Archive | Health & Fitness

First time ever, for the Islamic community in Canada, Stop Diabetes Foundation alongside Diabetes Canada launches the Ramadan Position Statement

Posted on 15 March 2018 by admin

VISION 2020 – Peel Region holds the unfortunate distinction of being the “Diabetes capital of Canada”. STOP Diabetes foundation’s (SDF) mission termed ‘SDF VISION 2020’ aims to remove this infamous #1 tag before the year 2020 by providing public health education. In addition to the mission of diabetes prevention, the foundation’s second goal is to increase the longevity for people living with diabetes by highlighting a combination of medically proven treatments and lifestyle regimen.

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 marks another big milestone in Stop Diabetes Foundation’s timeline to reduce the epidemic of diabetes and its complications not only in the Peel region but to spread this message across Canada. On this day, SDF, in collaboration with Diabetes Canada, will launch the first-ever Canadian Ramadan Position Statement (RPS) to spread awareness and educate healthcare providers as well as the public. RPS are research-based practical guidelines developed to help people with diabetes fast safely during Ramadan. The RPS has been developed with the consensus of Canadian diabetes specialists, researchers as well as religious leaders. The plan is to have this position statement endorsed by Diabetes Canada and submitted for publication in a Canadian Medical Journal before Ramadan starts in the middle of May 2018.

Type 2 diabetes is a growing epidemic, especially in certain immigrant populations in Canada e.g. people with origins from South Asian and Middle-East Asian countries. According to national statistics, the Muslim population in Canada is steadily growing, in part fueled by immigration and higher fertility rates. One of the pillars of Islam is fasting during the month of Ramadan (from dawn to dusk). Though certain individuals are exempted from fasting (e.g. pre-pubertal children and those who are ill, pregnant or breastfeeding), many of those who fall under these categories often opt to still follow the practice. Management of diabetes (type 1 and type 2 diabetes) during Ramadan is challenging for Canadian healthcare providers because of limited research data and education around this topic. The launch of this first Canadian Ramadan position statement will potentially overcome this huge unmet need and knowledge gap.

The Canadian Ramadan Position Statement initiative will be launched at a high-level media & healthcare professional event on March 20, 2018, from 6 PM to 8 PM at Mississauga Convention center. This event will be organized by STOP Diabetes Foundation Inc. The program agenda will include Q & A style interactive engagements with the Canadian expert faculty involved with this project (Dr. Harpreet Bajaj, Dr. Tyceer Abouhassan, Dr. Amel Arnaout, Dr. Tayyab Khan, Dr. Hasnain Khandwala and Dr. Subodh Verma); Diabetes Canada scientific leaders (Dr. Jan Hux and Dr. Peter Senior), several religious leaders, community leaders and Dr. Hisham Mahmoud (Sanofi Canada). Dr. Mohamed Hassanein, chair of the International Diabetes Federation’s Diabetes and Ramadan alliance will also support this Canadian initiative via video conferencing from Dubai.

STOP Diabetes foundation looks forward to the support of local community as well as media in this benevolent cause to succeed in its fight against these important health concerns afflicting our country, and the PEEL region disproportionately and motivate everyone to live healthy and long lives.

For more information contact 647-986-7867 or

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Ontario families need true, universal pharmacare now: NDP Health critic

Posted on 07 March 2018 by admin

QUEEN’S PARK: NDP Health critic France Gélinas said that Ontario families can’t afford to wait for another federal study before they get the medicine that they need and called on the Wynne government to put Ontario first and support the NDP plan for true, universal pharmacare now.

“It’s time for national, universal pharmacare — but yesterday, the federal government chose to study this idea, again, without promising any action, any money, or any timelines,” said Gélinas. “That leaves millions of Ontarians between the ages of 25 and 65 without prescription drug coverage. That leaves people sitting at their kitchen tables, cutting their pills two to make the prescription last longer.”

The NDP Pharmacare for Everyone Plan would deliver true, universal pharmacare for all Ontarians so that both parents and their children can get the medications that they need. The NDP plan would cover everyone, regardless of age, income, job status or health status.

In question period on Wednesday, Gélinas said that Ontario families can’t wait for the federal government to act, and that Kathleen Wynne’s plan to cut people off from drug coverage when they turn 25 is letting families down.

“A drug plan that cuts people off from drug coverage the day they turn 25 years old is not good enough,” said Gélinas. “Ontarians shouldn’t have to settle for a plan that leaves people from the ages of 25 to 65 with no prescription drug coverage. That’s not pharmacare — because real universal pharmacare is prescription drug coverage for everyone.”

“While the federal government continues to study pharmacare yet again, instead of acting upon it, why doesn’t this Premier have a plan for universal pharmacare right here, right now in Ontario?” asked Gélinas.


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Horwath demands Wynne listen to health care workers speaking out

Posted on 02 February 2018 by admin

HAMILTON – News reports Wednesday reveal that a number of doctors, nurses and administrators are speaking out about dangerous hospital overcrowding in the Greater Toronto Area. Andrea Horwath, who has been raising alarm bells about growing hospital overcrowding concerns for over a year, released the following statement in response:

“Doctors and front-line health care workers are speaking out about the dangerous situations in overcrowded hospitals, and it’s time for leadership that listens to them, and takes action. Many of our hospitals were operating above 100 per cent capacity before this winter’s flu surge – so news again this morning that more hospitals are in crisis as a result of flu-season is troubling, but not at all surprising. It’s just plain wrong that no real action has been taken to ease the squeeze on Ontario’s hospitals, putting patients at risk.

Ontario’s hospitals have faced decades of cuts – first by a Conservative government that closed 28 hospitals and fired 6,000 nurses, and then by a Liberal government that has cut or frozen budgets for years. Patients around the province, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, the Ontario Hospital Association and the NDP and I have all been calling out for the government to listen, and make changes. But Kathleen Wynne let us down again. Long waits, overcrowding and hallway medicine have been getting worse and worse – even as hospital staff were warning that they didn’t have the resources to handle this year’s flu season.

It’s time to do something about health care overcrowding – and that means making health care funding a priority in Ontario again. Wynne’s budgets keep underfunding hospitals, and Patrick Brown is vowing to make $6.1 billion in cuts. I disagree – we can’t keep going down that road. Instead of cuts, we need to invest in shorter waits and tackling hallway medicine.

My thanks go out to the health care workers around the province who are on the front-lines of this crisis, working long hours in busy hospitals and doing everything they can do deliver the care that people deserve in Ontario.


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Listen to the experts, stop ignoring hospital overcrowding crisis

Posted on 22 December 2017 by admin

Horwath releases new overcrowding information for Hamilton hospital

QUEEN’S PARK – Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has been fighting to end hospital overcrowding in communities all over the province for months. On Wednesday, Horwath demanded again that Kathleen Wynne take action, just as Ontario’s Hospitals weighed in, saying that they are facing an “imminent capacity crisis.”

“Kathleen Wynne has ignored the experts repeatedly when it comes to hospital care,” said Horwath. “She refuses to listen to patients and their families. She refuses to listen to doctors, nurses and front-line health care workers. And now she’s refusing to listen to the Ontario Hospital Association. This is about patients waiting in agony, treatments being delayed and people having their health and dignity impacted by hallway medicine. This is about people’s lives. We can’t let Kathleen Wynne let us down again.”

As she has done repeatedly throughout the year, Horwath released the overcrowding numbers from yet another hospital Wednesday. Obtained via Freedom of Information laws, Horwath revealed that St. Joseph’s Health Care Hamilton was over 105 per cent occupancy every single day between June and October, reaching a high of 139 per cent. That means as many as 34 unfunded beds every day, and patients being left in spaces that don’t have access to proper washrooms or nurse call bells.

According to the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), a substantial investment is needed to fix the crisis. The OHA released a budget submission Wednesday called A Sector on the Brink: The Case for a Significant investment in Ontario’s Hospitals.

“We know that there are already thousands of patients lining the hallways of our hospitals all across this province – and the OHA is saying that without a major investment – a major course change from the years of cuts – it will only get worse,” said Horwath.

Patrick Brown’s campaign platform vows to cut another $6.1 billion in jobs and services, and includes no investment into easing hospital overcrowding. The last Conservative government fired 6,000 nurses and closed 28 hospitals.

Horwath has committed to fund hospitals, at a minimum, to the rate of inflation, population growth and to meet the unique needs of the community around the hospital.

“Hospitals are in bad shape and patients are hurting, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” said Horwath. “We can do so much better, and families deserve to have some hope. It’s time for a premier that is focused on ending the gridlock and cutting wait times for everyone.”


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Majority of Torontonians with celiac disease don’t know they have it, study shows

Posted on 13 October 2017 by admin

About 1 per cent of Torontonians are estimated to have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten. Yet University of Toronto researchers found that 87 per cent of people living with celiac in Toronto aren’t aware they have the condition.

If you’ve got constant fatigue, sore muscles or unexplained gastrointestinal problems, there’s a chance you’re part of the 1 per cent of Torontonians with celiac disease — and new research shows you probably don’t know it.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that 87 per cent of people living with celiac disease in Toronto aren’t aware they have it.

Ahmed El-Sohemy, a professor of nutritional science at the University of Toronto and senior author of the paper, said researchers compared blood tests of about 3,000 Canadians with their responses to a health questionnaire.

“We found that among those that tested positive for the blood test, 90 per cent of them indicated ‘no’ to having been diagnosed with (celiac disease),” El-Sohemy said.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten. There are essentially two types of the disease: a severe, early-onset form that is often identified in childhood by a pediatric gastroenterologist, and a less severe type that often isn’t diagnosed until adulthood.

With the latter, people “just never really felt right,” El-Sohemy said. They might experience fatigue or gastrointestinal problems, or mistake symptoms for inflammatory bowel syndrome or other autoimmune disorders.

“The symptoms are not as clear-cut as other types of disorders, where it’s perhaps more localized just to the digestive system,” El-Sohemy said.

Celiac disease causes damage to the small intestines, leading to malabsorption of nutrients and vitamin deficiencies.

That can manifest in ways seemingly unrelated to celiac disease — bleeding gums, brittle bones or weak muscles.

Celiac disease is the best-understood type of gluten intolerance, El-Sohemy said.

“This concept of non-celiac gluten sensitivity is still not very clear,” he said. “There have been a number of studies but the findings have been inconclusive, as to whether it actually exists.”

El-Sohemy suspects that the vast majority of people eating gluten-free by choice don’t actually have celiac disease.

Andrey Malkov of Hibiscus Cafe, a vegetarian and gluten-free restaurant in Kensington Market, said the majority of his customers are trying out or prefer eating gluten free.

“It’s a preference to try eating without gluten,” Malkov said. “And we do have quite a number of people coming in who do have celiac disease. I would say the majority would be people who prefer the lifestyle.”

El-Sohemy said the reason many people without celiac disease opt to eat gluten-free — including a number of prominent athletes — is that it cuts or reduces carb intake.

“They’re no longer eating heaping plates of pasta, and lots of refined white bread,” El-Sohemy said. “So they’re losing weight, they’re not getting that glucose crash after a big pasta meal, and they feel more energized and great.”

Still, El-Sohemy said it’s important to know whether the benefits of eating gluten free are because of intolerance or simply a better diet.

“There are a lot of gluten-containing whole grains that are very nutritious, have a lot of central minerals and fiber and they’re good sources of a variety of nutrients,” he said, adding they should still be consumed in moderation.

“And also, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You don’t just cut out all sources of gluten when it’s only the carbohydrates that may have been the culprit.”

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We Should Be Talking About Men’s Mental Health

Posted on 08 December 2016 by admin

By Dr. Ari Zaretsky, 

Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

When it comes to Movember and men’s health, the focus has typically been on prostate and testicular cancer. However, there is another common male medical condition that has been relatively overlooked: depression.

Clinical depression is a costly and debilitating condition that affects approximately five per cent of the Canadian population in any given year, and 10 per cent of Canadians over the course of a lifetime.

Although it has been commonly believed — based on community and epidemiological studies — that women are diagnosed with depression twice as often as men, this impression is more recently being brought into question.

In a 2013 article published in JAMA Psychiatry, authors explored whether sex disparities in depression rates are related to the phenomenon of men masking their depression with anger, hostility, risk taking and substance use because they believe it’s socially unacceptable to acknowledge depression publicly.

What the authors determined was surprising. When the above symptoms are considered in addition to the conventional depressive symptoms (such as sadness, loss of pleasure, self-criticism, diminished appetite) the rates of depression were no different between men and women.

Even if we put the study aside, it’s clear that depression is not exclusive to women. In fact, approximately one million Canadian men suffered from major depression in 2016 alone.

What are the consequences of untreated depression in men?

Beyond decreased quality and function of life, and potential social consequences resulting from increased anger, aggression, risk taking and substance use, untreated depression can lead to suicide.

In Canada, suicide is the leading cause of death for all men between ages 10 and 49. This is the third highest suicide rate in the industrialized world.

What role does stigma play in male depression?

Stigma and cultural expectations can lead men to mask the true symptoms of depression, impeding diagnosis and treatment.

Generally, men tend to be socialized to control their emotions and base their self-esteem on mastery, financial and occupational success, and strength. In the face of loss, failure, or other life setbacks, some men may express aggression and anger since these emotions are more socially “acceptable.”

These cultural expectations can also mask some of the common symptoms of depression. Men are more likely to deal with their depressive symptoms by drinking alcohol, using drugs or pursuing other risky behaviour. Many men also avoid talking about depressed feelings with their friends or family.

Is depression common in elderly men?

Depression is not a normal part of aging. However, specific medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke and cancer can contribute to depression, either directly (through the disease itself) or indirectly (e.g. through the medications and other treatments involved).

There are also important psychosocial factors that need to be considered in older-aged men. Retirement is difficult for many men because they lose meaningful work (an important source of self-esteem), they lose a routine, and they lose a way to organize their lives.

In addition, loss of a spouse/partner can be particularly devastating for men, as a spouse may have played a central role in organizing social networks and connections. As those networks/connections begin to deteriorate, it can result in even further isolation.

How is depression treated in men?

The general consensus is that 80 per cent of people with depression — both men and women — can be treated equally effectively with antidepressant medication, specific active forms of psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioural therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy) or a combination of both types of treatment together.

How can you get help?

If you are feeling depressed, talk to your family doctor. S/he can help you get the help you need.

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Healthy Ways To Get Your Pre-Pregnancy Bod Back

Posted on 05 May 2016 by admin

Dr. Jennifer Pearlman B

Women’s Health, Hormone and Beauty Expert

Your little bundle of joy arrived and surprisingly weighed in at a small fraction of your total pregnancy weight gain. The numbers aren’t adding up and you may — like many moms — begin to wonder if you will ever get your body back after baby.

1. Don’t rush!
Savour the moment! Your little bundle of joy is changing by the minute — but you don’t have to. Don’t be too rushed in transforming back to your pre-pregnancy weight or shape. Just remember it took you nine long months to gain the weight — it can often take as long or longer to shed the pregnancy pounds. Stay the course with patience and determination.

2. Breast is best!

If breast feeding is an option, it is a great way to burn extra energy while bonding and feeding your newborn. Breast feeding consumes more energy than pregnancy and is a great way to help get your body back into shape. The daily caloric burn when exclusively breast feeding is 500 calories, while pregnancy burns 300 calories daily.

3. Make sleep a priority!

Sleeplessness is inevitable in the early post-pregnancy phase and can make it more difficult to lose the extra inches. Lack of sleep has been associated with poor eating habits and weight gain. Even if your nighttime sleep is disrupted, you can try to get some shuteye through out the day when your baby does. Make naps a priority. The stack of dirty dishes and pile of laundry can always wait until later.

4. Take a time out!

Time outs aren’t just for little ones. Parents may find they too need a break — even a brief reprieve from the stress of parenthood. Time outs can help us better cope with stress and keep cortisol levels controlled. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can block our best intentions around weight loss. Keeping stress at bay is good for baby and your body.

5. Get moving early on!

Invest in a good stroller with sturdy rubber wheels and equipped with a large carry basket. Pack a bag with water, diapers, and an on-the-go healthy snack like trail mix and get going!

Vary your walking route and make it purposeful by walking to do your chores with trips to the grocery store or bank. Until your baby is ready for sleep training, usually around four to five months, stroller naps are considered by most experts to be an acceptable option.

6. Rebuild your core
The stretching of the abdominal wall to accommodate a growing baby will temporarily weaken your core. In about 15 per cent of women, the abdominal muscle sheath may split during pregnancy (called a diastasis) leaving a gap through which abdominal contents can bulge or herniate.

With a diastasis present, women must be extra vigilant when starting on an exercise program and are best off avoiding exercises that excessively strain the central core muscles. Oblique curls and planks are preferred and attention must be paid to the pelvic floor.

7. Restore your floor
Further destabilizing a mommy’s middle is the combined impact of pregnancy, labour and delivery on the tone of the inner core — the pelvic floor.

But with proper diagnosis and treatment, it is possible to repair the pelvic floor. Kegel exercises are key to successful recovery. Kegels work best when co-ordinated contractions of the pelvic floor muscles are supported by activation of adjacent muscle groups like the abdominal, gluteal and leg muscles.

There are training devices and specialists that can help you further hone the perfect Kegel. Consider seeing your doctor or a women’s health expert to ensure you have properly diagnosed the problem and what type of pelvic floor rehab is right for you.

8. Eat purposefully
Plan your diet to be rich in plant-derived phytonutrients and healthy sources of protein and fat and low in potentially harmful chemicals like pesticides, added flavouring and colouring chemicals in processed foods. The addition of supplements like vitamin D3 and calcium can help meet the higher needs of breast feeding women.

9. Join a mommy group or class!

New babies and their never ending needs can lead to social isolation. Make an effort to join a new mommy group or sign up for baby programs to meet other new moms. Stroller classes and other post-pregnancy fitness programs can keep you socially connected, fit and help foster baby’s development.

10. Take care of mommy, too!

Don’t skip out on your own health needs and self-care. Take time to visit your doctor to discuss any new problems like; persistent sadness, crying, hair loss, breast or nipple pain, excessive fatigue, bladder difficulties, acne or brown spots, and sexual health problems including pain with intercourse and low libido. These are just some of the many common health concerns that can emerge in a new mom and which can be properly investigated and treated by a doctor.

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Canada’s Youth Win Big With The Federal Budget

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Sharon Wood, President and CEO, Kids Help Phone

Canada’s youth are the biggest winners from federal budget, but not in the way you’d expect. Buried deep inside the budget, well below the commendable financial commitments to First Nations, families and young children, is a potential game-changer for young people — plans to create the first ever Prime Minister’s Youth Council.

This is a momentous opportunity for Canada’s youth — but only if we get it right.

Young people in our country face significant challenges — high unemployment rates, barriers to education and job training, declining physical and mental health, a lack of affordable housing and social programs that often fail them. These problems are multiplied for aboriginal youth.

Canada’s young people face these huge challenges without a unified voice and without a clear plan to take them forward. It’s little wonder youth are often mistakenly characterized as being disengaged and disinterested.

Thankfully, there is widespread support in Canada to listen to youth voices more.

This February, a national Abacus Data survey commissioned by the National Youth Service Agencies (NYSA) — a self-formed group of youth-serving registered charities from across Canada — found that 69 per cent of Canadians support the creation of an advisory council. Their support is not surprising — 67 per cent of respondents also said that young people have too little influence on public policy.

The Prime Minister’s Youth Council offers an opportunity for youth to directly influence decisions at the highest level. It signals to young people in Canada that they do not face these challenges alone. For it to be effective, we need to carefully craft its priorities, its membership, its processes and its supports.

So first things first — who should be on the Youth Council? The first priority must be to involve some youth who do not yet have the right to vote. Engaging and involving young people early encourages them towards civic participation in adulthood and will begin to equip them with the tools they’ll need for their early adult years.

The Council must be diverse and socially inclusive, giving voice to all Canadian youth including the underrepresented populations that are frequently over-represented in every challenge facing youth. Young women, aboriginal youth, LGBTQ2S youth, and young people with lived-experiences of poverty and homelessness, care environments and mental health issues should all have a strong voice on the Youth Council.

What issues should the Youth Council prioritize? When asked in the Abacus Data survey, Canada’s youth aged 18-29 said that youth employment (66 per cent), post-secondary education and job training (63 per cent), mental health (55 per cent) and health care (50 per cent) were the issues the Council should focus on. The Prime Minister’s Office should consult widely with Canada’s youth, key ministerial staff and youth-serving agencies to make a comprehensive mandate and strategic action plan from the Council’s outset.

What supports will Youth Council members have? As a collection of Canada’s most prominent youth serving agencies, we know from experience that each young person is an individual, and each will react differently to their new role. It’s critical that Youth Council members receive ongoing emotional and professional support so they can manage the pressure and scrutiny of their new high-profile roles, such as access to support, media training, and skill-building opportunities.

Today we congratulate the Government for taking a bold and innovative step towards a brighter future for all young people in Canada. Let’s seize this opportunity to create a Youth Council that we can all be proud of.

National Youth Serving Agencies (NYSA) is a self-formed group of youth-serving registered charities from across Canada who reach 5.6 million children and youth. Group members include 4-H Canada, Best Buddies Canada, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Cadets Canada, Canadian Red Cross Society, The Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Frontier College, Girl Guides of Canada, Junior Achievement Canada, Kids Help Phone, Meal Exchange, National Association of Friendship Centres, National Youth in Care Network, Salvation Army, Pathways to Education, Save the Children, Scouts Canada, St. John Ambulance, The Navy League of Canada, The Students Commission of Canada, The United Nations Association in Canada, YMCA Canada, YOUCAN! and YWCA Canada.

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Effective moves to deal with flabby arms

Posted on 11 February 2016 by admin

Now you are one of those, one with the slender waist, yet are too embarrassed to get into a sleeveless outfit because you are embarrassed of your jiggly arms. It’s that upper arm flesh, which makes us think twice even when wearing short leaves. But you don’t have to live with those bat wings, sweat it out at the gym, or at home, and you are good to go.

But to get those well- sculpted arms, you need to work to reduce that flab from the back of your arms. For that, you need to include reg- ular cardio workouts such as swimming, running, brisk walking, cycling in your workout regime, eat a healthy, balanced diet, give up processed, sugary food (cakes, biscuits, bread) for lean protein and good fats (chicken, lentils and dairy products), which will help your body build more muscle, and get at least six hours of sleep.

Aside of giving you a leaner silhouette, building muscle in your upper arms and shoulders helps you stand taller, so your posture im- proves. Arm strength is good for performances in activities from swimming to yoga.


Hold a weight in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.» The palms of your hands should be facing forwards.» Bend your elbows, bringing your lower arms up towards your shoulders.» Lower your arms slowly back and with control to the starting position.


Stand with your knees slightly bent, a free weight in each hand.» Keeping your back flat, bend forward at the hips, lift both arms to the sides until they are parallel to the floor, squeezing your shoulder blades as you lift and main taining a slight bend in your elbows.» Count to one, then slow down. Do 10 reps.


Sit tall in a chair or stand with feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold a weight in each hand and ex- tend your arms straight out in front of you, chest height, slightly wider than your » Bring your arms slightly for- ward, upward, and then back- ward, making 12 inch circles with your arms.

» Repeat the circle movement twelve times and then reverse the motion by going backward, upward, and the forward. Repeat that motion 10 times.


Lying on your back on a bench, extend your arms overhead with a free weight in each hand » Bend your el- bows so your forearms are parallel to the floor. Slowly lengthen both arms at once, ex tending as high as you can. Count to one, then slow down. Do 10 reps.


Sit on a chair or bench. With your arms straightened, place your hands on the chair bench next to your butt.» Ex- tend your legs straight out in front of you. Now, lift your bottom off the bench. This is your starting position.


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The race to find ‘biomarkers’ that can predict dementia

Posted on 26 November 2015 by admin

In a laboratory on the south side of town one August afternoon, a man names animals as he paces down a walkway: Aardvark. Bear. Camel. Dog. Giraffe. That same afternoon in a lab on the north side of town, a graduate student is poring over data generated by a rare seven-tesla MRI. The brain imaging machine is the most powerful of its kind in Canada, and one of fewer than 60 in the world.

The south-side lab belongs to Manuel Montero Odasso, a geriatrician who studies gait and mobility. The north-side lab belongs to Robert Bartha, a physicist who works with cutting-edge imaging technology. But both researchers — and countless others around the world — are in pursuit of the same thing: dementia “biomarkers,” bodily clues that could predict the existence of the brain disorder years before its worst symptoms take hold.

That two scientists in the same city could be taking such divergent approaches speaks to the sheer challenge involved. Dementia affects nearly 50 million people worldwide, yet there is no single positive-or-negative test for it, only a combination of exams that support a diagnosis.

Biomarker research could provide more certainty for patients. But it could also bring more grief: should doctors tell patients their minds will one day unravel if there is no treatment? Decades of drug trials have failed to cure the disease.

“If tomorrow I could diagnose someone with Alzheimer’s disease five years before they got the symptoms, that would be a huge victory for us in terms of diagnosis. But the bottom line is we don’t have an effective treatment,” says Bartha.

Yet many researchers also believe that the best hope for a dementia drug is to intervene before memory problems become apparent. By the time symptoms are obvious, the brain is already ravaged. To peer inside the brain earlier — figuratively or literally — we need biomarkers.

“Maybe if you give (treatment) before the symptoms are full blown and the brain is already deteriorated, you’ll be able to postpone the disease significantly or change the course altogether,” says Bartha. “So having that biomarker that identifies people early is critical to defining new drugs and evaluating whether or not they’re going to be effective.”

Tim Costello, the 72-year-old man listing animals as he walks, is part of a study led by Montero Odasso that has been running since 2007 at London’s Parkwood Institute, involving 150 participants. The subjects, who have mild cognitive impairment — a diagnosis that sometimes leads to full-blown Alzheimer’s and sometimes doesn’t — return to the lab every six months to repeat the same series of tests.

They walk down a sensor-filled pathway as they undertake a series of cognitively demanding tasks. They count backwards from 100 by ones, and then by sevens. They list as many animals as they can. They balance on a platform. A computer records tiny variances in their gait and balance.

Normal adults slow down if they attempt cognitively demanding tasks while walking. But Montero Odasso has found that patients with cognitive impairment slow down more, and their gait becomes more uneven. If a simple walking test could predict who among the cognitively impaired will advance to more serious dementia, it would have immediate benefits — especially because other targets for biomarker research, such as spinal fluid, are invasive or expensive to obtain.

With gait analysis, “You can do it any time, anyplace,” says Montero Odasso, who is also a clinician-scientist at Western University.

The research also raises fascinating questions about our species, since bipedalism and brain expansion were both crucial adaptations in the evolution of Homo sapiens. In fact, many believe they were linked: that walking upright was necessary to develop bigger, more sophisticated brains. Other mammals, such as cats, can walk in a straight line even without a functioning cortex. But in humans, important aspects of cognition like attention and memory share the same brain circuits that control gait and navigation.

In Bartha’s lab at Western University’s Robarts Research Institute, multiple experiments are underway. But perhaps the most exciting is a collaboration among biophysicists, cell biologists, chemists and others at the multidisciplinary institute: the team is trying to develop injectable chemical tracers that would cling to early imbalances in the dementia-damaged brain and light up under an MRI scan.

 “They would kind of hunt out and stick to pathological changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Bartha. “It’s not something we’re actually doing in people yet — we’re still in the animal phase of testing — but it’s really a neat idea, and I think that’s the big future for imaging.”

Researchers already use a type of imager known as PET to scan for abnormal brain proteins linked to dementia, but in the context of clinical trials and other research — not as a diagnostic tool. PET systems are also rare, requiring long waits.

“In terms of getting this out to people, they wouldn’t have to wait a year or two for a scan. MRI is much more accessible, and it’s much cheaper than PET,” says Bartha. MRI is also a more flexible tool. “We can take really nice pictures, but we can also look at how the brain is functioning; we can do a memory test while someone is in the scanner.”

Montero Odasso and Bartha both see their own approach as the future. But they do not see themselves in competition: in fact, the participants in Montero Odasso’s trial undergo MRIs in Bartha’s lab, and both lead teams in the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, a massive research network that aims to promote collaboration among top scientists and lead to transformative results.

Biomarkers: where else are researchers looking?

 Saliva: University of Alberta research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in July showed that in a small sample of diseased and non-diseased patients, those with dementia had different patterns of certain substances that are the byproducts of metabolism. The evidence is very preliminary, but presents a tantalizing opportunity if it can be validated, because saliva is so easy to obtain.

 Cerebrospinal fluid: Research has suggested that those with dementia have different levels of amyloid and tau, two abnormal proteins linked to Alzheimer’s, in their cerebrospinal fluid, the clear fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord. Other proteins indicative of damage to the brain’s synapses, such as one called neurogranin, are also being probed.

 Blood: Researchers are also investigating whether abnormal levels of proteins can be detected in blood — a bodily fluid that is much easier to obtain and much more cost-effective, but still more invasive than other techniques.

 Eye: Researchers with the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative are investigating eye movement as a potential biomarker, since some patterns, such as jumping between objects passing by a car window, are linked to the brain’s frontal lobe, where early damage occurs in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The researchers are also examining how nerve fibres and blood vessels change over time in the eyes of dementia patients. Research elsewhere has suggested that amyloid and tau can be detected in dementia sufferer’s eye lenses.

 Brain: Since dementia is a neurodegenerative disorder, naturally, researchers are investigating many different biomarkers in the brain, including the presence of inflammation, evidence of altered proteins and simple brain size.

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