Christine Zeindler

Email: christine.zeindler@ubc.ca


 

Researchers offer top tips for a healthy Halloween

Like so many other areas of life, Halloween festivities may look a little different this year in the midst of COVID-19. As health authorities ask people to take precautions and parents grapple with what is safe for their children, one thing remains constant: Kids love candy.

To help provide some relief, experts at UBC Okanagan are weighing in on what the best treats are and how to avoid being tricked by clever marketing.

Although sugar doesn’t cause diabetes, eat mindfully says Jonathan Little, associate professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development's School of Health and Exercise Sciences

"One of the biggest nutrition myths is that sugar causes diabetes. Sugar intake alone won’t do this; the major risk factors for Type 2 diabetes are age, genetics and obesity. You obviously can’t do much about the first two but your lifestyle can influence your weight status. Excess calories from any source, combined with physical inactivity, can promote weight gain, which in turn, increases the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Also, it is important to monitor sugar and carbohydrate intake for those who have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. It should be routine to avoid foods with added sugars and refined carbohydrates. During holidays and festivities rather than reaching for sugary treats, look for those with higher protein and flavour, such as nuts, homemade granola or trail mix, or cheese. Not only will this most likely be healthier, they will also provide more sustained energy."

Sugar has many disguises, says Wesley Zandberg, assistant professor of chemistry in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

"Sugar is a whole group of sweet-tasting carbohydrates that may often go by other names such as glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose—anything with the ‘-ose’ ending. Although chemically different, the body sees them as the same, whether from a candy bar or in concentrated fruit juices. And all are very, very high sources of calories.

In the case of whole fruit, though, sugars are also found linked together to form dietary fibres which the body cannot digest and instead powers the good bacteria living in the human gut. So, stick with the whole fruit, not the concentrated juice!

And keep your eye on labels. Smuggled-in sugars could be listed as carbohydrates, fruit juice concentrate, corn, malt or maple syrup. When searching for sugar-free treats, don’t let the labels fool you and learn the sugar synonyms.”

Artificial sweeteners may be harmful to your good gut bacteria, says Deanna Gibson, an associate professor of biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

"Artificial sweeteners are calorie-free synthetic sugar substitutes added to food and drinks to make them taste sweet. Although this seems like a good idea, there has been controversy around how healthy and safe these additives actually are. One of their side-effects is that they are toxic to the healthy bacteria in our guts, which are necessary for many bodily functions, including digestion and immunity. In fact, the consumption of these sweeteners has been associated with altering the gut bacteria, throwing off the immune and metabolic balance.

Recently, a study by Raylene Reimer at the University of Calgary has shown that maternal consumption of low-calorie sweeteners including aspartame and stevia during pregnancy pre-programs their offspring to gain weight. This study highlights that artificial sweeteners promote obesity-causing gut microbes that are passed from the mother to their babies.

While eating large amounts of sugar is not good for those with diabetes, eating artificial sugar substitutes are not a healthy alternative. My recommendation is to eat little processed food and enjoy small amounts of natural sugars on Halloween!"

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Research suggests infant immunity may be compromised

Letting nature take its course may be the best advice for nursing mothers, according to researchers from UBC Okanagan. Their findings show taking fish oil supplements while nursing may not be beneficial and may even negatively impact babies’ immunity.

The study, published in the ISME Journal, is the first to investigate the impacts of fish oil supplementation on the composition of breast milk and infant gut bacteria.

Deanna Gibson, associate professor of biology.

“While maternal fish oil supplementation is widely believed to support infant health, the effect on gut microbiology is relatively unknown,” says senior author Deanna Gibson, an associate professor of biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. “We demonstrated that supplementation corresponded with an increase in breast milk fats but a decrease in the immune-protective components of the milk. We also observed a change in infant gut microbiology—away from the bacteria normally present.”

For the study, Gibson and the research team evaluated 91 women and their babies; half took daily doses of fish oil while the other half did not supplement. Breast milk samples, infant stools and immune function markers were compared between the two groups.

Women who took supplements had a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids but lower protective molecules, such as antibodies, in their breast milk. The supplemented infants had a lower diversity of bacteria in their stools, something that is considered negative.

“We showed that fish oil supplementation decreases the critically important defence factors of breast milk, one of the only sources of immunity infants get during early life,” says former doctoral student and study co-author, Candice Quin. “We also showed that increased fatty acids in breast milk as a result of supplementation was associated with an altered composition of infant gut bacteria, both in numbers and diversity.”

“This is a change that could result in infection risk for the infant,” she warns.

With these findings in mind, Gibson cautions that the practice of prenatal fish oil supplementation may induce long-term dysfunctional gut immunity.

“We know that the gut microbiome is intricately linked to infant health,” she says. “Further large-scale studies will clarify whether early fish oil exposures alter infectious disease susceptibility, including persistent asymptomatic chronic infections.”

For more information about this study, visit Gibson’s blog.

Quin’s work was supported by funds from the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology and the Canadian Institute of Health Research. Gibson was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO experts offer tips on how to camp and hike cleanly.

Experts offer advice on how to enjoy nature in an eco-friendly way

The last long weekend of the summer is approaching and many will seek refuge in nature. However, this doesn’t bring comfort to all. Conservationists and border communities on provincial and national parks are concerned about increased visits and cavalier attitudes toward protected spaces.

Experts from UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science offer a few suggestions on how to leave only footprints behind for campers, hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Think about wastewater, says Jeff Curtis, associate professor, earth, environmental and geographic sciences

“All our waste, liquid or otherwise, that we leave behind seeps into the ecosystem. Lakes, rivers and other bodies of water can easily become polluted with so many people washing, rinsing and flushing.

Consider using biodegradable soap and toothpaste. Also, be aware of where you dispose of liquid waste. Be at least 60 metres away from any body of water and think of humans and wildlife downstream.”

Mind the rules and be respectful, says Kevin Hanna, associate professor, earth, environmental and geographic sciences and director of UBC’s Centre for Environmental Assessment Research

“Be considerate of our Indigenous communities and their land—we are guests. Rules for hunting, fishing, and land and water vehicles are there for a reason—to protect BC’s natural environments for future generations.

Know the rules and stick to them. It’s especially important this year as more people are using the backcountry, and many are trying new outdoor activities.

All wild animals should be treated with care and caution; no matter how big or small they are. Be respectful of wildlife and help protect their habitats. We are visitors to their homes.”

Be fire-smart, says Mathieu Bourbonnais, assistant professor, earth, environmental and geographic sciences

“We have been very fortunate with the limited number of wildfires this summer. However, just because there aren’t fire bans in place doesn’t mean we can relax on fire safety. Wildfire risk changes quickly and a few sparks from an ATV or a campfire in the right conditions can quickly lead to an uncontrolled blaze.

Campfire restrictions can occur at any time so be aware and be prepared. If you are lucky enough to roast marshmallows, keep the fire in the pit, keep it manageable and pour water on the coals and stir them to fully extinguish it.”

Leave no trace, says Lael Parrott, professor in sustainability and director of the Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience and Ecosystem Services

“It is intuitive to pack out what you pack in, but this also applies to materials like banana and orange peels which decompose slowly. Also, stay on the trail. This may be slow-going and frustrating if you’re behind someone, but vegetation that gets trampled may never recover. Keep your groups small and be mindful of others when stopping to pose and snap.

Be sure to only camp in designated areas to avoid trampling vegetation and use outhouses and wastewater disposal pits where available to protect nearby streams and lakes. Alpine plants have a very short growing season and survive in especially difficult conditions. Many people straying from designated tent sites and trails can have a large cumulative impact on the backcountry environment.

Before heading out, have a back-up plan so that if a trail or campsite is too busy, you can visit another. BC and other provinces have many beautiful spots to explore; seek out the less well-known ones that can accommodate your group enjoy the wonder.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO lecturer shares his enthusiasm for all things arachnid

Fake spider webs and eight-legged creatures decorate many homes this time of year. While living, breathing spiders may cause spine-tingling shivers for some, UBC Okanagan spider expert Matt Nelson says that this fear is misplaced. Despite commonly held beliefs, the biology lecturer with the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences says spiders rarely bite and are essential players in our world’s ecosystem.

Can you explain your fascination with spiders?

As a kid I was a rock-turner—I loved flipping them over to see what was underneath. And almost always, I found spiders.

There are more than 45,000 species and they range in size from the micro to macroscopic, with some reaching the size of a football. They are amazingly resistant to environmental changes like heat and drought, and have adapted to every terrestrial ecosystem, except that of Antarctica. Some of their fellow arachnids even reside on humans, they are commonly found on people’s eyebrows.

How important are they?

We can’t live without them. Spiders eat insects. I would say that is their primary role. Some, like the Okanagan’s native sheet-web spider do this through passive hunting with their funnel-shaped webs. Others, like the wolf spider, actively hunt. Spiders also kill other spiders, sometimes even their own mate. This helps keep their own numbers under control. Also, spiders are an important food source for other animals, including birds, lizards and other insects.

We’ve all heard of 'spidey sense.' Is that a Hollywood fiction?

It’s true, some spidey senses exist. Spiders have tiny sensory hairs all over their bodies that are like extensions of their bodies. Some detect, or feel, vibrations while others are chemo-sensory and can detect smells. This can give them an ability to sense their environments beyond anything that humans can.

Do they have any other qualities (other than scaring folks)?

Spiders have many other amazing abilities. For example, they have multiple eyes. This varies between two to eight, depending on the species. Not all eyes are image forming, some just ‘see’ light. The jumping spider, however, has eight eyes two of which are image-forming, can see colour and track motion.

Many spiders can even defy gravity. The tip of a spider’s leg, called the tarsus, has tiny hair-like structures, which can grip onto the irregularities of almost any surface.

Do all spiders have fangs?

Almost all spiders have fangs that are venomous. Yet, very few are dangerous to humans. In fact, there are more dog bites yearly, than those from spiders. They are actually pretty chill. They don’t want to bother you and really won’t bite unless provoked.

How can we rid our houses of spiders?

If there are spiders in your house, they are there for a reason. They are eating something, perhaps insects? I would caution against using pesticide, which may affect non-target species. The same strategies that you would use to energy-proof your house, will keep spiders out. For example, make sure there aren’t cracks in your doors and close your windows properly. If you see a spider, put it into a jar and take it outside.

UBCO Lecturer Matt Nelson holds his pet juvenile tarantula.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca