Good fish, bad fish

When you stop to consider that most of the earth is covered by water, it’s a wonder that our diets aren’t primarily made up of seafood. But we’re land dwellers, and it’s far easier to chase something on the ground or dig it out of the garden than to rustle up dinner from the ocean. Still, fish are an inherently healthy food source — or were, at least, before we started polluting the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes. Much of our “fresh” fish is now farmed, as well, and can be treated with antibiotics or fed contaminants that aren’t good for us in larger quantities.

So how do we know what is safe to consume, how much, and when it’s good or bad for us?

Fish is a good source of protein and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat. Fish also is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids benefit the heart of healthy people and those at high risk of — or who have — cardiovascular disease.  Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower blood pressure.

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids which have demonstrated benefits at reducing heart disease.

That’s all positive. But here’s the negative: Some types of fish may contain high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants. Levels of these substances are generally highest in older, larger predatory fish and marine mammals.

The benefits and risks of eating fish vary depending on a person’s stage of life:

  • Children and pregnant women are advised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to avoid eating those fish with the potential for the highest level of mercury contamination (e.g., shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish); to eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury (e.g., canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish).
  • For middle-aged and older men and postmenopausal women, the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the potential risks when the amount of fish that are eaten is within the recommendations established by the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Eating a variety of fish will help minimize any potentially adverse effects due to environmental pollutants.

Nutritional experts recommend eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week. Each serving should be approximately 3.5 ounces cooked, or about three-quarters of a cup of flaked fish.  Enjoy fish baked or grilled, not fried.  Choose low-sodium, low-fat seasonings such as spices, herbs, lemon juice and other flavorings in cooking and at the table. 

For many people, tuna is a lunchtime staple. The FDA and EPA continue to recommend that no more than six ounces of fish per week (of your 8 to 12 ounces weekly) should be white (albacore) tuna. Although canned light tuna is lower in mercury, albacore tuna has more of it.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish or shellfish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.   

Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king Mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Also, be careful when buying canned seafood, as cans often are lined with a BPA-plastic coating. Look for seafood packed in shelf-stable, flexible pouches, as this is the environmentally preferable packaging.

Regardless of your age or gender, check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. If local advice isn’t available, you should eat six ounces or less of these locally caught fish per week, and children should eat no more than one to three ounces per week. Then avoid eating other fish for the rest of the week.

Potential exposure to some contaminants can be reduced by removing the skin and surface fat from these fish before cooking. Consumers should also check with local and state authorities about types of fish and watersheds that may be contaminated and visit the FDA website for the most up-to-date information on recommendations for specific subgroups of the U.S. population such as children and pregnant women.

Last, but not least, another important consideration when you consume fish should be about environmental sustainability. Some varieties of seafood have been overfished or caught in ways that may cause lasting damage to our oceans and marine life. Here are some basic rules to make smart seafood shopping choices that are good for your health and the health of our oceans.

  • Eat fish that are lower on the food chain – typically, smaller fish are more plentiful and contain less mercury.
  • Know how sustainable your seafood choices are. This link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide provides valuable information on which fisheries provide the most sustainable seafood choices, based on health and a variety of other measurements.
  • Buy American. The United States has stricter fishing and farming standards than do other parts of the world.
  • Know how it’s caught. Hook and line is a low-impact method of fishing that does not damage the seafloor and let’s fisherman use intelligently designed traps and throw back unwanted species.
  • Eat Local. You’re usually better off eating the local variety of a particular type of fish instead of its counterpart from across the country or another part of the world, unless that species has been depleted in local waters. Even out of season, the local fish that has been frozen is preferable, since fresh fish must be transported by air, the most energy-intensive method of shipping.
  • Look for the label. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies seafood that is caught or raised in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. Items that meet its criteria are marked with a MSC-certified label.

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

When it comes to vitamins, C it all clearly

Spring is only weeks away, and the worst of cold and flu season, hopefully, is behind us. But we still can’t let down our guards. It’s a germ jungle out there, and we have to stay on our toes when it comes to nutrition, exercise and general health.

Chances are many of us aren’t eating the right foods to help strengthen our immune systems. We also may be inclined to take supplements to prevent illness, or larger doses of vitamins to fight cold and bugs once they have us in their grasps. If you fall into either of these categories, you’re not alone – supplements are a multi-million-dollar industry. But it’s important to separate fact from fiction, and to understand what works best, why and how.

To start, nothing we take as a supplement beats the benefits of eating healthfully and obtaining the vitamins and minerals we need through our diet. One of the best-known and most-studied examples is Vitamin C, which we get naturally through fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, compounds that are formed when our bodies break down food or when we are exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation and air pollution. Vitamin C is also needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body, and it helps the immune system work to protect the body from disease. 

Sufficient quantities of Vitamin C must be consumed every day. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin C is not stored in the body. That is why eating at least a few servings a day of citrus fruits and other vitamin C-rich food is so important. Luckily, getting the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C is not difficult, since a single orange contains 150 percent of the government’s recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C.

Vitamin C is cited as effective for fighting infections including gum disease, acne and other skin infections, bronchitis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease. It is used for infections of the bladder and prostate, and people also put vitamin C on their skin to protect it against the sun, pollutants, and other environmental hazards. Vitamin C is also applied to the skin to help with damage from radiation therapy.

Additionally, Vitamin C is used for fighting depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, physical and mental stress, fatigue, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s also believed that Vitamin C might help the heart and blood vessels. It is used for hardening of the arteries, preventing clots in veins and arteries, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Other uses include improving physical endurance and slowing aging, as well as counteracting the side effects of cortisone and related drugs, and aiding drug withdrawal in addiction.

Where to find it, and where not

Most experts recommend getting Vitamin C from a diet high in fruits and vegetables rather than taking supplements. Fresh-squeezed orange juice or fresh-frozen concentrate is a better pick than ready-to-drink orange juice. The fresh juice contains more active Vitamin C. Drink fresh-frozen orange juice within one week after reconstituting it for the most benefit. It you prefer ready-to-drink orange juice, buy it three to four weeks before the expiration date, and drink it within one week of opening.

People may view supplements such as Airborne and Emergen-C as quick and easy fixes; each contains 1,000 milligrams (mg) of Vitamin C along with other vitamins and minerals. And while Vitamin C has been seen as a potential remedy for the common cold, research shows that for most people, Vitamin C supplements or Vitamin-C- rich foods do not reduce the risk of getting a cold. And once you have a cold, rest, fluids and a healthy diet stimulate recovery. However, people who take Vitamin C supplements regularly might have slightly shorter colds or somewhat milder symptoms when they do have a cold.

The minimum daily requirement of Vitamin C for adults is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men, with an extra 35 mg needed by smokers.  Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, along with their juices, have high amounts of Vitamin C. Five servings a day of fruits and vegetables – or about 2 1/2 cups – averages out to between 200 mg to 250 mg of Vitamin C. Besides citrus, the fruits that have high amounts of Vitamin C include: 

  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries
  • Watermelon

Vegetables that have the highest amounts of Vitamin C include: 

  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
  • Green and red peppers
  • Spinach and other leafy greens
  • Sweet and white potatoes
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Winter squash

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

The Eyes Have It

Our eyes, it’s said, are our windows to the world. Romantic and aesthetic benefits aside, taking care of our peepers is an important and often overlooked task, especially since we don’t think about eye health until we have a problem. But as January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, it’s a good time to consider how best to care for our eyes, and to become aware of warning signs that may require medical care or interventions.

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. The optic nerve is a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers, and it is necessary for good vision as it connects the retina to the brain. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.

Studies have shown that eye pressure is a major risk factor for optic nerve damage. In the front of the eye is a space called the anterior chamber. A clear fluid flows continuously in and out of the chamber and nourishes nearby tissues. The fluid flows through a spongy meshwork, like a drain, and leaves the eye.

With glaucoma, the fluid passes too slowly through the meshwork drain. Since the fluid builds up, the pressure inside the eye rises to a level that may damage the optic nerve. When the optic nerve is damaged from increased pressure, glaucoma — and vision loss — may result. That’s why controlling pressure inside the eye is important.

Another risk factor for optic nerve damage relates to blood pressure. It is important to make sure that your blood pressure is at a proper level. This can be determined by visiting your primary care physician.

Glaucoma has no early warning signs. However, symptoms can include blurriness or clouded vision, sensitivity to light, headaches, reduced peripheral or “side” vision, 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’s most often treated through medications and surgery.

Not every person with increased eye pressure will develop glaucoma. Some people can tolerate higher levels of eye pressure better than others. Also, a certain level of eye pressure may be high for one person but normal for another.

Whether you develop glaucoma depends on the level of pressure your optic nerve can tolerate without being damaged. This level is different for each person. That’s why a comprehensive dilated eye exam is very important. It can help your eye care professional determine what level of eye pressure is normal for you.

Take care of your eyes, and they’ll take care of you

Adults should visit with an optometrist or 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 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.

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.

Dry eye syndrome also affects us as we age. If the glands in our eyes stop making enough natural lubricants, we can buy over-the-counter remedies, but should have our 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.

Through comprehensive, regular eye exams, doctors 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 eyes of ours sparkling and healthy.

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

Is it time to see a therapist?

The holidays and cold wintery months bring many types of pressures that can cause stress, irritability, sleeplessness, anger, and depression. Additionally, isolation, family dynamics, work and financial hardships strain us in many insidious ways. When you throw in the challenges of day-to-day life, it can result in depression and anxiety.

Many of us have the tools and resources to deal with these issues patiently and reasonably. But for others, daily stresses accumulate to unhealthy levels and can result in unpleasant and sometimes dangerous behaviors. Situational or cumulative triggers affect us in a variety of ways. But it becomes far more complicated when you add to the mix chemical imbalances or deep-rooted psychological problems that may be undiagnosed or untreated.

Seeking help from a therapist is a healthy choice. Unfortunately, it’s often avoided due to the stigma of therapy, lack of health insurance, or financial resources. However, contrary to popular perception, you don’t have to be “falling apart” to seek help. Most people can benefit from therapy at some point in our lives. Many of us turn to family and friends as support groups, but that doesn’t always provide the answers we seek.

When things start to become unmanageable or worries and pressures start redefining us, affect performance or control our actions, it’s time for assistance. Support can be found through Employee Assistance Programs at work or through school, or by talking with social workers, counselors and other providers. We can visit walk-in clinics or hospitals, speak with our physicians, or seek access through the panels of behavioral health professionals and programs available in every community.

We also turn to therapists for many positive reasons such as improving the overall quality of our lives, career or interests. Sometimes it’s for help with grief or trauma, but it can be to help us learn how to face situations that may be preventing us from reaching personal goals.

Whether the need for therapy is short-or longer-term, there are a variety of different therapeutic options to pursue. However, it all starts with determining whether or not we should see a therapist.  Here are some common catalysts, concerns and behaviors:

  • Feeling sad, angry or otherwise “not yourself.” Uncontrollable sadness, anger or hopelessness may be signs of a mental health issue that can improve with treatment. If you’re eating or sleeping more or less than usual, withdrawing from family and friends, or just feeling “off,” talk to someone before serious problems develop that can have a significant impact on your quality of life. If these feelings escalate to the point that you question whether life is worth living or you have thoughts of death or suicide, reach out for help right away.
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    • Abusing drugs, alcohol, or food to cope. When you turn outside yourself to a substance or behavior to help you feel better, your coping skills probably need adjustment. If you feel unable to control these behaviors or you can’t stop despite negative consequences in your life, you may be struggling with addictive or compulsive behavior that requires treatment.
    • You’ve lost someone or something important to you. Grief can be a long and difficult process to endure without the support of an expert. While not everyone needs counseling during these times, there is no shame in needing a little help to get through the loss of a loved one, a divorce, significant breakup, or the loss of a job, especially if you’ve experienced multiple losses in a short period of time.
    • Something traumatic has happened. If you have a history of abuse, neglect or other trauma that you haven’t fully dealt with, or if you find yourself the victim of a crime or accident, chronic illness or some other traumatic event, the earlier you talk to someone, the faster you can learn healthy ways to cope.
    • You can’t do the things you like to do. Have you stopped doing the activities you ordinarily enjoy? Many people find that painful emotions and experiences keep them from getting out, having fun and meeting new people. This is a red flag that something is wrong in your life.
    • Everything you feel is intense. Feeling overcome with anger or sadness on a regular basis could indicate an underlying issue. Also, when an unforeseen challenge appears, do you immediately assume the worst-case-scenario will take place? This intense form of anxiety, in which every worry is super-sized and treated as a realistic outcome, can be truly debilitating.
    • You have unexplained and recurrent headaches, stomach-aches or a rundown immune system. When we’re emotionally upset, it can affect our bodies. Research confirms that stress can manifest itself in the form of a wide range of physical ailments, from a chronically upset stomach to headaches, frequent colds or even a diminished sex drive.
    • You’re getting bad feedback at work. Changes in work performance are common among those struggling with emotional or psychological issues. You might feel disconnected from your job, even if it used to make you happy. Aside from changes in concentration and attention, you might get negative feedback from managers or co-workers that the quality of your work is slipping. This could be a sign that it’s time to talk to a professional.
    • Your relationships are strained. If you find yourself feeling unhappy during interactions with loved ones, family or friends on a regular basis, you might make a good candidate for therapy. Oftentimes, those closest to us recognize changes in our behaviors that we might not be ready to personally acknowledge — when these changes are pointed out to us, they’re worth considering.

Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean a lifetime obligation. A study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that most people feel better within seven to 10 visits. In another study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 88 percent of therapy-goers reported improvements after just one session.

Although severe mental illness may require more intensive intervention, most people benefit from short-term, goal-oriented therapy to address a specific issue or interpersonal conflict, get out of a rut, or make a major life decision. The sooner you choose to get help, the faster you can return to enjoying life to its fullest.

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

Stop blowing smoke — tobacco kills, in every form

For all we’ve heard, read or been told by experts, physicians and concerned friends or family, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. More than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year. There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes.

But cigarettes, pipes and cigars are only one third of this axis of unhealthy evil — when you add smokeless tobacco products and now, e-cigarettes, the numbers increase dramatically, as do the personal and national healthcare costs.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, but rather than focus on lung cancer specifically, let’s take a look at the role tobacco products play in destroying your health, and in contributing directly to lung cancer, other cancers and respiratory illnesses. Consider these facts:

  • Tobacco contributes to 5 million deaths worldwide every year. For centuries, cigarettes have remained basically the same:  Tobacco rolled in paper. What makes them so deadly are the estimated 4,000 chemicals they give off when lit. Some of those chemicals, like arsenic, formaldehyde and lead can cause cancer and a long list of other deadly diseases.
  • Chewing tobacco comes as long strands of loose leaves, plugs, or twists of tobacco. Pieces, commonly called plugs, wads, or chew, are chewed or placed between the cheek and gum or teeth. The nicotine in the piece of chewing tobacco is absorbed through the mouth tissues. The user spits out the brown saliva that has soaked through the tobacco.
  • An e-cigarette is a battery-powered tube about the size and shape of a cigarette. A heating device warms a liquid inside the cartridge, creating a vapor you breathe in. Puffing on an e-cigarette is called “vaping” instead of “smoking.” E-cigarettes also make chemicals, but in much smaller numbers and amounts than tobacco cigarettes.

The devil is in the details: Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco products are glorified through their use by many professional athletes, especially baseball players. In addition to the chewing tobacco mentioned above, snuff — which is finely ground tobacco packaged in cans or pouches — also is popular.

Moist snuff is used by placing a pinchdiplipper, or quid between the lower lip or cheek and gum. The nicotine in the snuff is absorbed through the tissues of the mouth. Moist snuff is also available in small, teabag-like pouches or sachets that can be placed between the cheek and gum. These are designed to be both “smoke-free” and “spit-free” and are marketed as a discreet way to use tobacco. Dry snuff is sold in a powdered form and is used by sniffing or inhaling the powder up the nose.

Data collected in 2012 showed that about 3.5 percent of people aged 12 and older in the United States used smokeless tobacco — that’s about 9 million people. Use of smokeless tobacco was higher in younger age groups, with more than 5.5 percent of people aged 18 to 25 saying they were current users. About 1 million people age 12 and older started using smokeless tobacco in the year before the survey. About 46 percent of the new users were younger than 18 when they first used it.

The damages from smokeless tobacco products include throat, tongue, sinus, jaw, esophageal and mouth cancers, lesions, damage to teeth and gums, heart disease and stroke.

What you should know about e-cigarettes

All e-cigarettes work basically the same way. Inside, there’s a battery, a heating element, and a cartridge that holds nicotine and other liquids and flavorings. Features and costs vary. Some are disposable. Others have a rechargeable battery and refillable cartridges.

The nicotine inside the cartridges is addictive. When you stop using it, you can get withdrawal symptoms including feeling irritable, depressed, restless and anxious. It can be dangerous for people with heart problems. It may also harm your arteries over time and contribute to respiratory ailments, heart disease and cancers.

So far, evidence suggests that e-cigarettes may be safer than regular cigarettes. The biggest danger from tobacco is the smoke, and e-cigarettes don’t burn. Tests show the levels of dangerous chemicals they give off are a fraction of what you’d get from a real cigarette. But what’s in them can vary, and while they may appear to be safer, research now being conducted requires years’ of statistical information to identify actual side effects… and by then, the damage will have occurred in regular users.

Quitting is hard, but you can increase your chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society can tell you about the steps you can take to quit smoking and provide the resources and support that can increase your chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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

Tell the fairy to keep the sweet tooth

Oh, how we love our sugar. As we come off our annual Halloween high and contemplate the approaching holidays, now would be a good time to take stock of how our individual and collective sweet teeth are affecting our personal health and the healthcare costs we all help shoulder.

In the United States alone, 25.8 million children and adults — 8.3 percent of the population — have diabetes. Only 18.8 million have been diagnosed, meaning another 7 million are walking around sick, and medical researchers estimate that 79 million people are pre-diabetic, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common and costly diseases in the United States and around the world, creating an enormous, and costly, strain on the U.S. healthcare system.

Beyond the physical and quality-of-life costs, the costs of diagnosed diabetes in the United States are approximately $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs. Complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

According to researchers, the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, this is a good time to take stock of your diet and exercise routines. Studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent. To help you achieve these goals, here are healthy living tips for the whole family:

  • Try to eat regular, balanced meals every four to five hours. Smaller amounts eaten more often are better for healthy blood-sugar levels
  • Eat carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than foods with protein or fat. Carbohydrates include milk, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains and dried beans.
  • Eat less fat and less saturated fat. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and low-fat snack foods.
  • Use drinks that do not raise blood sugar such as water, diet soda, coffee and tea.
  • Choose desserts occasionally. Look for dessert foods that are lower in carbohydrates and fat.
  • Read labels, and be aware of your sugar intake – for example, one teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.
  • As possible, avoid or limit products with high fructose corn syrup, a commonly added sweetener found in most processed foods.
  • Look for healthy substitutes, such as mustard in place of ketchup, and avoid condiments like barbeque sauce, sweet relish and other flavor enhancers high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar.

While watching your nutritional intake and snacking is important, walking and moderate exercise every day or every other day also plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life. We don’t have to punish ourselves — a little candy and dessert is good for our souls — but if eaten in moderation, your chances of avoiding sugar-related health issues will improve exponentially and that’s pretty sweet!

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

Keeping your skin in the game

If we’re lucky enough to have healthy skin, many of us may visit a dermatologist only when we’re teenagers struggling with acne. In our 20s, 30s, and 40s we probably don’t think about our skin, even though we’re likely damaging it every day through sun exposure, stress, facial movements, obesity, and even how we sleep. As we get older we have to deal with wrinkles, spots, loss of subcutaneous support (the fatty tissue between skin and muscle), moles, skin tags and, more dangerously, a variety of skin cancers.

How our skin ages depends on a variety of factors: Lifestyle, diet, heredity, and other personal habits. For instance, smoking can produce free radicals, once-healthy oxygen molecules that are now overactive and unstable. Free radicals damage cells, leading to, among other things, premature wrinkles. Exposure to the sun also is a huge factor in skin-related deterioration.

As we age, skin becomes rougher, slacker, fragile and more transparent. We bruise more easily, the way our skin “fits” on our bones and face changes, it dries out and we become more susceptible to lesions such as benign and malignant growths or tumors. 

Exposure to sunlight is the single biggest culprit in aging skin. Over time, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light damages certain fibers in the skin called elastin. The breakdown of elastin fibers causes the skin to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to snap back after stretching. The skin also bruises and tears more easily and takes longer to heal. So while sun damage may not show when you’re young, it will later in life.

Nothing can completely undo sun damage, although the skin can sometimes repair itself. So, it’s never too late to begin protecting yourself from sun exposure and skin cancer. You can delay changes associated with aging by staying out of the sun, covering up, wearing a hat, and making a habit of using sunscreen.

Facial movement lines become more visible after the skin starts losing its elasticity (usually as people reach their 30s and 40s). Lines may appear horizontally on the forehead, vertically on the skin above the root of the nose (glabella), or as small curved lines on the temples, upper cheeks, and around the mouth.

Sleep creases result from the way the head is positioned on the pillow and may become more visible after the skin starts losing its elasticity. Sleep creases are commonly located on the side of the forehead, starting above the eyebrows to the hairline near the temples, as well as on the middle of the cheeks. Sleeping on your back may improve these sleep creases or prevent them from becoming worse. Also of important note, smokers tend to have more wrinkles than nonsmokers of the same age, complexion, and history of sun exposure.

Dry skin and itching is common in later life. About 85 percent of older people develop “winter itch,” because overheated indoor air is dry. The loss of oil glands as we age may also worsen dry skin. Anything that further dries the skin — such as overuse of soaps or hot baths — will make the problem worse. If your skin is very dry and itchy, see a doctor because this condition can affect your sleep, cause irritability, or be a symptom of a disease. Some medicines make the itchiness worse.

The importance of visiting a dermatologist

There are several skin lesions that are very common and benign (non-cancerous). These conditions include moles, freckles, skin tags, and discoloration. It’s important to have your physician check these skin issues regularly, and to see a dermatologist if they increase in size, are painful, change color or texture or become irritated or sensitive. Here is some basic information on the most common skin maladies:

> Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells are called melanocytes, and they make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Moles may darken after exposure to the sun, in the teen years, and during pregnancy.

The vast majority of moles are not dangerous. The only moles that are of medical concern are those that look different than other existing moles or those that first appear after age 30. If you notice changes in a mole’s color, height, size, or shape, you should have a dermatologist evaluate it. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, or become tender or painful. The same goes for freckles.

> A skin tag is a small flap of tissue that hangs off the skin by a connecting stalk. Skin tags are not dangerous. They are usually found on the neck, chest, back, armpits, under the breasts, or in the groin area. Skin tags appear most often in women, especially with weight gain, and in elderly people.

Skin tags usually don’t cause any pain. However, they can become irritated if anything, such as clothing or jewelry rubs them. Your dermatologist can remove a skin tag by cutting it off with a scalpel or scissors, with cryosurgery (freezing it off), or with electrosurgery (burning it off with an electric current).

> A lentigo is a spot on the skin that is darker (usually brown) than the surrounding skin. Lentigines (plural) are more common among whites, especially those with fair skin. Exposure to the sun seems to be the major cause of lentigines. They most often appear on parts of the body that get the most sun, including the face and hands. Some lentigines may be caused by genetics (family history) or by medical procedures such as radiation therapy.

There are several methods for treating lentigines, including cryosurgery (freezing it off), laser surgery, and creams that are applied to the skin.

> Skin cancer is a cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin. There are several types of skin cancer. Skin cancer that forms in melanocytes (skin cells that make pigment) is called melanoma. Skin cancer that forms in the lower part of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) is called basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in squamous cells (flat cells that form the surface of the skin) is called squamous cell carcinoma. Skin cancer that forms in neuroendocrine cells (cells that release hormones in response to signals from the nervous system) is called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin.

Most skin cancers form in older people on parts of the body exposed to the sun or in people who have weakened immune systems. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Each year, more than 68,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma, and another 48,000 are diagnosed with an early form of the disease that involves only the top layer of skin. Also, more than 2 million people are treated for basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer each year.

Basal cell skin cancer typically occurs on the face, chest or areas exposed to the sun. It is several times more common than squamous cell skin cancer and, when caught early, easily treated and removed.

Melanoma can occur on any skin surface. In men, it’s often found on the skin on the head, on the neck, or between the shoulders and the hips. In women, it’s often found on the skin on the lower legs or between the shoulders and the hips. Melanoma is more likely than other skin cancers to spread to other parts of the body. Squamous cell skin cancer sometimes spreads to other parts of the body, but basal cell skin cancer rarely does.

Regular examinations by a dermatologist can reveal skin cancers or likely skin cancers (called pre-cancerous) in time to tend to them. As in most illnesses, the earlier skin cancer is discovered, the better the chances of removing it and limiting its spread. If you’re over 50, visit a dermatologist annually. If you’re younger and have a family history of skin cancer or any skin issues of concerns, see your doctor as well.

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

Understanding Ovarian Cancer

September is Ovarian Cancer awareness month. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 73. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.

About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older. It is more common in white women than African-American women. Fortunately, through earlier detection and more advanced treatments, the rate at which women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been slowly falling over the past 20 years. However, that’s no reason to relax. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 22,000 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2014, and more than 14,000 will die from this disease.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries. Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries — each about the size of an almond — produce eggs (ova) as well as the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is difficult to treat and is often fatal. Like most illnesses, the earlier it’s detected, the better your chances for leading a normal and longer life.

It’s not clear what causes ovarian cancer. In general, cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic mutation that turns normal cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die when they should. As abnormal cells accumulate, they form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize).

The type of cell where the cancer begins determines the type of ovarian cancer you have. Ovarian cancer types include:

  • Cancer that begins in the cells on the outside of the ovaries. Called epithelial tumors, these cancers begin in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. Most ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
  • Cancer that begins in the egg-producing cells. Called germ cell tumors, these ovarian cancers tend to occur in younger women.
  • Cancer that begins in the hormone-producing cells. These cancers, called stromal tumors, begin in the ovarian tissue that produces the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Physicians diagnose ovarian cancer through pelvic examinations, the use of ultrasound scanning or by taking small tissue samples. The type of ovarian cancer you have helps determine your prognosis and treatment options.

Know ovarian cancer signs and symptoms

Researchers are studying ways to improve ovarian cancer treatment and looking into ways to detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage — when a cure is more likely. Symptoms of ovarian cancer, however, are not specific to the disease, and they often mimic those of many other more-common conditions, including digestive problems.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain

Make an appointment with your doctor if you or someone you know has any signs or symptoms that worry you. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk of ovarian cancer. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor to discuss testing for certain gene mutations that increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Certain factors may increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’re sure to develop ovarian cancer, but your risk may be higher than that of the average woman. These risk factors include:

  • Inherited gene mutations, which can often be determined through genetic testing. 
  • Family history of ovarian cancer. If women in your family have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you have an increased risk of the disease.
  • A previous cancer diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer of the breast, colon, rectum or uterus, your risk of ovarian cancer is increased.
  • Increasing age. Your risk of ovarian cancer increases as you age. Ovarian cancer most often develops after menopause, though it can occur at any age.
  • Never having been pregnant. Women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Overall, the best advice is to talk with your physician about your risks and to determine appropriate testing. Again, early detection is critical to increased survival, so remain diligent and encourage other women at risk to do the same!

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

Seeing clearly

There’s a lot we take for granted when it comes to our health, and much we can do to reduce the risk of illness, control aging-related issues and prevent or limit disease. Education, awareness and preventative steps typically are the best prescriptions for us and our families, yet we often fail to take precautionary measures that can prevent common and potentially dangerous health conditions from taking hold.

August is Eye Injury Protection Month, but taking good care of our eyes requires far more than simply wearing safety glasses at work and play. The first rule, naturally, is to wear approved eye protection. That can be safety glasses on a jobsite or while competing in sports, but also when mowing the lawn or using power equipment. 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. 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.

Adults should visit with an optometrist or 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, eye care professionals 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.

Dry eye syndrome and glaucoma are two common ailments that effect people as we age. If the glands in our eyes stop making enough natural lubricants, we can buy over-the-counter remedies, but we should check 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 “artificial tears,” which don’t have as many chemicals as the “get the red out” eye drops. Also, 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 “side” vision, 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’s most often treated through medications and surgery.

Simple tips for keeping our eyes healthy

There are many things we can do to keep our eyes healthy and make sure we are seeing our best. Here are simple steps for maintaining healthy eyes well into our golden years:

  • Have a comprehensive dilated eye exam. You might think your vision is fine or that your eyes are healthy, but visiting an eye-care professional for a comprehensive dilated eye exam is the only way to really be sure. When it comes to common vision problems, some people don’t realize they could see better with glasses or contact lenses. In addition, many common eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration often have no warning signs. A dilated eye exam is the only way to detect these diseases in their early stages.
  • Know your family’s eye health history. Talk to 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 we are at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.
  • Eat right to protect your sight. We’ve heard carrots are good for our eyes. But eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens is important for keeping our 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 our 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 our eyes as it is for the rest of our 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.
  • Wear shades. Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important job is to protect our eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for ones that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
  • Give our eyes a rest. If we spend a lot of time at the computer or focusing on any one thing, we sometimes forget to blink and our 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 our hands and contact lenses properly. To avoid the risk of infection, always wash hands thoroughly before putting in or taking out contact lenses. Make sure to disinfect contact lenses as instructed and replace them as appropriate.

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

Immunizations are nothing to sneeze at

It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of complacency regarding infectious diseases. Seasonal maladies such as Influenza receive a lot of publicity, and millions of Americans now get themselves and their children vaccinated annually. But diseases we thought were eradicated or totally controlled are reemerging, and pose significant and often unnecessary risks.

It’s true that vaccine-preventable disease levels in the United States are at or near record lows. But even though most infants and toddlers have received all recommended vaccines by age two, many under-immunized children remain, leaving the potential for outbreaks of disease. Many adolescents and adults are under-immunized as well, missing opportunities to protect themselves against diseases such as Hepatitis B, influenza, and pneumococcal disease.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) works closely with public health agencies and private partners to improve and sustain immunization coverage and to monitor the safety of vaccines. And while the “big picture” is generally positive, there are emerging gaps, primarily the result of misinformation, a lack of compliance and ignorance about the importance of ensuring that you and your children are properly immunized.

Children can’t attend public school, go to camp, compete in many sports or travel outside of the country without a proven medical history of required immunizations. But as adults, we may not have received all the necessary immunizations, some of them may no longer be working effectively, and others, such as the vaccination for tetanus, have to be repeated periodically.

But we humans are procrastinators, and either disregard our physician’s warnings, don’t have a regular physician, or figure we’re already protected.  A perfect example of where this thinking goes awry involves Whooping Cough — known medically as pertussis, which has recently reappeared in Connecticut and in other states.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by bacteria spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The reason for its reemergence, experts believe, is because our bodies may have stopped producing antibodies in response to the vaccinations we received as children, or because some parents are not protecting their children through recommended vaccinations. Although it initially resembles an ordinary cold, whooping cough may eventually turn more serious, particularly in infants. The best way to prevent it is through vaccinations. The childhood vaccine is called DTap. The whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Both protect against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.

Diphtheria, also prevented through the Tdap booster, is a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system, including the lungs. As with pertussis and another common contagious disease, tuberculosis, diphtheria bacteria can be passed from person to person by direct contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. When people are infected, the diphtheria bacteria produce a toxin in the body that can cause weakness, sore throat, low-grade fever, and swollen glands in the neck. Effects from this toxin can also lead to swelling of the heart muscle and, in some cases, heart failure. In severe cases, the illness can cause coma, paralysis, and even death.

The third leg of that triad involves tetanus (lockjaw), which also can be prevented by the Tdap vaccine. Tetanus is caused by bacteria found in soil. The bacteria enter the body through a wound, such as a deep cut. When people are infected, the bacteria produce a toxin in the body that causes serious, painful spasms and stiffness of all muscles in the body. This can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow, or breathe. Complete recovery from tetanus can take months. Three of 10 people who get tetanus die from the disease.

Take simple steps to protect yourself and others

A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t remember if or when you had it, talk to your doctor. Additionally, if you plan to travel outside of the United States or Canada, it’s wise to speak with your physician or an infectious disease specialist about immunizations to consider, such as protection against Hepatitis A, before traveling. In many foreign countries, especially third-world nations, diseases can still be contracted through impure water systems, through food that hasn’t been properly prepared, and by air-borne particles.

But even if you aren’t traveling abroad, it’s important to know your medical history and to obtain a copy of your personal immunization record. That’s especially valuable if you can’t remember if you ever had common diseases such as mumps, chicken pox, rubella and measles, all of which still afflict thousands of Americans. In many cases, vaccinations to prevent these diseases may not have existed when you were a child, but they do now.

If your personal record doesn’t exist or has been lost, your physician can order a simple blood test that checks for the antibodies currently active in your system. He or she can then offer you the missing vaccinations, bringing you up-to-date as required. Typically, you’ll only have to do this once, unlike the vaccination for preventing influenza, which has to be received annually since strains of “flu” mutate or change from year to year.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is our most important job. Today’s medical advances and access make that far easier, but only if we each take personal responsibility to ensure that our immunizations are up-to-date. For more information, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visithttp://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

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