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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Who Would Take Home Gold at an Olympic Tea Party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Is Tea Good for Us?

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Caffeine Is in Tea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Protecting Our Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Cholesterol Works in Our Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should You Be Taking Statins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

The Scent of Love

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

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

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

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

The Chemistry of Love

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

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

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

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

Making Sense of Scents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Reducing Financial Stress: The Healthy Gift to Yourself in 2018

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who charged gifts or purchased items on store credit during the holiday season, the joy of giving is now being surpassed by the anxiety of coming up with the extra money to pay your bills. For many, one of the unwelcome “gifts” that follow the holiday season is increased financial stress of dealing with debt.

There’s an insidious nature to how we spend money, how we talk with our significant others about it, and the impact finances have on our mental and physical health. Worrying about money and debt causes increased anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, and stress that taxes our hearts, contributes to high blood pressure, aggravates stomach issues like acid reflux and ulcers, and can lead to strokes and heart disease.

Three out of four American families are in debt and the weight of all that anxiety can become more apparent in our performance in the workplace, as well. Whether it’s lack of sleep, irritability, lower productivity or increased absenteeism due to the side effects of stress and depression, money woes cost us professionally and personally across a wide spectrum. Unhealthy spending behaviors and debt are a major cause of relationship problems and often cited as a contributing factor in many divorces and breakups.

Coping through planning and daily focus

There’s a difference between active coping and comfort coping – some of us eat more, spend more, or devise short-term solutions. Instead we should be thinking about informed, collaborative planning and strategies for dealing with our money issues. Creating goals is important–working toward a home purchase, a special vacation, college, or retirement savings. We need a clear game plan and tools to help realize our dreams. So it’s important to think long term, but live with short-term daily strategies, as well.

Employers pay attention to the health and well-being of their employees, so why should employees’ financial health be any less important? Financial experts and coaches are available to come into the workplace for “lunch and learn” or after-work discussions, and employers can encourage employees to seek outside counseling and guidance.

Here are tips to share for improving financial health:

  • Make a budget. While it sounds simple, many people fail to truly organize their financial lives and understand what they bring in and what they can afford. Is it possible that you spend $25 a week on coffee? Sure it is – and that’s okay, if you can afford the extra hundred dollars a month. If you have a detailed budget and you stick to it, buying things during the day that make you happy is okay. If you can’t pay your bills, you may consider making your own coffee at home for a fraction of the price.
  • Track your expenses. Write it in a notebook, record it on your computer, or download one of the many spending applications like Mint or PocketGuard. Tracking what you spend is an important way to understanding your spending habits, course correcting, and establishing a realistic budget.
  • Avoid credit or use it wisely. Credit cards can be a good way to build your credit, but only if you use them infrequently and wisely. If you can afford something, buy it with cash or use a debit card. Use a credit card as a last resort for important purchases you don’t have the money for upfront, but be diligent about paying it off as quickly as possible to avoid exorbitant finance charges.
  • Talk to others about your financial concerns. Share your worries and issues with people close to you, especially your partner. The stigma and shame that accompanies money problems – and the weight of hiding those pressures – causes stress, anxiety and depression, as well. Good communication and honesty helps alleviate some of the stress and the sense of hopelessness that comes with every bill or debt collector’s call.
  • Consult a financial expert.You don’t need investment income to seek guidance from a financial planner or consultant. They can help you devise a savings strategy, prioritize your debt, build your budget, and plan for the future more effectively.
  • Refinance your debt. Consolidation loans with a lower monthly finance charge can help you rid yourself of credit cards. If you can, pay more than the minimum monthly payment and avoid missed payments.

There also are services available to help negotiate payment plans and for consolidating debt, but many of them charge a service fee for this assistance. Look for support groups, free counseling services, and programs such as Debtors Anonymous (DA), a confidential 12-step program available online and across the country, where people with debt or spending issues can come together to examine solutions to their money issues, and find fellowship and support.

Money challenges us all, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change. If we avoid being vague or frivolous about how, what, and when we spend, we can take a big step toward changing and improving our financial health, as well as our overall health and wellness.


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!

New Lung Cancer Screening Reduces Deaths Through Early Detection

New screening technologies are being used to help identify potential health issues earlier in patients who may be at risk of contracting certain cancers.

Symptoms of lung cancer usually don’t appear until the disease is already at an advanced, non-curable stage. Even if there are symptoms, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking.

Screening is the use of tests or exams to find a disease in people who don’t have symptoms. Doctors have looked for many years for a good screening test for lung cancer, but only in recent years has research shown that a test known as a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan can help lower the risk of dying from this disease.

The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) was a large clinical trial that looked at using LDCT scans of the chest to screen for lung cancer. CT scans of the chest provide more detailed pictures than chest x-rays and are better at finding small abnormal areas in the lungs. Low-dose CT of the chest uses lower amounts of radiation than a standard chest CT and does not require the use of intravenous (IV) contrast dye. LDCTs expose people to a small amount of radiation with each test.

The trial compared LDCT of the chest to x-rays in people at high risk of lung cancer to see if these scans could help lower the risk of dying from lung cancer. The study included more than 50,000 people aged 55 to 74 who were current or former smokers and were in fairly good health. The study did not include people if they had a prior history of lung cancer or lung cancer symptoms, if they had part of a lung removed, if they needed to be on oxygen at home to help them breathe, or if they had other serious medical problems.

People in the study got either three LDCT scans or three chest x-rays, each a year apart, to look for abnormal areas in the lungs that might be cancer. After several years, the study found that people who got LDCT had a 20 percent lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who got chest x-rays. They were also 7 percent less likely to die overall (from any cause) than those who got chest x-rays.

Screening with LDCT also had some downsides. For example, because it is more sensitive to abnormalities (as many as one in four tests) this may lead to additional tests such as other CT scans or more invasive tests such as needle biopsies or even surgery to remove a portion of lung in some people. These tests can sometimes lead to complications, even in people who do not have cancer (or who have very early stage cancer).

Guidelines for lung cancer screening

The cost for a low-dose CT scan as a screening test for lung cancer is generally about $300 for each test, but prices vary widely at different centers. Under the Affordable Care Act, most private insurers must cover the cost of yearly lung cancer screening in people considered at high risk: aged 55 to 80, with a 30 pack-year history of smoking, and either a current smoker or quit within the last 15 years. Medicare also covers the cost of lung cancer screening in people considered at high risk, although the age range is slightly different (55 to 77 years).

According to the American Cancer Society, people who meet all of the following criteria may be good candidates for lung cancer screening:

  • 55 to 74 years old
  • In fairly good health
  • Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history
  • Are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years

Screening should only be done at facilities that have the right type of CT scanner and experience using LDCT scans for lung cancer screening.

If you fit all of the criteria, you should talk to your doctor or health care provider about screening and if it’s right for you. If you smoke, you should consider counseling about stopping. Screening is not a good alternative to stopping smoking, but it’s one more way you can take a more active role in helping to prevent or potentially reduce the risk of contracting a serious disease like lung cancer.


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!

Catching the Right Kind of Island Fever

As the thermometer lingers in the single digits, snow piles up and the cold winter wind chills us to the bone, a tropical vacation becomes more appealing every day. If you’re planning an island escape this winter–or any time of year, for that matter–there are several warnings to heed before you venture to areas of the world where diseases that are rare here can be rampant.

Because the risk for certain diseases varies greatly depending on where you’re going, it’s important to know as much about your itinerary as possible. This is true whether you are traveling with a guided tour or planning your own visit. When you review your itinerary, be sure to consider:

  • Where you will be traveling, including whether you will be in urban or rural areas
  • How long you will visit
  • What season you will visit
  • Lodging conditions (air conditioning, open-air tents, or screened-in house or room)
  • Mode of travel
  • Food
  • Planned activities

Travelers should get vaccinated before visiting certain areas of the world to help protect them from serious illnesses. Travel vaccines are safe, effective ways to help protect travelers from bringing home more than they bargained for. There are a variety of other simple precautions to consider, as well. You can check which vaccinnes are recommended or required by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Center.

Hand washing is critical, as is carrying around an alcohol-based sanitization gel. It’s also important to know which foods are safe to eat, drinking water that is bottled or boiled to get rid of organisms, and to be careful about other bottled, carbonated drinks.

Some of the nastiest ailments in the world fall under the category of “tropical diseases.” In 2015, the Caribbean became a recognized hub for the Zika Virus, a health threat predominantly for pregnant women. Additionally, Chikungunya is an illness caused by a virus that spreads through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of chikungunya are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash.

Travelers who go to Africa, Asia, parts of Central and South America, islands in the Indian Ocean, Western and South Pacific, and to the Caribbean are at risk. The mosquito that carries chikungunya virus bites primarily during the daytime, both indoors and outdoors, and often lives around buildings in urban areas. There is no vaccine or medicine to prevent chikungunya. The only way to prevent chikungunya is to prevent mosquito bites. That can be difficult, but it is important, as you can get sick after just one bite.

Using insect repellant religiously and liberally, wearing long sleeves and hats, and sleeping under mosquito netting when outdoors or in open conditions are important safety considerations. Specific drugs are used to prevent malaria and should be used by travelers to certain regions.

Other travel-related health risks

While oceanfront dining often means the freshest seafood, in some underdeveloped countries, a lack of sufficient plumbing can lead to waterborne illnesses.

Bivalves such as oysters and clams filter large amounts of water when feeding. If shellfish are living in water that has been contaminated with stool containing the hepatitis A virus, the shellfish may carry the virus. People then may get it when they eat the raw or undercooked shellfish. To reduce the chance of getting sick, make sure that shellfish have been cooked thoroughly.

You also can catch the disease if you drink water or food that’s been contaminated with the stool of someone with the virus. Other ways to get infected with hepatitis A include:

  • Eating fruits, vegetables, or other foods that were contaminated during handling
  • Eating raw shellfish harvested from water that’s got the virus in it
  • Swallowing contaminated ice

Protective measures include getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, and making sure your children get vaccinated as well. The CDC recommends the vaccine for all children starting at one year old.

If you’re cooking on your own in foreign countries, practice good hygiene habits such as regular hand washing, especially after using the toilet, after changing a diaper, and before you prepare or consume food. Wash dishes in hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher, and don’t eat or drink anything if you’re worried about how it was prepared. Also, drink bottled water or boil water before drinking it, and avoid drinks made with ice cubes.  Finally avoid raw foods, including unpeeled fruits or vegetables.

Here is a list of vaccine-preventable, travel-related diseases that are not covered by routine adult vaccinations:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid and Paratyphoid Fever
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Yellow Fever
  • Dengue fever
  • Malaria
  • Rabies
  • Japanese Encephalitis

You may need one or more of these vaccines depending on any number of variables. In some cases, proof of vaccination is required before you can obtain a visa. Still, it’s important to discuss preventative steps with your physician relative to your destination.

Many travel immunizations need to be taken in a series of shots given over a period of days or weeks. Plus, vaccines take time to work. Travel health experts recommend giving yourself four to six weeks to meet with a travel health provider about how to plan for your travel and to get any needed travel vaccinations.

If you are taking medications for a condition like diabetes, there may be certain drug interactions you need to be aware of. For example, some drugs may reduce the effectiveness of travel vaccinations. Also be aware that in some countries, you may have trouble filling your maintenance prescriptions, so plan accordingly so you don’t run out.

Finally, the wisdom of any sexual encounter in the Caribbean also needs to be weighed against the very real risks of disease, sexual violence, or worse. The Caribbean has the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world: at least 230,000 people in the region have the disease.

Vacation should be fun, not spent in a hospital bed or filled with worry and anxiety. If you take the proper precautions before you travel and while abroad, chances are you’ll have a fantastic time and the only thing you’ll catch is the travel bug.


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!

Vitamins As a Substitute for Sunlight and Important Nutrients? What Works and What Doesn’t

January through March are particularly tough months–even though the days are growing longer, it’s dark and dreary. With the frigid temperatures, sun exposure is a tease. Typically, the few minutes we get between our houses, work, school, or the grocery store isn’t enough to revitalize us or replenish natural nutrients and vitamins.

What’s more, the average American diet typically lacks in a number of essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D. Many people turn to dietary supplements in hope of getting an extra boost and a preventive buffer to help ward off disease.

But supplements don’t always deliver better health. In fact, some can even be dangerous when taken in larger-than-recommended amounts.

Are supplements dangerous?

Many supplements help replace vitamins that may be lacking in our diets. For example, studies claim vitamin D is a possible defense against a long list of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, depression, and even the common cold. Omega-3 fatty acids are touted for warding off strokes and other cardiovascular events. And antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and beta carotene have been studied as effective agents against heart disease, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

But much of the testing has been observational; the results of more stringent randomized controlled trials, which also examine dietary factors, exercise habits and other variables, haven’t yielded overall positive results. Additionally, people who take supplements already tend exercise more, eat better, and have an overall healthier lifestyle.

Outside of observational studies, some supplements turned out to be not only ineffective but also risky. Vitamin E, initially thought to protect the heart, was later discovered to increase the risk for bleeding strokes. Folic acid and other B vitamins were once believed to prevent heart disease and strokes, but later studies raised concerns that high doses of these nutrients might increase cancer risk.

Stay focused on proper nutritional balance

We need a variety of nutrients each day to stay healthy, including calcium and vitamin D to protect our bones, folic acid to produce and maintain new cells, and vitamin A to preserve a healthy immune system and vision.

It is best to try to get these vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from food as opposed to supplements. Fruits, vegetables, fish, and other healthy foods contain nutrients and other substances not found in a pill, which work together to keep us healthy. Taking certain vitamin or mineral supplements in excess may even interfere with nutrient absorption or cause side effects.

For many people, simply taking a multi-purpose daily vitamin is enough. For others, certain vitamins missing from our diets can be replenished specifically. Often a simple blood test can help identify potential vitamin deficiencies. Vegan or vegetarian diets, can be especially susceptible to a lack of calcium and vitamin D.

Sun exposure in the winter months also is helpful, even in small doses. Many people get depressed in the winter–some may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects approximately 10 percent of the population. Symptoms of SAD include sleeping too much, lack of energy and low moods or depression. Usually symptoms clear up when the weather changes.

Light therapy is a common and effective treatment for SAD. The use of bright light for up to one hour per day has been shown to be effective and can work after just one week. Being active at dawn and dusk may help reset the sleep/wake cycle of those with SAD. And though it may seem like an obvious solution, tanning booths are not healthy alternatives to proper sun exposure.

Vitamin deficiencies and solutions

Before taking supplements it’s important to know whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Look at the results of well-designed studies and discuss your overall health with a licensed nutritional expert and your physician, especially if you have a chronic diseases or are taking other medications.

Psychology Today lists some common vitamin concerns and potential solutions:

B-Complex vitamins affect your mood and energy by  converting proteins from your diet into neurotransmitters. B-complex vitamins also support heart health, improve our response to stress, and help boost energy levels. While most B vitamins have some benefits for mental health, in terms of depression, the most important B vitamins include vitamin B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12.

Good sources of B-vitamins include beef, poultry and organ meats, tuna, nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils tempeh, beans, dark leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and molasses. Vitamin B12 is not available from plants, which makes B12 deficiency a concern for strict vegans.

Vitamin D deficiency is particularly likely in the winter when low levels of sunlight and lack of stored vitamin D exacerbate borderline or low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is especially common in vulnerable populations such as African-Americans, the elderly, children, the obese, pregnant women and breastfed babies.

The suggested upper limit for adults is 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D3. However, if this does not produce a healthy blood level of vitamin D, higher doses can be used under the supervision of a health care practitioner.

St. John’s Wort is thought to have an antidepressant effect. Research has shown that it is effective for mood, anxiety, and depression-related insomnia.

Most studies used dosages of 300 mg of an extract three times daily. But there are potential side effects, including its potential to lower the efficacy of certain medications including birth control pills, medications for migraines (Imitrex, Zomig, other triptans), alprazolam (Xanax), the cough medicine Dextromethorphan (Robitussin DM and others), Digoxin, Fenfluramine, Demerol and other medications. Talk to your doctor before taking St. John’s Wort if you have been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder or you are on prescription antidepressant medications.

Fish oil is a well-recognized mood-support supplement. Consumption of fish in the diet or supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids is safe and cost-effective and has been shown to benefit heart disease, reduce suicide risk, and reduce symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. Higher consumption of fish is also associated with lower rates of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and postpartum depression.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish, leafy greens, soy, nuts and seeds. For mild mood changes, take 2,000 – 3,000 mg daily. However, if you take a blood thinner, check with your physician before taking fish oil as it may increase bleeding time.

If you believe you may be lacking in a particular nutrient, ask your doctor whether you need to look beyond your diet to make up for what you’re missing, but never take more than the recommended daily intake for that nutrient unless your health care provider advises it.


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!

So What If It’s Winter – Get Out and Play!

As winter descends with its shorter days, frigid temperatures, ice and snow, the harsher weather conditions shouldn’t be seen as a deterrent to going outdoors. If anything, the winter landscape is beautiful and inviting . . .  as long as you dress properly and take cold-weather precautions to keep you healthy and safe.

Preventing hypothermia is a major concern for those who work or recreate outdoors in the winter months. Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed, your body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.

Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making us unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous, because a person may not know that it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

While hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Victims of hypothermia are often older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outdoors for prolonged periods, such as the homeless, hikers, hunters, skiers and snowmobilers; and people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering and exhaustion; confusion and fumbling hands; memory loss; slurred speech; and drowsiness. If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95° F, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately.

If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
  • Warm the center of the body first, including his or her chest, neck, head and groin, using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds, or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.

Dress for the weather

No matter your choice of outdoor activity, take appropriate measures to protect yourself. That includes dressing for the weather, making sure you’re properly hydrated, wearing sunscreen, knowing your limitations, and always respecting Mother Nature.

Dressing in layers and wearing the right types of materials are critical for keeping yourself warm in the cold weather. But when planning your outdoor wardrobe, moisture management is also an important consideration. To keep the body warm during high-energy activities, clothing should transport moisture away from the skin to the outer surface of the fabric where it can evaporate.

Cotton is a poor choice for insulation, because it absorbs moisture and loses any insulating value when it gets wet. Instead, moisture-wicking synthetics, which move moisture away from the skin and stay light, are the best choice for active winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, hiking or climbing. Not only do synthetic fabrics wick moisture away from the skin, they dry quickly and help keep you warm in the process.

Your next layer should be a lightweight stretchy insulator, such as a breathable fleece sweater or vest. The final part of your cold-weather wear should be a lightweight and versatile shell jacket. Fabrics like three-layer Gore-Tex and Windstopper allow companies to create shells that are ultra lightweight while remaining waterproof, windproof, and breathable. For aerobic activities, a shell’s ventilating features are particularly important. Look for underarm zippers, venting pockets, and back flaps.

Always bring a hat and gloves, regardless of the weather or your activity level. Proper foot protection is critical, as well — you should be wearing insulated and water-proof shoes or boots, and synthetic socks that won’t absorb sweat. As with the rest of your clothing, synthetic materials work best for protecting you against the extremes. Look for fleece hats made with Windstopper fabric, gloves and mittens layered with Gore-Tex and fleece, and socks made of synthetic, moisture-wicking materials.

Finally, bring an abundance of water or sports drinks when you recreate outdoors, and try to avoid caffeine or alcohol — both actually dry you out, instead of hydrating, and alcohol lowers your body temperature. Also, make sure you have a cell phone, that somebody knows where you are, and when you’ll be returning. And remember to wear sunscreen — the sun’s ultraviolet rays remain potent, even in the winter, and hydrating your skin with a UV-protective moisturizer will help protect you from wind and other elements.

Getting outdoors in the winter months should be part of your healthy-living planning. Exercising or working outdoors, or simply enjoying the winter beauty will help keep you well, emotionally and physically.


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!

Reducing Year-end Burnout

The end of each year, as well as the accompanying holidays, bring a multitude of gifts. While the holidays represent joy, gratitude and happiness for many people, they also are punctuated by a wide spectrum of emotional reactions including nostalgia, guilt, loneliness and, for many, sadness. These can become overwhelming and lead to depression, anxiety or illness.

The culmination of our business and calendar years increases pressure on us as we rush around trying to multitask, wrap up projects and budgets, deal with personal and family needs and prepare ourselves for the coming year. If money challenges are wearing on us, this time of year exacerbates financial woes, adding to stress and guilt. And if we’re alone, or missing people in our lives who have passed, moved away or otherwise departed, those feelings can come home to roost as the holidays rapidly approach.

It’s also a time of overindulgence, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. These activities, as wonderful as they are in moderation, may contribute to an unhealthy sense of self, which typically results in more unhealthy practices. Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully.

But it’s more than just overeating; exercise substantially reduces, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (approximately 60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

What we need is our own way to help reduce stress and disorganization, improve our focus, and slow down enough – in a short, manageable period – to regain our emotional and physical footing without losing traction or productivity. Some people hit the gym, run or take a walk; others go out to eat, read, nap, pray or call a friend. Many also find that the pursuit of mindfulness – the ability to slow ourselves down, focus and truly be present in the moment – can be enhanced through meditation or other relaxation activities.

Taking charge

Many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat or feel stressed during this season. Holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion and wintry weather can dampen the best of workout intentions. To make this holiday season a healthier one, it’s important to be conscious of what we’re eating, and to manage our stress and emotions.

  • Practice awareness.  It’s important to be conscious of what we eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats at the holidays but consider moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar, and preservatives. Remember, we don’t have to indulge every minute. We can allow some treats for those special days, and then get back into our healthy routines the next day.
  • Manage stress and emotions.  For some people it’s an abundance of friends and family coming out of the woodwork that has them down. In contrast, you may be alone, not have your family or friends nearby, and feel isolated. The holidays are very nostalgic, but for every good memory there also may be memories of family members and friends now deceased or living far away, and traditions no longer possible. Spending time with difficult family members, grieving the loss of a loved one, feeling pressure to give gifts when finances are tight, and loneliness can leave people feeling sad, angry, or even depressed. And these feelings are aggravated by the shorter, colder days and reduced sunlight.
  • Outreach and consistency are good. It’s always beneficial to try and continue our normal routines to help feel like we’re still in control. We can consciously try to not over-eat and make time for exercise and rest. Additionally, personal outreach, especially socializing and connecting with old friends and associates, is important for our emotional health. We humans are social creatures, and while digital outreach is valuable and sometimes our easiest option, the Internet tends to act as a buffer between us and real intimacy.
  • Dealing with the holiday blues. Though depression as the holidays near is common, there is a difference between the holiday blues, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more serious conditions. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological state that literally changes your biology and can cause or add to depression. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless about changing their situation. If the holiday blues seem to linger or become more intense, seek help from a mental health professional.
  • Do your personal planning. This is the perfect time to assess what you did or didn’t accomplish in your personal health and wellness efforts, and to plan action for the coming year. Set simple goals, and commit to action. That choice is yours, and can involve joining a gym or fitness center, changing your eating habits, participating in organized athletic events, swimming, learning to meditate, reading more, or getting involved through volunteering or charity work. Telling a friend about your goals or enlisting someone to be a partner increases your chance of success, and is more fun.

This season certainly isn’t a time to be punishing yourself. No matter if you forget to follow the above advice, your healthy habits slip a little, or you do end up eating that extra pumpkin pie, cookies or cheesecake – this is a time to recognize how far you’ve come this year, to celebrate what you’ve achieved and to show your body and yourself the love and respect you deserve.


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!