Eat Well and Be Safe This Summer

It’s July, and the temperature and your dinner are sizzling! Americans love to barbecue, especially in the summer. It’s the season for burgers, dogs, barbecued chicken, and ribs, corn on the cob and every type of salad and dessert known to man.

If you’re a barbeque and picnic lover, the last thing in the world you want to hear is another warning about the perils of charcoal- or grill-cooked food.  But there’s a reason for these warnings, and there are a variety of safety tips, compromises, healthier alternatives and choices you can make to ensure good summer eating and improved nutritional wellness.

There’s a science to cooking outdoors. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. The formation of HCAs and PAHs is influenced by the type of meat, the cooking time, the cooking temperature, and the cooking method.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Exposure to high levels of HCAs and PAHs have been shown to cause cancer in animals. Currently, no Federal guidelines address consumption levels of HCAs and PAHs formed in meat. HCA and PAH formation can be reduced by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface, reducing the cooking time, and using a microwave oven or standard oven to partially cook meat before exposing it to high temperatures.

HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.

We can reduce our exposure to these potentially damaging chemicals through several cooking methods:

  • When possible, avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface and avoid prolonged cooking times (especially at high temperatures).
  • Use a microwave or standard oven to pre-cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures. This can substantially reduce HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.
  • Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source to reduce HCA formation, compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often.
  • Remove charred portions of meat, such as the skin from chicken, and refrain from using gravy made from meat drippings, which also contain HCA and PAH.
  • Consider steaming fish and vegetables in foil, rather than grilling over an open flame.

Proper refrigeration and cooling prevents deadly contaminants

Keeping perishables properly refrigerated and stored helps limit opportunities for bacteria to form, but it’s only one of several steps you should be taking regularly to limit exposure, protect your food, and protect yourself, your family and guests from getting sick.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that one in six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food, and there are at least a thousand reported outbreaks of potentially deadly Salmonella and E. coli infections annually. Overall, the CDC estimates that between 6 million and 33 million are affected by food-borne illnesses each year, resulting in at least 9,000 fatalities. The reason the numbers vary so much is that many cases are never reported as food-borne. Salmonella infections cause more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food, and $365 million in direct medical costs annually.

Follow these tips to reduce the risk of food poisoning at home:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water and dry them before handling food and after handling raw foods (meat, fish, eggs and vegetables), after touching the garbage pail, going to the toilet, blowing your nose, or touching animals (including pets).
  2. Wash worktops before and after preparing food, particularly after they’ve been touched by raw meat, including poultry, raw eggs, fish and vegetables. You don’t have to use anti-bacterial sprays. Hot soapy water is fine.
  3. Wash dishcloths and dish or hand towels regularly and let them dry before you use them again. Dirty, damp cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed.
  4. Use separate chopping boards for raw food and for ready-to-eat food. Raw foods can contain harmful bacteria that can spread very easily to anything they touch, including other foods, worktops, chopping boards and knives. Less porous materials, like glass, are less likely to become contaminated than wood or plastic.
  5. It’s especially important to keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods such as salad, fruit and bread. This is because these foods won’t be cooked before you eat them, so any bacteria that get on to the foods won’t be killed.
  6. Always cover raw meat and store it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where it can’t touch other foods or drip on to them.
  7. Cook food thoroughly and check that it’s piping hot all the way through. Make sure poultry, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs are cooked until steaming hot, with no pink meat inside. Learn to use a meat thermometer to verify cooking temperature.
  8. Keep your fridge temperature below 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius), and your freezer temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, preferably closer to zero. By keeping food cold, you stop germs that cause food poisoning from growing.
  9. If you have cooked food that you’re not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as possible (within 90 minutes) and store it in the fridge or freezer. Use any leftovers from the fridge within two days.
  10. Don’t eat food that’s past its “use by” date label. These are based on scientific tests that show how quickly harmful germs can develop in packaged food.

Finally, it’s important to keep many kinds of food cool to prevent germs from multiplying. Make sure you keep salads, dips, milk- or dairy-based products, sandwiches, and cooked meats cool. Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don’t leave food in the sun. Food poisoning and contamination are serious threats to your health all-year round, but simple attention to these details can help ensure healthier and happier eating.

Summer is a blast, and summer eating doesn’t have to be harmful if you eat everything in moderation and try to avoid those foods and preparation processes that are less healthy. Eat more seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables when at picnics, out, or at home. Avoid high-fat desserts high in sugar, or processed foods loaded with sodium, fat, and preservatives. You can eat healthfully AND enjoy delicious food in the summer . . . it just takes some compromise and planning.


 

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 More You Know, the Better You’ll Feel

Informed patients make the best consumers of medical care. But with so much information available from a wide variety of sources, as well as age and cultural differences and cost and access issues, becoming a good medical consumer isn’t as easy as buying groceries or shopping for a new lawnmower.

Access to reliable, accurate information is one challenge. Another is a patient’s ability, or willingness, to ask informed questions and educate themselves about their disease, illness, condition or surgery. Those questions can range from “Why are you suggesting this procedure or medicine?”  to “What are the costs?” But the grey area in between is enormous. People may be intimidated by medical professionals, afraid of sounding ignorant, or uncomfortable asking questions. The age of the patient, and the age of the physician or technician can be a factor, as well as gender and ethnicity.

There is a lot of quality information available online. Additionally, most large insurance companies have comprehensive websites, and many have information lines accessible by phone or email. Some insurance provider websites also provide cost-comparison tools, though not for all services and procedures, and sometimes just for Medicare services.

Employers should encourage their employees to learn as much as possible about treatments for an illness or disease, or before having surgery.  For example, many hospitals offer nurse navigators to help patients prepare for surgeries involving joint replacement (such as hips, knees and shoulders), and maternity and gastro-intestinal (GI) departments also offer materials, videos, booklets and informational forums.

Disease-management programs have become popular over the past decade. If you suffer from heart or respiratory disease, diabetes or other chronic conditions, specialized programs now exist for answering questions, and for measuring weight, blood pressure and blood sugar. Remote monitoring can involve electronic scales that register and communicate your weight loss or gain to offices staffed by technicians and nurses located anywhere in the country. They review the results, and if they see changes, can then call the patient or the patient’s physician to set up an appointment or recommend an intervention. Oftentimes, dedicated nurse hotlines exist for the patient, and he or she may be asked to complete periodic assessments, or they may receive regular calls to check on their status, to schedule appointments or to offer suggestions.

Employees who are not taking advantage of these programs are missing out on useful, important services that are included in their benefit package. Employers can remind employees about these programs, or encourage them to look into every possible resource prior to a planned surgery or maternity, or while recovering from an illness.

Hospitals also have interpreters available on staff, via phone or online to ensure that non-English-speaking patients’ questions are answered completely or clearly. And for some patients, a medical professional who looks or sounds like them can be the difference between going into a procedure with confidence or with fear – or not taking the risk at all.

Libraries now have extensive medical and healthcare sections. Additionally, many physician practices have created patient portals where you can access information about appointments, tests, results and recommendations, ask questions online or seek other information. These portals are confidential and easy to use, requiring online access only.

Finally, if you have questions for your doctor or nurse, you should ask them – call or request a face-to-face meeting and learn what you need to feel confident, less afraid and informed. Bring another person to act as a second set of ears, if necessary. Either way, if the office resists, it may be time to find another practice that welcomes your inquiries.

Understanding as much as possible about your healthcare helps you maintain control over your body, and over your wallet. The more active a role you take in your personal health, the better the results are likely to be.


 

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!

Memory loss and aging: What’s “normal?”

Head upstairs for something and come back down without it? Find yourself struggling to remember someone’s last name or phone number? Take a wrong turn going somewhere you’ve been driving to for years? Forget to pay a monthly bill? Forgetfulness may be upsetting, but examples like these are common as we age and nothing to worry about. Yet for many older Americans, forgetting things on an increasingly regular basis may be a sign of oncoming dementia or a form of Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease that affects close to one in four Americans.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death among U.S. adults, and the fifth-leading cause among adults aged 65 to 85. In 2013, an estimated 5 million Americans aged 65 years or older had Alzheimer’s disease. This number may triple by 2050, with the costs of care already projected at over $200 billion per year, and expected to increase to more than $500 billion by 2040.

Alzheimer’s disease causes large numbers of nerve cells in the brain to die. This affects a person’s ability to remember things, think clearly, and use good judgment. It typically involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. While doctors don’t know what causes the disease, they do know that most of the time it begins after age 60.

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. It often starts slowly. In fact, some people don’t know they have it and assume their forgetfulness is just a sign of increasing age. However, over time, their memory problems get more serious. People with Alzheimer’s disease have trouble doing everyday things like driving a car, cooking a meal, or shopping or paying bills. They may get lost easily and find even simple things confusing. Some people become worried, angry or violent.

As the illness progresses, people with Alzheimer’s disease need someone to help take care of their daily needs, including feeding and bathing. Some people with Alzheimer’s live at home with a caregiver. Other people with the disease live in a nursing home or in a facility that specializes in dementia-related illnesses.

Though age is the best-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers believe that genetics may play a role. Changes in the brain can begin years before the first symptoms appear, and scientists are studying whether education, diet, exercise and environment play roles in developing Alzheimer’s disease. They also are finding more evidence that some of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and low levels of the vitamin folate — may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

While most changes in the brain that cause dementia are permanent and worsen over time, thinking and memory problems caused by depression, medication side effects, excess use of alcohol, vitamin deficiencies  or thyroid problems may improve when the condition is treated or addressed.

How to recognize signs of early dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. And while memory loss affects all of us as we age, it also is typically one of the first warning signs of cognitive loss.

Different types of dementia are associated with particular types of brain cell damage in specific regions of the brain. For example, in Alzheimer’s disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. The brain region called the hippocampus is the center of learning and memory in the brain, and the brain cells in this region are often the first to be damaged. That’s why memory loss is often one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

According to the National Institute on Aging, in addition to memory problems, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may experience one or more of the following signs:

  • Gets lost
  • Has trouble handling money and paying bills
  • Repeats questions
  • Takes longer to complete normal daily tasks
  • Displays poor judgment
  • Loses things or misplacing them in odd places
  • Displays mood and personality changes.

There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia based on a careful medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behavior associated with each type. It’s hard to determine the exact type of dementia because the symptoms and brain changes of different dementias can overlap. In some cases, a doctor may diagnose “dementia” and not specify a type. If this occurs it may be necessary to see a specialist such as a neurologist or gero-psychologist.

Treatment of dementia depends on its cause. In the case of most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression. But there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve symptoms, and it’s important to note that other causes of dementia-like behavior – such as from head injuries, alcohol abuse and depression – can be treated.

Protecting our brains

Evidence also is growing for physical, mental, and social activities as protective factors against Alzheimer’s disease. Our brain is nourished by one of our body’s richest networks of blood vessels. Anything that damages blood vessels anywhere in our body can damage blood vessels in our brain, depriving brain cells of vital food and oxygen. Blood vessel changes in the brain are linked to vascular dementia. They often are present along with changes caused by other types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. These changes may interact to cause faster decline or make impairments more severe.

We can help protect our brains with some of the same strategies that protect our heart – don’t smoke; take steps to keep our blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar within recommended limits; and maintain a healthy weight.

Regular physical exercise may help lower the risk of some types of dementia. Evidence suggests exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain. And what we eat may have its greatest impact on brain health through its effect on heart health. The best current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, also may help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.

If you or someone you know has several or even some of the signs of increasing forgetfulness, it does not mean that you or they have Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to consult a health care provider regarding concerns about memory loss, thinking skills, or behavioral changes.


 

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!

Beware hernias masquerading as stomach aches

So when the doctor says “drop your drawers, turn your head, and cough,” he or she obviously isn’t listening to your lungs – typically, it’s a simple way of diagnosing the most typical form of abdominal hernia.

Hernias are very common, and occur in different locations. A hernia occurs when an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place. For example, the intestines may break through a weakened area in the abdominal wall. Hernias are most likely to occur in the abdomen, but they also can appear in the upper thigh, belly button, and groin areas. Most hernias are not immediately life threatening, but they don’t go away on their own and can require surgery to prevent potentially dangerous complications.

Inguinal hernias, the most common abdominal hernia, make up about 70 percent of all hernias, and are more common in men than in women. This is because a man’s testicles descend through the Inguinal canal shortly after birth, and the canal is supposed to close almost completely behind them. Sometimes, the canal does not close properly and leaves a weakened area prone to hernias.

Hernias are caused by a combination of muscle weakness and strain. Common causes of muscle weakness include failure of the abdominal wall to close properly in the womb, which is a congenital defect; age; chronic coughing; or damage from injury or surgery. Sports-related hernias can be caused by repetitive twisting or turning, especially at high speeds.

The most obvious symptom of a hernia is a bulge or lump in the affected area. In the case of an Inguinal hernia, you may notice a lump on either side of your pubic bone where your groin and thigh meet. You’re more likely to feel your hernia through touch when you’re standing up.

Other common symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the affected area (usually the lower abdomen), especially when bending over, coughing, or lifting
  • Weakness, pressure, or a feeling of heaviness in the abdomen
  • A burning, gurgling, or aching sensation at the site of the bulge

In some cases, hernias have no symptoms. You may not know you have a hernia unless it shows up during a routine physical or a medical exam for an unrelated problem.

Depending on its cause, a hernia can develop quickly or over a long period of time. You can’t always prevent the muscle weakness that allows a hernia to occur. However, you can reduce the amount of strain you place on your body. This may help you avoid a hernia or keep an existing hernia from getting worse. Prevention tips include:

  • Not smoking
  • Seeing your doctor when you’re sick to avoid developing a persistent cough
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Avoiding straining during bowel movements or urination
  • Lifting objects with your knees and not your back
  • Avoiding lifting weights that are too heavy for you

Other types of hernias

Incisional hernias can occur after you’ve had abdominal surgery. Your intestines may push through the incision scar or the surrounding, weakened tissue.

Hiatal hernias occur when part of your stomach protrudes up through the diaphragm into your chest. This type of hernia is most common in patients over 50 years old. If a child has the condition, it’s typically caused by a congenital (birth) defect. Hiatal hernias almost always cause gastro esophageal reflux, which is when the stomach contents leak backward into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. Symptoms of a hiatal hernia include acid reflux, which is when stomach acid moves backward into the esophagus causing a burning sensation; chest pain; and difficulty swallowing.

Umbilical hernias can occur in children and babies under six months old. This happens when their intestines bulge through their abdominal wall near their bellybutton. You may notice a bulge in or near your child’s bellybutton, especially when they’re crying. An umbilical hernia is the only kind that often goes away on its own, typically by the time the child is one year old. If the hernia has not gone away by this point, surgery may be used to correct it.

Other factors that strain your body and may cause a hernia include being pregnant, which puts pressure on your abdomen, and persistent coughing or sneezing. Other factors include a personal or family history of hernias, being overweight or obese, a chronic cough, chronic constipation, or smoking, which can trigger a chronic cough.

If your hernia is growing larger or causing pain, your doctor may decide that it’s best to operate. Repairing a traditional hernia typically involves sewing or closing the hole in the abdominal wall during surgery. This is most commonly done by patching the hole with surgical mesh, and often can be done through laparoscopic surgery, using a tiny camera and miniaturized surgical tools. Not all hernia surgeries can be conducted this way, however.

If you detect what you believe may be a hernia from straining yourself, exertion or genetics, a quick visit to your physician can help determine the easiest course of action.


 

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!

Bug off!

The good news is that with all the rain we’ve had this spring in Connecticut, our reservoirs and water tables are almost back to normal and we’re not likely to experience water shortages this summer. The bad news is that all the rain also is producing a bumper crop of mosquitos, gnats, ticks and other flying and crawling creatures.  The more aggressive species will bug us to distraction, and their bites or stings can cause allergic reactions, discomfort, itchy side effects or illness.

Unless you plan to spend the summer indoors, you’re likely to come in contact with some of these annoying pests. You can improve your odds of not getting bitten by wearing protective clothing, headgear and socks, using insect repellants and citronella products, minimizing use of cologne and perfume when planning outdoor activities, avoiding swampy areas, and moving the party indoors during the height of bite time. You also can spray clothes with repellent containing permethrin, and use a repellant like DEET on your skin.

Of great concern is the possibility of contracting Lyme disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, which are common to Connecticut. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (such as a rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.

Certain types of mosquitos carry diseases such as West Nile Virus (WNV), which has been present in Connecticut since 1999 in mosquitoes, horses, wild birds and people. Most people who are infected with WNV have no symptoms or may experience mild illness such as a fever and headache before fully recovering. In some individuals, particularly persons over 50 years of age, West Nile virus can cause serious illness, including encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). Symptoms range from a slight fever, headache, rash, swollen lymph nodes and nausea to the rapid onset of a severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, muscle weakness, and coma. West Nile virus infection can lead to death in three percent to 15 percent of persons with severe forms of the illness.

Health professionals also are keeping a vigilant watch for the Zika virus, which is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, which bite during the day and night.

Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika, and while local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission has been reported primarily in tropical climates like Florida, Connecticut experienced a few dozen cases in 2016.

Protecting against ticks and mosquitoes

While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks and mosquitoes year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months (April through September) when ticks are most active. In summer, when out hiking, biking, camping, and spending time in and around grass and woods, there are several steps you can take to limit bites from ticks, mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects:

  • Avoid direct contact with ticks and mosquitoes as possible. If you can, avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. When hiking, picnicking or walking, try to remain in the center of trails.
  • Use repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.
  • If you’re using other repellents, go to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for safety information.

Ticks embedded in your skin can be gross, but painless. The best bet is to keep them at bay. But if they do find you, here are tips for dealing with them easily and effectively:

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
  • Consult your doctor or a nurse (or internet sources) to determine the best method for removing the tick; it’s important to remove the entire tick, or it can leave parts embedded in your skin.

Should you or a family member develop a bulls-eye-type red rash near the bite site, or exhibit other side effects such as a fever, lethargy or extreme exhaustion, consult your doctor. You may need to be tested for Lyme disease.

If you know you have an allergy to one or more biting insects, you should always carry an epi-pen or other backup medication in case you’re stung or bitten, and seek immediate medical attention. For the rest of us, most bites or stings leave a mark and cause some swelling and irritation. Ice or a cool compress applied directly to the site can bring relief, as can topical salves, ointments or sprays sold over the counter. If the area around the bite continues to expand or becomes blistery and weepy, you have to get checked for a possible infection.

If you’re not aware of allergies but react dramatically, experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing or extensive swelling, it’s important to get to a hospital, urgent care center or physician immediately, or to call for emergency medical assistance as quickly as possible.

Last but not least, there are biting spiders in Connecticut. Most spiders in New England are relatively harmless as long as you’re not allergic to their bite. One of the common venomous spiders in this region is the Brown Recluse. You can identify this spider by the violin-shaped marking on its back. The bite produces a mild stinging, followed by local redness and intense pain within eight hours. A fluid-filled blister forms at the site and then sloughs off to leave a deep, enlarging ulcer. Reactions from a Brown Recluse spider bite vary from a mild fever and rash to nausea and listlessness. On rare occasions death results, more often in children.

If bitten by a spider, try and identify the type of spider that bit you. Clean the site of the spider bite well with soap and water. Apply a cool compress over the spider bite location. If the bite is on an extremity, elevate it. Aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and antihistamines may be used to relieve minor signs and symptoms in adults. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.


 

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 that play together work better

For many active, over-extended or retired weekend warriors, it’s hard driving past softball games, volleyball or tennis matches, 5K charity walks or groups of bicyclists spinning down paved bike paths without feeling wistful. It’s already June, the weather is finally warm and our bodies could really use the exercise and mental release. But we’re busy with work and life and can barely make time to get to the gym and see our family and friends, let alone go play.

Yet going to play and exercising are crucial for our mental and physical health.  For millions of American workers, the opportunity to combine physical activity within or related to the workplace environment has long been a staple of progressive cultures. This healthy practice is catching on in small and large organizations nationwide as increased awareness of health and wellness becomes integrated in team environments. Savvy employers recognize athletic activity as a tool for increased productivity, stress reduction, improved morale, team building and a path to overall wellness.

One CBIA Health Connections employer created a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and plan activities. They linked several of their ideas to national health- and wellness-related observances. Another tied their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Many employers bring in guest presenters and instructors, or 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.

Every month in the United States, there are a dozen or more formally designated 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 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.

This month is National Great Outdoors Month – 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.

Healthier employees are happier employees. They get sick less often, suffer from fewer incidences of chronic diseases, and have reduced absenteeism and sick days. By delegating – and using the many health and wellness tools available online – you can play a major role in promoting, supporting and funding health and wellness activities that feature a huge return on your investment.


 

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!

Engage Employees in Monthly Health Awareness Activities

Somewhere in Washington, DC, bureaucrats are hard at work reviewing requests for new awareness recognition months, weeks, and days. There already are a slew of these, many designed to raise awareness for serious diseases and illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, most types of cancer, diabetes, traumatic brain injury, oral and mental health, and dozens of chronic illnesses.

There also are recognition periods for lesser-known or rare diseases, social causes, and special events like Great Outdoors Month, and Fruit and Vegetables Matter Month. Then, it expands widely from there, with recognition for everything from National Red Meat month, to Don’t Fry Day, Dump your Boyfriend Week, and months dedicated to condoms, grapefruits, biking, and riptide awareness.

The point isn’t to question whether or not these are important and worthwhile tributes, but to acknowledge that there’s something for everyone – and that represents opportunities for small businesses to embrace days, weeks, and months dedicated to loving dogs, drinking wine, eating chocolate, or disease prevention and staying healthy through improved nutrition and exercise.

Employees embrace a wide range of personal interests and activities. If your goal is to help improve workplace health and wellness, enhance teamwork, boost morale, and increase employee involvement, tapping into awareness recognition is an easy, fun, and interactive way to engage employees.

Many organizations create voluntary health and wellness committees tasked with identifying causes that appeal to employees, and then determining how education, outreach, and interactive activities will be coordinated. Some employers tie their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Program suggestions cover the gamut from inviting guest speakers and fitness experts, hosting healthy eating activities, running screening clinics for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and flu shots, swapping recipes, participating in walks, runs, and bike races, losing weight, quitting smoking, and just about anything creative, enthusiastic people can think about.

This month alone, here are just some of the more serious national health observances taking place:

  • Skin Cancer and UV Awareness Month
  • Mental Health Month
  • National Blood Pressure Awareness Month
  • Healthy Vision Awareness Month
  • Arthritis Awareness Month
  • Lyme Disease Awareness Month
  • Celiac Disease Awareness Month

There are plenty more, too – pick the ones that work for you and your team.

By simply searching on the Internet for “national health awareness months,” you’ll discover a plethora of options. And when companies underwrite group activities, offer incentives, sponsor friendly competitions, and recognize participation, employers can demonstrate leadership, interest in their employees’ wellness, and their commitment to creating and maintaining a healthy workplace.


 

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 Message Doesn’t Get Old, but Our Skin Does

We love the sun, especially after a dreary winter and rainy spring. Whether working or playing outdoors, attending parties and picnics, enjoying trips to the beach, or just hanging on the deck or in the yard, we soak up those rays, get our vitamin D, and savor our 2017 tans. But this year, as the perennial warnings about sun exposure and the dangers of Ultraviolet (UV) rays hit the air waves, take note: Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and you can help minimize exposure and prevent its onset by taking simple precautions.

Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. In fact, UV radiation from the sun and 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% 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.

Properly protecting ourselves from 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 helps reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, it is important not to rely too much on sunscreen alone. You should also not use sunscreen as an excuse to increase the amount of time you spend in the sun. Even with the use of 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 you from the sun, so use sun protection even on cloudy days.

Use 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’s how to use sunscreen to ensure the best possible protection from the sun’s damaging UV rays:

  • 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.
  • 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 we burn more quickly.

The sun’s rays are important to our health, in moderation, but we get more than enough just by being outdoors for normal activities like going to work and to school, and when puttering in the yard or walking the dog. Taking simple, painless steps to help protect ourselves and our children now can make a huge difference later in life.


 

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!

Achy Knees? Joint Pain? What You Need To Know About Arthritis

 

Maybe it starts with stiffness in the morning when you wake up, or you notice your hands are aching as the weather turns colder. Knees giving you some trouble, or your shoulder hurting when you lift heavy bags or objects? Age catches up to all of us eventually, but if you’re experiencing stiffness or swelling in your hands and joints, and a decreased range of motion you may be suffering from common arthritis symptoms.

If so, you’re in good company: More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older.

Common arthritis joint symptoms can come and go. They can be mild, moderate, or severe. They may stay about the same for years, or may progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities, and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs. Arthritis also can cause permanent joint changes. These changes may be visible, such as knobby finger joints, but often the damage can only be seen on X-rays. Some types of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys, and skin as well as the joints.

Arthritis is not a single disease — it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. People of all ages, sexes and races can and do have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America.

Every year, arthritis and related conditions account for:

  • More than $156 billion annually in lost wages and medical expenses
  • More than 100 million outpatient visits
  • An estimated 6.7 million hospitalizations

There are different types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. When cartilage – the slick, cushioning surface on the ends of bones – wears away, bone rubs against bone, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.  Over time, joints can lose strength and pain may become chronic. Risk factors include excess weight, family history, age, and previous injury.

Arthritis can also be degenerative. A healthy immune system helps protect us. It generates internal inflammation to get rid of infection and prevent disease. But the immune system can mistakenly attack the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, potentially causing joint erosion, and may damage internal organs, eyes, and other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are examples of inflammatory arthritis. Researchers believe that a combination of genetics and environmental factors can trigger autoimmunity. Smoking is an example of an environmental risk factor that can trigger rheumatoid arthritis in people with certain genes.

With autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is critical. Slowing disease activity can help minimize or even prevent permanent joint damage. Remission is the goal and may be achieved through the use of one or more medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further joint damage.

Other types of arthritis include infectious and metabolic. A bacterium, virus, or fungus can enter the joint and trigger inflammation. Examples of organisms that can infect joints are salmonella and shigella (food poisoning or contamination), chlamydia and gonorrhea (sexually transmitted diseases) and hepatitis C (a blood-to-blood infection, often through shared needles or transfusions). In many cases, timely treatment with antibiotics may clear the joint infection, but sometimes the arthritis becomes chronic.

With metabolic arthritis, uric acid is formed as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in human cells and in many foods. Some people have high levels of uric acid because they naturally produce more than is needed or the body can’t get rid of the uric acid quickly enough. In some people, the uric acid builds up and forms needle-like crystals in the joint, resulting in sudden spikes of extreme joint pain, or a gout attack. Gout can come and go in episodes or, if uric acid levels aren’t reduced, it can become chronic, causing ongoing pain and disability.

Diagnosing and controlling arthritis

Arthritis diagnosis often begins with a primary care physician, who performs a physical exam and may do blood tests and imaging scans to help determine the type of arthritis. An arthritis specialist, or rheumatologist, should be involved if the diagnosis is uncertain or if the arthritis may be inflammatory. Rheumatologists typically manage ongoing treatment for inflammatory arthritis, gout, and other complicated cases. Orthopaedic surgeons do joint surgery, including joint replacements. When the arthritis affects other body systems or parts, other specialists, such as ophthalmologists, dermatologists or dentists, may also be included in the health care team.

When the joint symptoms of osteoarthritis are mild or moderate, they can be managed by:

  • Balancing activity with rest
  • Using hot and cold therapies
  • Regular physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Strengthening the muscles around the joint for added support
  • Using assistive devices
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Avoiding excessive repetitive movements

If joint symptoms are severe, causing limited mobility and affecting quality of life, management strategies may be helpful, but joint replacement may be necessary. Osteoarthritis that isn’t genetic may be reduced or prevented by staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding injury and repetitive movements. As a general prescription, focusing on healthy eating and exercise remains the best course for limiting the onset of arthritis and for helping you control symptoms now or down the road.


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!

Living Life on the Sunny Side of the Street

When people are acting negatively – critical about themselves and others, pessimistic, always seeing the darker side of things, constantly questioning motives, always assuming the worst – it wears on the people around them and on them, as well.  Negative people get sick more often and take longer to recover, while optimistic people tend to be less sick and more resilient.

Research indicates that psychological factors influence cardiovascular disease, morbidity, and mortality. Persistent negative behavior such as depression, anxiety or anger, and cynical, hostile attitudes toward others have been linked as early indicators of future heart disease. On the other hand, dispositional optimism or the general feeling that good things rather than bad will resolve a difficult situation or generally prevail in the future, have been associated with reduced risk of mortality.

Published last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found a definitive association between a positive sense of well-being and better health. This study used data from 70,021 women who were part of a long-running nurses’ health study. It gauged their level of optimism through a questionnaire originally conducted in 2004. The average age of respondents was 70 years old.

Then the researchers tracked deaths among the women from 2006 to 2012. They found that after controlling for factors including age, race, educational level, and marital status, the women who were most optimistic were 29% less likely to die during the six-year study follow-up than the least optimistic. That reduced risk was seen in cancer (16% lower), heart disease (38%), stroke (39%), respiratory disease (37%), and infection (52%).

When the researchers ran additional analyses controlling for existing health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer, the risk of dying was 27% lower among the most optimistic women. When controlling for health behaviors like smoking and exercise, 14% lower. And when controlling for all those factors, the risk of dying was still 9% lower among the most optimistic women.

People who are more optimistic tend to have healthier behaviors when it comes to diet, exercise, and tobacco use. It’s also possible that more optimistic people cope better, create contingency plans, plan for future challenges, and accept what can’t be changed. This optimism may have a direct impact on improved immune function or lower levels of inflammation.

In another study, doctors evaluated 309 middle-aged patients who were scheduled to undergo coronary artery bypass surgery. In addition to a complete pre-operative physical exam, each patient underwent a psychological evaluation designed to measure optimism, depression, neuroticism, and self-esteem. The researchers tracked all the patients for six months after surgery. When they analyzed the data, they found that optimists were only half as likely as pessimists to require re-hospitalization. In a similar study of 298 angioplasty patients, optimism was also protective; over a six-month period, pessimists were three times more likely than optimists to have heart attacks or require repeat angioplasties or bypass operations.

And finally, an American study of 2,564 men and women who were 65 and older also found that optimism is good for blood pressure. People with positive emotions had lower blood pressures than those with a negative outlook. On average, the people with the most positive emotions had the lowest blood pressures.

Can we learn to be positive?

So if having a positive attitude can help reduce illness and prolong life, why aren’t we all happy, and what might we do to become less pessimistic and negative? The first question is the harder to answer. We are complex psychological beings, products of our upbringing, genetics, hardships, and positive and negative experiences. We’ve been shaped and influenced by many people and situations, and we learned good and bad behaviors through the years by observation and reaction, and as protection.

But there are things we can do to help move ourselves into a more positive, optimistic mindset.

For example:

  • Notice negativity. Listen to what you and others say and how negative it is. Track your own thoughts on a daily basis and notice the negative assumptions and conclusions that you draw, because identifying our own negativity is essential to change.
  • When you find yourself saying something negative, think of something positive to say.
  • Search for positive aspects of situations. Most situations can be seen in both a positive and negative light. You just have to find the positive one and keep reminding yourself of it in order to eventually believe it.
  • Think of someone you know who has a positive outlook on life and ask yourself what that person would do or think in particular situations. Then try to think that way too.
  • Give others positive feedback. Even if someone has done something poorly, there has to be some aspect of it that is good. If you can find this, your view will be more positive and the other person may feel encouraged to continue.
  • Give yourself positive feedback and notice when you discount or minimize your successes. Pessimists feel uncomfortable with good things and often fear disappointing others by acknowledging their own strengths. Learn to just say thank you if someone (including yourself) gives you positive feedback.
  • Identify why you feel negative. Does it provide protection against disappointment? Does it help you not to get hurt? Do you think that it helps you to plan for possible challenges? We often think that pessimism and worry are helpful but this is not true. We can learn to handle disappointment, hurt, and challenges if we were not bogged down by anxiety and negativity.
  • Take the risk of being positive and see how it feels. It takes a long time to learn negativity and will take a while to learn optimism.

Positive thinking and being will help you lead a longer, healthier life. It may take practice, but what do you have to lose, other than the negative attitude?


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!