All posts by Julie Boucher

Julie obtained her MSc in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the IJHS.


 Culture is defined as a set of guidelines (both explicit and implicit) that inform behaviour in a particular society or group. This dynamic and adaptive system of values, norms, beliefs and practices is socially acquired and transmitted intergenerationally, rather than by genetic means. Ethnic identity, for example, is a socially defined category grounded on common ancestry, language, and social experience. Other cultural groups can be based on social class, religion, age, occupation, location, and leisure-time activity, to name a few. In light of this, it is not uncommon for individuals to identify with several cultural groups simultaneously.

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Keeping up with medical technology – This week’s top newsworthy innovations

Medical technology is currently one of the fastest growing industries. It is changing the face of healthcare by extending the length and improving the quality of our lives. Nowadays, wearable technology, which includes fitness trackers and smart watches, helps monitor everything from our pulse to our sleep patterns. This is often compared to how genomic and personalized medicine can offer tailored treatments rather than a “one size fits all” approach to healthcare.

The ways in which technological advances are able to diagnose, monitor, and treat medical conditions are baffling. This month, tech conferences were in full swing, bringing together some of the most prolific medical researchers, physicians, academics and tech enthusiasts, to discuss the newest and most cutting edge medical innovations from Toronto to Besançon, France. In honor of these events, here is a roundup of this week’s most reviewed medical tech inventions:

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Celebrities peddling pseudoscience, fueling distrust in mainstream medicine

There’s an important divide between the practice of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and the practice of mainstream, or allopathic, medicine. The latter is considered the traditional standard of care, while CAM “refers to a broad set of health care practices that are not part of that country’s own tradition and are not integrated into the dominant health care system.” Definitions of CAM vary from country to country, of course. But as world culture and medical practice becomes more homogenized, there is broad global agreement about what constitutes standard care, and what constitutes alternative care.

Allopathic medicine is thought to be mostly evidence based, while the evidence supporting CAM tends to be of low quality. Therein lies the truest, most important distinction between the two approaches.

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Health Canada postpones ruling on controversial abortion drug

Health Canada is facing criticism after once again delaying its decision to approve the abortion pill, mifepristone. Also known as RU-486, mifepristone is a drug used to terminate pregnancies in the first 9 weeks of gestation. It works by stopping the supply of progesterone, the hormone that prepares the lining of the uterus for pregnancy. When used in combination with misoprostol, the uterus contracts to expel the fetus, simulating a natural miscarriage.

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Gender refers to the socially constructed roles and attributes assigned to men, women and other gender groups that extend beyond the biologically defined categories of sex. It is a multifaceted determinant of health, which encompasses the social roles, personality traits, values, attitudes, behaviours, relative power and influence ascribed to these groups in a given society. Unlike sex characteristics, aspects of gender vary greatly depending on the place, culture, and stage in life.

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High incidence of suicide among Canada’s first responders

In honour of Mental Illness Awareness Week, which took place last week, I thought it fitting to discuss an unfortunate trend which has recently garnered a lot of attention across our nation: suicide among first responders. It is a sensitive issue that goes beyond the media headlines that I believe deserves more attention. Ottawa police are themselves reeling from the suicide of Staff Sgt. Kal Ghadban, a 22-year veteran of the police force who took his own life last month at the Elgin Street headquarters (The Canadian Press, 2014). Only a few days later, Cpl. Ron Francis, a 43-year-old New-Brunswick Mountie, shot himself in his home following a public struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Taber, 2014). At the funeral, mourners wore blue ribbons on their lapels to bring awareness to PTSD.

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Medical marijuana study approved by Health Canada

On May 22nd, Health Canada approved the country’s first medical marijuana clinical trial. The study commissioned by Prairie Plant Systems – a licensed medical marijuana producer – will be a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial looking at the safety and efficacy of vaporized cannabis. It will incorporate several varieties of medical marijuana with varying degrees of the plant’s two most active cannabinoids: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

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Physical Environments

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently published its “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with the highest pesticide residue. The American environmental association does so every year in the hopes that it will raise awareness about the hazardous effects of agricultural pesticide contamination and help consumers make educated decisions when purchasing fruits and vegetables. This year, it analyzed 32 000 samples tested by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and apples came out on top yet again, with 99% testing positive for at least one pesticide. In an attempt to reduce our exposure to these harmful chemicals, the EWG suggests that we buy organically grown –and likely much more costly – produce which have been shown to contain fewer pesticides. They also published a list of the “Clean Fifteen” foods least likely to hold pesticide residues, providing safer alternatives to the Dirty Dozen.

This is but a mere example of the long list of environmental contaminants that can cause adverse health effects. They are not limited to our outdoor environment – air, water and soil; they also include our indoor environment – housing, community and transportation. When our physical environment is compromised, rates of morbidity and mortality can increase dramatically:

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Environnement physique

L’Environmental Working Group (EWG) a récemment publié la liste des «Dirty Dozen» qui énumère les fruits et légumes ayant le plus de résidus de pesticides. Cette étude, réalisée chaque année par l’association environnementale américaine, a pour but de sensibiliser les consommateurs aux effets nocifs des pesticides en milieu agricole, et les aider à prendre des décisions éclairées lors de l’achat de fruits et légumes. Cette année,  32 000 échantillons furent analysés par le département de l’Agriculture des États-Unis (USDA) et l’agence américaine des produits alimentaires et médicamenteux (FDA), et les pommes sont arrivées en tête encore une fois, lorsque 99% d’entre elles se sont révélées porteuses d’au moins un pesticide. Dans une tentative de réduire notre exposition à ces produits toxiques, le EWG suggère que nous achetions davantage de produits biologiques,  souvent plus coûteux. Ils ont également publié une liste des quinze aliments présentant de moindres doses de pesticides, solution alternative aux «Dirty Dozen».

Ceci n’est qu’un exemple de la longue liste des contaminants environnementaux qui peuvent avoir des effets néfastes sur la santé. Ils ne sont pas limités à notre environnement extérieur – air, eau et sol; ils comprennent également notre environnement intérieur – logement, communauté et transport. Quand notre environnement physique est compromis, les taux de morbidité et de mortalité peuvent augmenter de façon spectaculaire:

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