Hear What Your Employees Are Saying… And What They’re Not

When employers think about employee health, good listening and the importance of soliciting feedback might not be at the top of their wellness list. But physicians have this figured out – they ask specific, diagnostically relevant questions, then listen carefully. They ask informed follow-up questions as part of their process for developing their diagnosis. And, if they’re doing their jobs well, they check in again with their patients in a short time to assess compliance and improvement, or to adjust actions accordingly.

Employers interested in improving communication, reducing workplace-related stress, improving teamwork and boosting morale also should be focused on feedback and listening carefully to their employees.

The importance of asking people their opinions, and actually listening to and responding to what they have to say is a basic tenet of good communication. But obtaining feedback is far more than simply listening to words. Humans are complex communicators, we use gestures, eye contact, body language and tone to express how we feel, so email or telephone conversations alone aren’t sufficient for accurately assessing employee sentiment.

People want to be heard and believed, to feel valued. Paying attention to that need is an opportunity to motivate and engage. Performance evaluations are one way to give and receive valuable feedback, but to be most effective, that process needs to be continuous, not simply an annual review – it should involve goal setting, constructive input, and ongoing check-ins to ensure professional development, measured improvement and for managing perceptions.

Creating teams to engage employees in decision making is an important tool for boosting participation. Decisions that can be shared help people feel more ownership; when their ideas and opinions are actually implemented, that translates into pride and enhanced involvement.

In a variety of workplace surveys, employees often list the willingness of their management team to listen and communicate candidly as important metrics, and teamwork and morale can be viewed as barometers of their willingness to remain at a company. Job satisfaction is as important, or often more important, then salary increases for many employees. They want to know that their opinions matter, and in companies that fail on that front, stress levels increase dramatically, which has a negative impact on productivity, quality, service and retention.

Open feedback also allows managers to improve their credibility – as leaders, mentors and coaches. It builds confidence and trust, benefits money can’t buy. And that’s good for everyone’s health.


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!

Who Would Take Home Gold at an Olympic Tea Party?

In the spirit of the Winter Olympics and healthy competition, here’s a fun category that you won’t find in South Korea: Competitive tea drinking. And an unexpected country takes the gold: Turkey; silver goes to Ireland; and bronze is bestowed, not surprisingly, upon the United Kingdom. Russia comes in a distant fourth, and as for the United States, we totter in at 35th.

Famous for their tea imbibing, the English consume 165 million cups of tea every day. The Irish average 4.8 pounds of tea per person per year, far less than the Turks, at 6.9 pounds annually. The U.S., in comparison, averages half a pound per person annually. But beyond the cultural comparison, we Americans are missing out on the benefits the rest of the world seems to be enjoying.

Drinking tea is good for us, in many ways. In addition to a multitude of flavors and varieties, there’s compelling evidence that tea reduces the risk of heart disease, and possibly even helps prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Considered by many a super food—whether it’s black, green, white, oolong or herbal—tea gets the job done, health wise.

All those tea types, with the exception of herbal teas, come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. They are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants that detoxify cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Tea also has about eight to 10 times the polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables. For black tea, a process called oxidation turns the leaves from green to a dark brownish-black color. Green tea comes from the same plant, but is not oxidized.

Oolong tea is made from leaves of the same plant that green and black teas come from. The difference lies in how long the leaves ferment. Green tea leaves are unfermented, while leaves for black tea are fully fermented. Oolong comes from leaves that are partially fermented.

Research suggests that regular tea drinkers — people who consume two cups or more a day — have less heart disease and stroke, lower total and LDL cholesterol, and recover from heart attacks faster. There’s also evidence that tea may help fight ovarian and breast cancers.

Tea also helps soothe stress and keep us relaxed. One British study found that people who drank black tea were able to relax faster than those who drank a fake tea substitute. The tea drinkers had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Why Is Tea Good for Us?

Catechins, a type of disease-fighting flavonoid and antioxidant, are the key to tea’s health benefits. The longer you steep the tea, the more flavonoids you get. For the best tea benefit, some studies suggest drinking three cups each day to cut heart disease risk. If caffeine consumption is a problem, you can drink decaffeinated tea or herbal teas.

The fermentation process used to make green tea boosts the levels of antioxidants. Black and red teas have them, too, but in lesser. Antioxidants latch on to and neutralize chemicals called oxidants, which cells make as they go about their normal business. Elevated levels of oxidants can cause harm—for example, by attacking artery walls and contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Green, black, white and oolong teas contain caffeine and a stimulating substance called theophylline. These can speed up the heart rate and make us feel more alert. In fact, black tea extract is sold as a supplement, largely for this purpose.

Some scientists think that specific antioxidants in tea, including polyphenols and catechins, may help prevent some types of cancer. For example, some research shows that women who regularly drink black tea have a much lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who do not. More research is needed to confirm this. There also is some evidence that the antioxidants in black tea may reduce atherosclerosis or clogged arteries and help lower the risk of heart attack.

Regularly drinking black tea may reduce stroke risk and also lower our risk of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney stones and Parkinson’s disease, though more scientific research has to be conducted to formally prove these claimed benefits. Green tea has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many centuries, and has been used as a remedy for headaches and depression.

How Much Caffeine Is in Tea?

Most tea has between 15 and 70 milligrams of caffeine per cup, compared to between 80 and 123 mg per cup of regular coffee.

All true teas from the Camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine, which is a naturally-occurring stimulant found in several plants. Caffeine is water soluble, and is extracted into the brewed cup when preparing tea, coffee, or other caffeinated beverages.

Tea can be made from different parts of the tea plant, and these parts contain different quantities of caffeine. Leaf buds (tips) and younger leaves are higher in caffeine than older, mature leaves. In the tea plant, caffeine acts as a natural insecticide, serving to protect the plant against being eaten by insects. Since the tips and tender young leaves are most vulnerable to insects, these parts of the plant are highest in caffeine; the older leaves are tougher and lower in caffeine.

Despite tea’s many health benefits, heavy caffeine use can have a negative impact on our health, including anxiety, insomnia and stomach irritation from acid. While the amount of caffeine in tea tends to be low, and brewing time effects caffeine levels, drinking large quantities of tea isn’t a great idea for people sensitive to caffeine for medical reasons.

In addition to caffeine, tea also contains L-theanine; theanine can interact with caffeine, allowing a smaller dose of caffeine to have a stronger effect in terms of boosting concentration and alertness.

The blending of tea with caffeine-free ingredients to produce flavored teas can result in a lower total caffeine content so long as less total tea leaf is used in the blend. It’s important to avoid sweetened teas, as the sugar isn’t good for our health.

Herbal teas are beverages made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, fruits or other plant materials in hot water. They do not usually contain caffeine, unlike the true teas or decaffeinated tea, which are prepared from cured leaves. In addition to exploring herbal teas, people desiring caffeine-free tea-like drinks might want to try South African rooibos and honeybush, two plants which are often described as being similar to tea in flavor, health benefits, and manner of production.

Who knows, maybe by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, American tea drinkers will be contending for consumption medals while improving overall wellness.


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 Our Hearts

Right about now, the pact you made with yourself back in December to go to the gym and eat more healthfully may be wearing thin, though your waistline isn’t. The cold winter months make exercising more challenging and early sunsets and inactivity can prompt us to stress eat or seek solace in comfort calories.

Even if you aren’t working out as often as you’d like, there are some nutritional adjustments you can make to help further your personal wellness efforts. And since it’s February—which is American Heart Month—it’s a perfect time to eliminate or reduce foods that are high in cholesterol, a major contributor to heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States.

Cholesterol plays an important and useful role in our bodies, but not all cholesterol is good for us. So-called “bad cholesterol” increases our risk of heart disease, stroke and developing type-2 diabetes. It can be controlled, to an extent, through diet and exercise, but susceptibility to the development of plaque on our arteries also can be naturally occurring, based on genetics.

The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, with women accounting for nearly half of heart disease deaths.

Good health begins with good knowledge . . . and action. Understanding how cholesterol affects us and how to limit intake or mitigate existing damage are important considerations and well within our control.

How Cholesterol Works in Our Bodies

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found throughout the body. It is critical to the normal function of all cells. The body needs cholesterol for making hormones, digesting dietary fats, building cell walls, and other important processes. Our body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but cholesterol is also in some of the foods we eat.

When there is too much cholesterol in our blood, it can build up on the walls of the arteries. This buildup is called plaque. Over time, it can cause narrowing or hardening of the arteries—a condition called atherosclerosis—which can cause blockage and keep our heart from getting the blood it needs.

Keeping our cholesterol levels in check is one of the best ways to keep our hearts healthy, and to lower our chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke. The American Heart Association recommends all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol, and other traditional risk factors, checked every four to six years. It typically only requires a simple blood test.

Our total cholesterol and HDL or good cholesterol are among numerous factors physicians use to predict our risk for a heart attack or stroke. Other risks include family history, if you are a smoker, diet, the amount we exercise, and if we have high blood pressure.

With HDL or good cholesterol, higher levels are better. Low HDL cholesterol puts us at higher risk for heart disease. People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol. Genetic factors, type 2 diabetes, smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol. A low LDL or bad cholesterol level is considered good for our heart health.

Certain foods, such as red meats and full-fat dairy products, fried foods, potato chips and cookies tend to be high in cholesterol. Foods to limit or avoid include:

  • Butter and hard margarines
  • Lard and animal fats
  • Fatty red meat and sausages
  • Full-fat cheeses, milk, cream and yogurts
  • Coconut and palm oils, and coconut cream

Should You Be Taking Statins?

 If your cholesterol levels are off your physician may recommend dietary changes. He or she also may recommend that you take one of the primary medicines millions of Americans use to help their bodies regulate or offset the negative effects of cholesterol—a widely prescribed class of drugs called statins.

Statin drugs work by blocking the action of the liver enzyme that is responsible for producing cholesterol. Statins lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. At the same time, they lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are another type of fat, and they’re used to store excess energy from our diet. High levels of triglycerides in the blood, which are associated with atherosclerosis, can be caused by being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (more than 60 percent of total calories).

People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL cholesterol (bad) level and a low HDL cholesterol (good) level. Many people with heart disease or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.

Statins help stabilize plaques in the arteries. Since their arrival on the market, statins have been among the most prescribed drugs in the United States, with about 17 million users. The statin medications that are approved for use in the U.S. include Lipitor, Livalo, Mevacor (or Altocor), Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol and Crestor. There also are generic versions available.

Statins also carry warnings that memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes are possible side effects. Due to the possibility of side effects that can damage the liver, patients taking statins are required to have periodic blood tests. It’s important to remember that statins may also interact with other medications.

If you experience any unexplained joint or muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness while taking statins, you should call your doctor immediately. Other potential side effects include headaches, difficulty sleeping, muscle aches, tenderness or weakness, or abdominal cramping, bloating or constipation. Pregnant women or those with active or chronic liver disease should not use statins. Also, if you take a statin drug, tell your doctor about any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, herbal supplements, and vitamins you are currently taking or plan on taking. Also be aware that certain foods—such as grapefruits—limit the effectiveness of statins and should not be consumed while taking this medication.

Changes in your diet, exercise and even statins won’t fix a broken or lonely heart, so it may be a little ironic that American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day fall in the same month. However, you can give yourself and your loved ones the best Valentine’s Day gift possible by keeping your heart and body healthy. Even if your physician recommends you take a statin, maintaining a healthy lifestyle while taking one of these drugs can improve its effectiveness. Be sure to eat a balanced, heart-healthy diet; get regular physical activity; limit alcohol intake; and avoid smoking. Over time – and with sustained healthy weight loss and regular exercise – some patients are able to go off statins, but always speak with your physician before stopping any prescribed medication.


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 Scent of Love

It’s February, and the scent of love is in the air. What you’re smelling, though, and how it’s affecting you, is the result of a complex biological and evolutionary ecosystem that marries chemistry, anthropology, genetics, biology, personal life experiences, and memories to trigger attraction, revulsion and every possible physical and emotional reaction in-between.

If you close your eyes, can you smell your special someone’s perfume or cologne? Have you noticed the scent of their shampoo, the lingering traces of fabric softener on a shirt or pillow?

Our sensory capabilities are processing and registering millions of messages, translating information in our brains and then sending back millions of messages that are prompting reactions, both conscious and subconscious.

Scent is a powerful stimulus that can conjure up fond memories, nostalgia, and sexual attraction, and conversely, the urge to flee or reject another person or situation. It can change our moods, incentivize us to action, or induce melancholy. The biochemical agents and physiology that drive reactions to scent are still being explored, as are the complex ways scents cause us to react, protect ourselves, and help us choose mates.

The Chemistry of Love

Contrary to what the billion-dollar-per-year cosmetics industry would have us believe, scent is not some romantic elixir but, in reality, a complicated immune system reaction. When it comes to attraction, researchers and scientists have long pondered how we humans announce, and excite, sexual availability. Many animals, insects and even plants do it with their own biochemical bouquets known as pheromones.

Scientists have documented a rich array of natural pheromones for most animals, mammals and bugs, though not as conclusively for human beings.

Pheromone reception in other species is managed by two little pits (one in each nostril, near the septum) known collectively as the vomeronasal organ (VNO). For years after VNO’s discovery in animals, scientists argued that humans lacked this organ, or that it had shrunk or ceased to exist due to evolution. In the 1930s, scientists even claimed that humans lacked the part of the brain necessary for processing and interpreting VNO signals.

But modern science has debunked that claim. While smaller than those of our ancestors, VNO capability in humans is alive and well, and part of our larger sensory system that includes our hands and faces, which contain the most accessible concentrations of scent glands on the human body. And the part of the brain that processes scent works quite well, although it has evolved and for many years was hidden in our frontal cortex and harder to find. Together, with memory, these receptors work in concert to stimulate attraction, distraction, interest or disinterest, as well as mood and behavior.

Making Sense of Scents

Certain scents stimulate memories in rich detail, some ranging as far back as childhood, and can affect us physiologically. Cookies baking, a parent or loved one’s clothing, bacon frying, leaves burning, a lover’s perfume, flowering bushes adorning our childhood homes: the smell of certain items, even in passing, can transport us to another time.

Not all scent-related memories are good – the smells of illness, smoke from tobacco, car exhaust, medicines or cleaners and even the scent of another human being we’d prefer to forget all can remind us of another time and place.

But often, it isn’t the odor itself that has meaning, but the significance of a personal event related to the scent. With an initial encounter, we begin forming nerve connections that intertwine the smell with emotions. The capacities for both smell and emotion are rooted in the same network of brain structures called the limbic system. The olfactory center also interacts directly with the hippocampus, a brain area involved in the formation of new memories.

Certain scents are known to have properties that have been touted by the aromatherapy industry. For example, lemon increases people’s perception of their own health; lavender contributes to a positive mood; eucalyptus increases respiratory rate and alertness; and rose oil is thought to reduce blood pressure. Burning frankincense allegedly reduces feelings of depression and anxiety; cedar reduces tension; vanilla relaxes us; and jasmine helps us sleep better.

If you’ve ever purchased and lighted scented candles, your choice of scent is motivated as much by personal memory as it is by a pleasant odor. Floral scents may remind you of gardens, flowers in vases, and places you’ve visited. Chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices bring us back to past kitchens or feasts. And extinguishing the candle and the smell of the match can be a reminder of another time and place, holidays, birthdays or a special occasion with our loved ones.

As you contemplate gifts for this Valentine’s Day, keep scent in mind. Chocolate, flowers and jewelry may always appear safe bets, but mind the olfactory factors at work: knowing what your partner or potential amour enjoys, or being aware of his or her past can improve your odds of purchasing or offering a gift that hits the mark.

So this February 14th, and every other day, don’t underestimate the power of familiarity and memory as a catalyst for improving relations with a significant other, potential partner or even friends, associates and co-workers. Scent is busy regulating attraction and mood upfront and behind the scenes — the more you understand its subtle workings, the greater the reward.


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!