Health·Second Opinion

Measuring sleep quality and U.S. scientists mobilize

Second Opinion is a vital dose of the week's news in health and medicine from reporter Kelly Crowe and CBC Health.

Plus, the perils of calculating your date of demise

A panel of experts has weighed in on what constitutes quality sleep. (Getty Images/Image Source)

Every week, we're on the lookout for thought-provoking and off-the-radar bits of health news. Here's a selection of stories from this week's health newsletter, Second Opinion.

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Medical rift over morning sickness drug

The see-sawing opinion over a popular morning sickness drug is enough to make an already queasy woman dizzy. Should pregnant women suffering from nausea and vomiting take Diclectin, a combination of antihistamine and vitamin B?

If they ask the editors at the journal Canadian Family Physician, the new answer is "no", reversing a long standing recommendation. But the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada still says "yes", even though the original drug approval data has been challenged.

Both groups do agree on one thing, though. Pregnant women searching for relief from nausea and vomiting can try using just vitamin B on its own.

Scientists mobilize

Sound familiar? There are reports that the new U.S. administration is muzzling scientists and cutting research funding. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Watching Trump's Washington could trigger a sense of déjà vu for Canadian scientists once muzzled by Stephen Harper.

It's only been a week, but already many scientists south of the border are alarmed about the new president. And after last weekend's Women's March, they're planning a march of their own. According to one website, the Scientists' March on Washington is for anyone who "values empirical science".

There's already a Facebook page and a Twitter account — and you can even get your T-shirt. Organizers are meeting this weekend to pick a date and set plans for sister marches across the United States.

The protest comes after reports of funding cuts and gag orders on releasing scientific findings at public agencies, including at the Department of Health and Human Services. It might be chillingly familiar for Canadian scientists who once protested on Parliament Hill under the Harper government. Already, our neighbours are asking Canadians what might happen and what can be done, as in this article from The Atlantic.

Shkreli strikes back

Remember Martin Shkreli? The 33-year-old former drug company executive became the notorious face of Big Pharma after hiking the price of an old drug by 5,000 per cent. This week, an industry group launched a glitzy new ad, and it's explicitly aimed at distancing itself from Martin Shkreli.

"Less hoodie, more lab coats," is how one industry insider explained the new campaign, in a not-so-subtle jab at Shkreli, who's known for his casual style. Shkreli quickly hit back with a website called, where he names and shames many of the biggest drug companies for a laundry list of alleged misdeeds, none of them confirmed.

Some of the claims link to stories in the media, while others are his own musings. "Look in the mirror," he writes, "Pharma is a wonderful industry that does great things, but trying to throw me under the bus is foolish."

Sweet dreams?

Hopefully reading this isn't making you drowsy. But if it is, how was your sleep last night?

A panel of experts has weighed in on what constitutes quality sleep. Among the findings: continuity is key. That means falling asleep in less than 30 minutes, waking up no more than once during the night, and falling back asleep within 20 minutes.

Overall, they found that sleeping at least 85 per cent of the time while lying in bed to be a quality sleep. The authors say that with all the new sleep tracking gadgets on the market, it's important to have accepted indicators so people can better gauge their sleeps.

New concerns about paid plasma

Now the health minister is looking into whether private plasma clinics could impact Canada's volunteer blood donation system. (CBC)

The  controversy over paying Canadians for their blood plasma has reached the desk of Canada's health minister, with Jane Philpott questioning the impact of paying for plasma on Canada's voluntary blood donation system.

Last month CBC reported concerns about a drop in volunteer blood donations after a private plasma clinic opened in Saskatoon.

"This is a significant change, and one we take very seriously, which is why I have asked Health Canada to carefully assess these concerns and to consult with our provincial and territorial partners in order to inform next steps," Philpott said in an email statement. Also this week, Canada's national blood agency — Canadian Blood Services — submitted plans to increase plasma collection from volunteer donors across the country.

Date with death

How long will you live? How many days do you have left? A number of online sites claim to offer the answer. So-called "death clocks" ask for a variety of details, and then calculate your life expectancy.

Now a British economist has tested a random sample of those sites and found the results to be as unpredictable as, well, life itself. In the end, he was given life expectancies ranging from 67 to 89 years.

But before you investigate your own death clock, you might want to heed his advice: "Death clocks should come with a health warning: calculating your date of demise is somewhat sobering and the results should be taken with a pinch of salt."