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May

2May

B.C. study finds no mental health benefits to eating human placenta

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New research debunks the supposed mental health benefits of eating your own placenta.

UBC and the B.C. Mental Health and Substance Use Services’ Research Institute says their study found no difference in the mental health of mothers who had eaten their placenta versus those who had not.

The data came from a 10-year genetic study involving 138 women with a history of mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder. Lead investigator Jehannine Austin says the comparison took into account a mother’s psychiatric diagnosis, medication use, age and income.


A woman grinds dehydrated human placenta.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

She says moms who had consumed their placenta did not have more energy, had no increase in their vitamin B12 levels, and required no less help breastfeeding than those who had not consumed their placentas. She adds that eating one’s placenta also did not appear to worsen mental health.

Nevertheless, Austin discourages the practice in light of Health Canada’s warning late last year that it could lead to bacterial or viral infections in mothers or their babies.

Austin’s study was published online Thursday in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.

Proponents of human placenta preparations believe it helps prevent postpartum depression, overcome anemia, increase energy levels and boost breast milk production.


In this file photo taken on November 3, 2018, Kim Kardashian-West arrives for the 2018 LACMA Art+Film Gala at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California.

CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty Images

Celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Alicia Silverstone and Hilary Duff are among the famous moms who have popularized the trend, in which the organ is sometimes dehydrated and put into capsules, but it has drawn increasing scrutiny in the medical community.

“People are taking them because they see celebrities in the news doing it and they talk about their experience with doing it and so other women think, ‘Oh that sounds like a good idea,”‘ said Austin, executive director of the research institute and a professor in medicine at UBC.

“But the point that we’re trying to really make, having analyzed our data, is that there’s no evidence from our study to suggest that this actually helps in any way.

“It doesn’t help with mood, it doesn’t help with energy, it doesn’t help with nutrition levels and it doesn’t help with breastfeeding.”


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2May

B.C. touts success of new MRI strategy but lacks wait time proof

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VICTORIA — B.C.’s health minister is touting the success of his strategy to expand the number of MRI scans done in the province, but can’t definitively show that it has reduced waiting times for the diagnostic procedure.

Adrian Dix said Thursday that the number of MRIs done in the past year has risen by 43,993 scans, or an increase of 23 per cent. In some regions, the increase has been more dramatic. In Northern Health, which had the worst rate of MRI scans in Canada, the number of MRIs jumped almost 87 per cent.

“It is an extraordinary achievement for the public health care system in British Columbia to do this in one year,” said Dix.

Last year B.C. began running 10 of the province’s 33 MRI machines 24 hours a day, seven days a week and bought two privately owned MRI clinics  in the Fraser Valley to expand capacity, said Dix.

Increasing the use of public machines cost $11 million. The cost of buying the private clinics has not been released. Government is adding another $5.25 million to the MRI budget next year, which Dix said will fund 15,000 additional MRI scans.

But Dix was unable to back up the detailed MRI stats with similarly detailed figures that show chronically long waiting times are decreasing across the province. He said his ministry is still trying to compile those figures.

A Health Ministry document obtained by Postmedia News in 2018 that showed waiting times as long as 364 days for MRIs in some locations.

Dix insisted waits have dropped. “We obviously get numbers throughout the year and they show wait times improving in all the health authorities in particular Northern Health and Fraser Health where wait times were longest,” he said.

A technician operates an MRI machine. Four more scanners will be bought for installation in B.C. hospitals in 2018, the health ministry announced Thursday.


A technician operates an MRI machine.

JEFF MCINTOSH /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The government provided partial data, including how waits for MRIs in Northern Health decreased to 29 days from 57 days for average patients as a result of the increased scanning hours.

At St. Paul’s Hospital, where MRIs are running 24 hours daily, waiting times have dropped to two days from 40 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list and to 38 days from 98 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

At Burnaby Hospital, where MRIs also run 24 hours, waiting times dropped to 30 days from 90 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list, and to 154 days from 249 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

At University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George, where the machines don’t run 24/7, waiting times dropped to 17 days from 42 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list and to 44 days from 266 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

Dix said the success of purchasing the two private MRI clinics and putting them in the public system may lead to similar purchases of private surgical centres to reduce surgical waiting times.

“I think we have to be entrepreneurial about this question,” he said.

“There are a lot of things (that are) good, I think some times, about community and smaller surgical centres. They take less time to build than to increase surgical capacity in a hospital,” he said. “We have to look at that absolutely to increase the capacity of the system to perform surgeries.”

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1May

Call for B.C. gambler’s code of conduct in wake of damning casino report

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The River Rock Casino, 8811 River Rd, Vancouver, June 27 2018.


Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

The Attorney General is calling for a gambler’s code of conduct at B.C. casinos after a damning report into working conditions at Richmond’s River Rock Casino.

The ministry’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch made the call in a report compiled after an earlier report into dozens of harassment and violence claims made by front-line casino staff.

That earlier report, conducted by Paladin Security at the request of the B.C. Lotteries Corp., found among other things that a drunk VIP gambler slapped an employee, and then wrote them a $2,000 cheque.

It confirmed reports that an angry VIP gambler had thrown an item at a dealer, a dealer was threatened with death by a player (resulting in a 24-hour ban for the gambler) and a guest-services supervisor was assaulted.

The report stated that “according to several dealers and supervisors, verbal abuse bordering on uttering threats occurs daily, if not hourly.”

It went on to say “extra” considerations were given to VIP gamblers, including the right to keep a dealer at the table that they believed to be good luck, even if the dealer was rostered off or needed to go to the washroom.

“A number of individuals mentioned the Dogwood Room as problematic, between its combination of overwhelming bet volume, poor standards of player behaviour and complicit supervisors and managers,” the Paladin report stated. “Some suggested that if you don’t speak Mandarin, you don’t have a change to work a higher-tipping VIP table.”

The Paladin report was based on interviews with 460 of the casino’s 1,200 front-line staff.

The gaming policy branch report found that all incidents that were required to be reported to police had been reported, and there was no evidence the casino’s management or employees had suppressed reports.

It stated that between 2010 and August 2018 the River Rock Casino had sent 17,581 workplace reports to the gaming policy branch.

“When one considers the 17 alleged unreported incidents and the eight reported incidents that did not generate a (workplace report) from the same time range, the percentage of potential unreported incidents amounts to 0.142 per cent. This fact strongly suggests the (River Rock Casino), as a corporation, is paying due-diligence to its reporting requirements … ”

The branch wants the code of conduct to clearly outline the behaviour and conduct expected of all patrons (including VIPs), and clearly outlines the consequences that a patron will face if they were to be found in violation.

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1May

May is Speech and Hearing month, Yat Li addresses that

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Yat Li of the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, in Vancouver on May 1. Li was born with tiny ears and now has prosthetic ones. The hard-of-hearing refer to deafness as the invisible disability, Li, communications and marketing manager with the WIDHH, said.


Arlen Redekop / PNG

In a way, suffering from hearing loss is worse than many other physical ailments because, for one, it’s not particularly visible.

In fact, the hard-of-hearing refer to it as the invisible disability, Yat Li, communications and marketing manager with the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WIDHH), said.

“Growing up in the ’90s, I was very self-conscious,” Li said. “I had lots of problems, without wearing hearing aids I am not able to function normally.”

He was born in Hong Kong with microtia — tiny ears, one of about 40,000 born every year with the condition worldwide — and his family moved to Coquitlam when Li was five.

There was practically no Chinese culture in Coquitlam then, Li didn’t speak English well (nor, for that matter, did he speak Cantonese well). It’s hard to learn to speak when you have profound hearing loss.

About 157,000 people report being deaf or hard-of-hearing in B.C., according to WIDHH figures. Hearing loss affects social skills, learning and mental health.

“Many of us take our ability to communicate for granted, but the ability to speak, hear and be heard is much more vital to our everyday lives than most of us realize,” says Speech-Language & Audiology Canada. “For those who have difficulty communicating, everyday interactions can pose significant challenges.

“A communication disorder may prevent an individual from performing well at work, asking for help, hearing instructions at school or even saying. ‘I love you’.”

And whereas poor eyesight is corrected by something that’s become a fashion accessory — eyeglasses — hearing aids don’t enjoy the same panache.

Li has prosthetic ears (they look great). The ears are attached magnetically to small posts inserted into his skull, sitting where his tiny biological ears used to be. He had the surgery to install them when he was 21 by Vancouver doctor Jack Zolty at the Realistic Prosthetic Studio. The procedure cost $5,000, as did each ear, a cost not borne by the Medical Services Plan because he wasn’t considered deaf enough.

Li can swim with his ears on. He takes them off at night. And the hearing aid is hidden behind his right, attachable ear.

Growing up, Li wore his hair long in embarrassment, classmates made fun of him. He was an ethnic minority, he was small, he had those tiny ears, he was easy to pick on. Even today, folks who should probably know better make jokes at his expense: Things like, when it’s raining, cautioning Li not to get electrocuted.

“It’s funny to them, I guess, it’s not funny to me,” he said.

Li worked in marketing in the hotel industry up to 18 months ago when he got tired of hiding his hearing loss, tired of faking it like he was “ordinary.” He was scared people would look at him differently, feel he was weak if they knew the truth.

“It took me a long time of trying to live with who I am and what I am. I’ve only become open to sharing myself, sharing who I am, recently,” the 30-year-old Li said.

Besides his work with the deaf and hard-of-hearing institute, which by the way isn’t government funded but that relies on charitable donations for its work and to pay for its staff of 40 or so, Li markets his Acoustic Wear line, clothing with sayings such as ‘Pardon Me?’ and ‘Hear I Stand’.

And, in his quest to be an inspiration for others, he addresses conferences around the globe.

“I want others to feel empowered and inspired and motivated by someone who went through what I faced, because I did not think I would be here right now,” Lee said.

“For parents, I want you to know you can love your kid with no barriers. You know the cards you’ve been dealt is not the perfect hand. It’s about how you play them. Show affection to your kids, love them for who they are. That’s when they’ll realize, ‘Hey, it’s OK to be me.’ ”

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1May

Daphne Bramham: Alcohol, not opioids, is Canada’s biggest drug problem

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Alcohol is so much a part of our culture that 80 per cent of Canadians drink. But each year, nearly 15,000 people die from alcohol related harms.


Canadian governments are addicted to the revenue from alcohol


DALE DE LA REY / AFP/Getty Images

With so much focus on illicit drugs and overdose deaths, it might seem that opioids are the biggest addictions problem. Far from it.

Alcohol kills many more people each year (14,800 in 2014), results in more hospitalizations annually than heart attacks and is one of the most expensive and intractable health problems.

While cannabis was legalized a year ago and B.C.’s chief medical health officer is pushing hard for decriminalization and ultimately legalization of all illicit drugs, two Canadian addictions research centres want tougher regulations to mitigate the costs and harms of alcohol use and addiction.

The Victoria-based Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health want a minimum price of $3.50 for a standard drink in a bar or restaurant and $1.75 for off-premise sales. They also want a national minimum drinking age of 19, which is a year higher than national minimum for cannabis. Those are just two of the recommendations in reports they released last month that look at federal, provincial and territorial alcohol policies.

The reports also calling for stricter guidelines for advertising, restrictions on manufacturers’ and retailers’ promotions on digital and social media platforms, and a federal excise tax based on alcohol content that would replace the GST.

Over the past decades, the researchers found an erosion of effective policies and regulations.

“Overall, alcohol policy in Canada has been largely neglected relative to emerging initiatives addressing tobacco control, responses to the opioid overdose crisis, and restrictions imposed on the new legal cannabis market,” their report on the provinces and territories says. In several jurisdictions — Ontario is the worst example — “customer convenience and choice are being given priority over health and safety concerns … the responsibility of governments to warn citizens of potential risks is largely absent.”

British Columbia got a bare pass at 50 per cent based on its potential to reduce alcohol-related harm, which is not good. But it’s still better than the national average of 43 per cent.

Alcohol-related harm was estimated at $14.6 billion in 2014, according the Canadian Centre on Substance Use. Productivity loss due to illness and premature death accounts for $7.1 billion. Direct health care costs add another $3.3 billion and $3.1 billion is spent on enforcement costs for this legal drug.

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Tobacco was second at $12 billion followed by opioids at $3.5 billion and cannabis at $2.8 billion. But the data predate the opioid overdose crisis and cannabis legalization.

Alcohol’s costs and harms reflect the fact that 80 per cent of Canadians drink. It’s not surprising. Culturally, we associate drinking with celebrations and good times. It’s We’re bombarded with images in movies, TV and ads of beautiful people drinking and having fun.

Scarcely a week goes by that there isn’t a “good news” story about research showing that a glass of red wine might be good for your heart or that yet another populist politician is campaigning on a promise to slash the price of beer.

Yet less was made of University of Washington’s Global Burden of Diseases Study last summer that found alcohol was the leading factor in 2.8 million premature deaths in 2016 and is so harmful that governments ought to be advising people to abstain completely.

One problem is that Canadian governments are addicted to the revenue from alcohol. Liquor sales and taxes provided $12.15 billion to federal and provincial governments in 2017/18 — $1.6 billion more than five years earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

Last year, liquor consumption rose in British Columbia, which already had the highest drinking rates in Canada. There were also record sales, which meant that in addition to tax revenue, the Liquor Distribution Branch provided $1.12 billion in earned revenue, up from $1.03 billion two years earlier.

Good for taxpayers? Not really. The reports by the substance-abuse centres recommends B.C. “reconsider the treatment of alcohol as an ordinary commodity: Alcohol should not be sold alongside food and other grocery items as this leads to greater harm.”

It’s based on research done last year by Tim Stockwell of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. He and his researchers found that when access to alcohol is easier, more people die.

Between 2003 and 2008, “a conservative estimate is that the rates of alcohol-related deaths increased by 3.25 per cent for each 20 per cent increase in stores density.”

Estimates have to be conservative because alcoholics’ fatalities are mistakenly counted as death from one of more than 200 other kinds of alcohol-related fatalities including car accidents, suicide, liver diseases, cancers, tuberculosis and heart disease.

What’s surprising is that more than a century after legalization, there are no federal or provincial policies aimed specifically at mitigating alcohol’s harms and costs.

The opioid crisis has been the catalyst for governments to finally think about addictions and drug-use policies and, it’s now impossible to ignore the slower moving crisis caused by alcohol abuse and addiction.

In the coming months, the B.C. health officer also plans to release an alcohol addictions report. The B.C. Centre on Substance Use recently developed guidelines for best practices in treating alcohol addiction, but the provincial government has yet to approve or release those.

Prohibition proved a failure. Yet, legalization and regulation are not panaceas either. Because even with more than 100 years of experience, there is still no jurisdiction in Canada or anywhere else that seems to have got it right.

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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