Improving Our Health, From A to Zinc

It’s almost the end of the year, so turning to the end of the alphabet for an important but often misunderstood common mineral seems like a fitting exercise and good holiday gift to ourselves.

Zinc is found in every tissue in the body, aids cell division, is a powerful antioxidant, helps to prevent cancer, and maintains healthy hormone levels. Zinc is an essential trace mineral that’s important for the immune system and the brain, as well as other parts of the body. Zinc also helps wounds heal and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. In infants, zinc deficiency can delay normal development. At any age, serious zinc deficiency can lead to risk of infections.      

Topical zinc ointments are used to treat diaper rash and skin irritations and to reduce UV sun exposure. Zinc also has been shown to help with ulcers, ADHD, acne, sickle cell anemia, and other conditions. In addition, zinc has also been studied as a treatment for herpes, high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and more. It also may be part of an effective treatment for age-related macular degeneration and for the common cold, but research continues in each of these areas.

Health care providers may recommend zinc supplements for people who have zinc deficiencies. Strict vegetarians, breastfeeding women, alcohol abusers, and people who have a poor diet are at higher risk for zinc deficiency. So are those with certain digestive problems, such as Crohn’s disease.

Getting Z facts straight         

Zinc is believed to be important for vision because high levels of the mineral are found in the macula, part of the retina. Zinc enables vitamin A to create a pigment called melanin, which protects the eye. Some studies show that getting enough zinc can help you see better at night.

Zinc has antioxidant effects and is vital to the body’s resistance to infection. It’s also important for tissue repair, and may decrease the ability of cold viruses to grow on or bind to the lining of the nose.

Zinc is found naturally in shellfish, beef and other red meats, nuts and seeds, beans, and milk and cheese. Tea, coffee, and certain medications may interfere with zinc absorption in the intestines.

Researchers have studied the use of zinc as a way to treat or reduce symptoms of the cold virus, though the data from years of scientific studies are mixed. Taking zinc either as a syrup or lozenge through the first few days of a cold may shorten the length of the illness. However, supplementing natural doses found in foods such as eggs, red meat and seafood with higher doses of zinc, particularly long term, can be toxic. Signs of too much zinc include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. When people take too much zinc for a long time, they sometimes have problems such as low copper levels, lower immunity, and low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol).

As in the case with all supplements, medicines or nutritional remedies, consult with your physician before adding extra zinc to your diet.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Planning to be Healthy is a Gift We Give Ourselves

As 2013 rushes to its close, we’re all faced again with the proverbial “glass half full or glass half empty” opportunities the end of one year and beginning of another provide us. We can look back and lament about all the well-intentioned health and wellness options we never fulfilled, or make a firm and achievable personal wellness plan designed to improve our physical, emotional and spiritual health in 2014 and beyond.

But first, it’s the holidays — take it easy and enjoy! That may not sound like sage nutritional advice, but we all know what the coming weeks bring. It’s a stressful time of year without putting additional pressure on ourselves. Eat and drink consciously and in moderation, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about your personal goals. Be it eating more healthfully, exercising more, finding time to relax or whatever suits you, change takes place progressively and through conscious choice. Making resolutions is as old as the hills, but setting simple goals includes taking the time to determine how you’ll achieve them, and how you’ll measure your success. This isn’t difficult and may be the best gift you can give yourself as we approach the new year.

When it comes to reasonable health and wellness planning, simple, achievable and realistic are our keywords. Here are some tips to help guide your steps:

  • Acknowledge a realistic vision of success. If losing weight is one of your goals, set a realistic number and timetable, so you can achieve your goal safely. Take the time to learn about potential problems, such as vitamin deficiencies or other health risks that accompany weight loss, and read about sugar, fat, carbs, and the chemistry of food. Also, talk with your physician, fitness expert and/or a licensed nutritionist about longer-term lifestyle changes that will help you achieve your mission.
  • Adopt an effective strategy. Focus on relatively short-term goals, like eating vegetables four times a day, cutting back on carbs and sugar, eating healthy snacks, and doing at least 20 minutes of cardio a day for the next few weeks. Keep track of your efforts daily and weekly by writing on a calendar or maintaining a journal, and create simple “rewards” for your weekly or monthly successes, such as buying a gift or doing something personally meaningful.
  • Review and adjust your commitment. To be successful you have to set goals, measure your progress, and adjust. Be flexible — if you find, for example, that walking every day is impossible, walk four days a week, or longer on the weekends. Sign up for a yoga or fitness class. And when you give in to that yummy, calorie-rich dessert, don’t despair…tomorrow is a new day. You know yourself better than anyone — make adjustments that will work for you if you fall off the wagon or fail to achieve your weekly goals.
  • Use the “buddy system.” Tell a friend about your goals and see if you can work out, walk, or practice your new diet together. Share helpful articles and tips, check in regularly, support each other when you miss a goal, and celebrate your individual and mutual successes.

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthier is to just get started and don’t give up. By setting realistic goals and a simple, formal plan, the gift of improved health and wellness is yours to keep.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Taming the Ogres of Holiday Overabundance

If you’re like most Americans during the holidays, our capacity for gluttony seems endless. No matter how well we think we’re going to eat, how much we plan to exercise, and how we’re determined to not let stress get the better of us, we overindulge — whether by feast, drink, being constantly on the run, or other excesses. It’s like trying to keep up with the weeds in our garden…by late summer they have the best of us, and it’s only knowing the frost isn’t far away that allows us to relax.

Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully. But it’s more than just overeating; exercise substantially reduces, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (approximately 60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

With all this working against us, how can we keep from overeating, under-exercising and getting totally stressed out this time of year? It begins with understanding and making small changes that can result in big improvements.

Don’t feed the ogres!

Many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat during this season. Holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion and cold weather can dampen the best of workout intentions. To make this holiday season a healthier one, it’s important to be conscious of what you’re eating, and to manage your stress and emotions.

  • Practice awareness.  It’s important to be conscious of what we eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but consider moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar, and preservatives. Remember, we don’t have to indulge every minute. We can allow some treats for those special days, and then get back into our healthy routines the next day.
  • Manage stress and emotions.  For some people it’s an abundance of friends and family coming out of the woodwork that has them down. In contrast, you may be alone, not have your family or friends nearby, and feel isolated. The holidays are very nostalgic, but for every good memory there also may be memories of family members and friends now deceased or living far away, and traditions no longer possible. Spending time with difficult family members, grieving the loss of a loved one, feeling pressure to give gifts when finances are tight, and loneliness can leave people feeling sad, angry, or even depressed. And these feelings are aggravated by the shorter, colder days and reduced sunlight.
  • Outreach and consistency are good. It’s always beneficial to try and continue our normal routines to help feel like we’re still in control. We can consciously try to not over-eat and make time for exercise and rest. Additionally, personal outreach, especially socializing and connecting with old friends and associates, is important for our emotional health. We humans are social creatures, and while digital outreach is valuable and sometimes our easiest option, the Internet tends to act as a buffer between us and real intimacy.
  • Dealing with the holiday blues. Though depression as the holidays near is common, there is a difference between the holiday blues, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more serious conditions. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological state that literally changes your biology and can cause or add to depression. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless about changing their situation. If the holiday blues seem to linger or become more intense, seek help from a mental health professional.

There are many ways we can resist being tempted by unhealthy options. Think about what really matters during this busy time of year, and plan accordingly. While you’re making the effort to visit friends and attend parties and gatherings, contribute personal time through charitable efforts, eat and drink sensibly, and carve out some time for yourself. Figure out what you absolutely have to do, then let go of the rest — you’ll be happier and healthier for the effort!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Add Employee Wellness to Your Holiday Shopping List

As surely as we develop our strategic business forecasts for the new year, we also should think about the roles employee health and wellness play in helping achieve our bottom-line goals.

The benefits of staff wellness are many; improved morale, productivity, quality, teamwork, and customer service. Sick days are reduced, illness can be avoided or better managed, and the efforts can be rewarding both for enhanced quality of life and healthcare cost reductions.

The health benefits of “feeling good” — by meeting individual or team goals, through successful planning and execution, a sense of accomplishment, providing service, and feeling valued — may be hard to measure, but are indisputable contributors to success, retention, and morale. Additionally, generosity, giving, and awareness create a sense of increased goodwill and can increase the bond between employer and employee, and among employees.

By supporting your employees’ interests in local or national organizations through donations, fund raising activities and in-kind services, you help your staff achieve that valuable sense of accomplishment and caring that comes from generosity and giving to others.

Additionally, every month brings a variety of wellness, disease awareness and health-related special events, activities and recognition. These represent some of the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” for promoting, encouraging and rewarding employee workforce participation. And if you time your internal outreach to the national tides of wellness material being communicated through the media, you’ll find the resources and educational information robust and easily available.

CBIA continuously reaches out to our Healthy Connections members to discover how they bring wellness into the workplace without spending a lot of money. From time to time this column runs best-practice stories, and we’re always interested in what you are doing, regardless of how seemingly small, to promote health and wellness in your workplace. Based on recent outreach, here are some of the most common practices we’re finding:

Gym memberships: Many companies offer an allowance to their employees to use for purchasing a gym membership. Some organizations incentivize employees to “earn” extra money by doing other healthy activities such as going to their PCP for their physical, by setting personal wellness goals, or by completing wellness workshops and classes.

Community outreach: Building up morale in the company is a commonly overlooked wellness initiative, but the results are always positive. Lead this initiative by getting a team together for a charity event or race, volunteer, “adopt” a family or charity for the holidays, raise money as a team for gifts, match team and invidual efforts, and encourage employees to donate food, time and services. Remember, charity doesn’t end when the year does!

Stress relief: Studies show that a power nap can increase alertness, memory, and stamina. The end result: Your employees are more productive! Some companies have designated an office where employees can reserve times during the day for relaxing, and forward-thinking organizations find ways to reward employees and help them “recharge” by allowing them much-needed “down time” that is customized to each employees’ needs.

And finally, encourage employees to visit their PCP. One of the best ways to stay healthy and to prevent illness is to visit your PCP for regular check-ups. Many companies see the value in allowing employees to take work time to get their physical. Plus, routine visits are covered in full for CBIA Health Connections members. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season and year to come!

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Better Pulmonary Health is in the Air

Autumn and winter bring special breathing challenges for many Americans. Certain mold spores are more prevalent in the autumn, and many who are susceptible are exposed to them while outdoors walking, working, or raking leaves. Changes in temperature can exacerbate breathing problems for people with asthma or respiratory illness, as can dry heat indoors from central heating systems. Air becomes even drier when homeowners use wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. And the negative effects of smoking tobacco products aggravate health and breathing more intensely for smokers, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses are closed up.

November is National Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month. Pulmonary arteries carry blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Pulmonary hypertension (PH) means there is increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries. As the pressure builds, the heart must work harder to pump blood through the arteries to the lungs, eventually causing the heart muscle to weaken and sometimes fail.

PH can be caused by changes in the arteries which include tightening or stiffening of the artery walls, and blood clots. General signs and symptoms of PH include:

  • Shortness of breath during everyday activity
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Tiredness
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Swelling in legs and ankles
  • Bluish color on lips and skin

Anyone can develop pulmonary hypertension. PH can occur at any age, but it usually develops between the ages of 20 and 60. People who are at increased risk for PH include:

  • People with a family history of the condition
  • People with heart and lung disease, liver disease, HIV, or blood clots in pulmonary arteries
  • People who use certain diet medicines or street drugs

Diagnosing and treating PH

PH can develop very slowly, so it is possible to go years without diagnosis because the disease has no early symptoms. Your healthcare provider will diagnose PH using medical and family histories, a physical exam and other tests to determine the pressure in your pulmonary arteries. These tests may include echocardiography (which creates a picture of your heart), a chest x-ray, an electro-cardiogram (or EKG, which shows how fast your heart is beating) or heart catheterization (which measures pressure in arteries). Exercise testing is used to find out how severe your PH is.

Pulmonary hypertension has no cure, but treatment with medicines to relax the blood vessels in the lungs, procedures such as lung transplants and blood vessel dilation, and various oxygen therapies may help relieve symptoms and slow the progress of the disease.

To manage PH, it is important to follow the treatment plan recommended by your health care provider and to contact your provider if you have new symptoms. Other suggestions include:

  • Check with your healthcare provider before using over-the-counter medicines.
  • Track your weight. If you notice rapid weight change, call your health care provider immediately.
  • Women should talk to their health care provider about using birth control. Pregnancy can be risky for women who have PH.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Participate in physical activity, but talk to your health care provider about types of activity that are safe for you.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Don’t Let Your Sweet Tooth — Or Genetics — Bite You

Sugar. It’s in just about everything we eat or drink, prevalent naturally and in synthetic disguises, and sneaks into foods in a variety of forms, even in seemingly healthy fruits and vegetables. It suits our cravings, creates our cravings, and makes certain foods and drinks more palatable. And in another of nature’s mystifying ironies, sugar is necessary for life and terrible for our health.

November is American Diabetes Month. The most serious form of diabetes, called Type 1, is genetically inherited. The more common Type 2 form of diabetes can be inherited, but often is the result of poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking and other man-made causes. Understanding the warning signs and how to prevent, or limit the onset of Type 2 diabetes is critical to your health, and to holding down exploding healthcare costs.

In the United States alone, 25.8 million children and adults — 8.3 percent of the population — have diabetes. Only 18.8 million have been diagnosed, meaning another 7 million are walking around sick, and medical researchers estimate that 79 million people are pre-diabetic, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older.

Beyond the physical and quality-of-life costs, the costs of diagnosed diabetes in the United States in 2012 were $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs. Complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

According to researchers, the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

Understanding diabetes causes and symptoms

Diabetes is a problem with your body that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. This is also called hyperglycemia. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. If you have Type 2 diabetes your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels.

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have different causes. Yet two factors are important in both: We inherit a predisposition to the disease then something in our environment triggers it. One trigger might be related to cold weather. Type 1 diabetes develops more often in winter than summer and is more common in places with cold climates.

Another trigger might be viruses, and early diet may also play a role. Type 1 diabetes is less common in people who were breastfed and in those who first ate solid foods at later ages.

In many people, the development of Type 1 diabetes seems to take many years. In experiments that followed relatives of people with Type 1 diabetes, researchers found that most of those who later got diabetes had certain auto-antibodies in their blood for years before.

Type 2 diabetes has a stronger link to family history and lineage than Type 1, although it too depends on environmental factors. While genetics play a very strong role in the development of Type 2 diabetes, lifestyle also influences the development of Type 2 diabetes. Obesity tends to run in families, and families tend to have similar eating and exercise habits.

Early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing the complications of diabetes. The following symptoms of diabetes are typical. However, some people with Type 2 diabetes have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed. 

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hunger – even though you are eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
  • Weight loss – even though you are eating more (Type 1)
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (Type 2)

Women with gestational diabetes often have no symptoms, which is why it’s important for at-risk women to be tested at the proper time during pregnancy.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom on the diabetes front. People with both types live long, active lives, and studies show that it is possible to delay or prevent Type 2 diabetes by exercising and losing weight. Through the use of medical insulin, physical activity and diet management, we can control the side effects of diabetes, prevent onset, or limit related illnesses and co-morbidities.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

How to Beat Those Cold and Flu Blues

If you’re not already a budding germophobe, spend a few hours shopping, in school, eating in a restaurant or doing your thing at work and note the sneezing, wheezing, sniffling and runny noses confirming that, indeed, cold and flu season is upon us again. You could wear a mask and gloves or only venture out when absolutely necessary. But that’s silly, especially since there are simple, proven steps you can take to greatly reduce your risk of getting sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As you touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth…and food.

Although it’s impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines and desks. So wash before and after you use a restroom. Wash after you visit the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or use an ATM. When it isn’t easy to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t use anyone else’s toothbrush, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.

Everyone sneezes, but we can do a better job of keeping it to ourselves. Sneeze into your sleeve or in a tissue or hanky so you don’t infect innocent passersby or fellow employees. Airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections, and incubation time — the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly icky in your system — allows you to spread those germs to many other people before you even realize you’re infectious. Finally, when you know you’re sick, stay home!

What you need to know about the flu

Influenza — the flu– is not pretty. It’s far worse than a cold, includes body aches and fever, hangs around longer than a typical virus, is contagious, and can sideline you for a week or two.

Aside from the short-term misery and lost work or school days, flu can have more serious implications. Most people who get the seasonal flu recover just fine. But the seasonal flu also hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States alone each year. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually, depending on the variety of flu and length of the season. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year, and more than twice the number of people killed by AIDS. And it’s particularly dangerous to children, seniors and adults with other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Beyond hand washing, the best prevention is to get a flu shot. Flu vaccines are very safe and can’t infect you with the flu. Injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.

Note that antibiotics won’t help you fight the flu, which is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens your body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and inappropriate prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken your body and allow bacterial invaders to infect you. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so November is a good time to get your flu shot, while there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

There’s no guarantee you won’t get sick this winter, but you can improve your odds tremendously. Eat well, exercise, and dress for the weather. Avoid going places when you’re not feeling well, get your flu vaccination, and wash your hands regularly. Take charge of your health, and the flu and colds can bug someone else!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

The Great American Smokeout Turns 36

This month, we celebrate the 36th anniversary of The Great American Smokeout. The widespread recognition of this important event represents more than simply reducing or eliminating smoking from workplaces, schools, restaurants, and public spaces. It’s a testimonial to advocates’ ability to raise public awareness of health- and wellness-related actions that have far-reaching implications and consequences for those who participate, and even for those who choose to ignore science and warnings from the medical community.

The Great American Smokeout is held on the third Thursday in November and has helped dramatically change Americans’ attitudes about smoking. These changes have led to community programs and smoke-free laws that are now saving many lives. Annual Great American Smokeout events began in the 1970s, when smoking and secondhand smoke were commonplace.

Each year, the Great American Smokeout also draws attention to the deaths and chronic diseases caused by smoking. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, many state and local governments responded by banning smoking in workplaces and restaurants, raising taxes on cigarettes, limiting cigarette promotions, discouraging teen cigarette use, and taking further action to counter smoking. These efforts continue, and from 1965 to today, cigarette smoking among adults in the United States has decreased from more than 42 percent to around 20 percent. Strong smoke-free policies, media campaigns, and increases in the prices of tobacco products are at least partly credited for these decreases.

Smoking is responsible for nearly one in three cancer deaths, and one in five deaths from all causes. Another 8.6 million people live with serious illnesses caused by smoking. Still, about one in five U.S. adults (more than 43 million people) smoke cigarettes and about 15 million people smoke tobacco in cigars or pipes or use “smokeless” tobacco products. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women. About 87 percent of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking, which also causes cancers of the larynx, mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder. It has also been linked to the development of cancers of the pancreas, cervix, ovaries, colon/rectum, kidney, stomach, and some types of leukemia.

As if the human toll wasn’t incentive enough, smoking causes more than $193 billion in annual health-related costs in the United States, including smoking-attributable medical costs and productivity losses. That’s something every employer can’t ignore, as it affects our costs of doing business, directly and indirectly.

We can’t fix everything for everybody — nor should we — but we can tackle our own personal health, and promote wellness among our families and staff.  Eliminating smoking from our workplaces is an important step, as is encouraging improved nutrition, lower-sugar snacking, exercise/fitness, and overall stress-reduction techniques. Regardless of staff size, creating a safe, healthy workplace is an important component of employee wellness. It helps boost productivity, quality, teamwork, customer service, and retention. The Great American Smokeout occurs annually, but overall wellness can be practiced every day.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Compliance Still Critical for Maintaining Health and Wellness

As the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) takes hold this month, there’s a lot of confusing news and information swirling around about options, smart choices and next steps. There’s also a fundamental shift taking place in healthcare today, which is the realization that Americans do not comply effectively with direction provided by their physicians or medical practitioners, and often take their prescribed medications improperly if at all.

Part of the reason for this failure is a lack of understanding or the ability to translate complex medical directions into simple, recommended action which is often referred to as “health literacy.” But that’s not the entire problem. People are forgetful, or have a tendency to stop following directions or taking their meds when they’re no longer in crisis or start feeling “better.” The ACA includes money and program guidance for addressing health literacy issues, and is targeting wellness as an important opportunity to help Americans improve their health and help reduce medical costs.

Studies have shown that non-compliance causes 125,000 deaths annually in the United States, leads to 10 percent to 25 percent of hospital and nursing home admissions, and is becoming an international epidemic. The magnitude of this problem is obvious when you consider that 32 million Americans use three or more medicines daily, and that as many as 75 percent of patients (and 50 percent of chronically ill patients) fail to adhere to or comply with physician-prescribed treatment regimens.

The reasons behind this failure are varied, ranging from simple forgetfulness to confusion to ambivalence, but the problem costs an estimated $290 billion in emergency-room visits and other avoidable medical expenses in the United States every year.

What we can each do better

People confront situations that involve life-changing decisions about their health every day. These decisions are made in places such as grocery and drug stores, workplaces, playgrounds, doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals, and around the kitchen table. Obtaining, communicating, processing, and understanding health information and services are essential steps in making appropriate health decisions; however, research indicates that today’s health information is presented in ways that are not usable by most adults, and people often can’t find and use the health information and services they need.

Without clear information and an understanding of the information’s importance, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests, end up in the emergency room more often, and have a harder time managing chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure.

Each of us can improve our overall health or the health of those we care for by following these simple steps:

  • Ask questions. Your physician, nurse, or other medical professional wants you to get better, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. We often remain silent because we don’t understand directions, don’t want to appear dumb, feel like we’re “wasting their time,” or think we can figure it out on our own after we leave the doctor’s office, clinic, hospital or pharmacy. If something isn’t clear, ask about it!
  • Take your medications as prescribed. Studies show that Americans who take one medicine a day comply up to 75 percent, but with three or more medications daily, that compliance level falls to under 50 percent. Read the directions, leave yourself notes, purchase daily pill dispensers, ask others to remind you, or establish a daily time or other discipline for making sure you remember your meds.
  • Understand how your meds work. Some medications need to be taken with food, others before you eat. Some are taken in the morning, others before you go to bed. In many cases, you have to be aware of potential reactions when mixing drugs and certain foods, alcohol or behaviors such as driving or working. Read labels and make sure you understand how to use your medications properly.
  • Don’t stop taking your meds when you start feeling better…unless you’ve been told to stop. Some prescription medications, like antibiotics, require the complete seven- or 10-day dose to ensure your body has fully recovered from an illness or infection. If you stop early because you’re feeling better or dislike potential side effects, you run a high risk of becoming sick again, or infecting others.
  • Practice conformity with medical recommendations. This is about your health — why go half way? If your doctor suggests walking or changing your diet, reducing alcohol consumption or not smoking, choosing not to comply is as foolish as not taking your prescription medications. It’s often these choices we make that determine our ability to recover and improve our longer-term health and wellness.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Raising Awareness, Saving Lives (Including Your Own)

Thousands of American women (and hundreds of men) are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. Early detection and treatment are key to treating and containing this disease. Knowing your family history, getting regular exams and avoiding known cancer-causing foods and activities decrease your chances of developing cancer. Additionally, proper diet and exercise, avoiding smoking or using tobacco products, and drinking in moderation can help keep you healthier and reduce the chances of contracting certain types of cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. When detected early before it can spread to other parts of the body, breast cancer can be treated through radiation, drug therapy and surgery, and many cancer survivors live long, healthy lives. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. Fortunately, eight out of 10 breast lumps are benign, or not cancerous. But women sometimes stay away from medical care because they fear what they might find. Women can take charge of their health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with their doctors, and scheduling regular mammograms. Men should speak with their doctor as well if they find suspicious lumps, abnormal skin growths, experience tenderness or experience other changes in their breasts.

For women, a mammogram remains one of the best tools available for the early detection of breast cancer. While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. If you have a mother, daughter, sister or grandmother who had breast cancer, you should have a mammogram five years before the age of their diagnosis, or starting at age 35. Additionally, genetic testing is now getting a lot of attention, especially with high-profile patients like Angelina Jolie, who recently had a precautionary double mastectomy due to genetic profiling that found her at high risk of developing breast cancer. That case has given rise to many questions about genetic testing, its benefits, and ethical considerations that accompany testing and preventive surgeries.

What is genetic testing?                

Genetic testing looks for specific inherited changes (mutations) in a person’s chromosomes, genes, or proteins. Genetic mutations can have harmful, beneficial, neutral (no effect), or uncertain effects on health. Mutations that are harmful may increase a person’s chance, or risk, of developing a disease such as cancer. Overall, inherited mutations are thought to play a role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers.

Cancer can sometimes appear to “run in families” even if it is not caused by an inherited mutation. For example, a shared environment or lifestyle, such as tobacco use, can cause similar cancers to develop among family members. However, certain patterns such as the types of cancer that develop, other non-cancer conditions that are seen, and the ages at which cancer typically develops may suggest the presence of a hereditary cancer syndrome.

The genetic mutations that cause many of the known hereditary cancer syndromes have been identified, and genetic testing can confirm whether a condition is, indeed, the result of an inherited syndrome. Genetic testing is also done to determine whether family members without obvious illness have inherited the same mutation as a family member who is known to carry a cancer-associated mutation.

Inherited genetic mutations can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer through a variety of mechanisms, depending on the function of the gene. Mutations in genes that control cell growth and the repair of damaged DNA are particularly likely to be associated with increased cancer risk.

What do you need to know about genetically inherited diseases and genetic tests?

Here’s a short list of important facts useful to know concerning genetic mutations and testing:

  • Genetic mutations play a role in the development of all cancers. Most of these mutations occur during a person’s lifetime, but some mutations, including those that are associated with hereditary cancer syndromes, can be inherited from a person’s parents.
  • Inherited mutations play a major role in the development of about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers.
  • The genetic mutations associated with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes have been identified, and genetic tests can help tell whether a person from a family with such a syndrome has one of these mutations.
  • A genetic counselor, doctor, or other healthcare professional trained in genetics can help an individual or family understand genetic test results.
  • A high genetic likelihood of developing a certain type of cancer is not a certainty that a person will develop that cancer. The risks and benefits of precautionary or preemptive surgeries have to be determined on a case by case basis.
  • Often, discovering potential genetic mutations may lead a person to alter behaviors, diet and other aspects of health and wellness that can help improve quality of life and health without undertaking dramatic steps.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!