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Healthy Snacking

When we hear the term “snacking”, most of us think it’s something we have to stay far away from if we want to lose weight. However, with the right food choices, snacking can actually be healthy and still be something you can enjoy.

The holiday season is generally the year where food consumption hits an all-time high in Canada and the United States. From chocolate, to fruitcake, to chips and dips, the holidays can be a tempting time to overindulge in things we wouldn’t normally find ourselves eating on a regular basis. By eating things like potato chips, chocolate, and other sugary foods, you’re not actually getting any essential nutrients. For example, proteins, vitamins and minerals – all of which are required for good health. When it comes to the holiday season (and every other time of year, for that matter), Dr. Ali Ghahary wants patients to make sure they’re always making healthy snack choices.

If you’re following a strict diet – for example, a low-carb diet – then you’ll have to pay close attention to the snacks you choose to consume. Many low-carb snacks require little to no preparation. Eggs are a great low-carb option as they’re high in protein, vitamins and minerals. They can also make you feel more full, and that means you’ll be less likely to consume more calories throughout the day. If you’re inclined to eat potato chips, replace them with raw vegetables; celery, carrots, broccoli, peppers, etc. For some extra flavour, make your own low-calorie ranch dip. You can find many easy-to-follow recipes on Pinterest. However, if you’re more of a sweet than savoury fan, instead of eating cake and chocolate, replace them with things like fruits (strawberries, grapes, bananas, prunes) and yogurt. Pizza can even be low-carb, and its’ crust can actually be made with cauliflower instead of dough.

There are many healthy meal and snack options out there, it’s just a matter of finding the right ones and making sure it’s something you like.

For more tips on healthy eating, including what to do if you’re diabetic, click here. You can also find plenty of resources by visiting the Dietitians of Canada website at dietitians.ca.

Finding Relief for Heartburn

Heartburn is a very common term that you’re guaranteed to have heard before. But what is it, what causes it, and how did it get that strange name?

Well, despite its’ name, heartburn doesn’t actually have anything to do with the heart itself, so you can rest assured in knowing that it’s not a life-threatening condition. Heartburn got its’ name due to the fact that it is often described as a burning sensation in the vicinity in which the heart is located.

In many cases, heartburn occurs when a problem arises with the muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter. The lower esophageal sphincter is responsible for keeping acid in your stomach. For example, when you eat food, it opens to allow the food into your stomach, but then it closes again. This means the valve is working as it should. However, if the lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t close tight enough or tends to open too often, this can allow stomach acid to move into the esophagus, which causes that burning sensation that Dr. Ali Ghahary mentioned previously.

There are many different scenarios that can result in the malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter. A common scenario is overeating. It can also be the result of obesity, constipation, or even pregnancy. Sometimes heartburn is also caused by certain trigger-foods, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit), onions, garlic, peppermint, chocolate, coffee and alcohol. These foods can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to become relaxed and lead to an increase in stomach acid. Other contributing factors to heartburn include smoking, stress, and a lack of sleep.

For many people, heartburn is not an everyday occurrence. However, there are some individuals who may suffer from chronic heartburn, and if left untreated it can lead to complications such as damage to the esophagus, an increased risk of esophageal cancer, and even tooth decay.

To avoid heartburn, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends avoiding any known triggers. It’s also important that you not go to bed immediately after eating. Allow your stomach at least 3 hours to digest the food that you’ve consumed before lying down. Maintaining a healthy weight can also decrease your risk of chronic episodes of heartburn. Along with these and other lifestyle changes, patients may also require medication. Dr. Ali Ghahary generally recommends taking some kind of antacid (such as Tums) for quick relief. If your heartburn is more severe and you find that there is an increase in stomach acid, you may require a prescription for an H2 blocker or Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI).

What is ALS?

Approximately 3,000 Canadians are currently living with ALS.

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a condition that gradually causes the body to become paralyzed when the brain loses its ability to communicate with the muscles in our body.

The brain contains millions of nerve cells known as motor neurons, and these motor neurons serve as internal wiring for our body that allow us to move. With ALS, these motor neurons eventually break down and die, resulting in muscle weakness – and paralysis. As the disease progresses, you can also lose the ability to talk, eat, swallow, walk, and even breathe.

There are two types of ALS: Sporadic and Familial.

Sporadic ALS, which consists of approximately 90 to 95 percent of all ALS cases, and is the most common form of ALS to be diagnosed with. Sporadic ALS can affect anyone regardless of their age, ethnicity or gender, though it typically affects individuals between 40 and 50 years of age. Familial ALS is less common and accounts for just 5 to 10 percent of ALS cases, and is inherited from one or both parents. Individuals who are carriers of familial ALS have a 50% chance of passing the disease onto their child.

Symptoms of ALS vary from person-to-person. Potential early signs and symptoms of ALS include slurred speech, tripping or dropping things, decreased muscle tone, muscle cramping, decreased or increased reflexes, trouble swallowing, weakness and fatigue. Pain, while not a common symptom of ALS, can also be experienced. As ALS progresses, these symptoms will worsen. You may also have trouble forming words, cough or choke when eating or drinking, and have trouble breathing. As many as 30 to 50 percent of those with ALS will also develop cognitive changes, such as altered mood or changes in their personality, how they think, and other unusual behaviours.

Because symptoms of ALS can mimic other diseases – especially in an early stage, diagnosing ALS, at least initially, can be difficult. Blood and urinalysis’, nerve conduction and muscle function tests, as well as magnetic resonance imaging can all be helpful in diagnosing ALS.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with ALS, click here for resources and information on how to cope with such a diagnosis. You can also find more information by following Dr. Ali Ghahary on Instagram.

How to Handle Stress and Anxiety

Stress is something that affects thousands of Canadians day in and day out.

When we become stressed or anxious the nervous system releases chemicals that send alarm signals throughout the body, which then trigger an instinctive response known as “fight or flight.” When that fight or flight response is triggered, it means the brain perceives something as a threat. How you choose to handle that stress and anxiety, however, is crucial to your well-being, as if left unmanaged, it can lead to more severe mental health problems, such as depression.

If you’ve ever had a deadline to meet for school or work, have gone on a first date, or don’t know what you’re going to cook for a large dinner party you’re hosting, then you know exactly how stress and anxiety feel. Along with work and school stressors, sometimes even the most positive of events can cause one to feel stressed or anxious – such as the birth of a baby or planning a wedding. Certain physical environments, such as unsafe living conditions, noise and traffic can also cause stress and anxiety.

Women are more likely to be affected by stress and anxiety than men. For women, the most common stressors include time constraints and family matters, while men say they feel more stressed and anxious with work and financial matters. Older adults are also at a much higher risk of struggling with stress and anxiety due to changes with their health. Levels of stress and anxiety are also at an increased high in today’s youth with having to balance school, activities, and friendships.

Along with affecting your mood, stress and anxiety can also impact the body. For example, you can develop muscle tension and pain, rapid heartbeat, upset stomach, diarrhea, fatigue and headaches. It’s also not uncommon for people dealing with extreme stress and anxiety to turn to alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and abuse drugs.

Because stress and anxiety affect everyone differently, Dr. Ali Ghahary says it’s important for patients to identify triggers and find ways to cope. Sometimes coping with stress and anxiety can be as simple as writing down what you’re feeling stressed or anxious about, including writing a list of goals and solutions. Self-care, such as yoga and meditation can also help relax the mind. Other times, you may simply need to vent. For children and teens, many schools offer free counselling services. There are also private counselling services available throughout Vancouver, and it may also be possible for your doctor to refer you to a psychiatrist.

Dr. Ali Ghahary has compiled together a list of information and community resources on mental health, which can be found by clicking here.

Common Causes of Constipation

Constipation is a common condition that affects thousands of patients. When you have constipation, this means that there is an inability to pass stools on a regular basis or you are unable to empty your bowels completely.

With constipation your stools can appear abnormal in size and/or be harder than usual. You may also notice symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and loss of appetite.

There are two types of constipation that exist: Acute and chronic.

Acute constipation often comes on quickly and can be the result of many factors, including certain medications (such as antidepressants, iron supplements, antacids, and opioids), a blockage in the bowels, being dehydrated, as well as a lack of physical activity. Acute constipation is also quite common in women who are pregnant.

Chronic constipation, which is more common, is often the result of having a poor or unhealthy diet. It is especially common in younger children, as they tend to ignore the urge to use the toilet. Chronic constipation can also be caused by other diseases such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), rectal or colon cancer, diabetes, kidney failure and hypothyroidism.

To relieve constipation, many individuals will turn to laxatives. While these can certainly provide quick relief from constipation, laxative overuse can eventually cause the bowels to become dependent on them, making the bowels feel as though there is less of a need to eliminate feces, and ultimately results in chronic constipation.

There are other medical ways in which constipation can be treated, although it is often simply a matter of making certain changes to your lifestyle. Physical activity can often help to stimulate the bowels, so it’s important to get regular exercise. You should also drink 8 glasses of water each day and increase your fibre intake by as much as 25g per day. Some great examples of fibre include whole grains (such as flaxseeds), fruits and vegetables.

If you have chronic constipation and find you’re not getting relief even after having made necessary lifestyle changes, you should book an appointment with your family physician as soon as possible.

Pancreatic Cancer

As many as 5,000 Canadians (and 50,000 Americans) are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.

Pancreatic cancer is considered to be one of the most deadly forms of cancer to be diagnosed with, as symptoms of pancreatic cancer typically do not present themselves until the cancer is already in a late stage and has spread to other parts of the body by the time it is diagnosed. In 25% of pancreatic cancer cases, it has not yet spread, but remains inoperable. As an inoperable cancer, it cannot be treated but can be controlled with cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation.

While the mortality rates of pancreatic cancer have certainly decreased over the years, it’s still considered to be a predominantly incurable cancer, with as many as 70% of pancreatic cancer cases still leading to death.

Given the location of the pancreas, which sits in front of the spine and deep in the abdomen, it can be a very difficult cancer to treat. Once pancreatic cancer has metastasized, symptoms one may experience include severe abdominal pain (that often radiates into the back), skin discolouration (also known as jaundice), fatigue, lack of appetite, and unintended weight loss. Individuals with pancreatic cancer may also develop an onset of other health issues including blood clots, diabetes, and depression.

To accurately diagnose pancreatic cancer, Dr. Ali Ghahary will send patients for a series of tests – including blood tests and medical imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound. If certain proteins are elevated in your blood, this may be an indicator of pancreatic cancer. You may also be required to have a biopsy so that cells and tissues can be tested. If pancreatic cancer is confirmed, Dr. Ali Ghahary will refer patients to a specialist known as an oncologist. Oncologists are responsible for continuing the care of cancer patients as well as coming up with treatment plans.

In order to avoid pancreatic cancer, there are certain measures you can take. If you are a smoker, you should be aware that this is one of the leading causes of pancreatic cancer. By quitting smoking you not only reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, but also improve your overall health. Dr. Ali Ghahary shares tips on how to quit smoking as well as how to break other bad habits here. While cancer can affect anyone, individuals who are obese have a higher risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, so it is important that you maintain a healthy weight. If you are struggling with your weight and/or looking to improve your diet, you can always talk to Dr. Ali Ghahary for advice. He practices at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, and is available to see patients on a walk-in basis. You can find his full walk-in schedule and clinic hours here. Lastly, avoid alcohol. Excessive alcohol can lead to cirrhosis, which is a degenerative disease of the liver, and can also lead to pancreatic cancer.

For more information on this and other cancers, visit the BC Cancer Agency website at www.bccancer.bc.ca

How to Break Those Unhealthy Habits

We’re all guilty of having a few bad habits every now and then – it’s inevitable – but what happens when those bad habits become detrimental to your health?

In this article, Dr. Ali Ghahary outlines some of the most common bad habits, how they can impact your health, and what you can do to break them once and for all.

Nail Biting
We all know someone who is a nail biter or have been guilty of it ourselves. Not only is it one of the most common bad habits – it’s an unhealthy one, at that. For example, biting your nails can lead to paronychia – an infection that occurs around the finger nails and causes pain, redness and swelling. Being a nail biter also increases your risk of catching a cold or the flu – especially if you don’t wash your hands frequently.

There are many factors that contribute to nail biting. Stress and anxiety, for example, is a common cause, and can lead to compulsive nail biting. In order to stop nail biting, it’s important that you determine what the underlying issue is and treat it. If mental health is a contributing factor, then cognitive behavioural therapy may be beneficial. If you are struggling with a serious mental illness, such as depression, you may need to be prescribed medications.

Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is considered to be a highly addictive substance. When you inhale cigarette smoke, it travels to the brain and provides you with a temporary feeling of stress relief and relaxation, and that is a feeling you will often want more of, which is how it ultimately turns into a habit – and it can be a difficult one to break.

While some of today’s younger generation might think smoking looks cool and sophisticated, it’s anything but. Tobacco use can have a severe impact on your health. Not only does it smell bad, but it can age your appearance, and can lead to other health problems such as COPD and even cancer.

Readers can find some helpful tips on how to quit smoking in Dr. Ali Ghahary’s article on smoking cessation at Medium.com.

Eating Fast Food
After a long day at work or a grueling day at school full of lectures and quizzes, the last thing most of us want to do is go home to cook dinner. Instead, we’ll head to the nearest drive-through and order a juicy burger and some greasy French fries. While it’s not recommended, you can still indulge in a burger and fries once in a blue moon. That being said, eating fast food can quickly become habit-forming due to how easy it is to get.

If you eat fast food on a regular basis, you’re at risk of gaining weight, which can lead to obesity, as well as cardiovascular problems. So while you may not want to cook, your health will be better off for it.

For ideas on how to eat healthy including tips on meal-prepping, click here.

The bad habits mentioned above are just a few from a much longer list, including lack of exercise, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, emotional shopping, and trichotillomania (pulling out your hair.) Remember, many of these bad habits often occur as a result of an underlying problem, so it’s important to speak with your family physician about anything that might be bothering you. Sometimes getting to the root of the problem can be simple, and you can even notice some immediate (positive) results once you start to break those bad habits.

What is Angina?

Angina occurs as a result of the heart not getting enough blood, which manifests in symptoms such as chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness. Some patients with angina may also experience belching, as well as anxiety.

There are two different classifications of angina: Stable angina and unstable angina. Stable angina is often brought on by physical activity, such as exercise or climbing a flight of stairs, and even stress. Even something as simple as a bout of laughter can trigger an angina attack. With stable angina, symptoms tend to last for a few minutes but will ease once the patient rests and the heart rate begins to slow. With unstable angina, there are no specific triggers. Despite rest, symptoms can persist and may last as long as 30 minutes in duration. Unstable angina can also lead to a heart attack and is considered a medical emergency.

To diagnose angina, Dr. Ali Ghahary asks in-depth questions about a patient’s medical history, including whether or not there is a family history of angina or any other heart-related disease. Things such as high cholesterol as well as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption also put you at risk of developing angina – so you may need to make certain lifestyle and habit changes to reduce that risk. As anemia can also be a risk factor for angina, Dr. Ali Ghahary may send patients for blood tests. You may also be referred for an electrocardiogram, echocardiography, and an exercise tolerance test to further assess cardiac function and the electrical activity of your heart. These tests are painless and do not take long to perform. A more invasive test, known as a coronary angiography, is done by inserting a tiny catheter into a vein or artery. A dye is then injected into the catheter to provide better views of the coronary arteries and show any blockages. As this test is considered a surgical procedure, you may be required to stay in hospital for a day. As angina can mimic other medical conditions such as acid reflux, muscle pain, pleuritis and gallstones, it is important for physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary to be able to rule those out as well.

To reduce your risk of angina, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends avoiding any known triggers. Making lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight can also be beneficial to your health in many ways. For more tips on how angina can be prevented, visit the Heart and Stroke Fdn. Of Canada website at heartandstroke.ca.

Controlling Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found in the blood and is separated into two different categories: LDL, also known as low-density lipoprotein, and HDL, also known as high-density lipoprotein. Having too much LDL cholesterol is unhealthy – it can form plaque on the walls of your arteries and stop blood flow to the heart and brain, therefore it is considered the “bad” type of cholesterol, while HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol as it is protective and removes excess cholesterol from the body.

Dr. Ali Ghahary suggests getting your cholesterol tested if you are a male over the age of 40, a man over the age of 50, have high blood pressure, diabetes, are a smoker, or have a family history of heart disease or stroke.

In order to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends making some necessary lifestyle changes. First and foremost, eat healthy. Foods such as fatty meats, full-fat milk, butter, hydrogenated margarine, eggs, baked goods, cookies, packaged crackers and deep-fried foods all contain saturated fats and trans-fats, which are increase cholesterol levels. Instead, choose lean meat, low-fat dairy products, and monosaturated fats (i.e. olive oil and canola oil). You should also increase your intake of soluble fibres, which includes fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, oats and oat bran. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are also great for increasing the “good” cholesterol in your system, in addition to having other health benefits such as reducing blood pressure. A few examples of foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include nuts (almonds and walnuts), flax seeds, mackerel and salmon.

Along with healthy eating, Dr. Ali Ghahary also encourages patients to stay fit, as getting regular exercise can also improve your cholesterol. While some people think that you need to have long, strenuous workouts in order to stay healthy, that’s just a myth. As little as 30 minutes of exercise each day can have major benefits for your health. It can be something as simple as going for a short walk, riding your bicycle to work (instead of driving!), playing sports, or swimming. There are also fun exercise classes that you can join, which are offered at many community centres throughout Vancouver. You can find some of these by visiting Dr. Ali Ghahary’s Community page. It may also be helpful to find a friend to stay fit with, as this can often help individuals to stay motivated.

In some cases, diet and exercise may not always be enough to keep your cholesterol levels where they should be, and your doctor may need to prescribe you with a cholesterol-lowering medication.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

Nutrition is an important aspect of your overall health. Without good nutrition, you put yourself at risk of developing a series of health problems. When it comes to nutrition and mental health, eating disorders can also occur – for example, bulimia and anorexia – which often co-occur together with mental illness’ such as anxiety, depression and OCD.

Individuals who suffer from these and other types of eating disorders often have negative thoughts about body image. Some of this, as mentioned, is due to mental illness, while things we see in the media – i.e. entertainment magazines, award shows, etc. – can also distort how we think and feel about body image and what the “perfect” body should look like. The way body image is portrayed in the media can often have a negative effect on individuals – especially young women; although men can develop eating disorders, too.

If weight is someone’s primary focus in life, this is an indicator that they may be struggling with an eating disorder or at risk of developing an eating disorder. They will often be preoccupied with what they eat, how much they eat, how many calories they consume, how much they exercise, and what they weigh. Someone with an eating disorder may also be secretive and/or lie about what they eat or feel guilty when they do eat.

The most common eating disorder is anorexia – which occurs as a result of food avoidance. Individuals with anorexia will often appear thin and gaunt. As a result of long-term anorexia, the body goes into starvation mode, which can lead to things like low blood pressure, decreased body temperature, and irregular menstrual cycles. Anorexia can also be fatal. On the contrary, bulimia is another type of eating disorder; though unlike anorexia individuals with bulimia will generally have a repeat pattern of binge eating, followed by vigorous exercise, binge eating, more exercise, and so forth. Because of this pattern, bulimia is often easier to hide from others in comparison to anorexia. However, there are some signs to watch for which include acid reflux, sore throat, dental problems, and dehydration due to vomiting – as individuals with bulimia will also purge their food. Bulimia can cause complications such as gastric ruptures and cardiac problems, which can also be fatal.

As mentioned, eating disorders are generally a sign that there is some type of a underlying issue going on with the patient – such as a psychological disturbance. A psychological disturbance could be anything from depression and anxiety, to trauma. In order to treat the eating disorder, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician from Vancouver, says it’s crucial to treat the underlying problem. In some cases individuals may need to be prescribed medication, be referred to outpatient counselling, as well as be referred to a dietitian or nutritionist to help them regain healthy eating habits.