Jess

Fighting the health effects of air pollution: The benefits of antioxidants and omega-3s

Fighting the health effects of air pollution: The benefits of antioxidants and omega-3s

Take a deep breath: 1.6 million people die in China every year from breathing toxic air pollution. Over 300 cities in the nation suffer from worrying levels of harmful air pollutants, especially in the northern region. E.g. in December 2016, the capital of northern Hebei province, Shijiazhuang, recorded 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre of PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter small enough to travel deep into the lungs). This far exceeds the WHO guideline of no more than 10 micrograms – by 100 times!

As touched upon in our recent article on reducing the health risks of air pollution, wearing a protective mask, decreasing your time spent outdoors and using an air purifier can help provide protection from smog. What’s more, proactive diners are also fighting the harmful health effects of smog by changing what they eat. This week’s article explains everything you need to know about the link between healthier eating and the effects of air pollution.

The negative health effects of air pollution

Before we look at how healthy eating can help combat smog, let’s first address the negative health effects of air pollution. Exposure to toxic levels of PM2.5 increases the risk of numerous short and long term harmful health effects.

Groups that are more vulnerable to these harmful health risks include the elderly, pregnant women, young children, and people suffering from conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

Short term health effects

According to National Geographic, the temporary health effects from exposure to air pollution include:

  • Pneumonia, a lung infection which causes lung inflammation
  • Bronchitis, an inflammation of the bronchial tube lining
  • Wheezing
  • Headache and dizziness
  • Irritation to the nose, throat, eyes, or skin

Long term health effects

Long term effects from exposure to air pollution are more serious, and can last for several years up to an entire lifetime. They can even lead to mortality. These effects include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Respiratory disease (e.g. emphysema)
  • Nerve, brain, kidney, and liver damage
  • Some scientists believe it may also cause birth defects

To avoid these harmful health risks, it’s therefore important to adopt protection strategies to minimize the effects of smog.

How healthier eating can address the effects of air pollution

As the Chinese urban population continues to grow, this has in effect created a shift from the traditional preference for fresh food and wet markets to prepackaged foods and supermarkets. Major international retail giants like ParkNshop and Carrefour, as well as Chinese retail chains and convenient stores continue to thrive as a strong platform targeting the younger generation with ready-to-eat meals and processed foods. As a result, there’s a worrying trend towards a growing number of people adopting diets characterized by low nutrient profiles (e.g. lacking in antioxidants).

The importance of antioxidants and omega-3s

Eastern and Western practitioners, as well as nutritionists and naturopaths all agree that the type of food we eat have a profound impact on our immune systems. So, why not fortify your diet with the right nutrients? By doing so, we’re helping our bodies remain as healthy as possible so that it’s less vulnerable to contracting diseases.

What are antioxidants?

According to WebMD, antioxidants can help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. A person may be exposed to free radicals through air pollutants. As such, adopting a diet rich in antioxidants can be a great way to stabilize these free radicals. For example, regular consumption of fruits and vegetables with carotenoids (e.g. carrots), which is an orange antioxidant pigment, has shown to be effective in reducing the risk of developing lung cancer. Other high antioxidant foods include goji berries, blueberries and kidney beans.

What are omega-3s?

Omega-3 fatty acids are the type of fat you don’t want to cut back on. Typically found in fish, seeds and nuts, omega-3s deliver a range of excellent health benefits. For instance, some studies even found that it can help lower levels of depression. Several studies also suggest that foods high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can help provide protection against inflammation. As a common health effect of air pollution is lung inflammation, consuming omega-3 rich foods such as mackerels, salmon, flaxseed and walnuts may have a beneficial effect on controlling various lung conditions (e.g. asthma).

Does it really work?

The answer to this question will of course depend on your expectations. The idea of healthier eating is that it will help you improve your health and boost your immune system in the long term, so eating a nutrient rich salad for lunch won’t mean that you’ll be breathing easier come bedtime.

As it can be hard to properly measure the benefits of healthier eating, adopting this approach may seem negligible to some, but you could do worse than giving it a try. Of course, besides eating nutrient rich foods, methods such as staying away from heavily trafficked roads and wearing a protective mask are still very important in offsetting the harmful health risks of air pollution.

Final advice: Don’t forget health insurance

While it’s of course important to have a healthy diet, it’s also essential to obtain health insurance should you require medical treatment for air pollution related illnesses or another condition. By securing health insurance, you’ll be able to offset the high cost of private treatment in China or elsewhere.

As virtually every health insurance plan out there is different, it can be tricky to shop around for the best value medical insurance plan that addresses your specific healthcare needs. This is why it can pay to get in touch with an experienced broker like Pacific Prime China.

Posted by Jess in Health Insurance
Pregnancy technology for tech-savvy parents and parents-to-be

Pregnancy technology for tech-savvy parents and parents-to-be

Let’s face it, welcoming a new addition to the family can be daunting, but pregnancy technology may just help make things incredibly easier for parents and parents-to-be. From conception to pregnancy and beyond, a growing number of consumer gadgets and tools are helping those who want to be more involved in their own care.

Due to a number of reasons, China is a market with huge potential for pregnancy technology. For instance, the newly introduced two-child policy, which came into effect in January 2016, has meant that around 90 million women have become eligible by law to have a second child. As a result, consumer demand for maternity products have since soared dramatically following the new policy relaxation announcement.

From online tools such as ovulation calendars to wearable baby thermometers, our article looks at everything you need to know about pregnancy technology and its role in revolutionizing the maternity experience.

Pre-pregnancy technology: Increasing the odds of pregnancy

For many couples, getting pregnant may require a lot more than just having intercourse. Thankfully, there’s a whole range of pre-pregnancy technology on the market that may just give you the best chance of getting pregnant.

Online ovulation calendars help predict ovulation

Successful conception can come down to an exact science. These days, the internet is full of free online tools that help women predict what time in their cycle they will be ovulating. One such example is our very own ovulation calendar, which you can access by visiting our maternity health insurance page.

Ovulation calendars work by estimating a woman’s fertile days. In other words, it works out the fertile period in a woman’s menstrual cycle when the likelihood of conceiving increases if they have intercourse until two days before and including the day they ovulate. This usually occurs mid-cycle, so ovulation calendars count 14 days backwards from the first day of the woman’s anticipated period.

To use our ovulation calendar, simply enter the date of your last period, and the average length of your cycle. Then, indicate whether your cycle is regular or irregular. After that, click next, and there you have it: you now have an estimation of your next fertile period, as well as the resulting due date.

Testing male fertility from the comfort of your own home

Did you know that around one third of all fertility issues are attributed to men? Common reasons for male fertility issues include low sperm count, as well as reduced sperm mobility. Hailed the “FitBit for sperm”, Trak is a male fertility testing system that allows men to measure and improve their sperm health from the comfort of their own home.

Designed by leading men’s reproductive specialists, it helps men identify whether their sperm concentrations are low, moderate, or optimal. For further information on how Trak works, you can visit their website’s “science behind Trak” page here.

What’s more, the Trak testing system also works with its dedicated Trak: Sperm Health & Fertility app, where users can log and track their sperm test results over time. The app further breaks down semen analysis, and provides personalized tips to improve the user’s reproductive health.

Enhancing the pregnancy experience with prenatal gadgets

Expectant moms want to have the most informed pregnancy possible, and be more involved in their prenatal care. Now, more and more pregnant moms are using consumer technology to monitor and keep track of their pregnancy.

Sound systems for the belly

While there’s no definitive conclusion as to whether playing music or other types of sound has any profound effect on the baby’s development, there are a growing number of baby-bump sound systems on the market. Pregnant moms can now use gadgets such as BellyBuds to play music or even voice recordings to their baby in-utero. All you have to do is adhere the discrete BellyBuds speakers to your belly, and then you can start playing music to your baby wherever you go.

Listening to your baby’s heartbeat

To enjoy the special moment of listening to your baby’s heartbeat in the comfort of your own home, you may want to consider a device like Shell by Bellabeat. This pregnancy technology gadget screens out noise and amplifies the sound of the baby in-utero for those listening in. Additionally, users can record and share their baby’s heartbeat to their friends and family.

Caring for the newborn with post-pregnancy technology

Caring for a newborn can be stressful, and new parents need all the help they can get. From smart clothing to smart pacifiers, let’s look at some of the most revolutionary post-pregnancy technology that are helping new parents look after their newborn child.

Monitoring your baby’s sleep

Monitoring your baby’s sleep to track patterns and changes can ensure that everyone, including the baby and the caregiver, gets quality sleep. With Mimo, a onesie attached to a wearable sensor, you can monitor the baby’s body position, skin temperature and breathing in real-time, as well as see if they’re awake or asleep through its dedicated app.

Taking your baby’s temperature with smart pacifiers

Newborns have weaker immune systems than adults, so it’s important to track and monitor your baby’s temperature on a regular basis. However, it can be tricky to track your baby’s temperature frequently, especially when they’re sleeping. This is where devices like smart pacifiers can help.

Pacif-i is a bluetooth low energy pacifier that continuously monitors your baby’s temperature. Acting as both a pacifier and a smart thermometer, you can receive temperature readings via its dedicated app without disturbing your baby, even when you’re in a different room.

Don’t forget to secure maternity insurance

While pregnancy technology gadgets are indeed revolutionizing the maternity experience and making things a lot easier for tech-savvy parents and parents-to-be, it’s important not to overlook maternity insurance. Private healthcare can be incredibly expensive in China, which is why we advise moms-to-be to obtain maternity insurance early enough on their policy.

The thing to be aware of with maternity insurance is that in most cases it comes with a waiting period of 10 – 12 months. With this in mind, if you’re planning to start a new family, you will need to secure maternity insurance before you conceive if you want to ensure that your maternity costs are covered.

Got any more questions regarding maternity insurance or health insurance in general? Be sure to get in touch with the experts at Pacific Prime China today.

Posted by Jess in Health Insurance, Maternity Insurance
China bird flu cases are surging, in deadliest outbreak since 2009

China bird flu cases are surging, in deadliest outbreak since 2009

Recent news headlines have reported a surge in the China bird flu death toll, where in the months of January and February a total of 140 people died from the deadly H7N9 strain of the bird flu virus. The amount of deaths in the first two months of 2017 alone has already surpassed the annual totals of avian flu reported in recent years. In 2010, the H1N1 subtype led to a death toll of 147.

The alarming spike of avian flu recorded in 2017 has thus placed the H7N9 strain of bird flu at the top of the list of pandemic threats from among a dozen avian and animal flu viruses, which has afflicted several hundred people in China for the past few flu seasons, since the first human case was reported in 2013.

Where did bird flu H7N9 originate from?

First discovered in China back in 2013, the H7N9 strain of bird flu was relatively rare, with about 100 to 300 reported cases each year. However, this flu season has seen a whopping 460 confirmed cases of H7N9, mostly in eastern China. This is quite alarming, considering that the average cases of H7N9 between 2013 to 2016 is around 200.

Avian flu has been around for a long time, and first originated in aquatic birds (e.g. ducks), who occasionally make their way into domestic poultry flocks (e.g. chicken). The virus can then trigger sporadic human infections, usually among people who work within close vicinity of infected poultry, e.g. in wet markets.

In December last year, Hinchliffe and three co-authors published a book titled: Pathological Lives: Disease, Space and Biopolitics, which argued that a number of factors, including selective breeding and the surge in poultry populations, have facilitated the evolution of bird flu. For instance, the use of antibiotics in making birds grow faster has meant that disease tolerance is often compromised.

Most bird flu viruses are not lethal to poultry, as they are what scientists term a “low path virus”, which usually causes no disease or only very mild illness in poultry, e.g. a drop in egg production. H7N9 bird flu was originally, up until recently, a low path virus. However, the virus can evolve and become highly pathogenic if they are allowed to circulate for too long, especially in live poultry markets where birds are crowded into small cages, sometimes for several days. This allowed the virus to mutate and spread to humans.

What’s so alarming about the H7N9 strain of bird flu?

460 cases of H7N9 cases may not sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but here’s a few reasons why you shouldn’t be so sanguine about it:

  1. The H7N9 strain has an alarmingly high fatality rate. 41% of people who get it, die.
  2. In 2017 an evolved form of the H7N9 strain has popped up. As it’s new, the current vaccines don’t work as well against it.
  3. In cases where H7N9 evolves into a high path virus, it can cause illnesses that spread a lot more easily inside the body, thus resulting in more damage and a much higher chance of mortality.

What are the odds that the virus will spread between humans?

Virtually all cases of H7N9 cases have been confined to mainland China, mainly in the provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Jiangsu. People mainly catch the virus from exposure to infected poultry.

The odds of human-to-human H7N9 bird flu transmission are very low, although this can potentially happen to caregivers or immediate family members with weak immune systems. Further mutations in the virus could also mean that the virus may become more easily transmittable between humans in the future.

What are the symptoms of H7N9 bird flu?

The H7N9 virus causes major respiratory symptoms (e.g. severe pneumonia) that can be life threatening.

During the early stages of an H7N9 infection, people will usually experience the following symptoms, which are much akin to what one experiences with the common flu:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain

In later stages, H7N9 infection causes the following:

  • Pneumonia in both lungs
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Multi-organ dysfunction
  • Septic shock (a medical emergency caused by blood infection)
  • Muscle breakdown

What can I do to avoid catching bird flu?

Since H7N9 and other forms of bird flu are mainly transmitted through exposure to infected live poultry, it’s best advised to avoid going to live bird markets or backyard farms, especially in China. Experts say it’s also important to ensure that all poultry products that you’re eating are fully cooked.

Is there a vaccine available to protect yourself against H7N9?

As of the writing of this article, there’s no vaccine publically available to protect against H7N9, although a number pharmaceutical companies have been working on developing vaccines that are currently being tested in animal and human trials. There are however a few vaccines available for preventing the H5N1 subtype of avian flu, which had its first reported outbreak in humans back in 1997.

Are the illnesses caused by H7N9 bird flu treatable?

Antiviral drugs that are used against common flu viruses are also used to treat people infected with H7N9. These include: Oseltamivir (which is sold as Tamiflu), and Zanamivir (sold as Relenza). The most important thing to note here is that these drugs are the most effective when they are administered at the earliest opportunity possible. Another thing to note is that as H7N9 evolves, it may become highly resistant to these drugs.

Final advice

It’s important to consider securing a comprehensive health insurance plan so that, should you require medical care, be it bird flu related or another medical condition, your costs are covered and you are able to access healthcare at the best private facilities in China and internationally. To learn more and get a free quote, contact the insurance experts at Pacific Prime China today!

Posted by Jess in Health Insurance, News
Expat dental insurance in China: Things to consider

Expat dental insurance in China: Things to consider

It is widely known that the cost of dental care varies greatly in China. This is especially true for private clinics, as you will find that advertised prices for dental procedures differ in every facility. Many expats prefer private clinics for treatment from staff that speak their language, the superior service offered, and flexible consultation times. These perks do however come with a hefty price tag, so securing expat dental insurance can be a great way to access high quality care without breaking the bank.

What’s the current status of dental health in China?

Historically speaking, dental health awareness is generally lacking in China. However, living standards have improved considerably in recent years, which has led to a greater number of people paying attention to their dental health. This, combined with the fact that roughly 94 percent of the population has some form of dental condition, makes it understandable that demand for dental care is growing in the country.

Growing demand for dental care

Despite the growing number of private dental clinics in China, supply is still very much outpaced by demand. When compared to the supply of dentists in Western countries, China lags behind with only 100 dentists per one million people. This is a stark difference from 1,270 dentists per one million in Greece, 830 dentists per one million in Sweden, and 770 dentists per one million in Germany. However, over the upcoming years, the dental sector is set to grow amidst a burgeoning middle class, as well as increasing openness to foreign investment in China.

How dental insurance works

Typically speaking, many employer-provided health insurance plans won’t provide dental benefits, which is why many expats choose to secure a separate plan that includes dental coverage. In most cases, dental insurance is available to purchase as a supplementary benefit on top of a health insurance plan at an additional premium.

The cost of this additional premium differs between plans and by insurer, but you can expect that adding dental benefits will result in a higher premium than a similar plan without these benefits.

What does expat dental insurance in China cover?

In China, there are two main types of dental insurance coverage: Routine Dental Treatment and Major Dental Treatment.

Routine Dental Treatment covers more common forms of dental care such as:

  • Consultations and exams
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Fillings
  • Tooth extraction
  • Emergency dental treatment
  • X-rays
  • Prescriptions

If you require more comprehensive dental benefits, then there is also the option of Major Dental Treatment, which covers more extensive forms of dental procedures. As such, this option charges a higher premium than Routine Dental Treatment. Coverage for Major Dental Treatment will usually include:

  • Periodontic (gum) treatment
  • Bridgework
  • Orthodontic work (e.g. braces)
  • Dentures
  • Crowns
  • Root scaling

Please note that most dental policies only cover treatments that are considered medically necessary, so cosmetic procedures such as tooth whitening won’t be covered, although some plans do offer discounts on certain types of cosmetic dental work.

Does the plan have a waiting period?

It’s not unusual to find a waiting period on dental plans lasting anywhere from 1 month to 24 months. This is the period of time you will need to wait once you’ve purchased your plan before you can make a claim on any dental benefits. During this time, you will likely receive little to no benefits.

Will you be travelling for dental care?

Travelling for dental care has become increasingly common in China, and there are many popular travel destinations nearby (e.g. Thailand and Malaysia) that boast excellent dental facilities at a great value. If you’re considering travelling overseas for treatment, or if you travel and/or move countries often and would like the option of keeping up with your annual dental check-ups wherever you are in the world, securing international insurance coverage may be an ideal option for you and your family. Designed with the needs of expats in mind, these international plans are globally portable, meaning that you will be covered in any country where your plan can be used.

When it comes to shopping around for an expat dental insurance plan, there can be quite a few things to consider, and also a variety of policy stipulations and limitations to watch out for. That is why it often pays to seek advice from an insurance expert like Pacific Prime China. To talk to one of our experienced advisors, feel free to contact us today!

Posted by Jess in Health Insurance
Having the healthiest pregnancy possible in China

Having the healthiest pregnancy possible in China

It can be daunting having a baby away from your home country, especially when considering that the Chinese healthcare system is likely very different from what you’re used to back home. There are a number of things you’ll need to consider in ensuring that you have the healthiest pregnancy possible in China, one of the major considerations being that you have access to modern facilities so that you are able to receive quality prenatal care prior to giving birth. The good news is that the quality of healthcare in China is improving at a rapid rate, especially after foreign entities have been allowed to invest in private hospitals since 2012.

This article sheds light on what you need to know about hospitals in China, and offers a number of tips on ensuring that you have the healthiest pregnancy possible.

Healthcare facilities in China

An essential aspect of maintaining a healthy pregnancy is ensuring that you have access to quality medical services during the whole course of your pregnancy. Usually, in the beginning stages of your pregnancy you would expect scans and consultations with an ob/gyn every 4 to 6 weeks, and then increase the frequency of your visits to once every week or once every 2 weeks closer to your delivery date.

Public hospitals

Most cities in China will have direct access to a range of public hospitals. While public hospitals charge much cheaper fees than private hospitals, the quality of service and cleanliness levels in these facilities vary greatly, and the imposing language barrier and long waiting times tend to dissuade the majority of expats from seeking public medical care.

Private and international hospitals

Most expats living in tier 1 cities like Beijing and Shanghai will benefit from the wide selection of Western-style private clinics available. Private facilities offer a number of perks such as much shorter waiting times, quality of care that is on par with Western standards, and English-speaking medical staff.

It’s important to note that the fees charged in these facilities are significantly more expensive than the prices in public hospitals – expect to pay around CNY 4,000 for an ultrasound, and up to CNY 100,000 for a C-section delivery package!

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine

You may also want to consider seeking Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment. Traditional Chinese practices such as acupuncture and Chinese medicine are very popular among Chinese women – they are considered safe practices and are also quite effective in maintaining a healthy pregnancy and alleviating a range of uncomfortable symptoms such as fatigue and nausea.

For example, acupuncture is often used to manage pain and prepare the uterus and cervix for birth. There are also a plethora of TCM treatments available that help promote the health and development of the fetus.

Maintaining a healthy diet during your pregnancy

In order to ensure that you and your baby are receiving all the nutrients needed, it’s important that you consume foods that are rich with folic acid, iron, calcium, protein, and other important vitamins and minerals.

Moms-to-be are advised to add around 300 calories on top of their normal recommended daily intake during the second trimester of their pregnancy, and increase this to 500 calories during your third trimester.

Recommended foods include fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, and whole grains. It’s best to avoid caffeine and highly advised to stay away from alcohol, as drinking alcohol during your pregnancy may lead to a number of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Try to reduce your exposure to pollution

As mentioned in last month’s article on reducing the harmful health risks of air pollution in China, certain groups of people are more susceptible to the harmful health effects of pollution, and that includes pregnant women. Recent research has linked prenatal exposure to ambient levels of air pollution with an increased risk of low birth weight and infant mortality, mainly due to its harmful cardiovascular and respiratory effects on both the mother and the newborn.

Major cities in China are known for its toxic levels of air pollution, so if you’re planning to stay in China during your pregnancy, it’s highly important that you try to reduce your exposure to pollution by staying indoors and away from heavily trafficked roads when your area’s Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches the high health risk category. You can check your area’s real-time AQI here.

Securing maternity insurance early enough on your policy

Moms-to-be are highly advised to secure maternity insurance to offset the high cost of pregnancy in China. The importance of securing maternity insurance early enough on your policy cannot be stressed enough. The reason for this is because maternity benefits are attached with a waiting period usually lasting 10-12 months, so you’ll need to plan ahead before starting a family if you want to ensure that your maternity costs are covered.

If you’re already pregnant and would like coverage for your newborn, you may still be able to secure a New Born Child benefit as this will usually have a shorter waiting period – some as short as 6 months.

If you’ve got any further questions regarding maternity insurance or would like some insurance or maternity-related advice, feel free to get in touch with our team of experts (and moms!) at Pacific Prime China today.

Posted by Jess in Expat Health Insurance, Health Insurance