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Senior Health – It’s Never Too Late to Feel Better May 30, 2016

Posted by Dr. Adam McLeod, ND in best vancouver naturopath, Healing, Health, senior health.
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Written by: Dr. Reuben Dinsmore
At each stage of life, we face different health challenges. From the special care and diet for infants to staying healthy on the go for working adults, our health is always a changing landscape. But the stage of life that is becoming more and more important, health-wise? The senior years.
People are living longer than ever nowadays. Our average life expectancy in Canada is now 82.4 years, an increase of 5 years just since 1986. Advances in medicine play a big part in this improvement – however, just because we’re living longer, are we still living well?

As we enter our sixties, all the aches and pains that have been visiting once in a while suddenly seem like they’re always there. We might get tired more easily, and not recover as quickly from exertion. Our digestion rebels a bit more often than it used to. Our medicine cabinet starts to look a pharmacy; (actually, it kind of looks like our parents’ medicine cabinet).

So what is it about getting older that ages us so much? And is this process absolutely unavoidable? Let’s look at how aging affects different body systems and what we can do to diminish it.

Caution: many natural supplements can interact with prescription medications in various ways. Some supplements can reduce the effectiveness of drugs, and some can actually increase the effectiveness of a medication. Although this might sound like a positive thing, your dose has been carefully selected by your doctor to maintain a certain therapeutic level in the body – a higher level can be harmful. If you are currently taking any prescribed medications, please speak to a health care practitioner who is well-trained in the safety and use of supplements and medications before starting to take anything new.

Energy

You’re not as young as you used to be, but there’s no reason you can’t feel like you are. You all know that one woman, maybe a neighbor or relative, who always seems to have lots of energy. What’s her secret? How can you have the energy to keep up with your grandkids, or just keep up with your own busy life?

The basic formula for more energy – get more, and lose less. Getting more involves a proper diet (including sufficient water) along with good digestion, to maximize the energy received from your food.  Also important is getting enough quality sleep. And how to minimize energy lost? Chronic pain, repeated minor infections, mental and emotional stress – these are all insidious drains on your energy that can leave you feeling wiped out at the end of the day. For an extra boost – Vitamin B12 (along with other B vitamins) is used to produce glucose – the main fuel for the body – from the food we eat. And CoQ10 then helps the mitochondria in your cells turn that glucose into energy.

Skin & hair

Mark Twain said “Wrinkles indicate where smiles have been”. One of the things that contribute to wrinkles are facial muscles flexing in emotional expressions – joy, sadness, anger, excitement – the colours of life that make it worth living.

However, a few other things contribute too, and these are worth controlling. If you smoke, quit! It’s the worst cause of premature aging, both skin deep and throughout the body. Skin structure depends on collagen integrity, and vitamin C and hyaluronic acid are two things that go a long way to maintaining younger looking skin. As well, make sure you get your beauty sleep – it’s not just a phrase, it’s a real thing. And there are even supplements out there that claim to reverse greying by targeting the decreasing levels of the catalase enzyme (that normally prevents the greying of your hair by getting rid of naturally-occurring hydrogen peroxide. The SOD enzyme (superoxide dismutase) also helps prevent that by decreasing oxidative damage from free radical molecules (research indicates it might also be partly responsible for hair falling out). And a bonus – controlling free radicals benefits your health in a lot of other ways.

Bones, Joints and Muscles. 

In general, pain is thought of as a sign of inflammation. So it makes sense that controlling inflammation will help with many of those aches and pains. Focus on foods rich in anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Using spices such as cinnamon and turmeric also help. Even more potent are supplements that provide a concentrated form of these foods, like fish oils (for omega-3s) and curcumin (the active component of turmeric).

Long-term suggestions would concentrate on supporting the general health of your bones and the connective tissues that hold your joints together. Having a diet high in calcium-rich fruits and vegetables is much more beneficial than getting your calcium from dairy sources, which can affect the pH level in the body in such a way that it might actually be harmful for bone health. Vitamin C is integral to the health of ligaments and tendons. And we can’t forget the role that exercise plays – regular, moderate exercise that includes a mixture of cardiovascular and weight-bearing will give you the most health benefits overall. For reducing chronic pain from conditions such as osteoarthritis, acupuncture can be very effective.

Cognition – “Use it or Lose it”

Modern medicine has made incredible breakthroughs that can keep our bodies alive longer, but it lags behind in supporting our cognitive health. And how else will you know if you’re actually enjoying your golden years or not?

Studies have shown that the idea of “use it or lose it” definitely applies to your mind, so keeping mentally active is a great idea. Puzzles such as crosswords, Sudoku, or playing challenging games like chess or bridge are a great way to stay busy and keep healthy. Nutrition is certainly important – nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA), CoQ10 and vitamin E. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for cognitive decline. Finally, certain medications have recently been associated with a higher risk of developing dementia – for example, long-term use of proton-pump inhibitors (a common class of antacid drugs used to treat heartburn and ulcers). Finally, many other medications can cause symptoms of dementia that will often disappear when the medication is discontinued.

Quite recently there has been some extremely exciting work coming from the American functional medicine community (“functional medicine” is what medical doctors call it when they practice like medically-focused naturopathic doctors). One clinical study significantly reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in multiple patients using a carefully-designed protocol that included monitoring certain lab values and optimizing health targets primarily using natural supplements and other interventions.

Sleep

A common misconception is that people need less sleep as they get older. Closer to the truth would be that it’s just harder to get the same duration and quality of sleep. Melatonin production decreases with age (this is the hormone that helps us fall asleep). Joint aches and muscle pains can keep you from finding a comfortable sleeping position (as we saw earlier in this article). And many find they have to get up to urinate more often during the night. Finally, snoring is more common as people age – a variety of factors contribute to this, including increased weight and weakening of the muscles in the throat.

What can you do? A melatonin supplement is cheap, safe, and often very effective. Most come in a standard 3 mg dose; if you find you’re groggy the following morning, try a half dose. Limit your fluid intake later in the day, especially anything containing caffeine or alcohol. If you’re on a diuretic medication for high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about moving your dose earlier in the day (and keep reading to find out how to quit your medication altogether). And maintain a healthy weight – this benefits you in lots of ways other than just sleep. If it’s your partner who snores, get a good pair of earplugs, or consider sleeping in another bedroom if it’s really bad.

Digestion

Let’s start at the beginning – in the mouth. A diminished sense of taste and smell is a common complaint among seniors. This can result in what is called the “tea and toast” diet – food doesn’t taste as good, making it less enjoyable to eat, and so you might be tempted to just go with what’s easy. Unfortunately, this limited diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies – one of which (zinc) might have been the cause of the loss of taste and smell in the first place. Another factor – dental work. Dentures might make it harder to enjoy some of the foods you used to love, including the fresh fruits and vegetables that are so integral to a balanced diet. A popular and easy fix? Smoothies – all your favourites blended up together in an easy-to-swallow meal. Just watch the sugar content.

Next up, we come to the esophagus and stomach, the source of heartburn. Too many people take antacids for this common problem – only thing is, most of the time heartburn isn’t caused by elevated stomach acid, but rather low stomach acid, which means the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus isn’t closing properly. This allows acid from the stomach to contact this sensitive tissue, resulting in that familiar burning sensation. Stomach acid production naturally declines with age, so give it a boost with some digestive bitters just before any larger meals – especially ones containing protein.

Finally – the intestines. Your small intestines continue the digestion process, and carry out most of the nutrient absorption. Healthy levels of beneficial bacteria are vital for this, which come from cultured foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and more exotic drinks like kombucha and kefir. If that sounds too complicated, just pop a probiotic pill – look for a mix of bacterial strains and a number in the billions. Almost to the end is the large intestine. Problems here include gas and bloating, and the dreaded constipation. Gas usually results from food that hasn’t been properly digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Constipation can generally be fixed by drinking enough water and having plenty of fiber in your diet. If you’re concerned, take a fiber supplement. Psyllium is the fiber in brands like Metamucil, only without the artificial colours, flavours and sugars.

Cardiovascular Issues

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, in 2012, one person died every 7 minutes of heart attack or stroke. And up to 80% of premature cardiovascular disease is considered to be preventable with simple lifestyle changes.

One of the most recent health myths to fall is cholesterol. For years, cholesterol was the devil, to the point where statins (the class of drugs to lower cholesterol) became the most-prescribed class of drugs in North America. And while it’s true that having elevated cholesterol can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease – that’s only when there’s inflammation present. Without inflammation, cholesterol acts only as the precursor for making certain hormones. But if there’s inflammation in the blood vessels, your body uses cholesterol to plaster over the damage as a quick fix. The more layers that are applied, the more it blocks your arteries, eventually leading to heart attacks and angina – yet another reason to control inflammation.

High blood pressure is pretty much ubiquitous among seniors. In the 60 to 79-year-old group, 52% of people have a diagnosis of hypertension (compared to 22% in the 40 to 59-year-old group). Lifestyle changes including a healthy diet, regular exercise and meditation can be very effective at controlling blood pressure. Add to that supplements like garlic, magnesium, and CoQ10, and you can certainly reduce your blood pressure medications, or possibly even quit them altogether.

Immune System

This is another system that just naturally decreases with age, for a few reasons we already talked about. That low stomach acid that gives you heartburn? It also means that your first line of defense for bacteria and parasites could be compromised. That tea and toast diet? Not the optimal nutrition that your immune system needs. And the lack of sleep only makes it worse. The last thing to consider is stress – which has a huge negative effect on the health of your immune system. It’s never too late to learn how to really deal with your stress (instead of just pushing it down and pretending it doesn’t exist – more on that below).

But general immune support involves getting your vitamin D levels checked and supplementing if necessary; using proven immune boosters such as astragalus or medicinal mushrooms; or for minor acute illnesses like a cold or the flu, herbs like Andrographis and Echinacea and minerals such as zinc and selenium can get you back on your feet sooner.

Mood

After statins, anti-depressants are the second-most prescribed class of drug in North America. And according to some experts, they’re also the drugs that are the most-often wrongly prescribed. When a neurotransmitter imbalance is at the root of those symptoms of depression, then anti-depressants can be a lifesaver.

But what about when depression is secondary to other things? Stress over health concerns or financial problems, loneliness following the death of a partner or lifelong friend, nutritional deficiencies from a poor diet, decreased activity level, or even having less sex – these are all things that can cause symptoms of depression. And in most of these cases, an anti-depressant will have a minimal effect, if any at all. But adaptogenic herbs and B-vitamins help your adrenal glands cope with chronic stress. And meditation is easily the most ignored yet most effective self-care for stress. Other things to rule out – low hormone levels such as thyroid, testosterone, estrogen or progesterone.

Men’s Health

Two problems are just for the men who are reading – prostate issues and erectile dysfunction. First, a quick anatomy lesson – your prostate is a small gland located inside the body approximately between the testicles and anus. The urethra passes directly through it before entering the penis to carry urine out of the body. So if you’re experiencing a delay in starting urination, or stopping and starting, or dribbling, there’s a good chance (about 75% if you’re over 70) that you have an enlarged prostate. This is either BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy) or prostate cancer. Obviously the second one is worse, but even that might not be as bad as you think. Many forms of prostate cancer are very slow-growing, so depending on your age and the severity of your symptoms, you might not need to have it treated at all. Tests for this include PSA and having a DRE done by your doctor.

On to erectile dysfunction – this could be from decreased testosterone (called andropause). More likely it’s caused by one of the conditions we already looked at: high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or simply from being overweight (fat tissue produces estrogen, further skewing the hormone balance). Fix those things, and the problem will likely be dramatically improved. Now how to treat your wife’s chronic headaches…

Women’s Health

After surviving menopause, all sorts of other issues come up from the sudden decrease in hormones. Osteoporosis is one of the most common health issues among older women, resulting from lower estrogen levels. This can also lead to decreased libido and vaginal dryness. Hormone replacement therapy is something that can help dramatically, but should be considered carefully on an individual basis.

A gentler solution can be herbs that contain phytoestrogens – “plant estrogens” – which act as hormone modulators. These compounds resemble hormones closely enough that they can interact with estrogen receptors and weakly stimulate them. But in cases of estrogen being too high, they can also decrease the effects of estrogen by occupying those same receptors – hence the “modulatory” effect. Soy products and flax seeds are two of the most well-known examples of phytoestrogens. Equally crucial for protecting bone density is regular, weight-bearing exercise to stimulate bone growth.

Final words: am I claiming that by using natural medicine, you can get off every one of your medications and solve all your health problems? Absolutely not. But I can guarantee that working with a properly-trained naturopathic doctor can improve your health, decrease your need for certain medications and leave you feeling better. Because what’s the point of living longer if you can’t enjoy it?

In Health,

Dr. Reuben Dinsmore, ND

Phobias may be memories passed down in genes from ancestors December 5, 2013

Posted by Dr. Adam McLeod, ND in Alternative medicine, Dreamhealer, Emotion, Genetics, Health, Integrative Medicine, Research.
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Article by: Richard Gray

dreamhealer DNA

Memories may be passed down through generations in DNA in a process that may be the underlying cause of phobias

Memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors, according to new research that may explain how phobias can develop.

Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences built up during a lifetime must be passed on by teaching later generations or through personal experience.

However, new research has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

So a fear of spiders may in fact be an inherited defence mechanism laid down in a families genes by an ancestors’ frightening encounter with an arachnid.

Dr Brian Dias, from the department of psychiatry at Emory University, said: “We have begun to explore an underappreciated influence on adult behaviour – ancestral experience before conception.

“From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

“Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In the study, which is published in the journal of Nature Neuroscience, the researchers trained mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom using electric shocks before allowing them to breed.

The offspring produced showed fearful responses to the odour of cherry blossom compared to a neutral odour, despite never having encountered them before.

The following generation also showed the same behaviour. This effect continued even if the mice had been fathered through artificial insemination.

The researchers found the brains of the trained mice and their offspring showed structural changes in areas used to detect the odour.

The DNA of the animals also carried chemical changes, known as epigenetic methylation, on the gene responsible for detecting the odour.

This suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

The researchers now hope to carry out further work to understand how the information comes to be stored on the DNA in the first place.

They also want to explore whether similar effects can be seen in the genes of humans.

Professor Marcus Pembrey, a paediatric geneticist at University College London, said the work provided “compelling evidence” for the biological transmission of memory.

He added: “It addresses constitutional fearfulness that is highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, plus the controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.

“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously.

“I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

Professor Wolf Reik, head of epigenetics at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, said, however, further work was needed before such results could be applied to humans.

He said: “These types of results are encouraging as they suggest that transgenerational inheritance exists and is mediated by epigenetics, but more careful mechanistic study of animal models is needed before extrapolating such findings to humans.”

It comes as another study in mice has shown that their ability to remember can be effected by the presence of immune system factors in their mother’s milk

Dr Miklos Toth, from Weill Cornell Medical College, found that chemokines carried in a mother’s milk caused changes in the brains of their offspring, affecting their memory in later life.

Article retrieved from:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10486479/Phobias-may-be-memories-passed-down-in-genes-from-ancestors.html

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Flu Deaths reality check November 21, 2013

Posted by Dr. Adam McLeod, ND in Alternative medicine, Dreamhealer, Healing, Healthcare, Research.
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Adam Dreamhealer

By: Kelly Crowe, CBC News

Do thousands of Canadians really die every year from the flu? The flu folks keep saying so. I’ve already heard it repeated several times this year and flu season has just started. This is what the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a recent press release: “Every year, between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die of the flu and its complications.”

In a CBC interview a few weeks ago an editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal said: “Four thousand to 8,000  people die every year of influenza.”

It comes directly from the desk of Canada’s chief public health officer. “The flu is serious,” he tells us from his website. “Every year, between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die of the flu and its complications.”

Did you ever wonder how they know that? The fact is, they don’t know that. “This is a scientific guess. This is not the truth,” Dr. Michael Gardam, director of the infection prevention and control unit at the University Health Network in Toronto and a longtime flu watcher, told me.

The fact is, no one knows how many people die after being infected with the flu virus. The death estimates are not based on body counts, lab tests or autopsies.

“I think people may have the misconception that every person who dies from the flu is somehow counted somewhere, and they’re not,” Gardam said.

The “2,000 to 8,000” numbers are based on computer models — a statistical guess that comes out of the end of a mathematical formula that makes a range of assumptions about death and flu.

“They’re tossing it into a big computer and they’re churning out estimates,” Gardam said as he scribbled numbers on a white board to show me how the models work.

One model counts all respiratory and circulatory deaths — that’s death from heart and lung failure — as flu deaths.

“As an upper limit, they are looking at everybody who died of a heart and lung problem,” Gardam said. “So you could imagine this could include people who died of a heart attack that had nothing to do with flu, but the feeling is that anybody who died of flu should be captured in there, plus a lot of other people.”

At the lower end of that model they count the number of deaths officially listed as “influenza” on the death certificate, plus all deaths from pneumonia — even though not all pneumonia is caused by flu.

“That is going to include obviously people who died specifically of those, but it might miss people who died of influenza but who didn’t get tested, for example,” Gardam said.

Data can include deaths by poison

Another model assumes that every extra death that happens in the winter is a flu death. At the risk of oversimplifying, this is the basic formula of that model: winter deaths (minus) summer deaths = death by flu virus.

That includes winter deaths from slippery sidewalks, snowy roads, freezing temperatures, plus all the winter heart failure, lung failure and deaths from cancer. In the language of the computer model, all excess mortality in winter is considered “death by flu.”

The model extrapolates that the flu virus will cause more deaths across all causes, including “disorders of the nervous system,” stroke and “disorders of the digestive system.” Which means that according to the model, flu causes 33 more “accidental falls” every year, 18 more “accidental poisonings,” and 68 more deaths from “psychotic conditions.” But what does flu have to do with deaths from accidental poisonings or accidental falls?

‘If they don’t collect that information, how do they know that their policies will work? This is called faith-based medicine.’— Dr. Tom Jefferson

How reliable are the computer model estimates? “I don’t think they’re reliable at all,” Dr. Tom Jefferson told me. He is a Rome-based researcher with the Cochrane Collaboration, and he spends his days reviewing all the research on acute respiratory infections and vaccines. He said hard data on flu deaths “are difficult to get hold of for obvious reasons. So enter modelling, which is nothing more than guesswork, highly sensitive to the assumptions you feed into the model. ‘Give me a model and I will make it say whatever you want,’ a colleague of mine always repeats.”

The models are only as good as the data sets that are fed into them. And death can be complicated. If someone already extremely fragile with heart or lung disease is tipped over the edge with a flu infection, is that a flu death, or a heart death or a lung death? Which database gets to claim it?

“The only mortality estimates which have any credibility are those based on post mortem examinations and tests which were done before death,” Jefferson said.

Flu death statistics not collected

In a perfect world, the flu death statistic would be based on an actual count of confirmed deaths after infection with the flu virus. But that’s difficult to do, because autopsies are almost never done, lab tests for the flu virus are rarely done, and someone could die from the complications of flu even though the virus is no longer detectable in their bodies.

The numbers we do have don’t even come close to the computer estimates. In Statistics Canada’s “deaths and mortality” table, under “cause of death: influenza,” there were only about 300 deaths a year between 2000 and 2008. Public health officials don’t trust that number. They believe it underestimates the true death toll from flu.

But Jefferson believes the models overstate the risk from influenza. “There are no real figures on deaths from influenza. They don’t collect that information,” he said. “So if they don’t collect that information, how do they know it’s a threat? And if they don’t collect that information, how do they know that their policies will work? This is called faith-based medicine, not evidence-based medicine.”

Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease expert at Toronto’s University Health Network, says estimates of the number of flu deaths each year “vary a great deal depending on which research paper you read.” (CBC)

“Could the deaths be being caused by other pathogens? It’s an important question,” Dr. Kumanan Wilson told me. He holds the Canada Research Chair in public health policy at the University of Ottawa. He’s also a hospital clinician who has seen many flu seasons.

“We see lots of people coming in with upper respiratory infections and we don’t know what causes it. Sometimes if they are really sick, we’ll test for influenza. We rarely test for anything else.”

One of the few attempts to check the accuracy of the models in assessing flu deaths was done by one of Wilson’s master’s students, and her thesis is interesting reading.

Using data from three Ottawa hospitals over seven flu seasons, Tiffany Smith did two things. First, she counted the patients who died from flu, according to a doctor’s diagnosis. Then, using one of the official flu modelling methods, she ran a computer model to see how close the actual body count matched the statistical estimates. Her result? The statistical model predicted eight times as many deaths from flu as there were actual clinical cases.

“I have found evidence to suggest that point estimates of influenza burden generated using statistical models may not be reliable,” she concluded, “and that more research is required to understand the limitations of this methodology.”

Remember, that’s an unpublished thesis, not a peer-reviewed study. But Wilson said it was a well done paper that posed some important questions.

Flu models versus counts

Getting back to the question of how deadly influenza really is, fate did offer up a chance to check the model predictions when the flu pandemic hit in 2009, and the world faced a new influenza threat called H1N1.

Back then a flu expert told me that the pandemic would be a rare opportunity to check the true death toll from flu, because, for the first time, there was widespread lab testing, a national reporting system, and all eyes were on potential flu-related deaths. The final count: 428 deaths, which is much closer to the seasonal average of around 300 recorded in the vital statistics tables than to the 2,000 to 8,000 deaths estimated for the average flu season by the computer models.

So how did the models rate after a real life test? “The predictive models of 2009 of influenza have actually been a complete failure,” respiratory-infection expert Jefferson said.

“Ranges like 2,000 to 4,000 or even 8,000 influenza-related deaths a year are thrown around each flu season, and policy decisions and flu shot campaigns are based on these numbers,” Michael Gardam told me. “I think it is important for us to remember that these numbers are estimates and certainly not written in stone. These numbers vary a great deal depending on which research paper you read.”

There’s another point to consider here. Using death estimates is the scariest way to talk about the risk from flu, because 8,000 thousand sounds like a lot of deaths. But if you ask, “8,000 deaths out of how many people?” suddenly the risk seems much smaller. In fact, it would be 8,000 deaths among 35 million Canadians. In other words, in a normal flu season, about  0.02 per cent of Canadians are in danger of dying from the flu, using the highest estimate. Another way to look at it is this: 99.98 per cent of Canadians will not die of flu this year.

Undermining flu campaigns

So are the statistical models exaggerating the death toll from flu? “Not enough people have been asking these questions,”  the University of Ottawa’s Wilson said. “These are complicated models. There are multiple ways to calculate the information. Five different analysts with the same data can come up with five different estimates. It depends on how they calculate base line risk, how they define when the season begins, how to run the model. There are lots of potential variables in the model that will influence your answer.”

Influenza prevention has become an industry fuelled by poor science, says Dr. Tom Jefferson. (CBC)

For proof of how models keep changing their estimates, look back at Canada’s flu files. More than a decade ago, flu was estimated to kill about 500 to 1,500 Canadians every year. But in 2003 Health Canada changed models, and the estimates jumped to “700 to 2,500 per annum.” The 2,500 deaths at the upper end of that range quickly became the lower end, when an even newer model was tried in 2007, pushing the upper limit to 8,000 based on the severe flu seasons of 1997 to 1999.

“Influenza prevention has become an industry fuelled by poor science and propelled by conflicted decision makers,” Jefferson said. “This is the significance of the upward creep that you have been witnessing and the chasm that now exists between policy makers and evidence.

“The proof of what I am saying is in the answer to the question: How many die every year? Answer: maybe 300 or maybe 9,000. We are not sure. If you do not know, how can you have such a costly policy and most of all how can you evaluate it?”

When I asked him if there are consequences from over-stating the mortality impact of flu, Jefferson answered: “Yes. Scaring people justifies evidence-free policies. Yes, no one knows exactly what the threat is. The only certainty are the returns for industry.”

Wilson is concerned that overstating deaths could undermine the annual flu campaign. “I think this is a potential risk,” he said. “It’s a good idea to try to capture the number of deaths. People just need to reflect the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty in these numbers and that has not necessarily been conveyed. Even if the estimate is 1,000 or 2,000, it’s a big number. A more conservative approach might be better to convince people it’s a real disease that we have to take seriously.”

One expert I talked to suggests that at least some of the cost of the annual flu campaign should be directed at finding out how much death the virus actually causes every year, by using a system of doctors and hospitals to track laboratory confirmation of flu infections and flu mortality.

The flu virus has lots of ugly company in the winter — less famous viruses such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus); the ubiquitous cold bugs, including the coronavirus and the adenovirus; as well as Streptococcus pneumonia and all of its bacterial friends. Influenza is certainly one of the nastiest viruses in the group. It also happens to be the only one with a vaccine.

“You’ve got to wonder: The stuff we’re attributing to influenza, how much of that is actually true and how much of that is other viruses? We don’t know because they haven’t been studied,” University Health Network’s Gardam said.

Just 1 death this year

For the record, how many official deaths from flu have been reported so far this year? One.

And finally, as promised, here’s the official response I received  from the Public Health Agency of Canada:

Q1. How are the numbers derived? (i.e., how is it counted? are there any statistical models?) The number of flu related hospitalizations and deaths is not a straightforward estimate, given that influenza is such a non-specific illness and its diagnosis is under-reported. Patients with influenza complications or an exacerbation of their underlying chronic medical condition are often not reported as influenza related.

PHAC has taken data collected by Statistics Canada and hospital discharge records from the Canadian Institute of Health Information and applied statistical techniques to provide an estimate of influenza related deaths.

Q2. Are the numbers an average over the last 10 years? Have the numbers stabilized?

As previously indicated, it is difficult to assess the true burden of influenza in terms of incidence, deaths and hospitalization. However, it is estimated that, on average, the flu and its complications send about 20,000 Canadians to hospital every year, and between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die.

Q3. Why is it important to inform Canadians about  these death statistics?

Reporting on these death statistics informs Canadians that infection with influenza can be severe and in some cases result in death. Hence, Canadians should get their seasonal flu shot to prevent infection and to practice infection control measures such as hand washing, cough etiquette and staying home when sick to prevent spread.

Article retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/m/touch/health/story/1.1127442

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