It’s Spring, Pass the Tissues!

There are several sure signs spring has arrived. The daffodils and crocuses are up, trees are budding, migrating birds are flocking, ice cream trucks and motorcycles can be heard in the distance, and people all around us are starting to sneeze, wheeze, and sniffle.  For all its color, warmth, and wonder, springtime also heralds the return of seasonal allergies, and for millions of Americans, it’s not a pleasant visit.

The severity of allergy season can vary according to where you live, the weather, indoor contaminants, and many other elements. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by mold spores in the air or by trees, grasses, and weeds releasing billions of tiny pollen grains.

Outdoor molds are very common, especially after the spring thaw. They are found in soil, some mulches, fallen leaves, and rotting wood. Everybody is exposed to mold and pollen, but only some people develop allergies. In these people, the immune system, which protects us from invaders like viruses and bacteria, reacts to a normally harmless substance called an allergen (allergy-causing compound). Specialized immune cells called mast cells and basophils then release chemicals like histamine that lead to the symptoms of allergy: sneezing, coughing, a runny or clogged nose, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat.

Asthma and allergic diseases, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever), food allergy, and atopic dermatitis (eczema), are common for all age groups in the United States. For example, asthma affects more than 17 million adults and more than 7 million children. It’s estimated that one-fifth of all Americans are allergic to something, whether seasonal, airborne, or food related. Nasal allergy triggers can be found both indoors and outdoors, and can be year-round or seasonal. It’s important to be aware of the times of day, seasons, places, and situations where your nasal allergy symptoms begin or worsen. If you can identify your triggers, and create a plan for avoiding them when possible, you may be able to minimize symptoms.

Here are a few points to remember:

  • You may be reacting to more than one type of allergen. For example, having nasal allergies to both trees and grass can make your symptoms worse during the spring and summer, when both of these pollens are high.
  • Molds grow in dark, wet places and can disperse spores into the air if you rake or disturb the area where they’ve settled.
  • People with indoor nasal allergies can be bothered by outdoor nasal allergies as well. You may need ongoing treatment to help relieve indoor nasal allergy symptoms.

If avoidance doesn’t work, allergies can often be controlled with medications. The first choice is an antihistamine, which counters the effects of histamine. Steroid nasal sprays can reduce mucus secretion and nasal swelling. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that the combination of antihistamines and nasal steroids is very effective in those with moderate or severe symptoms of allergic rhinitis. However, always consult with your physician before taking even over-the-counter medicines for allergies, as they may conflict with other medications or aggravate symptoms of other illnesses or chronic conditions.

Another potential solution is cromolyn sodium, a nasal spray that inhibits the release of chemicals like histamine from mast cells. But you must start taking it several days before an allergic reaction begins, which is not always practical, and its use can be habit forming. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is an option if the exact cause of your allergies can be pinpointed. Immunotherapy involves a long series of injections, but it can significantly reduce symptoms and medication needs.

Your physician can help pinpoint what you are allergic to, and tell you the best way to treat your nasal allergy symptoms. Providing detailed information about your lifestyle and habits will help your physician design an appropriate treatment plan for relieving your symptoms.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has some useful tips for those who suffer from seasonal allergies:

  • Wash bed sheets weekly in hot water.
  • Always bathe and wash hair before bedtime (pollen can collect on skin and hair throughout the day).
  • Do not hang clothes outside to dry where they can trap pollens.
  • Wear a filter mask when mowing or working outdoors. Also, if you can, avoid peak times for pollen exposure (hot, dry, windy days, usually between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.).
  • Be aware of local pollen counts in your area (visit the National Allergy Bureau Website).
  • Keep house, office, and car windows closed; use air conditioning if possible rather than opening windows.
  • Perform a thorough spring cleaning of your home, including replacing heating and A/C filters and cleaning ducts and vents.
  • Check bathrooms and other damp areas in your home frequently for mold and mildew, and remove visible mold with nontoxic cleaners.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom and off of furniture, since they may carry pollen if they have been outdoors, or exacerbate your allergies if, for example, you’re allergic to cat dander.

We can’t always avoid the pollens, mold, and other triggers that aggravate our allergies, but we can try to limit or control exposure and pursue medical interventions to help mitigate our suffering. Spring is a wonderful time of year – enjoy it to its fullest, and pass the tissues

Celebrating a Month of Legend, Love, and Sobering Myth

Many celebrations we embrace as children and carry forward into adulthood are often a combination of history, mythology, urban legend, pesky marketing, creative capitalism and wishful thinking. Clearly the most popular and misunderstood of these celebrations is Saint Valentine’s Day, held annually on February 14. But there’s far more than just Valentine’s Day rituals being celebrated in February, and many are worth noting and observing.

To start, Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans, and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” first designated by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.

But the second month of the year also is an acknowledgment of other activities and historical links, some offbeat, some serious. For example, February is Marijuana Awareness Month, National Condom Month, American Heart Month, Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Oral Hygiene Month, and Grapefruit Month.

On the 12th of February, Diana, the Roman goddess of hunt, was said to spread her protection from the forests near Aricia (her shrine) to the entire world. As a result, those born on this day are said to be highly personable and friendly. The month itself is named after “Februa,” an ancient purification ritual of Rome that took place on February 15th of our calendar.

Additionally, February 16th is the Day of the Devil’s Dance. On this date, a sorcerer of Tibet was called upon to exorcise demons and evil spirits from the local population.

The February birthstone is the Amethyst. Its color is a deep purple, and the ancient Greeks associated this stone with the ability to detoxify an individual. Amethyst comes from the Greek work “amethystos,” which literally translates into “sober.” Ironically, the stone often was made into goblets for drinking wine.

And finally, in an interesting turn of the paper heart, the week prior to Valentine’s Day is called “National Dump Your Significant Jerk Week,” and February 7 – 14 is “Rejection Risk-Awareness Week,” established to raise awareness of issues stemming from dating-related social rejection.

Exploring the “true” story of Valentine’s Day

The roots of Valentine’s Day contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine allegedly defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. Another account depicts an imprisoned Valentine actually sending the first “valentine” greeting after he fell in love with a young girl — possibly his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th Saint Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.

So, as we try to pull ourselves out of the winter doldrums, there’s no shortage of days in February to observe, commemorate or celebrate. Whichever you choose, take solace in knowing that the start of spring is barely a month away . . . and that’s certainly worth celebrating!


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!

Get Active, Outdoors!

It’s time to pack away the guilt about how much we ate and how little we’ve exercised since November and get ourselves motivated to stay active this winter. Exercise and play are important for our physical and our mental health. Even though it’s colder and it still gets dark early, getting outdoors after work or school and on the weekends should be part of our wellness strategy. The fresh air is good for our lungs, the sun is good for our bodies (when we protect ourselves), and there are many interesting and healthy pursuits waiting outside our doors.

This season is rich in recreational opportunities that expand on the exercise and fitness we can be pursuing at the gym, in our homes, or at classes. Walking is the easiest example, whether in our neighborhood, at a local school or park. Jogging or hiking offers scenic beauty and interesting wintery landscapes as backdrop for our workout. Additionally, we live in a region that offers parks and forests for cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and snowmobiling, close-by mountains for downhill skiing, and frozen ponds or rinks for ice skating and hockey. And when the snow is abundant, so are opportunities for sledding, tubing and tobogganing, activities that are fun for the entire family and a good workout.

No matter the choice of outdoor recreational activity, it’s critical that we take appropriate measures to protect ourselves. That includes dressing for the weather, making sure we’re properly hydrated, wearing sunscreen, knowing our limitations, and always respecting Mother Nature.

Dressing in layers and wearing the right types of materials are critical for keeping warm in the cold weather. But when planning our outdoor wardrobe, moisture management is also an important consideration. To keep the body warm during high-energy activities, clothing should transport moisture away from the skin to the outer surface of the fabric where it can evaporate. Also, look for garments made from the new stretch fabrics for better fit and performance.

Cotton is a poor choice for insulation, because it absorbs moisture and loses any insulating value when it gets wet. Instead, moisture-wicking synthetics which move moisture away from the skin are the best choice for active winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, hiking or climbing. Not only do synthetic fabrics wick moisture away from the skin, they dry quickly and help keep us warm in the process.

The next layer should be a lightweight stretchy insulator, such as a breathable fleece sweater or vest. The final part of our cold-weather wear should be a lightweight and versatile shell jacket. Fabrics like three-layer Gore-Tex and Windstopper allow companies to create shells that are ultra lightweight while remaining waterproof, windproof, and breathable. For aerobic activities, a shell’s ventilating features are particularly important. Look for underarm zippers, venting pockets and back flaps.

Always bring a hat and gloves, regardless of the weather or activity. Proper foot protection is critical, as well — wear insulated and water-proof shoes or boots, and synthetic socks that won’t absorb sweat. As with the rest of our clothing, synthetic materials work best for protecting us against the extremes. Look for fleece hats made with Windstopper fabric, gloves and mittens layered with Gore-Tex and fleece, and socks made of synthetic, moisture-wicking materials.

No matter where we’re going or what we’re doing outdoors, bring plenty of water or sports drinks, and try to avoid caffeine or alcohol — both actually dry you out, instead of hydrating, and alcohol lowers our body temperature. Also, make sure to have a cell phone, that somebody knows where you are, and when you’ll be returning. And remember to apply a protective lip balm and to wear sunscreen — the sun’s ultraviolet rays remain potent, even in the winter, and hydrating our skin with a UV-protective moisturizer will help protect from wind and other elements.

Finally, though it may not be at the top of our “fun” list, when it snows most of us have to shovel. Dressing warmly and appropriately is key, and the same tips for hiking and sports apply:  Stretch before lifting, stay hydrated, and knows our limitations. Avoid alcohol, caffeine or nicotine before shoveling as these drugs place more strain on our body and on our heart. Use a shovel that isn’t too big to reduce weight, lift with our knees, not the back, and start slow and work steadily – take plenty of breaks, don’t rush and don’t try and lift too much at one time.

When it comes to winter activities in the outdoors, the best advice, overall, is to be smart and know our limitations. Many winter sports injuries happen at the end of the day, when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run or hike one more mile before the day’s end. A majority of these injuries can easily be prevented if participants prepare by keeping in good physical condition, stretch before getting started, stay alert and stop when tired or in pain. But the rewards are worth the risks – get out there, have fun, and stay 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!

Exercising for Financial Health

We may love money, but it doesn’t love us. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously quipped, “Money costs too much,” warning about the unhappiness associated with pursing wealth. We all need money to pay bills and to enjoy a better quality of life. But there’s an insidious nature to how we spend money, how we talk with our significant others about it, and the impact finances have on our mental and physical health.

Debt, financial stress and spending behaviors are a major cause of relationship problems and often cited as a significant contributing factor in many divorces and breakups. Worrying about money and debt also causes increased anxiety, sleeplessness, depression and stress that taxes our hearts, contributes to high blood pressure, aggravates stomach issues like acid reflux and ulcers, and can lead to strokes and heart disease. When you consider that more than three out of four American families are in debt, the weight of all that anxiety becomes more apparent.

Most of us worry about money, and this time of year, that worrying gets worse. Or, we cast caution to the wind, spend beyond our means for the holidays, and figure we’ll bear down come January . . . much like we view our diets and holiday eating.  Granted, December may not be the best time to be considering cutting back on spending, so if we allow for reality and the joys of the season – and think about what we’re going to do differently in the coming months and years — that would be a great gift to ourselves and our families.

Planning and focus pay big dividends

There’s a difference between active coping and comfort coping – some of us eat more, spend more, devise short-term solutions, and find other creative avoidance mechanisms. Instead we should be thinking about informed, collaborative planning and strategies for dealing with our money issues. Creating goals is important – if we are working toward a home purchase, a special vacation, college or retirement savings we need a clear game plan and tools to help realize our dreams. So it’s important to think long term, but live with short-term daily strategies, as well.

Here are some tips for improving our financial health:

  • Make a budget. That sounds so basic and simple, yet many people fail to truly organize their financial lives, and to understand what they bring in and what goes out . . . and what they can truly afford. Is it possible that you actually spend $25 a week buying coffee and drinks on the road? Sure it is – and that’s okay, if you can afford the extra C-note a month. If you have a detailed budget and you stick to it, buying things during the day that make you happy is okay. If you can’t pay your phone bill, purchase oil for your furnace or buy a new interview suit, it isn’t.
  • Track your expenses. Whether you write it in a notebook, record it on your computer or download one of the many spending applications available for phones and laptops, tracking what we spend is an important tool for understanding our spending habits and for charting behaviors.
  • Avoid credit, or use it wisely. All that talk about how important it is to use credit cards to build up your credit report is bologna. If you can afford something, buy it with cash or use a debit card. If you can’t afford it, and it’s really important (like fixing the car, and for travel), use a credit card, but be diligent about paying it off as quickly as possible to avoid exorbitant finance charges or the seductive allure of instant gratification.
  • Talk to others about your financial concerns. Share your worries and issues with people close to you, especially your partner. Money worries cause countless troubles for individuals, for couples, and for families. The stigma and shame that accompanies money problems – and the weight of hiding those pressures – causes stress, anxiety and depression, as well. Candor and good communication helps alleviate some of the stress that comes with feeling like you’re bearing the financial burden on your own, or the sense of hopelessness that comes with every bill or debt collector’s call.
  • Consult a financial expert. You don’t have to have a ton of investment income to seek guidance from a financial planner or consultant. He or she can help you devise a savings strategy, determine wise, affordable investments, build your budget, and plan for the future more effectively.
  • Get help for managing your debt. If you have debt and it’s wearing you and your loved ones down, there are options and strategies for addressing your bottom line. Consolidation loans with a lower monthly finance charge can help you rid yourself of credit cards. Banks love when we only pay the minimum due, and profit greatly when we miss a payment and they can charge a hefty penalty. Avoid both by paying more than the minimum monthly payment, or by paying off the card completely as soon as possible.

There are services available to help negotiate payment plans and for consolidating debt, but many of them charge a service fee for this assistance. There also are support groups, free counseling services, and programs such as Debtors Anonymous, a confidential 12-step program available in Connecticut and across the country, where people with debt or spending issues can come together to examine solutions to their money issues, and find fellowship and support.

Money challenges us all, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change. What can change is how we view our spending habits – if we’re not vague or frivolous about how, what and when we spend, we can take a big step toward improving our financial health, as well as our overall health and wellness.

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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!

Emotional Wellness During the Holidays

The holidays are great, aren’t they? They’re also exciting and fun, right?  Sure, they’re stressful, expensive and busy, too . . . and can be nostalgic and a little sad, especially when we think of those who aren’t alive anymore, or who live far away, or have fallen out of our lives. Maybe we’re feeling a little isolated, or alone, and all this happiness around us is just making us more miserable. And wow, somehow another year has passed, and we’re kind of in the same rut – and now we have to put on our best mask to face family and old friends. Honestly, January can’t come fast enough.

Perhaps the best adjective for this season is “complicated.” For many people it’s a time of joy and happiness, but for others, sadness, depression and sorrow.  Add to this potent mix the stress of running around, shopping, cooking, parties, cold weather and time and fiscal constraints, and we have the makings of a poignant spicy holiday chili and the accompanying emotional heartburn.

It’s important to find ways to calm ourselves in the moment, to find perspective and to reduce stress and anxiety. Some people find release through exercise or physical activity, others through music, cooking, reading or scores of other favored activities. But we can’t always just drop whatever we’re doing to prepare a meal, take a hike in the mountains, or practice yoga stretches. Sometimes, we need to simply catch our emotional breath.

Meditation and the pursuit of “mindfulness” are valuable approaches to gaining control of attention span, focus and concentration, and for reducing stress. Meditation takes guidance, practice and, for some, years to truly understand and incorporate. It’s a cognitive “cleansing” that allows us to relax, rest our brains, regain contact with our bodies, and establish context for things going on around us. Millions of people around the world incorporate daily meditation in their lives, and find it extremely valuable and healthy.

Mindfulness essentially means moment-to-moment awareness. Although it originated in the Buddhist tradition, you don’t have to be Buddhist to practice or find value in its benefits. In fact, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is being taught in colleges, yoga studios, meditation centers and workplaces across America.

The benefits can be dramatic — in addition to supporting overall health and well-being, mindfulness has been linked to improved cognitive functioning and lower stress levels. That’s even more important when we are being constantly bombarded by email, texts, Facebook, and Twitter.

When we are mindful we become keenly aware of ourselves and our surroundings by simply observing these things as they are. We are aware of our own thoughts and feelings, but do not react to them in negative or distracted ways. There’s no “autopilot” when we’re focused. By not labeling or judging the events and circumstances taking place around us, we are freed from our normal tendency to react to them, and shift from a subjective to an objective mindset.

Mindfulness experts teach us to not resist our mind’s natural urge to wander, but to train it to return to the present, and to center ourselves in the moment. Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness, and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. It also reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves memory and lessens depression and anxiety. There are many classes offered locally, as well as books and online instruction. Additionally, here are simple tips that we can incorporate every day, even at work:

  • Spend at least three to five minutes a few times each day doing nothing but breathing and relaxing in the moment, whether at work or at home.
  • Manage distractions like noisy co-workers by tuning into them, instead of letting them drive us crazy. . . by noticing the sounds and their effects on our bodies, we rob the distraction of its power over us.
  • Pay attention to walking by slowing our pace and feeling the ground against our feet.
  • Anchor our day with a contemplative morning practice, such as breathing, Zen, yoga, meditation or even a walk.
  • Before entering the workplace, we should remind ourselves of our organization’s purpose and our personal and professional goals, and mentally recommit in that moment to our vocation and to being a leader.
  • Throughout the day, pause to make sure we’re fully present before undertaking the next critical task, call or meeting.
  • Practice “strategic acceptance,” which is not seeing every setback in catastrophic terms. When we feel our stress levels rising, we shouldn’t try to force ourselves to cheer up or calm down — rather, simply accept how we feel. That doesn’t mean to ignore the problem, but instead, to observe and accept reality in that moment before making a plan to tackle the problem.
  • Find time to unplug from electronic gadgets, phones, computers and video games — studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology can make us more distracted, impatient and forgetful.
  • Get in touch with our senses by noticing the temperature of our skin and background sounds around us.
  • Review the day’s events at the close of the day to prevent work stresses from spilling into our home lives
  • Before going to bed, engage in some relaxing or spiritual reading.

There are so many simple, inexpensive things we can do to regain emotional control, and to help reduce or prevent stress in our lives – at the holidays, or any time of year. Learning to appreciate and be grateful for what we have is a wonderful gift, and seeing the New Year as a fresh start can be liberating. But we often need perspective and useful coping mechanisms to get us to this cheerier and healthier horizon, and to help us avoid the “holiday blues.”

 


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!

Tips for healthy skin

It’s getting cold out there. And faster than the plunging numbers on our bank’s digital thermometer, we can probably count the emerging hangnails, itchy dry patches, flaking scalp, rashes and a worsening of skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis wrought by the cold, dry air.

During flu and cold season, we’re also washing our hands more often than ever, which saps the natural oils in our skin, leaving hands, feet and other body parts dehydrated until they crack, peel and bleed. The skin barrier is a mix of proteins, lipids and oils. It protects our skin, and how good a job it does is largely genetic, but also a measure of environmental conditions. If we have a weak barrier, we’re more prone to symptoms of sensitive skin such as itching, inflammation and eczema. Our hands are also more likely to become very dry in winter if they’re constantly exposed to cold air, water, extreme heat or other environmental factors.

November is National Healthy Skin Month. Dry skin occurs when skin doesn’t retain sufficient moisture — for example, because of frequent bathing, use of harsh soaps, aging, or certain medical conditions. Wintertime poses a special problem because humidity is low both outdoors and indoors, and the water content of the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) tends to reflect the level of humidity around it. Fortunately, there are many simple and inexpensive things we can do to relieve winter dry skin, also known as winter itch.

For example, scented, deodorant and anti-bacterial soaps can be harsh, stripping skin of essential oils. That’s why many skin care experts suggest using non-scented, mild cleansers or soap-free products like Aveeno, Cetaphil, Dove, Dreft, or Neutrogena.

A diet rich in healthy fats can be another crucial element in our fight against dry, itchy skin. That’s because essential fatty acids like omega-3s help make up our skin’s natural, moisture-retaining oil barrier. Too few of these healthy fats can not only encourage irritated, dry skin, but leave us more prone to acne, too.

We can achieve an essential fatty acid boost with omega-3-rich foods like flax, walnuts, and safflower oil, as well as cold-water fish such as tuna, herring, halibut, salmon, sardines, and mackerel.

Another common culprit is dry indoor air, which can really irritate our skin.  Using a humidifier to pump up the moisture, or even surrounding ourselves with indoor plants helps keep the indoor air moist. Dermatologists suggest aiming for an indoor moisture level between 40 percent and 50 percent. Investing in an inexpensive hygrometer (humidity monitor) can help us keep track of our house’s humidity.

Skin moisturizers, which rehydrate the epidermis and seal in the moisture, are the first step in combating dry skin. In general, the thicker and greasier a moisturizer, the more effective it will be. Some of the most effective (and least expensive) are petroleum jelly and moisturizing oils (such as mineral oil), which prevent water loss without clogging pores. Because they contain no water, they’re best used while the skin is still damp from bathing, to seal in the moisture. Other moisturizers contain water as well as oil, in varying proportions. These are less greasy and may be more cosmetically appealing than petroleum jelly or oils.

Dry skin becomes much more common with age — at least 75 percent of people over age 64 have dry skin. Often it’s the cumulative effect of sun exposure; sun damage results in thinner skin that doesn’t retain moisture. The production of natural oils in the skin also slows with age; in women, this may be partly a result of the postmenopausal drop in hormones that stimulate oil and sweat glands. The most vulnerable areas are those that have fewer sebaceous (or oil) glands, such as the arms, legs, hands, and middle of the upper back.

Here are useful tips for combating dry skin:

  • Use a humidifierin the cold-weather months. Set it to around 60 percent, a level that should be sufficient to replenish the top layer of the epidermis.
  • Limit yourself to one 5- to 10-minute bath or shower daily. Use lukewarm water rather than hot water, which can wash away natural oils.
  • Minimize the use of soaps— replace them with super-fatted, fragrance-free soaps, whether bar or liquid, for cleansing, and moisturizing preparations such as Dove, Olay, and Basis. Also consider soap-free cleansers like Cetaphil, Oilatum-AD, and Aquanil.
  • To reduce the risk of trauma to the skin, avoid bath sponges, scrub brushes, and washcloths.
  • Apply moisturizerimmediately after bathing or after washing hands. This helps plug the spaces between our skin cells and seal in moisture while our skin is still damp.
  • Try not to scratch! Most of the time, a moisturizer can control the itch. Also use a cold pack or compress to relieve itchy spots.
  • Use sunscreenin the winter as well as in the summer to protect against dangerous ultra-violet rays and aging.
  • When shaving,use a shaving cream or gel and leave it on the skin for several minutes before starting.
  • Wear gloves and hatswhen you venture outdoors, and latex or rubber gloves when you wash dishes and clothes.
  • Stay hydrated– no matter the season, you need to drink plenty of water, and be careful about caffeine and alcohol products, which dry you out.

We can’t do much about the colder weather that doesn’t include moving south or west, but we can control what we put on our bodies and how we treat our skin!


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!

Orange You Glad You Ate That Pumpkin?!

The rich array of bright autumn colors aren’t limited to trees, ivy and shrubs – a quick visit to a local farm or the produce aisle at your favorite grocery store will yield a delightful bounty of fall fruits and vegetables bound to please your eyes and your taste buds. And eating foods that grow within the season isn’t just practical – it offers a cornucopia of nutrients, vitamins and disease-fighting elements that will protect you while pleasing even the more discerning foodies.

October offers a multitude of delicious and heart-healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, broccoli, turnips and Brussels sprouts are fresh from the garden or farm, and represent only a few of the many nutrition-rich seasonal foods that can help you feel better, stay healthier and may protect against maladies like heart disease and stroke.

The fall palette whets our appetites with bright oranges, reds and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, colorful alternatives like pumpkins, beets, cranberries and squash are readily available, tasty and nutritional masterpieces. Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be helpful in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables based on a 2,000-calorie diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower your risk for many diseases.

With the calorie-packed temptations of post-season baseball gatherings, football parties, Halloween sweets and, before we know it, Thanksgiving buffets, making a conscious decision to fill our plates with seasonal fruits and vegetable is a good way to avoid those extra seasonal pounds.

Purchasing produce at its peak guarantees the freshest taste, the greatest nutritional value and the most affordable price. Apples and pumpkins are two popular foods celebrated this time of year, but there’s also an abundance of delicious and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, chard, lettuce, cabbage and spinach, as well as colorful carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, green onions and a variety of squash to enjoy this season. Eating according to the seasons also is better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.

Eating with the Season

The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta-carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well, is good for our skin and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging.

The natural sweetness of pumpkin makes it a great addition to baked treats and soups or a perfect side dish. Every serving of pumpkin contains about a fifth of the fiber we need each day, along with potassium and vitamin B. And pumpkin seeds contain zinc, which is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.

Apples are a perennial favorite and healthy, as long as you don’t eat them deep-fried in fritters! Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories, a natural mouth freshener, inexpensive, and a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.

It’s a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.

Here are some other seasonal favorites to add to your shopping cart and pantry:

  • Sweet potatoesare a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
  • Beetsare another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular. Beets are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through the end of October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, beets also are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues.
  • Fall greens that are packed with nutrition include Brussels sprouts.Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, they have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February. Another healthy choice includes chicories. Belgian endive, escarole and radicchio are all chicories. They are related to lettuces, but have sturdier leaves, a stronger flavor and are famous for a bitter edge. They’re typically harvested in late fall and early winter.  In addition, endive and radicchio can be used to perk up any bagged salad, and escarole soup is a classic. For something different, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic and red pepper, just like you would sauté spinach. The greens won’t cook down as much and can stand up to the heat.
  • Finally, seasonal squash like Butternut and Acorn Squash are hearty and healthy.Covered in a thick rind, these winter squashes are the ultimate storage vegetable. Harvested in early fall and throughout the winter months, roasted squash complement many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

By eating local fruits and vegetables in the autumn, we build up our immunity and help prepare our bodies for the colder months that follow.  So don’t just put pumpkins on your porches and in your windows . . . cook them and enjoy the health benefits all year round!


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!

All the Dirt on Antibacterial Soaps, Colds, and the Flu

The long hot days of summer have blown by as if propelled by Hurricane Hermine’s winds. The sun sets earlier, sugar maples are starting to tinge, and the evenings already bear traces of autumn chill. September is upon us – the kids are back in school, pumpkins are showing up in the supermarkets, and the “Get your flu shot here” signs are appearing all around us. Sadly, colds, influenza, and throat, ear and sinus infections can’t be far behind.

With kids and adults in close proximity, poor hand-washing habits, and everyone sneezing around us, our natural immunities to bacterial and viral infections are taxed, leaving us more likely to contract a variety of illnesses. The late summer and early fall also bring a resurgence in seasonal allergies. Sometimes it’s hard to tell one malady from another  . . . with the aches and pains, runny noses, itchy throats and increased body temperature, we’re off to the doctor in search of an antibiotic, or searching at the drug store for magic pills to cure or, at the least, relieve us.

Many of the illnesses that wreak havoc in the autumn and winter are caused by bacteria or viruses, and it’s important to know the difference. Bacteria are single-celled organisms usually found all over the inside and outside of our bodies, except in the blood and spinal fluid. Many bacteria are not harmful. In fact, some are actually beneficial. However, disease-causing bacteria trigger illnesses such as strep throat and some ear infections. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria. A virus cannot survive outside the body’s cells. It causes illnesses by invading healthy cells and reproducing.

Antibiotics are our chosen line of offense against many types of infections, but they don’t work against all. For example, we should not treat viral infections such as colds, the flu, sore throats (unless caused by strep), most coughs, and some ear infections with antibiotics.

Antibiotics are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. After the first use of antibiotics in the 1940s, they transformed medical care and dramatically reduced illness and death from infectious diseases. The term “antibiotic” originally referred to a natural compound produced by a fungus or another microorganism that kills bacteria which cause disease in humans or animals. Although antibiotics have many beneficial effects, their use has contributed to the problem of antibiotic resistance, which is the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some ways that reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm. Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates and co-workers, threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As we touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, we accumulate germs on our hands. In turn, we can infect ourselves with these germs by touching our eyes, nose, or mouth and food.

Although it’s impossible to keep our hands germ-free, washing hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines and desks. So wash before and after using a restroom. Wash after visiting the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or using an ATM. When it isn’t easy to wash, use a hand sanitizer. Don’t use anyone else’s toothbrush, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates. And in late-breaking news, stop using antibacterial soaps and products – they aren’t useful in protecting you, and are causing more damage than good.

Antibacterial soaps aren’t good for us

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently banned the sale of soaps containing certain antibacterial chemicals, saying industry had failed to prove they were safe to use over the long term or more effective than using ordinary soap and water.

In all the FDA took action against 19 different chemicals and has given industry a year to take them out of their products. About 40 percent of soaps – including liquid hand soap and bar soap – contain the chemicals. Triclosan, mostly used in liquid soap, and triclocarban, in bar soaps, are by far the most common.

The rule applies only to consumer hand washes and soaps. Other products may still contain the chemicals. The agency is also studying the safety and efficacy of hand sanitizers and wipes, and has asked companies for data on three active ingredients – alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol), isopropyl alcohol and benzalkonium chloride – before issuing a final rule on them.

This decision comes after years of mounting concerns that the antibacterial chemicals that go into everyday products are doing more harm than good. Health experts have pushed the agency to regulate antimicrobial chemicals, warning that they risk damaging hormones in children and promote drug-resistant infections. Additionally, studies in animals have shown that triclosan and triclocarban can disrupt the normal development of the reproductive system and metabolism, and health experts warn that their effects could be the same in humans.

The chemicals were originally used by surgeons to wash their hands before operations. Their use has expanded significantly in recent years as manufacturers added them to a variety of products, including mouthwash, laundry detergent, fabrics and baby pacifiers. The CDC reports the chemicals from antibiotic soaps are found in the urine of three-quarters of Americans, one of the many factors they considered in issuing the ban.

The surest bet for a healthy fall and winter is to be vigilant about hand washing, and to take reasonable precautions such as getting flu shots (note that the CDC is questioning the effectiveness of the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine for the 2016/2017 flu season) and avoiding people who are coughing, feverish or obviously ill. When sick, try to stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the joy, and seek medical care if you feel you may require antibiotics or other medicinal remedies. You also can speak with your physician about antibiotic resistance, or take the time to learn more about this important subject by visiting reliable websites such as www.cdc.gov.


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!

Too much fun in the sun isn’t fun at all

Think about the years before wearing seat belts in automobiles was mandatory. Thousands of U.S. adults and children got seriously hurt or killed every year in car accidents, but that wasn’t enough to change behaviors. Safety officials and physicians advised people to install and use these restraints, and national legislation requiring mandatory seat belt installation in cars was passed in 1968. Still, it took until 1984 before the first state laws were passed requiring people to actually wear the belts. But thousands more died, unnecessarily, before seat belt use became commonplace.

Now, think about skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States.  Each year, over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people, and 90 percent of them are the result of exposure to UV radiation. In fact, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one American dies from skin cancer every hour (most often from melanoma, the most fatal type of skin cancer).  And if that isn’t sobering enough, contemplate the economic reality: The annual cost of treating U.S. skin cancer cases is estimated at $8.1 billion.

There certainly aren’t any laws requiring that we protect ourselves, but are we paying attention yet? Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. In fact, UV radiation from the sun is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization.

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

How to protect ourselves from excess UV exposure

The best way to lower our risk of developing skin cancer is to protect our skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, we can’t rely too much on sunscreen alone. Sunscreen and hats are helpful for reducing exposure, but not an excuse to increase the amount of time we spend in the sun. Even with the use of sunscreens, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate our clothes and skin and do harm.

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

When and how to use sunscreen:

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

 

Here are additional safety tips for protection from harmful UV radiation:

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

We all need the vitamins from the sun and can still enjoy the outdoors, but taking proper precautions allows us to be outdoors more safely, year round, and to reduce the risks of developing skin cancers and other skin-related diseases. As the old seat belt commercials used to tell us, “Don’t become a statistic.” Whether applying to car seats, consumption of tobacco products, or sun exposure, that’s sound advice for us and our children.

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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!

Fending off the Zika virus

Thanks to the incessant coverage of the U.S. presidential nominating process, the Zika virus alarm bells being sounded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been temporarily overshadowed. But we are getting closer to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this August. In addition to the superb athletics, people will be buzzing about Zika, which has been far more widespread in South America than in North America. Cases have been reported here in Connecticut now, and people have to be cautious and concerned.

The Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. While this mosquito species is not currently present in Connecticut, a closely related species, Ae. albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, and related species are and may become carriers of the disease in Connecticut.

The Ae. aegypti, also common known as the Yellow fever mosquito, is found throughout tropical regions of the world and are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. Mosquitoes become infected with the Zika virus when they bite a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites.

Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). According to the CDC, illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting several days to a week — deaths are rare. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus infection; however there is medication to treat some of the symptoms.

People are cautioned to contact their health care provider if they develop symptoms after returning from areas where Zika virus has been identified.  Of enormous concern, Zika virus can spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus, which can cause serious birth defects. Because of this, pregnant women should not travel to areas where Zika is present. Zika virus can also be spread from men to women by sexual contact.

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil, and on Feb 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern. Transmission has been reported in many other countries and territories, especially in Latin America. Brazil has confirmed 2,844 cases of Zika in pregnant women.

Avoid infection by preventing mosquito bites. Use insect repellent according to label instructions, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats, empty any items around your property that can hold water, and use air conditioning or window/door screens. It is important to practice these protective measures when traveling to areas where Zika virus is found, and these are useful steps to help reduce mosquito and insect bites in general.

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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!