An allergy is your immune system’s response to something that doesn’t bother a lot of other people. It’s why your best friend can cuddle a new kitten without a problem while you sneeze your way out the door.

“Allergies are immune reactions that show a person is hypersensitive, usually on an acute basis, to certain substances,” explains Christine Ko, MD, a Yale Medicine dermatologist, dermatopathologist, and professor at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

The most common allergens include pollen, dust mites, mould spores, pet dander, food, insect stings, and medicine. Unfortunately, allergies are common and are on the rise. One in two Canadian households are affected by a food allergy.

Why more people are developing allergies than ever before is not completely clear. “One theory is that we are not exposed, as babies or young children, to allergens that we used to be exposed to, and so we don’t develop tolerance to them and instead become hypersensitive,” she says.

With allergies so widespread, it’s no wonder we gravitate to products that are hypoallergenic—less likely (or unlikely) to cause an allergy, according to Dr. Ko. “Hypoallergenic is appealing because we would all like to prevent unnecessary reactions like sniffles and runny eyes, especially during Covid-19,” she points out.

(Related: A Guide to Allergy Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments)

What’s an allergic reaction?

The immune system usually does a good job of identifying and fighting foreign invaders, including bacteria or viruses, that can harm the body. But sometimes it identifies a harmless substance as threatening and reacts by going to war with it.

“Allergies are caused by a given substance interacting with the immune system a certain way and setting off a particular hypersensitivity response,” explains Dr. Ko. For example, many people have no reaction when they breathe in pollen. But when someone who is allergic to pollen inhales it, the pollen is seen as an invader by the immune system’s cells, including antigen-presenting cells and T and B lymphocytes (T and B cells).

This ultimately results in the production of immunoglobulin E, or lgE, and other immune system molecules. They try to fight off the presumed enemy, which causes the body to produce various reactions, ranging from mild (think sneezing, red, watery eyes, and hives) to more severe (swelling, asthma, and even potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis).

(Related: The 30 Worst Pieces of Allergy Advice Doctors Have Ever Heard)

What causes allergies?

Allergens are substances that cause an allergic reaction. Here are a few common allergens:

  • Animal proteins and animal dander
  • Dust
  • Drugs (including antibiotics or medicines you put on your skin)
  • Foods (the most common being eggs, peanuts, milk, nuts, soy, fish, animal meat, and wheat products)
  • Fungal spores
  • Insect and mite feces
  • Insect bites and insect stings (their venom)
  • Natural rubber latex
  • Pollen

(Related: Tricks to Prevent Spring Allergies From Taking Over Your Life)

What does “hypoallergenic” really mean?

Hypoallergenic means that something is less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. But Dr. Ko points out it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t. The term was first coined in 1940 and started being used in advertising as early as the 1950s.

Products that are marketed as hypoallergenic are not regulated by Health Canada. However the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act takes action against false or misleading claims.

Regulation would be a good thing for you. Hypoallergenic is not a scientific nor legal term, it just implies that the manufacturer has created the product with ingredients that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. So the “hypoallergenic” label on your face cream? It may be misleading.

(Related: 13 Ways Doctors Allergy-Proof Their Home)

What it takes for something to be truly hypoallergenic

It is nearly impossible for something to be completely hypoallergenic, Dr. Ko says. “For something to be truly hypoallergenic, it should not react at all with the immune system, for anyone,” she explains. It is “a hard bar to reach,” she says. Even inert metals can sometimes cause allergic reactions.

(Related: Allergy-Free Snacks For Kids)

What can you expect of hypoallergenic products and pets?

For consumers, hypoallergenic labels generally mean that common allergens are excluded from the product and/or the product does not cause allergy in testing situations, explains Dr. Ko. For example, hypoallergenic cosmetics are products that manufacturers claim produce fewer allergic reactions than other cosmetic products.

“It is reasonable to expect that hypoallergenic products will not induce allergy in the majority of individuals, but some unlucky individuals could still be allergic to a component of the product,” Dr. Ko points out.

So why do companies use the term? Well, the word may help people with allergies avoid certain products or ingredients, but people may also be more likely to buy products labeled hypoallergenic even though there’s no guarantee they are free of allergens.

In the case of pets, namely hypoallergenic dogs and hypoallergenic cats, the term translates to “less likely to provoke allergies” but does not mean they are allergen free. Breeds that fall into this category tend to be less likely to shed, as animal proteins and dander collect in animal hair and fur.

(Related: Cleaning Tips Every Dog or Cat Owner Should Know)

How to safely test a hypoallergenic product

Ultimately, just because a product or pet is dubbed hypoallergenic doesn’t guarantee it won’t provoke an allergic reaction in you. Before testing out a product, always read the ingredients on the label, scanning for any known allergens.

The only true way to know if you are allergic is to come into contact with the allergen. If you are prone to severe allergic reactions, you should contact a doctor to conduct allergy testing. “An allergist can do specific tests by pricking the skin, and dermatologists can also do specific skin tests to look for skin reactions after applying relevant products directly to the skin,” Dr. Ko points out.

There are even tests, called in vitro allergen tests, that can diagnose pet allergies. (But some experts recommend you skip the at-home allergy tests.)

In terms of skin care or beauty products, you can also try the product at home (which many companies recommend doing anyway), using a tiny amount on a small patch of skin. The process is called patch testing, and it can save you from a large allergic reaction. If you notice any sort of reaction, discontinue use.

In the case of a pet, you will generally get a good idea if you are allergic in a matter of minutes. So spend time with the pet before you bring it home for good.

(Related: Do I Have a Cold or Allergies? Here’s How You Can Tell)

Are hypoallergenic products and pets worth it?

There is no such thing as something being completely hypoallergenic. However, if you do suffer from allergies, products or pets labeled hypoallergenic will be less likely to provoke an allergic reaction. Regardless, always read the label and consider testing a product (or pet!) before completely exposing yourself. “A common sense way to think about it is to avoid products that cause a noticeable, acute reaction in you,” Dr. Ko says.

Next, check out How to Survive Allergy Season in Canada

If North America is ever to become a beacon of true racial equality, it will take a village—and a revolution—to get there. That means white people will need to do more than simply not be racist. To be true allies, they need to be anti-racist and fight alongside communities of colour to make a difference. When we think of “anti,” we tend to think of something that’s negative, but being anti-racist is the most positive and effective thing a white person can do in the slow march toward social justice. The first step is to unpack the concept of anti-racism by exploring its meaning and goals. You can also expand your knowledge by reading some powerful quotes and books about racism, support Black-owned businesses, and maybe even make a Black Lives Matter donation. There really is no wrong way to go about it. You just need to start somewhere.

(Related: Celina Caesar-Chavannes: Book and Interview)

What is anti-racism?

The difference between being non-racist and being anti-racist is like the difference between burning calories while you sleep and burning them at the gym. Non-racist is strictly an adjective, and it suggests a sort of inert neutrality—being without doing. Anti-racism, meanwhile, is a noun that functions like a verb. It’s not passive; it’s active. The National League of Cities, a U.S.-wide advocacy group for city leaders, defines anti-racism as “a system in which we create policies, practices, and procedures to promote racial equity.” It encompasses a code of conduct that requires more effort than outrage. It demands action and a conscious effort to try to change the world.

(Related: Toyo Ajibolade on Creating a Body-Positive Community)

The history of anti-racism

The concept of anti-racism goes back to the slavery era when white abolitionists were fighting for freedom on behalf of Black slaves and freed Blacks were fighting for both emancipation and equality. They were America’s first anti-racists. White abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe and Black intellectual leaders like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois led the way in the 19th and early 20th centuries, though change was sluggish. Anti-racism gained momentum in the mid-20th century with the civil rights movement, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the rise of Black Power in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Later, with the founding of Black Lives Matter in 2013, anti-racism once again became a powerful force of reckoning. Although white Americans have been an important part of anti-racism, it was the resurgence of BLM after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 that further catapulted white involvement to unprecedented levels.

“The video of George Floyd being kneed to death by Derek Chauvin and [Chauvin] just casually looking into the camera took people back,” says writer and activist Kevin Powell, who was a part of reality TV’s first in-depth discussions about race during the first season of MTV’s The Real World in 1992. “This must be what it looked like and felt like when you saw white people standing around a Black body dangling from a tree. It was a reckoning and realizing for the first time that the America they were taught to believe in is actually not the America that is.”

What it means to be anti-racist

Ibram X. Kendi’s 2019 book How to Be an Antiracist draws a distinct line between non-racist and anti-racist, pointing out that the latter, not the former, is the true antonym of racist. Project READY, an online curriculum that focuses on race and equity, describes anti-racist in travel terms, but we’d like to tweak the metaphor. Picture yourself on a moving walkway in an airport. Instead of taking you to the flight gate, though, it’s headed on a long journey toward racial equality and justice. Someone who is merely not racist might do what most travellers do and stand still while letting the walkway do all the work. If the system breaks down, they passively stop and wait for it to start up again. The anti-racist, on the other hand, is always walking, deliberately and purposefully, toward the final destination. They may even step off the walkway if it gets too crowded or if it’s moving too slowly, in order to run beside it. They don’t depend on some unseen electrical force, and they won’t let heavy baggage weigh them down. That tenacity reflects anti-racist determination.

Says Powell: “It’s easy to come around people of colour and say you’re anti-racist, but the real work is to actually do it inside of your community that is white, that has benefited from white supremacy, from racism, from white-skin privilege.”

(Related: Forces That Shape Health Care for Black Women)

The difference between being an anti-racist and being an ally

Project READY makes a pretty clear distinction between being an ally and being anti-racist. Allies listen to minorities when they talk about racism without interrupting and getting defensive. They live in diverse neighbourhoods and think about the ways in which they might perpetuate systems of white privilege and white supremacy. Anti-racists are less thought/talk and more action. They actively work to upset the racial status quo. For Powell, though, semantics are less important than effort. “I’ve been an activist for a long time, and I’ve seen all kinds of words come and go,” he says. “But at the end of the day, are you willing to do the work in communities that need to be changed because of their destructive behavior?” If so, you can begin in a number of ways.

Exit your comfort zone

Befriend people of different races and ethnic backgrounds. Listen to their stories. Empathize. Try to feel their pain. Imagine walking in their shoes. Take that knowledge and spread it among your peers.

March, protest, demonstrate, and volunteer

It’s nice to put a Black Lives Matter banner in your window, but the anti-racist is compelled to actually go out and do something. That might mean participating in a local demonstration or protest, mentoring young people in the BIPOC community, or supporting businesses run by people of colour. If your job requires you to hire, seek out diverse talent from minority groups as well as white candidates. Or, if possible, encourage your company to step up financially. White Minneapolis-based lawyer Steve Schleicher served as special assistant attorney general for the Derek Chauvin trial, and he worked the case pro bono. His efforts, of course, led to a conviction.

Speak up

When you hear someone make a racist remark, don’t just roll your eyes and walk away. Tell them why what they’ve said is misguided and wrong. You don’t have to be aggressive or confrontational to be anti-racist. You can make your point in a calm, measured way that’s more likely to get a positive reaction. “Disruptive anger, where we’re just yelling and screaming at each other, leads nowhere,” Powell says. But silence can be deafening, too—and deadly.

Open your eyes, ears, and mind

Seek out movies, music, art, and literature created by people from minority groups. Branch out from Shakespeare and Mark Twain and discover the brilliance of Black authors like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison. Acquaint yourself with the Black architects of rock and roll—Robert Johnson, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard—the forerunners of Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. Or write your own book, like White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo. “It’s important because white folks oftentimes will only listen to white people about racism,” says Powell.

(Related: In Conversation With Yogini Nancy Zagbayou)

Become fluent in the history of BIPOC groups

Branch out from the whitewashed and white-centric version of North American history taught in school. Black teachers are essential to the learning experience, and a dearth of them can be intellectually and emotionally crippling for both Black and non-Black students. But, on your own, you can still dig deeper and go beyond Martin Luther King Jr. Learn about the Black leaders and thinkers that mainstream textbooks ignored for decades—people like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Fred Hampton.

(Related: Books to Read to Your Kids About Race)

Challenge racist friends and family members

Saying nothing makes you an accessory to their bigotry or, at the very least, an enabler. Powell, like so many other Black people, has heard complaints from white friends with relatives whose views on race are stuck in the 1950s. “I ask these questions of my white friends: Have you done the serious work of challenging and confronting the racism of your family? Have you had these deep conversations with them? Have you done these deep dives? I’ve had examples where some of my white friends have said, ‘My father and my mother have evolved because of these conversations.'”

Make your social media posts count

Don’t just hashtag; say something. It’s not enough to be angry in private or merely go through the performative motions. Do your research. Post statistics about structural racism. Share information and stories. Speak out against racial inequity until your friends beg you to start posting cat videos again.

How to learn more about being anti-racist

There are a number of books that can serve as guides for white allies who want to upgrade to anti-racist. Along with Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be Antiracist and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, Paul Kivel’s Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice and Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy are excellent resources. Powell recommends Howard Zinn’s 1980 book A People’s History of the United States and Eyes on the Prize, a 14-hour documentary series that originally aired on PBS between 1987 and 1990. “[In Prize], you see young Black and white folks, civil rights workers, working together on the [1961] Freedom Rides,” says Powell, whose latest book is When We Free the World. “And A People’s History of the United States is an important book because Howard Zinn said in the introduction that he decided to write a book from the perspective of people who have been affected by oppression, not the perspective of the oppressors.”

The bottom line: You are what you eat, and what you read, watch, and listen to can be crucial to who you become. To that end, here are anti-racism resources, which can help change the way you think and live.

Next: Women of the Year: Canada’s Health Heroes

This story is part of Best Health’s Preservation series, which spotlights wellness businesses and practices rooted in culture, community and history. 

When I was growing up, my mom and dad would do a daily smudging with braided sweetgrass or sage. Smudging is a spiritual ceremony that can be performed daily, or whenever the person feels drawn or called to it. Burning these medicines cleanses our environment, our body and our spirits. We say our prayers and send them on the smoke up to creator. Performing a smudge can happen at any time. Say you have a nightmare, you smudge. Somebody’s getting married? Smudge.

Indigenous folks across Turtle Island are not a homogenized group of people. We’re different nations and different people with different languages, cultures, foods and legends. I was born in Vancouver in 1984 and my sister Melissa-Rae was born a year later. Our mom is CreeMétis and she’s from the Prairies, near Winnipeg, Manitoba. Our dad is Gitxaala and Nisga’a from the northwest of British Columbia. It was important for our parents to keep us connected to both sides of our family so together we lived in Winnipeg, Prince Rupert, B.C. and Vancouver.

No matter where we lived, traditional medicines were part of our life and our community. My first memories of my Indigeneity were going to powwows in the Prairies with colourful, bright and flashy regalia. When we moved to the west coast, it was more of a potlatch culture and people wore red and black button blankets. The medicines we used were different too. Sage and sweetgrass were very much Prairie medicines—their smells bring me back to my youth and childhood. On the west coast, cedar is life. It’s used for grounding and protection.

Harvesting sage for myself and others 

When I was young, I learned that medicines are traded, gifted or harvested for yourself. They’re never sold. Growing up, my mom or my sister would give them to me. I didn’t harvest them myself until 2010, when I was in my 30s. I was living in Vancouver and a friend, who had done a lot of harvesting and knew the land well, invited me to harvest sage. When we went to her secret spot, a few hours from the city, I could smell the sage in the air. I put into practice the learnings I’d been taught over the years, gave an offering of tobacco, prayed and gave thanks to the plant that was nourishing us before harvesting.

At the time, I was labourer in the construction industry, working predominantly with white men. It was a sexist and racist environment. Meanwhile, my sister Melissa was pregnant and facing homelessness because no one wanted to rent to an Indigenous, tattooed, pregnant woman. We were both in crisis.

“We can’t do this anymore,” I told my sister one day after work in June 2018. We figured we had to be our own bosses. And it had to be Indigenous. We thought, what do we have to offer? How can we make money doing this? Melissa loved making bath bombs and medicines had always been a part of our lives. So, we decided to start a self-care product line called Sisters Sage, inspired by our culture and traditions.

(Related: This Soap Brand Is Sharing the Healing Power of Inuit Tradition)

Building an Indigenous wellness business

Smudging Indigenous Owned Business Canada Inline3

Our first market was in December 2018. At the time, we had two bath bombs and two soaps. We made about $500. I was like: “Holy shit. This is real. We could do this.” After that, we sold at craft fairs, pow wows, farmers markets, Indigenous conferences and person-to-person.

I was still working my day job while building up Sisters Sage. On June 21, 2019, Indigenous People’s Day, a male coworker trapped me in the construction elevator and wouldn’t let me out. I reported the incident to the Workers’ Compensation Board and took a leave from work. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and major depressive disorder.

Sisters Sage was a huge part of my recovery. Through the business, Melissa and I became part of a community of Indigenous entrepreneurs in B.C. We were creating a community for ourselves. It was uplifting. It was loving and caring. It was decolonizing. It was a total 180 from my experience in construction.

A few days after I was harassed at work, I went to a conference run by the Indigenomics Institute. There, I met with people from Shopify and they offered me free web hosting and hooked me up with people to help create my website. By February 2020, I was declared recovered from my PTSD and major depressive disorder and was offered my job back. I said: “No thanks.” I decided to pursue Sisters Sage full-time.

(Related: Black-Female-Owned Wellness Businesses to Support Now and Always)

Celebrating our history and reclaiming our medicines

Then the pandemic hit. Markets and events were cancelled. I transitioned to promoting our business online and through social media. The business, which is run out of my home in east Vancouver, has been growing steadily and I now have two people working with me. Melissa also helps out with production two to four times a week, in between taking care of her two kids.

Smudging Indigenous Owned Business Canada Bh2021 Inline2

Right now, we sell soaps, salves, bath bombs and smokeless smudges. We’ve also stayed true to the tradition of not purchasing or selling medicine. We use some of them as ingredients in our products, but we don’t sell sweetgrass and sage for smudging. Instead, we developed a smokeless smudge. I came up with the idea when I was living in a basement apartment and couldn’t burn anything because of the tenants upstairs. My alternative was a spray of cedar or tobacco with sweetgrass essential oil and Epsom salts in water. Smokeless smudge is now our number-one seller, often given to Elders for spaces where they can’t burn.

We use a lot of traditional medicines in our products. Our devil’s club is wild-harvested in B.C. and we harvest our own sage in Lillooet, B.C. We purchase our sxusem soap berries from a local Elder who sells them at pow wows in the Vancouver area. Our soaps pay homage to our families. The Pow Wow Soap is for our mom’s side in the prairies. It’s a bright neon blue, yellow and pink, like powwow regalia. The West Coast Soap is from our dad’s side. It’s black and red, since those are traditional colours on the west coast. With every product we sell, we’re sneaking in some Indigenous education. Every product has a story behind it.

(Related: “For Me, Self-Care Is Self-Compassion”)

Smudging Indigenous Owned Business Canada Inline4

Support Indigenous-owned business (and stop buying smudge sticks)

It’s gross and hurtful when I see white-owned companies appropriating Indigenous culture, like selling smudge sticks. Indigenous folks, for hundreds of years, have been persecuted and legislated against practising our culture, never mind profiting off of it. But now, all of a sudden, you get to profit off of it. It’s just wrong. When the dominant culture steals and profits off of cultural properties of Indigenous folks, they continue the economic oppression that we have been facing for centuries. It is important to purchase authentic items from authentic sellers to support the Indigenous economy, our financial sovereignty and independence.

As we grow our products and our business, creating and harvesting medicines has allowed me and my sister to heal—and share healing with others. Working in an industry that’s predominately white is daunting. It’s intimidating. Most of the time I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’ve received such an amazing response from people across Canada who want to support small businesses, women-owned businesses and Indigenous businesses. I really feel like I’ve found my niche.

Next, This Canadian Beauty Brand is Helping to Empower Indigenous Youth.

Scoliosis, a condition that involves a curvature of the spine, affects about 3 percent of people. The abnormal spinal curvature that defines scoliosis often occurs laterally (or to one side), in an S- or C-shape, according to Medtronic Canada.

Depending on the degree of curvature, some people’s daily lives may not be dramatically affected, while others may have aches, pain, or other problems. That’s why it’s helpful to know about scoliosis stretches and yoga moves that might help scoliosis.

(Related: Do Posture Correctors Work?)

How scoliosis is diagnosed

While anyone can get scoliosis, and experts aren’t positive what causes the issue, it usually occurs in children 11 years old or older and happens in girls more often than boys. Many people find out they have scoliosis in school when getting their spine alignment checked by a school nurse or doctor, says Loren Fishman, MD, director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Other times, someone might experience pain, often in the lower ribs or the back, typically (but not always) on the side that’s bulging.

A patient might also notice that their clothes don’t fit quite right, Dr. Fishman says. Those who are older may also experience degenerative scoliosis, which might come with side effects like breathing issues or strains in heart function, Dr. Fishman adds. An X-ray will confirm a scoliosis diagnosis.

While scoliosis doesn’t typically limit someone’s ability to live a normal life, it can affect a patient’s range of motion in all directions, says physical therapist Peter Bowman, assistant professor in the department of physical therapy and rehabilitation science at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. These limitations can show up due to a prominent shoulder blade, a rib hump, or shoulder and or pelvic asymmetries, causing one hip to be higher than the other.

“This may lead to discomfort or difficulty with movement that requires twisting and turning, reaching, and cardiovascular endurance,” Bowman says. “Commonly, this causes difficulty walking, lifting, carrying objects, or participating in sports.”

(Related: Muscle Imbalance: Signs and How to Fix It)

How do you treat scoliosis?

Sometimes scoliosis just requires monitoring the curve in the spine, so it doesn’t get worse. For other patients, it might require a brace, physical therapy, or in some cases, surgery.

(Related: 6 Helpful Products for Lower Back Pain)

The benefits of exercise, yoga, and stretching for scoliosis

Bowman says strengthening the core and ensuring proper spine positioning can help those with scoliosis experience less pain and limitations. “Generally, it is recommended to remain active and identify activities that do not aggravate an individual’s symptoms,” he says.

A physical therapist can help determine stretches and exercises that work best for each individual and how and when to do them. “Physical therapy may also help to increase balance, spine mobility, and cardiovascular conditioning,” he adds. “Strengthening and stretching for the mid- and lower-back, hips and shoulders may help with an individual’s symptoms as well.”

To explain the benefits of these yoga stretches for scoliosis and strengthening the body to counteract the curve, Dr. Fishman says to think of the body as a tent pole, with many lines pulling down on all sides to keep the pole upright. “We’re vertical because muscles pull us symmetrically,” he says. “But if the muscles on one side are stronger or the lines tighter, then the pole would curve to one side.”

If they pull to the right, then the ribs on the left would splay out. “So if you look at scoliosis as strength on one side, then we want to strengthen the convex side,” or the outer angle, he explains.

Ingrid Yang, MD, a yoga instructor and physician, says since postural muscles are integral in causing scoliosis, strength, and endurance are the main goals in non-surgical treatment of scoliosis.

(Related: Simple Desk Stretches to Improve Posture)

Scoliosis stretches and yoga moves to consider

Dr. Fishman often incorporates yoga exercises into his work with patients and has studied the practice’s effects on the spine’s curve. According to one of his studies published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, the side plank pose, in particular (done on the side opposite the bulge), works to lower the degree of the curve.

Another one of Dr. Fishman’s studies, also published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, supports the idea of practicing side plank, along with half-moon pose.

Dr. Yang also mentions isometric yoga postures may help reduce the asymmetrical curvature that causes scoliosis and aches associated with the condition.

Dr. Fishman does suggest working with a professional to make sure you’re performing the moves correctly and in a way that will help the curvature, even if you’re familiar with these exercises.

(Related: How to Relieve Stress, Bloating, and Fatigue With Yoga)

Exercises to avoid if you have scoliosis

The best way to determine what exercises to avoid is to work with a professional, according to all the experts we spoke to. Someone who knows your body, and specific scoliosis symptoms and curvature, can better help you with the aches and pains you might be feeling, while protecting you from making the curvature, and any symptoms, worse.

Dr. Fishman also cautions against focusing on increasing flexibility or range of motion. “Stretching to increase range of motion can also increase spinal curves,” he says. “Don’t try to become more flexible. Instead, concentrate on strengthening the convex side of the curve or curves.”

Is working from home hurting your back? Check out WFH Back Pain: How to Solve Desk Back Pain

Allergies are an incredibly common health condition that impact over 27 percent of Canadians. An allergy occurs when your immune system comes into contact with an allergen—a foreign but typically harmless substance, like pollen—that triggers an immune reaction.

An allergen can be something you eat, inhale, put on your skin or body, or touch. It can make you cough, sneeze, break into hives or a rash, or even complicate your breathing. In extreme cases, an allergic reaction can close airways and drop blood pressure, which can be potentially life threatening.

While there are many different types of allergies, the most common ones are mediated by an antibody called immunoglobulin E, or IgE, explains Gary Soffer, MD, pediatric allergist with Yale Medicine. “Most commonly allergies are triggered by protein substances such as those found in pollen or foods,” adds Dr. Soffer. According to Asthma Canada, allergic reactions in the lungs can lead to conditions like asthma.

Allergy symptoms tend occur after your immune system becomes sensitized to a particular allergen, says Purvi Parikh, MD, an immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. “When the body comes into contact with these substances it triggers a response through IgE that activates allergy cells like mast cells and basophils which then cause the cascade of symptoms throughout the body,” he says.

Unfortunately, allergies are on the rise. Some experts believe it may be due to the over-sanitization of the modern era, which results in people having less exposure to germs, parasites, and other infections than previous generations. Known as the hygiene hypothesis, this may cause the immune system to go down a pathway where it’s more likely to overreact to otherwise harmless substances.

While there is no easy cure for allergies, there are some ways to prevent the reactions, treatments to help with the symptoms, and strategies to reduce their impact.

(Related: Allergy Advice: 30 Tips From Doctors)

What are the most common causes of allergies?

There are various types of allergies, each with specific causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Food allergies

Dr. Parikh explains that any type of food can be an allergen. However, the most common food allergies are to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, dairy, soy, fish, and shellfish. People with food allergies must check ingredient lists and avoid the specific ingredients that trigger an allergic reaction.

A doctor may recommend that some people carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen) at all times. The drug epinephrine can help reverse the most dangerous allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis.

Insect bites

There are a number of insects that can provoke an allergic response. Dr. Parikh explains that some people have a venom allergy (bees, wasps, hornets), which can be life-threatening. “They must carry an EpiPen,” she notes.

Mosquitoes and fire ants also can also cause allergic reactions, but these may be less dangerous. Treating these types of allergic reactions involves a combination of antihistamines, topical creams, and ice for swelling.

(Related: 6 Signs You Could Have a Mosquito Bite Allergy)

Drug allergies

You can be allergic to any drug, but ones administered with injection or IV are more likely to trigger an allergic reaction. IV drugs are more likely than others to trigger severe reactions, like anaphylaxis.

In general, symptoms of a drug allergic reaction can include a rash with or without other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and shortness of breath. Treatment involves strict avoidance of the medication and possible desensitization if the individual absolutely needs the drug.

(Related: The Best Allergy Medications in Canada and How to Take Them)

Respiratory or environmental allergies

Respiratory allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, are typically reactions to airborne allergens like dust mites, pollen, and cat and dog dander. The symptoms can include itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion, asthma (including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath) as well as skin rashes.

Treatments for these kinds of environmental allergies vary widely based on symptoms, but Dr. Parikh suggests anyone with these type of allergy symptoms see a board-certified allergist. “Asthma management is different from sinusitis vs. conjunctivitis,” she points out.

Skin allergies

Skin allergies can be a rash, hives, eczema, and others that are triggered by a food, chemical (ingredient in a product), or environmental allergen, explains Dr. Parikh. Treatment is dependent on the type of rash, how severe it is, and the cause.

One way to figure out if you are allergic to a specific skin or hair care product is to do a patch test. However, it’s not always easy to figure out the source of skin rashes or hives. You can get hives for no reason, known as chronic idiopathic urticaria, or in response to cold temperatures, pressure on the skin (known as skin writing), the sun (known as solar urticaria), or stress.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is the most severe manifestation of an allergy and most commonly occurs with food allergies or stinging insect allergies Dr. Soffer explains. Symptoms can include diffuse hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and a severe drop in blood pressure. “Patients in anaphylaxis can die from their allergy if not treated in an appropriate and timely manner,” he notes. Dr. Parikh adds that it can involve multiple organ systems.

As we mentioned, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), can quickly counteract swelling and other symptoms that occur during an anaphylactic reaction—emergency medical treatment is necessary.

(Related: Allergies? Here Are 13 Ways Doctors Allergy-Proof Their Home)

Chronic conditions and health problems linked to allergies

There are multiple health conditions linked to allergies, explains Dr. Parikh.

They include:

  • Allergic asthma
  • Allergy-related headaches/migraines
  • Insomnia
  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Sinusitis
  • Allergic conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the eye’s lining
  • Oral allergy syndrome, which is a when people who are allergic to pollen have an itchy or tingling lips and throat when they eat certain fruits and veggies, due to a cross reaction
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis, a chronic immune problem where white blood cells congregate and damage tissue in the esophagus, sometimes due to allergies, which can lead to difficulty swallowing.

(Related: Signs Your Allergy Medicine Isn’t Working)

Diagnosing allergies

Allergic rhinitis (environmental allergies), food allergies, and reactions to stinging insect allergies are all initially evaluated with a careful history. “If that history is suggestive of an allergic reaction then skin testing or blood testing is often performed,” says Dr. Soffer. Food allergy testing should never be performed without a clear clinical history of a reaction, and only specific foods of concern should be evaluated, he says.

(Related: This Wild Veggie Is Nature’s Answer to Fighting Allergies)

Allergy tests

There are a few different types of allergy tests, depending on the allergy in question.

Skin prick test

The skin prick test involves an allergist pricking the skin and placing a small amount of the potential allergen in the area so it can get beneath the skin. If there is an allergy, a red, itchy bump will likely appear.

Blood test

In a blood test, you will be tested for IgE antibodies, the antibodies produced by the immune system when exposed to an allergy-causing substance. The presence of IgE antibodies suggests that the body recognizes a substance as a potential allergen, but it doesn’t mean you necessarily will have symptoms when exposed to it.

Oral challenge test

This type of test is performed less often because it involves an allergist administering small amounts of a food allergen via capsule or with an injection. You will then be closely monitored for a reaction. If you have one, you can be promptly treated, but if you do not, it can help definitively rule out a specific food allergy.

At-home allergy tests

At-home tests involve taking a sample of blood yourself—either in a lab or sometimes by applying a drop of blood to paper in a kit—and then sending the sample off to be analyzed.

While at-home tests may seem convenient, Dr. Parikh and Dr. Soffer strongly advises against home test kits as they often lead to misdiagnosis of allergy. According to Food Allergy Canada, they are inaccurate, the results may not be clear, and they can be expensive. “You need to be trained in interpretation and can misdiagnose yourself,” Dr. Parikh says. “Also, many of at home tests are not standardized or evidence based.”

Allergy treatments

Depending on the type of allergy you have (environmental, food etc.), an allergist has several different treatment options that they will tailor to the individual patient, explains Dr. Soffer.

Environmental controls

Environmental controls, such as checking the pollen count and minimizing time spent outdoors during allergy season, avoiding pet dander, and keeping your home clean and free of mold, dust, smoke, and pests like mice and cockroaches, can be incredibly helpful in minimizing allergies, says Dr. Parikh.

Other steps you can take can include swapping out air filters (preferably HEPA) as recommended, using air purifiers in your home, changing bed linens often, opting for hypoallergenic dogs and cats (or no pets at all), using special mattress and pillow covers, and buying hypoallergenic products when available.

(Related: Fall Allergies: How to Allergy-Proof Your Home)

Immunotherapy/allergy shots

Immunotherapy/desensitization is a common method of treating allergies, namely allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, and eczema. Immunotherapy can look like allergy shots, which involve injecting an extract of the allergen into the arm of a patient, or treatment with drops in the mouth.

It can be helpful for people suffering from long-term allergies, as they are the only treatment that can actually desensitize the immune system to prevent allergies from occurring. They work better for some types of allergies than others and can involve a long-term commitment to the treatment over time.

(Related: Bee Pollen Benefits: What You Need to Know)

Medication

There are various medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, to help treat allergy symptoms. “One common misconception is that allergic rhinitis is best treated with oral antihistamines,” says Dr. Soffer. “In truth, the best and primary treatment is steroid nasal sprays,”

(Related: Stop Migraines, Headaches and Allergies with Butterbur)

Allergy prevention

Dr. Soffer maintains that one of the most important ways of preventing allergies from developing is exposing children to allergenic foods as early as possible. “We know that in children who have a high risk of developing peanut allergy, by introducing peanuts at four to six months [of age], parents can dramatically reduce the risk of peanut allergy,” he says.

Dr. Parikh recommends that you should try to reduce exposure to air pollution as well as avoid over-sanitizing with chemicals.

Allergies making you feel extra tired lately? Here are 7 Things Allergists Need You to Know

I never truly understood the crippling effects of anxiety until March of 2020. As the global pandemic set in and the world I knew seemingly crumbled around me, my feelings of fear and apprehension became a constant. Whether I was busy at work or relaxing with my roommates, I felt a heaviness in my chest and an uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. 

And then came the brain fog. 

It was as if someone had turned down the dial on my brain’s ability to focus while turning up the dial on its tendency to produce endless negative thoughts. My job as a digital journalist, which had once felt manageable, suddenly felt impossible. How could I be expected to concentrate when millions were dying and the world’s inequities were being brought to the forefront? 

The stress was overwhelming. And four months into the pandemic, when my hair started to fall out in clumps, I knew it was time to take action. 

I tried a number of new practices in an effort to improve my mental health: I meditated daily, I slept more, I did virtual yoga classes and I talked to a mental health professional. The latter helped me get at the root of what I was feeling while the other wellness practices brought me a sense of tranquility. I slowly began returning to my normal—but some degree of brain fog and anxiety persisted, especially during work hours.

(Related: How This BIPOC Mental Health Podcast Got Me Through COVID-19)

Picking up my old guitar 

In September, my father—who has been playing guitar for more than 50 years— started a business giving virtual music lessons. He’d always intended to teach, but had never gotten around to it. When the pandemic freed up his time and guitar sales skyrocketed, he finally took the leap.

Around that same time, I picked up my old acoustic. I had fiddled with it for a short time as a teenager, but it had since sat quiet in the corner of my room. With Toronto’s shops, restaurants and public spaces shut down, I figured learning the guitar would pass the time while also allowing me to spend time with my dad, who lives outside of Montreal. I never expected playing guitar to improve my mental state—until I experienced the benefits firsthand. 

After each one-hour Zoom lesson with my dad, I felt refreshed and fulfilled in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long time.

My dad called me a quick study, but there were plenty of occasions where I felt frustrated and discouraged over a chord that wouldn’t sound or a fingerpicking technique that seemed too difficult. Still, each time I picked up the guitar to work on a tune I loved, like “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina—the song my father sang to my mother at their wedding—I became laser-focused on getting it right. Everything else just seemed to fall away. My mind was clearer, calmer and fog-free—and these benefits lasted long after I finished practicing each day.

The benefits of learning a musical instrument 

“We know that listening to music has a number of health benefits in terms of being able to help reduce anxiety, help with relaxation, help with breathing, it helps to regulate the body’s system, but that actively engaging in it is even more impactful,” says Amy Clements-Cortes, a music therapist, psychotherapist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. Taking up a new instrument actually creates new pathways in the brain, she explains, which helps to keep the mind active and alert and can also enhance overall cognitive functioning. 

While some believe learning a musical instrument is reserved for young children with sponge-like brains, Clements-Cortes says there are distinct benefits for adults. Research indicates that playing music can help adults with everything from communication skills to reducing stress and anxiety. A 2017 study of 1,101 seniors, aged 64 and older, found that playing an instrument once every two weeks boosted participants’ attention spans, memory and executive function. More recently, data from Spotify showed that 89 percent of UK adults who learned the ukulele during COVID-19 lockdowns reported mental health benefits from the practiceincluding but not limited to an increase in feelings of happiness and relaxation. 

(Related: How Music Helps Your Brain) 

I wasn’t the only one taking music lessons during the pandemic 

Ed Lettner, owner of The Music Studio in the Greater Toronto Area, saw far more adults seeking lessons at his school during COVID-19, even as classes went virtual. Lettner teaches piano, and one of his adult students recently told him that he began playing every day before work after discovering how good it made him feel. Others told him they pursued new instruments specifically for the mental health benefits. 

“In some cases, they just thought they needed something to just take their minds off things,” Lettner tells me. “They just saw that as a way to have a break from everything else that was going on in their lives.”

Clements-Cortes says making music is often an emotional experience and can serve as a cathartic outlet. It helps people channel their creativity, and it improves self-esteem and confidence—three benefits which I personally experienced.

“It’s engaging in that kind of way which can release those-feel good hormones, and with that can bring this added clarity,” she says. “Really depending on why a person seeks it out and what’s happening in their life can perhaps influence the particular benefits they might get out of the experience.”

(Related: The Importance of Making Memories During Pandemic Life)

The mental health benefits of music extend beyond playing an instrument 

Of course, not everyone has the time, money or desire to take up a new instrument, but Clement-Cortes says even listening to your favourite song can benefit your wellbeing, especially during times of isolation

“If you want to change your mood and just have it enhanced a little bit, engaging in music can do that, and who doesn’t want that?” she says.

It’s been nearly a year since I began my music journey, and my mental health is the best it’s been since before the pandemic. Much of that has to do with the fact that I made the decision to prioritize my health—both mental and physical—once I started feeling off-kilter. But I also have my trusty old acoustic to thank for my improved state, and I intend to make sure it never spends years collecting dust in the corner of my bedroom ever again.

Next, find out 10 reasons you should always exercise with music.

Hemp is a versatile plant. Parts of it, like the seeds, meet nutritional needs and find their way into our breakfasts, lunches, or dinners. But hemp is also found in products ranging from clothing, handbags, paper, carpeting, soaps and shampoos, and other goods. People have used hemp this way for centuries, but over the past several years, it’s seen a resurgence.

Hemp oil typically refers to specific products containing CBD (cannabidiol), and it plays an outsize role in the exploding CBD market. Sales of CBD consumer products derived from hemp were around $1.2 billion in 2019, according to market researchers at Nielsen. CBD oils are a fast-growing part of that market, and most CBD oils that you find in North America are extracted from the hemp plant.

Here’s what you need to know about hemp oil vs. CBD oil, where hemp oil comes from, what it can be used for, and how to buy a quality product.

(Related: Hemp Hearts vs. Hemp Seeds: What’s the Difference?)

Hemp oil is not the same as hempseed oil

The distinction is important. The two oils are sourced from different parts of the plant and have different benefits. Hemp oil comes from the flowers and leaves of the plant. These days, its prime attraction is its CBD content, which purportedly carries various health benefits. Hempseed oil comes from the seed and has no CBD or THC. (THC is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the mind-altering component of marijuana; CBD does not make you high.) It’s a good source of polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, proven to be good for your heart.

You can also find hemp seed in food supplements like hemp milk and hemp protein powder. And it’s used to make varnish, paint, and soap, among other products. Science also suggests it can benefit the quality of your skin, hair, and nails.

Hemp is not the same as marijuana

Although the hemp plant is a cousin of the marijuana plant, Cannabis sativa, they differ greatly in how much THC they contain and in various other ways. In fact, they are effectively now two separate strains.

“Hemp refers to a specific type of cannabis that has only 0.3 per cent THC [or less],” says Kevin Boehnke, a research investigator with the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Marijuana contains more than 0.3 per cent THC.

(Related: What to Know About Canada’s Cannabis Legalization)

Different THC levels in hemp and marijuana

The difference in THC content is what distinguishes hemp from marijuana—anything containing more than 0.3 percent THC is considered marijuana. “From a legal standpoint, [hemp products, including hemp oil] are ‘descheduled,’ so that’s why you can go into a grocery store and buy them,” says Boehnke.

(Related: 8 Myths About CBD and Its Medicinal Benefits)

CBD affects the endocannabinoid system

Naturally occurring (endogenous) cannabinoids (such as CBD) play a role in the communication between neurons. Abnormal levels of these endogenous cannabinoids can play a role in health conditions. For instance, clinical studies have noted low levels in women with depression.

“Scientists recognize that diseases are related to a dysfunction in the endocannabinoid system,” explains Lee. “CBD has a potential effect for a wide range of diseases.” But that’s the theory. “It doesn’t mean if you buy something online all your health problems could potentially be helped,” he adds.

(Related: How CBD Helped One Woman With Anxiety and Sleep Problems)

The health benefits of CBD aren’t scientifically proven

High-quality CBD products may be able to alleviate symptoms, such as pain, insomnia, anxiety, and more, but the science behind these claims is still emerging, says Boehnke. In other words, we just don’t have that much strong, evidence-based research that hemp oil confers any health benefits. That’s not to say it doesn’t work, just that we don’t know yet.

Lab studies and animal studies (both of which are considered preliminary) hint that CBD may stifle inflammation, which could explain some of its other purported benefits. But, as Boehnke says, “that’s tough to translate into humans.”

(Related: Can Marijuana Treat the Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease?)

Anecdotal evidence for CBD oil

While there isn’t that much rigorous research, there are surveys in which people report having tried and benefited from products such as hemp oil, which contains CBD. Some of the top medical reasons people say they use CBD are for pain, anxiety, mood dysfunction, and sleep.

In one 2018 survey of more than 2,400 people using CBD, published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 36 percent of respondents said that CBD treated their condition “very well by itself.”

An Arthritis Foundation survey of 2,600 people with arthritis reported that 79 percent were currently using CBD for arthritis, had used it, or considered using it. Almost one-third said they currently used a CBD product, including 63 percent who used it every day. And nearly two-thirds said they used CBD in liquid form, which would include oil.

(Related: Everything You Need to Know About CBD Oil for Anxiety)

Cannabis legislation and regulation

The Canadian Government oversees the production and distribution of cannabis, from which CBD is derived. Cannabis and its extracts can be legally sold and distributed in Canada from licensed processors, and must be labelled with cannabis excise stamps.

Next: Can Cannabis Help Kick-Start My Sex Drive?

“A horror show.”
“Ew, disgusting.”
“I’m not into that crazy shit.”
“Step back.”

The above are a sample of responses I’ve received from partners when I disclosed I was on my period.

I always preface any kind of sexual activity by making it clear if I am menstruating, in case that might make my partner uncomfortable—because it does. For a lot of people. While this feedback didn’t put me off the great joys of period sex, it made me wary of sexual partners who treat a simple bodily function as something disgusting or shameful.

That being said, I’ve also had wonderful period sex experiences, where my partners expressed only curiosity and eagerness, which adds to the arousal.

One of the best representations I’ve seen of how normal period sex can be was in an episode of HBO’s I May Destroy You, when lead character Arabella (Michaela Coel) is in bed with Biagio (Marouane Zotti), a very hot Italian man. When he pulls off her underwear, he takes her liner with it, and when he then fingers her, he asks if he can remove her tampon. He even examines the blood clot that falls into his hand as he fingers her, asking polite questions about what it is, admiring its softness. It’s a touching, sensual scene with zero stigma—and totally realistic.

“The world has taught us lots of menstrual shame, and releasing that to make space for pleasure is very empowering—whether you have period sex or not,” explains Luna Matatas, a Toronto-based sex and pleasure educator. “Having an enthusiastic and non-shaming partner can be really healing for menstruating partners.”

If period sex sounds like something you want to try, you probably have more than a few questions, so let’s tackle them with some expert advice.

Discussing period sex can be awkward. Any advice for broaching the topic?

Start before things get steamy.

“Try having a conversation outside of sex and of your period to get a sense of what their take on period sex is. It may be a non-issue or you may discover it’s a solid ‘nope.’ But this conversation can be a lovely opener into all kinds of non-vulva or non-penetrative-focused sexual pleasure that is possible,” says Matatas.

It’s also totally OK to not want to have sex while on your period. And to be clear, not being in the mood does not mean you are obligated to perform oral sex on your partner.

“But many people do experience more horniness during their period due to hormonal changes,” says Matatas. Those changes include, for a cisgender woman, a rise in estrogen levels, which Matatas explains can make it easier to reach orgasm and experience greater sensitivity. What’s not to love?

OK, so how does having sex on your period work? 

Period sex functions exactly like regular sex, with this wonderful plus: you’ll have more and natural lubrication due to the menstrual blood. Although you might want to protect your sheets or wherever you decide to hook-up. More on that below.

Right, isn’t period sex super messy?

Absolutely, one cannot wax poetic about period sex without addressing the sheer messiness of it all. Because yes, it gets wet, it gets bloody and it gets potentially everywhere. But there are ways to take cover. If you want to keep the focus on stimulating the clitoris, for example, you can wear a tampon, tampon sponge or menstrual cup (ones that are particularly comfortable during penetration include SoftDiscs or Ziggy Cups). For lighter blood flow, you can also try using internal condoms, also called female condoms.

Otherwise, dark towels are your friend. Some people have a jerk-off towel, why can’t you have a period towel? You can also put down disposable incontinent pads, a mattress protector or waterproof sex blankets (like this one or this one), which are also called “squirt sheets.”

(Related: We Tried Knix’s Super Leakproof Period Underwear)

Can you have unprotected sex while your period?

The answer here is the same whether you’re on your period or not. Because like other bodily fluids (e.g. semen, vaginal fluids), blood can transmit sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—so using a condom is still important.

Dr. Christine Derzko, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto, says simply, “It’s not wise.” Why? “Because rarely— but sometimes—there is enough estrogen and therefore cervical mucus there to nourish sperm and give them a place to survive until ovulation. It’s also easier to pick up an STI during your period.”

(Related: Sex After 40: The Shocking Truth No One Talks About)

Wait, is it possible to get pregnant from period sex?  

Pregnancy is totally possible (though less of a risk during menstruation) as sperm can still easily find a warm home as Derzko noted above. If getting pregnant is not of interest, other than condoms, you can also turn to birth control, dental dams and gloves. 

Can having sex affect your period? For instance, does having sex on your period make you bleed more?

It’s complicated. “Male or female orgasmic release can change your cycle’s bleeding via a rise in prostaglandins (lipid compounds that are found in human tissue and have hormone-esque effects), which are involved both in coagulation and in cramping,” says Derzko. “That can lead to potentially less bleeding, more or less cramps, while the female orgasm can relieve some of those cramps.” 

So, sex can affect your period cramps?

Yes. In fact, many experts consider this one of the major potential benefits of period sex. Because an orgasm can release those kinds of chemicals—oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins—that make you feel happy, period sex can also ease the pain of cramping, and that is a true win.

However, not everyone agrees. Dr. Gail E. Robinson, a physician at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says the belief that sex can ease any kind of period pain is nothing more than “an old wives’ tale.” It seems more than a few things when it comes to women’s health are still up for debate, but the divisiveness here might be all the more reason to experiment. Wink wink. 

Will having period sex postpone your period?

No, period sex won’t delay your menstrual cycle, unless of course you get pregnant, in which case…yes, by about nine months.

Robinson explains, “When your period begins and ends has nothing to do with sex. Your period is determined by chemicals that are secreted from an area of your brain, go down to your ovaries, tell your ovaries to start producing an egg, then the system goes back to your brain and it tells different chemicals to come out and tells that egg to be released.”

(Related: Can Cannabis Help Kick-Start My Sex Drive?)

Is it possible to have better sex on your period?

Blood can be quite beautiful—sexy even—if you let it.

“You can eroticize your period,” says Matatas. “We do it with jizz through facials and body shots, but blood can be that way, too.”

For example, she says, here are some things you can do while having sex on your period that you can’t at other times of the month: body blood stamping, which can be a part of primal play or dominance and submission. Or watch menstruation together in the mirror while masturbating or touching each other and possibly discover a new sensual element together.

If and when you do give it a shot, it’s worth remembering: regular sex is super messy with sweat, sperm, discharge and even breast milk in some bedrooms. Fluids are our friends, not something worth taking an entire seven days off.

Next, learn sex tips from educator Samantha Bitty, who knows good sex (and wants you to know it, too).

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On the importance of protein

Fuel for thought: protein snacks can provide some of the energizing fuel you need to help get you through the day. When you’re scrambling to start the day and get the kids to school, a quick plant-based protein bar can be part of your 2-minute breakfast. Need an afternoon pick-me-up to tide you over between work and the gym? Protein bars are a great go-to snack. Searching for a nutritious treat for your kids’ lunch? Plant-based protein bars are a good go-to that’ll help them grow strong. While there are loads of protein sources on the market, SimplyProtein® makes plant-based bars in tasty flavours with inclusions like flax seeds and almonds that suit your everyday needs. (We have nut-free kid-sized, too!) Here’s why you need them in your lunchbox, desk drawer, pantry, purse, and more…

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Protein feeds those pipes

Looking to build muscle mass? Protein’s got your back (and delts, biceps, abs, glutes…). Protein is made up of amino acids, which help build and repair muscles, leading to quicker recovery times after big workouts…and a faster return on those efforts. Combined with regular strength training, protein can keep those muscles strong as you age, as well. So, the next time you’re rushing to the gym, consider SimplyProtein® – which packs a whopping 12 grams of protein and two grams of sugar per bar – to help power you through.

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Protein snacks give a little push

Feeling a mid-day lull and needing an extra push to power you through the rest of the day? Protein is your pal. It hits those hunger pangs square in the stomach, and helps you set about the next tasks on your to-do list, whether it’s finishing a long days’ work, hitting the gym, meeting with friends, or bussing the kids to and from practice. With smart snacks like SimplyProtein® in your proverbial back pocket, you’ll have the extra fuel you need to help you take on the day!

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Amp up your protein intake

Whether your goals target general health, muscle gain, or simple quick and convenient snacks to help support your busy lifestyle, SimplyProtein® has the answers to what you need. High in protein and mindful about sugar, their range of bars offer the plant-based, protein-packed snacks you need. Furthermore, health buffs will be happy to know that their range of flavours – which were recently reformulated and include Peanut Butter Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Almond, Lemon Coconut Flavour and Chocolate Coconut – are also gluten-free, rich in fibre, do not contain dairy, and are non-GMO Project Verified. The fact that they’re tasty to boot? That’s a total bonus.

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Think beyond the plant-based protein bar

Sure, SimplyProtein® snacks are packaged in convenient bars, but you’ll love them so much, you might want to explore possibilities beyond the snack on the run. Try crumbling the Chocolate Coconut on your next berry smoothie bowl. Chop up their Lemon Coconut Flavour and add crunch to your yogurt and berry parfait. Chop up Dark Chocolate Almond and add to your trail mix of granola, nuts and dried fruit. Think beyond the bar with our plant-based proteins, and enjoy endless options beyond the snacking.

On Wednesday, July 14, Johnson & Johnson announced a recall for select sun protection products after internal testing identified low levels of benzene in some samples.

“While benzene is not an ingredient in any of our sunscreen products, it was detected in some samples of the impacted aerosol sunscreen finished products,” Johnson & Johnson stated in a press release. “We are investigating the cause of this issue, which is limited to certain aerosol sunscreen products.”

The recall includes five sunscreen products that were distributed throughout U.S. retailers as well as two products available in Canada. Here’s what you need to know:

What products are being recalled?

In Canada, two Neutrogena products, Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen and Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen, have been recalled.

In the U.S. the products being recalled are Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen, Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen, Neutrogena Invisible Daily™ defense aerosol sunscreen, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen and Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen.

What is benzene, and why is it dangerous?

Benzene is on Canada’s list of toxic substances. It’s a chemical formed from both natural and manufactured sources. It can be found in volcanoes and forest fires, and companies use it to aid in the production of plastics, synthetic fibres, rubbers, lubricants, pesticides and more.

Human exposure to benzene causes cells to malfunction. Exposure to benzene can cause immediate symptoms including drowsiness, irregular heartbeat and tremors. With long-term or repeated exposure, benzene can cause cancer, specifically leukemia.

“Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia,” according to the CDC website. “It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.” The CDC also notes that for menstruating individuals, benzene can cause irregular menstrual cycles and shrunken ovaries.

What do you do if you have a recalled Johnson & Johnson sunscreen?

Johnson & Johnson is asking consumers to stop using these products immediately and discard them. Customers are encouraged to contact the JJCI Consumer Care Center (1-800-458-1673), which is available 24/7, with any questions or to request a refund. If you’re experiencing any health concerns, contact your physician or healthcare provider.

A reminder: Do not stop using sunscreen altogether

“The amount of benzene found in aerosol sunscreen so far has been quite low,” says Dr. Sunil Kalia, a Vancouver-based dermatologist. “Further testing is needed, but what we know is sunscreens have been used for 40 plus years and we have not seen any of those harmful effects that benzene can cause.”

Skin cancer is a prevalent issue in Canada. According to Health Canada, 1 in 42 men and 1 in 56 women are predicted to develop melanoma in their lifetime.

“In the Dermatology Association, we’re really concerned about skin cancer,” says Kalia. “What’s important is avoiding sun exposure, especially when the sun intensity is very strong, seek shade and then wear protective clothing as much as possible, and where you can’t protect yourself, use sunscreen.”

Next: 8 Simple Tricks to Better Protect Yourself From the Sun