Eat foods that are berry good for your health!

If you enjoy eating wild or domestic berries you’re in berry heaven this time of year. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are plentiful, and whether you cook them, put them in pies, yogurt or fruit salads or eat them right off the plant or bush, you’re getting a boatload of healthy antioxidants to fight disease, and making your entire body smile.

Antioxidants are important disease-fighting compounds. Scientists believe they help prevent and repair the stress that comes from oxidation, a natural process that occurs during normal cell function. A small percentage of cells become damaged during oxidation and turn into free radicals, which can start a chain reaction to harming more cells and possibly unleashing disease. Unchecked free radical activity has been linked to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries rank highest among the fruits researchers have studied. Apples run a close second, and dried fruits ranked highly, as well. Peaches, mangos, and melons, while scoring lower than berries, still contain plenty of antioxidants as well as other nutrients.

Mix it up for best results         

Even though some fruits and vegetables have high antioxidant content, the body does not absorb all of it. Bioavailability has to do with how our body’s absorb, or metabolize food, and how different foods interact in our bodies.

That’s why variety in our diet is important. By eating as many antioxidant-rich foods as possible, we’re likely to reap the most benefits, and since berries are at the top of the antioxidant food chain, the more berries the better our chances of improving our health.

More than 300 studies also cite plentiful antioxidants in red wine, grape juice, grape seed, and grape skin extracts. Red wine is loaded with flavonoids like anthocyanidins and catechins, which, according to studies, slows the process of clogging arteries and heart disease.

Many of the same flavonoids are found in black and green tea as well as dark chocolate, but the bulk of research has been on grape flavonoids. Researchers say that flavonoids may help promote heart health by preventing blood clots (which can trigger a heart attack or stroke), prevent cholesterol from damaging blood vessel walls, improve the health of arteries (making them expand and contract more easily), and stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which may prevent hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). But back to berries.

Doing the antioxidant math

If you can find them, wild blueberries are the best, overall. Just one cup has 13,427 total antioxidants — vitamins A & C, plus flavonoids (a type of antioxidant) like querticin and anthocyanidin. That’s about 10 times the USDA’s daily recommendation, in just one cup. Cultivated blueberries have 9,019 per cup and are equally vitamin-rich.

Cranberries also are antioxidant powerhouses (8,983). Dried cranberries are great in cereal and salads, in pasta, trail mixes and, of course, enjoyed as juice.

Blackberries (7,701), raspberries (6,058), strawberries (5,938), black plums (4,873), sweet cherries (4,873), and red grapes (2,016) are also brimming with vitamins A and C and flavonoids like catechin, epicatechin, quercetin, and anthocyanidin.

Apples are also vitamin- and antioxidant-rich. The classic Red Delicious (5,900), Granny Smith (5,381), Gala (3,903), and many other varieties are available nearly year-round. Applesauce, juice, and jellies are convenient apple sources, though prepared foods often have added sugar.

Orange-colored fruits also are good sources of antioxidants. One naval orange has 2,540; the juice has about half that. Mangoes have 1,653. A peach has 1,826, tangerines, 1,361, and pineapple, 1,229.

Finally, dried versions of these fruits are smaller, but they still have plenty of antioxidants. For instance, here’s the antioxidant content in these dried fruits: Prunes (7,291), dates (3,467), figs (2,537), and raisins (2,490). Some people prefer the taste or texture of certain dried fruits over fresh ones. Dried cranberries are a prime example — they tend to be much less tart than the fresh variety.

So however you eat or drink them, seek out and enjoy berries year round, but especially now, when they’re easy to find, reasonably priced, and locally grown.

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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!

Control the bites, day and night

How’s that old song go? Summertime, and the biting is easy?! Once the late spring rain subsides and July arrives, heat and fireworks aren’t the only things driving us crazy. Insects of every possible shape and variety are numerous, noisy, defensive, and hungry. Many of these pesky little creatures leave us alone, but the more aggressive species will bug us to distraction, and their bites or stings can cause allergic reactions, discomfort, itchy side effects or illness.

Unless you plan to spend the summer indoors, you’re likely to come in contact with some of these annoying critters. You can improve your odds of not getting bitten by wearing protective clothing, headgear and socks, using insect repellants and citronella products, minimizing use of cologne and perfume when planning outdoor activities, avoiding swampy areas, and moving the party indoors during the height of bite time. You also can spray clothes with repellent containing permethrin, and use a repellant like DEET on your skin.

Practice avoidance, and be prepared

If you know you have an allergy to one of these insects, you should always carry an epi-pen or other backup medication in case you’re stung or bitten, and seek immediate medical attention. For the rest of us, most bites or stings leave a mark and cause some swelling and irritation. Ice or a cool compress applied directly to the site can bring relief, as can topical salves, ointments or sprays sold over the counter. If the area around the bite continues to expand or becomes blistery and weepy, you have to get checked for a possible infection.

If you’re not aware of allergies but react dramatically, experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing or extensive swelling, it’s important to get to a hospital, urgent care center or physician immediately, or to call for emergency medical assistance as quickly as possible.

Protecting against ticks and mosquitoes

While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months (April through September) when ticks are most active. In summer, when out hiking, biking, camping, and spending time in and around grass and woods, there are several steps you can take to limit bites from ticks, mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects.

Avoid direct contact with ticks and mosquitoes as possible. If you can, avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. When hiking, picnicking or walking, try to remain in the center of trails. You can repel ticks and mosquitoes with DEET or Permethrin.

  • Use repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.
  • If you’re using other repellents, go to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for safety information.

Handling ticks

Ticks embedded in your skin can be gross, but painless. The best bet is to keep them at bay. But if they do find you, here are tips for dealing with them easily and effectively:

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
  • Consult your doctor or a nurse (or internet sources) to determine the best method for removing the tick; it’s important to remove the entire tick, or it can leave parts embedded in your skin.

Should you or a family member develop a bulls-eye-type red rash near the bite site, or exhibit other side effects such as a fever, lethargy or extreme exhaustion, consult your doctor. You may need to be tested for Lyme disease, which is common in New England and treated with antibiotics.

Other biting and stinging insects

Here’s a brief primer on stinging and biting insects most common in the Northeast:

Spiders:  Most spiders in New England are relatively harmless as long as you’re not allergic to their bite. One of the common venomous spiders in this region is the Brown Recluse. You can identify this spider by the violin-shaped marking on its back. The bite produces a mild stinging, followed by local redness and intense pain within eight hours. A fluid-filled blister forms at the site and then sloughs off to leave a deep, enlarging ulcer. Reactions from a Brown Recluse spider bite vary from a mild fever and rash to nausea and listlessness. On rare occasions death results, more often in children.

If bitten by a spider, try and identify the type of spider that bit you. Clean the site of the spider bite well with soap and water. Apply a cool compress over the spider bite location. If the bite is on an extremity, elevate it. Aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and antihistamines may be used to relieve minor signs and symptoms in adults. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Honeybees are commonly found throughout the United States. They usually nest in hives built in hollow trees or rock crevices or in building walls. They are not usually aggressive unless they are near their hive. They sting only once and leave behind a barbed stinger with a small venom sac attached.

Wasps are able to sting more than once. They build paper nests that resemble a bee’s honeycomb without any covering. They usually nest under eaves or rain gutters, behind shutters, in crevices and vent openings, and sometimes on the underside of wooden decks and outdoor furniture. You can often see wasps on the outside of their nests.

Yellow jackets are a kind of wasp that are aggressive and sting with little or no provocation, especially when near food. They are able to sting more than once and usually do not lose their stinger. They are more common in the late summer and fall. They usually make their nests underground, but nests may be found in walls, crevices, and hollow logs as well. They are attracted to food and may be found around open trash cans and dumpsters. You may come upon a yellow jacket while doing yard work, gardening, or farming.

Hornets are closely related to wasps; in fact, the hornet is a specific type of wasp. There is only one species of hornet present in North America and is not particularly aggressive.

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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!

Throw another veggie burger on the barbie, mate

If you’re a barbeque and picnic lover, the last thing in the world you want to hear, now that summer’s finally here, is another warning about the perils of charcoal-cooked food.  It’s bad enough you have to listen to news reports about protecting yourself from harmful ultraviolet rays, or the importance of putting on bug spray and keeping yourself hydrated. But messing with your char-broiled ribs, chicken, steaks, burgers and dogs is practically sacrilegious, right? Well, maybe…though there are compromises, healthier alternatives and choices you can make to ensure good summer eating and improved nutritional wellness.

Here’s a brief science lesson. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. The formation of HCAs and PAHs is influenced by the type of meat, the cooking time, the cooking temperature, and the cooking method.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Exposure to high levels of HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animals. Currently, no Federal guidelines address consumption levels of HCAs and PAHs formed in meat. HCA and PAH formation can be reduced by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface, reducing the cooking time, and using a microwave oven or standard oven to partially cook meat before exposing it to high temperatures.

HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.

We can reduce our exposure to these potentially damaging chemicals through several cooking methods:

  • When possible, avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface and avoid prolonged cooking times (especially at high temperatures).
  • Use a microwave or standard oven to pre-cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures. This can substantially reduce HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.
  • Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source to reduce HCA formation, compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often
  • Remove charred portions of meat, such as the skin from chicken, and refrain from using gravy made from meat drippings, which also contain HCA and PAH.
  • Consider steaming fish and vegetables in foil, rather than grilling over an open flame.


Even though it probably goes without saying, we’ll say it again, anyway:  Eat more seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables when at picnics, out, or at home. Avoid high-fat appetizers and desserts high in sugar, or processed foods loaded with sodium, fat, and preservatives.

Summer is a blast, and summer eating doesn’t have to be harmful if you eat everything in moderation and try to avoid those foods and preparation processes that are less healthy.

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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!

Too stressed to take a vacation? Think again.

Considering we’re a society that claims to love our vacations, it’s curious that Americans don’t take enough vacations, and often don’t even use the vacation days we’ve earned. What’s up with that?!  It’s a sad reality, but job reductions, doing more with less, pressure from employers, financial challenges and our own sense of insecurity drives us to make bad choices about our need for healthful relief from our jobs. And whether you’re an employer or an employee, you’ll both suffer for the lack of time off, whether it’s staff or management time.

We all get it. Every day seems an endless cycle of deadlines, customer, associate or employer demands, tough decisions, endless house chores, commuting, kid duty, and more.  There’s stress whether you’re employed, under employed or unemployed, and everyone who has a job worries about keeping it. Even trying to arrange and take the time for a vacation is stressful – little wonder we often put off making our vacation decision, feel guilty taking time off, and have trouble relaxing when we finally do get away.

Time off from our jobs and our regular routines helps us manage stress, improves our bonds with family, friends and co-workers, can alleviate fatigue, and strengthens our immune systems. When we’re stressed our work performance suffers. That has an impact on customer service, as well as safety, quality and productivity. Most of us are harder to get along with when we’re under pressure and feeling anxious, and more prone to depression, memory loss, distraction and bad decision making. We eat poorly and sleep less. Whether you’re typically healthy or not, that’s an insidious mix, and while vacation or time away from work and our regular routines won’t cure it all, vacations offer an important break.

Ironically, the United States lags behind most developed countries when it comes to paid vacation time, and vacation is typically not mandated in our country, or a legal right. In contrast, the United Kingdom requires employers to give at least 28 vacation days. In Finland, France and Greece the minimum is 25, and in Germany and Japan, it’s 20.

We don’t take time off for many reasons. Typically these include having too much work to do, fear of losing our jobs, or because people are unable to afford to go away. But there’s more at work here, if you can excuse the bad pun. With tough workloads and schedules, cost issues and market demands, employers often send mixed signals to their staff about accommodating time off. Instead of being supportive, there’s often the unspoken caveat, “Sure, take the time off, but make sure all your work gets done and nothing falls through the cracks.” The insinuation is that vacations are inconvenient, and the time is allowed reluctantly instead of graciously as the earned benefit and healthy break it represents. According to a 2011 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Jet Blue, about 57 percent of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of that year, many leaving as much as 70 percent of their time untouched.

Sometimes vacation days carry over from year to year, and employees “stockpile” them, but it isn’t healthy, despite longer-term intentions. And while in today’s unstable job market it’s understandable that employees – or managers – are reluctant to take time off, employers should be encouraging this healthy respite.

Vacations have the potential to break the cycle of stress that plagues most working Americans. We emerge from a relaxing vacation fresh, more enthusiastic and better able to solve problems. Time off helps us regain perspective on our problems, allows us to reconnect with our families and friends, and gives us a break from our usual routines. When we return to work we’re happier, better focused, more pleasant and more productive. Everyone benefits – so if you’re an employer, start asking your team when they’re planning time off, make it as easy as possible for them to take their breaks, and book yourself some time off as well!

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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!

Doctors Orders: Take as Prescribed?

Last time you were prescribed an antibiotic, did you take every pill in the bottle or packet as directed, or take them for the recommended number of consecutive days? Or, like millions of medical consumers, did you take them the first few days and then stop when you were feeling better?

Do you remember to take your blood pressure pills, cholesterol meds, or other prescriptions every day? Are you eating what you need to eat or avoiding what you shouldn’t be eating, again per your physician’s recommendations? Did you stop smoking yet, or cut back on caffeine and alcohol?  Do you visit a doctor annually for a full physical or for recommended preventive screenings based on your age and gender?

This isn’t a lecture, it’s pointing out a dangerous reality shared by many of us – the failure to comply with pharmaceutical or medical recommendations…or to even understand them.

Truth is, more than one in four Americans don’t follow their physicians’ guidance. That’s a huge problem, and in the case of medications – where the number of non-compliers is even higher – failing to take prescriptions as prescribed is common, costly, and can be deadly. Medicines are an important part of treatment for serious infections. They can help relieve pain and lift depression. They also can help combat some of the nation’s leading causes of death and disability by helping control many common chronic diseases and lower the complications associated with them.

Consider these statistics on just Rx non-compliance alone:

  • 75 percent of patients sometimes fail to take their medications as directed.
  • 33 percent of prescriptions are never filled.
  • 50 to 60 percent of the time, patients with chronic conditions do not take their medications.
  • 33 to 69 percent of medication-related hospitalizations are linked to drug noncompliance.
  • 125,000 patient deaths each year are linked to drug noncompliance.
  • $290 billion is spent annually on care needed because of medication noncompliance.
  • Why we don’t comply and how to improve our odds

    There are dozens of reasons for why we don’t take our medications as prescribed. We forget to take them. We leave them at home. They upset our stomachs or make us drowsy. They cost too much. They taste lousy. They’re hard to swallow. Or, we don’t understand why we’re taking them or how they help us, so we don’t take it seriously. It also could be because of cultural issues, language problems, or literacy challenges.

    Taking medications on time and correctly is extremely important. When we don’t take medications as prescribed, they may not work as well as they should, or we may have a greater risk for side effects. Also, many drugs work over a longer period and in less obvious ways. People who don’t take their blood pressure or cholesterol medications may feel well, but their blood pressure or cholesterol numbers may be rising. That can increase their risk for heart attack or stroke.

    Here are tips to help medications work safely and effectively:

    • Gather information. Request brochures and pamphlets from your doctor’s office about a condition and medication. Ask your doctor to recommend reliable websites that may help. Your nurse-information service is another good resource, if you have access to one.
    • Make a list of your medications. Include all medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies that you use. Share this list with all your doctors and your pharmacist, and keep it up-to-date. This makes it easier for medical professionals to spot – and hopefully prevent – potentially dangerous drug interactions.
    • Don’t rely on your memory. Buy a special pill case that’s divided into the days of the week. Then keep it somewhere in plain sight but safe from children. Newer boxes have built-in alarms. Also, take your medication at the same time every day, like when you brush your teeth or feed the dog. Set your watch or cell phone alarm to go off when you need to take a dose. Even a note on the refrigerator may help you remember.
    • Talk with your doctor. Before you stop taking a medication or start taking fewer doses to save money or simplify your schedule, call your doctor – even if symptoms disappear or you don’t think the medicine is working. Suddenly stopping some medications can be dangerous.
    • Ask about a simpler schedule. If you just can’t keep track of all your medications and when to take them, ask your doctor for help. With some medications, you may be able to switch to a different dose that doesn’t need to be taken as often.
    • Explore more affordable options. Prescriptions can take a big bite out of your budget, even if your health benefits include drug coverage. But, taking less medication or skipping doses isn’t a safe way to save money. If you’ve been prescribed a brand-name medication, ask your doctor about using a generic instead. It will have the same active ingredients as its brand-name version but may cost less. Some pharmacies and drug companies offer discount cards. Additionally, you may be able to buy a larger dose and split it to save money. It may be cheaper, for instance, to buy 200 mg tablets and break them in half if you only need 100 mg. But ask your pharmacist because selected medications are not safe to split apart.

    Taking your medication as directed is just one part of a comprehensive strategy for staying healthy. Ask questions if you’re not sure what you’re taking and why you’re taking it, and especially if you’re in doubt about instructions.

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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!

    Drink Up!

    Whether we’re running, playing sports, riding a bike, exercising, hiking on a trail or working outdoors, paying careful attention to proper hydration — especially in the warmer months — is critical to our health. When it’s warm, our bodies perspire more to help cool us down. Proper fluid levels are important for ensuring a good flow of oxygen and red blood cells to our muscles and organs. During exercise and activity, we also lose valuable nutrients and minerals. These include sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help keep our muscles working properly, reduce fatigue and prevent dehydration.

    Thirst alone shouldn’t be our barometer for measuring fluid loss. The rule of thumb should be to drink plenty of liquids before, during and after each activity.

    A good guideline to use when preparing for an outdoor workout is to drink about two cups of fluid two hours before the activity. That helps make sure we are well-hydrated before we even go outdoors. Then, during the activity, we should drink four to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes to keep our muscles well-hydrated. If planning an hour-long walk or gym workout, take a water bottle with about 16 ounces (two cups). Then, after exercise, drink again.

    Fluids are vital to help our muscles function throughout our activity, but so is our blood sugar. Eat a light meal or snack of at least 100 calories about an hour or so before an activity. The nutrients from the snack will help keep hunger from interfering. The best snacks combine healthy carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. Fruit, yogurt, nuts, and granola bars are all good examples.

    Water or sports drinks?

    For most outdoor activities, regular tap or bottled water does the trick. If activity lasts an hour or more, either fruit juice diluted with water or a sports drink will provide carbohydrates for energy, plus minerals to replace electrolytes lost from sweating.

    Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and All Sport can provide a needed energy boost during activity. They are designed to rapidly replace fluids and to increase the sugar (glucose) circulating in our blood. However, read the label to determine which sports drinks are most effective. Ideally, it will provide around 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per eight-ounce serving. The drink’s carbohydrates should come from glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose, rather than from processed sugar or corn syrup. These are more easily and quickly absorbed. It shouldn’t be carbonated, as the bubbles can lead to an upset stomach.

    Most sports beverages are well-diluted and contain relatively few calories. If the flavor of a sports drink helps you maintain hydration, diluting it with water or pouring it into a thermos packed with ice will cut down even more on excess calories.

    “Fitness waters” such as Propel are lightly flavored and have added vitamins and minerals. The additional nutrients are meant to supplement a healthy diet — not replace losses from exercise.

    Fitness waters fall somewhere between the sports drinks and plain water in terms of being effective hydrators. They contain fewer calories and electrolytes than sports drinks, but offer more taste than plain water. Additionally, the so-called “designer, or super waters” are advertised as being enhanced with everything from vitamins, oxygen and glucose, to alleged fat-burning minerals. The FDA does not require proof of this kind of claim, but whatever helps keep you hydrated is worth considering…as long as you keep drinking!

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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!

    Scratch Weeks of Discomfort, Not Outdoor Fun

    As the summer approaches we’re back outdoors enjoying hiking, camping, and picnicking. We’re working in our yards, attending sporting events and barbeques, and loving the warm weather and beautiful flowers. However, there’s a serious side to outdoor play. We don’t want to sound like a teaser for a Steven King novel, but there are certain dangers lurking in the trees and among the bushes, trails and woods that we need to know about. These aren’t necessarily all life threatening, but certainly can be annoying and, in some cases, can lead to serious illness or even death. We’re not talking lions, tigers, and bears (oh my), but about poisonous plants.

    Poisonous plants adorn trails, parks, yards, golf courses and ballfields across the Northeastern United States. While it goes without saying that we should never pick and eat a wild berry we don’t know and recognize distinctly (like wild blueberries or blackberries), there are dozens of inviting berries growing in bushes along paths that can sicken or kill us if ingested. Same goes for toadstools (mushrooms) growing in the wild. Don’t even touch them, unless you are trained and know what you’re doing.

    Plants poison people in two ways – contact with the skin and contact with the mouth, including swallowing. Reactions range from mild skin irritation to much more serious effects. It is common that one part of a plant is poisonous while other parts are not.

    Different types of poisonous plants affect the body differently. Stomach upset, including vomiting and diarrhea, and skin rash are the most common problems. Some examples of plants that can cause stomach upset include pokeweed, ivy, Jerusalem cherry, and the bulbs of the daffodil, and iris. Poinsettia can be a mild irritant, but only in very large quantities, and is not considered to be very poisonous.

    Almost any plant can cause a skin rash (dermatitis) in sensitive people. Daisy, black-eyed-susan, and hyacinth are some common examples of plants that can cause dermatitis. Additionally, some plants have calcium oxalate crystals, which cause burning and swelling of the throat, tongue, and mouth. Jack-in-the-pulpit, philodendron, and dieffenbachia are among the many plants that have this needle-like irritant. Rhubarb contains another type of oxalate. Eating large amounts of rhubarb leaves may damage the kidneys and other organs.

    Foxglove, lily-of-the-valley, and oleander are very toxic. They are examples of cardiac glycosides. Cardiac glycosides can affect the heart rate and rhythm. Symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, belly pain, slowed heart rate, irregular heart rhythm, dropping blood pressure, and lethargy. Death may occur in severe cases.

    Avoiding the most common intruders — poisonous ivies

    The most common poisonous plants we typically see in Connecticut include Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. Each of these can produce a topical reaction that includes a rash, itching, and weepy open sores and blisters that easily spread when scratched or touched. People who are highly allergic can be affected by spores carried in the air, or when the poisonous leaves are burned, but most people react after touching or brushing up against the plants or items that have been in contact with the plants’ oils. In more serious cases, the reaction can spread across the body, and even get into your bloodstream.

    • Poison Ivy usually has three broad, spoon-shaped leaves or leaflets (“Leaves of three? Let it be!”), but it can have more. It may grow as a climbing or low-spreading vine that sprawls through or as a shrub. It’s common to see it along fences and stone walls, and throughout wooded areas. Most people are allergic to the oily resin or sap of poison ivy. You can get a rash by touching any part of the poison ivy plant, or anything that has come in contact with poison ivy and still has the oily resin on it (for example, gardening equipment and tools, toys, pets, clothing, shoes, gardening gloves, camping equipment and sports gear).
    • Poison Sumac has seven to 13 leaflets per leaf stem. The leaves have smooth edges and pointed tips. Poison sumac grows as a shrub or small tree. It is found in wooded, swampy areas and in wet, wooded areas.
    • Poison Oak has leaves that look like oak leaves, usually with three leaflets but sometimes up to seven leaflets per leaf group. It grows as a vine or a shrub. Poison oak is more common in the western United States, but is also found in the eastern United States.

    Plants may look different depending on the season and the area where they are growing. But all of these plants have small white, tan, cream, or yellow berries in the fall. Their berries can help distinguish them from harmless but similar plants. Also, after the leaves have fallen off, these plants can sometimes be identified by the black color on areas where the oil in the plant has been exposed to air.

    The best approach for beating any allergic reaction is to avoid the source that triggers it. Here are some tips to help you steer clear of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac:

    • Avoid areas where you know poisonous plants grow, whenever possible.
    • Cover up with closed shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeves, and gloves. Wash any clothes that come in contact with poisonous plants as soon as you can.
    • If you do get exposed, wash your skin with soap and water, or rubbing alcohol. Though the timeframe varies by person, you have about 10 minutes to wash a poisonous plant’s oil off your skin before the stage is set for a rash.
    • Scrub under your nails. You can spread poison ivy to other parts of your body by having the oil on your fingers.
    • If you suspect your pet has rolled around in a poisonous plant, give him a bath with pet shampoo and water — before you hug or touch him. Wear rubber gloves while you give your pet a bath.
    • Oil from poison ivy and other poisonous plants can get on golf clubs, balls, bats, and any other objects, and can remain potent for as long as five years. Make it a habit to wash sports equipment, gardening tools, and other outdoor items with soap and water.

    Ultimately, if you do come in contact with and react to one of these common poisonous plants, there are a variety of over-the-counter remedies, lotions and drugs (such as strong antihistamines like Benadryl, and topical treatments such as hydrocortisone) available. The best advice always is to seek professional assistance from your physician or pharmacist to see what’s recommended, how to care for yourself, and how it might react with other drugs or medicine you may be taking. In serious cases where the rash is spreading quickly and leaving blisters or sores, you should seek immediate medical attention from a physician or medical center. You may require a stronger medicine administered by injection, or other care to prevent the infection from entering your bloodstream and potentially causing internal damage.

    Being outdoors is healthy and fun, but you still have to be careful. We’ll save common biting insects and snakes for another day!

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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!

    Reducing Stress at Work

    Last month was National Stress Awareness Month and we examined the impact of stress on employee wellness. This month we’ll address how to set up a roadmap for decreased stress in the workplace.

    According to the 2013 Work and Well-Being Survey released in March by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, more than one-third (35%) of American workers experience chronic work stress. The APA’s most recent Stress in America survey (released in February 2013) also found high levels of employee stress, with 65 percent of working Americans citing work as a significant source of stress, and 35 percent  reporting that they typically feel stressed during the workday.

    According to the Work and WellBeing Survey, fewer than half of working Americans report that they receive adequate monetary compensation (46%). Of course, employers can’t be expected to arbitrarily increase employee compensation across the board and stay in business. But it’s critical to note that almost half of the employees surveyed (46%) talked about non-monetary compensation. Additionally, just 43 percent of employees say that recognition is based on fair and useful performance evaluation, and just over half (51%) say they feel valued at work. Besides feeling undervalued, employees also report feeling unheard: Less than half (47%) say their employer regularly seeks input from employees, and even fewer (37%) say the organization makes changes based on that feedback.

    These numbers help put into perspective what organizational development experts see as an epidemic-level wave of unhappy employees. If you’re wondering what the impact of this unhappiness may be on your workplace, consider that stress at work manifests itself in increased absenteeism and presenteeism, lower productivity and increased service errors, and has a negative impact on safety, quality and teamwork.

    Yet despite growing awareness of the importance of a healthy workplace, few employees say their organizations provide sufficient resources to help them manage stress (36%) and meet their mental health needs (44%). Just 42 percent of employees say that their organizations promote and support a healthy lifestyle, and only 36 percent report regularly participating in workplace health and wellness programs.

    That sounds like a boatload of opportunity for savvy employers who want to do more to address workplace stress, but don’t want to spend a fortune.  People want to be heard and feel that their opinions count. They want to see an employer show an interest in them as human beings, and want to be recognized for their hard work, dedication and value. And since health is important to all of us, investing in health and wellness planning, and involving your workforce in both the planning and execution can result in a significant return on investment.

    Taking time to ask employees what they think is important. That can be done informally at lunches, team meetings, small-group interactions, and one-on-one. There are a variety of inexpensive online tools available for surveying attitudes and communication, as well. But the easy steps, like building employees into planning and decision making is invaluable for improved execution and buy-in. And recognizing performance, personally and in front of the team, pays back in spades. Small gestures like gift certificates, comp time, and team lunches go a long way toward improving morale.

    You can sponsor team walks and charity events, supplement fitness center fees, host on-site health screenings, and many other activities – the list of potential steps is long, as are the benefits. Additionally, if you haven’t yet, consider establishing a wellness champion and having your employees participate in a free, online health assessment. You can do this by joining CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!


    The Eyes Have It

    Proper eye care and regular vision examinations throughout our lives, starting in childhood, are critical for maintaining good eye health. Whether you’re blessed with perfect eyesight, are one of the millions of Americans wearing corrective lenses, or have had your eyesight improved through surgery, there’s much we should know about our eyes and how they change, need protection and age.

    May is Healthy Vision Month. It’s a good time to consider when you last had your eyes examined by a medical professional, and whether or not you’re doing a good job of caring for your eyes and protecting them from injury.

    Caring for our eyes is mostly a matter of common sense, especially when it comes to avoiding eye strain or injuries. For starters, always wear approved eye protection or safety glasses on a jobsite or while competing in sports, but also when mowing a lawn or using power equipment. There are so many ways to hit ourselves in the eye, or to be injured by thrown objects, splashed liquids, and even wind-blown contaminants or materials. Hospital emergency rooms treat patients with eyes damaged by all manner of chemicals, fish hooks, baseballs, wood chips and much more. So if you’re doing something that might result in an injury, take the safe and easy step to cover your eyes.

    Being aware of the potential damage from ultraviolet light also is important. Sunglasses and clear eyeglasses with protective coatings filter out the sun’s damaging rays, so if you work or spend a lot of time outdoors, you need that extra protection.

    Caring for our eyes as we age

    Adults should visit with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist at least once every other year, and annually if you have bad eyesight or a family history of glaucoma, cataracts, or other congenital or age-related eye ailments. Many eye maladies develop as we get older, part of the natural aging process. Through a comprehensive eye exam that typically involves dilating the pupils and conducting a number of standard (and painless) tests, eye care professionals not only determine sight deficiencies and illnesses, but also find warning signs pointing to other dangers such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

    Dry eye syndrome is a common ailment that affects people as we age. If the glands in our eyes stop making enough natural lubricants, we can buy over-the-counter remedies, but it’s best to have our eyes checked for inflammation or infection. Sometimes dry eyes occur from allergies and from living or working in windy, dry, or low-humidity environments, or in buildings with air-blown hot air. Doctors recommend “fake tears,” which don’t have as many chemicals as the “get the red out” eye drops, which can be habit forming. Anti-inflammation medications and vitamins or foods like fish oil which are high in Omega-3 are often recommended.

    Glaucoma is a group of illnesses that can lead to blindness if not treated. When fluid builds up inside the eye, pressure and tension can result in damage to the optic nerve, including blindness. Glaucoma has no early warning signs. However, symptoms can include blurriness or clouded vision, sensitivity to light, headaches, reduced peripheral or “side” vision, or “tunnel vision.” It’s more common in adults over 60, in African American adults over 40, or in adults with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma. It’s most often treated through medications and surgery.

    Many people also develop cataracts later in life. This clouding of the eye’s lenses becomes more common as we get older and as protein inside our lenses starts to clump together. Cataracts can create a halo effect around lights at night and make our eyes more sensitive to glare, even during daytime. Until the cataract causes severe vision problems, we can increase lighting and change our eyeglass prescription to help see more clearly. Once the haze gets bad, talk to your doctor about surgery to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial one.

    Another common age-related eye malady involves “floaters,” which appear as small particles hovering or floating in your eye through your field of vision. These appear when the fluid and vitreous gel inside our eye starts to break down with age.

    If you are seeing new floaters all of a sudden, especially if they occur with flashes of light, see your eye doctor. Most of the time, floaters are an annoying, harmless issue. Sometimes, though, they can be a sign of a retinal tear, which can turn into a retinal detachment if you don’t get it treated. Although distracting, floaters are a normal part of getting older, and they won’t harm your vision. But if the floaters suddenly start multiplying and you’re also seeing flashing lights, get to your eye doctor’s office immediately – a retinal tear can cause permanent damage and blindness.

    The good news is that through comprehensive, regular eye exams, your doctor can help keep your eyesight corrected, and check for early warning signs of glaucoma, potential retinal detachment and other common eye diseases. As previously mentioned, eye exams also reveal early warning signs of a variety of other illnesses ranging from diabetes to hypertension, so if you haven’t had your baby blues checked out by anyone besides an admiring friend, now’s a good time to call your eye doctor!


    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!

    Use Your Brain to Protect Your Heart

    When we get tense, angry or stressed, we often complain about our blood pressure rising. For some it may simply be a euphemism for frustration…but for many people, it’s a life-threatening reality. As many as 73 million Americans have high blood pressure. And of the one in every four adults with high blood pressure, 31.6 percent are not aware they have it.

    Doctors have long called high blood pressure “the silent killer” because a person can have high blood pressure and never have any symptoms. Many of the same unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (including poor diet and lack of physical exercise) that contribute to high blood pressure also have been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening medical problems such as stroke, heart attack or kidney failure.

    High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke because it puts unnecessary stress on blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken and deteriorate, which can eventually lead to a stroke. It can also speed up several common forms of heart disease. When blood vessel walls thicken with increased blood pressure, cholesterol or other fat-like substances may break off of artery walls and block a brain artery. In other instances, the increased stress can weaken blood vessel walls, leading to a vessel breakage and a brain hemorrhage.

    When you strive to keep your heart healthy you help keep your brain healthy, too. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle may lower your blood pressure, which reduces your chances of having heart disease or a stroke, and it can also make a big difference in your mental abilities as you age.

    It’s not a coincidence that we recognize National Stroke and Blood Pressure Awareness Month in May, which also is National Mental Health Month. The link between stress and increased blood pressure is well documented. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness.

    Managing our blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are critical elements we can influence. Our bodies and minds are complicated mechanisms, and all systems are intertwined. We should always be aware of our blood pressure through regular checkups, know the warning signs, and make conscious decisions to take better care of ourselves.

    Here are some tips for controlling blood pressure through a healthier lifestyle:

    • Exercise regularly. This includes getting outdoors or to the gym, setting reasonable goals for physical activity, and walking every day, if possible.
    • Maintain a healthy body weight. Limit intake of red meat and fried foods, sugar and fat, and adapt to a healthier diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and fish.
    • Limit your sodium intake by cutting down on processed foods, soda, and other products with a high salt content.
    • Try to reduce or quit smoking, and limit or eliminate the use of other tobacco products.
    • If you drink alcohol or coffee/caffeine products, practice moderation.
    • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, or if you have a family history of hypertension or heart disease, your physician may recommend medications created to help lower or control blood pressure and related conditions.
    • Be aware of situations and behaviors that cause you stress, and try to address or limit them.


    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!