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Talk to Doc – Teens

Leah Sarich | posted Monday, Jan 26th, 2015


This is day one of my week long series “Talk to Doc” –  what to ask your doctor at each stage of life. Acute Care Physician Dr. Raj Bhardwaj is in the hot seat and we start with the teen years.

Dr. Raj, as he is known, says the teenage years are a time of great hormonal change with wide-ranging impacts on your health. This is why it’s a great time to start a relationship with your family doctor. And it’s a great time for a teen to take ownership of their health. And Dr. Raj hopes that parents will help with this transition. For example, Dr. Raj says parents should bring their teenager to the doctor but then step out for the exam portion of the visit. This gives the teen a chance to talk to their doctor about topics they may not be comfortable talking to their parents about.


Kids and Cutting

Leah Sarich | posted Friday, Jan 23rd, 2015


Thanks to the changes underway in the adolescent brain, teenagers feel a lot of big emotions. But for some young people, these intense feelings can be too much to handle… and they look for relief in damaging ways.

Pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Monique Jericho says 10 to 20 percent of all teenagers will engage in some form of self harm, and this number is likely too low. Some kids just experiment with the behaviour others do it repeatedly. Cutting is the most common form of self injury, but there’s also burning and scratching.

The question is why? Dr. Jericho explains young people who cut experience a huge amount of relief and release when they cut. Kids describe a sense of empowerment and also a draining of emotion. Dr. Jericho says there’s a strong association between those who cut and those who are very sensitive, who feel intense emotions are are not sure what to do with those strong feelings. And the behaviour is confusing for the young person, they know it’s not normal or appropriate but they get such a helpful feeling of relief, that they don’t want to stop the behaviour even though they know it’s wrong. This is why teens often cut on areas of the body that can be easily hidden. It’s also why parents often don’t discover the behaviour until it has been going on for some time.

So what are parents to do? Dr. Jericho says it’s important for parents not to overreact or become angry. Certainly, parents will be distressed and very concerned, but parents should not be focusing on shutting down the behaviour but instead should try and understand why their son or daughter is engaging in the behaviour. Dr. Jericho suggests taking a curious and compassionate approach to their teenager.

It’s also important for parents to help their teen get the help they need. A good place to start, suggests Dr. Jericho, is the family doctor, if the child already has a relationship with them. Because this behaviour is quite common, most family physicians will know what to do, and where to refer the family.

Treatment for this self harm includes coaching the young person on how to deal with their strong emotions. It also includes giving them other skills for dealing with those strong emotions. For example, a psychologist or counselor may suggest the teen wear an elastic band on their wrist that they can snap when they feel overwhelmed with emotion. Other techniques include listening to a sad song or watching a scary movie. Dr. Jericho explains treatment is about finding healthier ways to get that release of feeling.

If your family doctor is not an appropriate resource for you, you can always start by calling Access Mental Health at 403-943-1500 and they will help you move forward with finding a mental health professional.



Raw foods: Why you should eat way more of them

Marni Wasserman | posted Thursday, Jan 22nd, 2015

Adding more raw foods into your diet is a great way to boost your health. This means making sure the bulk of what you eat focuses on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouts. With these foods as the foundation of your diet you will have more energy, lose weight and feel great. Raw foods are loaded with enzymes, vitamin and nutrients.

I am not suggesting you become a 100 percent raw foodie or adhere to strict guidelines, rather, simply incorporate more fresh foods into your diet. Even if half your meals each day consist of raw food, you are on the right track.

Five ways to add more raw to your diet

  1. Have at least a serving or more of fresh fruit every day: This can include an apple, pear, orange, berries or a fresh fruit smoothie.
  2. Have multiple servings of fresh vegetables every day: Cut up carrots, celery, peppers, make a large dark leafy green salad or a fresh-pressed green juice.
  3. Enjoy a handful (or two) of raw organic nuts and seeds. Put them into a trail mix with raisins, goji berries, apricots – and you can even add some pure raw dark chocolate (cacao) into the mix.
  4. Grab a bag of fresh sunflower or pea sprouts from your local health food store or farmers’ market; these make a great addition to salads, sandwiches, soups, stir-frys and smoothies.
  5. Get creative and try to prepare a few new raw recipes each week. Check Chatelaine‘s no-cook recipe collection here.

Try this recipe: Almond basil pesto

This is a delicious spread to enjoy with raw bread, flatbread and crackers or served with crunchy raw veggies, kelp noodles or shredded zucchini


  • 2 tbsp torn fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 cup whole almonds, soaked overnight or for eight hours
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ¼ cup olive oil (or more) for a creamier consistency


  1. Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth
  2. Place in a small bowl and refrigerate
  3. Serve with cucumber slices, zucchini noodles, carrots, whole grain or raw crackers or brown rice pasta/kelp noodles or steamed vegetables

Marni Wasserman is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.

Lung Cancer

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Jan 21st, 2015


Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in women and men in Canada, that’s 20 thousand deaths every year in this country. And 80 to 85 percent of cases are directly linked to smoking. This known link is why, for National Non Smoking week, we’re looking at the connection between smoking and lung cancer.

Dr. Alain Tremblay the Co-Chair of the Alberta Thoracic Oncology Program hopes no one takes up the deadly habit and that those who are smoking get the help they need to quit as soon as possible. Dr. Tremblay says lung tissue simply doesn’t regenerate or heal well. He explains, “if you quit 10 years ago, you’ve dropped your risk for lung cancer by half, but your lungs never return to normal.”

So, Dr. Tremblay says a smoker or ex-smoker who has any change in chest symptoms, like a cough that doesn’t go away, or coughing up blood, or more shortness of breath should see their family doctor right away to ask for an X-ray. However, doctors can’t say those with no symptoms get X-rays as a form of screening. A screening program does not exist yet in Alberta. But they’re working on it.

Dr. Tremblay says a study starting in April will screen 800 people at risk of lung cancer. This screening will help researchers understand who best to screen, how to analyze screening results, how much a screening program will cost and so on. The study will run for five years and hopefully at the end of it, doctors will have the information they need to help establish a screening program for lung cancer in Alberta.

Until then, Dr. Tremblay encourages any smokers to quit as soon as possible. He suggests visiting the Alberta Quits website. He says overcoming a nicotine addiction is very challenging and it’s very difficult to do on your own. This website will help smokers get the tools they need to move forward with their smoking cessation plan…the first step at reducing your risk for lung cancer.

Photo essay: Otherworldly selfies in the natural world

Aaron Hutchins | posted Tuesday, Jan 20th, 2015

For years, Paul Zizka used to dislike photos of the wilderness if there was a human element to them. No people. No buildings. But then, on a picturesque winter’s night walking alone along the shore of Lake Minnewanka, Alta., Zizka just couldn’t find the perfect foreground. So, he put himself in the picture. What he discovered was that the photo told an entirely different story. “Sometimes, if you include a person, you can convey a sense of vulnerability,” he says from his home in Banff, Alta. “It makes some people think: ‘That’s the last place I’d want to be.’ Or sometimes it’s: ‘That’s the first place I’d want to be.’ A moment of bliss in the mountains.”

Before taking any self-portraits, Zizka will shoot the entire scene without any man or man-made elements. Then, once he’s done with his nature shots, he’ll jump on the other side of the lens and get creative. Rarely will you see Zizka’s face in his self-portraits, however. “It would make the image more about me,” he says, “than the magic of having a person there, part of nature.”

It can be lonely work. The wind is howling. The mountains can be intimidating. And how many people are willing to venture out alone into the cold winter’s night and wait for hours for that perfect background to shoot? “You hear the odd noise in the bush and you know there’s nobody around for kilometres,” he says. “It can be a bit daunting.” He has pictures to prove it.

To see the full gallery, click here.

Alzheimers and Diet

Leah Sarich | posted Friday, Jan 16th, 2015


Women make up the majority of Canadians with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. For Alzheimer Awareness Month I spoke with Dr. Zahinoor Ismail of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. He explains the latest research in Alzheimers suggests the environment is contributing more to the disease than previously thought, particularly our diets.

Dr. Ismail says one area of research has found the Western diet that has a high sugar and fat content can be particularly damaging to the brain. And in fact, sugar seems to be the real culprit. Dr. Ismail explains sugar increases the production of an amyloid protein in the brain thought to contribute to brain damage and the loss of cell structure and function. Sugar also affects the blood brain barrier and is pro-inflammatory. In other words, sugar is bad news for your brain.

As for those sugar substitutes, Dr. Ismail says they cause insulin spikes and contribute to changes in bowel bacteria and he suggests the negative end result is the same.

Dr. Ismail says this research is yet another reason why we should be eating more clean, whole foods not only to protect the brain but to help in the prevention of numerous chronic diseases and to improve our overall general health.

As well as eating healthy to protect your brain, Dr. Ismail also recommends staying social and using the brain as much as possible and exercising regularly.

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia visit this website. 

3 simple things you can do to avoid the flu

Sydney Loney | posted Thursday, Jan 15th, 2015

Take a sick day

Last year, the flu killed 258 people and sent 3,720 to hospital — in Ontario alone. Still, past studies show Canadians are reluctant to stay home no matter how horrible they feel: Almost 80 percent of us have gone to work while ill (46 percent of women cite guilt as the reason they don’t call in sick). This is bad because of the contagion factor (you’re germy for up to seven days after symptoms show up) and because lack of rest makes you sicker for longer.

Stay in bed if you have a temperature of 38C (100F), says Susan Poutanen,a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “You should also stay home if you develop a runny nose, a sore throat, chills, aches or a cough — some of the first signs of the flu.”

Three steps to avoid the flu

1. Sleep more: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say less than seven hours makes you almost three times more likely to catch a cold. Stick to a strict sleep schedule and do whatever it takes, whether that’s wearing an eye mask or switching on a fan, to help you fall asleep faster.

2. Beware the break room: It’s the most infected area at work, say researchers at the University of Arizona. Highly contaminated spots include doorknobs, copy-machine buttons, coffee-pot handles and sink tap handles.

3. Wash, rinse, repeat: A study in the American Journal of Infection shows the flu virus lives on hands and surfaces for up to 10 minutes—and most people touch
their faces once every three minutes. The best defence is to wash hands frequently, lathering up for 20 seconds each time.

Talking to Teens

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Jan 8th, 2015


Life can be tricky for a parent and their teenager. This is why it’s really important for parents to understand what’s happening in the adolescent brain.

Dr. Monique Jericho, a Pediatric Psychiatrist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, explains the brain of a teenager is under major renovation. Not only are there new mental and emotional pathways developing to help a teen make the transition from being a child to an independent adult, the reward centres of the brain that seek novel experiences are also heightened. This means a young adult is going to be acting differently as they try and understand all these new emotions they’re experiencing. For many, they may isolate themselves more as they work out these emotions and try to establish their independence from their parents, others may be more sullen and sad. Dr. Jericho says what’s not normal is when teens experience these moody behaviours all the time. It’s normal for a teen to be sullen and aloof some of the time, but other times they should be happy and content. It’s about allowing for a range of emotions during this period.

It’s also critical that parents keep the lines of communication open with their teen, which can be challenging particularly if they’re not getting anything back from their child. But Dr. Jericho says it’s vital that your teen sees the parent trying to stay connected. Dr. Jericho says being a teenager is like being given the keys to a fast car, but not knowing how to drive yet. Parents need to be on hand to help their teen with ‘driving lessons.’

Dr. Jericho suggests chatting with your teen in the car. It’s not an intense face to face discussion, it’s a more casual setting. She also says try to meet your teen where they’re comfortable…. at the mall, at a coffee shop etc. Dr. Jericho also warns parents that if all of sudden their teen offers some information about their lives that seems concerning, parents must not overact. By not overreacting you’re modelling for your teen how to negotiate a complex emotional situation and most importantly you won’t shut down the line of communication.

If you’re concerned about your teenager, or you want to know where to find more advice about how to talk with your teen, you can always call Access Mental Health at 403-943-1500.

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