Prevention & Recovery

7 made-in-Canada health innovations you need to know about now

7 made-in-Canada health innovations

Little Life Box Author: Jill Buchner

Prevention & Recovery

7 made-in-Canada health innovations you need to know about now

Nutritious superfoods, apps that will help you live longer and an easy way to get the most from your benefits—these Canadian companies are doing their part to make our lives better.

Getting personal


Who: Mio Global

What: A fitness app that uses customized activity tracking

Why we're excited: Meeting the fitness goal this app sets for you could add 10 years to your life. If you want to live longer, it might be time to stop counting steps and start thinking about your PAI score. This new fitness metric is the work of Vancouver-based Mio Global, a pioneer in wearable heart-rate monitors. While many trackers use step counting to gauge fitness, Mio Global developed a research-backed activity-tracking tool called Personal Activity Intelligence (PAI), which focuses on exercise intensity. The PAI algorithm—calculated using age, gender, heart rate and body composition—was created based on the results of a 20-year study of 60,000 people, conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The goal is to keep your PAI score at 100 or higher. Based on study results, doing so can prolong your life by up to 10 years, says Liz Dickinson, founder and CEO of Mio Global. The more your heart gets pumping, the higher your PAI score rises; the more sedentary you are, the more it drops. But this isn't one-size-fits-all fitness—the amount and intensity of exercise needed to stay above 100 differs for everyone. Download the free PAI app (for use with Mio Global trackers) on iTunes or Google Play.


Fresh crop


What: Camelina oil

Why we're excited: With super-healthy fats and a high smoke point, this oil might change the way you cook. How's this for foresight? About a decade ago, commodity prices were down and three Saskatchewan farmers were looking for a new crop. One of them stumbled upon camelina sativa, an ancient seed from the brassica family (think broccoli and kale) that used to be popular in northern Europe. The drought-resistant and cold-tolerant crop seemed perfect for the Prairie climate. Though it wasn't certified as a food product in Canada at the time, a little research showed that cold-pressed camelina oil was rich in omega-3s and vitamin E, and had a smoke point of 475°F, which means you can roast, grill and stir-fry with it without harming those healthful fats. (Extra-virgin olive oil, on the other hand, has a smaller percentage of omega-3s and a smoke point of about 375°F.) Seeing an opportunity, the trio convinced Health Canada to grant the oil novel-food status and began bottling and selling it under the name Three Farmers—and it's still one of the only companies growing this game-changing ancient seed today. "Customers are loving the flavour of the oil, the nutritional value and the versatility of the smoke point," says Elysia Vandenhurk, daughter of one of the farmers, COO of the company and a Red Seal chef. "Most people use olive oil in their kitchens. We're showing them they can use this instead for salads, for cooking and as a supplement." You can buy 250 millilitres of camelina oil for $13 through the company's website,, and at health and natural food stores across Canada.


Connected care

What: A surgery prep and recovery app

Why we're excited: Mobile medical supervision helps patients stress less, recover better and avoid complications. Imagine you're home, recovering from knee surgery, and you begin to experience pain and swelling in your calf. In the past, you might have brushed it off, but with a new app called SeamlessMD, you'll be warned that it could be a sign of a rare but serious complication: a blood clot. When it comes to surgery, much of the preparation and recovery happens when the patient is at home, without the supervision of a doctor. For many patients, this can lead to unanswered questions, anxiety or unnecessary visits to the emergency room. That's why Dr. Joshua Liu teamed up with an engineer and a computer scientist to develop the program, which empowers patients to self-manage their care and helps doctors monitor their patients. Available as an app for smartphones and tablets, or as a program on a web browser, SeamlessMD reminds patients about things like when to stop eating or taking medications before surgery. It offers task lists and instructional videos to help patients stick to recovery plans and properly complete physiotherapy exercises post-surgery. And it monitors recovery, helping patients recognize signs of complications and reporting their progress back to their doctors. "Patients feel more connected to their care team," says Dr. Liu. "It's helped them with issues they originally thought they would have to go back to the hospital for. And we've had patients who have caught some pretty major issues and got help sooner." Like, for example, those potentially deadly blood clots. So far, the app is being used in hospitals in Ontario, Quebec and the U.S., but it's beginning to spread across Canada. The data gathered by the program can help health-care teams offer better care, and minimize emergency room visits and hospital readmissions. But Dr. Liu says it also has the potential to create more proactive health care. "Our big vision is that, as we get more and more data, we can start predicting if patients are at risk of an infection or complication. Today, health care is far too reactive; we want to help health-care providers catch patients before they fall off the track."




What: Hemp seeds

Why we're excited: These super-versatile seeds are packed with protein and omega-3s. It may seem hard to believe, but just two decades ago, hemp seeds (those newly popular smoothie staples) were impossible to find. But that all changed with the founders of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, who helped legalize industrial hemp in Canada in 1998—a tough task given the misconceptions about hemp's relationship to cannabis. (There's no risk that hemp will get you high.) "Since then, we've become the world's largest hemp-food manufacturer," says Kelly Saunderson, the company's manager of corporate and public affairs. Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of hemp, shipping mainly to the U.S., and though it's still a niche product, popularity is soaring—sales of Manitoba Harvest's shelled hemp seeds rose by 115 percent last year. So what's the big deal? A standout mix of protein and healthy fats makes the seeds highly nutritious. In fact, 30 grams of Hemp Hearts will deliver 10 grams of protein and 2.5 grams of omega-3s. Plus, the crop can be grown without pesticides or herbicides. You can purchase a 227-gram package for $9 at health food stores.


On the nose

Who: Escents

What: Custom-blend essential oils

Why we're excited: Customized aromatherapy mixes mean there's a solution for everyone. Aromatherapy has long been used to relieve stress, pain, sleeplessness and more, but it was a Canadian innovation that allowed people to customize their own scented solutions. Jacqui MacNeill was fresh out of university in 1991 when she started taking aromatherapy courses and selling essential oil blends at a Vancouver mall kiosk. "The power of essential oils really impressed me," says MacNeill. "People would ask for treatments for stress relief or sleep, and I would make them on the spot." Now, you can walk into any of her 20 Escents stores across Canada and make your own blend for whatever ails you, then add those oils to an unscented lotion, a carrier oil, a hair product, a roll-on or a diffuser. The store also has its own premade blends, such as Head-Aid and Stress Relief. "When you put essential oils on, they have the ability to absorb right into the bloodstream," says MacNeill, explaining that this means the beneficial effects can come quickly. In addition to promoting relaxation, various essential oils have been credited with helping to relieve nausea, combat bacteria, fight acne and more.


Wellness at your door


What: A healthful subscription box

Why we're excited: Monthly deliveries help you discover new wellness solutions. Chelsea Brennan had seen health-focused subscription boxes available south of the border, but when she tried to get a monthly delivery of nutritious snacks, supplements and natural-product samples shipped to her home in Montreal, there weren't any available to her. So, in 2013, she joined forces with her mom to create Little Life Box, a service that sends healthful packages to subscribers across Canada. Now, for $27 a month (including shipping), her customers receive boxes containing health foods, supplements, beauty products and more, with a focus on organic, vegan, gluten-free or non-GMO items. Brennan says it's a great way to introduce Canadians to products that are good for them. "A lot of consumers are hesitant to purchase a product not knowing if they like it. This gives them a way to try it."


A plan for the future

Who: League

What: An app-accessible, prevention-focused health and wellness platform

Why we're excited: It makes preventive care so convenient, it's been described as the Uber of health care. Two years ago, tech entrepreneur and Kobo cofounder Michael Serbinis began thinking about the future of health care. He wondered, Will it still be doctor- and hospital-centric or will I, as a consumer, be empowered to manage my own health care? Rather than waiting to find out, he decided to change the system himself with League, a sort of health-care concierge. The system connects consumers with a prevention-focused health network of fitness trainers, nutritionists, chiropractors, massage therapists and everything in between. "What we're trying to do is empower that consumer to not only help them address problems when they're sick but to also keep them healthy every day," says Serbinis. You can find nearby health providers, see their reviews, book appointments and pay instantly—all via your phone. Employers can also provide benefits and health and wellness spending accounts through League, which means users don't even need to fill out insurance forms. So far, hundreds of companies in Toronto, Vancouver and Seattle have signed up, and national coverage will roll out this fall. "Traditional plans are pretty restrictive," says Serbinis. "We're changing all of that. We're giving you advice on how to live better every day and making it very convenient." 

Read more:

5 ways technology affects your health

Are fitness trackers making us healthier?



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Prevention & Recovery

7 made-in-Canada health innovations you need to know about now