Friday, March 22, 2013

An Ounce of Prevention Isn't Covered in BC

I've been to a lot of doctors. I've been to family doctors and specialists, I've been to naturopaths and midwives. What I have found again and again is that strictly allopathic doctors never seem to be able to improve my health. They send me for scans of various sorts, they throw some pills at me, I don't get better and they give up or start saying things are all in my head and I should take SSRIs or something else. Allopathic doctors are overworked and unable to devote adequate time to uncovering the whole picture of someone's health. They tend to treat symptoms, not causes of illness, and practise heroic interventions when things are already really bad instead of preventative medicine.

I thought this was an issue primarily of training. Most doctors are not trained in nutrition which should,  in my opinion, be the first line of health defense for everyone. Changing your diet can frequently have wide ranging health effects. Food really is medicine and more and more research is showing the dramatic health benefits of eating an individually optimal diet. So many people eating a Standard American Diet are nutritionally lacking and/or suffering from undiagnosed food intolerances, yet they don't get the guidance they need to make simple changes to their diet that would improve their overall health. After suffering from various health complaints for two years I finally started working with a naturopath who prescribed an elimination diet and helped me to track down food intolerances that weren't picked up through conventional allergy testing. Full blood work-ups uncovered a few vitamin deficiencies that could be easily remedied with supplements. After discovering I was intolerant to gluten, dairy, and eggs my health problems disappeared. This is after a family doctor, an allergist, and three various specialists told me there was nothing wrong with me that they could discern and sent me away to continue suffering with no further options for investigation.

What I am now discovering is that in addition to lack of training, doctors are NOT ALLOWED to give advice that falls outside of general allopathic practise for free. Complementary medicine falls outside of MSP provincial coverage, so even MDs who have training in alternative medicine are not allowed to practise it without charging the patient extra money.

For instance, the website of Vancouver Doctor G.B. Ryder, who practises integrative medicine states that: Our office visits are only covered by MSPBC if they are Limited to prescrition medications and/or conventional medical investigations. Integrative medicine office visits are not covered by MSPBC. 

The other services he provides include:

Biological Medicine:
-Use of non-prescription pharmaceutical-grade herbal/homeopathic medications
-Individualized assessment of vitamin/mineral supplements
Functional Medicine:
-Investigation and treatment of symptoms with few or no clinical findings
such as fatigue, digestive dysfunctions, immune dysfunctions, hormonal
dysfunctions, multi-system disorders
Environmental Medicine:
-Inhalent/pollen/mold allergies
-Food intolerances
-Chemical sensitivities
These other services sound like pretty basic health issues that plague a TON of people. Yet your regular allopathic doctors, even if they have specialized knowledge in these areas, literally cannot give you medical guidance because it's not covered by MSP. If there isn't a pill for it, if there isn't a surgery, if there isn't some sort of test that takes place in a hospital then you're just up shit's creek.
Does this seem absolutely insane to anyone else? It's no wonder we're living in a pill saturated society. If your doctor's only free option is to prescribe a drug then that's what they're going to do, because not many people can afford to fork out up to $500 for an integrative medicine consultation that  might actually address their real problems. The human body is complex. Sometimes allopathic medicine is amazing. If you need antibiotics for a serious infection allopathic approaches work. If you need emergency surgery for your gallbladder, well thank god for allopathic medicine. But when it comes to preventative measure, when it comes to issues that involve more than just the body's chemical systems, when stress, environmental toxins, psychological issues, or food intolerances come into play, allopathic medicine seems somewhat useless. And it turns out that government funding is part of the problem. 
The government should provide medical funding that allows doctors to treat the whole patient--body, mind, and soul. Just treating human chemical systems isn't going to provide anyone with optimum health. I had to pay a ridiculous amount of money to have someone provide me with simple dietary solutions to my health problems. That's just nuts. The amount of money the government could have saved on hospital visits, expensive tests, multiple visits to specialists, and prescription drugs if only I had been told to explore my diet in the first place, is mind blowing. How is it that the government doesn't see integrative consultation as valuable, and even money SAVING, is beyond me. We all know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, yet the government would rather pay for the far more expensive cures than the often simpler prevention.
Allopathic medicine has it's place, but it shouldn't be the front line of health defense. I don't know what people can do to change the system, but you can bet I'll be looking into it. 
In the meantime if you're looking for integrative care (and have the money to pay for it) Connect Health Centre seems to have a number of interesting health practitioners and programs. The group health programs (basically seminars on various health topics) are actually covered by MSP in some instances. But an integrative health consultation will cost you big bucks.
Some extended health plans do cover complementary care in some cases. This is a step in the right direction, but not everyone has extended health. When I was working at UBC my health plan covered $1000 worth of naturopathic care a year. Sounds great, except the costs add up REALLY quickly and only consultations were covered, not prescriptions or tests. $1000 only covers 6-10 visits and if you're dealing with a chronic health issue you may need more visits than that in a year. I ended up paying about $1500 out of pocket to cover the rest of my treatment before I was feeling better.
I also know that we have things pretty good in Canada compared to places that don't have universal health care coverage at all. But that doesn't mean things couldn't be better than they are.  In a society plagued by chronic inflammatory illnesses, we need more than last minute pill based medicine. We need lifestyle changes, and allopathic doctors are just not providing adequate guidance on that front.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Guide to Non-Dairy Milk

Cutting dairy out of your diet for whatever reason is tough. It's hard to beat the taste and texture of milk products and I just don't want to drink my tea black in most instances. I have tried pretty much every milk alternative out there, trying to find the best replacement. I have decided to share my research with the world, if only to spare other people the terror that is Hemp milk. Here's my breakdown of milk alternatives, their best uses, and my taste testing analysis:


The most ubiquitous of non-dairy milks. This is the place to start.
Taste/Texture: smooth, creamy, sweet (unless you opt for a sugar free version). Silk brand foams well in a milk frother for lattes etc. though some other brands don't foam up for some reason.
Uses: A good all purpose milk replacement. Good for baking, tea, cereal, smoothies etc.
Drawbacks: high in sugar, many people want to avoid soy in their diet


You can now get coconut milk for drinking in a carton. This is essentially a watered down, fortified, emulsified version of the stuff you get in cans. It comes in sweetened and unsweetened versions.
Taste/Texture: smooth texture, very mild taste to the point of not having much flavour at all, more watery than soy milk and less rich.
Uses: awesome for baking and smoothies but not my favourite for tea or coffee. It's too watery and flavourless to make a satisfying hot drink with the exception of hot chocolate. If you're adding enough sugar to your cocoa it works really well. For those avoiding soy this is a great alternative.
Drawbacks: sugar free version is not very tasty on its own but sweetened version is quite high in sugar. It won't foam in a milk frother.


A milky beverage made from blended and strained almonds.
Taste/Texture: slightly gritty (as would be expected when you're drinking almonds), slightly watery, but with a really pleasing, nutty flavour, even in sugar free versions.
Uses: a workhorse milk that will go with everything. Foams well in a milk frother and adds a delicious flavour to teas and hot drinks. I find that this is the best tasting milk in unsweetened form. You can also find an almond milk/coconut milk combination which combines the best qualities of each of these milks into one amazing super milk.
Drawbacks: Obviously not good for anyone with a nut allergy.


Milk made from strained hemp seeds.
Let me just save you from yourself. Don't even try it. Don't waste your $3.99 for a one Litre container.  This is by far the most vile milk replacement I've ever tried. It's bitter, a yucky brown colour, and just has no redeeming qualities. With so many other nut milk options I would never go with hemp milk.


Just tried this for the first time today. My verdict is that it's passable but not amazing.
Taste/Texture: similar texture to almond milk, a bit brown in colour, and slightly bitter. I wouldn't want to drink this by itself, but in tea with a bit of honey it's okay. I always buy the unsweetened milk so I can control what sweeteners I use so I can't comment on the sweetened variety.
Uses: not amazing for tea or by itself but I'm sure it would work well in baking or smoothies.
Drawbacks: unappealing colour (I want my fake milk to be white and creamy so I can at least PRETEND it's real milk!), bitter flavour. Perhaps not okay for celiacs due to oat content.


Just not tasty. Gritty, watery, essentially just sugar water with no real nutritional profile. I would avoid this.


If I had to pick my favourite every day milk I would go with the almond/coconut blend. For a special treat (hot chocolate, or a rich latte) I would go with sweetened soy milk.

I would caution using too much of any processed milk substitute though. They're not exactly healthy and contain a lot of additives, some of which are potentially carcinogenic (carageenan for example is a thickening additive that you'll find in most non-dairy milks). Like everything else, a bit of milk in moderation is probably okay.

I actually find that full-fat canned coconut milk is a good one to use in smoothies, on oatmeal, and sometimes in baking. To avoid extra additives I use whole coconut milk whenever I can and save processed milks for tea and cereal. If you're baking with coconut milk be aware that it's oily, so you may want to cut back on other oils in your recipe a bit.

If you're being super health conscious you can make your own nut and grain milks at home, which avoids the additive problem. There are 7 really easy recipes featured here:

Nut and Grain Milk Recipes

I may just try some of these out and let you know how they taste. Oat milk (if tasty) would probably be the cheapest to make. I'm not sure if making your own nut milk would be cheaper than buying it in a store since nuts are so expensive, particularly organic ones.

Is there a milk that I've missed? Tell me what your favourite non-dairy milk is in the comments and if you know of any good recipes please share!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In Memory of Dijon

This is a eulogy. On Saturday we had to say goodbye to my husband's 1980 Mercedes 240D. Her name was Dijon and she was a good car who faithfully served three generations of my husband's family. The gold car was originally purchased by M's grandfather to commemorate his 50th wedding anniversary.  It was passed on to his aunt and eventually to him and has been with him about eight years. To call the car gold was a bit of a stretch really. She's more of a mustard yellow. So when M. acquired the car a friend quickly christened her Dijon, and she was Dijon until her final day.

Dijon has been a fixture. M. picked me up for our first date in that car and I was mesmerized by the diesel rumble that she made. I have always had ample notice of M. arriving home because Dijon can be heard roaring up the drive.

There was a time when she started acting up and required a lot of repairs. We called her Dijon Valjean while she was going through her rebellious phase. But mostly she was an unbelievably reliable car. Even though she was rusting to the point of decay and there was a hole in the floor in the front seat and she spewed clouds of black exhaust she got you from point A to point B without complaint. You couldn't hear the radio over her noisy engine and it was a pain finding diesel stations and yet M. and his family developed a fondness for that car over the years that stemmed from good old fashioned nostalgia.

We always knew there would be a time when fixing the car was no longer fiscally responsible and that time finally came. It started with a hole in the exhaust but when the mechanics looked her over M. was told it would cost $4000 to get her in tip-top shape again. We decided it was time to become a one car family for awhile since M. is close enough to work to bike and we live on a decent bus route. Our other car, Grey Poupon, would have to take up the slack.

On Saturday M. took Dijon to the scrap yard.

"I feel like I'm taking a dog to be put down," M. said. "She doesn't even know what's coming." It was weirdly heart wrenching. But things are rarely just things after all. They are containers for our memories. The rusty body of that car attests to 34 years of history and travel, vacations and visits. Before Dijon made her final trip we took pictures of our son in the driver's seat--the fourth generation to drive the gold Mercedes. We made sure to feature Dijon in our wedding photos two years ago as well, just so we would have a record.

When M. came back from the scrap yard the second parking space in our driveway was conspicuously empty.

"Before I left they had already sprayed a big "S" on her" M. said. "Couldn't they have at least waited until I was gone?"

We saved some things to remember Dijon by. M. took off the hood ornament, the Mercedes emblem from the back and the 240D plate. When M's mom was saying her goodbyes a piece of the wheel well, being almost completely rusted out, fell off in her hand. So she kept that and made a shadow box with the pieces so that M. could have a keepsake.

We will have other cars, but I doubt that any will have the personality and stamina that Dijon did. I hope that she gets recycled into something beautiful and gets to drive the great autobahn in the sky.

Dijon. Copyright Andrea Paterson. Amaranth Road Studio. 2013

Little Driver. Copyright Andrea Paterson. Amaranth Road Studio. 2013.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Breaking Point

First Snow. Copyright Andrea Paterson. Amaranth Road Studio. 2013.

I feel like I'm failing at parenthood every day. I fear that I will get everything wrong and raise a bratty, difficult child with a host of behavioural problems. I went into motherhood thinking that love was enough. I was just going to love him and he would magically be okay. But raising a child feels like an exercise in futility--everything I do is wrong: I'm not brushing his teeth enough, he should be drinking out of a cup by now, he should never have a bottle right before bed, he should be eating more solids, he should drink cow's milk instead of formula, I'm not consistent enough, he'll learn to walk all over me, I should have delayed more of his vaccines or I shouldn't have bothered delaying any of his vaccines. He often seems bored, he cries and clings to my leg much of the day as I try desperately to perform basic tasks like emptying the dish washer or folding laundry or making my lunch or actually eat something myself. I wonder if I have unwittingly created a monster out of the best of intentions. I feel like I'm terrible at the job of mothering and that I'm failing my child. I quit my job to raise my son and now I feel that I'm not qualified to do it. I should have put him in daycare and let the experts handle  it. Never have I experienced such guilt and self doubt. Never have I felt so profoundly alone. I mother in a vacuum--often alone in my house with a screaming toddler while people of greater consequence make tangible contributions to society. There are days when I desperately want a do-over. I want to go back to school, train in holistic medicine or some such thing, travel to remote areas of the world and help people in need. I grew up thinking I had something to offer--intellectually, spiritually--to the world. As I spend day after day cleaning refused food off myself,  my child, and the floor I can't help but feel that I'm throwing away my life. I pray that my son will learn to talk so at least we can begin to communicate in a meaningful way. I wonder how all the other parents in the world have coped. How to they see themselves at the end of the day? Do they manage to believe that what they are doing is worthwhile? Do they find fulfillment?

But there are moments. Moments when my small child throws himself into my arms and pats my back and smiles and we both practise his newly learned skill of hugging and I think, "would I want to give this up?" and the answer is always no. I am sustained by fleeting instances of pure, unencumbered love. It might be true that the greatest love demands the greatest price. My heart belongs to him no matter how much applesauce he throws at me. This is where I learn to find peace in chaos. This is where I refine my patience. This is where I become a better more compassionate person. I learn on the job and fail and fail and fail...but maybe, just maybe, love is enough after all. I have to hope so. Because in the end, when we fall into the embrace of our final breaths, love is all we will be able to carry. It is the first and last thing and I must learn to live inside it without coming apart at the seams.