Spread the word, not the germs

In today’s world, we’re well aware of many deadly viruses, thanks to media, anxious friends and the Internet. This past year Ebola raged in Eastern Africa and even made it to American shores. We’re bombarded almost daily by scary stories about strains of Avian, Swine and Bird flus. And closer to home, many of us are still infected by common contagious culprits such as influenza, measles, chickenpox, tuberculosis and even Whooping Cough.

Many infectious diseases can be largely prevented by vaccines. Frequent and thorough hand-washing also helps protect you from infectious diseases. The easiest way to catch most infectious diseases is by coming in contact with a person or animal that has the infection. Three ways infectious diseases can be spread through direct contact are:

  • Person to person. A common way for infectious diseases to spread is through the direct transfer of bacteria, viruses or other germs from one person to another. This can occur when an individual with the bacterium or virus touches, coughs on or kisses someone who isn’t infected. These germs can also spread through food handling, the exchange of body fluids from sexual contact or a blood transfusion. The person who passes the germ may have no symptoms of the disease, but may simply be a carrier.
  • Animal to person. Being bitten or scratched by an infected animal — even a pet — can make you sick and, in extreme circumstances, can be fatal. Handling animal waste can be hazardous, too. For example, you can acquire a toxoplasmosis infection by scooping your cat’s litter box.
  • Mother to unborn child. A pregnant woman may pass germs that cause infectious diseases to her unborn baby. Some germs can pass through the placenta. Germs in the vagina can be transmitted to the baby during birth.

Disease-causing organisms also can be passed by indirect contact. Many germs can linger on an inanimate object, such as a tabletop, doorknob or faucet handle. When you touch a doorknob handled by someone ill with the flu or a cold, for example, you can pick up the germs he or she left behind. If you then touch your eyes, mouth or nose before washing your hands, you may become infected.

Some germs rely on insect carriers — such as mosquitoes, fleas, lice or ticks — to move from host to host. These carriers are known as vectors. Mosquitoes can carry the malaria parasite or West Nile virus, and deer ticks may carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

Another way disease-causing germs can infect you is through contaminated food and water. This transmission mechanism allows germs to be spread to many people through a single source. E. coli, for example, is a bacterium present in or on certain foods — such as undercooked hamburger or unpasteurized fruit juice. E. coli makes people violently stomach sick and dehydrated, and may require hospitalization.

In Connecticut, cases of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) have reemerged in the western part of the State, due largely to parents who choose to not vaccinate their children. Tuberculosis (TB) also remains stubbornly entrenched in Connecticut.

Understanding TB

Tuberculosis is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes.

Once rare in developed countries, tuberculosis infections began increasing in 1985, partly because of the emergence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens a person’s immune system so it can’t fight the TB germs. In the United States, because of stronger control programs, tuberculosis began to decrease again in 1993, but remains a concern and fairly active in most major cities.

Many strains of tuberculosis resist the drugs most used to treat the disease. People with active tuberculosis must take several types of medications for many months to eradicate the infection and prevent development of antibiotic resistance.

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that spread from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air. This can happen when someone with the untreated, active form of tuberculosis coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs or sings.

Although tuberculosis is contagious, it’s not easy to catch. You’re much more likely to get tuberculosis from someone you live with or work with than from a stranger. Most people with active TB who’ve had appropriate drug treatment for at least two weeks are no longer contagious.

Don’t buy into the myths about vaccines

Earlier this year, hundreds of people contracted measles. “Ground zero,” it turned out, was Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. While there were only 50 reported measles infections in the United States in 2009, there had already been 288 cases in the country this year before the end of May 2015. Most of those cases have been linked to the unvaccinated; a recent study found “substandard vaccination” to have been the cause of the massive measles outbreak at Disneyland.

This month, California passed a mandatory vaccination law requiring children to be fully vaccinated before attending public school or a licensed pre-school program. Vaccinating children poses nearly no risk to their health; choosing not to vaccinate not only puts the child in harm’s way, but also endangers other immunocompromised persons — pregnant women, the elderly, and those who’ve had cancer or organ transplants — that un-vaccinated children come into contact with.

Additionally, adults should verify their own vaccination history. Disease resistance can deteriorate over many years, but your physician can easily search for active antibodies through a simple blood test, and revaccinate you as an adult. This is especially important if you work in healthcare, plan to travel internationally or will be living in communal spaces like college dormitories.

Other than a minuscule population who avoid vaccinations based on religious grounds, most non-conforming parents or individuals worry about contracting autism or other diseases from vaccinations. There are absolutely no scientific or medical grounds for that myth. However, an ingredient commonly found in some vaccinations — thimerosal — does contain trace amounts of mercury. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these extremely low doses of thimerosal pose no risk to humans, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site.

While not dangerous, thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines anyway. In fact, there is no thimerosal present in the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella — and there never was.

Follow these tips to decrease your risk of infecting yourself or others:

  • Wash your hands. This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet. And try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands, as that’s a common way germs enter the body.
  • Get vaccinated. Immunization can drastically reduce your chances of contracting or spreading many diseases. Make sure to keep up to date on your recommended vaccinations, as well as your children’s.
  • Stay home. Don’t go to work if you are vomiting, have diarrhea or are running a fever. Don’t send your child to school if he or she has these signs and symptoms, either.
  • Prepare food safely. Keep counters and other kitchen surfaces clean when preparing meals. Cook foods to the proper temperature using a food thermometer to check for doneness. For ground meats, that means at least 160 F (71 C), for poultry, 165 F (74 C), and for most other meat, at least 145 F (63 C). In addition, promptly refrigerate leftovers — don’t let cooked foods remain at room temperature for extended periods of time.
  • Practice safe sex. Always use condoms if you or your partner has a history of sexually transmitted infections or high-risk behavior.
  • Don’t share personal items. Use your own toothbrush, comb and razor. Avoid sharing drinking glasses or dining utensils.
  • Travel wisely. If you’re traveling out of the country, talk to your doctor about any special vaccinations you may need or foods to avoid.

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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 thyroid connection

The thyroid gland is a vitally important hormonal gland that plays an essential role in metabolism, growth and maturation of the human body. The thyroid constantly releases hormones into the blood, helping to regulate many bodily functions.  Additional hormones are produced when the body needs more energy in certain situations like growth, for regulating body temperature or during pregnancy.

The thyroid is located in the front part of the neck below the voice box and has the shape of a butterfly. When working properly, hormones produced by our thyroid travel through our bloodstream and help cells get energy from the food we eat. Thyroid hormones help regulate our body temperature and blood calcium levels, help with growth and development and, during infancy, strengthen brain development.

For an estimated 27 million Americans, however, the thyroid produces either too much or too little hormone, which causes an array of health symptoms, some severe. But because thyroid disease is often misdiagnosed or simply overlooked, it’s estimated that more than half of affected Americans don’t know they have a problem.

Women are much more likely to have thyroid problems than men, and may have up to a one in five chance of developing thyroid problems during their lifetime. The risk increases with age and family history, as well as having an autoimmune disease or a close relative with one; through radiation exposure; by going through menopause or perimenopause; or following childbirth.

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) accounts for the majority of thyroid disease cases — up to 80 percent according to some estimates. This condition occurs when our body produces too little thyroid hormone, leading to symptoms such as fatigue and general sluggishness; unexplained weight gain or increased sensitivity to cold; pain, stiffness or swelling in joints; muscle aches and weakness; heavy menstrual periods; depression; brittle hair and nails; and elevated blood cholesterol.

If left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to obesity, joint pain, infertility, goiter (thyroid enlargement) and heart disease, but because the symptoms can mimic other diseases, or even be attributed to aging, many people do not realize the thyroid connection. Further, the symptoms may be mild at first, becoming increasingly severe only after a number of years, making them easy to overlook.

A blood test that measures our levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is typically used to diagnose hypothyroidism, and treatment usually involves taking a synthetic or natural thyroid hormone daily.

In contrast, hyperthyroidism results from an overactive thyroid. Symptoms include weight loss; nervousness, anxiety and irritability; increased perspiration; racing heart, hand tremors; difficulty sleeping; increased bowel movements; and muscle weakness, especially in the upper arms or thighs.

A TSH blood test can typically diagnose hyperthyroidism, and the condition is usually treated with anti-thyroid drugs that block the gland’s ability to produce thyroid hormone. Other treatments include surgery, or radioactive iodine, which destroys overactive thyroid cells.

Supplementing thyroid health

As with virtually every bodily function, our diet plays a role in the health of our thyroid. There are some specific nutrients that the thyroid depends on and it’s important to include them in our diet:

  • Iodine: Our thyroid contains the only cells in our body that absorb iodine, which it uses to make critical hormones. Without sufficient iodine, your thyroid cannot produce adequate hormones to help your body function on an optimal level. Iodine deficiency is not that common in the United States because of the prevalent use of iodized salt. However, according to the CDC, up to 36 percent of women of childbearing age may not get enough iodine from their diets, and it’s thought that iodine deficiency is on a slow but steady rise.
    Because iodized salt is heavily processed, physicians sometimes recommend avoiding iodized salt and instead getting iodine naturally from sea vegetables (seaweed), such as hijiki, wakame, arame, dulse, nori, and kombu. Too much iodine can actually trigger thyroid problems and worsen symptoms, so it’s important to have a healthy balance.
  • Selenium: This mineral is critical for the proper functioning of our thyroid gland, and is used to produce and regulate an important hormone. Selenium can be found in foods such as shrimp, snapper, tuna, cod, halibut, calf’s liver, button and shitake mushrooms and Brazil nuts.
  • Zinc, Iron and Copper: These metals are needed in trace amounts for healthy thyroid function. Low levels of zinc have been linked to low levels of TSH, and iron deficiency has been linked to decreased thyroid efficiency. Copper is also necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. Foods such as calf’s liver, spinach, mushrooms, turnip greens and Swiss chard can help provide these trace metals in our diet.
  • Omega-3 Fats: These essential fats, which are found in fish or fish oil, play an important role in thyroid function, and many help our cells become sensitive to thyroid hormone.
  • Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is made up of mostly medium-chain fatty acids, which may help to increase metabolism and promote weight loss, along with providing other thyroid benefits. This is especially beneficial for those with hypothyroidism.
  • Antioxidants and B Vitamins: The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E can help our body neutralize oxidative stress that may damage the thyroid. In addition, B vitamins help to manufacture thyroid hormone and play an important role in healthy thyroid function.

Finally, there are certain foods that should be avoided to protect our thyroid function. These include:

Aspartame
: There is concern that the artificial sweetener aspartame, sold under the brand name Nutrasweet, may trigger Graves’ disease and other autoimmune disorders in some people. The chemical may trigger an immune reaction that causes thyroid inflammation and thyroid autoantibody production.

Non-fermented Soy: Soy is high in isoflavones, which are goitrogens, or foods that interfere with the function of our thyroid gland. Soy, including soybean oil, soy milk, soy burgers, tofu and other processed soy foods, may lead to decreased thyroid function. Fermented soy products, including miso, natto, tempeh and traditionally brewed soy sauce are safe to eat, as the fermentation process reduces the goitrogenic activity of the isoflavones.

Gluten: Gluten is a potential goitrogen and can also trigger autoimmune reactions in people who are sensitive. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley, along with most processed foods.

The isothiocyanates found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are goitrogens as well.

While it’s true that large amounts of these vegetables, eaten raw, could interfere with thyroid function, they offer many other health benefits that make the benefits outweigh the risks for most people. If you know you have thyroid disease and want to be especially careful, steaming these vegetables will negate the goitrogenic effect, making them a healthy addition to your diet.

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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!

Oh my aching head

The changing seasons bring a lot of headaches as we dodge and weave our way through the holidays, overcrowded stores, and jammed parking lots. But families, shopping and money issues aside, millions of Americans suffer from the kind of debilitating headaches that aren’t just caused by annoying relatives and obnoxious shoppers.

Headaches tend to be hereditary — four out of five headache sufferers report family histories. Other common elements that can cause or worsen headache symptoms include weather and stress, a variety of foods and medications, fatigue, lack of exercise, skipping meals, and consuming alcohol, caffeine and tobacco products.

Most headaches are tension headaches. These headaches tend to happen again and again, especially if you are under stress. They are not usually a sign of something serious. But they can be very painful and hard to live with, and can last from 30 minutes to several days.

If you have a headache on 15 or more days each month over a three-month period, you may have chronic tension headaches. This type of headache can lead to stress and depression, which in turn can lead to more headaches. It often is caused by changes in brain chemicals. About four out of every 100 people in the United States get chronic tension headaches. Symptoms can start in childhood, but they are more likely to occur during middle age.

Tension headaches are one of the most common types of headaches. They can be triggered by things such as stress, depression, hunger, and muscle strain. Tension headaches may come on suddenly or slowly. Symptoms of tension headaches include constant pain or pressure on both sides of your head, and aching pain at your temples or the back of your head and neck.

This is different from migraine headaches, which usually cause throbbing pain and start on one side of your head. Pain from a tension headache is usually not severe and does not get in the way of your work or social life. But for some people, the pain is very bad or lasts a long time, and the headaches tend to come back, especially when you are under stress.

Changing weather stimulates headaches

Experts believe that people who get frequent headaches have a greater sensitivity to changes in the environment. They also have a lower threshold to the pain response, which may be an inherited sensitivity.

In a recent survey by the National Headache Foundation, three out of every four respondents said that weather triggered their headache pain. Specific weather triggers include changes in humidity and temperature, storms, and extremely dry or dusty conditions.

Many of these conditions cause or contribute to sinus headaches, as well as migraines.  Typical sinus headache symptoms include pain and pressure around the sinuses in the forehead, especially behind and between the eyes, and above the nose. These areas may be tender to the touch.

However, if headache pain is your only symptom, you probably don’t have a sinus headache. A sinus headache is usually accompanied by nasal stuffiness or discharge, cough and sore throat, and fatigue. Sinus conditions can be treated through pain medications, and by prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants.

Migraines — the mother of all headaches

Most people with migraines have common migraines. This type of migraine causes a throbbing pain on one side of the head. The pain is moderate to severe and gets worse with normal physical activity. You also may have nausea and vomiting and may feel worse around light and sound. The headache lasts four to 72 hours if it is not treated.

Some people with classic migraines get an aura up to 30 minutes before they have a migraine. Symptoms of the aura include seeing wavy lines, flashing lights, or objects that look distorted. Other symptoms include tingling or a “pins-and-needles” feeling. Also, many women have migraines around their menstrual cycle. These occur a few days before, during, or right after their period. The symptoms are the same as those of common or classic migraines.

A variety of foods and beverages can trigger migraines. These include foods that are aged, such as cheeses, meats and wines. Also, processed foods often contain a variety of food additives such as nitrates and nitrites which dilate blood vessels. Additionally, while consumption of alcohol actually increases blood flow to your brain, the metabolic process for breaking down alcohol releases chemicals which contribute to headaches.

Solutions for dealing with a severe headache

Anyone suffering from regular or chronic headaches should see their physician. There are a variety of prescription medications available that can be taken at the first signs of onset, limiting duration and intensity. There also are steps you can take to help deal more effectively with headaches, or to prevent them from escalating. These include:

  • Seek a calm environment. At the first sign of a migraine or pressure headache, retreat from your usual activities, if possible.
  • Turn off the lights. Migraines often increase sensitivity to light and sound. Relax in a dark, quiet room. Sleep if you can.
  • Try temperature therapy. Apply hot or cold compresses to your head or neck. Ice packs have a numbing effect, which may dull the sensation of pain. Hot packs and heating pads can relax tense muscles; warm showers or baths may have a similar effect.
  • Use proper medications. Many medications contain elements that actually can make your headache worse. There are a variety of medicines that are effective for treating pain and headache symptoms, but always talk with your physician or pharmacist before self-medicating.
  • Massage painful areas. Apply gentle pressure to your scalp or temples. Alleviate muscle tension with a shoulder or neck massage.
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage. In small amounts, caffeine can relieve migraine pain in the early stages or enhance the pain-reducing effects of acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and aspirin. Be careful, however. Drinking too much caffeine too often can lead to withdrawal headaches later on.
  • Unwind at the end of the day. Listen to soothing music, soak in a warm bath or read a favorite book. But watch what you eat and drink before bedtime. Intense exercise, heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can interfere with sleep.
  • Sleep well. Migraines and pressure headaches may keep you from falling asleep or wake you up at night. Likewise, many headaches are often triggered by a poor night’s sleep. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, and if you nap, take short naps (under 30 minutes) that won’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
  • Exercise regularly. During physical activity, your body releases certain chemicals that block pain signals to your brain. These chemicals also help alleviate anxiety and depression, which can make migraines worse. If your doctor agrees, choose any exercise you enjoy. Walking, swimming and cycling are often good choices. But it’s important to start slowly. Exercising too vigorously can trigger migraines.

Finally, doctors recommend keeping a headache diary, which may help you determine what triggers your headaches. Note when the pain or symptoms start, what you were doing at the time, how long they last and what, if anything, provides relief. Eventually you may be able to prevent migraines or other headaches by changing patterns in your daily life.

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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!

Understanding the Misunderstood Thyroid

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in your lower neck. It has enormous responsibility for the body’s metabolic processes. Specifically, it releases two primary hormones — triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) — that control metabolism.

When working properly, the T3 and T4 hormones travel through our bloodstream and help cells get energy from the food we eat. Thyroid hormones are also responsible for helping to regulate our body temperature and blood calcium levels, helping with growth and development and, during infancy, brain development.

For an estimated 27 million Americans, however, the thyroid produces either too much or too little hormone, which causes an array of health symptoms, some severe. But because thyroid disease is often misdiagnosed or simply overlooked, it’s estimated that more than half of affected Americans don’t know they have a problem.

Women are much more likely to have thyroid problems than men, and may have up to a one in five chance of developing thyroid problems during their lifetime. The risk increases with age and family history, as well as having an autoimmune disease or a close relative with one; through radiation exposure; by going through menopause or perimenopause; or following childbirth.

Understanding common thyroid disease

Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) accounts for the majority of thyroid disease cases. This condition occurs when our body produces too little thyroid hormone, leading to symptoms such as

  • Fatigue and general sluggishness
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in joints
  • Achy muscles and muscle weakness
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Depression
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Puffy face
  • Brittle hair and nails

If left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to obesity, joint pain, infertility, goiter (thyroid enlargement) and heart disease, but because the symptoms can mimic other diseases, or even be attributed to aging, many people do not realize the thyroid connection. Further, the symptoms may be mild at first, becoming increasingly severe only after a number of years, making them easy to overlook.

In the United States, hypothyroidism is most often the result of an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which causes our immune system to attack and destroy the thyroid. It’s thought that a virus, bacteria, genetics or a combination of environmental factors may contribute to Hashimoto’s. Worldwide, however, hypothyroidism is most often caused by an iodine-deficient diet.

Other less common causes of hypothyroidism include radiation therapy used to treat head and neck cancers, thyroid surgery, certain medications, pregnancy, pituitary gland disorder, or congenital issues. A blood test that measures our levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is typically used to diagnose hypothyroidism, and treatment usually involves taking a synthetic or natural thyroid hormone daily.

With hyperthyroidism, our body produces too much thyroid hormone, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
  • Increased perspiration
  • Racing heart
  • Hand tremors
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased bowel movements
  • Fine, brittle hair
  • Muscle weakness, especially in the upper arms or thighs

Most often, hyperthyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder called Graves’ disease, in which our immune system produces antibodies that stimulate our thyroid, causing it to produce too much T4 hormone. The exact cause of Graves’ disease is unknown, however it’s suspected that severe emotional stress may trigger the illness in some people. Family history may also be a factor.

A TSH blood test can typically diagnose hyperthyroidism, and the condition is usually treated with anti-thyroid drugs that block the gland’s ability to produce thyroid hormone, surgery, or radioactive iodine, which destroys overactive thyroid cells.

What to eat for improved thyroid health

As with virtually every bodily function, our diet plays a role in the health of our thyroid. There are some specific nutrients that our thyroid depends on and it’s important to include them in our diet:

Iodine: Our thyroid contains the only cells in our body that absorb iodine, which it uses to make the T3 and T4 hormones. Without sufficient iodine, our thyroid cannot produce adequate hormones to help our body function on an optimal level.

Iodine deficiency is typically not widespread in the United States because of the prevalent use of iodized salt. However, according to a nutrition evaluation conducted by the CDC, up to 36 percent of women of childbearing age may not get enough iodine from their diets, and it’s thought that iodine deficiency is on a slow but steady rise.

Because iodized salt is heavily processed, some recommend avoiding iodized salt and instead getting iodine naturally from sea vegetables (seaweed), such as hijiki, wakame, arame, dulse, nori, and kombu. Too much iodine can actually trigger thyroid problems and worsen symptoms, so it’s important to have a healthy balance.

Selenium: This mineral is critical for the proper functioning of our thyroid gland, and is used to produce and regulate the T3 hormone. Selenium can be found in foods such as shrimp, snapper, tuna, cod, halibut, calf’s liver, button and shitake mushrooms and Brazil nuts.

Zinc, Iron and Copper: These metals are needed in trace amounts for healthy thyroid function. Low levels of zinc have been linked to low levels of TSH, whereas iron deficiency has been linked to decreased thyroid efficiency. Copper is also necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. Foods such as calf’s liver, spinach, mushrooms, turnip greens and Swiss chard can help provide these trace metals in your diet.

Omega-3 Fats: These essential fats, which are found in fish or fish oil, play an important role in thyroid function, and many help our cells become sensitive to thyroid hormone.

Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is made up of mostly medium-chain fatty acids, which may help to increase metabolism and promote weight loss, along with providing other thyroid benefits. This is especially beneficial for those with hypothyroidism.

Antioxidants and B Vitamins: The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E can help our body neutralize oxidative stress that may damage the thyroid. In addition, B vitamins help to manufacture thyroid hormone and play an important role in healthy thyroid function.

There are certain foods that should be avoided to protect thyroid function. These include:

Aspartame: There is concern that the artificial sweetener aspartame, sold under the brand name Nutrasweet, may trigger Graves’ disease and other autoimmune disorders in some people. The chemical may trigger an immune reaction that causes thyroid inflammation and thyroid autoantibody production.

Non-fermented soy: Soy is high in isoflavones, which are goitrogens, or foods that interfere with the function of your thyroid gland. Soy, including soybean oil, soy milk, soy burgers, tofu and other processed soy foods, may lead to decreased thyroid function. Fermented soy products, including miso, natto, tempeh and traditionally brewed soy sauce, are safe to eat, as the fermentation process reduces the goitrogenic activity of the isoflavones.

Gluten: Gluten is a potential goitrogen and can also trigger autoimmune responses (including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) in people who are sensitive. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley, along with most processed foods.

The isothiocyanates found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are goitrogens as well. While it’s true that large amounts could interfere with thyroid function, especially if eaten raw, these veggies offer a myriad of other health benefits that make the benefits outweigh the risks for most people. If you know you have thyroid disease and want to be especially careful, steaming these vegetables will negate the goitrogenic effect, making them a healthy addition to your diet.

If you suspect you have thyroid disease, you should visit your health care practitioner for a full thyroid hormone panel. In fact, even if you don’t suspect you have a problem it’s a good idea to get tested as part of your regular checkups.

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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!

Colon Health: Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

Over 100,000 new cases of colon (colorectal) cancer occur in the United States every year. Colon cancer is most prevalent in Westernized societies, where diets are higher in animal products and processed foods and lower in unrefined plant foods. 

Studies suggest that diet is a key contributor to colon cancer risk. The cells lining the intestinal tract come into direct contact with what we choose to eat – the substances contained in our food can have profound effects on these cells and tissues. The protective value of fruits and vegetables has been established by several studies following subjects for years, keeping track of dietary patterns and colon cancer diagnoses. So what you choose to eat can help prevent colon cancer, especially if your diet includes more vegetables and fruits and less refined and processed foods.

Prevention starts with screening and awareness

March is colorectal cancer awareness month and the perfect time to become familiar with risk factors and prevention. Risk factors include the following:

  • Age 50 or older
  • A family history of cancer of the colon or rectum
  • A personal history of cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium, or breast
  • History of polyps in the colon
  • A history of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine) or Crohn’s disease
  • Eating a diet high in fat (especially from red meat)
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use

The prognosis and chance of recovery following a colon cancer diagnosis depends on several items, including the stage of the cancer when discovered, damage it may have already caused, blood chemistry and a patient’s general health. If you experience any stomach discomfort, bleeding in your stool, or sudden weight loss, contact your physician immediately.

Beginning at age 50 (age 45 for African Americans), both men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should receive a screening test. These tests are designed to find both early cancer and polyps. There are simple blood and stool tests, and surgical testing such as colonoscopies can be done virtually (using diagnostic imagery) or surgically. Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you.

What you eat – or don’t eat – can hurt you

People once thought that there was little that they could do to protect themselves against cancer. But we’ve learned more about how the disease develops and what biological and environmental factors increase cancer risk. We now have better weapons for fighting the disease, including more options for diagnosis and treatment, improved therapies and new technologies for early detection.

Most important, we can take steps to protect ourselves against cancer.  Everyone can lower their overall cancer risk by being active and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables

Nutritious foods are very rich in fiber, and disease-causing foods are generally fiber-deficient. Several food components that may modulate colon cancer risk have been identified: Fiber, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and certain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals all play a partial role.  Red meat and processed meats are the most cancer causing, but all meats and dairy products do not contain any fiber, and are also lacking in anti-oxidants and phytochemicals. Foods made from refined grains (such as white bread, white rice, and pasta) are also not only fiber deficient but void of micronutrients and phytochemicals as well – these foods are also associated with colon and rectal cancers.

So in summation, our food choices at each meal influence our future health. Research suggests that up to 35 percent of cancers are related to poor diet. Choosing a diet rich in nutrient-dense plant foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds is a simple step we can take to protect ourselves against colon cancer. And by remaining active and exercising regularly, we can reduce our risk of cancer and other health problems.

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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!

Our Kidneys Are Important; Take Care of Them

We have two kidneys. They are fist-sized and located in the middle of our back, on the left and right sides of our spine. The kidneys filter our blood, removing wastes and extra water to make urine. They also help control blood pressure and make hormones that our body needs to stay healthy.

When the kidneys are damaged, they can’t filter waste effectively, which then can build up in the body. For most people, kidney damage occurs slowly over many years, often due to diabetes or high blood pressure. This is called chronic kidney disease. When someone has a sudden change in kidney function — because of illness, or injury, or have taken certain medications — this is called acute kidney injury. This can occur in a person with normal kidneys or in someone who already has kidney problems.

Kidney disease is a growing problem. More than 20 million Americans may have kidney disease and many more are at risk. Anyone can develop kidney disease, regardless of age or race. April is National Kidney Month, and a good opportunity to think about improving your diet to prevent damage to your kidneys and a whole host of other nutrition-related health issues. The main risk factors for developing kidney disease include diabetes, high-blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and a family history of kidney failure.

Early kidney disease has no signs or symptoms. You may not feel any different until your kidney disease is very advanced. Blood and urine tests are the only way to know if you have kidney disease. A blood test checks your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which tells how well your kidneys are filtering. A urine test checks for protein in your urine.

The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help delay or prevent kidney failure. Treatment may include taking medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs to manage high blood pressure and keep your kidneys healthier longer. Treating kidney disease may also help prevent heart disease.

Lose your salt shaker

What you eat and drink can help prevent or slow down chronic kidney disease. Some foods are better for your kidneys than others. Cooking and preparing your food from scratch can help you eat healthier.

The first steps to eating right involve choosing and preparing foods with less salt and sodium. To help control your blood pressure, your diet should contain less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day. Here are five simple steps for healthier eating:

Step 1: Buy fresh food more often. Sodium (a part of salt) is added to many packaged foods.

  • Use spices, herbs, and sodium-free seasonings in place of salt
  • Check the Nutrition Facts label on food packages for sodium — Daily Value of 20 percent or more means the food is high in sodium
  • Try lower-sodium versions of frozen dinners and other convenience foods
  • Rinse canned vegetables, beans, meats, and fish with water before eating
  • Look for food labels that say “sodium free, salt free, low sodium, reduced or less sodium, no salt added, unsalted or lightly salted.

Step 2: Eat the right amount and the right types of protein. To help protect your kidneys, eat small portions of higher-protein foods. Protein is found in foods from plants and animals. You can talk to your physician, nutritionist or dietitian about how to choose the right combination for you. Animal-protein foods include chicken, fish, meat, eggs and dairy. Plant-protein foods include beans, nuts and grains.

Step 3: Choose foods that are healthy for your heart. To help keep fat from building up in your blood vessels, heart, and kidneys, grill, broil,  bake, roast, or stir-fry foods, instead of deep frying. Cook with nonstick cooking spray or a small amount of olive oil instead of butter. And trim fat from meat and remove skin from poultry before eating. Heart-healthy foods include:

  • Lean cuts of meat, like loin or round
  • Poultry without the skin
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese

Step 4: Choose foods with less phosphorus. Phosphorus helps protect your bones and blood vessels, but too much isn’t good for us. Many packaged foods have added phosphorus. Look for phosphorus — or for words with “PHOS” — on ingredient labels. Deli meats and some fresh meat and poultry can have added phosphorus. Ask your butcher to help you pick fresh meats without added phosphorus.

Foods lower in phosphorus include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Breads, pasta, rice
  • Rice milk (not enriched)
  • Corn and rice cereals
  • Light-colored sodas/pop

Foods higher in phosphorus include:

  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Bran cereals and oatmeal
  • Dairy foods
  • Beans, lentils, nuts
  • Colas

Step 5: Choose foods that have the right amount of potassium. Potassium helps our nerves and muscles work the right way. Salt substitutes can be very high in potassium, so it’s important to find a balance, since too much salt isn’t good for us, either. Read the ingredient label, and check with your provider about using salt substitutes.

Foods lower in potassium include:

  • Apples, peaches
  • Carrots, green beans
  • White bread and pasta
  • White rice
  • Rice milk (not enriched)
  • Cooked rice and wheat cereals, grits

Foods higher in potassium include:

  • Oranges, bananas
  • Potatoes, tomatoes
  • Brown and wild rice
  • Bran cereals
  • Dairy foods
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta
  • Beans and nuts

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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!

It’s February; When Better to Focus on Our Hearts?

Since we can’t avoid talking about hearts this month, why not shift the focus from affairs of the heart to the health of our hearts? February is American Heart Month, and there’s plenty of time in the new year to adjust our resolutions and lifestyles and make smarter choices aimed at prolonging both the longevity and quality of our lives.

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

There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and secondhand smoke. While some of these problems are hereditary, there’s much we can do to improve our odds of remaining heart healthy and for controlling problems like high blood pressure that we may have inherited.

Smoking or using tobacco is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack. When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes also are risky, as is exposure to secondhand smoke.

In addition, the nicotine in cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder by narrowing your blood vessels and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen. Even so-called “social smoking” — smoking only while at a bar or restaurant with friends — is dangerous and increases the risk of heart disease.

The good news, though, is that when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons we have to fight heart disease. It is the overall pattern of the choices we make that count.  Eating smart, exercise, sleeping well, and stress and weight reduction all play important roles.

Heart-healthy eating isn’t all about cutting back, though. Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease, but also may help prevent cancer.

Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, may decrease your risk of heart attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure. Some fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are a good natural source of omega-3s. Omega-3s are present in smaller amounts in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil and canola oil, and they can also be found in supplements.

When it comes to eating in a healthful way, read nutrition labels and base eating patterns on these recommendations:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin, and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
  • Select fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Select and purchase foods lower in salt/sodium. Processed and frozen meals, soups and pre-packaged entrees are particularly high in sodium.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.

Getting some regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater.

Physical activity helps you control your weight and can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also reduces stress, which may be a factor in heart disease.

So, take a proactive role in protecting your heart through healthy pursuits in everything you eat and do. You’re well worth the investment!

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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!

Better Pulmonary Health is in the Air

Autumn and winter bring special breathing challenges for many Americans. Certain mold spores are more prevalent in the autumn, and many who are susceptible are exposed to them while outdoors walking, working, or raking leaves. Changes in temperature can exacerbate breathing problems for people with asthma or respiratory illness, as can dry heat indoors from central heating systems. Air becomes even drier when homeowners use wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. And the negative effects of smoking tobacco products aggravate health and breathing more intensely for smokers, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses are closed up.

November is National Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month. Pulmonary arteries carry blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Pulmonary hypertension (PH) means there is increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries. As the pressure builds, the heart must work harder to pump blood through the arteries to the lungs, eventually causing the heart muscle to weaken and sometimes fail.

PH can be caused by changes in the arteries which include tightening or stiffening of the artery walls, and blood clots. General signs and symptoms of PH include:

  • Shortness of breath during everyday activity
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Tiredness
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Swelling in legs and ankles
  • Bluish color on lips and skin

Anyone can develop pulmonary hypertension. PH can occur at any age, but it usually develops between the ages of 20 and 60. People who are at increased risk for PH include:

  • People with a family history of the condition
  • People with heart and lung disease, liver disease, HIV, or blood clots in pulmonary arteries
  • People who use certain diet medicines or street drugs

Diagnosing and treating PH

PH can develop very slowly, so it is possible to go years without diagnosis because the disease has no early symptoms. Your healthcare provider will diagnose PH using medical and family histories, a physical exam and other tests to determine the pressure in your pulmonary arteries. These tests may include echocardiography (which creates a picture of your heart), a chest x-ray, an electro-cardiogram (or EKG, which shows how fast your heart is beating) or heart catheterization (which measures pressure in arteries). Exercise testing is used to find out how severe your PH is.

Pulmonary hypertension has no cure, but treatment with medicines to relax the blood vessels in the lungs, procedures such as lung transplants and blood vessel dilation, and various oxygen therapies may help relieve symptoms and slow the progress of the disease.

To manage PH, it is important to follow the treatment plan recommended by your health care provider and to contact your provider if you have new symptoms. Other suggestions include:

  • Check with your healthcare provider before using over-the-counter medicines.
  • Track your weight. If you notice rapid weight change, call your health care provider immediately.
  • Women should talk to their health care provider about using birth control. Pregnancy can be risky for women who have PH.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Participate in physical activity, but talk to your health care provider about types of activity that are safe for you.

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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!

Use Your Brain to Protect Your Heart

When we get tense, angry or stressed, we often complain about our blood pressure rising. For some it may simply be a euphemism for frustration…but for many people, it’s a life-threatening reality. As many as 73 million Americans have high blood pressure. And of the one in every four adults with high blood pressure, 31.6 percent are not aware they have it.

Doctors have long called high blood pressure “the silent killer” because a person can have high blood pressure and never have any symptoms. Many of the same unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (including poor diet and lack of physical exercise) that contribute to high blood pressure also have been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening medical problems such as stroke, heart attack or kidney failure.

High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke because it puts unnecessary stress on blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken and deteriorate, which can eventually lead to a stroke. It can also speed up several common forms of heart disease. When blood vessel walls thicken with increased blood pressure, cholesterol or other fat-like substances may break off of artery walls and block a brain artery. In other instances, the increased stress can weaken blood vessel walls, leading to a vessel breakage and a brain hemorrhage.

When you strive to keep your heart healthy you help keep your brain healthy, too. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle may lower your blood pressure, which reduces your chances of having heart disease or a stroke, and it can also make a big difference in your mental abilities as you age.

It’s not a coincidence that we recognize National Stroke and Blood Pressure Awareness Month in May, which also is National Mental Health Month. The link between stress and increased blood pressure is well documented. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness.

Managing our blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are critical elements we can influence. Our bodies and minds are complicated mechanisms, and all systems are intertwined. We should always be aware of our blood pressure through regular checkups, know the warning signs, and make conscious decisions to take better care of ourselves.

Here are some tips for controlling blood pressure through a healthier lifestyle:

  • Exercise regularly. This includes getting outdoors or to the gym, setting reasonable goals for physical activity, and walking every day, if possible.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Limit intake of red meat and fried foods, sugar and fat, and adapt to a healthier diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and fish.
  • Limit your sodium intake by cutting down on processed foods, soda, and other products with a high salt content.
  • Try to reduce or quit smoking, and limit or eliminate the use of other tobacco products.
  • If you drink alcohol or coffee/caffeine products, practice moderation.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, or if you have a family history of hypertension or heart disease, your physician may recommend medications created to help lower or control blood pressure and related conditions.
  • Be aware of situations and behaviors that cause you stress, and try to address or limit them.

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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!

Preventing Kidney Disease is in Our Blood

Early symptoms and hints about kidney health often get overlooked, even though more than 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease. Kidney damage typically occurs slowly over many years, often due to diabetes or high blood pressure and advancing age. Secondary risks include obesity, autoimmune diseases, urinary tract infections, and systemic infections. Like with most health issues and chronic diseases, awareness and early intervention are critical.

Our kidneys filter extra water and wastes out of our blood, and make urine. Kidneys also help control blood pressure, make red blood cells, help bone health, and create hormones that bodies need to stay healthy. Kidney disease means that the kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood like they should. This damage can cause wastes to build up in the body and also cause other problems that can harm our health.

When it occurs slowly, damage to the kidneys is called chronic kidney disease. When someone has a sudden change in kidney function — because of illness, or injury, or because they have taken certain medications that may have harmed them — this is called acute kidney injury. It can occur in a person with normal kidneys or in someone who already has kidney problems.

Anyone can develop kidney disease, regardless of age or race. The main risk factors for developing kidney disease are:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease
  • A family history of kidney problems

Early detection is very important, especially since you may not feel any different until your kidney disease is very advanced. Blood and urine tests are the only way to know if you have kidney disease. A blood test checks your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which tells how well your kidneys are filtering. A urine test checks for protein in your urine. Both are simple tests your doctor can conduct or coordinate.

The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help delay or prevent kidney failure. Treatment may include taking medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs to manage high blood pressure and keep your kidneys healthier longer. Treating kidney disease may also help prevent heart disease, since people with kidney disease are more likely to have a stroke or heart attack.

Kidney disease usually does not go away. Instead, it may get worse over time and can lead to kidney failure. If the kidneys fail, treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant is necessary.

Here are 10 ways to help keep your kidneys healthy.

  • Exercise regularly or remain physically active as much as possible
  • Don’t overuse over-the-counter painkillers (NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin)
  • Cut back on salt;  read labels carefully and aim for less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day
  • Get an annual physical
  • Control your weight by following a healthful diet, and choose foods that are heart healthy, including fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products
  • Know your family’s medical history
  • Monitor blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol levels
  • Learn about kidney disease
  • Don’t smoke tobacco products or abuse alcohol — both can make kidney damage worse
  • Talk to your doctor about getting tested if you’re at risk for kidney disease

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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!