Podcast: Living and Working With Endometriosis



Introduction

Carol Harnett [00:00:00] Hi everyone, this is Carol Harnett. I’m the president of The Council for Disability Awareness. Welcome to our show: the Financial Health and Income Network.  I am very excited to launch what we hope will be a continuing series with people who are working and living with chronic conditions, illnesses and diseases.  I am so pleased to say that our first topic will be on endometriosis.

 


You can hear the full podcast or if you’d rather read than listen, we captured the transcript from the conversation below.


 

Carol Harnett [00:00:32] I’ve worked in and around healthcare my whole life, and worked around the data in healthcare my entire career, and I have never thought about endometriosis as a separate category.  What brought it to my attention is my guest, Tawnia Jacobson. She is a nurse who has a master’s degree in Science with a concentration in Biology, and is also a Certified Nurse Anesthetist.

I often put firewalls between the different parts of my life. This is one of those times when I let the different parts of my life blend together. Tawnia is also my CycleBar instructor, and that is how I came to know her. She did something that I think has a high degree of impact for everyone around health and particularly for women with endometriosis.

During the month of March, which is an awareness month for endometriosis, she shared publicly through her Instagram account, her experience with endometriosis along with a lot of very important facts. The one that captured me the most is that 1 in 10 women in the United States have endometriosis, which is the same as the diabetes rate in the United States.

When we think about the amount of time and energy that we put around diabetes, which we should, we don’t put any time and energy around addressing endometriosis. So, Tawnia, thank you so much for being willing to join us today and talk with us and educate us on this topic.  

Tawnia Jacobson [00:02:05.40] Absolutely Carol. Thank you so much for having me.  This is an extremely important topic for everybody, but obviously near and dear to my heart with personal experience.

Carol Harnett [0:02:18.42]: For that reason, I want to turn a lot of the show over to you. I would love you to start, if you don’t mind, first with grounding people with a definition of what endometriosis is, and then your story as it relates to that.

Defining Endometriosis

Tawnia Jacobson [02:37.08]: Endometriosis, by definition, is a systemic disease that occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus is found elsewhere in the body, mostly in the pelvis or the pelvic cavity. But it can also appear on the bladder,  the bowel, the lungs (into the diaphragm) , and even the brain, in worst-case scenarios.

It causes pain, organ dysfunction, and infertility. The cause of endometriosis is unknown, but there are many theories surrounding it.  Genetics, stem cells, blood and lymph system distribution are all possibilities. Inflammation is a key factor, and they believe that maybe some environmental toxins may be linked to it.  Again, no definitive cause, and the diagnosis unfortunately takes a very long time. As Carol mentioned, the prevalence is extremely high, it’s 1 in 10 women. So if you yourself don’t have it, absolutely somebody you know has it or may not even know that they have it, but are experiencing signs and symptoms of having endometriosis.

A Challenging Diagnosis

Tawnia Jacobson [0:04:00.16]: A lot of people ask why it takes so long to diagnose and it’s mainly because most obstetrics and gynecology doctors themselves don’t even know that much about it. The average patient will see eight to ten doctors before they receive an actual diagnosis. After years and years of pain and suffering, many patients are told that it’s “in their head”, that it’s just “IBS” — irritable bowel syndrome — because so many of us have so many bowel symptoms that go along with this.

When it’s confused to be a GI issue, you might be sent away from your GYN (gynecologist), to a gastroenterologist and go through every process and procedure known to man for that, and really that’s not the initial cause. With a lot of confusion and pain, it becomes a mental battle and game for many patients and it’s very frustrating.

I can now back up and talk about my story.

Tawnia Jacobson | Symptoms: Pain, Heavy Menstrual Bleeding, Fatigue, Migraines

Tawnia Jacobson [0:05:05.25]: I would say that this whole thing probably started for me when I started menstruating at the age of 16. With heavy, heavy bleeding, I missed many days of high school. I was fatigued. I would get headaches. My mother actually had a history of very heavy periods as well, and had a hysterectomy at the age of 30 because of heavy bleeding. She couldn’t handle it anymore. At the time, whether they knew or not that she had endometriosis has really been left to be discovered, but it doesn’t matter. They performed a hysterectomy to treat her pain and bleeding, and that’s all I know. My mom kind of just said, “Yeah, I had really bad periods, too,” and we went about business and life. When I moved to college, the pain was worse. I would be knocked out for at least a week at a time in addition to the week of premenstrual symptoms.

One Solution | Birth Control

Tawnia Jacobson [0:06.10.01]: I finally started seeing a GYN (gynecologist) early in college who suggested birth control. She diagnosed me with menstrual migraines. She thought if we could even out my hormone swings it would prevent my migraines. Then, obviously, if I wasn’t bleeding, I wouldn’t have as much pain or symptoms of cramping and bleeding.

I went on birth control early on, probably by the time I was 19, and stayed on birth control for about 7 years. I came off birth control at about 2008; (we can talk a little bit more about how birth control can suppress endometriosis symptoms later).

Without being able to remember too much, in general, I just always felt crappy around my period. I was exhausted. There were probably days — many days — when I called out of work. But the bleeding was so intense that I would have to take extra clothes with me everywhere I went because I would easily bleed through what I had on.

Again, I was just always told it was normal. Even my GYN was like, “Yeah”, some people just get this. This is normal.” She offered me narcotics to deal with the pain. I never took them as I am not the type of person who would even take Ibuprofen regularly. So I spent a lot of time in bed, a lot of time sleeping with heating pads, and just dealing with it.  This continued for years and years.

Next Step | Trying to Conceive

Tawnia Jacobson [0:07.45.76]: I think the next step in my journey came when my husband and I decided to start trying for a family. Probably around 2014, we became more active in trying. And even though I had been off of birth control since 2008, we were obviously not preventing pregnancy, but it hadn’t happened. But 2014 is when we started to try a little bit more actively.

I was feeling a lot more left lower quadrant pain, and I think once you become hyper-focused on your schedule and looking at a calendar all the time,  you start to become very in-tune with your body. I was just noticing so many things. So I sat down and talked to my GYN about it. She said, “Let’s start by getting some labs and do an ultrasound, so that we can  rule out cysts.”

At the time I didn’t have any signs or symptoms of ovarian cysts other than just pain which seemed to be focused in my left lower quadrant.  Labs came back and showed that I had a low AMH, which is an Anti-Müllerian hormone. This test is fairly new. They’ve been using it maybe 10 to 12 years. So again, six years ago or five years ago, or however long it was I got this information, my GYN  didn’t feel that comfortable with dealing with it. She said, “With this information, it means you have a low ovarian reserve, and I’m not really sure how to treat you moving forward. I need to send you to a fertility specialist.”

This was obviously devastating news, and not what you want to hear when you’re just starting your journey.  But I thought, “Great! This is a specialist, somebody who is going to listen a little bit more to my symptoms and put a little more thought into my cycle and what has been going on for years.”

A Specialist, and Diagnostic Laparoscopy

Tawnia Jacobson [0:09.36.93]: We went on that journey, and have been on that journey for the past four years. It has been equal parts devastating and frustrating, but it was during that time that we all, as a team, made the decision that I probably most likely had endometriosis. The only problem was, the only way to diagnose endometriosis is via invasive surgical procedure. You have to have a diagnostic laparoscopy in order to obtain a sample of tissue to send to pathology for diagnosis. It was years of frustration and a lot of changes to my cycles, (very short cycles). Another thing to add is that after we were told we wouldn’t conceive naturally, I did conceive naturally.  Unfortunately I sustained a miscarriage at about 10 to 11 weeks. It was at that point that my cycles seemed to be even more sporadic and painful. It was then that I finally said, “Okay, I have to do something, so let’s have surgery.”

In 2017 I had my first surgery by a fertility specialist who claimed that he could fix my endometriosis and get me pregnant. I trusted him and I went through surgery. Within three months, my symptoms were worse than they had been before. I was in a very ugly place mentally and emotionally, and I was begging for a birth control again because I said, “I can’t continue feeling like this. I’m not myself. It hurts every day.”  It went from being painful a week to two weeks out of the month to three to four weeks out of the month. There were very few good days. I was keeping a calendar. I was keeping food diaries. It was consuming my life and it was miserable. So I begged and pleaded for birth control, and he talked me out of it because he said, “You are looking to start a family” and I said, “I understand that but this isn’t working.” So instead he put me on Clomid.

I took a course of Clomid hoping to get pregnant, but instead I ended up getting a grapefruit-sized cyst.  Luckily it did not require surgical resection, but I endured many, many days of pain until it rectified itself. After that, I foolishly put myself on a course of DHEA hoping that would improve my egg supply for getting pregnant once again; not realizing that those are the worst things you can do for endometriosis.

Breakthrough

Tawnia Jacobson [0:12.20.51]: By the fall of 2017,  I was just in a really bad place.  It was not good for my relationships. It was not good for my marriage. I knew that I needed to do something. I just didn’t know what I needed to do.

As fate would have it, one of my neighbors and I were talking one day. We had just built a house in a new development and she was a new neighbor. We were talking about infertility. She mentioned that she had endometriosis as well, and she led me down the path of Nancy’s Nook, which is an endometriosis education forum on Facebook that literally changed my life.

I went on there and I read for a couple of hours every day. I learned more than I ever learned about endometriosis in my entire life in about four hours, and it changed my life. It was Nancy’s Nook who educated me, who ultimately led me to my surgeon, who performed excision surgery, which is the gold standard for treatment right now. I had surgery last March and have felt like a new person ever since then.

Carol Harnett [0:13:34.05]: Wow, as I was listening, you probably heard me gasping because it’s incredible to listen to your experience in one fell swoop. I can’t imagine what that was like to live through.

Tawnia Jacobson [0:13.49.22]: I try to keep it as condensed possible, but it was many, many years of suffering, and many years going in the wrong direction.

I mentioned keeping food diaries.  I changed my diet so many times. I had tried gluten-free and dairy-free. It was around that time that I actually got pregnant. Part of me was like “Wow, is that what it takes?” Then I eventually went vegan; I had cut out all meat. If you read a little bit more about endometriosis, you realize that they encourage an anti-inflammatory diet. A lot of that means getting rid of red meat. My husband and I tried vegan for a while, and none of this was helping any of my symptoms. It was basically just torturing me more mentally because it was all-consuming.

Finally, The Right Surgeon, The Right Procedure

Tawnia Jacobson [0:14.32.20]: I talked about meeting the surgeon who basically changed my life. It was the excision surgery that changed my life. It was the appropriate treatment. My first surgery was ablation, which means they burn the tissue.  They don’t actually get rid of it, they just burn it, and hope to prevent it from growing back. The tissue, I guess it could be described as an iceberg. The tissue that you see is visible endometriosis, but lives much deeper than that. The part of the iceberg that you don’t see below the surface is actually the problem. You burn what you see, but you leave behind what you don’t see, and it will continue to grow. Since you’re in there basically irritating it, making it more angry, the endometriosis becomes worse. That’s why when I had my first surgery, within three to four months, I was feeling worse than I did before. We made it angry. Until I went to the correct surgeon and had the proper procedure done, my symptoms weren’t going to get any better.

Since having surgery, (a four-hour procedure), I was diagnosed with moderate endometriosis.
I did not have it on my diaphragm, Thank God, but  it was covering much of my pelvic orifice. It was growing on both ovaries and wrapped around ligaments. I had right leg pain that nobody ever paid any attention to but me. I would live from day-to-day, working out regularly, and then I would have to take one to two weeks off of my workouts at a time because my right leg was bothering me so much.

When I found the surgeon who ended up helping me, he didn’t even bat an eye.  As soon as I said “right leg pain down my back,” he was like, “Oh, yeah, your ligaments are involved.” And sure enough, when he went in there, the endometriosis was wrapped around my uterosacral ligaments. He had to dig down in there and clean that all out and I haven’t had any leg pain since surgery.

Carol Harnett [0:16:34.62]: You’re generous to share this. I know that when we look at data for why people go out of work and we look at their health data (we call it disability data), but it’s not the disability people think about. When we say disability data, we are almost always talking about illness or injuries that people have that prevent them from working — usually on a temporary basis.

Ablations and hysterectomies are procedures we’re seeing both in endometriosis and in perimenopausal women who are having difficulty with heavy bleeding. It’s interesting, too, because these procedures aren’t always successful in the perimenopausal population.  I did more background reading so I could ask you intelligent questions. I read about excision surgery and was disappointed to find that there’s a limited number of surgeons in the U.S. who have the expertise to do this surgery.

Tawnia Jacobson [0:17.29.92]: About 150, I think, worldwide.

Carol Harnett [0:17:33.91]: Yes, I think there’s about 100 in the U.S. When you think about it, I assume they’re clustered in bigger geographic areas. I think about women who this might be a good solution for — at least a strategy to manage it — those who may have to travel to see somebody who’s able to do this procedure. This is concerning because that may exclude women of certain means to be able to do that.  That always concerns me.

I actually didn’t ask you about this earlier when we started this show, or even when we’ve talked about this a little bit, but I think you referenced in one of your social media posts that there are some insurance limitations for some of the procedures. Did I remember that correctly?

Insurance Coverage and Financial Implications

Tawnia Jacobson [0:18.26.65]: Yeah, I’m going to be very careful with how I speak to this because I am not a professional in the industry. I can only speak to my personal experience, and I actually have a girlfriend who’s really going through a very frustrating situation herself with insurance regarding this.  I can say from my experience, yes, my surgeon was out of state. He was technically out-of-network, which is true for many women who are searching to find an endometriosis expert to treat them because they are very few and far between. Many of them are grouped together, like you said. We’re fortunate in New England to have in New York, Massachusetts and Maine certified surgeons who are experts in excision surgery but, unfortunately, your insurance does restrict you being able to go out of state. Lucky for me, my insurance at the time had an out-of-network option. The hospital, the lab and the anesthesia services were partly covered by my insurance. Now the surgeon himself is paid out of pocket simply because he doesn’t get reimbursed for the procedure.

This is where I’m going to be very careful with how I speak.  How I understand it is that there are basically no CPT codes for the excision surgery itself. They will lump it into the same category as ablation. My surgery was four hours long. My bowel was not involved, but many women do have bowel involvement which can sometimes involve a colorectal surgeon as well. So, if you’re in there 4 to 8 hours (sometimes 10 hours if you’re having diaphragm involvement as well) and you’re only getting reimbursed for an ablation procedure, which can be done in about an hour, you’re losing a lot of money.  That is a lot of time, energy and expense being put out there that you’re not getting reimbursed for. I believe that’s why many of these surgeons require out-of-pocket pay.

Carol Harnett [0:20:39.22]: You have to save!

Tawnia Jacobson [0:20.41.84]: Yeah exactly. My surgeon offered a payment plan. You spoke about people traveling; he gets patients from all over the world.  He had patients flying from India the week that I met him. He’s been doing this for 30 plus years so he is seeing people worldwide. It’s unfortunate because not everybody has the means to be able to do this.  When I was going through the process of finding a surgeon and scheduling surgery, I had befriended somebody through social media who lives in California. She was suffering so much and could not find a surgeon out there who was local and in-network for her insurance. She was fighting the good fight. She was appealing every time I turned around and she was just hoping and praying that she’d be able to find some loophole to be able to allow her to have excision surgery. I can proudly say today that she finally did get surgery! She had excision surgery in December, but I was at the point where I was like,  “Oh my God, I need to start saving money and fly her out here to see my surgeon,” because after I had surgery, I felt so much better. I want every person who is experiencing this pain to be able to find somebody who can help them because they deserve it.

Back to the insurance question -, my girlfriend is experiencing a very similar situation. She has had three ablation surgeries locally, at one of our local hospitals, and it’s not working for her. She needs excision and her insurance has denied her request, twice, to go see my surgeon in She’s still fighting, still trying to figure that out.

A Word About PPO Plans | More Options

Carol Harnett [0:22:19.74]: I’ll just add a quick point. I’ve been in and around insurance for the last ten plus years of my life, in addition to what I do at The Council for Disability Awareness., When you’re going through the open enrollment process, if your employer offers health insurance, (employers of a certain size are all required to offer health insurance) or have to go into the individual market yourself, it’s really important to make sure you’re in a preferred provider (PPO) plan.  At least when you go out of network, it’s pricey (you have a much more significant copay until you reach your out-of-pocket maximum), but at least it gives you options.

This advice applies not just for this situation, but for all situations, particularly if you want to go to what we would call a “center of excellence.” I would consider 100 surgeons in the country to be 100 separate centers of excellence for how to treat this condition — endometriosis — by excision.

This is not a push for you to buy more health insurance than you need.  A PPO health plan costs more money, but when you or one of your loved ones is impacted, you will be ever so thankful that you had options.

Carol Harnett [0:23:25.28]: I am looking at the clock and we have about 6 minutes and there are two questions I want to ask. You referenced a couple of times that when you were in high school you missed school and missed work.  Something that The Council for Disability Awareness focuses on is how illnesses, injuries and diseases can impact people’s ability to work.

The most recent research article I could find was published in 2017. The researchers studied the impact of endometriosis on work and life and said that on average (and the range is enormous), women lose about 5.3 hours per week to endometriosis. Whether that’s being absent or unable to do something, or not being able to do it in the way they normally could.

Can you talk a little bit more about how endometriosis impacted your ability to work for certain, but also your ability to do things in your own life?  I have met you as a very active person, so could you share with people what that is like.

Living and Working with Endometriosis

Tawnia Jacobson [0:24.51.98]: There were days missed from work, days where I had been up all night writhing in pain, or had a wicked headache and just felt terrible the next day and knew that I couldn’t function to my full capacity. That being said, fortunately for me, the worst of my symptoms developed about nine months before I had excision surgery and coincided with me  taking a new position at my job. It was a leadership role. It was administrative. I was putting so much time and energy into my new role, that it was depleting me to the point where between that and my symptoms, I couldn’t function in life outside of work.

I think the new job gave me the drive to get up every single day. Even though I was miserable mentally and physically, I had a purpose. I got up and would work four days a week, but I would then come home and be useless. I would be on the couch with a heat pack taking more ibuprofen than I had ever taken in my life.  Luckily, I had a husband who could pick up the pieces, but it wasn’t good for our relationship, and it was taking a toll on us. I just can’t help but think of women who are supporting themselves as single mothers, or women who are single and alone, and don’t have somebody to help them emotionally or physically.

I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t clean, and I didn’t do my own laundry. I was really kind of  useless outside of work. I had the ability to get there and do that, but that was kind of my purpose in life. I’ve often thought about if I hadn’t taken that new job, where would I be because I think I would have given up. I think I wouldn’t have wanted to get up anymore every single day. It’s funny how timing works out like that.  Prior to that position, I definitely missed a ton of work.

I definitely would call out. I said it used to be a week at a time,  and I would feel crummy, but then it became three weeks out of the month.  It was affecting me so much so that actually my words to my husband were: “I either have to find a surgeon who can help me or who believed my pain and my symptoms, or I have to be admitted to a mental institution, because something’s not right with me. I’m in a very dark place and I’m not myself.”  Those words really sent the message home, and he was like, “We have to do something.”

Fortunately for me, my something was Facebook and educating myself. I said it to you before and I have said it to other people, “It’s embarrassing. I’m a healthcare professional. I’ve studied science my entire life.” I didn’t know what endometriosis meant. I thought it just meant bad periods, painful bleeding, painful sex.  It was an excuse to me. Unfortunately, that’s what many people think and that’s the kind of the stigma you had mentioned. It’s a woman’s disease and women don’t normally talk about their reproductive systems. People don’t usually want to hear about women’s reproductive systems, and that’s unfortunate, because if we can tie this back to the beginning and talk about the prevalence being the same as diabetes. Diabetes isn’t always pretty either, and it affects every organ system in the body — just like endometriosis can affect almost every organ system in the body. Everyone’s symptoms might present a little bit differently, but they can involve major organ systems.

Carol Harnett [0:28:18.58]: I appreciate you sharing all that, particularly your comments about your mental health, because when I looked at this 2018 research study, they looked at lists of symptoms. The more symptoms you have, the more likely you are to be out of work for a period of time.  The number two symptom (pain being number one) was mental health, because people were feeling unaddressed and confused.

I am so grateful you’re talking about mental health because, by coincidence, we are live recording this on May 1st, which is the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month, in addition to Disability Insurance Awareness Month, and I’ve committed to talking a lot about mental health.

We have 60 seconds left to our time together, so I’m going to ask for a 30 second headline. Looking back on what you know now, what’s the number one piece of advice you would give to people?

Tawnia’s Best Advice | Educate Yourself

Tawnia Jacobson [0:29.15.14]: Educate yourself. Don’t trust that the doctors know exactly what they’re talking about. I don’t say that negatively, because I work with physicians every single day, but they’re not all experts in what you’re experiencing. Be your own advocate; do your own research, and find the specialist in the area that you need.

For me, it was endometriosis; Nancy’s Nook saved my life. I wish I would have found that resource earlier. If people are struggling, go look at the documentary on endowhat.com. It is life-changing.  

Carol Harnett [0:29:48.41]: Thank you so much, Tawnia, for being our guest. In my opinion, this  is the best show we’ve ever done.

For everyone who has been listening, we hope this show has helped you.

I want to say thank you to all of our listeners. Have a great day, and there’ll be a transcript that accompanies this show so it is easier for  you to get all of the information that we referenced. We will make sure there’s links for all of it.

Thank you again, Tawnia.  

Tawnia Jacobson [0:30.11.97]: Thank you for having me –  such a great topic.




Celebrating the Modern Dad: Transitions and Wellbeing for Today’s Family



The presence of a loving father greatly increases a child’s chances of success, confidence, resilience, physical and mental well-being.

Family Dynamics of the Past

Not too long ago, society deemed dads incapable of caring for their children.  At least that’s what the television ads would portray. Picture this: a bumbling dad burning dinner and twisting the baby’s diaper in a knot, only to be saved by dear old mom.  At the time, fathers were simply the breadwinners, and had no business in the kitchen or caring for the children.

But that was then.  

The historically significant shifts in technology, alongside the evolution of gender roles, over the past 70 years, both at home and in the workplace, have changed that.  Now, dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is important to their identity.  According to Pew Research, it is now less common for dads to be the sole breadwinner of the family.  In 1970, 47 percent of families were supported by the working dad alone. Today, that number has dropped to 27 percent.  Most two-parent families with kids have both parents working in some capacity.  Along the way, society has done away with stereotypes about what fathers do. 

If there is a strong evidence to prove the importance that fathers be around and be involved, then they now have a stronger argument to be home.” 
– Paul Raeburn.

The Modern Dad: Fathers as Caregivers

The modern-day father comes in various forms. Today’s father is no longer always the traditional married breadwinner and disciplinarian in the family. He can be single or married; externally employed or stay-at-home; gay or straight; an adoptive or step-parent; and a more than capable caregiver. More fathers are actually making the conscious choice to stay home to raise their children.  According to Pew Center, in 2016, 24% of stay-at-home dads reported that this was the main reason they were at home, up from just 4% in 1989.

As more and more dad’s take on the caregiver role, new studies are being conducted on the science of fatherhood that investigates the role of fathers in their children’s and families’ lives.  According to author, Paul Raeburn,  “Fathers who play with their kids have children who have fewer behavioral problems in their school years, adjust better to their transition to school from toddlerhood, and have less likelihood to be involved in delinquency or criminal behaviors as teenagers and even more as adults. This has a lifelong effect on children and it’s really only in the last few years that this has begun to be recognized.”  

The NEW American Family and the Need for Comparable Paid Family Leave Laws, Disability Insurance

As dad’s role in the family dynamic becomes more equalized with that of what the stay at home mom’s role used to be, the need for paid leave programs for all workers has come into the public and political conversation. Today, only a few states have laws requiring paid leave for various circumstances. And while many companies have their own, more generous policies, the benefit is not as widespread as you might imagine: The National Partnership for Women and Families, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group, estimates that only 17 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.

To help working mothers, paid parental leave – for moms and dads — may be the next frontier. Employers and governments are now talking a lot more about giving fathers a break so they can be the dads they want to be – and so the daily work-parenting load will be more equally distributed. In fact, the Trump administration has reportedly drafted a budget that would require states to offer six weeks of paid parental leave. So far, there are no signs of any progress on the plan, mostly because there are no specifics about how to implement it yet, but the fact that such a priority is even on the budget at a time of massive spending cuts is good news. 

Whether or not your state or company offers ample paid leave, disability insurance (or, as we like to call it, “income insurance”) is another benefit more employers are considering as additions to their benefits packages, and one more families should consider during their company’s open enrollment. Although fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through short-term disability insurance that is provided by their employer, most workplaces offer you the option of purchasing more. It’s a decision that can save a family’s finances should the unexpected happen.

Proactive Steps Dad Can Take for Longterm Health and Wellbeing

Outside of benefits and income protection, and as primary caregivers, it is important for men, like their female counterparts, to take a proactive approach to healthcare, something most men historically do not do. According to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, men are notoriously bad patients. Compared with women, they avoid going to the doctor, skip more recommended screenings and practice riskier behavior. They also die about five years sooner, live with more years of bad health and have higher suicide rates. Now, with the growing recognition that treating preventable causes of death and disability could close the medical gender gap, the health-care industry is mounting a new push to get men the care they need.  

The first step is prevention. As we know heart disease the number one cause of illness and death for the American man.  Families can help the dads in their lives think about their own health and lifestyle choices and ensure they are taking the right steps to look after themselves.  The Centers for Disease Control, offers families a simple guide to help the men in their life get and stay on track with their health.  Here are some tips: 

  1. Gather for the Family Meal.
    While you are at it, have dad eat his fruits and vegetables every day.

  2. Get active!
    This Father’s Day, find fun ways to exercise together. Regular physical activity has many benefits. It can help dad control his weight, reduce his risk of heart disease and some cancers, and can improve overall mental health and mood.
  3. Don’t Forget to Breathe.
    Help the men in your life recognize and reduce stress.
  4. Schedule the Check Up.
    Men can prepare for doctor’s visits. Certain diseases and conditions may not have symptoms, so checkups help identify issues early or before they can become a problem.
  5. Know the Signs of a Heart Attack:
    • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
    • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
    • Chest pain or discomfort
    • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
    • Shortness of breath
  1. Know the Signs of Depression: They include persistent sadness, grumpiness, feelings of hopelessness, tiredness and decreased energy, and thoughts of suicide.

A father’s influence has changed over the years. For example, today there are more stay-at-home dads by choice and those that are able to take paid leave for a new baby.  This has created a cultural shift placing a father at the core of caregiving. As a result, it is having long term positive effects. As the number of dads who are in the caregiver role increases, it is ever more important they take advantage of employer paid leave benefits, and at the same time, take proactive steps to maintain optimal health… not just for their own good, but the good of their families (and society in general).  

Happy Father’s Day!




How to Reduce Employee Financial Stress for a Healthier Workforce… and Bottom Line

 

This content was provided by the Council for Disability Awareness Member Lincoln Financial Group®

 

Employee financial wellness is a hot topic today, and for good reason. A recent survey shows that employees spend five to 13 hours per month worrying about their personal finances while at work.  Without the necessary support, employees are more stressed, and thus more distracted. For employers, this translates into a nearly $250 billion loss in healthcare, productivity, and lost wages every year.1

Some studies show that financial stress, especially in the workplace, is at its highest level in five years.2 And, while every employee’s situation is different, many face the same financial stresses – the most common monetary challenges facing employees typically include:

  • Heavy debt
  • Vanishing pensions
  • Retirement savings
  • High student loan debt
  • Increasing healthcare premiums
  • Out-of-pocket health expenses such as deductibles, copays, and coinsurance

How Employers Can Help Employees Reduce Financial Stress

With employees spending the majority of their day at their designated places of work, employers have an opportunity to incentivize change and offer solutions to this population.  Employers can help employees better manage their concerns with a mix of financial wellness programs and quality voluntary benefits.  Click here for tips to help employees learn about how to build financial literacy.

Financial Wellness Programs

Employee financial wellness programs can help employees find balance and control over their finances, now and throughout their lifetime. Gaining in popularity, these programs have become a key workplace trend in 2017.3 because they can meet the needs of employees by educating them on how to manage and overcome personal finance issues. Some of the more popular financial wellness programs include:

  • Debt management and reduction
  • Budgeting tools and resources
  • Investing and financial market basics
  • Asset management and saving for home purchase, college, retirement, and other goals.

Employers can approach financial wellness by engaging employees throughout their lives, with a focus on guiding employees towards action. One important objective is to help employees reach their goals for every stage of their financial lives, whether it’s saving for a house, a car, college, or retirement. The key takeaway for these types of programs is to select the right financial wellness program that addresses the specific needs of employees in your business and offer them the resources they find valuable.

Organizations have every reason to want their employees to be financially sound. An effectively designed employee financial wellness program can help employers:

  • Bolster productivity, because employees aren’t distracted by financial worries.
  • Drive more predictable workforce flow throughout the organization.
  • Result in improved physical health (people with high levels of financial stress are more prone to sickness).
  • Increase employee engagement and retention.
  • Create more affordable retirement opportunities for all employees and enable career advancement opportunities for younger employees.

Having a clear understanding of the business benefits of financial wellness, integrated within the overall wellness and HR talent/acquisition strategy ensures corporate commitment and is key to a successful financial wellness program.

Voluntary Benefits

As an employer, you understand how employee well-being impacts the workplace on many levels,  and will want to ensure it is not affected by financial stress. Not every employee understands the many benefit options that are available to them. Therefore, it is worth investigating ways to help them really understand the benefits your company can offer to ensure they are equipped with the financial knowledge they need.

A thoughtful mix of voluntary benefits can help employees better manage unexpected medical costs associated with a critical illness or accident. That is to say, voluntary benefits plans are easy to implement and cost-effective for employers as the employee typically selects the plan, and pays the premium. Three of the most popular voluntary benefit product offerings are:

  • Accident
    Provides a lump-sum for a wide range of covered accidental injuries from simple fractures to third-degree burns
  • Critical Illness
    Provides a lump-sum benefit if an employee is diagnosed with a covered critical illness
  • Hospital Indemnity
    Provides a lump-sum when a covered illness or injury results in hospitalization


Voluntary benefits offer key advantages:

  • Most policies are portable
  • No copays, deductible, or coinsurance
  • Benefits paid directly to the employee
  • Employer group rates are generally lower than an employee can purchase separately.

Employers can provide employees with special financing vehicles that may have tax advantages, including: health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) using pre-tax dollars to pay eligible healthcare expenses, dependent care FSAs for eligible dependent care services, and a health savings account to help employees pay expenses in a high-deductible health plan.  Your voluntary benefit options send the message to your employees that you’re listening to their concerns and priorities. Get it right, and your benefits dollars will be well spent and will pay off in terms of employee satisfaction and retention. In fact, Sixty-two percent of Millennial and 50 percent of Gen X employees say that their loyalty to their company is influenced by how much the company cares about their financial well-being.2 Employers that implement an employee financial wellness strategy and clearly communicate available benefits resources can make a positive impact in the workplace: for employees, and for the company… a win/win.


Sources

[1] Mercer Survey. “Inside Employees’ Minds – Financial Wellness, Volume 2.” 2017. Retrieved from https://www.mercer.com/newsroom/financial-stress-could-cost-us-employers-up-to-250-billion-in-lost-wages-annually-finds-new-mercer-survey.html

[2] PwC. Employee Financial Wellness Survey. 2017. Retrieved from https://www.pwc.com/us/en/ private-company-services/publications/financial- well-being-retirement-survey.html

[3] S Miller. Is 2017 the Year of Employee Financial Wellness Programs? Society for Human Resource Management. Jan. 17, 2017. Retrieved from:
https:// www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/financial-wellness-trend.aspx

 




Earth Day | What Does It Mean to Go Green?

tips for how to go green this Earth Day

‘Going Green’ means to live life, as an individual as well as a community, in a way that is friendly to the natural environment and is sustainable for the earth, and Earth Day is the annual day of awareness that celebrates the green lifestyle.  

It is an opportunity for individuals and communities to come together to adopt new behaviors and share knowledge and practices that can lead to more environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible decisions and lifestyles.  As a result, Earth Day reminds us that small changes in how we live our daily lives today can help protect the environment and sustain its natural resources for future generations.

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. – Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

To meet today’s environmental challenges, it’s important for everyone to consider the effects of their actions at home and in the workplace. Here are a few tips and resources for environmental stewardship provided by experts at the World Watch Institute:

Recycle

Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the United States, and as a result, helps save energy and protect the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years!

What you can do:

  • Put a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans, and paper.

Turn Off the Lights

On the last Saturday in March hundreds of people, businesses, and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.

What you can do:

  • Although Earth Hour happens once a year, you can make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight, or whenever you will be away for an extended period of time.

Make the Switch

Compared to traditional incandescents, energy-efficient lightbulbs such as halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light emitting diodes (LEDs) have the following advantages:

  • Typically use about 25%-80% less energy than traditional incandescents, saving you money
  • Can last 3-25 times longer.

What you can do:

  • Plan to switch out your traditional incandescents with energy saving bulbs the next time your old bulbs die out.

Turn ON the Tap

It is known that plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems, and therefore the energy required to transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year. The kicker here? About 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled, rather, they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. 

What you can do:

  • Fill up your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink. The United States has more than 160,000 public water systems, and by eliminating bottled water you can help to keep nearly 1 million tons of bottles out of the landfill, as well as save money on water costs.

Turn DOWN the Heat

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5–15 percent on your home heating bill.

What you can do:

  • Turn down your thermostat when you leave for work, or use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.

Support Food Recovery Programs

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States annually.

What you can do:

  • Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to partner with food rescue organizations.
  • Go through your cabinets and shelves and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won’t be using to your nearest food bank or shelter.

Buy Local

Local and small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.

What you can do:

  • Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers.

Get Out and Ride

Carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as gas bills. Cities across the country are investing in new mobility options like bike sharing programs, and people are renting for short-term use. As a result, there’s been a significant reduction in emissions.

What you can do:

  • If available, use your city’s bike share program to run short errands or commute to work. Memberships are generally inexpensive (only $75 for the year in Washington, D.C.), and by eliminating transportation costs, as well as a gym membership, you can save quite a bit of money!
  • Even if without bike share programs, many cities and towns are incorporating bike lanes and trails, making it easier and safer to use your bike for transportation and recreation.

Share a Car

Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009.  Consequently, in 2009 car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons. 

What you can do:

  • Join a car share program! As of July 2011, there were 26 such programs in the U.S., with more than 560,000 people sharing over 10,000 vehicles.
  • Of course, if you don’t want to get rid of your own car, using a shared car when traveling in a city can greatly reduce the challenges of finding parking (car share programs have their own designated spots), as well as your environmental impact as you run errands or commute to work.

Plant a Garden

Whether you live in a studio loft or a house in the suburbs, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep with minimal impact. 

What you can do:

  • Plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.

Compost

What better way to fertilize a personal garden than using your own composted organic waste. Likely, you will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.

What you can do:

Reduce Your Meat Consumption

Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but by simply cutting down on the amount of meat you consume can go a long way.

What you can do:

  • Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. And if you are unable to think of how to substitute your meat-heavy diet, websites such as Meatless Monday and Eating Well offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.

Making small changes and adopting sustainable practices, for instance, ride sharing, buying local,  turning off the lights, or recycling can make an enormous impact on the environment over the long term. 

Click here for more on Earth Day 2019 and ideas for change.




14 Cheap but Fun Ideas for a Valentine (or Any Time!) Date Night

Love isn’t free…that is, if you are trying to prove your love with an extravagant Valentine’s Day gift. In fact a survey from the National Retail Foundation found that Americans are expected to spend a record amount on Valentine’s Day this year…an average of $161.96, which is up 13 percent from the average in 2018.

Think quick: Where did that money go last year? We bet you don’t even remember because it was probably either wasted on an overpriced, mediocre meal at a crowded restaurant or spent on a “meh” gift like a stuffed animal or chocolates. This year, instead of spending money on stuff you don’t want or need, why not create some real memories with an activity that is both frugal and fun. Here are 14 choices we love.

  1. Get physical. Come on; we’re talking exercise. There’s not much that’s more romantic than working out with your partner—think about it; you’re in close proximity, you’re dressed down, and you’re doing something that will help you live an even longer life together. A class like yoga or Pilates can be a good choice with its relaxing combination of mindfulness and stretching, but you could also take a romantic stroll or go ice skating or roller skating. Don’t forget to hold hands during couples skate. 
  2. Cook at home. This is a no brainer…cooking together doubles as an activity and a meal. Since Valentine’s Day is the second biggest restaurant day of the year (after Mother’s Day), there’s no reason to go out with the masses when you can cook a perfectly fabulous steak or other luscious delicacy at home. 
  3. Dine out for dessert.  If you really want to eat out, your best choice is a sweet treat…you’ll spend far less than you would forking out big bucks for overpriced pasta. Less money, far more fun. Find a bakery that has your favorite desserts or go to the nicest restaurant in town and eat something decadent a deux, with a price tag that’s pretty sweet. 
  4. Sing karaoke. If there’s ever a night that calls for a power ballad duet, it’s Valentine’s. Find a local hotspot and sing your heart out to your beloved. 
  5. Go window shopping. Honestly just looking and trying on is half the fun. Go to a posh boutique or specialty store and indulge your inner fashionista by trying on clothes and shoes you’d never buy—and maybe would never even wear outside the dressing room. Or go to a thrift store and pick out comical options for your partner.
  6. See a production at a local community theater. Seek out free or low-priced local shows to have a Broadway-style evening at an affordable price.
  7. Get your paint on. Whether painting a keepsake piece of pottery or attending a “wine and paint” night where an instructor helps you create a masterpiece, getting arty together makes for a fun evening—and you’ll get to bring a souvenir home.
  8. Visit a museum. Fun fact: Many libraries have culture passes that offer free or reduced admission to local museums. 
  9. Babysit for a friend or relative. This maybe doesn’t count as the most romantic night ever, but you’ll feel good letting them have an evening out—and you can see whether parenthood appeals.
  10. Plan your dream vacation. Get on your devices and research a place you’ve always wanted to visit—or that you think your partner has always wanted to visit—and create an itinerary. Dare to dream.   
  11. Have a scavenger hunt. Make clues based on special places the two of you have been and hide them around town. Or if the weather is bad, take it indoors to a mall. 
  12. Participate in a trivia night. Many restaurants and pubs host trivia nights; make it a double date or join with some others and make a team for an information-packed night out. 
  13. Find a bar with free music. Check out the local arts paper to find a place or two that offers free music. Don’t forget to tip the musicians, though. 
  14. Huddle in with board games or a movie. Light some candles, open a bottle of wine…what more would you need? 




Resolution Reboot: Ditch the February Funk and Recommit to Your Resolutions

When February rolls around, some of us fist pump the air. “Yay! A whole month with my resolution.” Others (a larger amount, by the way) think, “Ugh. I have already failed.” Here’s the thing: February is a great time to reboot your resolution. In fact, ANY TIME is a great time. There is nothing magical about January 1.

As author and behavioral scientist Daniel Pink shares in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, “imbuing an otherwise ordinary day with personal meaning generates the power to activate new beginnings.”

That means that while January 1 carries a weighty significance as a change catalyst, we really could choose any day as that ideal day for new beginnings. So, why not today?

Here are three common resolution fails, along with reasons why now is the perfect time to start back up.

 

  1. Your gym membership is already gathering dust.

If you were one of the hordes who enthusiastically joined a gym at the beginning of the year, you are far from alone. If you are one who quit going by February 1 (or earlier!), again, far from alone. In fact, one survey found that nearly half of Americans had given up their exercise resolution to hit the gym by the end of January. Some felt judged; others found a gym membership too pricey; and still others couldn’t find the time.

But February is actually a fantastic time to give the gym one more shot—precisely because so many people have abandoned it, thus negating at least one of the reasons mentioned above. Of course a gym can feel intimidating when it’s overly crowded; you can feel as though you’re not getting your money’s worth when every station is in use or you’re turned away from class; and it can be extra hard to fit into your schedule when you have to wait to get a parking spot or time on the machines.

And remember, a gym isn’t the only place to get your sweat on. Temps are starting to climb from the polar freeze of January, and February is a great month to try snow shoeing or ice skating or even a walk outdoors to spot those crocuses pushing through. Or, you could commit to using your Netflix for something other than binge watching and find an exercise video to try.

 

  1. You gave up eating healthfully.

Here’s something that people don’t always realize: Winter fruits and vegetables aren’t always that exciting. In fact, it can be far easier to start a healthy eating plan as you head toward spring and the promise of berries and tomatoes. Alas, we’re not there yet, but you can still make strides in that direction, incorporating frozen fruits into smoothies, or trying a new recipe with a winter veggie, knowing that more choices are around the corner.

And remember that eating well doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even making small changes—forgoing that afternoon vending machine cookie or after-dinner ice cream—can add up to big results when done consistently, and is often far more palatable than making a drastic change that’s hard to sustain.

 

  1. The clutter has piled up—again.

Did you join the Marie Kondo bandwagon? The pressure to decide if your items “spark joy” can be intense. But what many would-be organizers don’t realize is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A better strategy if you want to keep your house a little more organized is to adopt some daily habits that keep clutter at bay. For example:

  • Handle the mail and recycle liberally every day so it doesn’t pile up. (Bonus: You’ll never get hit with a late fee if you take care of paying bills as soon as they come in.)
  • Create a system to deal with jackets, shoes, mittens, etc. You might be surprised at what the calming effect of a clutter-free entry. This change alone can make your house feel less disorganized.
  • Run your dishwashers every night and empty it every morning so dishes don’t pile up in the sink.

There! With these three small changes you’ll be back on track…and you can tackle those drawers and closets at your leisure.

(And if you want to feel a little better about not getting rid of everything in your house, consider this story of a mom who inadvertently gave away one of her son’s mugs, which unfortunately was crammed with cash. No joy there!)




Keeping Your Office Healthy: Five Ways to Keep Germs at Bay

It used to be that one sign of a good worker was just powering through the day, even if you felt crummy. Now, the opposite is true, as workplaces get wise to the fact that a sick employee isn’t likely to get much done—except potentially spreading their germs to the rest of the team.

In fact, those coughing, sneezing coworkers can be a health hazard to everyone around them—just by breathing. One study estimates that more than 60 percent of people with flu symptoms admitted to leaving their house—presumably many of them to head to work—while they were sick. And that’s a lot of germs being passed around, infecting even healthy people.

Here are some ways that the HR team can contribute to a healthier workplace.

 

  1. Offer sick days

 

Many employees come to work sick because they think it’s expected. But creating a relatively lenient sick day policy might actually save you money in the long run, if workers stay home and keep their germs to themselves. One study found that “presenteeism,” the lack of productivity in workers experiencing health problems, can cost U.S. companies up to $150 billion annually.

 

Sick days can help stem the tide of germ-sharing in the workplace, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers found that flu cases dropped in cities that adopted paid sick-leave mandates.

The key is to make sure employees know the policy and the protocol for calling out sick (see below for more on helping them telecommute.) And be aware of the duration of the illness; you might need to touch base with an employee if a spate of sick days is stretching into a case for when short-term disability insurance should potentially kick in.

 

  1. Create work-at-home protocols.

 

When deadlines loom, many employees might feel that taking a sick day will just make things worse when they return. According to one study, more than 40 percent of employees said that was the reason they came to the office while sick—to avoid future work overload.

 

But the truth is that many employees can do key parts of their job remotely—even if it isn’t feasible all the time. However, that can raise the question of whether the employee has actually taken a “sick day” or not, which can impact their compensation. That’s why you might want to consider implementing a policy that covers some of those issues, such as how their time will be tracked and how many “work-at-home-while-sick” days each employee can take.

 

Having a clear policy can protect your company so you can verify that work is actually being done, while avoiding the risk of having employees spreading germs to others.

 

  1. Encourage your team to get flu shots.

 

Of course it’s best to get the flu shot earlier in the season, but it’s never too late to help prevent an office epidemic. In fact, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout flu season.” And since flu outbreaks happen at different times in different communities, you may still have time. If yours hasn’t hit yet, getting vaccinated pronto could help keep people safe from it.

 

  1. Kill workplace germs as fast as you can.

 

It’s amazing how fast a virus can move in an office,” says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and coauthor of The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu. “If one person comes in with the cold or flu, he can infect as many as one-third of his fellow office mates within a day.”

 

Pay special attention to wiping down objects in community areas like the printer, copier, refrigerator handles, and door handles—and don’t forget the coffee pot. And encourage employees to wipe down their stations frequently also.

 

  1. Encourage healthy habits.

 

One of the best ways to build immunities that help stave off illness is to adopt healthy behaviors, such as getting adequate sleep, eating well and exercising regularly.

You can play a role by sharing articles with healthy tips (such as those found on this site) or by encouraging employees to sip water and munch on healthier choices, if your workplace offers snacks at meetings.

 

With these tips, a healthy office can be within reach.




5 tips to prevent the spread of an infectious superbug

In the winter, we tend to be in closer quarters indoors and constantly around friends and family. It is important to be conscious of infectious diseases, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which are spreading rapidly among public places like gyms and schools. MRSA prevention should continue at home, especially for groups at higher risk, like student athletes.

Taking simple measures at home and on-the-go can help you to protect and safeguard your health, environment and family from dangerous bacteria and viruses, including MRSA, this season. Jeanine Thomas, MRSA survivor and founder of MRSA Survivors Network; former NFL player Brandon Noble, who has been personally affected by MRSA; and Saskia v. Popescu, hospital epidemiologist and infection preventionist all share the following tips to preventing the spread of the superbug:

1. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds – the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice – or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. “Winter is a prime season for stomach bugs and diarrheal illness, so it’s important to stay vigilant with hand hygiene,” said Popescu. Be extra cautious in public settings like gyms, locker rooms, households and schools, where these viruses are increasingly spreading.

2. Keep to yourself and do not share personal items, such as towels or razors, which contact bare skin. MRSA is easily spread by skin-to-skin contact or touching contaminated items or surfaces. It is also resistant to many antibiotics, making it difficult to treat.

3. Act fast and take care of cuts and open wounds by covering them up with a clean, dry bandage until healed. Seek a medical professional if the wound worsens or doesn’t heal quickly. “When I contracted MRSA, it changed my life. I had no idea such a disease existed and would pose as a threat to my career, health and overall well-being,” said Noble.

4. Use a barrier, such as a towel or clothing, between skin and shared equipment at the gym. MRSA prevention should continue at home, especially for groups at higher risk like student athletes, as MRSA bacteria can remain on surfaces after someone touches them, making it possible for someone else to pick them up.

5. Regularly clean countertops and other surfaces in your home. “Keeping your germs at bay in the kitchen is easy,” said Thomas. “Just mix 1/2 cup bleach with one gallon of water, wipe surfaces and leave solution on for 5 minutes and then rinse.” The CDC recommends disinfecting surfaces which are likely to contact skin with an EPA-registered disinfectant, like Clorox Regular Bleach with Cloromax.

MRSA is one common superbug that can be potentially deadly. Caused by a type of staph bacteria often found on the skin and in the nose, MRSA is easily spread by skin-to-skin contact or touching contaminated items or surfaces. It is also resistant to many antibiotics, making it difficult to treat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 72,444 infections and 9,194 MRSA-related deaths each year in the U.S alone.

“In 2000, I had ankle surgery and ended up infected with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA. The infection spread to my bone marrow and bloodstream and required many surgeries and rehabilitation,” said Thomas. “Since then I have been dedicated to advocating for patients and families to help inform them and bring awareness of the disease and prevention measures to the general public.”

“I wish I had known the simple ways to prevent the spread of this disease, like I do now, as that could have made all the difference,” said Noble. As germs and illnesses spread quickly, especially in close-proximity areas, taking proactive steps to prevent common viruses and bacteria from spreading in the home, at schools and in locker rooms is more important than ever.




The top 10 health and nutrition trends to look for in 2019

Health and nutrition trends come and go, and 2019 is guaranteed to bring about some interesting changes to keep an eye on. Natural Grocers surveyed more than 70 of the company’s nutrition experts and identified the top 10 trends in health and nutrition in 2019.

  1. Mitochondrial optimization will keep healthy fats in focus. Microbiome has been a buzzword for the past few years, but this year, it is mitochondria. Mitochondria convert oxygen and food into the energy, and when your mitochondria are dysfunctional, but you can become vulnerable to degenerative diseases like heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. In 2019, expect to hear more about mitochondrial health and look to see brands embracing more high-fat focused and ketogenic products to support optimal mitochondrial function.
  2. Collagen and bone broth are easier than ever.  Collagen has gained mainstream interest over the past year. In 2019, as more collagen and bone broth products enter the market, so will convenient opportunities for consumers to take collagen on a daily basis. Companies are looking for unique and simple ways for consumers to try out bone broth, including bone broth protein bars, pre-made soups and even bone-broth infused coffee.
  3. Say goodbye to sugar. Consumers are continuing to stay aware of how much sugar is added to almost everything they eat. This year, nutritionists are urging consumers to learn how to break up with sugar, claiming once you become a savvy monitor of added sugar, it will become easier to avoid it.
  4. A mushroom boom.  Mushrooms hold the power to support the immune system, blood sugar balance, brain health, liver health, respiratory health, hormone balance and can even boost energy levels. In response to the growing mountain of research promoting the health benefits of mushrooms, the supplement, grocery and even body-care industries are introducing more ways to introduce mushrooms to consumers. We’ll continue to see the category grow, with more mushroom teas, tonics, broths and coffees making an appearance in 2019.
  5. Nootropics + neuroplasticity Neuroplasticity is the now proven principle that we can change the structure and function of our brains throughout our lives and that our thoughts, emotions and behavior are the primary means of doing that. The discovery of neuroplasticity has led to the explosion of natural nootropics. Nootropics are substances that can be taken to improve mental performance in healthy people, and they are most often used to boost memory, focus, creativity, intelligence and motivation. Nootropics may also reduce age-related declines in brain function. Look for more brain-boosting formulas on the supplement shelves in the coming year
  6. Promoting the body’s ability to heal itself. We will see companies meet the demands of consumers who want to swap their use of over-the-counter (OTC) meds and prescription drugs for natural remedies that support the body in healing. Instead of opening the medicine cabinet, people will use a combination of lifestyle choices, herbal remedies and vitamin supplementation to support the body in times of discomfort. Immune support remedies like mushrooms, elderberry, manuka honey throat sprays and natural zinc lozenges will dominate.
  7. Green beauty boom. Consumers are becoming more aware about the slew of chemicals that come from body care products, including ubiquitous endocrine disruptors, and are looking for products with ingredient lists that don’t require a chemistry degree to understand. In 2019, expect companies to offer a wide variety of clean body care products with simple, natural ingredients that work.
  8. Ingredient lists over nutrition facts.  In 2019, expect to see nutrition labels demoted and instead, consumers will read and make food choices based on ingredient labels. Rather than glorifying macronutrient logs and adhering to extremely strict dietary guidelines, 2019 will foster a friendlier relationship with food that focuses on simple, clean ingredients in products made with whole, real foods.
  9. Lutein reigns supreme over blue light. Blue light—from our smart phones, tablets, computers, TVs and even light bulbs—has become ever-present, and a growing body of research is showing that all of this blue-light exposure can damage the retina of the eye and can lead to age-related macular degeneration1 Enter lutein. Lutein preferentially accumulates in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision, where it filters damaging blue light and increases macular pigment density. In 2019, lutein will solidify its role as protector of the eyes and the brain.
  10. Love your liver. In 2018, research showed millennials were getting fatty liver disease faster than any other age group. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 40 percent of U.S. adults have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In 2019, it’s expected that consumers will clean up their diets, and there will be an increase in sales of herbal supplements that support liver health, like milk thistle and berberine, as well as MCT oil.

 




Feeling strain from the holidays? Try some magnesium

Getting an adequate dose of magnesium could help relieve some stress this holiday season, according to Atlanta physician Dr. Bindiya Gandhi. And according to Gandhi, almost 68 percent of Americans don’t get enough magnesium — a stat that tends to increase during the holidays.

Diets rich in magnesium, along with supplements and Epsom salt baths, can both relieve stress and promote muscle recovery. Stress also depletes magnesium levels, which makes an increased effort to intake more especially critical this time of year.

Studies show taking magnesium at night not only helps alleviate anxiety, but helps you get a better night’s rest,” said Gandhi. “Magnesium has a relaxing effect and helps convert tryptophan to serotonin, which is why it helps with anxiety.”

Gandhi added that people can boost their magnesium levels by soaking in Epsom salt, which is actually magnesium sulfate, or taking magnesium supplements orally.

She also suggests bolstering your diet with foods rich in magnesium, including nuts, seeds, chocolate, tofu, beans, avocados, bananas, figs and green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach.

“Stress can be seen in many forms, including irritability, feeling overwhelmed, symptoms of sadness, teary eyes, heart palpation, headaches, stomach upset and more. It’s different for different people,” said Gandhi.

Besides magnesium, Gandhi said meditation and breathing techniques to help cope with stress. “We can’t always change our stress in life,” Gandhi says, “but we can learn to change how we react to it.”

Increasing your body’s magnesium levels can also help jumpstart your New Year’s fitness resolutions. Gandhi says people starting new workout routines, especially high-endurance workouts, could recover faster with Epsom salt baths and other forms of magnesium.