Health File

August 25, 2009 by Sharon Adams


Brain Injuries Studied By Military

The Canadian Forces is gathering data on mild traumatic brain injuries suffered on deployment, in part to guide future treatment of troops with persistent symptoms.

Although sports experience shows most people with concussions fully recover in a short time, not enough is known about similar injuries in military settings, particularly those caused by blasts from improvised explosives. Soldiers are “known as wanting to tough it out and not declare symptoms,” says Dr. Bryan Garber, deployment health specialist with the Canadian Forces Health Services Group.

The CF was spurred to gather its own data on mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) after reports in the United States raised fears of inadequate long-term treatment for military personnel with delayed symptoms. The Canadian Forces Health Service Panel on Management of MTBI in Military Operational Settings discovered there hasn’t been much MTBI research, and now monitors troops on deployment and after return to Canada to gauge the incidence, causes and history of MTBIs.

Key to this research is consistent assessment, treatment and collection of data on those injured. In Kandahar, details of anyone admitted to hospital with a severe head injury are noted. A protocol has been developed for assessing and treating those with immediate minor symptoms. And questions on MTBI have been added to the health screening done on troops three to six months after returning from deployment.

It’s important to spot those with symptoms of MTBI on deployment because if their ability to concentrate and perform their task is impaired, they are a risk to themselves or their buddies. Soldiers pulled out for recovery from MTBI are usually fit to return to work within seven to 10 days.

“Troops may dismiss as minor such symptoms as headache, momentarily seeing stars, temporary nausea or vision disturbances and not report them at the time,” says Garber. Screening questions are designed to identify those who’ve had such symptoms for further evaluation. Post-deployment screening provides a better idea “as to how many people suffered something on the minor end of the spectrum.”

Data should begin providing answers this fall to such questions as whether MTBI can result, without other associated injury, from the primary blast wave from an improvised explosive device; how prevalent MTBI is, whether there’s a risk of re-injury; and how many troops develop delayed symptoms. And maybe more light will be shed on the association between MTBI and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Garber cautions that while an association has been noted, “there is no evidence (MTBI) has to lead to an operational stress injury.  Absolutely not.”

The panel includes experts in emergency and trauma medicine, psychiatry, neuropsychology and rehabilitation. Veterans Affairs Canada is also represented, so as to “harmonize the approach on this issue between current and former serving members.”

Losing Weight Slowly?

Ever been discouraged that despite near starvation and athletic exertion while dieting, you have trouble budging those extra pounds, while the weight just seems to melt effortlessly off others?

It’s not all in your mind—some of us are wired to lose weight more easily than others, researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute have learned.  When it comes to weight-loss regimes, one size does not fit all, according to Alexandre Stewart, principal investigator of the Institute’s Ruddy Canadian Cardiovascular Genetics Research Centre, whose research team has unlocked the mechanism that turns on a weight-loss gene in muscle.

About a third of Caucasians, half of blacks and 29 per cent of Orientals carry the gene variant that helps them lose weight faster on a low calorie diet.

Although desirable today in societies of plenty, the gene was not always a good thing. “You can imagine a thousand years ago… in times when there wasn’t as much food,” says Stewart,“ it was a good idea to put on as much weight as fast as possible and lose it as slowly as possible because you didn’t know how long you were going to be without food.”  People who could do that “survived better than people who couldn’t, many of whom probably starved to death.” That’s why only a minority of humans have the gene today,” says Stewart.

“It’s ridiculous to expect somebody who‘s a slow burner to reach the same weight loss in the same time as somebody who’s a rapid burner,” says Stewart. “Setting a more realistic time line and longer duration of the diet could lead to better outcomes.”

There you go: straight from the horse’s mouth.  If it seems to be taking forever to lose that last 10 pounds, don’t get discouraged.  Slow and steady will—eventually—win the race.

The Five Cs Of Safe Summer Eating

Here’s a sobering thought for barbeque and picnic season: Health Canada estimates there are more than 11 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year, many of which can be prevented by proper food handling and preparation techniques.

Summers are not just welcome to fun-seeking humans: bacteria love heat and humidity. Follow these Five Cs to keep your family away from nasty bugs like E. coli and salmonella. Want to know more? Check out Health Canada’s website 2006_49-eng.php

Keep Things Clean

  • Always wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before handling food.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot soapy water before preparing foods, and between preparing different foods.
  • For extra protection, clean surfaces—never food!—with a solution of one teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of water.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

  • Once you’ve used a plate, utensil or cutting board to prepare or transport raw meat or poultry, wash it before using it for cooked food.
  • Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry or seafood and a different one for fruits and vegetables.
  • Wrap raw meats and put them on the bottom of the cooler to avoid juices dripping onto other foods.

Check Temperatures

  • You can’t tell just by looking when food has been cooked long enough to kill all contaminants. Check food with a food thermo­meter.  Ground beef needs to reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit; leftovers must be heated to 165 degrees; whole poultry needs to reach 185 degrees.
  • Transport hot foods in insulated thermal containers; use a thermometer to check it’s at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

Keep Cold Food Cold

  • Keep perishables at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Use freezer packs or ice under and around food to keep coolers chilled.
  • Make sure containers of cold food stay cold while serving by putting them on ice or freezer packs.
  • Don’t serve whipped cream, cream cheese frostings, custards, cream pies and cakes unless they can be refrigerated before serving.
  • Leftovers need to go back in the cooler or refrigerator immediately.
  • Raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food and cut fresh fruits and vegetables should sit out at room temperature no longer than two hours.

Chuck Chancy Foodstuffs

  • You can’t always tell by smell or look when food has turned deadly.
  • Cooking doesn’t always prevent illness. Sure, it will destroy bacteria, but some bacteria produce toxins that aren’t destroyed by cooking—and they can make you very ill if eaten. If in doubt, throw it out.

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