Understanding Glutens and Celiac Disease

 

Many of us may be going easy on cupcakes, cookies, bread, and pasta as the summer – and bathing suit season – rapidly approach. But for millions of Americans, avoiding wheat products or the protein known as glutens is about more than fitting into that sundress or tightening our gut before pool and beach time arrive . . . it’s a digestive health priority.

Until several years ago, many people had never heard of glutens or of the digestive disorder known as Celiac Disease. While only one percent of Americans have Celiac Disease, as many as 10 percent may be gluten sensitive or allergic to wheat, which often causes similar symptoms. Due to similar symptoms, gluten or wheat issues can be misdiagnosed or confused with other common gastrointestinal issues such as lactose intolerance, Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and heartburn.

May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease in which a person can’t tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten shows up in bread and pasta, but may also hide in many other foods such as cold cuts, salad dressings, beer and even candy and sweetened drinks.

If a person with Celiac Disease eats gluten, the lining of their small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged. That hampers the absorption of nutrients and can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. Celiac patients also struggle with symptoms such as diarrhea, upset stomach, abdominal pain, and bloating.

Celiac Disease may take years to diagnose because people don’t seek medical help, and because doctors often mistake it for IBS or other stomach disorders. It’s often a waiting game, and a process of testing and running through a list of possible culprits. For long-term sufferers, years of poor calcium absorption, a related side effect, can lead to joint and tooth problems and, for women, delayed menstruation. Besides gastrointestinal symptoms, gluten-sensitive people often complain of fatigue, headaches and arthritis-like symptoms, as well.

Celiac Disease is on the rise, with rates doubling about every 20 years in Western countries.  Ironically, researchers suspect that hygiene may play a role in that expansion. Due to far cleaner environments and hygiene, children today aren’t exposed to as many antigens in the environment while their immune systems are developing. This, it’s theorized, may result in our immune systems responding intolerantly toward glutens.

Though Celiac Disease can be diagnosed through a blood test and an intestinal biopsy, there’s no reliable test for gluten sensitivity. It often runs in families, and diagnosis requires discussion and tracking of symptoms. Patients are typically asked to eat glutens so the body produces antibodies for the blood test to detect Celiac disease. If a person simply stops ingesting gluten, a Celiac Disease diagnosis can be missed or delayed. Currently it is estimated that 80 percent of the Celiac Disease population remains undiagnosed.

Some people experience symptoms found in celiac disease, such as depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue when they have gluten in their diet, yet do not test positive for celiac disease. The terms non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS) are generally used to refer to this condition, and removing gluten from the diet resolves symptoms.

Likewise, for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities, a strict, gluten-free diet can typically allow the intestines to restore themselves to health and alleviate suffering.  Supermarkets and health food stores now carry a variety of gluten-free products, and new labeling requirements on processed foods do a better job of listing ingredients. Many restaurants and take-out food services have gluten-free products, as well.

It’s important to note, though, that while gluten-free eating is life-changing for many, if you don’t have gluten sensitivities or Celiac Disease, going “gluten free” is not good for your health. Contrary to common belief, a gluten-free diet won’t aid weight loss, and can cause deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, fiber, and other nutrients that we typically gain through bread, cereals and other grains that are fortified. Additionally, gluten-free products on store shelves are typically higher in carbohydrates, fat and sodium, and lower in fiber.

With proper direction, people can bake healthier breads at home, varieties that are higher in fiber and protein and made with gluten-free grains that have been certified to be uncontaminated and gluten-free, such as quinoa, amaranth, or millet. If you suspect you may be gluten sensitive, talk with your physician – there are many healthy alternatives!


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!

 

Sunny Side Up for Eggs, Not Skin

After a long, cold winter and damp spring, the sun feels fabulous on our skin. We’re drawn to the warmth, happy to sit outdoors and bask, and wear our reddened skin and new seasonal tans proudly. But whether you’re a true sun worshipper, weekend gardener, sports enthusiast, or outdoor worker, there’s peril in the pleasure the sun affords us . . . like so much else in life, too much isn’t good for us.

Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, UV radiation from the sun and from tanning beds is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization. Each year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one American dies from skin cancer every hour.

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

Protecting ourselves from unhealthy UV exposure

The best way to lower our risk of skin cancer is to protect our skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, even with sunscreen, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate our clothes and skin and do harm.

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

Here are some simple tips for using sunscreen effectively:

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

We don’t have to be afraid of going outdoors – to the contrary, outside walking, exercise, work and play are healthy and invigorating. But protecting ourselves can limit longer-term wellness hazards. Here are additional safety tips and information:

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

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!

Go Nuts!

 

When it comes to a heart-healthy diet, you’d be hard pressed to find a better food than nuts.

One of nature’s wonderful nutritional gifts, nuts are plentiful, come in many varieties, are readily available and should be a part of every diet.

Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients, and are a great snack food. They are simple to store, and easy to pack when we’re on the go. They’re also high in protein and fiber which delays absorption and decreases hunger, so frequent nut eaters are less likely to gain weight.

Nuts are energy-dense foods rich in bioactive macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals. They contain monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, copper, protein, and fiber, and are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals.

The unique composition of nuts is critical for their health effects. Patients who eat a “Mediterranean-style” diet rich in nuts or extra virgin olive oil — as well as vegetables and wine — have fewer heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from cardiovascular disease than those who eat a diet that simply lowers their intake of dietary fat.

Nuts, seeds, and pulses have been a regular part of mankind’s diet since pre-agricultural times. In Western countries, nuts are consumed as snacks, desserts or part of a meal, and are eaten whole (fresh or roasted), in spreads (peanut butter, almond paste), as oils or hidden in commercial products, mixed dishes, sauces, pastries, ice creams and baked goods.

The type of nut we eat isn’t that important, although some nuts have more heart-healthy nutrients and fats than do others. Almost every type of nut has a lot of nutrition relative to its size. People who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in their blood. High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease. Eating nuts may reduce our risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of our arteries.

As much as 80 percent of a nut is fat. Even though most of this fat is healthy fat, it’s still a lot of calories. That’s why we should eat nuts in moderation and use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts a week.

When possible, choose raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than those cooked in oil. A serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter. But again, do this as part of a heart-healthy diet. Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats found in many dairy and meat products won’t do our hearts any good. And when possible, avoid salted nuts.

Walnuts are one of the best-studied nuts, and it’s been shown they contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart healthy. And peanuts — which are technically not a nut, but a legume, like beans — seem to be relatively healthy. Keep in mind, though, we cancel out the heart-healthy benefits of nuts if they’re covered with chocolate, sugar, or salt.

Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:

  • Unsaturated fats. It’s not entirely clear why, but it’s thought that the “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that seem to help our heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many kinds of fish, but nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower our cholesterol. Fiber makes us feel full, so we eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing diabetes.
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in our arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in our arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
  • Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower our cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products like margarine and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur naturally in nuts.
  • L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that may help improve the health of our artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.

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!

 

Teams Who Play Together, Grow Together

With the return of warm weather and lengthening days, spring is the perfect time to plan outdoor activities designed around sports, walking, bike riding, water activities, and much more that — besides being fun and healthy — can stimulate teamwork, boost morale, and improve productivity.

Softball, volleyball, tennis, basketball, and many other team-related recreational opportunities are or will soon be available locally. If you haven’t already, now might be a good opportunity to see what events and activities appeal to your workforce, and support or sponsor one or more team endeavors. Fair weather also heralds charitable walks, runs, bicycling and all manner of fundraisers that offer great team-building options and promote healthy activities.

Employers also can encourage individual recreational pursuits — for example, offering support to employees who are interested in community gardening, and for planting flower boxes around their communities. Other outdoor activities that are fun with groups can include hiking, bird-watching, nature walks, park and river clean-up days, rock climbing, and much more. Organizations like the Audubon and Sierra Clubs, local YMCA or YWCA facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, and private gyms host special days, seasonal activities, and competitive events worth exploring.

Whatever employers do to support employee activities can be good for morale and teamwork. And improved teamwork and attitudes boost productivity, retention and quality, reduce absenteeism and accidents, and increase voluntary participation. Not to mention the health and wellness benefits!

Of course, activities aren’t limited to the outdoors. There are bowling and indoor fitness workouts, spinning, swimming, cooking, art and pottery classes … there’s no limit if you apply your imagination.

Team weight-loss efforts and competitive programs also are trending. One CBIA Health Connections employer created a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and plan activities. They linked several of their activities to national health- and wellness-related observances. Another tied their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Many employers sponsor classes, health screenings, nutritional education, and internal competitions. It’s all good fun, can be used to support charitable programs, and helps build stronger workplace teams.

This month is National Great Outdoors Month and there are a variety of activities planned at Connecticut State parks, perfect locations for picnics and outings. And even though it’s not even summer yet, it’s never too early to begin planning for the autumn and winter – by building a schedule well in advance, you can encourage more employee involvement in planning and implementing activities that ultimately improve teamwork, enhance morale and productivity and support health and wellness.

If you’re looking to link activities to disease prevention and education, every month in the United States, there are a dozen or more “formal” health-related awareness commemorations. These provide great topics around which you, your wellness champion, management team, or staff employees can develop an action plan for one or more outdoor activities.

There’s something for everyone, ranging from high-profile cancer awareness months for ovarian, prostrate, breast, lung and skin cancers, to fruit and vegetables “matter” month, obesity, eye and hearing care, diabetes, yoga, UV protection, blood pressure, workplace and helmet safety, immunizations, and much more.

Healthier employees are happier employees. They get sick less often, suffer from fewer incidences of chronic diseases, and have reduced absenteeism and sick days. There’s no down side to encouraging work teams to play together outdoors; start your planning now, come up with some cool team names and tee-shirts, and have fun getting – and staying – healthy!


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!

A Whole Lot of Hoopla

Anyone who thinks vigorous exercise can’t be good for you and fun hasn’t spent time at New England Residential Services in Middletown. There, an enthusiastic employee team, lead by a supportive executive director, has demonstrated that having fun while you improve your health is easy when you put your hips, arms, legs, necks and bodies into it.

Ironically, the answer to combining work, play and wellness came to the company’s Human Resource Manager, Kim Fritsch, because she didn’t like to exercise. Fritsch walked, but found she wasn’t losing enough weight from walking alone. Talking with co-workers over lunch one day, they started reminiscing about games from their childhood, and Fritsch mentioned that she’d loved hula hooping as a kid, and had won a school hula-hooping competition, continuously hooping for eight hours. Hooping, she said, was fun and good exercise, and the more she thought about it, the more excited she became about trying it again.

Fritsch, who’s been with the company for 19 years, did some research and discovered that a workout with a weighted hula hoop could help burn 400 to 600 calories per session. Sold, she ordered a weighted hula hoop for the office. She and a few associates started working with it at the end of the day; they enjoyed making fun of each other and admiring one another’s hooping style. They even have a “professional” hula-hooper on their staff, she adds, who makes customized hoops for staff and for residents of the company’s group homes.

hoola hoop wellness program

As they became more proficient, word spread, and other staff became interested. Soon they had a regular following, and set up an exercise area at the end of a hallway between office areas. Workers were encouraged to take hoop breaks at lunch or whenever they were able, and for those who struggled with the dynamics of hooping, jump ropes were purchased. Fritsch shared her story with CBIA, and was put into a raffle to win a $500 Amazon gift card, which they won!

The prize money, she said, was used to purchase other exercise equipment, including a stepping machine, exercise ball, weighted resistance ropes, a wireless speaker for listening to music while people work out, and a special stool made for accommodating hooping while seated. Everyone in the office, she says, is encouraged to participate, and support from their management makes it easier to get people involved.

“A good wellness program starts with a leader who strongly believes that any exercise that gets your heart going is good for you, even if it’s in the workplace,” Fritsch explains. “We’re lucky to work in an environment with a supportive manager who sets the tone for our agency.  He says his mission is to be more like Google, and is striving to build a great work environment so people are happier, healthier and more productive.”

New England Residential Services operates group homes and apartments, providing residential support for people with intellectual disabilities. They have 130 employees, most working at their field locations, with a support staff of 10 at their home office in Middletown.

Their executive director, Chet Fischer, reimburses office employees who join a gym or take yoga, and always encourages breaks from work to walk or work out, Fritsch says. Some employees bring their dogs to work, she adds, and others plank and do alternative fitness activities during and after work.

The hula hooping, Fritsch explains, has become a great source of laughter, stress reduction and team building. She says everyone from their executive director to their maintenance person has tried it, and visitors are encouraged to give it a whirl, as well. She adds that when employees started completing the CBIA health assessment, they realized they needed to do more fitness-related activities, and started using their reward cards for fitness clothes and materials – and for more hoops.

“It’s inspiring to see someone increase the time that they can keep the hoop up, and seeing their progress and personal styles,” Fritsch explains. “The original goal, simply, was to get people active. Now employees are tracking their own time, checking out hoop-related exercise videos and working out when it suits them. We’re even planning to make our own video in the spring, and when all the new hoops come in we will have hoop breaks. It’s fun, it makes you feel great, and increases camaraderie among the staff.”


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!

There’s Nothing Fishy about Eating Fish

Whatever you may think about fish – that they’re beautiful, scary, slimy, gross, tasty or mysterious – there’s more to loving fish than visiting an aquarium, gliding across a lake early in the morning, standing in waders up to your chest in icy water, or drinking beers and trying not to throw up as a small boat gets tossed around the ocean. Beyond the allure of catching your own dinner, most fish are incredibly healthy sources of nutrients and vitamins, and should be a steady part of everyone’s diet.

Fish is a good source of protein and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat. Fish also is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids.  These little wonders benefit the heart of healthy people and those at high risk of – or who have – cardiovascular disease.  Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower blood pressure. Eating fish once or twice a week may also reduce the risk of stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic conditions.

In addition to healthful long-chain omega-3 fats, fish also are rich in other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat. There is strong evidence that eating fish or taking fish oil is good for the heart and blood vessels. An analysis of 20 studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants indicates that eating approximately one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week, particularly salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies or sardines, reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.

Unfortunately, fewer than one in five Americans heeds that advice. About one-third of Americans eat seafood once a week, while nearly half eat fish only occasionally or not at all. Although some people may simply not like fish, the generally low consumption is likely caused by other factors including cost, access to stores that sell fish, and uncertainty about how to buy, prepare or cook fish. Still others may avoid seafood because they worry that they — or their children — will be harmed by mercury, pesticide residues, or other possible toxins that are in some types of fish.

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids which have demonstrated benefits at reducing heart disease. But there’s a downside to eating certain types of fish: Some may contain high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants. Levels of these substances are generally highest in older, larger predatory fish and marine mammals, but it’s important to know the facts and to avoid those that are more dangerous.

The benefits and risks of eating fish vary depending on a person’s stage of life:

  • Children and pregnant women are advised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to avoid eating those fish with the potential for the highest level of mercury contamination (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish); and to eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury (for example, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish).
  • For middle-aged and older men and postmenopausal women, the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the potential risks when the amount of fish that are eaten is within the recommendations established by the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Eating a variety of fish will help minimize any potentially adverse effects due to environmental pollutants.

Nutritional experts recommend eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week. Each serving should be approximately 3.5 ounces cooked, or about three-quarters of a cup of flaked fish.  Enjoy fish baked or grilled, not fried.  Choose low-sodium, low-fat seasonings such as spices, herbs, lemon juice and other flavorings in cooking and at the table.

For many people, tuna is a lunchtime staple. The FDA and EPA continue to recommend that no more than six ounces of fish per week (of your 8 to 12 ounces weekly) should be white (albacore) tuna. Canned light tuna is lower in mercury, albacore tuna higher.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish or shellfish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.   Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king Mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Also, be careful when buying canned seafood, as cans often are lined with a BPA-plastic coating. Look for seafood packed in shelf-stable, flexible pouches, as this is the environmentally preferable packaging.

Regardless of your age or gender, check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. If advice isn’t available, you should eat six ounces or less of these locally caught fish per week, and children should eat no more than one to three ounces per week. Then avoid eating other fish for the rest of the week. Potential exposure to some contaminants can be reduced by removing the skin and surface fat from these fish before cooking.

Another important consideration when you consume fish should be about environmental sustainability. Some varieties of seafood have been overfished or caught in ways that may cause lasting damage to our oceans and marine life. Here are some basic rules to make smart seafood shopping choices that are good for your health and the health of our oceans:

  • Eat fish that are lower on the food chain – typically, smaller fish are more plentiful and contain less mercury.
  • Know how sustainable your seafood choices are. This link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide provides valuable information on which fisheries provide the most sustainable seafood choices, based on health and a variety of other measurements.
  • Buy American. The United States has stricter fishing and farming standards than do other parts of the world, and is less likely to use antibiotics or risk exposure to pesticides and fertilizers that run off into the water.
  • Know how it’s caught. Hook and line is a low-impact method of fishing that does not damage the seafloor and let’s fisherman use intelligently designed traps and throw back unwanted species.
  • Eat Local. You’re usually better off eating the local variety of a particular type of fish instead of its counterpart from across the country or another part of the world, unless that species has been depleted in local waters. Even out of season, the local fish that has been frozen is preferable, since fresh fish must be transported by air, the most energy-intensive method of shipping.
  • Look for the label. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies seafood that is caught or raised in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. Items that meet its criteria are marked with a MSC-certified label.

If you want the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids but aren’t crazy about fish, you also can eat tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and their oils. These foods contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 fatty acid. Large-scale epidemiologic studies suggest that people at risk for coronary heart disease benefit from consuming omega-3 fatty acids from marine and from plant sources.


 

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!

Sleep Sense

We’ve already turned the clocks ahead and are enjoying the increasing hours of daylight. The first few weeks after we sprung forward, you might have noticed a change in your sleep patterns or felt more tired or irritable. Certainly, the cat and dog noticed – they still wanted their breakfast at 5:30 a.m., not 6:30 a.m. when you were ready to awaken. But if you’re finding yourself dragging a bit, it’s not a mystery — that hour of sleep you lost also affected your internal clock, and anything that throws off our body’s natural timing mechanism can wreak havoc.

Humans have a 24-hour internal clock called circadian rhythm that controls our eating and sleeping patterns, internal bodily functions and the timing of hormone secretions. We might have trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning if our internal clock gets out of sync with the external day-night cycle. This happens with multi-time zone travel and is the basis for jet lag. With the daylight savings time shift, the external time has shifted while the internal clock has not, and even though it’s been weeks, there’s still a lag.

The more stable and consistent our circadian rhythm is, the better our sleep. This cycle also may be altered by the timing of various factors including naps, bedtime, exercise, diet, and especially exposure to light. And though the results may seem subtle, when the clock changes, we become weary – and irritable.

When we’re tired, productivity, service and quality of work often suffer. Being fatigued tests the patience of everyone around us, increases chances of accidents or mistakes, and aggravates chronic health conditions. It also reduces our natural immune system, making us more susceptible to illness.

Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40 our sleep patterns change and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, functioning like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. The more times we awake at night, the more likely we will feel unrefreshed and unrestored in the morning.

Psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, relationship conflict and job crises may prevent us from falling asleep or wake us from sleep throughout the night. It takes time to “turn off” all the noise from the day. If you work right up to the time you turn out the lights, or are reviewing all the day’s events and planning tomorrow, you simply can’t just “flip a switch” and drop off to a blissful night’s sleep. The same is true if you’re watching television, gaming or on your smart phone right before bedtime – these all affect our brain and interfere with the natural hormones that help us rest.

Sleeping Better Takes Practice

Millions of Americans suffer from fatigue caused by poor sleep habits. And while chemical imbalances and chronic conditions such as sleep apnea — where the body doesn’t get enough oxygen during sleep — can be affecting you, there are many simple solutions you can try before turning to medications or running off to get a sleep study.

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. It’s also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed — not too little, or too much. This may vary by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, but if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed to keep the sleep pattern consolidated.

Here are 10 good sleep hygiene practices to assist your restfulness:

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep, but avoid exercise close to bedtime.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals, spicy foods which increase metabolism, sweets or unhealthy snacking. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many helpful properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, though try to avoid too much light exposure in the evening if you’ve been having trouble sleeping.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, and try to wake up at the same time every day.
  • Limit stimulating activities, electronic games and TV shows before trying to go to sleep.
  • Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed, and try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations when it’s time to relax.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or work.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

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!

Water Water Everywhere, but How Safe to Drink?

There’s no question that drinking water regularly is important for our health. Remaining properly hydrated allows our body to work to its full potential, processing food, using and storing energy, ensuring healthy blood production, protecting our muscles and organs, supporting removal of waste and for natural cleansing. But the source of the water we choose to drink can be questionable, and recent revelations – including the abysmal failure of the public water system in Flynt, Michigan – have raised concerns about the quality of our water.

Taste and convenience play important roles in our choice of water sources. While public water systems, by and large, are safe and healthy, some people fear contaminants or determine they don’t like how their local water tastes. Many others choose to buy a wide variety of bottled waters available in stores, restaurants, at sporting events, convenience locations or wherever people gather. While convenient, bottled water is hugely more expensive than tap water and – to the surprise of many and the chagrin of advertisers (15 percent of the cost of bottled water goes to marketing) – not necessarily as healthy as public or private water sources.

In fact, bottled water may be hurting our health. Studies indicate that plastic bottles release small amounts of chemicals over long periods of time. The longer water is stored in plastic bottles, the higher the concentration of a potentially harmful chemical. The research involved 132 brands of bottled water from 28 countries produced in containers made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.

Research found that the concentration of certain chemicals, such as antimony, increases the longer the water sits in the plastic bottle. It increases over time because the plastic is leaching chemicals into the water. Antimony is a white metallic element that in small doses can cause nausea, dizziness and depression. In large doses, it can be fatal. Antimony is similar chemically to lead. It is also a potentially toxic trace element.

Adding to those concerns, researchers have set off new alarms: A recent study carried out on more than 250 water bottles sourced from 11 brands in nine different countries revealed that microplastic contamination (tiny pieces of plastic) was nearly universal, found in more than 90 percent of the samples surveyed.

Conducted by journalism organization Orb Media and researchers at the State University of New York at Fredonia, it was discovered that an average of 10.4 microplastic particles about the width of a human hair was present per liter. That’s about twice the level of contamination discovered in the group’s earlier study on plastic contamination in tap water across the globe, with the highest rate found in the United States. Studies also have linked a large portion of the microplastic particles found in our oceans, lakes and rivers – as well as in fish stomachs – to the washing of synthetic clothes.

In the case of bottled water, Orb’s new study indicated contamination was partly the result of plastic packaging, and partly the fault of the bottling process. The survey included brands like Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestlé and San Pellegrino. What researchers don’t know is the effect these tiny pieces of plastic have on our long-term health. Much of it could pass harmlessly and be disposed as waste, but it also can become lodged in our digestive or lymphatic systems.

Who’s Watching Our Water?

Defined as a “food” under federal regulations, bottled water is under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – under much stricter standards – regulates tap water.

The EPA mandates that local water-treatment plants provide city residents with a detailed account of tap water’s source and the results of any testing, including contaminant level violations. Bottled water companies are not required to do this reporting. Also, while municipal water systems must test for harmful microbiological content in water several times a day, bottled water companies are required to test for these microbes only once a week.

Additionally, public water systems are required to test for chemical water contaminants four times as often as bottled water companies. Compounding the issue, loopholes in the FDA’s testing policy do not require the same standards for water that is bottled and sold in the same state, meaning that a significant number of bottles (almost 70 percent are processed in the state where they are sold) have undergone almost no regulation or testing.

There are other important factors to consider before you choose your water:  Bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year. That plastic requires up to 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce. And while the plastic used to bottle beverages is of high quality and in demand by recyclers, over 80 percent of plastic bottles are simply thrown away. Most of our plastic bottles end up in landfills, where they take years to decompose. Worse, thousands of tons of plastic each year end up in our oceans, polluting, destroying fish, killing birds and compromising delicate ecosystems.

Drink Up

So, what’s the solution?  Certainly, it isn’t to drink less water! The safe, environmentally friendly and economic answer is to buy thermoses or safe, sturdily constructed neoprene or other refillable plastic or stainless-steel water bottles that don’t contain contaminants or decompose quickly.

Ironically, blind taste tests conducted throughout the United States almost always result in consumers preferring tap water to bottled water. Also, for additional protection or to enhance taste, inexpensive carbon-based filters are available in most stores and can be used to easily filter tap water; filters also are sold that attach directly to your kitchen faucets.

When you consider the environmental costs, and the cost to your pocketbook, it’s an easy decision to go natural over bottled. If the health options alone aren’t enough to convince you, bottled water costs 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water. Most municipal water costs less than 1 cent per gallon. Think about that the next time you plunk down a few bucks for a bottle of convenient – but potentially dangerous – bottled water.


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!

Assessing Health and Wellness Activity

Three months into the new year, it’s easy for well-intentioned health commitments made in December to go south. It’s harder getting to the gym in the winter, comfort food may be beckoning during these cold, shorter days, and outdoor activities like running, bicycling, and hiking are far more difficult to complete.

Now is a good time to assess how effectively you and your team are using health and wellness tools. That includes those available to you through your health insurance provider and CBIA, and a variety of options you and your employees can embrace at your discretion.

Completing CBIA’s online healthcare assessment tool is an easy first step. Employers also can conduct their own health and wellness survey through a variety of media, including a written survey, using an online survey tool, or through small group or individual meetings. Discussions can focus on preferred health and wellness activities underway personally or through the workplace, or measure attitudes about the use of fitness facilities, tobacco-cessation plans, healthy vending machine options, nutrition, healthcare coaching and a variety of other subjects.

For example, when assessing topic areas, some possibilities might include the following areas of inquiry:

Health status:

  • Self-perceived general health status (i.e., poor to excellent)
  • Number of days per month impaired by poor physical/mental health
  • Specific questions about diseases or health conditions (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, stress)

Use of preventive health services:

  • Doctor visits (including an annual checkup)
  • Dental visits
  • Use of flu, pneumonia and shingles vaccines
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol checks
  • Colonoscopies, mammograms, and PAP smears

Health behaviors:

  • Tobacco use: Current smokers or other tobacco use, tobacco cessation goals
  • Diet and physical activity: Weight and height (to calculate Body Mass Index); self-perceptions of weight; fruit/vegetable consumption; activity level at work; recent moderate/vigorous activity outside of the job
  • Alcohol consumption: Drinks per week; drinks per sitting
  • Safety: Seatbelt and bicycle helmet use, ear and eye protection, etc.

Assessing current health status and health behaviors may point to opportunities for specific health-education programs. And completing a benchmark survey allows you to compare progress when you conduct follow-up surveys at set intervals. These can be conducted through the workplace, or online through a variety of employee healthcare information tools.

And when it comes to implementing health and wellness activities, some companies have gone the extra mile, inviting nutrition and fitness coaches to the office or workplace, holding onsite yoga, fitness and meditation classes, and encouraging employee participation through incentives and competitions.

Many employers form employee committees to oversee health and wellness programs, encourage participation and set and measure goals. When this outreach is peer driven, it tends to gather more steam and taps employee goodwill, enthusiasm and interest.

In the winter, team activities can include ice skating, sledding, downhill and cross-country skiing, and outdoor walks or hikes. Also, with spring right around the corner, so is the return of charity runs, walks and rides, and competitive team athletic activities like volleyball, softball and basketball. Encouraging and supporting team activities such as walks and sports builds morale, strengthens employee bonds and improves productivity. Employers can help their employees build personal health and wellness plans, check in to measure progress, or simply ensure that opportunities for staff wellness learning and exploration exist on a regular basis.


 

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!

How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

The role of protein in our bodies is both well understood and completely misunderstood. We’ve been told we should eat protein for building up our bodies, and high-protein, low-carb diets are the rage. Body builders and athletes drink protein drinks to supplement their muscle development, and protein powders get sprinkled liberally in everything from yogurt and granola to smoothies. But do we really know how much protein is good for us, and how best to obtain it?

Simply put, proteins are the building blocks of life. Every cell in the human body contains protein, and the basic structure of protein is a chain of amino acids. We need protein in our diet to help our body repair cells and make new ones. Protein is important for growth and development in children, teens, and pregnant women. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein, and our bodies use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein also is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.

Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is a “macronutrient,” meaning we need relatively large amounts of it. Vitamins and minerals, which are needed in only small quantities, are called “micronutrients.” But unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store protein, and therefore has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply.

How Protein Works in our Bodies

Protein foods are broken down into amino acids during digestion. We need amino acids in large enough amounts to maintain good health. They are found in animal sources such as meats, milk, fish, and eggs. They are also found in plant sources such as soy, beans, legumes, nut butters, and some grains (such as wheat germ and quinoa). You do not need to eat animal products to get all the protein you need in your diet. And contrary to the myth that extra protein builds more muscle, the only way to build muscle is through exercise — extra protein doesn’t give you extra strength.

There are three types of amino acids: Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be supplied by food. They do not need to be eaten at one meal–the balance over the whole day is more important. Nonessential amino acids are made by the body from essential amino acids or in the normal breakdown of proteins. Conditional amino acids are needed in times of illness and stress.

When people eat lots of protein but few carbohydrates, their metabolisms change into a state called ketosis, which means the body converts from burning carbs for fuel to burning its own fat. When fat is broken down, small bits of carbon called ketones are released into the bloodstream as energy sources. Ketosis, which also occurs in diabetes, tends to suppress appetite, causing people to eat less, and it also increases the body’s elimination of fluids through urine, resulting in a loss of water weight.

The amount of protein we need depends on our overall calorie needs. The daily recommended intake of protein for healthy adults is 10 percent to 35 percent of our total calorie needs. For example, a person on a 2,000-calorie diet could eat 100 grams of protein, which would supply 20 percent of their total daily calories.

One ounce (30 grams) of most protein-rich foods contains 7 grams of protein. An ounce (30 grams) equals an ounce of meat, fish or poultry; one large egg; half a cup of cooked beans or lentils; a tablespoon of peanut butter; or a quarter cup of tofu. Low-fat dairy is also a good source of protein, and whole grains contain more protein than refined or “white” products. Other good sources of protein include:

• Turkey or chicken with the skin removed, or bison (also called buffalo meat)
• Lean cuts of beef or pork, such as round, top sirloin, or tenderloin (trim away any visible fat)
• Fish or shellfish
• Pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, or garbanzo beans
• Nuts and seeds, including almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, or walnuts (Nuts are high in fat so be mindful of portion sizes. Eating calories in excess of your needs may lead to weight gain.)
• Tofu, tempeh, and other soy protein products
• Low-fat dairy products

Additionally, the type of protein we eat plays a role in successful weight loss and in our overall health. Consumption of large quantities of processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats have been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.

There are other potential risks: The body produces ammonia when it breaks down protein. No one knows the long-term risks of higher levels of ammonia in the body. Also, there is evidence that people who eat high-protein diets typically excrete excess calcium in their urine. Researchers believe that is to counteract an increase in acids caused by protein consumption (calcium buffers, or neutralizes, acids). Too much calcium loss could lead to osteoporosis down the road.

Carbohydrate foods are important, including fruits and vegetables, which are the best sources for vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants — nutrients that help prevent disease. By contrast, animal foods that are high in protein are usually also high in saturated fats, which increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several types of cancer.

So as is usually the case with diets and our health, understanding how the things we put into our bodies affect our overall health makes good sense. Eating the proper amount of protein is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can become a problem.


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!