Health and Happiness  

Virus not biggest problem

A recent poll by Insights West has indicated that the opioid crisis has had a bigger negative impact on people in B.C. than COVID-19.

The poll found that 37% of British Columbians felt the opioid crisis has had an extremely negative impact on their community, compared to 25% for COVID-19.

The study also found that the opioid crisis had had a direct impact on 31% of B.C. residents, defined as someone in their immediate family or circle of friends either struggling with addiction or having died from an overdose.

That is three times higher than the number of people who know someone who has or has had the virus.

These statistics are alarming, but unfortunately not surprising. The two epidemics are intrinsically linked; for people using substances, there are additional challenges right now due to the virus, increasing the risk of harm and ultimately death.

COVID-19 has made the drug supply to B.C. increasingly unpredictable, with global supply chains disrupted due to the pandemic.

This means that users are having to source drugs from unknown dealers or suppliers, and the number of overdoses in B.C. has significantly increased as a result.

With many people isolating and social distancing in recent months, people are also using alone, which greatly increases the risk of an overdose and subsequent death.

The opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency in 2016, and since then has claimed countless lives across B.C. and Canada.

The rise in opioid related deaths can be traced back to the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies assured medical professionals that opioid pain medications were not addictive. This led to an increase in the number of prescriptions of opioid medications, such as morphine.

The rise in prescriptions gave way to the misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids, and it quickly became clear that the drugs being used were highly addictive.

Patients that had been started on opioids by their doctor were tapered off the drugs, but the damage had already been done.

Heroin became increasingly popular as the drug of choice on the streets, and the introduction of fentanyl to street opioids in 2013 saw a sharp increase in the number of deaths from overdose.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, 50-100 times more potent than morphine. It is a prescription drug, but is also made and used illegally, usually as a cheaper alternative to heroin.

However, people experiencing addictions to substances may be unaware of the addition of fentanyl, thus leading to unintentional overdoses.

Tackling the opioid epidemic in B.C. is a challenge that has so far gone undefeated. The B.C.  government has multiple approaches to tackling the issue.

One of the biggest issues is the stigma around substance use; both the government and non-profit organizations are working hard to encourage people to talk about drug use, so that people feel able to reach out when they are in need.

Harm reduction is a key strategy for B.C.; overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites allow users to get their drugs checked and use in a safe environment, where help can be given immediately if someone overdoses.

Naloxone kits are also provided without a prescription in B.C.; the medication quickly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and can be vital in saving lives.

As well as making substance use safer, the BC government offers safe, prescribed alternatives to drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Individuals experiencing substance use and addiction can use opioid agonists, prescribed by a doctor.

These medications help people to avoid the harsh withdrawal effects and can be tapered off under medical supervision.

Prevention is also key to the province’s approach to the crisis; education about opioids and their disastrous effects is being offered to communities across B.C.

Stricter rules are also in place around prescribing opioids. The province is still in the grips of this opioid epidemic, and unfortunately the global pandemic has hindered progress made earlier in the year.

However, with education, prevention, treatment and support, we hope that 2021 brings more health and happiness for people affected by both the virus and the opioid crisis.


The magic of an apple

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

As the leaves turn to gold, the heat of summer abates and the Okanagan enters fall, orchards full of fruit are ripening.

One fruit perfect for picking is the humble apple, but what is so medicinal about it?

Here’s a round up of the health benefits plus recipe ideas!

It turns out that the garden variety apple is pretty potent when it comes to health benefits. From the antioxidants that reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, to the potassium that lowers blood pressure, it’s clear that the apple is worth its acclaimed status as a daily staple in a disease-free life.

I’ve looked into its bountiful health properties, and paired each benefit with a fresh way of incorporating the apple into your diet, from salads, drinks and desserts.

Reduces Alzheimer’s risk

There’s an antioxidant in apples called quercetin, which has been found to protect brain cells from degeneration. The degeneration of brain cells is a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease, so preventing this with antioxidants is vital to maintaining healthy brain function.

Idea for Apples: Apple Chips

  • Bake thinly sliced apple, coated in cinnamon, at 225 F for 45 minutes (or until the edges curl up).

Prevents Colon Cancer

Apples contain plenty of fibre, which is great for reducing your risk of bowel cancer.

The fibre helps to reduce the time that food is in the colon, meaning that any carcinogenic foods you may have eaten are moved through quickly, before they have time to cause damage to the cells in your bowel.

The fermentation of apples in the colon also fights the formation of cancer cells.

Idea for Apples: Apple Salad

  • Toss thinly slice apples with salad leaves, chopped walnuts and celery.
  • As a starter or a vegetarian main, add goat’s cheese.
  • For a light lunch, add cherry tomatoes, tuna and a soft-boiled egg to make a salad niçoise.
  • As an accompaniment to barbecue pork chops or pulled pork, create a healthy salad dressing with plain yogurt, honey, olive oil, wholegrain mustard and apple cider vinegar to coat the apple salad.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Apples are high in potassium, which is an electrolyte that lowers blood pressure. A whopping  one-third of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure is due to diet.

Cutting down on salt and adding foods high in potassium, such as apples, are crucial to maintaining a health blood pressure.

Ideas for Apples: Warming Fall Drink + Summer Cocktail

  • Heat apple juice, a stick of cinnamon, honey or maple syrup and a few cloves in a pan. Serve in a mug for a warming hug of a drink (great for fall or for a sore throat.)
  • Apple Cider Sangria: place 2 apples (cubed) into a jug, add 1 bottle of local white wine, 1 bottle of sparkling apple cider and maple syrup to taste

Lowers Cholesterol

Apples contain pectin, which prevents the build up of cholesterol in your blood vessels. This reduces your risk of atherosclerosis, which can contribute to heart disease.

Apples also slow the oxidation process that causes a build up of plaque in the heart.

Ideas for Apples: Apple + Squash Soup.

  • Heat 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock in a pan with 2 onions, 2 butternut squash and 4 apples (all roughly chopped), salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  • Once the veggies have softened, add the mix to a food processor and blend till smooth.

Strengthens Bones

Apples contain a flavonoid called phloridzin, which has been shown to protect post-menopausal women from osteoporosis (weakening of the bones). Over time, this weakening can lead to fragility fractures.

Ideas for Apples: British Apple Crumble.

  • Peel and chop 5 apples, coat with lemon juice and cinnamon. Add to a deep baking tray.
  • Combine 1 cup flour, ½ cup brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and 1 stick of cold butter to make the crumble topping.
  • Work the mixture together with your fingers until the lumps of butter are pea sized, then add crumble mix to the top of the apples.
  • Bake at 350 F for 45 mins.

Lessons from July's outbreak

Canada Day celebrations saw a sharp rise in COVID cases in Kelowna, leading to 130 new cases and more than 1,000 people forced into self-isolation.

However, since the August long weekend, Kelowna has not had any new cases, suggesting we may have learned from our mistakes in July.

With the heat rising and our community going into its sixth month of restrictions, it’s understandable that people  crave summer gatherings of friends and family, or look forward to spending time in public in the region’s wineries, breweries and restaurants.

However, the recent outbreak has served as a stark reminder that all is not back to normal, and that the importance of social distancing, sanitizing and keeping groups small remains.

Many people feel frustrated with the restrictions and have begun to resent the stringent controls put in place by government and businesses alike. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to share my experience with COVID, and how important it is to maintain these boundaries.

Although I now live in B.C., I am from the U.K. I moved here permanently in March after graduating from medical school, and have spent the last six months acutely aware of the differences between Kelowna and my home, London.

There have been 196 deaths as a result of COVID in B.C. While each of these deaths is a tragedy, I can’t help but compare it to the huge number of deaths in the U.K. — currently at 41,369.

This number is almost certainly high due to a slow response from the British government and an unwillingness to enter lockdown, although this was the eventuality. The U.K. entered lockdown on March 23, with it being eased on July 3.

There are huge differences between the U.K. and B.C. The U.K. is far more densely populated; although B.C. is 7.2 times as big as England, it has only 7.6% of the U.K.’s population.

The spread of COVID was also likely to be faster, wider and more deadly in the U.K.; the healthcare system was already at breaking point before the global pandemic hit.

Having said this, I want to highlight how well we have done here in B.C., and how this work to contain the virus involves us all, and must continue.

The outbreak in July has shown us that COVID is still in the province, and is still capable of tragedy. For the 196 families lost loved ones due to the virus, COVID is real, and devastating.

Even if you don't know anyone directly affected, it is vital that, as a community, we understand the reality of the virus and the cataclysmic effect it has had on our town and province.

Many of my friends and family back in the U.K. have lost loved ones, and I hope that no more families will experience the same suffering here in B.C.

The best way we can ensure that happens is to understand that our actions do have consequence. Large gatherings without precautions, as seen on Canada Day, have a direct impact on other members of the community.

Although you yourself may not suffer any symptoms, you could be the asymptomatic carrier that spreads the virus. You’ll never know, but you can be sure that sticking to government guidelines around social distancing and sanitizing will lower this risk significantly.

It’s not over yet; please think about the devastation that this virus has already wreaked, and think about the impact that your actions have.


Spotlight on: Dementia

The Spotlight series is a series of articles looking at common, and preventable, diseases.
I explain the science behind the condition, how to spot early signs and what you can do to prevent it.

The Science

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a number of brain disorders that cause memory loss, and deteriorating mental function. Dementia can affect functions such as memory, thinking, language, orientation, judgment and social behaviour.

One of the most common causes of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive type of dementia, where symptoms gradually worsen over the years.

Alzheimer’s dementia is caused by a build-up of abnormal plaques in the brain, causing a disruption between nerve cell connections.

Another common form of dementia is vascular dementia, which is caused by impaired blood flow in the brain. This can be due to a blood clot or a bleed, where the blood flow to areas of the brain is interrupted, meaning that area of the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen or nutrients.

This can cause the symptoms associated with dementia, such as memory loss.

Signs + Symptoms

Different types of dementia cause different classical symptoms. Each dementia presents slightly differently, with some symptoms occurring suddenly, whilst others take a long time to gradually show.

Some of the most common symptoms of dementia are listed below. If you believe yourself, or a loved one, is experiencing any of these, I’d encourage you to make an appointment with your family doctor.

  • Memory problems – such as forgetfulness and misplacing objects. The most recent memories are usually the ones to be lost first.
  • Language problems – such as difficulty understanding what is being said, or difficulty understanding written information
  • Attention and concentration problems – such as appearing restless or unable to concentrate on reading, or watching TV
  • Disorientation – such as losing track of time or what day it is, or getting lost in new places
  • Mood + personality changes – such as being irritable, depressed or losing inhibitions (making inappropriate comments or saying things out of character)
  • Difficulty doing daily activities – such as not paying attention to personal hygiene or not remembering to cook, clean or eat

How to Prevent Dementia

Research suggests that you can significantly reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia by making simple lifestyle changes. While some risk factors are out of your control (such as increasing age, and genetics), there are aspects of your life that you can control to reduce your risk of dementia.

Experts have established seven pillars for a brain-healthy lifestyle:

  • Regular exercise
  • Social engagement
  • Healthy diet
  • Mental stimulation
  • Quality sleep
  • Stress management
  • Vascular health

Regular exercise has been found to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 50%. It can also slow down the progression of dementia in those already developing symptoms.

Thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five times a week, is the best way to keep your brain in shape. The ideal exercise would be a mix of cardio and strength training, including balance and co-ordination exercises, especially for those over 65.

Connecting with loved ones is an incredibly important aspect to keeping our brains healthy. Joining a club or group, volunteering, taking group classes and making regular times for friends and family are ways to stay connected and protect yourself from dementia.

Alzheimer’s has been called the diabetes of the brain, so adjusting your diet to maintain a healthy weight is important. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, omega 3 fats (oily fish), whole grains and beans, and low on sugar and processed foods, is the best way to reduce your risk.

Mental stimulation is a key aspect to preventing dementia, and can include anything that uses your brain. Try brushing your teeth with the opposite hand to usual, or taking a different route to work based on your sense of direction alone.

You could also try learning something new, or stepping up the difficulty of something you already do.

Quality sleep means establishing a regular sleep schedule and sticking to it, getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, check out my recent article on hacks to get some quality slumber.

Recognizing causes of stress in your level and taking steps to address them is also important. If nothing can be done to externally reduce stress, try techniques-like exercise, meditation, journalling or speaking to a loved one to reduce your internal stress levels.

Lastly, vascular health (healthy blood vessels) is intrinsically linked to brain function. Quitting smoking or vaping and reducing your cholesterol are the best ways to keep your arteries and veins, and your brain, healthy.

Take Home Message

Dementia is a scary prospect, so being able to take control of many of the influencing factors can help to alleviate the fear you may feel.

Genetics and age can contribute to getting dementia, but there are many aspects that you can take control of, today, to keep your brain and body in peak condition.

More Health and Happiness articles

About the Author

Dr. Hannah Gibson graduated from medical school in the UK before moving to live in Canada. During her five years at university, she's worked in every department from pediatrics to geriatrics, advocating for both physical and mental health. Now based in Kelowna, she works to provide outreach healthcare for the homeless community. 

Hannah is passionate about preventative medicine, and the focus of her column is to educate and inspire people to take proactive measures to improve their health. 

Hannah believes that we all can, and should, take responsibility for our own health. It is the most important asset we have, and should be respected as such. Follow each week as she gives you the tools to improve your own health and wellbeing, and ultimately live a happier and healthier life. 

Get in touch through the comments section, or by emailing Hannah on [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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