Alberta Cancer Foundation

Be In the Know

Q: What is a migraine?

experts_story1Dr. Lawrence Richer is an associate professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neurology, University of Alberta Pediatric Headache Clinic and Autonomic Lab, Stollery Children’s Hospital and knows a few things about head pain and its causes.

He says a headache is a symptom that can be caused by many different things. “The most common causes of recurring headaches are related to disorders like migraine,” he says, citing information from the World Health Organization: migraine is the third most common brain disorder in the world and responsible for significant disability affecting about 3.6 million Canadians.

“Migraine is a complex neurobiological disorder, usually inherited from your parents, where the brain’s pain systems periodically become hyper excitable,” he explains. A migraine’s characteristics include recurring moderate to severe headache usually associated with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity and smell sensitivity.

“About 20 per cent of people with migraines develop symptoms prior to the headache that may include a visual or sensory disturbance, which is called an aura,” Richer says. “A smaller number of people have progression in their migraine and may develop pain on a daily basis.”

Richer suggests lifestyle changes and sometimes medications to manage migraines, but getting a confirmed diagnosis first is most important.

A campaign in the U.S. called “36 Million for Migraine Campaign” was recently launched to raise public awareness because “many sufferers are stigmatized by the medical community,” Richer says. “The neuroscience of migraine is a burgeoning field where some of the causes and generators of migraine attacks are beginning to be understood.”

Q: What does “best before” really mean and is it different than an expiration date?

experts_story2Leap’s regular SmartEats columnist, Karol Sekulic, is an Alberta Health Services registered dietician. “A best before date tells you about the freshness and the shelf-life of unopened food that you are buying,” Sekulic says. “The best before date only applies to unopened products stored under recommended conditions. Once opened, the best before date is no longer valid.” By law, this date must appear on all pre-packaged foods that will stay fresh for only 90 days or less.

It is the manufacturers’ responsibility to explain to consumers how to store the food after opening the package. For example, notes on the packaging would include: “Refrigerate after opening” or “Keep refrigerated.”

Sekulic says more information about how long food can be safely stored can be found on the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety’s website “If a product is past the best before date, it doesn’t mean the product has gone bad,” Sekulic says. “The best before date is an estimate of how long a food will remain fresh, retain its flavour and nutritional value.” However, Health Canada does not recommend consuming food past its best before date.

“Some foods are more risky than others,” she says. “These are usually foods that require refrigeration, including fresh produce, meat and dairy products.” Ground meat products would be a good example of what to throw out when the best before date has been reached or passed. While unrefrigerated items such as breakfast cereal, canned vegetables or other canned items would not likely have an off-taste immediately or be mouldy right after the best before date.

Sekulic says, “When deciding, ask yourself, ‘Is it worth potentially making me, my family or friends sick by eating this?’ Use your judgment. When in doubt, throw it out!”

Expiration dates are a little more serious to follow and are required on some packages. They are found on formulated liquid diets (supplements used for oral or tube feeding) foods for use on a low energy diet (sold by a pharmacist or prescribed by a physician), meal replacements (a formulated food that can replace one or more meals), nutritional supplements and infant formulas.

“After the expiration date, the food may not have the same nutrients as listed on the label,” Sekulic says. “Don’t use the food or drink if the expiration date has passed. Throw it away.”

Q: Can people and their pets share illnesses (zoonotic diseases)?

experts_story3Dr. Louis Kwantes, a veterinarian at Park Veterinary Centre in Sherwood Park, says zoonotic diseases (those shared between people and animals) are real. People can share some illnesses and diseases back and forth (not just pets to people, but the other way around, too).

Not to stir up fear amongst pet owners, Kwantes says it’s good to be aware these instances exist and there are ways to prevent them, such as regular and routine deworming for dogs to prevent spreading ringworm. “It’s hard to give a blanket recommendation of how to prevent the spreading of these diseases because it matters which animal and which person we’re speaking of,” Kwantes says, adding that many times it’s those with compromised or not fully developed immune systems that are the most susceptible to zoonotic diseases. Meaning, very young children, the elderly, or people on immunosuppressive medications (like those for organ transplants or cancer and AIDS treatment).

“Zoonotic diseases are another reason to make sure you keep up with appropriate health care for your pets,” Kwantes says. “If there is a health concern in your pet, definitely get it checked out, for the pet, but also for you.” With a diagnosis, you can determine if you need to take precautionary measures (skin infections on an animal, keep very young children from handling the pet, for example).

“There is no way to be 100 per cent sure that your pet or you aren’t carrying something that could potentially cause a problem [in the household],” Kwantes says. “Fleas, for example, are not a zoonotic disease but affect both people and their pets.”

Many intestinal parasites are not zoonatic, but some are, so get a diagnosis to determine a treatment plan for all. Samonella, the same serious bacteria you can get from food can be shared between people and animals. Prevent that by washing your hands with soap after handling your pet. Also, toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that affects cats, can also affect humans if they are in contact with the feces (cat litter). It’s suggested for pregnant women not to clean kitty litter and for everyone else to wash their hands with soap after cleaning a litter box.

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