Preventing Dehydration and Heat Stroke

No matter how many times people hear messages about remaining properly hydrated in the hot weather, it’s easy to forget that heat, sun and even minor outdoor activity can make dangerous companions.

Proper fluid levels are important for ensuring a good flow of oxygen and red blood cells to our muscles and organs. During exercise and activity, we lose valuable nutrients and minerals. These include sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help keep our muscles working properly, reduce fatigue and prevent dehydration.

Under normal conditions, we all lose body water daily through sweat, tears, breathing and going to the bathroom. This water is normally replaced by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water. When a person becomes sick and experiences fever, diarrhea or vomiting, dehydration occurs. It also happens if someone is overexposed to the sun and heat and not drinking enough water. Additionally, it can be caused by certain medicines, such as diuretics, which deplete body fluids and electrolytes.

Even without hot weather, our bodies create a large amount of internal heat. We normally cool ourselves by sweating and radiating heat through the skin. However, in certain circumstances, such as extreme heat, high humidity, or vigorous activity in the hot sun, this cooling system may begin to fail. This allows heat to build up to dangerous levels; it is exacerbated when we don’t replace those fluids, and compounded by the loss of essential body salts. If a person becomes dehydrated and cannot sweat enough to cool his or her body, his or her internal temperature may rise to dangerously high levels. This causes heat stroke, which can be life threatening.

The following are the most common symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke:

  • Thirst
  • Less-frequent urination
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth and mucous membranes
  • Increased heart rate and breathing

In children, additional symptoms may include dry mouth and tongue, no tears when crying, listlessness, irritability and hallucinations.

In cases of mild dehydration, simple rehydration is recommended by drinking fluids. Many sports drinks effectively restore body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance. For moderate dehydration, intravenous (IV) fluids may be needed. If caught early enough, simple rehydration may be effective. Cases of serious dehydration should be treated as a medical emergency, and hospitalization, along with intravenous fluids, is necessary.

How Much Should You Drink?

The rule of thumb should be to drink plenty of liquids before, during and after each activity.

A good guideline to use when preparing for an outdoor workout is to drink about two cups of fluid two hours before the activity. That helps make sure we are well-hydrated before we even go outdoors. Then, during the activity, we should drink four to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes to keep our muscles well-hydrated. If planning an hour-long walk or gym workout, take a water bottle with about 16 ounces (two cups). Then, after exercise, drink again.

Fluids are vital to help our muscles function throughout our activity, but so is our blood sugar. Eat a light meal or snack of at least 100 calories about an hour or so before an activity. The nutrients from the snack will help keep hunger from interfering. The best snacks combine healthy carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. Fruit, yogurt, nuts, and granola bars are all good examples.

For most outdoor activities, regular tap or bottled water does the trick. If activity lasts an hour or more, either fruit juice diluted with water or a sports drink will provide carbohydrates for energy, plus minerals to replace electrolytes lost from sweating.

Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and All Sport can provide a needed energy boost during activity. They are designed to rapidly replace fluids and to increase the sugar (glucose) circulating in our blood. However, read the label to determine which sports drinks are most effective. Ideally, it will provide around 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per eight-ounce serving. The drink’s carbohydrates should come from glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose, rather than from processed sugar or corn syrup. These are more easily and quickly absorbed. It shouldn’t be carbonated, as the bubbles can lead to an upset stomach.

“Fitness waters” are lightly flavored and have added vitamins and minerals. The additional nutrients are meant to supplement a healthy diet — not replace losses from exercise.

Fitness waters fall somewhere between the sports drinks and plain water in terms of being effective hydrators. They contain fewer calories and electrolytes but offer more taste than plain water. Whatever helps keep you hydrated is worth considering — as long as you keep drinking!


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!

Don’t Invite Food Poisoning to Your Summer Fun

As we dive into the barbeque, picnic and camping season, we get to enjoy cooking and eating al fresco – outdoors, under the stars, in parks, at the beach, on decks and in backyards. Americans love grilling, picnics and the seasonal foods that accompany outdoor dining. And if we’re careful with food preparation, handling, storage, heating and cooling, it can be wonderful. But outdoor cooking and eating poses potential hazards from contaminants, bacteria and other nasties resulting from improper storage, handling or heating. Nobody wants a fun summer picnic to end at the emergency room or by paying homage to the porcelain altar, but there are basic rules that will prevent an unhappy ending.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get sick every year from a foodborne illness; 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases — most of them are infections caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. Some harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness, but poor handling, washing, storage and improper cooking techniques typically are the culprits.

The most common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

After you consume a contaminated food or drink, it may take hours or days before you develop symptoms. Most people have only mild illnesses, lasting a few hours or days. However, some people need to be hospitalized, and certain food-related illnesses can result in long-term health problems or even death. Infections transmitted by food can lead to chronic arthritis, brain and nerve damage, and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney failure.

How to Eat Healthy in the Summer

To start, all fresh or packaged fresh vegetables and fruit must be washed before consuming. For expediency, it’s smart to rinse fruits and vegetables before placing them in your picnic basket, since not all outdoor destinations offer clean, fresh water. Keep cold food in a cooler with ice or freezer packs at a temperature of 40 degrees or colder.

Keeping foods at the proper temperature is an important way to prevent the growth of foodborne bacteria. The danger zone for foods is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, which are ideal temperatures for bacteria to multiply and increase your chances of foodborne illness. That’s why perishable cold foods — like potato salad, deviled eggs, and dips and dishes made with dairy or mayonnaise — should be kept in a cooler at 40 degrees or below. Hot foods should be kept hot, preferably at 140 degrees or above. To be safe, throw away any perishable items that have been left out for more than two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is higher than 90 degrees).

Also, when organizing a cooler, make sure meat, poultry and seafood are well wrapped to avoid cross contamination with prepared foods and fruits and vegetables. It’s also a good idea to keep a second cooler for storing beverages so the cooler can be opened and closed more frequently without exposing perishable foods to warmer temperatures.

Practice Safe Grilling

Marinate foods ahead of time in the refrigerator, not on a kitchen counter or outside. Also, don’t reuse platters or serving utensils that have handled raw meat, poultry or seafood. And always check to make sure you’ve cooked food thoroughly — a food thermometer is a handy and advisable tool.

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 can 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.

Here are some tips for reducing exposure to potentially damaging chemicals produced through cooking over an open flame:

  • 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.

This isn’t to rain on our summer picnics — summer eating isn’t harmful if we are aware of the potential for contamination and practice careful and safe preparation, storage and thorough heating.


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!

A Sore Throat with Attitude

Strep throat is a common and highly contagious infection of the throat and tonsils. Bacteria called group A streptococcus, which live in the nose and throat, cause it. Like other infections, it spreads through close contact. You can catch the infection from someone who is sick with strep A bacteria or is a carrier of it. Strep is most common in children and teens, but adults can get it, too. You can still get strep even if you’ve had your tonsils removed, though it’s less common.

When people who are sick cough or sneeze, they release droplets into the air that hold the bacteria. You can infect yourself if you touch something a person with strep has coughed or sneezed upon and then brush your eyes, mouth, or nose with your hand. You can also get sick if you share a glass, toothbrush or other personal item with someone who has strep.

A painful, persistent sore throat is the main sign of strep. Though colds and other viruses also cause a sore throat, a virus will often product a runny nose, too. With strep, the sore throat comes on quickly. Your throat feels raw, and it hurts to swallow.

Strep is also more likely to cause these other symptoms:

  • A fever of 101 F. or higher
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White patches in the throat
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Appetite loss
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Rash

Identifying Strep

There are two types of medical tests for diagnosing strep. The first is a rapid test, where the medical provider takes a swab of the patient’s throat and then uses a testing kit which only take 10 to 20 minutes to indicate if the patient is positive for strep. The other testing method is to gather a traditional throat culture and send it to a medical lab to see if streptococci bacteria will grow in it. This takes a few days. In either case, if the test comes back positive, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic which, if taken faithfully over the course of up to 10 days, will effectively treat strep.

Strep complications are rare today, thanks to better diagnosis and treatment. Yet untreated strep can cause serious diseases, such as sinus or tonsil infections, Rheumatic fever, which can damage the heart, brain, and joints, and a kidney disease called glomerulonephritis. It can also spread infection to the middle ear, develop into meningitis (an infection to the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or turn into pneumonia. Additionally, strep throat presents symptoms, initially, that mimic infectious mononucleosis (“mono”), except mono is viral. S o while most sore throats are related to colds, a sore throat that doesn’t go away quickly or produces strep symptoms should never be ignored.

Ultimately, there isn’t much you can do to avoid catching strep. But there are steps we can take to strengthen our immune systems and help protect ourselves from illnesses. That includes washing hands regularly, avoiding people who are sick, getting plenty of sleep and exercise, and eating a well-balanced diet. Also, if you do contract strep throat, do yourself and others a huge favor and stay home from school, work or shopping for at least 24 hours after starting an antibiotic and until you are fever-free for an additional 24 hours.


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

Recognizing and Preventing Staph Infections

Infections are insidious little buggers. Microscopic germs or bacteria – many already present in our bodies and long dormant – are triggered by immune system weaknesses, poor nutritional health, existing chronic diseases and many other factors, and then run rampant through our bodies. Fortunately, if identified and treated in time with the proper antibiotics, we can limit the damage and return to full health. But infectious diseases are major killers and shouldn’t be ignored or treated lightly.

Here’s a sobering reality:  Of more than 500 known infectious diseases, we lack cures for about 200 of them. One often misunderstood but extremely common type of infection is caused by staphylococcus bacteria, types of germs commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections.

But staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into our bodies, entering the bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections at alarming rates. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and drainage of the infected area. However, some staph infections no longer respond to common antibiotics.

Symptoms 

Staph infections can range from minor skin problems to endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium). As a result, signs and symptoms of staph infections vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the infection.

Many people carry staph bacteria and never develop staph infections. However, if you develop a staph infection, there’s a good chance that it’s from bacteria you’ve been carrying around for some time.

These bacteria can also be transmitted from person to person. Because staph bacteria are so hardy, they can live on inanimate objects such as pillowcases or towels long enough to transfer to the next person who touches them. They also can survive drying, extremes of temperature, stomach acid and high levels of salt.

Many kinds of skin infections are caused by staph bacteria as well. They include boils, impetigo, cellulitis, and staphychoccal scaled skin syndrome. Additionally, staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Symptoms come on quickly, usually within hours of eating a contaminated food. Symptoms usually disappear quickly, too, often lasting just half a day.

A staph infection in food usually doesn’t cause a fever. Signs and symptoms you can expect with this type of staph infection include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure

Risk Factors 

A variety of factors — including the status of your immune system and even the types of sports we play — can increase our risk of developing staph infections. So can underlying health conditions. Certain disorders or the medications used to treat them can make us more susceptible to staph infections. People who may be more likely to get a staph infection include those with:

  • Diabetes who use insulin
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Kidney failure requiring dialysis
  • Weakened immune systems — either from a disease or medications that suppress the immune system
  • Cancer, especially those who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation
  • Skin damage from conditions such as eczema, insect bites or minor trauma that opens the skin
  • Respiratory illness, such as cystic fibrosis or emphysema

Of great concern, staph bacteria remain highly present in hospitals, where they attack the most vulnerable, despite vigorous attempts to eradicate them. They are particularly invasive to people with weakened immune systems, burns and surgical wounds. If staph bacteria invade your bloodstream, you may develop a type of infection that affects your entire body. Called sepsis, this infection can lead to septic shock — a life-threatening episode with extremely low blood pressure.

These commonsense precautions can help lower our risk of developing staph infections:

  • Wash hands.Careful hand-washing is our best defense against germs. Wash hands briskly for at least 20 seconds, then dry them with a disposable towel and use another towel to turn off the faucet. If your hands aren’t visibly dirty, you can use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Keep wounds covered.Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with sterile, dry bandages until they heal. The pus from infected sores often contains staph bacteria, and keeping wounds covered will help keep the bacteria from spreading.
  • Reduce tampon risks.Toxic shock syndrome is caused by staph bacteria. Since tampons left in for long periods can be a breeding ground for staph bacteria, you can reduce your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome by changing your tampon frequently, at least every four to eight hours. Use the lowest absorbency tampon you can and try to alternate tampons with sanitary napkins whenever possible.
  • Keep personal items personal.Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing and athletic equipment. Staph infections can spread on objects, as well as from person to person.
  • Wash clothing and bedding in hot water.Staph bacteria can survive on clothing and bedding that isn’t properly washed. To get bacteria off clothing and sheets, wash them in hot water whenever possible. Also, use bleach on any bleach-safe materials. Drying in the dryer is better than air-drying, but staph bacteria may survive the clothes dryer.
  • Take food safety precautions.Wash your hands before handling food. If food will be out for a while, make sure that hot foods stay hot — above 140 F (60 C) — and that cold foods stay at 40 F (4.4 C) or below. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.

Staph bacteria are very adaptable, and many varieties have become resistant to one or more antibiotics. For example, only about 10 percent of today’s staph infections can be cured with penicillin.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of staph bacteria — often described as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains — has led to the use of IV antibiotics, such as vancomycin, with the potential for more side effects. Your doctor may perform tests to identify the staph bacteria behind your infection, and to help choose the antibiotic that will work best. Antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat staph infections include certain cephalosporins, nafcillin or related antibiotics, sulfa drugs, or vancomycin.

Staph infections spread quickly, and can be contagious, so it’s critical that potential infections get diagnosed by a medical professional immediately. Waiting a day or two can be the difference between life and death, literally.


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

Sunny Side Up for Eggs, Not Skin

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

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

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

Protecting ourselves from unhealthy UV exposure

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

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

Here are some simple tips for using sunscreen effectively:

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

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

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

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

Assessing Health and Wellness Activity

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

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

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

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

Health status:

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

Use of preventive health services:

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

Health behaviors:

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

Who Would Take Home Gold at an Olympic Tea Party?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Is Tea Good for Us?

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Caffeine Is in Tea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Protecting Our Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Cholesterol Works in Our Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should You Be Taking Statins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Catching the Right Kind of Island Fever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other travel-related health risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Reducing Year-end Burnout

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

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

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

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

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

Taking charge

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

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

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


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