protein-rich ingredients||Most of these products are lacking protein, fibre, fat and calories.|
If you choose to cleanse, I feel there is nothing harmful about following a balanced vegan diet or adding more fresh or frozen vegetables and fruit (and/or their juices), to your day. If you select a stricter regimen, you may experience headaches and weakness (from inadequate calories). If weight loss is your goal, a strict cleanse will allow this but it is virtually guaranteed that pounds lost quickly will return when you resume your normal diet. If you are considering a specialized product do some research before you buy. These online resources may help you decide if the product is for you:
- Health Canada’s Natural Health Products page: search the natural health products database to see what products are permitted in Canada and what they are indicated for
- National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine : Search “Health Topics A-Z” for the latest evidence about a supplement or practice
- Quackwatch: an eye-opening website that takes a “no-holds-barred” approach to products and practices and the pseudo-science that supports them
- WebMD: select the Drugs and Supplements tab, then scroll down the left side of the page to select the Vitamins and Supplements Centre. Here, you can find information on thousands of supplements and herbals including uses, side effects, interactions and doses.
Another option is to try to keep our bodies clean in the first place. Here are some suggestions:
- Eat organic vegetables and fruit if you can afford to. Consider growing your own produce. If you can’t eat organic, still aim for 7 to 10 servings of produce every day, as per Canada’s Food Guide. Try to cook from scratch rather than choose prepared and junk foods. Eat plenty of dietary fibre (21 to 25 g per day for women and 30 to 38 grams for men). Drink adequate fluids to stay hydrated and to help prevent constipation.
- Use non-toxic cleaning agents like vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda. Store paints and paint thinner, household, garden and automotive compounds in the garage or shed
- Avoid smoking (as well as snuff and chewing tobacco). If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation
- Get enough sleep (7 to 8 hours each night)
- Work up a sweat with a variety of stretching, strength and cardio exercises.
If you are thinking about a cleanse, discuss it with your health care provider first. Any significant change to your eating habits or supplement use may impact on your medications or health conditions.
Certified Diabetes Educator
March 1st, 2014
Can tracking your fitness activities through mobile apps and PC software increase your motivation to work out? Fitness professionals say yes: that the psychology behind today’s interactive fitness devices is every bit as important as the technology inside them.
Going online to check how well you have done, comparing your performance with previous performances, and knowing how many steps you took and calories you burned while raking leaves or washing the car, can provide the extra spark needed to get you off the sofa and getting physical. Effort takes on the status of fun. Even if you don’t feel like moving, the anticipation of checking your numbers at the end of a workout can be all the motivation needed to get going and keep you on track.
Take Myra, for example. After a long day spent adjusting insurance claims, the last thing she felt like doing was going out for a walk.
“The lure of sitting down with a cup of tea and the paper was just too strong,” she says. “And then I would stay put. But as soon as I started using the pedometer and tracking my progress online, things began to change. I just couldn’t face not seeing I’d made my 10,000 steps for the day.”
For Geoff, a 42-year-old general contractor, an interactive wrist device brought the unexpected surprise of finding out that his sleep pattern was not as healthy as it could be.
“I had good news and bad news, I guess,” he says. “The good news was that I take twice as many steps during the day as I thought I did. The fact that the wristband picked up that I wasn’t sleeping soundly was a concern, but now I know why I felt fatigued all the time.”
Geoff was able to improve his sleep by lowering the temperature in his bedroom and taking a natural sleep supplement. “As a result, I feel better all round,” he says. “The wristband keeps me on track and steadily losing the 20 pounds
I need to get rid of to get back into the shape I was in when I was younger.”
Many users of interactive fitness devices say they enjoy their devices so much that they go out of their way to add a few steps here and there, or go for an extra walk or run. Even vacuuming or mowing the lawn becomes a fitness activity instead of a chore.
With some devices, you can even check your stats alongside those of friends or family members using social media— something many users find extra motivational.
“At the end of the day,” says Geoff, “being able to track my progress and share it with friends has made me accountable in a fun kind of way. It’s something I wouldn’t have expected.”
February 26th, 2014
If quitting smoking is high on your agenda this year, your chances of succeeding are higher than ever. Our wide variety of smoking cessation aids are designed to help you quit the habit as painlessly as possible so that you can count on being smoke-free by the time 2015 rolls around.
In Canada, quitting smoking is the second most popular New Year’s resolution after losing weight. It is closely followed by sticking to a budget, and saving more money.
February 18th, 2014
February 12th, 2014
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. It contributes to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, increases the risk of blood clots, reduces the oxygen in your blood, increases your blood pressure and forces your heart to work harder. When combined with other risk factors—including elevated blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and overweight/obesity—smoking further increases your risk of heart disease and/or stroke.