Stamford Skin Centre: Skin Treatment Redefined

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Did you know that some $200 cosmetic creams are manufactured for $5, and are basically glorified moisturisers? What about the fact that there is a tattoo removal laser that shoots beams at pulses of one trillionth of a second?

We sat down with Stamford Skin Centre, an advanced laser dermatology clinic in Ho Chi Minh City, to find out some surprising things about skin care, skin treatment, tattoo removal, cosmetic dermatology, skin cancer and STDs.

Stamford Skin Centre uses some of the world’s latest dermatology equipment to provide residents with highly effective treatment. At the helm of the clinic are three exceptionally-qualified specialists who are experts in their respective fields. They are: Dr. Tom Cuong, who spoke to us about cosmetic dermatology, skin care products and tattoo removal; Dr. Doanh Lu, who specialises in STDs; and Dr. Mark Siefring, who shed light on the skin cancer topic.

Botox & Lasers

Dr. Tom Cuong began with the subject of botox. Many people, he says, believe this to be dangerous and ineffective in the long term. He contests this by saying that cases like these are few and far between; the treatment is safe and quick, and can make crow’s feet around the eyes disappear within a week.

About 40% of Stamford’s patients come in for cosmetic reasons, and most come in for melasma and aging skin. Besides botox, Dr. Cuong uses a fractional CO2 laser to make skin brighter, smoother and younger looking. The process is surprisingly effective, as witnessed by the many high-resolution before and after photos the Centre has. The method is interesting in the way it works: a laser removes layers of skin tissue in “columns”, leaving surrounding columns untouched in order to aid the rejuvenation process.

Skin Care Products: Myth or Reality?

Skin care products, Dr. Cuong says, are basically glorified moisturisers. Cosmetic skin products are not to be confused with medical creams and ointments; the latter are necessary, while the former drive themselves on marketing and branding. Cosmetic skin care products are not as wondrous as their advertising claims; they simply moisturise the skin and make it feel better (temporarily). They are basically hope in a bottle; they do not restructure facial skin tissue.

Name brands charging $100-$200 for their creams make it for $5. To give you a historical perspective, let’s look back to a thousand years ago, when people did not have advanced, scientific-sounding beauty creams. They used whatever they had to refresh their skin - potatoes and cucumbers, for example. You can still spot potato face mask videos on YouTube in 2016, and the purpose is for anti-ageing. The power of belief goes a long way, says Dr. Cuong.

Tattoos & Regret

On the subject of tattoo removal, Dr. Cuong lit up - Stamford Skin Centre just got a new machine called the pico laser, which shoots pulses one trillionth of a second in length to break down ink buried between the surface level of the skin. This is the biggest innovation in tattoo removal technology to come out in this field in 30 years. Generally, blue and black colours are easier to remove than red or orange. The treatment is now available for everyone.

Treating STDs With Compassion

Many locals and expats dread going to their nearest local hospital, waiting for their ticket, getting their blood checked for STDs, then getting their results impersonally thrown at them before being moved along. Stamford Skin Centre - and particularly Dr. Doanh Lu - are passionate about being discreet about the patient’s testing, as well as providing the patient with counselling and support. They even guide patients about what course of action to take if they need to tell their partner or family about their condition. Unlike many hospitals, results are told over the phone - you don’t have to wait until you come in.

Stamford Skin Centre offers a more holistic approach to STDs, and this is something sorely needed in a city that usually turns its head towards this sort of thing.

A Candid Look on Skin Cancer

Those with fairer skin - that’s Westerners, not the Vietnamese - are more susceptible to skin cancer. What many don’t realise is that unlike London or an equally low-light city, you’ll get enough sun for the day just walking to your motorbike or car here. So making sure not to expose yourself too long is key.

A more serious problem outside of cities is traces of arsenic in the water supply, which does cause skin cancer. Some wells dug in the Mekong do not go through the same filtration system as the water in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and thus are more prone to be contaminated with arsenic. There are also small amounts of arsenic in some traditional medicine. One hundred years ago, arsenic was used to treat asthma and skin conditions - unfortunately, this practice still remains today.

Skin Cancer Culprits

There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. Basal cell is the most common type of skin cancer in the world, and the one the residents in Ho Chi Minh City are prone to getting the most. Basal cell cancer is rarely, if ever, fatal (and in such cases, it has been ignored for decades by the patient).

Basal cell cancer is rarely, if ever, fatal (and in such cases, it has been ignored for decades by the patient - 30 years is a rough estimate). Squamous cell cancer only has a 5% chance of being metastatic (meaning the cancer would spread to other parts of the body), but ignoring it for as little as a year can lead to problems.

Your biggest worry is melanoma, which can be fatal. Dr. Siefring recommends coming for a checkup if you notice a change in the size or colour of particular moles.

The Stamford Skin Centre relies on two excellent dermatopathology labs to check all skin specimens. In-house, Dr. Mark uses dermoscopy to magnify lesions, which allows him to look closely at pigmentation patterns, blood vessels and other features that gives clues as to what the patient might have. Sometimes, this avoids the need for a biopsy.

Quick Skin Tips

Some tips to keep your skin younger and healthier: stay away from the sun. Exercise, and eat different colour fruits - red dragon fruit, carrots, green veggies. Wash your face with soap after going out on your motorbike in traffic, and don’t pick your acne, or you’ll get scars that will be difficult to fix, even with a laser. And make sure to sleep early!

Contact information



Hotline: +84 28 3925 1990

Address: 99 Suong Nguyet Anh, D1

Staying Healthy When Dining Out

By: Nat Paolone

With such a variety of enticing food options coercing our palates into gluttony, eating healthy outside your home proves quite challenging.

Looking at the menu, densely packed with highly caloric, over-sized portions (which we have become accustomed to in our modern world) we succumb and gorge. Busy lifestyles and poor choices while eating out often lead to further weight gain. Let’s have a look at how we can better deal with this and make better choices at the restaurant.

Societal Pressure

Socio-economics definitely influence our food choices both in selecting a restaurant/cafe and what we decide to order. We like to “fit in,” and eat what our friends munch on.

We’ve all heard too often from friends and family, “Oh come on, just eat it! You only live once, it won’t kill you…” Seemingly when you choose to eat healthy, you may become the outcast among your friends. This compounds matters as striving for acceptance is human nature.

Why all the talk of sociological factors when we just want healthy eating tips? Because the challenge is largely psychological and habitual. Most of it is really common sense but unfortunately eating substandard food has simply become socially accepted.

Right then, let’s get into making some better nutritional choices.

Photo by Pixabay

Local Food Suggestions

Vietnamese grilled fish and meats are ideal dishes, as well as soups and hot pots. Many Japanese and Korean restaurants around Saigon have solid, healthy choices in contrast to the majority of most Western menus offered throughout the city.

Next time you enjoy your favourite pho or bun bo, ask for less noodles in order to maximise your healthy diet. In regards to MSG, well, you know what it is, and we must accept that it’s nearly unavoidable when eating out in HCMC. Goi cuon (chicken spring roll), goi xoai (mango salad) and ca nuong la chuoi (grilled fish with banana leaf) are a few healthy Vietnamese options.

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Indian food doesn’t have to be heavy. Go for the tandoor chicken breast or lamb as long as you make sure to request it with no butter or cream. Choosing brown rice over naan is also another way to manoeuvre around the fattening dishes lingering at your table. When eating Italian, skip the primi and go straight for secondi.

Sugar and excess carbs are fundamentally problematic. Lower these and increase the veggies and proteins. For all the lovely vegetarians, choose protein rich beans and legumes. This is a challenge in Vietnam as most vegetarian restaurants do not include beans on the menu. Sure tofu is good, but this protein packed veggie has a long history of nutritional controversy.

Portion size is paramount. Share a pizza instead of having a whole one, as so many of us are carb junkies consuming these saccharides voraciously, reducing portions is the goal.

How Unhealthy is Alcohol?

Alcohol! The ultimate socially accepted evil. What? Nothing wrong with a few glasses of wine paired with your meal you say? Well, not exactly. Regarding weight gain, alcohol is more than a double whammy. This potion is broken down into acetate, which your body will use first for energy before anything else you eat or drink. Alcohol is metabolised, fat oxidation stops, weight gain may occur and slowed metabolism may result.

Photo by Stephen Bentsen

An average glass of wine has 150 calories, and beer has about the same. People who drink alcohol with a meal often eat up to 30% more food, and considering the culture of pairing food and drink in HCMC, this may cause a problem for many.

Juices and Sodas

Photo by Lavanya Kumara Krishnan

Fruit juices are commonly thought to be a healthier choice over soda. Studies show that the effects on our bodies are virtually the same. According to a recent publication in the Nutrition journal, fruit juice has a fructose concentration of about 45.5 grams per litre, slightly less than the average of 50 grams per litre for sodas.

"The human body isn't designed to process [fructose] at such high levels. Fructose is processed almost entirely in the liver where it is converted to fat, which increases risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease,” says Michael Goran, Director of Childhood Obesity Center in Southern California.

Essentially sodas and fruit juices should be avoided altogether. Eat fresh fruit instead, which includes fibre, slowing down absorption of sugars and allowing the normal metabolism of fructose. As an alternative, drink lots of local fruit smoothies (like avocado) but without condensed milk or sugar. Try an avocado smoothie for healthy fats.

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” - Mark Twain

Pollution, Water and Disease in Saigon: What You Should Know

By: City Pass Guide

We are all in danger of the negative effects of air pollution, water contamination, unclean food, worms and tropical diseases in HCMC. I sat down with Dr. Nicolas Lagüe from Centre Medical International to learn how we can manage to avoid these health problems.

Air Pollution

It’s no secret that there are substantial pollution problems in Vietnam. However, just how dangerous the air is, and exactly what effects it has on our health can be difficult to decipher. The main parts of the body that are affected by air pollution are the nose, throat, ears and lungs. Whether you are on a motorbike, in your car, walking or in your apartment, exposure to air pollution in HCMC is nearly unavoidable, and we need to make a personal choice if living here is worth the risk, especially considering how difficult it is to evaluate the related dangers.

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The air contains toxic particles and nanoparticles, which can come from a variety of sources. One interesting fact I learned from Dr. Lagüe was that the non-exhaust particles, like the iron, copper and barium that are released during the breaking of a car or motorbike, produce significant nanoparticles. This fact, combined with the high concentration of exhaust emissions, make stopping at red lights a prime hotspot for heavy toxic air. According to the expert himself, the best way to protect yourself, outside of not living in the city, is to wear a proper mask. For this, you will need to spend the money and get a thick carbon cloth mask (FFP3 class) which will help filter out the bigger pollutants in the air.

Although driving a car exposes you to slightly less toxicity than when you are on a motorbike, it is still not enough to make a significant difference. In regards to your home, location is key. The further from the busy areas the less pollution there is, and the higher up your apartment the better. Therefore, if air quality is a major concern for you, try to find a flat on the highest floor possible. The closer to the ground your apartment is, the more exposure it receives.

Drinking Water Contamination

Everyone knows the first rule of thumb when living in most developing countries - don’t ever drink the tap water! It contains dangerous levels of nitrates and iron, not to mention a variety of other unsafe chemicals. The best way to ensure you are taking in the cleanest drinking water is to stick to mineral water. Alba is the name of one local company that is producing high quality bottled mineral water that contains an impressive amount of bicarbonates.

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Bicarbonates are great for balancing the body’s gastric acidity levels and are also highly effective in preventing dental cavities. Not only is mineral water a sound alternative to many of the questionable drinking water sources available, but its health benefits are scientifically backed and heavily researched throughout the world. Another suggestion is to constantly switch the brands of mineral water that you drink due to the fact that each brand is comprised of different levels of electrolytes. A regular rotation like this is good for the body, and helps you maintain a healthy level of energy.

Food, Worms and Bacteria

Statistically, Vietnam does have a lower quality of food than most countries, which can result in an array of digestive problems, amongst other health related issues like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. However, the main concern lies in regards to bacteria and worms, and these are real threats that every resident needs to be taking precautions against. Let’s make it known that there are numerous varieties of worms and parasites out there and they are very easy to acquire. You might have worms and not even show any symptoms. Dr. Lagüe highly recommends that everyone living here take Zentel every six months. This is readily found at pharmacies all over town and is highly effective in expelling any worms that you may have. Worms and other parasites can lead to other more complicated issues if left untreated, like schistosomiasis, a condition that can cause diarrhoea, abdominal pain, a bloody stool or much worse.

Photo via Pixabay

In regards to food, the number one cautionary measure to take is with vegetables, as they can very easily harvest bacteria. Just by touching the outer skin of contaminated vegetables, larvae can be transferred into your body. It is suggested that any vegetables you buy need to be thoroughly washed while wearing gloves. Meat is another cause of concern, but also a debatable topic. Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, and each individual can have different levels of immunity to different bacteria. Although it’s an undisputed fact that unrefrigerated meat increases the chances of bacterial contamination, doctors often disagree on how dangerous it is to consume it. Consumers should do their best to buy quality meat that is within their budget. Annam Gourmet is one trusted shop that sells quality meat that has been properly stored, and it’s a notable place to buy safer products. I’ve interviewed doctors that passionately advised against eating any street food under any circumstance, while others have said it’s perfectly fine to indulge once in awhile. Either way, it’s best to know your body and act accordingly.

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Tropical Diseases in Vietnam

The best way to avoid many tropical diseases is to get vaccinated before you come to Vietnam. As many of the symptoms crisscross each other, it is often very difficult to identify what exactly you might have. Vietnam also has limited medical technology, which can make diagnostic processes more difficult. If you feel any strange symptoms like fatigue or joint pain as a result of a suspected insect bite, seek a medical expert immediately to get some blood work. Hydration and proper rest are crucial during this time.

Some of the most prevalent tropical diseases in Vietnam are Dengue Fever and Zika Virus. The danger with these viruses is that their symptoms vary and there is not much technology available in Vietnam to give proper blood tests. Do your best to wear mosquito repellent, especially outside of the city limits, where the number of mosquitos increases. There are several types of mosquitos which can carry dangerous tropical diseases, and many cannot withstand the pollution of the city. However, once you leave the city limits, and the pollution levels are lower, there is a substantially higher risk of exposure. As a whole, it’s next to impossible to control if you are bitten by a mosquito or not. The best thing you can do is to be aware of the symptoms of Dengue and Zika, and if you experience them do not procrastinate seeking treatment.

The Lowdown on Lower Back Problems

By: City Pass Guide

Lower back pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

In the U.S. for example, around 31 million people will experience lower back problems at any given time, says the American Chiropractic Association. These problems affect the spine's flexibility, stability and strength, causing pain, discomfort, and mobility issues.

And the problem is certainly not confined to America. In 2012, a research paper by Professor Stephen Bevan of Lancaster University in the UK covered 30 European countries, and found that a staggering €240 billion was lost to musculoskeletal conditions.

I sat down with Dr. Nicolas Dupaux, the man in charge of the Osteopathy department at Centre Medical International, and one of the leading back specialists in HCMC. We began the discussion with the difference between osteopathy and chiropractic practices.

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An osteopath differs from a chiropractor in quite a few ways. As someone who has suffered at the hands of a chiropractor in the past, I was interested to learn more about the subject of osteopathy.

The osteopath will look at the cause of the imbalance rather than just the symptoms. They will not just crack bones back but try and balance the whole body; they have a wider spectrum of techniques. It is really difficult to know if a patient, for example, has a problem with their veins. If they have a pathological problem and don’t inform the practitioner, they can do more harm than good. There are some techniques that are no longer considered safe to employ.

I asked Mr. Dupaux to answer some common questions about back problems.

What do you think about massage parlours in HCMC?

Anyone can get a licence to open a massage parlour here after taking just eight hours of theory. There is no real culture of massage in the country; there are no real schools and traditional massage houses. Ten years ago Thai girls were being paid by hotels to teach the techniques. But there was no homegrown skill, they imported it. The physiology is so different between East and West.

Even in my surgery I have to do different treatments for different nationalities. This is why Western people don’t find the massage to be as beneficial. Eastern people like to have very strong massages, and cracking of the bones. However, I treat, on average, two people per week who come in suffering from a blocked neck or severe back pain, caused by a massage.

What is your attitude to the use of painkillers with back pain?

Pills often have side effects. It is often necessary to take anti-inflammatory drugs and/or muscles relaxants but pain killers should be seen as a last resort.

Do you think that alternative treatments like acupuncture have a role to play in treating back problems?

Alternative treatments do have a place in the treatment of patients, but some, like hypnotherapy, are restricted to rich people and the elite. In my opinion there are both new and old technologies that are very good. Acupuncture, for example, is very good, for spinal problems. Serious scientific studies have shown that the acupuncture points are definitely different to other areas of the skin. It has been electromagnetically proven that acupuncture works.

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If the need arises for surgery, would you advise people to go abroad or have it done here?

Dr. Claudio Duek at Family Medical Practice is a very good surgeon working on hands, and Dr. Phatat at FV Hospital is a specialist in knees and legs. So for these problems it is good here. These guys are at the same level as European doctors. However for complicated surgeries you are better off going to Bangkok or Singapore.

Have you got any advice on how people should carry backpacks?

A correct backpack should cause no issues at all. Good quality packs are fine as long as the weight is spread. People who carry a pack every day get stronger. Use both shoulders and balance the weight.

Having some age related arthritic issues myself, I find the warm weather here hugely beneficial. Why is this?

The microclimate here is definitely good for joints. There is something going on here in the climate that is great for people with joint problems, asthma and other issues. The diet is also healthy. Pho uses herbs that have medical properties and of course, there is no gluten in pho.

The cure to lower back pain seems to be an illusive thing at times, but when you consider that, as one doctor told me years ago, the difference between being pain free and in agony is often less than half a millimetre, maybe it’s not surprising.

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A Brighter Smile in Saigon

By: Patrick Gaveau

We sat down with Dr. Philippe and Chau Guettier, two well-known dentists who have run the Starlight Dental Clinic for over 20 years, in order to find out more about dental care in HCMC and Vietnam.

In your opinion, is the Vietnam dental industry currently developed in HCMC?

Philippe: During the last 15 years it has developed a lot. Especially in terms of quality, it has improved much in the past three to four years. At the university level, the education of the dentists is getting better and better. There is much more training done by foreign universities - namely French universities. Now young dentists who graduate receive much better education for their practice.

Is developing the dental industry and pushing dental care a concern for the Ministry of Health?

Philippe: The Ministry has a good control over the quality of the clinic. In France, once you graduate and open your clinic, you will never get any check-ins from the government on a yearly basis to see if everything is taken care of. In Vietnam, each clinic gets a check-in from the Ministry of Health every year. This is good for maintaining the quality of clinics here.

In terms of equipment, are there concerns or issues based on the different levels of clinics? Or is there a general standard?

Philippe: Basically, what the government will control are x-rays, sterilisation, and product lifespan. After, they will not check if the tools or the products you are using to treat the patient are good quality or not. Unfortunately in Vietnam you have many products made in China - machines, or products you put into the patient's mouth. The instruments used to treat and restore a patient’s teeth will not be of the same quality. There is quite a big discrepancy from one clinic to another.

Do the majority of locals value the importance of having healthy teeth?

Philippe: You have a growing middle class. Once you go outside Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, there’s still a big gap. You have to look at the ratio of how many dentists there are for the population. In France, it’s 1 dentist for 1,500 people. In Vietnam, it’s 1 dentist for nearly 10,000 people.

We’ve seen more obesity in children in Vietnam in the past 10 years. Is this also affecting dental care?

Chau: I think the main reason for cavities is how you brush and take care of your teeth. Even if they eat a lot, if they brush their teeth afterwards they will not have problems. Now, people have more education on how to keep their teeth clean.

Philippe: We go to a lot of schools and have a program for this. We teach the children what are cavities, how to brush your teeth, and we give them a toothbrush. But to answer your question, I think we have more cavities than before for the kids. The quality of food (with fast food and soft drinks) has decreased. Even if you have kids in international schools with wealthy families, you’d still be surprised by the number of cavities that can be found.

Will there be an expanding future market for orthodontics?

Philippe: By definition, everybody knows Vietnam is a young country [laughs] with a lot of kids, so sure there is a market for orthodontics. Now, you have parents who want their children to have great teeth for the future, so they bring them in for orthodontics. But you also have a lot of young Vietnamese adults who get orthodontics, because as kids they didn’t have this. As opposed to France, where mostly children get orthodontics, in Vietnam we have many more adults patients.

If you had to give a price difference between the majority of treatments, how much less expensive would it be here than Australia, including the cost of travel and board?

Philippe: Australia would be three to four times as expensive, at least.

Chau: But it depends on the treatment. To give an example, I had a quotation from a patient in Australia for one impacted wisdom tooth removal for $1,200. At our clinic in HCMC the cost is $120.

Fresh Air or Ghastly Gasp: Getting Clear On Saigon's Air

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Those who live in Saigon will agree that the air quality could be improved. Although the situation isn’t as bad as in Hanoi, the air quality reading still occasionally flutters in and out of the unhealthy range and sometimes even spikes into the hazardous range.

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The Culprits

According to IQAir, a Swiss company that specialises in air purifiers, the main causes of air pollution in Vietnam are traffic and industrial, handicraft and construction activities, with traffic accounting for 70 percent of pollution in urban areas.

The air that we breathe is laced with carcinogenic substances.

According to research by the World Health Organization’s cancer agency and Yale University, Vietnam is among the top 10 countries in the world for air pollution.

Measuring It

Air pollution consists of different components: oxides of nitrogen which consists of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO); carbon monoxide (CO); sulphur dioxide (SO2); and particulate-matter (PM), which includes particles that measure below 10 micrometres (PM10) and the more dangerous 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5)—dangerous because that’s small enough to bypass your body’s natural filtration system and end up deep in your lungs. (The diameter of a strand of human hair is 50-70 micrometres.)

Most PM2.5 particles are byproducts of organic compounds, combustion and metals, which mostly originate from industrial zones and exhaust fumes from vehicles.

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What’s That Smell?

However, air pollution isn’t just limited to factories and combustion. In September 2016, the Da Phuoc landfill, run by Vietnam Waste Solutions Inc (VWS) in Binh Chanh District, was caught in a stink when it was found to have been illegally discharging sewage that exceeded safety limits.

This ended up with residents in District 7 and neighbouring areas having to deal with a bad stench for a few months, which only got worse during the rainy season and reached unbearable levels at night.

The operator ended up getting fined more than VND1.5 billion (US$66,000).

What You Can Do

Air pollution affects the entire troposphere — the lowest levels of the atmosphere in which we mere mortals live — but is anthropogenic, meaning it’s man made and something you can’t easily escape from.

So how can you play your part to ensure you’re not contributing to it?

The first step is to limit the amount of exhaust fumes on the road by either carpooling, riding a bicycle if the journey is short or taking a bus. If you’re driving or riding a motorbike, ensure that your vehicle is well-tuned and maintained, change the oil and filters and check your tyre pressures and wheel alignment.

If you’re going to be stationary for a while, turn off your engine. Idling is just contributing unnecessarily to the pollution.

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[Translation: I turned off my engine. Did you? Turn off your engine when the light is red!]

Other than the roads, you can also make a few adjustments to some of your daily tasks. Conserve energy by turning off your lights and electric appliances when not in use, use energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, use water-based or solvent free paints, and buy products that say “Low VOC”. Make sure all containers of household cleaners, chemicals and solvents are sealed, to prevent any of them from evaporating into the air.

Or just eat your way out of this problem

According to new medical evidence discussed in a New York Times opinion piece on air quality and diet, a Mediterranean diet -- fish, nuts, fruits and whole grains -- may go a long way towards strengthening the health of those who are low on high-quality air (read: us). There’s some interesting new research out there that suggests Vitamin B, fish oil and broccoli sprout extract drives down heart rate variability of individuals exposed to air pollution.

So, have some fish tonight and maybe finish off with a banana for that Vitamin B. It may be the best defence against HCMC’s unhealthy haze.

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