Are Cell Phones Cooking Our Brains?

Quick, of all the electronic, radiation-producing devices invented in the past century, which one do we most keep pressed against or near our brain, ears, eyes and body for countless hours of each day, seven days a week, all year long? If you’re a cynic, you probably thought of hearing aids, right? But the answer is cell phones, smarty pants.

It would take volumes and years to examine and debate the profound effects cell phone technology have had on our culture, even well beyond the impact on human communication. Almost everyone you know has a cell phone, and most people today are using so-called “smart” phones, with Wi-Fi access to the Internet and thousands of useful and entertaining applications. But while we love our phones and the benefits we derive, it’s prudent to consider how safe they are, and how they might be affecting our health.

The good news is that countless studies around the world have failed to demonstrate a clear link between the radio waves used by cell phones and cancer in humans, especially with today’s more modern cell phone technology. The less-good news is that excessive cell phone use has caused other physical and emotional tolls, and that research into long-term health consequences from cell phone use is still in its infancy.

What we do know about cell phones and health

Electromagnetic fields in the radiofrequency range are used for telecommunications applications, including cell phones, televisions, and radio transmissions. The human body absorbs energy from devices that emit radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation.

There are many different types of radiation. Generally, they’re split into two categories: ionizing and non-ionizing. The first category includes x-rays, some high-energy UV rays, and cosmic rays. Cell phones give off radio waves, which are in the non-ionizing group. While ionizing radiation has been linked to cancer, non-ionizing radiation has not.

Over time, the number of cell phone calls per day, the length of each call, and the amount of time people use cell phones have increased. However, improvements in cell phone technology have resulted in devices that have lower power outputs than earlier models.

The only consistently recognized biological effect of radiofrequency energy is heating. The ability of microwave ovens to heat food is one example of this effect of radiofrequency energy. Radiofrequency exposure from cell phone use does cause heating to the area of the body where a cell phone or other device is held (ear, head, body, etc.). However, it is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature, and there are no other clearly established effects on the body from radiofrequency energy.

When mobile phones are used very close to some medical devices (including pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, and certain hearing aids) there is the possibility of causing interference with their operation. The risk is much reduced for newer equipment. There is also the potential of interference between mobile phone signals and aircraft electronics. Some countries have licensed mobile phone use on aircraft during flight using systems that control the phone output power, but most airlines restrict cell phone and laptop use during takeoffs and landings.

Negative health consequences from cell phones

While the jury’s still out on non-ionizing radiation, heat and cell phones, what we DO know is that constant cell phone use typically requires bending one’s neck down to look at a small screen. This posture isn’t new – we look down when we write or read books, magazines and printed materials, as well – but texting adds another element that causes us to spend far more time than ever before bending our necks to look down, and spending way more time doing it.

Both of these elements are affecting posture and causing neck pain. This is especially troublesome when involving children because, over time, this constant bad posture can damage their cervical spine and result in neck injuries and chronic pain later in life.

Another less-often-mentioned consequence of cell phone use is bacterial exposure and infections. In studies, cell phones were shown to be germ magnets, especially for fecal bacteria, typically as a result of people going to the bathroom and not properly washing their hands. Cell phones with cases were the worst offenders for capturing and retaining germs, including viruses. Careful and regular cleaning of phones and phone cases with alcohol will help mitigate the potential for getting sick.

Interference with sleep is another consequence of constant cell phone use. Of course, it isn’t just cell phones – it’s the light emitted from “blue screens” such as television and computers, as well. Blue light shuts down melatonin production; melatonin is our body’s natural hormone which helps us fall asleep. Avoiding all types of blue-light emitters at least a full hour, and preferably, two or three hours before bedtime will result in improved sleep.

Studies also are underway regarding cell phones and repetitive use injuries to wrists and thumbs. While there haven’t been many conclusive results published, researchers have found that tablet and laptop users are at greater risk of developing musculoskeletal problems due to unnatural wrist postures.

And finally, the phenomena scientists are calling “digital distraction” is alive and, unfortunately, unwell. This is a wide range of distracted behaviors that result in vehicle, work and pedestrian accidents from people texting or phoning while they are driving, working or recreating.  Add GPS and music, and it’s a fine recipe for vehicular disaster. Countless examples of distracted driving have now been documented, resulting in thousands of deaths and many more injuries.

Here are a few “common-sense” tips for reducing potential injuries from cell phone use or exposure:

  • Use a hands-free device as often as possible. This does not include an “all-in-one” device like Bluetooth, which also emits radio frequencies, but a wireless or attached hands-free device. Use of these simple and inexpensive tools allows you to look ahead, not down, and moves the source of radiation away from your brain.
  • Keep the phone away from your head. Keep the phone in a handbag, holster or backpack, if possible, rather than holding it in your hands or keeping it pressed against your body in a pocket.
  • Avoid using your phone when you have bad reception. The fewer bars there are, the more powerfully the phone has to broadcast – some phones may increase output tenfold or more in areas with poor service.
  • Don’t text while your drive, walk or work. It seems obvious, but the alarming number of traffic, work and pedestrian accidents related to distracted phone users has mushroomed.
  • Place your phone or device on a counter or desk when possible. Phone and tablet users should attempt to place their devices in cases or on a stand that would allow for tilting the screen rather than holding and tilting the device in their hands. And whenever possible, place your cellphone in a mounting device in your car above the dashboard where it’s accessible without completely looking away from the road.

It’s not likely that we’re going to stop using cell phones. What is likely is that the technology will continue evolving, giving us access to faster, “smarter” and smaller phones and related communication devices. But as in other forms of modern technology, the practical uses and convenience evolves faster than researchers’ ability to assess long-term dangers and potential health consequences. The prescription for smart health, in all things, remains the use of common sense, and practicing cell phone use in moderation whenever possible.


 

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 Super Food in Your Fridge

The world around us provides practically all the nutritionally sound foods, supplements and even many of the natural medicines we need to survive . . . if only we take the time to learn about and understand them, respect their value and benefits, and resist the smorgasbord of unhealthy alternatives that tantalize us every minute.

A great example of one of nature’s almost perfect foods – after a little human intervention — is yogurt.  Whether you prefer it smooth and creamy or thick like custard, tangy, plain, sweet or overflowing with fruit and granola, yogurt is packed with nutrients, including vitamins and chemicals that help build strong bones and reduce blood pressure. It also contains friendly bacteria that aid in digestion and benefit our bodies in myriad other ways.

Yogurt contains probiotics, bacteria that are good for our health. They can help reduce inflammation, and improve how our bodies react to insulin, a hormone that manages the amount of sugar in our blood. Eating yogurt regularly is helpful for warding off type-2 diabetes, aids in digestion, and helps keep weight off over time. And the probiotics help regulate bowel movements, fight infections and can restore balance to our digestive systems after a round of antibiotics, reducing the likelihood of developing diarrhea, a common side effect from antibiotics.

Yogurt is made from milk, which contains calcium, an alkaline earth metal. Calcium is good for bone growth and health. Many dairies add vitamin D to their milk as well, another bonus. Eating yogurt, especially when we’re young, can reduce our risk of developing osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, yogurt contains potassium, which helps keep blood pressure in check by flushing salt from our bodies.

Besides lowering blood pressure, yogurt has been linked to lower cholesterol levels. And according to some studies, yogurt consumers appeared to have a better metabolic profile such as lower BMI, waist circumference, levels of triglycerides, fasting glucose and insulin, and lower blood pressure but higher HDL [good] cholesterol.

These studies measured people who ate more yogurt and less processed meat and refined grains. When combined with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains and other healthy foods, participants had higher levels of potassium (which helps flush excess salt from our body), vitamins B2 and B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc and other micronutrients.

Something for everyone

Shopping at the supermarket for yogurt can be confusing – there are many brands, varieties and styles, and more seem to be added every day. Yogurt, like all milk products, has natural sugar called lactose. Six ounces of plain yogurt has about 12 grams, but sweetened yogurts have considerably more.  Plain yogurt topped with fruit is a healthier alternative, or even mixing a sweetened yogurt with plain yogurt is preferable to reduce the amount of sugar.

Greek yogurt is strained to make it thicker — it has more protein but less calcium. Many brands boost their Greek yogurts with extra calcium, so it’s important to read labels. Also, the label should tell you if the yogurt contains live and active cultures, which are important for digestion. And when it comes to fat, low-fat yogurt is your best option, since whole-milk yogurts have more saturated fat, which isn’t good for our hearts.

Mixing yogurt with nuts like walnuts or almonds, as well as fresh fruit, enhances its benefits.  Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats and contain higher amounts of antioxidants than most other foods. Eating walnuts may improve brain health while also helping to prevent heart disease and cancer.

Like other nuts, most of the energy or calories in walnuts come from fat. This makes them an energy-dense, high-calorie food. However, even though walnuts are rich in fat and calories, studies indicate that they do not increase the risk of obesity when replacing other foods in the diet. They also are richer than most other nuts in polyunsaturated fats.

So, think about adding yogurt to your diet as a breakfast staple, for lunch, or as a healthy snack. And no matter how or when you enjoy it, know that it’s healthy, easy to prepare or mix with other foods, and comes in so many flavors and varieties that you can enjoy it for years to come!


 

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!

It’s That Other Sneezing, Coughing, Itchy Eye Time of Year

As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, we’re already seeing color in the trees and bushes.  Autumn is almost upon us, and while we may be mesmerized by what’s to come – including the vibrant colors, crunching of leaves underfoot and seasonal squash and vegetables — there are a few side effects of fall we might not love, such as allergic reactions to ragweed, respiratory illnesses and the 2017/2018 flu season.

If you’re already sniffling and sneezing, the symptoms may be familiar, but the causes – and diagnosis – may not be as clear. Many respiratory ailments start with sneezing, running eyes and noses, and then may progress to sore throats, coughs, chest pain and fever. Understanding the differences, deciding on treatment options, and when to seek medical attention are important, especially if the patient is young, elderly or suffers from other chronic illnesses.

Beware pneumonia and bronchitis

Pneumonia is a condition of the lungs where the air sac (alveoli) become filled with fluid or pus. The pus in the lungs can be the result of a bacterial or viral infection, which leaves the infected person with a cough containing phlegm.

People with weaker immune systems, such as young children below the age of five and elderly people above the age of 65 are most likely to be affected by the infection. If left unchecked it can be fatal. If bacterial, it can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition where the bronchial tubes and trachea are inflamed. These are the airways that carry air to the lungs. With bronchitis, the airways are constantly irritated, inducing a cough, and the mucus that comes up with the cough is responsible for spreading the infection. The infection that causes bronchitis is usually caused by the same viruses that spread the common cold and flu.

The primary difference between pneumonia and bronchitis is that while the air sacs in the lungs are infected in pneumonia, it is the airways of the lungs that are affected in bronchitis. Both are respiratory disorders which affect the effective functioning of the lungs, which make it difficult to breathe properly.

But sneezing, coughing and related symptoms aren’t always a sign of a serious illness. Oftentimes, it’s more likely to be seasonal allergies which, though more prevalent in the spring, cause a fair share of autumn suffering, as well.

What causes hay fever in the fall?

Many plant varieties can cause hay fever, but the 17 varieties of ragweed that grow in North America pose the biggest threat. Three out of four people who are allergic to pollen are allergic to ragweed.

A hardy annual, ragweed thrives just about anywhere turf grasses and other perennials haven’t taken root — along roads and riverbanks, in vacant lots, and certainly in your yard or neighborhood. Over the course of a single year, one ragweed plant can produce one billion grains of pollen, which float wherever the breeze carries them, and often are unwelcome visitors in your home, car and workplace.

For hay-fever sufferers, inhaling these tiny particles triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions resulting in the release of histamine, a protein that causes sneezing, congestion, fatigue, coughing, and post-nasal drip; itchy eyes, nose, and throat; dark circles under the eyes; and asthma attacks.

Here are six simple strategies for reducing the severity of hay fever attacks:

  • Make Your Home as pollen-free as possible: During ragweed season, keep your windows shut and the air conditioner on (and do the same while in your car). Running the air conditioner will also help remove moisture from the air, which helps prevent the growth of mold, which also aggravates hay fever symptoms. HEPA air filters can be helpful, especially if your home is carpeted.
  • Wear a Mask: A surgical-style facemask isn’t going to completely protect you from pollen, but it can cut exposure substantially, especially when gardening, mowing the lawn, walking and Look for a facemask with an “N95” rating from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). You should be able to pick one up at a drugstore or home-supply store.
  • Wash your hands and face: Whenever you come in from outside, wash your face and hands. If you’ve been exposed to outdoor air for quite a while, shower and change into fresh clothes. And if you have pets that go outdoors, regular brushing and bathing will help reduce the amount of pollen in their fur.
  • Beware of certain foods that aggravate allergies: Some foods, such as bananas, melons and chamomile contain proteins similar to the ones in ragweed.
  • Beware of pollen counts where you live and work. On days when the pollen count is especially high, stay indoors as possible, or take over-the-counter or prescription medicines before you go out.

If these pollen-avoidance strategies fail to bring relief, consider non-prescription antihistamines. If you’re bothered by congestion as well as sneezing and a runny, itchy nose, adding a decongestant may help. There are also antihistamine/decongestant combinations available. For severe or persistent symptoms, a steroid nasal spray may also be helpful. If you have any medical conditions or questions about what to take, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your options, including generics which cost less and generally work just as well.

Finally, tenderness or pressure in the nasal passages and headaches might be an indication of a sinus infection, which may require antibiotics. And with flu season rapidly approaching, it’s time to schedule your flu shot, which is easily available through your physician’s office, at walk-in clinics, chain drugstores and even in many supermarket pharmacies.


 

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!

 

Achieving Balance Between Work, Health, and Overall Wellness

It is rare when you find a company that seems to have successfully bridged the gap between hard work, customer service and quality of life. ZAG Interactive is one of those organizations, featuring a vibrant, energized workforce that prides itself on customer quality, innovation, teamwork and their own health and wellness.

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency specializing in website design, strategic marketing, custom development and campaign support. Much of its name recognition comes from building or redesigning websites for credit unions and banks across the country. It employs 55 people, and has been growing like gangbusters. It’s a youthful organization founded 15 years ago by a young, hands-on CEO, Larry Miclette, Jr., who leads by example, in the office and in the fitness arena.

Miclette has always supported work/life balance, and takes a personal, interactive interest in the health of his employees. The culture, says the company’s Wellness Champion Dawn Stanford, operations coordinator for ZAG, is very family and team oriented. People work and play together, and even spend time in one another’s company out of the office. And fitness, nutrition and exercise play important roles in helping them bond, manage stress and remain customer focused.

ZAG offers a variety of opportunities for employees to increase their activity level and health, Stanford says. “Employees are given a full membership to Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness, a gym that specializes in group classes, personal training, or individual training. We also offer a membership to Mission Fitness, which is a group-fitness-style gym that specializes in group boot camp, boxing, power and spin classes. They also offer ‘Mission Adventures,’ which include trail running, hiking, and triathlons.”

ZAG recently provided on-site lunch-time workouts with a trainer from Mission Fitness. The trainer offered nutritional guidance as well as a 20- to 30-minute workout. Lunchtime is playtime, as well – interested employees gather to enjoy Wiffle ball, a fun activity that started with a few ZAG players and now has expanded into a league, with tournament time quickly approaching and a trophy – and bragging rights – on the line.

Every Friday during the warm months there is a team picnic, and an employee who is a yoga instructor offers a class onsite on many Thursday evenings. Frequently employees bring in fresh vegetables and fruit from their gardens, share smoothie and nutritional snacks and dinner recipes, and discuss healthy food alternatives at lunch time and throughout the day.

“Our team is very congenial, supportive, proactive and involved,” says Melissa Wilkinson, a senior designer at ZAG, who also assists Stanford with the day-to-day health and wellness communication, planning and outreach. “In the past we’ve posted daily health tips such as how to optimize a 30-minute workout break, nutritional information, and other ideas. Many of us go outside at lunch for walks or hikes, and there’s a park nearby with walking and fitness trails. We set and share personal goals, and prompt and support each other.” A fear years ago, Zag hosted a “ZAG Fit” competition. The competition encouraged employees, their families and friends of ZAG to upload photographs of themselves doing any kind of health and wellness activities that interested them at work or on their own time. If they posted photos with a ZAG Fit hashtag, they were entered into a drawing for a free Fitbit. One was awarded to an employee, and one went to a non-ZAG employee.

They’ve also created a wellness advocacy team, comprising one representative from each business area. The goal, Wilkinson says, is to better integrate health and wellness across the organization by recognizing that each department has different interests, challenges ideas and its own subculture. Inclusivity, she adds, is key to success.

“Everyone benefits in a culture that embraces wellness,” Wilkinson explains. “We all think we eat healthy and exercise properly, but getting a professional to come in and explain things to the group, or in a one-on-one setting, makes a huge difference in how effective and educated we are when it comes to nutrition, fitness and overall wellness.”

“Here at ZAG, living a healthy lifestyle is important,” Stanford stresses. “‘Living healthy’ means different things to different people. We offer many opportunities for our employees to help reduce their stress and be active, involved and nutritionally fit every day. Wellness is a regular topic of conversation, and a way of life.”


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!