Recognizing and Managing ADHD

Time management can be our friend or our nemesis – how we use time, and our ability to stay organized and on task varies from person to person. We may be constantly drawn in several directions simultaneously, often with multiple conflicting priorities. For many task-oriented people, variety is the spice of life and they thrive on challenges and deadlines. But for others, it’s often difficult to remain focused, to complete tasks without interruption or distraction, or to finish one assignment or activity before moving onto something else.

The failure to remain focused, difficulty completing tasks without interruption, and the inability to successfully negotiate distractions can be signs of chemical, emotional, and genetic challenges such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Over the past decades, these symptoms have been more readily diagnosed in children, especially those having trouble in school or unable to relax, play quietly or get along effectively with others. With today’s technological advances, it’s easy to blame over-stimulation for playing a strong supporting role in keeping kids off balance, more easily bored without technology, and wanting more all the time. But for adults, these same symptoms can be more insidious, limiting our efficiency at work and at home, straining relationships, and interfering with sleep and health.

Currently, approximately seven percent of American children are being treated with medications for ADHD, and about half of them will carry those symptoms into adulthood, says the American Psychiatric Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates numbers are even higher, at least twice as many. On top of that, many adults have ADHD or ADD but have never been diagnosed.

The average age of ADHD diagnosis is seven years old. Males are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females, and during their lifetimes, 13 percent of men will be diagnosed with ADHD. Just 4.2 percent of women will be diagnosed.

Signs You Might Have ADD or ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of three and six, but as many children and adults have never been diagnosed, it’s difficult to judge exactly when symptoms might have appeared, since those inflicted have been living with these challenges most of their lives. Here are common behavioral signs:

  • Lack of focus.Possibly the most telltale sign of ADHD, “lack of focus,” goes beyond difficulty paying attention. It means being easily distracted, finding it hard to listen to others in a conversation, overlooking details, and not completing tasks or projects.
  • Hyperfocus. While people with ADHD are often easily distracted, the flip side of the coin is called hyperfocus. A person with ADHD can be so engrossed in something that they can ignore anything else around them. This kind of focus makes it easier to lose track of time, ignore those around you, and cause relationship misunderstandings.
  • We all forget things occasionally. But for someone with ADHD or ADD, forgetfulness is an everyday part of life. This includes routinely forgetting where you’ve put something or important dates. Some can be menial. Others can be serious. The bottom line is that forgetfulness can be damaging to careers and relationships because it can be confused with carelessness, lack of intelligence, or ambivalence.
  • Impulsivity. Impulsiveness in someone with ADHD or ADD can manifest in several ways:
    • Interrupting others during conversation
    • Being socially inappropriate
    • Rushing through tasks
    • Acting without much consideration to the consequences

Even a person’s shopping habits are often a good indication of ADHD. Impulse buying, especially on items they can’t afford, is a common symptom of adult ADHD.

  • Restlessness and anxiety. As an adult with ADHD, you may feel like your engine never stops. Our yearning to keep moving and doing things constantly can lead to frustration when we can’t do something immediately. This leads to restlessness, which can lead to frustrations and anxiety. Anxiety is a very common symptom of adult ADHD, as the mind tends to replay worrisome events repeatedly.
  • Poor health. Impulsivity, lack of motivation, emotional problems, and disorganization can lead a person with ADHD or ADD to neglect their health. This can be seen through compulsive poor eating, neglecting exercise, or forgoing important medication. Anxiety and stress negatively affect health, so without good habits, the negative effects of these illnesses can make other symptoms worse.
  • Relationship issues. An adult with ADHD or ADD often has trouble in relationships, whether they are professional, romantic, or platonic. The traits of talking over people in conversation, inattentiveness, and easily being bored can be draining on relationships as a person can come across as insensitive, irresponsible, or uncaring.

Treatment and Coping with ADHD

People who experience some or many of these symptoms also change employers more often, miss deadlines, experience higher use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and suffer from repeated relationship failures, including divorce. If all of this sounds too familiar, it doesn’t mean you suffer from adult ADD or ADHD. But if you do, here are a few steps you can take to improve your life.

Treatment for adult ADHD or ADD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD/ADD, and includes stimulant drugs or other medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with adult ADHD.

Stimulants (psychostimulants) are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but other drugs may be prescribed. Stimulant drugs are available in short-acting and long-acting forms. Other medications used to treat ADHD include antidepressants. The right medication and the right dose vary between individuals, so it may take some time in the beginning to find what’s right for you. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of medications. And keep your doctor informed of any side effects you may have when taking your medication.

Counseling for adult ADHD can be beneficial and generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and education about the disorder. The benefits of psychotherapy can include:

  • Improve time management and organizational skills
  • Learn how to reduce impulsive behavior
  • Develop better problem-solving skills
  • Cope with past academic and social failures
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Learn ways to improve relationships with family, co-workers and friends
  • Develop strategies for controlling temper, stress and impatience

ADHD is a neuropsychiatric condition that is typically genetically transmitted. These challenges are caused by biology, essentially a miscue in how our brain is wired. It is not a disease of the will, a moral failing or weakness in character. Professional interventions, medication, support groups and self-education can help those with ADHD manage, or even overcome many of these challenges.


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!

Feel the Burn… Heartburn, That Is

Millions of Americans suffer from heartburn and digestive discomfort, typically caused by excess stomach acid and related complications. But being in good company is small comfort when you’re uncomfortable or miserable. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate acid-related issues, and it’s important to pay attention to warning signs before untended stomach problems lead to more serious health issues.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease. GERD occurs when stomach acid or, occasionally, stomach content, flows back into your food pipe (esophagus). The backwash (reflux) irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD.

Both acid reflux and heartburn are common digestive conditions that afflict many people periodically. When these signs and symptoms occur regularly or interfere with your daily life, or when your doctor can see damage to your esophagus, you may be diagnosed with GERD.

What is GERD?

When we swallow, the lower esophageal sphincter — a circular band of muscle around the bottom part of our esophagus — relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into our stomach. Then it closes again.

However, if this valve relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into our esophagus, causing frequent heartburn.

This constant backwash of acid can irritate the lining of our esophagus, causing it to become inflamed (esophagitis). Over time, the inflammation can wear away the esophageal lining, causing complications such as bleeding, esophageal narrowing or Barrett’s esophagus (a pre-cancerous condition).

GERD signs and symptoms include:

  • A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), sometimes spreading to the throat, along with a sour taste in the mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry cough
  • Hoarseness or sore throat
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux)
  • Sensation of a lump in the throat

Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. But some people with GERD may need stronger medications, or even surgery, to reduce symptoms. Conditions that can increase risk of GERD include obesity, pregnancy, smoking, asthma, diabetes, regular constipation, and poor diet.

Over time, chronic inflammation in our esophagus can lead to complications, including narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture), which can lead to the formation of scar tissue, narrowing the food pathway and causing difficulty swallowing. Another typical complication is the forming of an open sore in the esophagus (esophageal ulcer). This may cause bleeding, pain and make swallowing difficult.

Also, hiatal hernias, which are an opening between the stomach and the esophagus, can occur. If untreated, this can lead to pre-cancerous changes to the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus). With this condition, the tissue lining the lower esophagus changes. These changes are associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer; doctors will likely recommend regular endoscopy exams to look for early warning signs.

Managing and Reducing Acid Reflux

Lifestyle changes may help reduce the frequency of heartburn. Here are several helpful and simple steps to consider:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.Excess weight puts pressure on our abdomen, pushing up our stomach and causing acid to back up into our esophagus. If you are overweight or obese, work to slowly lose weight — no more than one or two pounds a week.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing.Clothes that fit tightly around our waist put pressure on our abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that trigger heartburn. Common triggers such as fatty or fried foods, tomatoes, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion, and caffeine may make heartburn worse.
  • Eat smaller meals.Avoid overeating by eating smaller meals.
  • Don’t lie down after a meal.Wait at least three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed.
  • Elevate the head of your bed.If you regularly experience heartburn at night or while trying to sleep, raise the pillow end of your bed by six to nine inches (can use wood or cement blocks). Or insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Wedges are available at drugstores and medical supply stores. Raising your head with additional pillows is not effective.
  • Don’t smoke.Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly.

Treatment for heartburn and other signs and symptoms of GERD usually begins with over-the-counter medications that control acid. If you don’t experience relief within a few weeks, your doctor may recommend other treatments, including medications and surgery.

There are a variety of stronger, prescription medications for managing GERD. Contact your doctor before taking any new medications or if symptoms are not relieved. Also, seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain, especially if you have other signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain. These may be signs and symptoms of a heart attack.


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!

Eat This Pumpkin, Pumpkin!

The fresh autumn harvest offers a bounty of delicious and heart-healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are fresh from the garden or farm this time of year, and represent only a few of the many nutritionally rich seasonal foods that can help us feel better and stay healthier. And if delicious isn’t enough of an incentive, many of these items have properties that help protect against maladies like heart disease and stroke.

The fall palette includes deep colors like oranges, reds, and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, these colorful alternatives like pumpkins, beets, cranberries and squash are readily available, tasty and nutritional masterpieces. Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be important in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables based on a 2,000-calorie diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower our risk for many diseases.

As the season changes, the shorter, cooler days make it harder to get physical activity outdoors. And there are the calorie-packed temptations of post-season baseball gatherings, football parties, Halloween sweets and, before you know it, Thanksgiving buffets. So a good way to avoid those extra seasonal pounds is to keep eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Seasonal Favorites are Loaded with Nutrients

Purchasing produce at its peak guarantees the freshest taste, the greatest nutritional value and the most affordable price. Apples and pumpkins are two popular foods celebrated this time of year, but there’s also an abundance of delicious and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, chard, lettuce, cabbage and spinach, as well as colorful carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, green onions and a variety of squash to enjoy. Eating according to the seasons also is better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.

Here’s some guidance on the best choices to make for a healthy, fresh fall diet:

  • Pumpkins: The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that it is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging. There are dozens of great, easy recipes online for using pumpkins as side dishes, soups and breads, or for integrating it into salads, desserts, and much more.
  • Apples: These red and green gemsare a perennial favorite. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested crop hits the market and farm stands. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories, a natural mouth freshener, inexpensive, and a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.

It’s a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.

  • Sweet potatoesare a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
  • Beetsare another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular. Beets are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, beets also are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues, and are a terrific addition to salads, casseroles and simply roasted.
  • Brussels sprouts:Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, Brussel sprouts have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February.
  • Chicories: Another healthy choice includes chicories. Belgian endive, escarole and radicchio are all chicories. They are related to lettuces, but have sturdier leaves, a stronger flavor and are known for a slightly bitter taste. They’re typically harvested in late fall and early winter.  In addition, endive and radicchio can be used to perk up any bagged salad, and escarole soup is a classic. For something different, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic and red pepper, just like you would sauté spinach. The greens won’t cook down as much and can stand up to the heat.
  • Seasonal squash: Butternut and Acorn Squash are hearty and healthy.Covered in a thick rind, these winter squashes are the ultimate storage vegetable. Harvested in early fall and throughout the winter months, roasted squash complements many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

The autumn is a wonderful time of year to eat, recreate and prepare our bodies for the colder months that follow. Enjoy its abundance, indoors and out, and have a colorful fall outdoors and in your kitchen!


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!

Why Health Illiteracy Could Be Making Employees Sick

How well do you listen to your doctor’s directions or orders regarding medications, exercise, diet and other health-compliance issues? When you go for a test, do you understand what’s being done and why? Are you aware of recommended preventive-care measures you should be practicing? Do you recognize signs and symptoms of potentially serious illnesses early enough to intervene, or wait until your health deteriorates enough to justify calling a medical professional?

If you recognize yourself in any of these queries, you are among the 88 percent of American adults with health literacy challenges. And when you stop to consider that nine out of 10 adults may lack the skills to manage their health and prevent disease – and apply that consideration to your workforce – the impact of that lack of knowledge should make you feel sick!

The Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Nearly 90 million Americans have difficulty understanding and using the information shared by their doctor, clinic or hospital. A high degree of reading literacy does not necessarily translate into a high degree of health literacy, nor does a college education.

Poor health literacy affects individuals of many different ages, languages, cultures and education levels. For example, someone may question if he can drink coffee before a fasting lab test, forget how and when to take newly prescribed medication, or decide to stop taking medication when she is feeling better. And it can be difficult for anyone, regardless of their reading literacy skills, to remember instructions or read a medication label when feeling sick.

Only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Furthermore, 14 percent of adults (30 million people) have below-basic health literacy. In studies, these adults were more likely to report their health as poor (42 percent). Additionally, there is a mismatch between the reading level of health information and the reading skills of the public. There also is a mismatch between the communication skills of lay people and health professionals.

Without clear information and an understanding of the information’s importance, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests, end up in the emergency room more often, and have a harder time managing chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure. As reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, individuals with limited or low health literacy

  • Skip preventive care
  • Are more likely to have chronic conditions and less able to manage the conditions
  • Have more preventable hospital visits and admissions, with longer stays
  • Are more likely to use medications inappropriately or ineffectively
  • Are often ashamed to ask for help making health care decisions.

Improving Health Literacy in the Workplace

For employers, the relationship of low health literacy to poor health behaviors results in overall higher costs of drug, medical and disability claims, lower productivity and higher absenteeism. Employers can have a significant positive impact on the health literacy of their employees and, ultimately, influence better health and financial outcomes. Here are recommended steps to improve health literacy in the workplace:

  • Use clear and simple messaging. Keep it simple. Clearly state the actions you want your employee to take, and discuss options and potential consequences.
  • Get rid of complex jargon.Insurance and medical industry professionals throw around a lot of jargon. Ask your insurance provider and benefits consultant to include descriptions of benefits and how to use the benefits in consistent, easy-to-understand language. This includes their member website or portal, Explanation of Benefits (EOB), emails, and mailers.
  • Treat everyone the same.No matter their job title, assume all employees may have difficulty understanding health, wellness and benefits communications. Use simple, easy-to-understand language.
  • Empower employees to take charge of their health.When people take an active role in their healthcare, research shows they fare better in both health and financial outcomes. Increase employee confidence in their ability to advocate for themselves by providing educational materials and holding workshops. Topics could include how to talk to a doctor, how to get more support when you need it, and how to ask questions about insurance coverage.
  • Identify a navigator.Consider a current staff member or external support person who can help employees navigate the complex world of benefits available.
  • Technology isn’t for everyone. Don’t leave behind those who aren’t as comfortable or familiar with technology. Depending on the range of ages and skills in your workforce, use a variety of communication methods to share health and wellness information. This includes emails, texts, and verbal updates at team meetings.
  • Repeat information regularly.Don’t expect your once-a-year open enrollment presentation to be memorable enough that your employees remember their benefits. Plan year-round campaigns and communications using frequent but brief messages, and talk with employees about their role in managing their health.
  • Remember the household decision makers. While you may give employees a lot of information while they are at work, the person making decisions about when and where to go for healthcare may not be getting that same information translated to them. Consider home mailings, invitations to open-enrollment meetings, and other ways to ensure all family members on the medical plan receive credible sources of health and wellness information.

The benefits of health literacy improvement include enhanced communication, greater adherence to treatment, increased ability to engage in self-care, and overall improved health status. Healthier employees result in a healthier workplace, and we can all feel good about that.


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!

This One’s for Men, Unfortunately

We don’t need to live our lives afraid of disease and illness, but the better we arm ourselves with accurate and reliable information and take preventative steps, the more we’re likely to live to a ripe old age. That’s why if you’re a man reading this – or a woman who has a man or men in her life it’s important that you pay attention to this cautionary primer on prostate cancer, one of the most common cancers afflicting American men.

Other than skin cancer, which is the most common, more men – as many as one in nine – will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimate that approximately 165,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, resulting in close to 30,000 deaths. About six cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and it is rare before age 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66.

Though prostate cancer can be a serious disease, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. About one man in 41 will die of prostate cancer, but more than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.

Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other races. African-American men are also more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than white men. Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino men than in non-Hispanic whites. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.

Prostate cancer is malignancy that occurs in the prostate — a small walnut-shaped gland in men that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Usually prostate cancer grows slowly and is initially confined to the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm. However, while some types of prostate cancer grow slowly and may need minimal or even no treatment, other types are aggressive and can spread quickly.

When detected early — when it’s still confined to the prostate gland men diagnosed with prostate cancer have a better chance of successful treatment.

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer may cause no signs or symptoms in its early stages. When it’s more advanced, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in semen
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction

There are a variety of factors that can increase the risk of prostate cancer. These include age, race, family history and obesity. If men in your family have had prostate cancer, your risk may be increased. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher. In fact, having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease. The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young when the cancer was found.

Men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer. Often, these men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

While there is no sure way to prevent prostate cancer, there are some things we can do that might lower our risk for this disease. Typically, they involve controlling body weight, remaining physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet. Studies have found that men who are active and exercise regularly have a slightly lower risk of prostate cancer. Vigorous activity may have a greater effect, especially on the risk of advanced prostate cancer.

Several studies also have suggested that diets high in certain vegetables (including tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, soy, beans, and other legumes) or fish may be linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially more advanced cancers. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Avoid high-fat foods and instead focus on choosing a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and nutrients that can contribute to your overall health.

When to See Your Doctor

Men with a higher risk of prostate cancer may consider medications or other treatments to reduce their risk. If you’re concerned about your risk of developing prostate cancer, talk with your doctor. Prostate screening tests include two traditional procedures:

Digital rectal exam (DRE). During a DRE, your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to examine your prostate, which is adjacent to the rectum. If your doctor finds any abnormalities in the texture, shape or size of the gland, you may need further tests.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. A blood sample is drawn from a vein in your arm and analyzed for PSA, a substance that’s naturally produced by your prostate gland. It’s normal for a small amount of PSA to be in your bloodstream. However, if a higher than normal level is found, it may indicate prostate infection, inflammation, enlargement or cancer.

For men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, treatment may not be necessary right away. Some men may never need treatment. Instead, doctors sometimes recommend active surveillance such as regular follow-up exams, blood tests and, if necessary, biopsies. If tests show the cancer is progressing, patients may opt for a prostate cancer treatment such as surgery or radiation.

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Do yourself or the men in your life a favor by reminding them of the importance of obtaining regular prostate cancer screenings for early detection and treatment as required, and for eating healthy and exercising. With those simple steps, men are likely to beat the odds on this common but dangerous disease.


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 Heart of the Matter

As the summer winds down, kids return to school and the pace of life picks up a beat or two, it’s a good time to think about maintaining an active lifestyle, even as the leaves start turning and the cooler weather finds its way back to New England. And though cold mornings and shorter days can change our workout habits, there are other habits that we can think about every day of the year, specifically what we put in our bodies.

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and a perfect time to eliminate or reduce foods that are high in cholesterol, a major contributor to heart disease and strokes.

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.

Understanding how cholesterol affects us and how to limit intake or mitigate existing damage are important considerations and well within our control.

Getting a Handle on Cholesterol

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

Why Statins Are Helpful

If your cholesterol levels are off-kilter 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 cholesterola 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. 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. Certain foods such as grapefruits limit the effectiveness of statins and should not be consumed while taking this medication.

Keys to a healthy lifestyle include eating a balanced, heart-healthy diet; regular physical activity; limiting alcohol intake; and avoiding smoking. The winter will be here sooner than we may want, but remaining healthy is a year-round activity we can help control, regardless of our genetics or the temperature outdoors.


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!

Colds and Flu Are Something to Sneeze At

As the days grow shorter, the thermostat finally starts to drop to palatable temperatures, and we wait in morning traffic backed up by stopped school buses, it’s easy to get wistful about how quickly summer flashed by. Autumn, we know, will soon be upon us, and already some of the early trees are beginning to turn. Unfortunately, cold and flu season will be upon us soon, too, so it’s best to prepare ourselves for the annual fall germ parade heading our way.

Between the change of seasons and kids returning to school where they can comfortably and conveniently share germs and swap bacterial and viral infections, it’s important to take some simple, proven steps to try and contain those ugly bugs and prevent, or at least limit, the spread of seasonal maladies such as colds, influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As we touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, we accumulate germs on our hands. In turn, we can infect ourselves with these germs by touching our eyes, nose, mouth, food, sporting equipment, hair products and other shared items.

Although it’s impossible to keep our hands germ-free, washing hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines and desks. So wash before and after using a restroom. Wash after visiting the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or use an ATM. When it isn’t easy to wash, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t use anyone else’s toothbrush, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.

Everyone sneezes, but we can do a better job of keeping our cooties to ourselves. When we sneeze into our sleeve or in a tissue or hanky, we’re less likely to infect innocent passersby or fellow employees. Airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections, and incubation time — the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly icky in our system — allows us to spread those germs to many other people before we even realize we’re infectious.

Finally, when sick, stay home – spreading the joy at school and at work is just plain mean and thoughtless.

Fun Flu Facts

Influenza — the flu – is not pretty. It’s far worse than a cold, includes body aches and fever, hangs around longer than a typical virus, is contagious, and can sideline us for a week or two.

Aside from the short-term misery and lost work or school days, flu can have more serious implications. Most people who get the seasonal flu recover just fine. But flu also hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States alone each year. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually, depending on the variety of flu and length of the season. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year, and more than twice the number of people killed by AIDS. And it’s particularly dangerous to children, the elderly and adults with other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Beyond hand washing, the best prevention is to get a flu shot. Flu vaccines are very safe; they only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.

Note that antibiotics won’t help us fight the flu, which is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens our body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and inappropriate prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken our body and allow bacterial invaders to infect us. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so early fall is a good time to get a flu shot, while there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

There’s no guarantee you won’t get sick this winter, but you can improve your odds tremendously. Eat well, exercise, and dress for the weather. Avoid going places when you’re not feeling well, get your flu vaccination, and wash your hands regularly. Take charge of your health, and the flu and colds can bug someone else!

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!

Recognizing Team Healthcare Wins

It’s marathon season – as in running a little over 26 miles in one race for fun, health, personal challenge, charity or any of these motivators combined. However you cut it, completing a race of any length, as well as competitive or non-competitive walks, bicycling, swimming, hiking, fitness activities or sporting events are enormous achievements, worthy of recognition and support. They also are huge morale boosters and team-building opportunities in addition to the obvious health benefits.

While employers cannot legislate their employees’ personal fitness and physical activities, they certainly can encourage, promote, model, sponsor and support these strengths and healthy behaviors. Creating time and space for these activities, rewarding for participation and generally promoting a culture of health and participation is a successful strategy for large and small companies regardless of their business, product or service inclination.

Many organizations establish employee health committees who focus on healthy eating and nutrition, fitness, athletics and stress-reduction activities such as yoga, meditation and walking. From hula hooping to jumping rope, whether for fun or charity, there are dozens of pursuits worthy of note that engage employees during the day and after work to come together in the name of health, fraternity and personal growth. Those values all benefit employers, as well.

Picking up the tab for a competitive sporting activity like bowling, volleyball, softball, hockey or golf, to name but a few, can be a wise investment in your team’s health. Supplementing gym and fitness memberships often is the little push people need to focus on their health. And getting people outdoors during lunch and after hours to walk together or to train for charity or competitive events enhances the work environment and employee attitudes about their jobs and work/life balance.

From a promotional perspective, it’s always good to see the company name emblazoned on tee-shirts and banners, on view for the public, at charity walks, runs and rides. But the catalyst isn’t self-promotion, it is the recognition that teams that play together work better together, as well.

Team activities have a positive impact on productivity, quality, safety, customer service, retention and absenteeism. Personal health and fitness challenges help employees maintain a healthier lifestyle, reduces susceptibility to illness, and carries over into employees’ lives and family relationships outside of work.

Even something as simple as setting, sharing and celebrating goals related to nutrition, weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation and other health-related activities is a win/win for employers and employees. Leaders who get involved make it easier for employees to participate, as well, but at the least, supporting your team through sponsorship, financial contributions and constant encouragement is a winning strategy for completing the marathon we all face each day.


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!

Appreciation Boosts Productivity, Morale, and Health

How important is it to you to know you’re doing a good job, or to hear someone say “thanks” for your work and efforts? While the personal satisfaction and pride we take in knowing we’ve done something well or right can be its own reward, numerous studies have shown that overall personal satisfaction is enhanced when we receive praise, recognition and constructive feedback from employers, customers, parents, teachers and friends. It’s simple, it’s free, it helps increase productivity and quality, boosts job satisfaction, morale, teamwork and retention – and helps improve emotional and physical health.

When someone feels taken for granted, unrecognized or under-appreciated, it has a direct impact on their emotional health and stress levels. Lack of recognition, especially in the workplace, often is mentioned as a contributing factor to overall employee dissatisfaction. And the more employees are unhappy at work, the more productivity, teamwork and customer relations may suffer.  Quality suffers, as well, and increased stress is a known factor in promoting irritability, increasing conflict, interfering with sleep and diet, boosting absenteeism and increasing “presenteeism,” a loss of workplace productivity resulting from employee health problems and personal issues. It also contributes to increases in blood pressure, heart disease, poor nutrition, sleeplessness and weight gain.

Americans like being told “thanks” but aren’t that great at thanking others, according to a national survey on gratitude commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation. The polling firm Penn Shoen Berland surveyed over 2,000 people in the United States, capturing perspectives from different ages, ethnic groups, income levels, religions and more.

Gratitude was enormously important to respondents, who also admitted they think about, feel, and espouse gratitude more readily than expressing it to others. This might be why respondents also felt that gratitude in America is declining. Some of the findings included these facts:

  • More than 90 percent of those polled agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives, and are more likely to have friends.
  • More than 95 percent said that it is important for mothers and fathers to teach gratitude.
  • People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else. Seventy-four percent never or rarely express gratitude to their boss. But people are eager to have a boss who expresses gratitude to them. Seventy percent would feel better about themselves if their boss was more grateful, and 81 percent would work harder.
  • 93 percent of those polled agreed that grateful bosses were more likely to be successful, and only 18 percent thought that grateful bosses would be seen as “weak.”

It’s human nature:  We’re better at noticing and tallying what we personally do than what other people do.  According to the data, most of the people surveyed appreciate being appreciated, but lack in their tendency to say “thanks”– despite knowing that expressing gratitude can bring more happiness, meaning, professional success, and interpersonal connection into their lives.

Taking the time to express gratitude to others goes a long way toward improving individual and organizational health. Ultimately, there are so many ways to say “thanks” to our employees. Whether verbally, through written or public commendation, one-on-one recognition or in front of peers, gratitude is an important employee relations, productivity and stress-reduction tool. And while bonuses, pay raises, gift cards, and compensatory time off are terrific recognition tools, employees want to feel like it is more than simply “doing their jobs and meeting expectations” that matters. Increased responsibility, promotions and inclusion also are important factors, but it all starts with feeling appreciated and respected.


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!

 

 

Summer’s Almost Over: Have You Had Your Vaccinations?

The start of the 2018/2019 school year is right around the corner, and the return to those hallowed halls means a spike in colds, the flu and a variety of illnesses aggravated by many people in close quarters. Also, with sports activities starting up again, kids need their annual physicals, and it’s a good time to remember to check immunization schedules to ensure that kids and adults are up-to-speed on all suggested or required vaccines.

Can you remember the last time you had a tetanus shot?  In fact, can you recall the last time you had any kind of shot at all? If you can, chances are it was a flu vaccination, since most of the immunizations we require are received during childhood. But there are other immunizations we should be receiving periodically, because some lose their effectiveness over time.

Checking up on your personal immunization record, and making sure your loved ones are properly immunized as well, is a simple and critical step for helping to protect yourself and your family from preventable illness and related serious medical conditions. And if you’re an employer, encouraging your staff to do the same helps protect them, their families and everyone around them.

Even though some diseases, such as polio, rarely affect people in the U.S., all of the recommended childhood immunizations and booster vaccines are still needed. These diseases exist in other countries. Travelers can unknowingly bring these maladies into the U.S. and infect people who have not been immunized. Without the protection from immunizations, diseases could be imported and could quickly spread through the population, causing epidemics.

Additionally, influenza – the flu – mutates and reappears in different strains, requiring different vaccines every year. Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization work together to try and identify likely strains and prepare millions of doses of flu vaccines, which typically are administered from late summer to early winter to children and adults. They are safe, readily accessible and effective – and side effects are rare.  When employees get the flu or another preventable illness, they miss work and get other people sick.  That has a negative impact on productivity and service, and the related healthcare costs are significant.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Non-immunized people living in healthy conditions are not protected from disease; only immunizations prepare the immune system to fight the disease organisms. Most of us choose to immunize our children from the day they’re born. In fact, children can’t attend public school, go to camp, compete in many sports or travel outside of the country without a proven medical history of required immunizations. But as adults, we may not have received all the necessary immunizations, some of them may no longer be working effectively, and others, such as the vaccination for tetanus, have to be repeated periodically … in the case of tetanus, once every 10 years.

Today, children and adults receive a “Tdap” booster for Ttetanus, Ddiphtheria, and Ppertussis. If you doubt the importance of this, note that Ppertussis (Whooping Cough) has recently reappeared in Connecticut. Pertussis is caused by bacteria spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The reason for its reemergence, experts believe, is because our bodies may have stopped producing antibodies in response to the vaccinations we received as children, or because some parents are not protecting their children through recommended vaccinations. This disease is particularly dangerous for babies, so protecting yourself also protects others.

Diphtheria, also prevented through the Tdap booster, is a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system, including the lungs. And Tetanus, which is caused by bacteria found in soil, enters the body through a wound, such as a deep cut. When people are infected, the bacteria produce a toxin in the body that causes serious, painful spasms and stiffness of all muscles in the body. This can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow, or breathe. Complete recovery from Ttetanus can take months. Three of 10 people who get Ttetanus die from the disease.

If you can’t remember if or when you had your Tdap booster, talk to your doctor. Additionally, if you or your employees plan to travel outside of the United States or Canada, it’s wise to speak with a physician or an infectious disease specialist about immunizations to consider, such as protection against Hepatitis A, before traveling. In many foreign countries, especially third-world nations, diseases can still be contracted through impure water systems, through food that hasn’t been properly protected, and by air-borne particles.

If your personal immunization record doesn’t exist or has been lost, your physician can order a simple blood test that checks for the antibodies currently active in your system. He or she can then offer you the missing vaccinations, bringing you up-to-date as required. Typically, you’ll only have to do this once, unlike the vaccination for preventing influenza, which has to be received annually. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, even among previously healthy children, so it’s smart to speak with your doctor annually about whether or not you should respond proactively rather than take your chances.

It also makes sense to see your personal physician for an annual physical. Most insurance plans cover this visit, but even if you’re healthy and feeling well, it helps ensure medical continuity, strengthens your personal relationship with your doctor, keeps your medical records updated and allows your physician the opportunity to screen you for medical issues that you might not otherwise report or even recognize.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is our most important job. Today’s medical advances and access make that far easier, but only if we each take personal responsibility to ensure that our immunizations are up-to-date. Encourage staff to stay on top of their personal immunization histories, consider offering flu-shot clinics at your worksite, and share this information to promote good health and wellness for everyone. For more information, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.


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!