Fighting words | Health | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Fighting words

One study says your favourite snack is good for you—another claims it causes harm. How do you know for sure? There are two sides to every well-being story, so we’ve sorted through the facts, interviewed the experts and made our writers duke it out.

Mental block: Psychiatric drugs are quick fixes—prescribed too quickly and without talk therapy.

The world is divided when it comes to drugs to treat mental illness—from anxiety to depression to obsessive compulsive disorder and more. While the debate has as many folds and factors as the brain itself, the best entry point into the debate is to examine the act of diagnosis and prescription.

Opponents of the drugs (usually the family of SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Paxil, and SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, including Effexor) typically charge they’re prescribed haphazardly, and too often.

Verging on three years ago, activist Tooker Gomberg committed suicide in Halifax. Since then, his partner in life and work, Angela Bischoff, has steadily researched and mounted a cross-country awareness campaign about the risks of anti-depressant medications.

“My soulmate of 17 years was killed by a drug,” Bischoff writes in an email from Edmonton. “I’ve been personally touched so directly that my whole being oozes motivation to learn more about the topic.”

Despite the intensely personal loss, Bischoff says she’s heartened by the hundreds of individuals who’ve related their own adverse reactions to various drugs. She’s also piled up international research that questions the efficacy of the drugs. In particular, she says that a 2005 study by Dr. Dean Fergusson at the Ottawa Health Research Institute “concluded that patients were twice as likely to attempt suicide on antidepressants as on sugar pills. Considering there are presently around 50 million people worldwide on antidepressants, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of suicides and attempts as a direct result of the drug.”

The drugs are “in fact, stimulants,” according to Bischoff. The drugs “induce because the side effects, such as agitation, are unbearable and are associated with a breakdown of impulse control.” She wants Health Canada “to substantially raise their regulatory standards, putting people’s health ahead of corporate profits.”

Bischoff wants patients and doctors to be more educated. “Two thirds of antidepressant drugs are prescribed by , and the average visit to the doctor in Canada is six to seven minutes. Not a whole lot of communication about feelings and emotions can happen in a six-minute visit, and GPs aren’t trained to treat psychiatric issues, so most people prescribed antidepressants aren’t getting good psychiatric care.” She recalls, “Even Tooker’s psychiatrist never bothered to ask him if he had thoughts of self-harm, although he was agitated out of his skin. I learned later that agitation is a potent predictor of suicide and common adverse reaction to antidepressants.”

Aspects of Bischoff’s position are echoed elsewhere. Roy Muise, peer specialist at Consumer Initiative Centre/Self-Help Connection, a non-profit organization offering free support services for “mental health consumers” in Dartmouth, also believes anti-depressants are over-prescribed. He says, “Of the people I work with, who are living with depression and who have told me what their medication is, I would say that between 95 and 99 percent are on an SSRI. My personal opinion is that we have become too reliant on medications as a quick fix.”

Muise, who’s lived more than 30 years with mental illness, says, “We want this quick fix and the pharmaceutical companies have listened and are rushing drugs onto the market without adequate testing.” He continues, “I was once on a medication that seemed great for me until it was banned from the Canadian market because it was found to cause fatal liver disease in some people.”

Despite the growing opposition to pharmaceutical treatments, there are people benefitting from them. A discussion on started with a member seeking the “subjective perspective” of other members who decided to wean off one type of drug. People responded with, yes, their own personal nightmarish experiences, but also support, friendship and good experiences with the medication.

In short, the most satisfied people were using their brains when it came to meds meant to help their brains.

Brain candy: Responsible pro-pharmaceutical advocates won’t say that pills are a cure-all, and even those opposed say that psychiatric medications have uses.

Roy Muise opposes anti-depressants as lone “quick fixes.” But he says, “Recent research has been showing that the best response is a combination of anti-depressant and some form of talk therapy.”

Organizations such as Muise’s employer, Consumer Initiative Centre, look at a variety of causes, including diet, exercise, economic/financial situations and other stressors such as work and relationships.

At Dalhousie University’s Counselling Services Centre, which services students from Dalhousie, King’s College and NSCAD, psychologist and counsellor David Mensink sees people who take a type of anti-depressant “all the time.” The majority are between 20 and 25 years old, though he’s treated students as young as 17, including one who’s benefitting from Prozac. Students are referred to the free service most often for anxiety, depression or relationship matters, Mensink says—on their own accord, by another organization, or by GPs, usually those working at Dal’s Health Services Centre.

“I talk to physicians over there quite a bit,” Mensink says. “When they prescribe an anti-depressant medication for depression, for example, they will as a matter of practice say, ‘You should also get counselling. I don’t think they see it as a quick fix, an exclusive kind of thing. They see it as this plus.”

Mensink says, “Some people will go and ask for medication but they’ll be referred to me first. ‘Well, why don’t you talk to a psychologist and see if there are other ways to approach this.’ In terms of my own experience at Dalhousie, I would say it’s fairly responsible.”

Mensink uses non-medical approaches, such as cognitive/behavioural and interpersonal therapies, depending on the individual. Sessions run for an hour and on average, students need three or four sessions, he says, and he tries to get to know each person.

It’s similar with drugs, Mesink says. “One of the reasons there’s new drugs is there’s new research. I’m glad we’re beyond Prozac. There are a lot more options now. Some of the newer SSRIs work better for certain people. Proliferation is not necessarily only to do with materialistic, capitalistic goals.”

All agree that the future of mental health treatment must include greater access, especially for the vulnerable and low-income members of our communities, to all forms of treatments so that specific and focused combinations can be created.

No one wants to take a drug, whether it’s for a psychological problem, serious disease or for chronic conditions such as acid reflux. It may be an individual’s choice to decide that they have no other choice but to take it and do whatever else they can to make life better.

—by Sean Flinn

Tapped out: Fears of toxic chemicals leaching from plastic bottles into water have scared some people back to the tap.

I grew up drinking water from a dug well. It wasn’t until I moved to Halifax for university that I started drinking bottled water. Mostly it was because the water in my residence tasted a bit funky. When I moved into my first apartment, I used a Brita to filter my tap water. But the novelty wore off, and now I’m just as likely to fill my water bottle straight from the kitchen tap.

The question is, which is better? Depends on whom you’re asking. The primary concern for every water supplier—and consumer—is safety.

Dr. Marc Lamoureux thinks the tap is a better choice. Lamoureux is an associate professor in the chemistry department at Saint Mary’s University. He says city water is a slightly safer bet because the municipalities are bound by law to test the water for things like chemicals and heavy metals.

“If your concern is having water that is safe, I would say that there is an equal probability that you could get bad water in both cases. But in one case, if it is city water, the law would have to be violated,” he says. “In the case of bottled water, essentially the only real thing the company must absolutely do is ensure that water bottles are disinfected so they don’t carry any bacteria that can cause harm to anyone’s health. They don’t have to look at composition of the water.”

Lamoureux also says the results of city water quality tests are posted online, and anyone can check them. He looks at the Halifax Water Commission site regularly. “I’ve been here for 12 years, and we’ve never had a problem with city water, we’ve never had to stop drinking it,” Lamoureux says. “We have had a very good record.”

And all you home-filter fans out there, we need to talk about your Brita. Dr. Graham Gagnon, an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering at Dalhousie University, fills his reusable mug from the kitchen tap. He says there can be more risks with home filter systems than tap water.

“Brita can cause as many problems to the consumer as bad water,” Gagnon says. “What one of the filter devices does is remove taste, and one of the most common distastes is chlorine. The filters quench the chlorine, which ends up improving taste but creating a little biological reactor. Which means you end up getting more bacteria in the filter than anything else.”

Besides, Lamoureux says, almost 100 percent of the chemicals that are toxic to humans have no odour or taste. So even if your tap water has a slight taste, it’s most likely perfectly safe to drink. Your teeth could also suffer if you neglect your tap: bottled waters often do not contain fluoride. The Canadian Dental Association has said that increased bottled water consumption is anecdotally linked to increased cavities.

But the bottom line is, it’s all water. Paying for something that is so fundamental to human life seems a bit ridiculous, especially in developed countries where water quality is monitored and tested.

Bottled water companies have the resources to market themselves as a healthy, more convenient alternative to your kitchen faucet. Even if what they’re bottling is public water, filtered to remove taste. That’s the case with bottled water labelled “distilled” or “reverse osmosis” or “deionized.” If public water is safe enough for bottled water companies to use, why not cut out the middle man (and the markup) and just turn on the tap?

Bottled up: If the smell of tap water doesn’t turn you off, the scare of Walkerton should send you straight to the bottle.

For some people, all it takes is one word to explain why they buy bottled water: Walkerton. The Ontario town is best known for the E. coli outbreak in the public water supply that killed several people in 2000.

Dr. Marc Lamoureux says highly publicized events like Walkerton are changing people’s taste for water. “Certainly the Walkerton issue that Ontario experienced scared a lot of people,” he says. “And nobody wants to be in a situation where they can get sick from the water they drink.”

If that’s not enough to send you running for the Dasani, consider this.

First, think about where bottled water comes from. Although some bottled water is just filtered tap, often the source of bottled water is underground, while tap water is often from surface sources, such as lakes. Bottled water is labelled according to the source of the water used—thus spring water really comes from an underground, non-public water source. You can deduce the origin of what you’re drinking by reading the bottle.

Also, bottled water is packaged in clean containers in a sanitary facility. The Canadian Bottled Water Association says the standards of their member companies meet and exceed government regulations. As a marketed good, it’s in their best interests to make sure their product is safe for people.

Remember the good ol’ days, when quenching your thirst meant simply turning on the tap? Enjoy that for a moment. Then think about how your local tap water actually tastes. If you drink a lot of tap water, you probably haven’t noticed the smell in awhile, so take a good whiff of your next glass. Catch that chemical note? The taste or smell of public water often comes from the chlorine used to reduce bacteria in the water supply. Water can still be perfectly safe, but the taste can turn you off.

Bottled-water companies use ozone or oxygen instead of chlorine to reduce bacteria, and the result is often more palatable than city water. Even when bottled water companies use public water supplies, the taste and smell of the water are filtered out.

Dr. Graham Gagnon says he hasn’t seen any conclusive studies that show a health benefit to drinking bottled water over tap. But taste can make a difference. “What they’re selling is as much taste as it is health. is going to taste the same, smell the same, town to town,” Gagnon says. “Public water supplies don’t try to achieve that similarity.”

Another advantage of bottled water is convenience. You don’t have to lug around your own water jug. Instead, simply pick up a bottle at the corner store or sandwich shop. When you’re done, recycle the bottle and move on.

“I think the bottled water should be seen as a convenient thing, just like sometimes rather than preparing lunch at home, we go and buy a prepared salad in a plastic box somewhere from the store,” Lamoureux says. “Somebody prepared it for us. Is that safer? I would say I feel safer preparing my own food. But it is convenient.”

—by Victoria Foley

Running high fidelity: Jogging is good for body and mind, and you don’t need an expensive membership to join.

When she’s completely exhausted after a long day at work, there’s nothing Dianne Chiasson likes to do more than go for a 10-kilometre run.

“I come home and feel dead tired and it’s not because I’ve been physically active, but because I’ve been sitting all day. I find I go for a run and I feel invigorated and much more alert and awake.” What motivates Chiasson, an auditor with the provincial government, to hit the pavement instead of collapsing on the couch?

Both recreational and elite athletes are capable of experiencing a “runner’s high,” says Carolyn Savoy, associate professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Health and Human Performance. The high results when the brain secretes endorphins, chemicals that relieve pain and produce feelings of wellbeing and relaxation. Some people develop a positive addiction to the runner’s high (which can be achieved through activities other than running) that encourages them to continue the activity that produces it.

Running provides both short- and long-term stress relief, adds Savoy. Moving and stretching muscles helps them relax, and can reduce muscle tension caused by stress. Regular exercise strengthens the heart, so the resting heart rate is lower even when an individual is under stress.

A jog offers Chiasson, a runner for 25 years, either time for problem-solving or a chance to forget her worries. “Sometimes I need to think, so a run on my own does it. With others, it makes time and distance just sort of disappear because you’re chatting and before you know it you’re done.”

Although running is sometimes perceived as a lonely sport, Chiasson says this isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of running clubs and clinics in Halifax, including her regular Sunday morning group.

Aside from the psychological benefits of running for exercise there are the physical benefits. The only activity that burns more calories per minute than running is cross-country skiing. Dr. Brian Seaman, a chiropractor specializing in sports injury, says that exercise which requires people to support their body weight, like running, helps build bone density and strengthen muscles. He also identifies a stronger heart and lower blood pressure, as well as increased lung capacity, as positive outcomes of running.

The flexibility and accessibility of running is a major part of its appeal—as long as you have your running shoes, you can jog pretty much anytime, anywhere, Chiasson says. You don’t need specific clothes or a gym membership to run, and bad weather is only a barrier to running if an individual allows it to be.

In combination, the psychological, physical and emotional benefits of running combine to produce greater self-confidence. “Exercise improves your self-esteem, it improves how you walk, how you carry yourself,” Savoy says.

Out of step: Without the right preparation and shoes, running can cause long-term injuries.

The appeal of running is that it seems so much easier than most other exercises—as Chiasson says, no fancy equipment or expensive gym membership are required. All you need is to convince yourself to put one foot in front of the other. After all, we learned everything there is to know about running when we were five, right? Not exactly.

The common perception that running is an activity that we are meant to do, with no thought or preparation, can lead straight to injury. People often underestimate the amount of strain that running places on the body, says Jill Tasker, physiotherapist and owner of South End Physiotherapy Clinic.

When walking, your legs absorb a force equal to about twice your body weight. Running places a force of four or five times your body weight on your legs with each step, which “ends up being tons of weight that each leg has taken over a four- or five-mile run.

“An injury comes when something can’t handle the stress being placed upon it. With most soft-tissue injuries—which is what a lot of running injuries are—it’s related to not flexible enough or not strong enough,” she says.

Chiropractor Seaman, who deals with both elite and recreational athletes, says injuries are often the result of “a situation where a person has done too much, too soon and too fast.” That can apply to an individual who has never run before, or a runner who suddenly begins to increase their speed or distance.

Though running does place strain on the lower body, and both Tasker and Seaman treat injuries directly caused by running, they say that most problems are preventable or treatable with a professional’s help.

“For most people, running is a great healthy activity,” says Seaman. Common—and avoidable—mistakes that lead to injuries include improper running technique, over-striding (covering too much distance with each step), not warming up sufficiently and wearing the wrong footwear.

“You can pick the pretty-looking shoe, but if it doesn’t work with your body, then it is inevitable—you are going to get injured,” says Bruce Bowen, manager of the Halifax Running Room. Different running shoes are made for flat, normal or high-arched feet, and choosing the wrong shoe, just because it’s on sale, can create serious problems. The runner with a high arch, who has less foot surface for shock absorption and less flexibility in the foot, is most likely have injury problems. No shoe can flatten a high arch to a more ideal position for running.

Chiasson says one of the first things she learned was that although it doesn’t really matter what clothes you run in, your shoes have a major impact on your ability to run and remain uninjured. She rotates between two pairs, and replaces them often.

Running in old shoes that feel comfortable because they’re broken in also causes injury. Bowen recommends runners replace their shoes every 800 to 1,000 kilometres, at which point the shoe no longer has the ability to absorb shock. If you’re replacing your shoes often, the cost of running can creep up.

Tasker and Seaman say runners who listen to their bodies can decide how much high-impact activity they can handle. “People think ‘it’ll go away’ or ‘I can run through it,’ but can easily become aggravated or re-occur, or become a long-standing problem,” Seaman says.

Though Tasker says that running does place strain on the joints, there is little evidence to support the idea that it inevitably causes joint damage. She says that a comparison of x-rays of active and inactive people would show little difference in terms of long-term impact on the joints.

So, is Chiasson, who hasn’t suffered any serious injuries throughout her 25 years of running, just lucky? According to the professionals’ tips, she’s done everything right —including easing into each run by warming up slowly, focusing on stretching and consciously working on proper running technique.

If you’re not ready to put such care into what’s supposed to be a natural activity—or your shoe budget can’t handle it—you might be better off staying on the couch.

—by Caley Baker

Home advantage: Local, conventionally farmed foods beat the taste and environmental impact of shipped organics.

I’m looking in my bi-weekly organic food box, checking out the goods, when I notice that the apples have stickers that certify them as organic (good!) and coming from Washington state (not so good). The width of a continent seems a long way for an apple to travel, but with local organic producers not able to keep up with the demand, much of our organics are brought in from as far away as Mexico, South America and the western US. So, is having food travel that distance really better than buying local produce farmed with more conventional methods?

Four main factors should be taken into account when weighing the benefits of Nova Scotian agricultural goods over imported organics: flavour, nutrition, economics and environment.

Fruits and vegetables should be picked near or at the point of ripeness for maximum flavour. Often food that will travel long distances will be harvested sooner, so that peak ripeness can be achieved when it hits the market. This means that many fruits and vegetables don’t taste as good as local. Flavours, especially in high-sugar fruits, begin to change as sugar converts to starch. That Washington apple is just not going to taste the same as one from the Annapolis Valley.

Nutrient loss, like flavour, can begin almost immediately depending on the food, how it is picked, shipped and the length of shipping. Spinach, for example, will lose up to 50 percent of its nutritional value within eight days after harvest.

Economically, it makes more sense to buy local. Supporting local farmers means money is kept in the community longer and more jobs are created. Commercial farmers are heavily subsidized, which means their produce is more affordable than produce from organic farmers. For some families, low-cost commercial vegetables mean the difference between fresh vegetables and canned ones.

Shipping in organic goods may actually extract a higher toll on the environment than the use of fertilizers and pesticides in mainstream farming. Moving anything long distance involves major amounts of fossil fuels and other resources—cargo ships, refrigerated trucks and airplanes all contribute to air and ocean pollution.

There may also be ethical questions with produce that comes from outside the country—farm workers are not always paid and treated as well in other countries as they are in Canada. The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture trumpets our safe food supply. CEO Laurence Nason was quoted as saying “our conventional food supply is among the safest and cheapest in the world,” and Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has strict guidelines for pesticide levels by setting a maximum residue limit.

Buying local means you can have safe, tasty, affordable produce year round, all while supporting local farmers and industry.

Natural talents: Organic food, regardless from where it’s from, rules when it comes to taste and ethics.

If you’re an organic produce consumer, you know that at this time of year, there’s not a big variety of local produce out there. Root vegetables like parsnips, carrots and onions, and mushrooms make up the bulk of the offerings. While these things are all good, sometimes you need a little more variety. And until more local variety is available, that means shipping in organics.

The things that make trucked-in organic food the right choice are the same things that make organic food better overall. Most international organic growers maintain a strict standard similar to the Nova Scotia Organic Growers’ Association guidelines—no synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides (guidelines found at

That means you are putting into your body only what you know about, with no worries about long-term effects of toxicity build up, proven or otherwise. Omnivorous organic buyers can feel better about the meat they eat—organically raised animals have strict guidelines, so before Bessie became a burger, she had a chance to live a relatively stress-free life, with access to pasture.

Organic animals live healthier lives—have a look at chickens. Free-range chickens are just that, enjoying the henhouse and pecking in the yard, not being fed ground-up relatives in their feed and at some farms, experiencing conjugal visits with the rooster now and again. On the other hand, commercially raised chickens are fed low-dose antibiotics and kept in sterile conditions—an entirely unnatural life. As with fruits and veggies, if you don’t want to ingest anything besides the chicken, at least for part of the year, you’ll want to have it trucked in.

Adding to the health issue is the concern over genetically modified food (dubbed “Frankenfood”). The problem is, we don’t yet know for sure what the long-term effects of consuming such foods are. Some preliminary concerns include health and safety issues such as increased allergic reactions, ethical concerns about mixing animal genes in plants, and a lack of standard labelling practices.

Organic farmers view their farms as living organisms, where balance is achieved by taking into account everything from air to soil. By returning to traditional farming methods (manual weeding instead of herbicides, for example), farms work with their environment, instead of against it.

There’s a great comfort in knowing that no matter how far away your food originated, you know what’s in it. Supplementing with trucked-in organic produce becomes a necessity if you’re worried about what’s going into your body. Or go both local and organic and buy larger quantities when things are in season, and then “put up” preserves, jams and soups, just like Grandma did.

As organic farming continues to take hold and spread, eventually there should be no need for long-haul shipping. In the meantime, know that by supporting organic farming, you are supporting change for the planet’s good.

—by Liz Feltham

Cash cow: Dairy marketing boards are paying for your milk moustache, regardless of the impact on your body.

“We’ve got the big bad Bessie with the M-I-L-K.” No cow could ask for better publicity than the Dairy Farmers of Ontario’s hip-hop commercials, other than perhaps the American dairy producers’ “Body by milk” campaign, endorsed by Kelly Clarkson and David Beckham, and whose website includes an online auction where you can bid on Adidas, Baby Phat, Fender and Samsung products. Dairy boards are spending piles of cash to convince you to drink their products. According to the New York Times, “Body by milk” is backed by a budget of approximately $20 million, and is targeted at teenagers.

“My biggest frustration is that the dairy board has so much money for advertising, that they’re on TV almost daily promoting milk and putting the message out that people need to drink milk to get their calcium,” says holistic nutritionist Penny Ormsbee. She’d like to see dairy removed as a group from the Canada Food Guide, and placed in with other proteins. “The fact is that dairy is not the best source of calcium because, milk especially, will cause a coating in the stomach—it’s very mucus-forming—and that prevents the absorption of the calcium. If you take a cup of broccoli—now, cup for cup, milk’s going to be higher in calcium—but broccoli is far better absorbed in the stomach.”

One “got milk?” commercial that upsets Ormsbee depicts men rushing out in droves to purchase milk for their PMSing wives. According to the commercial, after three months of ingesting 1,200 milligrams a day of calcium, the majority of women should see a decline in symptoms. “That’s the exact opposite from what I tell my female clients, because with milk, they’re injecting these cows frequently with hormones to keep them lactating, and so you are what you eat. And the last thing a woman needs with raging hormones is more hormones,” she laughs.

Because Ornsbee is not a licensed nutritionist, she isn’t allowed to diagnose patients with lactose intolerance or sensitivities, another major issue associated with dairy products. Lactose is a naturally forming sugar in milk, which requires the enzyme lactase to break it down for digestion. Ornsbee says that approximately 60 percent of the population lacks the enzyme, which is what causes bellyaches, nausea, bloating and embarrassing flatulence. If she suspects a patient has an issue with dairy, Ornsbee will recommend more almonds, green leafy vegetables or substituting almond or rice milk.

Goat milk and products, which produce lower levels of lactose than cows, are another possibility for those concerned about calcium. Cheryl Hiltz is the co-owner of Ran-Cher Acres, an Annapolis Valley dairy goat farm whose artisan cheese, milk and meat is available at the Halifax Farmers’ Market and Planet Organic. She recommends goat milk gouda for those with sensitive systems.

Last year Ran-Cher started carrying raw milk, or non-pasteurized, feta, cheddar and gouda cheeses, an alternative for those concerned with over-processing of food who want to buy locally. “When you pasteurize something, it’s a process. It’s processing—and processing destroys nutrients,” says Hiltz. “It destroys enzymes and if you’re going to eat cooked food, you need a few enzymes to help assimilate your food. It’s good to have a little something raw with your cooked foods.”

While distributing non-pasteurized milk in Canada is illegal, raw milk cheeses aged for 60 days are exempt, although they must be packaged with health warnings—there is a low, but unlikely risk of exposure to the food-borne illness Listeria, harmful to fetuses and to those with compromised immune systems.

Still, with so many alternatives, perhaps it’s time to send ol’ Bessie and the marketing boards to pasture.

Milking it: Without the vitamin D and calcium supplied by dairy, you can kiss those bones goodbye.

To ingest the 300 milligrams of calcium supplied by one 250-millilitre glass of two-percent dairy milk, you would need to eat over six cups of cooked broccoli. And if you need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day…well, you do the math. According to Dr. Theresa Glanville, professor of Applied Human Nutrition at Mount Saint Vincent University, our body best absorbs our bones’ much-needed calcium through dairy, and if we don’t consume milk, it’s not just the calcium we’re missing—it’s the vitamin D too.

Dairy milk is fortified with vitamin D, required by our bodies to absorb calcium. Glanville, who sits on a grant review panel for the Dairy Farmers of Canada’s arm’s-length scientific research program, says it’s possible to receive vitamin D from other sources, but not as convenient.

“It would be virtually impossible to reach your intake of calcium and vitamin D from other dietary sources,” she says. “You do have fortified alternative beverages now, like soy milk is now fortified to the equivalent of dairy milk, so that can be taken as a source of calcium, but that’s not as well absorbed as the calcium that’s in cow’s milk.”

Part of the D dilemma comes from geography. “You can make vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, but there are two things that work against us. One, in our northern latitude from October to the first of April, we aren’t exposed to the wavelengths from the sun that are required to synthesize vitamin D in the skin. We don’t have the synthesis capabilities in the winter months, so we need dietary sources, “p>she explains. “And in the summer months we don’t go out in the sun in the peak of day...and when do go out, we have sunscreen on.”

And what about those growth hormones or antibiotics lurking around in dairy? Glanville says not to worry—Agriculture Canada’s regulations are stringent, and samples of every load of raw milk are tested before leaving the dairy. David Livingstone is Project Coordinator for Nova Scotia’s Natural Products Marketing Association, which administers the province’s Dairy Industry Act and the Natural Products Act. He agrees and says that the council regulates milk quality, including regular lab analysis, inspection and enforcement to ensure milk meets bacteria, antibiotic and water standards.

Still, Glanville says that even she’s “betwixt and between about the amount of milk people should drink.” According to the nutritionist, our daily calcium requirements are high because of our sedentary lifestyles. She says, “You metabolize calcium into bone much more effectively the more active you are. Inactivity plays a role in us requiring so much calcium. Smoking and drinking also deplete calcium. And also other aspects of our diet too—we tend to have high-protein diets so that also increases the amount you need.” So unless our society makes some major lifestyle overhauls, we need the calcium supplied by milk and milk products.

She knows all the arguments, like the fact we’re the only mammal to consume milk after weaning. “I know that’s looked at as a reason why we shouldn’t require milk, but we’re also the only mammal that lives as long as we do after reproduction is finished,” Glanville says. “After reproduction is really when your skeleton starts to be cannibalized, where we really start to drain calcium out of the skeleton. The more calcium that you’re able to deposit in your bones in your earlier years, the healthier your skeleton will be as you age.”

So drink milk and do your bones a favour.

—by Sue Carter Flinn

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