Folic Acid Helps You B Healthier — and Happier

Vitamin B9, also called folate or folic acid, is one of eight B vitamins. All B vitamins help the body convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is used to produce energy. These B vitamins, often referred to as B-complex vitamins, also help the body use fats and protein. B-complex vitamins are needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver. They also help the nervous system function properly. Folic acid is the synthetic form of B9, found in supplements and fortified foods, while folate occurs naturally in foods. All the B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning that the body does not store them.

Folic acid is crucial for proper brain function and plays an important role in mental and emotional health. It aids in the production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material, and is especially important when cells and tissues are growing rapidly, such as in infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy. Folic acid also works closely with vitamin B12 to help make red blood cells and help iron work properly in the body.

Alcoholism, inflammatory bowel disease, and celiac disease can cause folic acid deficiency. Also, certain medications may lower levels of folic acid in the body. Folic acid deficiency can cause poor growth, tongue inflammation, gingivitis, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, diarrhea, irritability, forgetfulness, and mental sluggishness.

Folic acid is used for preventing and treating low blood levels of folic acid (folic acid deficiency), as well as its complications, including “tired blood” (anemia) and the inability of the bowel to absorb nutrients properly. Folic acid is also used for other conditions commonly associated with folic acid deficiency, including ulcerative colitis, liver disease, alcoholism, and kidney dialysis.

Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant take folic acid to prevent miscarriage and “neural tube defects,” birth defects such as spina bifida that occur when the fetus’s spine and back don’t close during development.

Some people use folic acid to prevent colon cancer or cervical cancer. It is also used to prevent heart disease and stroke, as well as to reduce blood levels of a chemical called homocysteine. High homocysteine levels might be a risk for heart disease.

Additionally, folic acid is used for memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, age-related hearing loss, preventing eye disease such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), reducing signs of aging, weak bones (osteoporosis), jumpy legs (restless leg syndrome), sleep problems, depression, nerve pain, muscle pain, AIDS, a skin disease called vitiligo, and an inherited disease called Fragile-X syndrome. It is also used for reducing harmful side effects of treatment with the medications lometrexol and methotrexate.

Folic acid is often used in combination with other B vitamins. Some people apply folic acid directly to the gum for treating gum infections. Foods with folic acid in them include:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Dried beans, peas, and nuts
  • Enriched breads, cereals and other grain products

Rich sources of folate include spinach, dark leafy greens, asparagus, turnip, beets, and mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, lima beans, soybeans, beef liver, brewer’s yeast, root vegetables, whole grains, wheat germ, bulgur wheat, kidney beans, white beans, lima beans, mung beans, salmon, orange juice, avocado, and milk. In addition, all grain and cereal products in the U.S. are fortified with folic acid.

If you don’t get enough folic acid from the foods you eat, you can also take it as a dietary supplement. But like all supplements, you should check with your physician before adding it 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!

Women, Save a Life–Get Screened for Cervical Cancer

While you’re resolving to lose weight, eat more fruits and vegetables, or exercise regularly, why not add another important — and potentially life-saving task — to your “to do” list? January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and a prime time to highlight the importance of routine Pap tests. Raising awareness is especially important because life-saving tests are readily available and, when caught early, cervical cancer can be successfully treated.

Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up. In fact, when cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life. Unfortunately, six out of 10 cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested in the past five years.

The Pap test looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated appropriately. The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes. Since the 1950s, the rate of death from cervical cancer has declined by 74 percent. The reason for the decline is mostly due to Pap testing. The best time to start getting a Pap test is age 21, and it should be done every two years. Women aged 30 and older who have had three consecutively normal tests can start screening once every three years. Talk to your doctor to know for sure. If you are 30 or older, you also can be tested for the cancer-causing types of HPV at the same time you have your Pap test.

Women can take the power of cervical cancer prevention even further, by getting immunized with the HPV vaccine. HPVs (human papillomavirus), of which there are more than 100 types, are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. The vaccine protects women against four HPV types that cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers.

The HPV vaccine is most effective before a person is infected with an HPV, which is why the vaccine has been recommended for girls as young as nine. It’s also approved for women up to the age of 26, and tests are under way to see if it’s effective for women over that age. The CDC recently recommended the vaccine for boys beginning age 11. The vaccine cannot protect against established infection, nor does it protect against all types of HPV.

For more information and to learn how you can help during Cervical Health Awareness Month, visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) www.nccc-online.org

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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!

Tips for Staying Healthy Throughout the Winter Months

When winter hits, our bodies change. Our lips get chapped, our skin dries out, and our mood may vary like the weather. Often, we don’t get as much exercise as we did in the warmer weather, our exposure to the sun is limited, and the contrast between the extreme cold outdoors and the constant dry air indoors from radiators and heating systems plays havoc with our skin, respiratory and circulatory systems.

Here are suggested practices that can help us feel healthier in the winter, physically and mentally:

  • For chapped lips, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and use a humidifier at home – especially in your bedroom – or in your office and other living areas, if possible. Liberally apply a lip balm with sunscreen, beeswax or petroleum jelly to your lips every time you go outside, and try to avoid licking your lips, which may crack the skin.
  • For dried skin and hands, it’s important to replace essential oils that treat and preserve the skin, and to wear gloves when outdoors. Try to keep hands as dry as possible, though don’t stop washing your hands regularly to avoid germs. Apply glycerin-based moisturizer when you awake, before you retire for the evening, and whenever your hands feel dry throughout the day.

Also, avoid soaps that further dry out your skin. Replace them with super-fatted, fragrance-free soaps, whether bar or liquid, for cleansing, and moisturizers. Humectants – like urea, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and propylene glycol – absorb water from the air. They are oil-free. Emollients like baby or mineral oil, plant oils (like jojoba oil), petroleum jelly, lanolin, stearic acid – replace oils in the skin. Many moisturizers contain a combination. You may want to skip some anti-aging moisturizers in winter. Those that contain retinoids can further irritate already dry, sensitive skin.

  • Exfoliate. To get the most out of your moisturizer, exfoliate. Clearing away dead skin cells lets a moisturizer better penetrate dry skin. Exfoliate gently with a moisturizer that contains lactic acid or salicylic acid. If your skin is really dry or irritated, ask your doctor before starting a new skin care product or regimen. Don’t forget feet and heels, too, which tend to get dry and chapped in the winter.
  • Adjust showers. Long, hot showers can actually draw water from our skin. Appealing as a hot shower is on a cold morning, lukewarm water is a better choice. It won’t strip away skin’s natural oils. And a glycerin- or hyaluronic acid-based moisturizer can increase the amount of water that’s drawn into your skin. Baby oil (mineral oil) is also a good choice, because it prevents water from evaporating from your skin. Also, if possible, shampoo every other day instead of daily. Shampoos and excess shampooing can strip hair of moisture. Use warm water and a mild shampoo with sunscreen. Apply extra conditioner to keep your hair hydrated, shiny and soft. Don’t over-style with the blow dryer or flat iron, and protect your hair from the elements by wearing a hat.
  • Wear sunscreen when outdoors. Skiers and other winter athletes are at special risk of sunburn because snow reflects sunlight. In fact, it bounces 80 percent of the sun’s rays back to us, compared to less than 20 percent for sand and surf. Even if you’re not exercising or recreating outdoors, you still need the protection of a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Apply daily, and reapply at least every two hours if you’re outside.
  • Dress for the weather. It sounds like obvious advice, but look around you when you’re outdoors, and you’ll notice many people dressed improperly for the cold. Frostnip – a mild form of frostbite – tends to affect the earlobes, cheeks, nose, fingers, and toes. Signs of frostnip include pale skin, numbness, or tingling in the affected area. Avoid frostnip by dressing warmly – including hat, ear muffs, and gloves. The best treatment is to re-warm the affected areas; although frostnip is uncomfortable, it doesn’t cause any damage to skin.

Frostbite, however, is far more serious and can cause lasting damage. Deeper tissues freeze, causing skin to become hard, pale, and cold. It may ache but lack sensitivity to touch. As the area thaws, it becomes red and painful. Hands, feet, nose and ears are most vulnerable, but any body part can be affected. Treat frostbite by getting to a warm place, wrapping affected areas in sterile dressings (separate fingers and toes) and going to an emergency department immediately. Don’t rewarm affected areas if there’s a chance they could freeze again.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated! Also, be aware of liquids like coffee and alcohol that do not hydrate. To the contrary, they have dieretic effects, which cause you to lose more fluid from your body or, in the case of alcohol, lower your body temperature. Dehydration also weakens our immune system, making our bodies less effective in fighting off colds, flu and other infections. 
  • Get plenty of rest. When we sleep, our body recovers, refreshes and recharges. Sleep is crucial for our body to replenish and boost our immune system to fight off infections and keep us healthy. When we are run down, sleep deprived, and/or stressed, our immune defenses are down and our body is more susceptible to illness. 
  • Eat properly and healthfully. Eating a balanced diet is a key to staying healthy. Getting essential nutrients by eating fruits and vegetables and limiting unhealthy fats will keep our immune systems strong and healthy. Drink more milk, particularly low-fat if possible, and include five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Avoid sugary treats, and try winter vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and turnips. Also, ingesting foods with essential fatty acids like omega-3s help make up skin’s natural, moisture-retaining oil barrier. Add essential fatty acid boost with omega-3-rich foods like flax, walnuts, and safflower oil, as well as cold-water fish such as tuna, herring, halibut, salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
  • Continue exercising. No matter the weather, walking, at the very least, is important to cardiac and respiratory health and to help us maintain a healthier weight. Walk indoors, go to a gym, mall or fitness center, or dress properly for the weather and walk, hike, cross-country or downhill ski, ice skate . . . it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you remain active!

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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!

Resolve to Establish a Wellness Champion

With the launch of each new year, health and wellness are on our minds, personally, just as organizations are concerned with the health and wellness of their bottom lines. Fortunately, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive — the link between employee wellness and organizational productivity, innovation, teamwork, quality and customer service has long been demonstrated. So as we do our 2014 planning, building in time for proactive health awareness should be part of our strategic thinking.

Organizations participating in CBIA’s Health Connections have access to online health and wellness resources, including this online monthly newsletter, Healthy Connections. But if you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to move past the lowest-hanging fruit and tackle the next simple step of appointing a Wellness Champion, someone from your organization who becomes your liaison to health and wellness information, encourages your staff to complete a simple, easy online healthcare assessment, and then participates in monthly outreach, promotes health education tools, and literally “champions” your internal health- and wellness-improvement efforts.

“When companies sign up for wellness benefits, they receive information on the role of the Wellness Champion, and then we help guide them, step by step, on duties and expectations,” explains Michelle Molyneux, insurance specialist, who oversees Healthy Connections for CBIA. “Our program is easy to implement and maintain, and beyond general support including regular emails and monthly updates, we offer a variety of financial incentives to encourage and reward participation.”

A website dedicated to health and wellness includes a dedicated portal for Wellness Champions, Molyneux says. It includes tips, best practices, access to workshops, and educational materials and videos on subjects ranging from smoking cessation and nutrition to exercise and fitness. Wellness Champions also see updates on how many employees in their companies have completed online healthcare assessments, a critical first step for designing a personal wellness program. Each employee receives a $50 Amazon gift card for completing the assessment, and each organization receives raffle “points” good toward a quarterly drawing for a $500 Amazon gift card. Additional raffle points are earned for completing online workshops and interactive educational materials.

“Wellness doesn’t have to be hard,” observes Molyneux. “Healthy habits come in many creative shapes and forms. The most important steps involve establishing a culture of wellness. Once you get started, you can take it in any direction that works for your organization or business.”

For more information on appointing a Wellness Champion, visit CbiaHealthyConnections.com, or contact Michelle Molyneux (860.244.1966; Michelle.Molyneux@cbia.com).

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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!