Metro Vancouver Study finds an association between South Asian Ethnicity and Risk of Vitamin B12 Deficiency during Pregnancy

Vitamin B12 (B12) sufficiency during pregnancy is essential for optimal maternal health and fetal and infant growth and development. Maternal B12 deficiency has been associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, intra-uterine growth restriction and neural tube defects, as well as poor cardiometabolic health and impaired cognitive development in the infant. Suboptimal B12 status has previously been reported in pregnant Canadian women. A secondary analysis study conducted by the research team of Dr Yvonne Lamers, Canada Research Chair in Human Nutrition and Vitamin Metabolism, aimed to determine B12 status and the prevalence of B12 deficiency in pregnant women in Metro Vancouver, using the more sensitive, combined measurement of a direct (plasma total B12) and functional (methylmalonic acid (MMA)) B12 indicator. The sample of the original cross-sectional study included 320 women with singleton pregnancies between their 20th and 35th weeks of gestation, with data collection between February 2009 and February 2010.

The prevalence of plasma total B12 concentration below 148pmol/L (reflecting B12 deficiency) and of concentrations between 148-220pmol/L (reflecting suboptimal B12 status) were 18% and 33%, respectively, in these 320 pregnant women of European, Chinese Asian, South Asian or other ethnicities. South Asian ethnicity was the strongest predictor of having plasma total B12 concentration reflecting B12 deficiency, with South Asian pregnant women having a 10x greater risk of B12 deficiency compared to European pregnant women. The odds of having elevated MMA concentrations (>220pmol/L) was 5x higher in South Asian compared to European pregnant women. Conversely, B12 supplement use decreased the risk of B12 deficiency by 69% in all pregnant women. A higher prevalence of B12 deficiency in South Asian pregnant women may be due to lower intake of animal source foods, the natural sources of dietary B12. Future research is underway to investigate the predictors of low B12 status in South Asian pregnant women. Overall, the study highlights the importance of determining B12 status early in pregnancy to allow for early intervention to prevent adverse maternal and fetal health outcomes.

Read the full study here.

2017 Women’s Health Research Institute Catalyst Grant Recipients

This year marks the inauguration of the Women’s Health Research Institute Catalyst Grants. The grant competition was open to pilot studies in Women’s Health, which aimed to generate preliminary data; test new approaches, methodologies or tools; bring new teams together; and/or support new research in women’s health from established researchers.

A special thanks to the continued support and hard work of the BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation for funding the competition.


Kristin Campbell, Department of Physical Therapy, University of British Columbia

Team: Kristin Campbell (PI), Dean Regier (Co-I), Margaret McNeely

Project: Preferences and Perspectives for Upper-body Rehabilitation in Post-Operative Survivors of Breast Cancer (PURPOSE BC)Upper-body rehabilitation is a widely accepted and effective treatment for restoring function after surgery for breast cancer. However in Canada, few settings deliver this specialized rehabilitation, therefore most women are left without access to the appropriate care. This leaves women with breast cancer worried about developing upper-body issues and unprepared to manage issues that arise. This project aims to work towards modernizing the delivery of upper-body rehabilitation, making it accessible for all women in British Columbia after treatment for breast cancer.


Francine Darroch, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia

Team: Francine Darroch (PI), Colleen Varcoe (Co-I)

Project: Supportive Movement: Toward Equity Oriented Health

Pregnant and/or parenting women who experience poverty, racism, and trauma are less likely to be physically active and are at greater risk of negative health outcomes than non-marginalized women. Physical activity has numerous physical, emotional, and psychological benefits. Pregnant and parenting women on the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver have revealed a desire for, but lack of, access to appropriate physical activity programming. This feminist participatory action research project will create, implement, and evaluate trauma and violence informed physical activity programming and resources.


Caroline Sanders, School of Nursing, University of Northern British

Team: Caroline Sanders (PI), Collaborators: Nicole Todd, Debra Millar, Joanne Hall, Lela Zimmer, Arianne Dessens, Davina Banner, Nina Callens, Mabel Tan, Ellie Margritte

Project: Examining the meaning of cardiovascular and
menstrual/fertility health for young women with congenital adrenal
hyperplasia (CAH)

In British Columbia congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a complex genetic condition which affects both men and women and necessitates life-long glucocorticoids treatment. Young women with CAH are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular health issues, as well as, experiencing menstruation and fertility difficulties as long-term effects of their condition. Very little health education information exists for young women with CAH and this lack of resources limits decision-making and impacts health outcomes for this population. The aim of this project is to explore what wellness means to young women with CAH and to examine how these women may obtain, process and apply health information to improve their long-term health outcomes.

Aging Well for Women

Dr. Lori Brotto speaking to a full house at Aging Well for Women

The Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI) held a public event on health throughout perimenopause and menopause on September 28th at the Italian Cultural Centre.  The event, Aging Well for Women, was hosted by Shirley Weir (founder of, and welcomed a wonderful turnout of women eager to join the dialogue.

The first speaker of the evening was Dr. Nicole Todd answering the question What is Menopause Exactly?, followed by Dr. Joanie Sims-Gould talking about the magical number ‘23.5’ in her presentation The Magic Bullet for Aging Well: ExerciseDr. Liisa Galea explored whether we lose our memory along with our periods in Where Are My Keys?, and finally WHRI’s Executive Director, Dr. Lori Brotto, concluded the presentations with by delving into the intersections of mood, desire, and menopause in Weathering the Emotional Storm and Intimacy.

If you weren’t able to attend the event you can check us out on Twitter (#AgingWellForWomen) for highlights, or read on for some tips from the four experts!

    • Don’t like to “exercise”? Not to worry!  As Dr. Sims-Gould notes, the term ‘exercise’ has bad connotations – especially for women since it’s often been associated with spandex and their physique over physical health.  Spending just 30 minutes three times per week getting active is great for your health, sex life, and overall wellbeing.  The other 23.5 hours in a day?  You’re free to spend those sitting or lying down!
    • Low desire and other sexual problems such as painful sex, inability to reach orgasm, or dryness can be common during menopause. What to do?  Seek out good sources for sex education; find a health professional – or more than one! – with whom you feel comfortable talking to help you find solutions; and practice good communication with them as well as your partner.
    • If you aren’t sure how to start a conversation with your doctor try writing your concerns down. This ensures that you won’t forget your points in the moment, or lose your nerve.   Remember that if it’s happening to you, you’re probably not the only one.
    • Finally, be insistent with your concerns, and be open to consulting multiple professionals such as counsellors or experts to get the help you need.

Looking for more resources?  Check out these sites, as suggested by the panelists:


How to Tackle Tweeting? Ask the Expert!

Communications Assistant, Rebecca Tingling, had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Dorothy Shaw, Vice President Medical Affairs at BC Women’s Hospital. Many of our WHRI Members have expressed interest in creating a Twitter account after reading our feature article on Twitter expert, Dr. Kendall Ho, but are hesitant given Twitter’s public nature and their professional affiliations. Dr. Shaw provides useful advice on how to overcome these hesitations, along with tips to ensure tweets reach the appropriate audience and maximize engagement.

After completing a medical degree a University of Edinburgh and her Fellowship in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Dr. Shaw joined the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. Dr. Shaw has held various titles at UBC and is most widely known for her leadership as the Vice President Medical Affairs at BC Women’s Hospital.

Twitter is becoming increasingly popular amongst health researchers. However, given its public nature researchers have cited specific setbacks when voicing their opinion on polarized topics. When expressing some of the hesitations WHRI Members hold that refrain them from creating or actively using Twitter, she provided some suggestions to overcome them:

Hesitation: Managing time spent on Twitter while carrying out professional responsibilities
Advice: Restricting Twitter to 5-10 minutes per day and checking Twitter only in the morning and evening

Hesitation: Posting opinions as affiliates of highly respected universities, institutions and organizations
Advice: Including an “opinions are my own” disclaimer in Twitter biography

Hesitation: Receiving negative feedback after posting opinion-based Tweets
Advice: Embedding links directly in tweets to defend evidence-based arguments

The majority of Dr. Shaw’s tweets are opinion-based and are supported by links to evidence-based research within each tweet. Defending such statements is not uncommon for researchers as their daily practice consists of using evidence-based research to defend their work. When Dr. Shaw was asked about receiving negative feedback on polarized topics, she feels there is nothing to be afraid of considering the strong evidence defending her statements. Furthermore, Dr. Shaw recommends following accounts with similar views to offer a circle of support and new information, while also increasing the likelihood of tweets being retweeted or liked by followers.

In addition to making statement tweets, Dr. Shaw tags high profile users, such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in various tweets to increase user engagement. The intention behind tagging high profile users is to inform decision makers of issues they may be unaware of, or thanking users for their contributions that are moving women’s health rights in the appropriate direction. Moreover, as Dr. Kendall Ho mentioned in our previous feature article, tagging multiple users and high profile users in tweets has the potential to engage more users in the conversation.

For those Twitter users who are interested in expanding their following to engage in or follow women’s rights conversations, Dr. Dorothy Shaw has recommended the following accounts:

The WHRI is actively assisting and supporting our members with their research endeavours, including social media support. We are currently exploring hosting a social media workshop to assist new users who are interested in creating a new social media account. If this is something you would be interested in, please contact

New Funding Opportunity to Protect and Nurture Early Child Development!

Saving Brains has just announced a $250,000 funding opportunity that aims to address the risk factors children living in adversity face by providing innovative solutions to promote health and nutrition, and protect against maltreatment.

This funding opportunity is open to applicants in low and middle income countries, as well as Canada, with the ultimate goal of tackling existing inequities.

We encourage all eligible applicants to apply! Please note all applications are due by October 11th at 3:00 pm ET.

Click here for more information.

Dr. Saraswathi Vedam Creates New Tool to Rate the Quality of Research in Place of Birth Outcomes!

Place of birth is known to affect health outcomes, specifically when comparing women who give birth at home with women who give birth in a hospital or centre. While there are many studies that examine this difference, different conclusions are often drawn regarding the safety of home, birth centre, or hospital. To address this inconsistency, Dr. Vedam and colleagues aimed to develop a reliable instrument, Birth Place Research Quality Index (ResQu Index), to rate the quality of primary research on maternal and newborn outcomes by place of birth. Higher-scoring studies have greater potential to inform evidence-based selection of birth place. The Index can also guide the design of future research on place of birth.

The instrument development process involved five phases:
1) generation of items and a weighted scoring system
2) content validation via a quantitative survey and a modified Delphi process with an international, multi-disciplinary panel of experts
3) inter-rater consistency
4) alignment with established research appraisal tools
5) pilot-testing of instrument usability

After 5 phases were completed the Birth Place Research Quality Index (ResQu Index) was fully developed. The tool is a reliable instrument to evaluate the quality of design, methods and interpretation of reported outcomes from research about place of birth. Higher-scoring studies have greater potential to inform evidence-based selection of birth place by clinicians, policy makers, and women and their families. The Index can also guide the design of future research on place of birth.

To access the full article in PLoS ONE, please click here.

BC SUPPORT Unit Calls for Abstracts!

Abstract Deadline: September 15th, 2017
Adjudication Completed:  September 29th, 2017
Notification of Acceptance:
October 6th, 2017

Do you have any patient-oriented research project, completed in whole or in part? The BC Support Unit want to help you get your patient-oriented research project out to your colleagues! Send in any patient-oriented research to the BC SUPPORT Unit at for the chance to:

  • Have your poster promoted on the BC SUPPORT Unit’s Posters webpage and on social media channels
  • Present your poster at our inaugural conference on November 9, 2017
  • Be acknowledged in the Unit’s newsletter, The Bulletin
  • Have an electronic copy of their poster archived on our website, available online
  • If interested, be invited to present a unit webinar on the project described in their poster

Click here for more information. Download the printable poster here.

BC Womens Hospital Research Rounds, in celebration of World Sexual Health Day 2017

This year’s theme for world sexual health day is Love, Bonding, and Intimacy.  This theme goes beyond the current definition of “intimacy” which almost always implies being sexual with another person. It aims to break the idea that sexuality is just having sex, integrating the emotional aspects of it, and the human need for bonding. The joyful part of it is the sharing of our own sexual health and sexuality with someone we love or people we choose.

In this extended rounds presentation, we will first hear from Jessica Ferreira who will present the results of her analysis of anonymous calls to the Options for Sexual Health “Sex Sense” line, from 2000-2016. Then we will hear three data blitz presentations (10 minutes each) on various sexual health research projects. Then we will have an open forum for questions and answers and networking for 30 minutes.

Michelle Fortin, new Executive Director for Options for Sexual Health, will be attending this special event and we will have an opportunity to hear from Michelle her vision for how Opt can continue is strong collaborations with BC Women’s Hospital and the WHRI.

WHRI Themes Have Been Updated!

The Mission of the Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI) is to: Create new knowledge and evidence-based solutions that inform and transform the health and health care of women and their families. Guided by this mission, for the past several years, the WHRI has organized its research around seven research themes, representing the scope of research led by its members. These have included: Women-specific cancers; Chronic disease; Sexual & Reproductive health; Maternal, Fetal, & Newborn health; Global Health; Genomics & Personalized health; and Reproductive Infectious Disease. Over the past several months, the WHRI, together with its Scientific Advisory group, a cross-pillar and multidisciplinary team of scientists, have critically examined our themes with the goal of better reflecting the work of its membership, and also identifying areas of women’s health research where there may be opportunities. The result of this process led to the creation of four themes, as follows:

  1. Acute and Chronic Diseases
  2. Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
  3. Health Services & Systems
  4. Population & Public Health

In addition, we have identified Cross-Cutting Principles, intended to be embedded across each of the four themes, and to help define some of the methods and approaches applicable throughout the research of WHRI members. The Cross-Cutting principles include:

  • Sex/Gender Methods
  • Equity in Health Research
  • Indigenous health and Indigenous research approaches
  • Cultural Competence
  • Health and social equity
  • Precision Health
  • Genomics and Microbiome
  • Lifespan/trajectories
  • Patient and Public Oriented Research

Please share these themes broadly within your various networks. We encourage our members to proudly display their affiliation with the WHRI in various academic and public presentations. If you would like a high-resolution JPEG of our themes or our WHRI logo, please contact us at

Save-The-Date: Aging Well for Women

On Thursday September 28th the Women’s Health Research Institute will be hosting a public forum entitled Aging Well for Women: How to Optimize Your Health Through Perimenopause, Menopause & Beyond. Dr. Nicole Todd, Joanie Sims-Gould, Liisa Galea, and WHRI Executive Director, Dr. Lori Brotto, will speak at the forum to discus topics such as hormones, exercise, memory and intimacy. This is a free event and we encourage everyone to attend! Please RSVP via email at