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!

Keeping It Clean

We are already neck deep in holiday eating, and the extended forecast calls for seasonal gluttony, gluttony and more gluttony. While eating in moderation is advised, we might as well enjoy ourselves, and start thinking about how we’re going to shed a few pounds, exercise more or generally focus on maintaining or improving our personal health in 2018.

One process that gets a lot of attention is detoxification, or using a “cleansing diet” to rid ourselves of unwelcome compounds. Detoxification is performed naturally, 24/7, utilizing important nutrients from our diet. Our bodies transform molecules, or toxins, that need to be removed from the body. They fall into two main categories: toxins made in the body as byproducts of regular metabolism (endotoxins), and those that come from outside the body and are introduced to the system by eating, drinking, breathing or those absorbed through the skin (exotoxins).

Endotoxins include compounds such as lactic acid, urea and waste products from microbes in the gut. Exotoxins include environmental toxins and pollutants, pesticides, mercury in seafood, lead from car exhaust and air pollution, chemicals in tobacco smoke, dioxin in feminine care products, phthalates from plastic and parabens from lotions and cosmetics.

Detoxification also is the process by which medications are metabolized, then excreted. Because toxins are potentially dangerous to human health, they need to be transformed and excreted from the body through urine, feces, respiration or sweat. Our ability to detoxify varies and is influenced by environment, diet, lifestyle, health status and genetic factors.

But, like many other bodily systems, too much “in” and not enough “out” can throw off our gastrointestinal balance, exceeding the body’s ability to excrete toxins. When this occurs, the toxins may be stored in fat cells, soft tissue and bone, negatively affecting health.

How to detoxify

Detoxification protocol recommends removing processed foods and foods to which some people are sensitive, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, peanuts and red meat. Instead, we should try and eat organically grown vegetables, fruit, whole nonglutenous grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein.

Fasting, which seems a normal reactive response, may actually suppress detoxification pathways in the body. Many health practitioners advise against this practice. Detoxification programs can vary widely and may pose a risk for some people (such as people with multiple maladies, those who take multiple medications and pregnant or breast-feeding women). Whatever you choose to do, it is important to work with a credentialed health professional for guidance and support.

Simple, ongoing detoxification doesn’t require a rigorous plan; doing some or all of the following can support healthy detoxification:

  • Maintain adequate hydration by consuming plenty of clean water.
  • Eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Consume a significant amount of fiber each day from vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
  • Eat cruciferous vegetables, berries, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, turmeric and milk thistle, and drink green tea. These foods support detoxification.
  • Consume adequate protein, which is critical to maintaining optimum levels of glutathione, the body’s master detoxification enzyme.
  • Consider taking a multivitamin/multimineral to fill any gaps in a healthy diet, since certain vitamins and minerals enable the body’s detoxification processes to function.
  • Eat naturally fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, eat yogurt with active enzymes, or take a high-quality probiotic to help the body manage toxins from microbes that live in the gut.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a precursor to glutathione, often is recommended to support the body’s natural detoxification activity.
  • Maintain bowel regularity.

Beware of juicing and cleansing products

Many popular “juice cleansing” or all-liquid diets are available in stores, or touted online, but they aren’t necessarily healthy or safe, or the best path to true wellness.

Juice cleanses often require expensive, prepackaged bottles of pulverized produce blends, or they can be homemade in a juicer or blender. Trendy beverages might contain kale, spinach, green apple, cucumber, celery and lettuce, or a red concoction made with apple, carrot, beets, lemon and ginger. While popular (and containing healthy foods), there’s no scientific research that proves these cleansing diets provide short- or long-term benefits, nor are they a healthy or safe approach to weight loss.

One of the most well-known detox diets instructs people to drink lemon juice and water spiked with maple syrup and cayenne pepper — supposedly this helps the body remove toxins and aid in speedy weight loss. Physicians worry that any 10-day liquid diet, regardless of the combination of liquids you imbibe, could pose serious health risks, especially for people who use it for longer periods of time.

During the first few days of a juice cleanse, a person initially burns their glycogen stores for energy. Using glycogen (the stored form of glucose) pulls a lot of water out of the body, which causes weight loss. But the loss of water weight comes at the expense of a loss of muscle, which is a steep price to pay. Weight loss is not always about the numbers on a scale, it’s also about the ratio of body fat compared to lean muscle mass.

A cleansing diet is low in dietary protein and calories. Having more lean muscle and less body fat means burning more calories and boosting metabolism, in the long run. Additionally, a cleanse could also lead to side effects such as a lack of energy, headaches and shakiness due to low blood sugar. Over time, it may lead to constipation from a lack of fiber, as well as irritability. Physicians also caution against any diet that uses natural or synthetic laxatives.

Once we come off a cleansing diet and return to solid foods, it’s easy – and very common — to regain the weight we’ve just lost.  Some people may experience a psychological lift from a cleanse, such as feeling ready or motivated to adopt healthier eating habits, but it doesn’t replace smart, common-sense nutritional practices and healthy lifestyle changes. That includes setting simple goals, taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and figuring out how to measure our success.


 

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!

Pre-diabetes is Predictable, Prevalent, and Preventable

One of the nice things about being an adult is we can eat our dessert before our meal. But even if we give ourselves permission to indulge, we should tune in to the potential damage those desserts or anything we eat loaded with sugar is causing to our long-term health. With the holidays rapidly approaching, we also face the opportunity to heap an abundance of alcohol-based drinks, sweet punches, soda and a multitude of cookies, cakes and treats to our already struggling metabolic systems. But the long-term cost is not worth the short-term pleasure.

We all know someone with diabetes or “sugar issues,” but the real numbers that accompany this malady are staggering:  In addition to the 30 million Americans suffering from either type-1 (insulin dependent) or type-2 diabetes (which can often be controlled by drugs, exercise and careful diet), 86 million American adults – more than one out of three people – have prediabetes. What’s more, 90 percent of them don’t know they’re at risk.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how our body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to our health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up our muscles and tissues. It’s also our brain’s main source of fuel.

Insulin is a hormone that comes from a gland situated behind and below the stomach. Called the pancreas, it secretes insulin into the bloodstream, which circulates, enabling sugar to enter our cells. Insulin lowers the amount of sugar in our bloodstream — as our blood-sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from our pancreas.

If we have diabetes, no matter what type, it means we have too much glucose in our blood, although the causes may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems. In type 2 diabetes, our cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and our pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of moving into our cells where it’s needed for energy, sugar builds up in our bloodstream.

Exactly why this happens is uncertain, although it’s believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with type 2 is overweight.

Don’t let the “pre” in prediabetes fool you

Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood-sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Diabetes affects every major organ in the body. People with diabetes often develop major complications such as kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage (nerve damage can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg). Some studies suggest that diabetes doubles the risk of depression, and that risk increases as more diabetes-related health problems develop. All can sharply reduce quality of life.

Though people with prediabetes are already at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, they don’t yet have to manage the serious health problems that come with diabetes, which includes daily insulin injections and carefully regulated nutrition. Between 90 percent and 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2; only about 5 percent have type 1, which is caused by an immune reaction that is not preventable. Type 2, however, can be prevented or delayed through lifestyle changes.

You can have prediabetes for years but have no clear symptoms, so it often goes undetected until serious health problems show up. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested if you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes, which include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being 45 years or older
  • Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically active less than three times a week
  • Ever having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby that weighed more than nine pounds

Race and ethnicity are also a factor: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk.

Nutritional tips for a healthier holiday season

Here are some useful tips to help manage our sweet tooth when dessert and other foods high in calories, sugar, fat and salt are served:

  • Decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat and how you will handle social pressure.
  • Eat a healthy snack early to avoid overeating at the party.
  • Bring a nutritious snack or your own healthy dessert such asplain cookies, baked apples, or sugar-free puddings.
  • Look for side dishes and vegetables that are light on butter and dressing, and other extra fats and sugars such as marshmallows or fried vegetable toppings.
  • If there is someone else at the party who is trying to watch what they eat, buddy up! Avoid tempting sweets and ask your fellow conscious eater to join you for a walk while dessert is out on the table.
  • Choose low-calorie drinks such as sparkling water, unsweetened tea or diet beverages. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount, and have it with food.

Additionally, there are ways to revise dessert recipes so they are healthier and still tasty. Often, we can replace up to half of the sugar in a recipe with a sugar substitute. We can also try cutting down on sugar and increasing the use of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other sweet-tasting spices and flavorings.

We can often blame type 1 diabetes on genetics, but type 2 isn’t as easy to pass off – we don’t have to give up all of our holiday favorites if we make healthy choices and limit portion sizes. How we eat, what we eat and our willingness to exercise and control our weight are the key factors to remaining healthy and avoiding the trauma of type 2 diabetes and its nefarious side effects.


 

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!

Increase Your Breast Cancer Awareness

There are some diseases that remain insidious, regardless of how often they’re discussed and even after years of research, warnings and clinical studies. Breast cancer is one of these.

Early detection and treatment are keys to treating and containing breast cancer. When detected early before it can spread to other parts of the body, it can be treated successfully through radiation, drug therapy and surgery, and many cancer survivors live long, healthy lives.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Thousands of Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. Knowing your family history, getting regular exams and avoiding known cancer-causing foods and activities are critical, proactive steps. By eating well, exercising regularly, not smoking tobacco products, and drinking in moderation women reduce their chances of contracting breast cancer.

But the numbers remain sobering: About one in eight American women, close to 12 percent, will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Approximately 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in U.S. women annually, along with approximately 58,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. Additionally, more than 2,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in men. Breast cancer results in close to 40,000 deaths in the United States alone, annually.

If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it’s important to see a physician immediately. Fortunately, eight out of 10 breast lumps are benign, or not cancerous. But women sometimes stay away from medical care because they fear what they might find. Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, and scheduling regular mammograms.

Males need to remain diligent, as well. Men should speak with their doctor if they find suspicious lumps, abnormal skin growths, experience tenderness or experience other changes in their breasts.

For women, a mammogram remains one of the best tools available for the early detection of breast cancer. While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. If you have a mother, daughter, sister or grandmother who had breast cancer, you should have a mammogram five years before the age of their diagnosis, or starting at age 35.

Here are 10 healthy lifestyle choices we can make that may reduce our risk of developing breast cancer:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Gaining weight after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. In general, weight gain of 20 pounds or more after the age of 18 may increase the risk of breast cancer. Likewise, if you have gained weight, losing weight may lower your risk of breast cancer.
  2. Add exercise to your routine. Exercise pumps up the immune system and lowers estrogen levels. With as little as four hours of exercise per week, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. Physical activity involves the energy that you release from your body. It not only burns energy (calories), but may also help lower the risk of breast cancer. This is because exercise lowers estrogen levels, fights obesity, lowers insulin levels and boosts the function of immune system cells that attack tumors. Do whatever physical activity you enjoy most and that gets you moving daily. All you need is moderate (where you break a sweat) activity like brisk walking for 30 minutes a day.
  3. Maintain a healthy diet. A nutritious, low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth.
  4. Limit alcohol intake. Research has shown that having one serving of alcohol (for example, a glass of wine) each day improves your health by reducing your risk of heart attack. But many studies have also shown that alcohol intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. In general, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer. If you drink alcohol, try to limit your intake to one drink a day.
  5. Women, limit postmenopausal hormones. For each year that combined estrogen plus progestin hormones are taken, the risk of breast cancer goes up. Once the drug is no longer taken, this risk returns to that of a woman who has never used hormones in about five to 10 years. Post-menopausal hormones also increase the risk of ovarian cancer and heart disease. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits.
  6. Breastfeed, if you can. Breastfeeding protects against breast cancer, especially in pre-menopausal women. There are many breastfeeding benefits for the baby, as well.
  7. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. You do your body a world of good by avoiding tobacco. If you do smoke, ask your doctor for help in quitting. Although there is no conclusive evidence that smoking causes breast cancer, smoking has been linked to many other types of cancer and diseases. There are health benefits from quitting at any age.
  8. Focus on your emotional health. Researchers continue studying the relationship between our physical and emotional health, but there is conclusive evidence that people who are stronger, emotionally, are more resistant to illness and certain diseases. It is also important to keep a healthy attitude and reduce stress. Do things that make you happy and that bring balance to your life. Pay attention to yourself and your needs. Read books, walk in the park, have coffee with a friend. Find what works for you – many things can help you be healthier and feel better about yourself in spite of what is going on in your life.
  9. Schedule regular mammograms.Even though many women without a family history of breast cancer are at risk, if you have a grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, this does put you in a higher risk group. Have a baseline mammogram at least five years before the age of breast cancer onset in any close relatives, or starting at age 35. See your physician at any sign of unusual symptoms.
  10. Give yourself a breast self-exam at least once a month.Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, a lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, or a discharge from the nipple. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. However, eight out of 10 lumps are benign, or not cancerous.

What is genetic testing?                

Genetic testing looks for specific inherited changes (mutations) in a person’s chromosomes, genes, or proteins. Genetic mutations can have harmful, beneficial, neutral (no effect), or uncertain effects on health. Mutations that are harmful may increase a person’s chance, or risk, of developing a disease such as cancer. Overall, inherited mutations are thought to play a role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers.

Cancer can sometimes appear to “run in families” even if it is not caused by an inherited mutation. For example, a shared environment or lifestyle, such as tobacco use, can cause similar cancers to develop among family members. However, certain patterns such as the types of cancer that develop, other non-cancer conditions that are seen, and the ages at which cancer typically develops may suggest the presence of a hereditary cancer syndrome.

The genetic mutations that cause many of the known hereditary cancer syndromes have been identified, and genetic testing can confirm whether a condition is, indeed, the result of an inherited syndrome. Genetic testing is also done to determine whether family members without obvious illness have inherited the same mutation as a family member who is known to carry a cancer-associated mutation.

Inherited genetic mutations can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer through a variety of mechanisms, depending on the function of the gene. Mutations in genes that control cell growth and the repair of damaged DNA are particularly likely to be associated with increased cancer risk.

Here’s a short list of important facts useful to know concerning genetic mutations and testing:

  • Genetic mutations play a role in the development of all cancers. Most of these mutations occur during a person’s lifetime, but some mutations, including those that are associated with hereditary cancer syndromes, can be inherited from a person’s parents.
  • The genetic mutations associated with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes have been identified, and genetic tests can help tell whether a person from a family with such a syndrome has one of these mutations.
  • A genetic counselor, doctor, or other healthcare professional trained in genetics can help an individual or family understand genetic test results.
  • A high genetic likelihood of developing a certain type of cancer is not a certainty that a person will develop that cancer. The risks and benefits of precautionary or preemptive surgeries have to be determined on a case by case basis.
  • Often, discovering potential genetic mutations may lead a person to alter behaviors, diet and other aspects of health and wellness that can help improve quality of life and health without undertaking dramatic steps.

Consult your physician if you’re interested in genetic testing. Remember, not everyone whose test indicate a higher possibility of developing cancer will, but it can serve as a valuable catalyst for making lifestyle changes that can help prevent or limit the damage from certain kinds of cancer.


 

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

A Shot in the Arm Beats Days in Bed

Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe symptoms, and can lead to hospitalization and death. Every year in the United States, millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die from the flu.

Anyone, no matter how healthy you are, can get the flu, and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age. Unfortunately, some people are at a higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine annually. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

The body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Also, flu viruses are constantly changing, so the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and sometimes updated to keep up with changing flu viruses. For the best protection, everyone six months and older should get vaccinated annually.

“Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through their community.

How vaccines work

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus; an influenza A (H3N2) virus; and an influenza B virus. There also are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.

The CDC recommends use of injectable influenza vaccines (including inactivated influenza vaccines and recombinant influenza vaccines).  A nasal mist is typically available, as well, but last year, the CDC advised against using it and favored immunizations. One exception of note is that standard-dose trivalent shots are manufactured using virus grown in eggs. If you are allergic to eggs, there exists an alternative made using a different base grown in cell culture.

Flu vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac (heart) events among people with heart disease, especially among those who experienced a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%). And flu vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy. Getting vaccinated against the flu can also protect a baby from flu after birth. (A mother can pass antibodies onto the developing baby during pregnancy.) Flu vaccination also may make your flu illness milder if you do get sick.

Contrary to myth, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness.

Side effects from a flu vaccination are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of the flu. Side effects may include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever, or aches, but it’s all short term.

Get vaccinated now

You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community, so make plans to get vaccinated early in fall. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination is offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later. Children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.

There are many options for obtaining your vaccination, ranging from your regular physician to walk-in clinics, college health centers and even local drug stores and supermarket pharmacies.  Many larger employers will sponsor flu clinics so people don’t have to leave work to obtain their shot.  If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, talk to your doctor or other health care professional.

Preventing pneumonia and shingles

Another important consideration as we head into the autumn months is to get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections. Pneumococcal disease is common in young children, but older adults are at greatest risk of serious pneumococcal infections and even death. The CDC recommends vaccination with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for all babies and children younger than two years old, all adults 65 years or older, and people two years through 64 years old who are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease due to certain medical conditions.

Shingles is the reactivation of a viral infection in the nerves to the skin that causes pain, burning, or a tingling sensation, along with an itch and blisters in the skin supplied by the affected nerve.  It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, or VZV — the same virus that causes chickenpox.  When the itchy red spots of childhood chickenpox disappear, the virus remains in a dormant state in our nerve cells, able to strike again. This second eruption of the chickenpox virus is called shingles or herpes-zoster.  Shingles is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.

Shingles occurs when an unknown trigger causes the virus to become activated.  It afflicts approximately one million Americans annually, and children are vulnerable, too. However, about half of all cases occur in men and women 60 years old or older. People who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime, though it can strike a person a second or even third time. Since most of us had chickenpox as children, we’re at risk, even if the case was so mild that it may have passed unnoticed.

In the original exposure to VZV (chickenpox), some of the virus particles settle into nerve cells where they remain for many years in an inactive, hidden form. When the VZV reactivates, it spreads down the long nerve fibers that extend from the sensory cell bodies to the skin. As the virus multiplies, a telltale rash erupts. With shingles, the nervous system is more deeply involved than it was during the bout with chickenpox, and the symptoms are often more complex and severe.

Several antiviral medicines are available to treat shingles. These medicines will help shorten the length and severity of the illness. But to be effective, they must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears. But the only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) – a condition that can afflict people after they’ve recovered from shingles – is to get vaccinated. Shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) reduces the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain that can sometimes afflict those who have had shingles. The CDC recommends that people aged 60 years and older get one dose of shingles vaccine.


 

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!

Seeing Clearly Is Good for Your Whole Body

Remember those stories we heard as children about eating carrots to keep our eyes strong? While it’s true that the beta carotene found in carrots converts to vitamin A during digestion and is rich in antioxidants, the best way to keep our eyes strong is to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, wear eye protection when appropriate, and make sure to schedule regular eye exams for yourself and your family members.

Millions of Americans wear corrective eye wear or contact lenses, but taking our eyes for granted is common and easy to do. Wearing approved safety glasses on a job site, while working in the yard, or when competing in sports seems obvious enough. But there are so many ways to hit ourselves in the eye or to be injured by thrown objects, splashed liquids, and even wind-blown contaminants or materials. Hospital emergency rooms treat patients with eyes damaged by all manner of chemicals, fish hooks, baseballs, wood chips, and much more. So if you’re doing something that might result in an injury, take the safe and easy step to cover your eyes.

Being aware of the potential damage from ultraviolet light also is important. Sunglasses and clear eyeglasses with protective coatings filter out the sun’s damaging rays, so if you work or spend a lot of time outdoors, you need that extra protection.

Visit your eye care professional regularly

Adults should visit an ophthalmologist at least once every other year, and annually if you have bad eyesight or a family history of glaucoma, cataracts, or other congenital or age-related eye ailments. Many eye maladies develop as we get older, part of the natural aging process. Through a comprehensive eye exam that typically involves dilating your pupils and conducting a number of standard (and painless) tests, eye care professionals (ophthalmologist and optometrists) not only determine sight deficiencies and illnesses, but also find warning signs pointing to other dangers such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. Opticians can prescribe glasses and contacts, but aren’t as highly trained to spot illness and to deal with injuries.

Dry eye syndrome and glaucoma are two common ailments that affect people as they age. If the glands in your eyes stop making enough natural lubricants, you can buy over-the-counter remedies, but you should have your eyes checked for inflammation or infection. Sometimes dry eyes occur from living or working in windy, dry, or low-humidity environments, or in buildings with air-blown hot air. Doctors recommend “fake tears,” which don’t have as many chemicals as the “get the red out” eye drops. Anti-inflammation medications and vitamins or foods like fish oil which are high in Omega-3 are often recommended.

Glaucoma is a group of illnesses that can lead to blindness if not treated. When fluid builds up inside the eye, pressure and tension can result in damage to the optic nerve, including blindness. Glaucoma has no early warning signs. However, symptoms can include blurriness or clouded vision, sensitivity to light, headaches, reduced peripheral, or “tunnel vision”. It’s more common in adults over 60, in African American adults over 40, or in adults with diabetes, or a family history of glaucoma. It is most often treated through medications and surgery.

Here are some common tips for helping to ensure good eye health:

  • Know your family’s eye health history. Talk to your family members about their eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with a disease or condition since many are hereditary. This will help to determine if you are at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.
  • Eat right to protect your sight. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens is important for keeping your eyes healthy. Research has also shown there are eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing systemic conditions such as diabetic eye disease or glaucoma which can lead to vision loss. If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection for a certain activity. Most protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate, which is 10 times stronger than other plastics. Many eye care providers sell protective eyewear, as do some sporting goods stores.
  • Quit smoking or never start. Smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. Research has linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to blindness.
  • Be cool and wear your shades. Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important job is to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for ones that block out 99 to 100%of both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
  • Give your eyes a rest. If you spend a lot of time at the computer or focusing on any one thing, you sometimes forget to blink and your eyes can get fatigued. Try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eyestrain.
  • Clean your hands and your contact lenses properly. To avoid the risk of infection, always wash your hands thoroughly before putting in or taking out your contact lenses. Make sure to disinfect contact lenses as instructed and replace them as appropriate.

Through comprehensive, regular eye exams, your doctor can check for early warning signs of glaucoma, potential retinal detachment (which causes floaters or flashes in the eye but can be sight threatening) and other common eye diseases, and help keep those beautiful peepers of yours sparkling and healthy.


 

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!