Eat lots of leafy vegetables, oKay?

Vitamin K doesn’t typically get as much media attention as other vitamins, but this lesser known nutritional family plays a key role in helping the blood clot and preventing excessive bleeding.

Vitamin K refers to two naturally occurring fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is made by plants and Vitamin K2 is typically produced in the large intestine by bacteria. Vitamins K3, K4 and K5 also exist — they are synthetic forms and are used to inhibit fungal growth as well as by the pet food industry. Vitamin K also is involved in building bone, and low levels of circulating Vitamin K have been linked with low bone density. In fact, research indicates that healthy Vitamin K intake can help reduce incidences of hip fractures from falls as we age and help strengthen bone mass, overall.

Vitamin K helps make four of the 13 proteins needed for blood clotting. Its role in maintaining proper clotting is so important that people who take anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin) must be careful to keep their vitamin K intake stable.

Only one in four Americans gets enough Vitamin K through his or her diet. Produce containing Vitamin K1 includes green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, romaine, and green leaf lettuce, as well as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and cabbage. Vitamin K2 compounds are found in meats, cheeses and eggs, and are synthesized by bacteria. Other good sources of Vitamin K include beans and soybeans, strawberries, and fish.

Vitamin K1 is the main form of vitamin K supplement available in the U.S., though it’s not typically prescribed. Low levels of vitamin K can raise the risk of uncontrolled bleeding. While vitamin K deficiencies are rare in adults, they are very common in newborn infants. A single injection of vitamin K for newborns is standard. Vitamin K is also used to counteract an overdose of the blood thinner, Coumadin.

While vitamin K deficiencies are uncommon, you may be at higher risk if you:

  • Have a disease that affects absorption in the digestive tract, such as Crohn’s disease or active celiac disease
  • Take drugs that interfere with vitamin K absorption
  • Are severely malnourished
  • Drink alcohol heavily

Side effects of oral vitamin K at recommended doses are rare. However, many drugs can interfere with the effects of vitamin K. They include antacids, blood thinners, antibiotics, aspirin, and drugs for cancer, seizures, high cholesterol, and other conditions. You should not use vitamin K supplements unless your healthcare provider tells you to. People using Coumadin for heart problems, clotting disorders, or other conditions may need to watch their diets closely to control the amount of vitamin K they take in.

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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!

Protecting your skin saves your life

As summer rapidly approaches, we’re back outdoors with a vengeance, working, gardening, going to athletic events, catching up on our walking, attending barbecues and hitting the beaches. While many of us crave the sun and sporting a “killer tan,” that tan actually is a killer…but you can help prevent overexposure and reduce the dangerous side effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Unprotected exposure to UV radiation also is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. In fact, UV radiation from the sun is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization.

Each year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one American dies from skin cancer every hour.

Chronic exposure to the sun suppresses our natural immune system and also causes premature aging, which over time can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. Since it occurs gradually, often manifesting itself many years after the majority of a person’s sun exposure, premature aging is often regarded as an unavoidable, normal part of growing older. However, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, many forms of skin cancer and most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.

How to protect yourself from excess UV exposure

The best way to lower your risk of skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, it is important not to rely too much on sunscreen alone. You should also not use sunscreen or hats as an excuse to increase the amount of time you spend in the sun. Even with the use of sunscreens, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate your clothes and skin and do harm.

If possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, when UV rays are the strongest. Clouds and haze do not protect you from the sun, so use sun protection even on cloudy days. Use sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Products that contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide offer the best protection. Less expensive products that have the same ingredients work as well as expensive ones. Older children and adults (even those with darker skin) benefit from using SPFs (sun protection factor) of 15 and over. Many experts recommend that most people use SPF 30 or higher on the face and 15 or higher on the body, and people who burn easily or have risk factors for skin cancer should use SPF 50+.

Here’s when and how to use sunscreen:

  • Adults and children should wear sunscreen every day, even if they go outdoors for only a short time.
  • Apply 30 minutes before going outdoors for best results. This allows time for the sunscreen to be absorbed.
  • Remember to use sunscreen during the winter when snow and sun are both present.
  • Reapply at least every two hours while you are out in the sunlight.
  • Reapply after swimming or sweating. Waterproof formulas last for about 40 minutes in the water, and water-resistant formulas last half as long.

Here are additional safety tips and information for protecting yourself from harmful UV radiation:

  • Adults and children should wear hats with wide brims to shield from the sun’s rays.
  • Wear protective clothing. Look for loose-fitting, unbleached, tightly woven fabrics. The tighter the weave, the more protective the garment.
  • Buy clothing and swimwear that block out UV rays. This clothing is rated using SPF (as used with sunscreen) or a system called the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) index.
  • Avoid surfaces that reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete, snow, and white-painted areas.
  • Beware that at higher altitudes you burn more quickly.

We all need the vitamins from the sun and can still enjoy the outdoors, but taking proper precautions allows us to be outdoors more safely, year round.

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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!

Putting nature’s ‘super foods’ to work

When you think of comfort foods, mashed potatoes, meatloaf and your grandmother’s fruit pies may come to mind. While all three may satisfy your nostalgic cravings, the pies don’t just taste good; many of them are really good for you, too! That’s because when they’re filled with berries — especially seasonal and locally grown varieties such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries — they’re loaded in healthy antioxidants that fight disease, reduce stress and help keep you well.

Berries and other fruit are nature’s “super foods.” Whether you enjoy eating wild or domestic berries, 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, 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.

Variety is the key

Even though many fruits and some vegetables have high antioxidant content, the body does not absorb all of it. Bioavailability has to do with how our bodies 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. With berries 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).

Counting on antioxidants

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 antioxidants). Dried cranberries are great in cereal and salads, in pasta, and trail mixes. 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, which isn’t good for you.

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!

Wellness support and outreach make for good chemistry

Company leaders know, instinctively, that supporting health and wellness activities is a valuable benefit for employees. Research has established that active work-based wellness programs help build teamwork, boost morale, reduce healthcare costs and improve productivity. But, like anything else that requires employee involvement on a personal level, it takes time, effort and ongoing communication to build momentum and participation.

Charkit Chemical Corporation, in Norwalk, has 55 full- and part-time employees, with 40 in Norwalk. This chemical distribution company offers a wide range of products to the specialty chemical, flavor and fragrance, personal care, food, pharmaceutical, imaging, water treatment and metal treatment industries. Founded in 1982 by Charlie Hinnant, Charkit’s president, Charkit joined CBIA’s Health Connections program in 2011. Bryant Hinnant, Charlie’s brother, is Charkit’s general counsel, part of the Charkit senior management team, and served as the Company’s original wellness champion.

Charkit  started out promoting health and wellness conservatively – everyone on their team liked the idea, but people were all very busy with work and life, and many had their own physical fitness regimens already in place. Employees were encouraged to complete CBIA’s online personal health assessment and CBIA Healthy Connections and other wellness articles were shared with the employees. There was some enthusiasm to start but no formal effort or large movement to jump on the fitness bandwagon.

“When it comes to personal health and a healthy lifestyle, people often have good intentions. But left to their own devices, motivation typically takes time, gentle and consistent prompting, and a significant change in personal health or circumstances to exact real change,” Hinnant says. “Some of our employees were golfers, some were runners, we had a few gym lovers, but we had a lot of ‘couch potatoes’ as well.”

Charlie Hinnant decided to build an onsite gym and make it available for free to employees. Charkit added a weight room, universal exercise machine room, and bicycles, rowing, and jogging equipment. Charkit also added lockers and two shower areas, and a television monitor for cable shows or videos. Initially only a few employees used the gym, but that number is now up to 12 regular users,  plus a significant number of other employees who work out as time permits. Videos on training, biking and related subjects were purchased, and made available to employees as well.

About four months ago, Hinnant turned the wellness champion role over to Christian Gomez, an accountant at the Norwalk facility. Both acknowledge that every company or small business can’t build a gym at their office, but say there’s still much that can be done to encourage health and wellness and to involve employees in activities and events. For example, Charkit has sponsored flu-shot clinics and hosted fitness meetings and discussions. Gomez talks regularly to his fellow employees to gauge their interest and to measure participation, and Charkit management pays entry fees for community walks, charitable athletic events, sponsors activities in several local programs, and is very open to ideas and suggestions for new programs.

“In addition to working out, our employees have been involved in cancer walks, and we sponsor a co-ed kickball team,” Gomez says. “We support other team-building interests as well such as community food and clothing drives. If someone comes to us with a good idea, we’ll take it up the ladder as required to obtain funding, communicate it to the staff, and actively promote participation.” The support and outreach is appreciated, he stresses, and he turns to the CBIA Healthy Connections health and wellness portal and other resources for ideas and suggestions.

“Even though I’ve only been in the role a short while, I can see the difference in people’s attitudes and impressions,” Gomez observes. “While it’s all across the board, almost everyone here in Norwalk does something of interest to them related to improving their health and wellness, whether formally or informally. They appreciate the opportunities and the fact that our company is taking a role in helping them reduce stress and improve their health. What they’re doing doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they’re choosing to do something.”

Hinnant agrees, and adds that when companies demonstrate an interest in their employees’ welfare and health, people notice and this drives participation and strengthens teamwork. “In many ways, we’re just in our infancy when it comes to wellness,” Hinnant reflects. “We’ll continue looking for ways to participate, be it through softball, bowling, soccer, charity events or whatever interests our staff and fits their schedules. There’s only so much you can do when we all have our ‘day jobs,’ but as we get more experience and our efforts mature, so will participation and the direction of our programs.”

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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!