How to Help Those with Depression or Suicidal Thoughts

I was saddened to hear of the two recent celebrity suicides. I was sad for their families and also for them.

But I was also anxious. I knew that I would soon be receiving texts and emails full of questions about, “why?”  I don’t know why these things happen. Each person’s story is unique. There may be certain risk factors and things that could be done to prevent suicide. But there is no simple formula to predict or prevent these types of things.

Many are also saddened to hear that suicide rates are climbing nationwide. In New York state, the suicide rate rose about 30 percent between 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Things That Can Help

For me, I deal with all of this by focusing on what we can do to help people battling depression and suicidal thoughts. Some of the top ways include:

  1. Effective mental health treatment. Evidence-based-treatments – including cognitive behavioral therapy – could help. This therapy revolves around helping you handle mood fluctuations and stressful situations. Talk to your physician for more information.
  2. Connection to the world around you. This includes your connection to family, pets, caregivers, therapists, and church or spiritual communities. These connections provide you with a purpose, support, and something to live for. In dark times, it helps to wake up with a purpose and wake up to someone to love and/or to be loved by.
  3. Try to stay sober during sad times. Substances like drugs or alcohol can make you feel isolated or make obstacles appear insurmountable.

Additional Resources

Remember: If you need to talk to someone, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers additional suicide prevention information:

Skin Cancer: What to Watch Out For – A Personal Reflection

Skin is something people take for granted, until the worst happens. It is the largest living organ of the human body and the most exposed to the elements.

Too much exposure to UV rays from the sun can cause skin cancer.  According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with one in five Americans developing skin cancer by the time they turn 70. While skin cancer is more likely to occur in older adults, younger people can also get skin cancer.

There are many things we can do to safeguard our skin. A Healthier Upstate spoke to Tom Hoffman, a former construction professional living in Rochester, NY who survived a skin cancer diagnosis back in 2007. He shared lessons learned from his experience.

Tom Hoffman, diagnosed with melanoma in 2007.

How did you first find out you had skin cancer?

It was 2007 and there was some unusual crusting on my right hand. I was concerned it was a solar spot. I worked in construction at the time. I went to my physician to check it out. My wife came with me. I talked to the doctor about working outside in the sun as an adult and playing outside in the sun as a child. The doctor took a look at my right hand and told me the spot could be cancerous.

Tom originally went to his doctor worried about “crusting” on his hand.

He then examined the rest of my body. I thought everything else was fine, until my wife pointed to a spot on my body and said, “That doesn’t look right.” She pointed to a black-bluish spot a quarter-inch in diameter. The doctor agreed the spot was out of the ordinary and booked me for a biopsy. I got the biopsy and waited. One day when I was at work I got a phone call from the dermatologist.

They gave me the results of the biopsy. I had skin cancer. Melanoma. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer.  I was shocked.

What happened then?

I set up an appointment with a plastic surgeon since I had Stage 2 melanoma (it hadn’t spread, but it was on the edge of spreading).

The area of Tom’s abdomen that was affected by the melanoma.

The surgeon said he had to cut around the area. Unfortunately, that didn’t clear the cancer, so I had to go back for a second surgery, this time for a larger incision. Thankfully the final biopsy came back clear.

Did you do anything differently since getting cancer?

I was expected to survive five years.  It was an eye-opener! I did a lot of research and realized things I hadn’t realized before. I learned about precautionary steps, such as the correct use of sunscreen with enough SPF. I use sunscreen with an SPF of 50 and now wear a wide-brimmed hat. You’re still exposed to the sun’s harmful rays on cloudy days, so I make sure to put on sunscreen. I also learned you can get melanoma in the eyes, so it’s a good idea to wear shades. I passed the 5-year survival rate in 2012, and am grateful for each day given to me.

Tips for protecting yourself from the sun

This summer, enjoy the sunshine safely, with these tips from the CDC:

  1. Stay in the shade, especially when the sun is high
  2. Cover up your exposed skin, especially your arms and legs
  3. Wear sunglasses that protect from UVA and UVB rays
  4. Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 and that offers broad-spectrum protection. Apply sunscreen before going outside. Reapply if you’re staying out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming or sweating. Damaging UV rays can impact all types of skin, so even people with darker skin need sunscreen.
  5. Avoid indoor tanning

If you notice any changes to your skin, make an appointment with your doctor to examine your skin.

Click HERE to download a free infographic, “The Scorching Truth About Skin Cancer” or learn more by watching this short animation:

One Person’s Surprising Back Pain Treatment

When Sharon Taylor found herself couch ridden from back pain, she followed all the doctor’s orders. She tried rest, prescription medications, and even spinal injections. Still, she couldn’t shake the pins and needles going up her back.

“I called my doctor and said ‘look we’ve got to figure something else out, nothing is working for me.’”

Sharon eventually did find a way to relieve her back pain. But she accomplished this without prescriptions, surgeries or other procedures.

The “magic bullet” was much simpler than that.

Back Pain Usually Lessens Within Weeks

Most adults suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. But are they getting the right treatment?

More upstate New Yorkers with back pain are undergoing surgery and taking prescriptions, according to an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield study.

But those treatments don’t usually work. It’s often simpler treatments, such as exercises and over-the-counter drugs, that usually relieves the pain, said Dr. Brian Justice, a chiropractor and medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

What about an MRI or another imaging test to see what’s wrong with you? In most cases, these tests don’t help and can lead to surgeries and other stuff that you don’t need, said Dr. Justice. Receiving the wrong care could make matters worse, he added.

“Back pain is not a disease in search of a cure,” said Dr. Justice. “It’s a part of life that needs to be managed.”

Back pain usually goes away in a few weeks by following simple steps, such as:

  • Limiting bed rest and staying active
  • Applying heat to manage the pain
  • Taking over-the-counter medication, as needed
  • Consulting your primary care doctor or physical therapist or chiropractor

Sharon’s Simple Solution To Back Pain

Having visited a chiropractor before for arthritis in her knees, Sharon went back. Her provider suggested she try riding a bike to soothe the pain.

Riding her bike was painful at first. Still, Sharon persisted. She started with 15 minutes each night, and pedaling around her garage. Now a pro, Sharon admits she struggled at first to sit on her bike.

“They say that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget,” she added. “Well that is true but your body may not agree with that!”

Sharon Taylor

Eventually, she left the garage and made it to the streets. While finding some new friends along the way, a once daunting chore turned into a healthy activity.  She said, “in that time I met so many wonderful people, and I found all these clubs to ride with!”

The more Sharon rode, the easier it became. With time her back pain went away, and all of her aches in her joints were soothed as well.

Pedal Away The Pain

If you suffer from back pain, biking may (or may not) be for you. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options. But if you’re ready to pedal away the back pain, try these tips by Sharon:

1. Start with a partner 

Not only is it great to have someone to keep you company, but there’s also safety in numbers. If you do choose to ride alone, let someone know your whereabouts just in case!

2. Purchase supplies- but don’t go crazy!

To this day I can still picture my mom yelling at me to wear a helmet as I ran out the door. But there are many other safety measures to take while riding.

  • Wear a whistle. Whistle to alert cars or pedestrians that you’re there. The whistle could also save your life if you’re in danger, or injured.
  • Wear bright colored clothing and trick out your bike with blinking lights– especially at night! It’s shocking how many times I see people riding their bikes in all black clothing. Get some sneakers with bright laces, a helmet with a glow in the dark top- whatever it takes to make sure cars and pedestrians can see you.
  • Don’t invest in a pricey bike right away. It might be tempting to get the most glamorous bike in the store. Consider starting with a “Big Box Bike” at Wal-Mart or Target. Once you commit to riding, your next step might be a custom-made bike. Sharon’s bike is made to fit her body. It has custom-made handlebars, and a seat made for her body type.  The custom-made bike is more expensive. But Sharon said it’s  worth it. “I just see it as an investment! The ride is totally different. It’s like a Chevy Cruze compared to a Mercedes,” she said.

3. In Case Of A Biking Emergency

Tape your name, phone number, and your “in case of emergency contact” to the inside of your helmet or write it on your shoe. Your information needs to be easily accessible if you do get injured. My parents have each other listed in their phones as “ICE”, and I keep my emergency contacts listed inside my wallet, next to my driver’s license.

What about Winter?

If it’s snowy and icy, or if you’re not ready to start biking, there are other ways to relieve aches and pains. First, talk to your healthcare provider about a new exercise regime. Sharon recommends checking out an underwater cycling class such as AquaFit!  What about a cycling class, riding a stationary bike or trying yoga?  Walking is also one of the most popular ways to get exercise since it’s so easy to do!

So, if you’ve got a twinge in your back that you just can’t seem to get rid of, consult with a healthcare provider and try dusting off your old Cruiser and hit the trails!

Since writing this article, Sharon has undergone surgery and had to take a break from biking. But she’s happy to report that she’s slowly returning to the activity she loves.

National medical societies have banded together to educate the public about talking to your healthcare provider about often unnecessary services, such as certain back pain treatments. The campaign by the American Board of Internal medication is called “Choosing Wisely.” Click HERE for a full list of Choosing Wisely ailments and reasons why you should talk to your doctor about them.   

 

Men’s health: How pride and stubbornness almost ruined my well-being

Fall of 2017 had just begun. Changes were coming — I could feel it in the air. And I don’t mean just the change in seasons from summer morphing into fall, of green leaves turning brilliant shades of orange and red, and warm days transitioning to cooler temperatures.

Having asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, I find it easier to breathe in the fall. I was looking forward to breathing a little easier after the long, hot summer that featured lots of rain.

At work, I was gearing up for another open enrollment period. This is the time of year when companies choose the health insurance they are offering their employees. It always brings many new changes, challenges, and exhilaration for me and my colleagues in the Sales and Marketing department at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Letting pride and stubbornness get the best of me

As I sat home doing what I usually do on Sundays — watching football — I suddenly noticed that I was having difficulty breathing. Grabbing my inhaler, I took a few puffs, only to realize that my fast-acting Inhaler wasn’t acting fast. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t acting at all.

For a while, I kept telling myself that if I just relax on the couch, I would soon feel better. As time went on, though, I wasn’t feeling better — I was feeling worse. Pretty soon, I could barely breathe. It wasn’t long before I was sweating and hyperventilating.

Finally, I had to admit to myself that a trip to the emergency room was in my very near future. To do that, I needed to get dressed. I was NOT going in my skivvies.

When my wife noticed the challenge I was having getting dressed, she offered to call the ambulance. “Nooooo, don’t call the ambulance,” I wailed. “I can make it to the car.”

It was pride, or foolish pride and stubbornness, getting the best of me. I didn’t want the neighbors to see me being hauled off in the ambulance.

“911. What is your emergency?”

Ignoring my protest, my wife did call an ambulance, which prompted cries along the lines of, “Oh dear God! They’re coming to take me away.”

Thoroughly embarrassed, I arrived at the emergency room of my local hospital, where my diagnosis was so bad that it prompted a transfer to Crouse Hospital. I had a pneumothorax. In layman’s terms, I had suffered a collapsed lung due to an abnormal collection of air between the lung and the chest wall.

The treatment sounded simple enough. The medical practitioner informed me they would insert a chest tube to inflate the lung and remove fluid and air.

“Oh goodie,” I thought. “I’ll be home in no time and be able to catch the Sunday night game.” Well, I did catch the game, but it was from my bed at Crouse Hospital.

Patient versus Patience

Patience is a quality which shows that a man or woman is tolerant and has the capacity to endure pain or suffering. Patient is a word that is used for sick people.

Being a good patient requires patience. Neither one describes me. I am a horrible patient with little or no patience. After spending four days in the hospital, I was so ready to go home. My condition had improved, my lung was inflated again, and I was anxious to be discharged.

The day of my expected return home, I tried hard to be forbearing. But by 3 p.m., I still had not received my promised discharge papers. As I said, I am not a good patient and have little to no patience.

I ended up yanking out the intravenous cord attached to my arm and storming out of the hospital. I told the nurse to mail me my discharge papers. My wife was not amused.

Who says Friday the thirteenth is bad luck?

I did manage to recover enough of my strength to return to work a week later. A few days in, on Friday the thirteenth (which meant nothing to me, as I am not superstitious), I had scheduled a one-on-one with my manager.

Suddenly, I was not feeling right. Again I was having shortness of breath and starting to sweat. My fast-acting inhaler once again was not acting fast. I had seen this movie before.

I asked my manager if we could reschedule our meeting because I was not feeling well. I just wanted to get in my car, go home and lay down.

Thankfully for me, she would not let me go, insisted I did not look well and thought to call the Emergency Response Team. Again I howled, “Nooooo! Not that,” to no avail.

Dismissing my protests, the Emergency Response Team and my co-workers convinced me to stop being stubborn and get to the hospital. “Here we go again! I get to have another ambulance ride. Yeah me,” I thought wryly.

Taking corporate culture to a whole other level

Lying on the gurney in the ambulance, I had no choice but to accept my fate. Deep down, I knew that the trained and experienced people at Crouse could help me in spite of my stubbornness.

What I did not expect was my manager, Vaia Spasevski, to join me in the ambulance for the ride to the hospital. I was vaguely aware that she was standing outside the ambulance when I was getting loaded in. I thought I saw Todd Muscatello, our Corporate VP of Sales and Marketing, outside as well.

Pulling up to the hospital as if through in a fog, I finally arrived in the emergency room. The diagnosis was a collapsed lung again. I was not surprised.

What was surprising was seeing Todd and Vaia standing outside my examining room. I am still not sure how Todd got there so fast. I’m beginning to wonder if he was driving the ambulance. The two of them waited there until I went in for surgery and my wife arrived.

All’s well that ends well

The successful thoracic surgery I then underwent included a procedure to prevent air from getting between my lung and chest cavity. At this point, I no longer felt any sense of embarrassment, as it was only my wife there seeing me at my worst.

At least that feeling of relief lasted until Mark Muthumbi, Regional VP of Sales and Marketing at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, showed up. Could it be possible that the people I work with day in and day out are so concerned with my well-being?

It took some time, but I did come to realize that many of my co-workers cared about me and were concerned about me. That convinced me to be a better patient and have more patience. This time around, I allowed myself more time to convalesce and heeded the advice to take my time returning to work.

When a minor setback occurred a couple of weeks into my recovery, I didn’t stubbornly try to ride it out by convincing myself to just rest and give it some time. I used the opportunity to call our telemedicine provider, MDLive, which saved me the trouble of making a separate doctor’s office visit.

Today, I’m thankful to be back at work. I realize that the outcome could have been a lot worse if not for the actions of my wife and my co-workers. I thank them all for their concern and well wishes. They didn’t just do it any way; they did it the “Lifetime Way,” the cultural mantra that we live by at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

What have I learned from this cautionary tale?

Here are some things I’ve learned from my experience:

  • Be aware of what’s going on with your body. Pay attention to the smallest of signs that can point to something bigger going on.
  • Be more proactive when it comes to health issues. Don’t just dismiss them, thinking that another day of rest and recuperation will make things better.
  • Embarrassment, pride, and stubbornness will not help you in a medical emergency. You have to ditch all three of these and allow yourself to be put in a vulnerable position to get to the bottom of a health issue.
  • There are people outside of your immediate family who genuinely care about you.
  • Telemedicine is an awesome healthcare resource that can help in a myriad of situations.
  • Have more patience, especially if you’re a patient.

Snack Your Way to Your Summer Weight

Healthy snacking might sound like an oxymoron. But there are a lot of benefits to snacking – especially if you want to shed a few pounds in time for swimsuit season.

If you snack on the right foods, you tend to consume fewer calories throughout the day. You’ll feel fuller longer and be less likely to overeat or reach for unhealthy foods.

In addition to looking good poolside or at the beach, individuals who stay at a healthy weight reduce their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and some cancers.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Rather than snacking on cookies or chips, have a handful of raw almonds. A serving is 23 almonds. Put a serving of almonds into individual snack size bags and leave them in key locations such as your desk, purse and the beverage cup holder in the car. Almonds are heart healthy and a protein-packed snack!
  2. Pair a small amount of cheese with whole grain crackers. The protein in the cheese will keep you from feeling hungry.
  3. Try one of my favorite snacking recipes – Cookie Dough Hummus! This recipe is delicious on a piece of toast and as a snack with apple slices, baby carrots or graham crackers. Check out the recipe at the bottom of this story.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers the following healthy snacking ideas:

  1. Try three cups of air-popped popcorn instead of oil-popped popcorn. You’ll consume 73 fewer calories.
  2. Avoid the vending machine. Pack an eight-ounce, nonfat, no sugar added yogurt. That’s 82 fewer calories compared to a package of six peanut butter crackers.
  3. Consider packing vegetable sticks and fresh fruit, “nature’s fast food.”
  4. Substitute a sugary 12-ounce can of soda with a bottle of carbonated water for 136 fewer calories.
  5. Instead of chocolate sandwich cookies or other sweet snacks, eat a bowl of berries or a juicy peach.
Print Recipe
Cookie Dough Hummus
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Instructions
  1. Put the beans, peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla into a food processor. Blend ingredients until smooth. Once blended, mix in chocolate chips.

For more healthy snacking ideas, visit fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.

What You Need to Know Before Buying Sunglasses for Your Kid

Sunglasses for kids come in all sorts of fun sizes, shapes and characters. What young kid wouldn’t want police dog Chase from Paw Patrol or Anna and Elsa from Frozen plastered on the side of their shades?

More importantly, just like with adults, sunglasses can save their skin and eyes by blocking the sun’s powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Children under age 10 are at a high risk for skin and eye damage from ultraviolet rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The skin on their eyelids and around their eyes is more delicate and vulnerable than adult skin, according to the Foundation.

Try to keep a child who is less than 6 months old out of the sun. Those ages 6 months and older should wear sunglasses when playing outside. If your child wears prescription glasses, don’t forget to also get those prescription sunglasses!

Here are seven tips for buying sunglasses for children from the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  1. UV rating. Buy glasses that offer 99-100 percent protection from two types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB rays.
  2. Large, wraparound shades. The larger the sunglasses, the lesser the risk of the sun damaging your kid’s eyes.
  3. Playground-proof. It’s way too easy for a kid to break glass lenses! Consider plastic lenses (unless, of course, your doctor asks you to use glass ones instead). Impact-resistant, scratch-proof lenses that don’t pop out of the frames are best for young kids. Glasses should fit snugly on the face and the frames should be bendable, and not breakable.
  4. It’s their choice. Kids, especially finicky teens, are more likely to actually wear the glasses if they helped pick them out.
  5. Check for scratches. If the glasses have any flaws, it might distort their vision. Young kids, for example, might not be able to say what is wrong if the glasses are warped.
  6. Don’t forget the big hat. Sunglasses only prevent rays that come in from the lenses. Sun can still enter from the side or top of the glasses. You might want to purchase a wide-brimmed hat for your kid when you’re buying those shades.
  7. Finally – find a tree. Retreating to a shady spot when the sun is intense – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – provides great protection from the sun.

Sage Advice: 7 Tips for Your Herb Garden (Recipes Included!)

I’d rather be cooking than gardening, but there’s something about growing and using my own herbs that’s satisfying to the soul and palate and a treat for the senses. Once planted, they grow quickly–sometimes, it seems, right in front of my eyes. In the morning, I do some tactile and aromatherapy as I touch and smell the herbs.

Growing your own herbs can be daunting to the novice gardener. Here are tips for first-timers:

  1. Start small by growing plants in containers. After you bring the plants home from the farmers’ market, garden center or hardware store, repot them in larger containers with good potting soil.
  2. In upstate New York, wait until Memorial Day to grow them outdoors. If we do get a frost or the threat of one, it’s easy to cover the containers with a blanket or move them to the garage. The animals don’t get to my deck where I grow them in containers, but they do get to my neighbor’s garden in the ground.
  3. Check the website herbgardening.com for a wealth of information for growing herbs—from anise to watercress—inside, outside, in containers and even hydroponically.

Here are more tips from Pamela Shade, a horticulturist and curator of the Robison York State Herb Garden at the Cornell Botanic Gardens in Ithaca, New York.

  1. Don’t tuck your herbs into a shady corner of your yard. Most culinary herbs require full sun and a minimum of six hours direct sunlight daily.
  2. Fight root rot and fungal diseases by providing plants with well-drained soil. Add several inches of compost to improve the soil quality of heavy, wet, clay soil.
  3. Because herbs need room to thrive, allow plenty of space between plants for good air circulation and to encourage maximum growth. For example, basil plants should be spaced at least 12 inches apart.
  4. Don’t over-fertilize as this will decrease the flavor of the herbs.

Not all herbs are the same, since some want to be raised in certain ways. Shade offered the following advice:

Some herbs can be started from seed indoors during the winter and spring. These include thyme, a perennial, (February); parsley (March); basil and marjoram (early April).

Other herbs are best grown from seeds directly planted into the garden. They include anise, dill, caraway, cilantro, cumin, fenugreek and mustard.

Longing for lavender or sage? It’s best to purchase plants from a reputable nursery since they take a long time to grow into mature plants large enough to transplant outside into the garden.

Now that you’re an herb-growing expert, you can start cooking! Herbs are a flavorful and calorie-free addition to any dish. Here’s how I use some of my favorite herbs:

  • Basil. Good in pesto or in a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, on pizza and in marinara sauce. Basil is wimpy and turns limp at the first sign of cold weather. Freeze pesto in ice cube trays, remove to a freezer bag, and take out as needed for a winter treat that reminds you of summer’s bounty.
  • Chives. Excellent potato or cauliflower salad. (See recipe below)
  • Mint. Add to hot or cold water for flavor. Chew on mint leaves instead of gum or candy. Mint is a take-charge herb that spreads far and wide. Grow it in pots to contain it. If you plant it in the ground, cut the bottom off a pot and plant the cylinder in the ground to damper mint’s urge to roam.
  • Parsley. A must for tabbouleh. Hearty parsley lives up to its name. I’ve brushed snow off it and welcomed it to the warm indoors. (See recipe below)
  • Rosemary. Tasty with roasted potatoes or on pork.
  • Sage. Good with eggs or chicken.
  • Tarragon. Transform leftover chicken to chicken salad.
  • Thyme. Delicious in bean salads, vegetables and with meat.

There’s nothing like harvesting your own herbs and savoring their smell and taste firsthand. To paraphrase an old saying, the scent of the rosemary stays on the hand of the giver. Share your abundance with friends and co-workers. You’ll both be glad you did!

Print Recipe
Roasted Potatoes and Cauliflower with Chives
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Instructions
  1. Cut the potatoes to ¾ inch cubes. Place on a jelly-roll pan and toss with the oil, garlic powder, rosemary, paprika, salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes in the middle of a preheated 450°F. oven, turning them occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add the cauliflower, toss the mixture well, and roast 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and golden in spots. Toss the vegetables with chives and serve topped with a garnish of whole chives.
Print Recipe
Tabbouleh
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Instructions
  1. Place bulgur in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes. Drain in a colander, pressing on bulgur to remove any excess liquid. Transfer bulgur to a bowl and toss with remaining ingredients until combined well. Enjoy!

Digestive Health – Your Gut is More Important Than You Think

On a recent webinar with Kelly Springer of Kelly’s Choice Nutritional Company, I learned about digestive health and why it’s so important. As a college student with little time to eat healthy and who lives off of dining hall food, I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that 74 percent of Americans are currently living with digestive issues. Here are a few of the most valuable things I picked up on:

Everything is connected to the gut

Your gut does so much more than digest your food. Ninety percent of your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates body functions like your mood, is actually produced in your gut, not your brain. That’s why more psychiatrists are recommending a healthy lifestyle – with a focus on nutrition and exercise – as part of treatment plans for depression and anxiety. What one eats can affect mood and well-being. Therefore, maintaining your digestive health is just as important as maintaining your heart and brain health.

Fiber is key

Fiber is essential for your diet. It regulates your gastrointestinal tract, helps with treating constipation, and can lead to weight loss. Here are foods to  add to your diet if you’re  trying to incorporate more fiber:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Chia Seeds
  • Brewed coffee

Limit foods high in fat and sugar

I learned that it’s important to avoid artificial sweeteners and that there are good fats AND bad fats. Bad fats can slow down your digestive process. But good fats like extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are actually really good for you.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prior to the webinar, I had heard of prebiotics and probiotics but had no real sense of what they were. Probiotics are a good type of bacteria that are naturally found in foods like yogurt. They help to regulate your digestion. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates found in fiber-rich foods that act as food for probiotics.   They’re the reason fiber is so important to your digestive health.

Some people try to increase the healthy bacteria in their digestive symptom by taking a probiotic supplement. Many probiotic supplements are marketed as dietary supplements, which do not require FDA approval. Therefore, it is important to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before starting them. However, there are many ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet without taking supplements.

Just a few of these options include:

Eat mindfully and develop a routine

Most importantly, always be mindful of how much you’re eating. Overeating can result in digestive symptoms such as heartburn or an upset stomach. Don’t just focus on eating; make sure to always stay hydrated. Water in your digestive system can help dissolve fats and soluble fiber. You can’t just rely on healthy eating, it’s also important to exercise regularly. This will help to manage your stress and improve your overall health.

Now you try

Feeling overwhelmed? Here are a few easy ways to start improving your digestive health today:

  • Focus on drinking a lot of water and eating a lot of fiber throughout the day
  • Start trying products like kefir, kombucha, or kimchi for probiotics
  • Try to eat mindfully for one meal every day
  • Start cutting out diet sodas and artificially sweetened drinks

Consider some of these small changes and you may be well on your way to improving your digestive health and overall lifestyle! Don’t forget to also discuss dietary changes and major digestive issues with your health care provider.

What’s the difference between “organic” and “natural”?

If you’re confused about the difference between organic and natural, you’re not alone. While they might sound like the same thing, one describes a strictly regulated product, while the other is largely a marketing term. Don’t be fooled.

What is “Organic”?

Organic food is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which sets national standards for certification. Foods that are certified organic must follow strict regulations. For example, they must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, certain fertilizers or genetic engineering. Livestock must have access to the outdoors and be raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. These farming practices are designed to help enhance the quality of soil and water, decrease pollution, and provide healthier habitats for animals.

The USDA also sets standards for product labeling, with 4 types of labels:

  • 100% organic: all ingredients in that product must be certified organic
  • Organic: must contain at least 95% certified organic ingredients
  • Made with organic ingredients: must include at least 70% certified organic ingredients
  • Contains organic ingredients: includes less than 70% certified organic ingredients

Only products labeled “100% organic” or “organic” can use the USDA seal, with some exceptions.

What is “Natural”?

No government agency or group regulates the term “natural” (other than for meat and poultry, where the USDA has created some requirements). Therefore, it’s not really clear what this term means. It is generally thought that a natural product has “no artificial ingredients”. But without regulation, it’s common to find products labeled “natural” that contain things that are not natural, like artificial preservatives or genetically modified organisms. Without strict standards, food corporations can define what “natural” means for their products.

Why Does This Matter?

According to a 2015 Consumer Reports survey, nearly two-thirds of people believe that the natural food label means more than it does. This confusion means that people may be buying a product assuming certain regulations and standards when that’s not the case.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Use the food label and ingredients list to check if food lives up to its front-of-package claims. If you want to purchase organic products, look for the labels or the USDA seal. This food can cost more money, so pick the foods where you’ll get the most “bang for your buck”. For example, the “dirty dozen” is a list of 12 fruits and veggies that have the most pesticide residue when grown conventionally. Those may be a good starting place. On the other hand, the “clean fifteen” are fruits and veggies that have low pesticide residue, even when grown conventionally.

Looking to add more of those veggies to your day? Check out 9 Easy Ways to Add Vegetables to Your Meals.

Have a Medicare Plan? Take Steps to Protect Yourself Against Fraud

My mom laughed out loud when she got a call from her bank asking if she had purchased hand-crafted men’s cowboy boots from a store in Texas. She was grateful the bank checked to see if the charge was legitimate. The account was frozen and she cut up her card and waited for the bank to send a new one.

New Medicare Cards

Similar to this instance, the Federal government is notifying people with Medicare about the new red, white and blue Medicare card they’ll be receiving. They’re giving advance notice so that you can take precautions to protect yourself against fraud.

Medicare is a Federal program for those over 65 years old, certain people with disabilities, and those with permanent kidney failure (end-stage renal disease). I work with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Medicare members and I’m sharing this story to help inform you.

To help protect against identity theft, the card will have a new unique identifier. On the other hand, current cards use the Social Security number.

Protect Yourself From Scams

Unfortunately, scam artists may use this opportunity to try to steal personal information. Medicare will never call beneficiaries and ask for information like a Medicare number. Therefore, if someone asks for this personal information over-the-phone, hang up and call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).

Also avoid sharing personal information by email or in person, unless you have given your permission in advance. Visit Medicare.gov/fraud for tips on protecting your identity.

And remember to destroy or shred the old card after the new card arrives. This will better protect your social security number.

If you are eligible for Medicare, or know someone who is, consider these tips:

  • Keep your address up-to-date. The card will be mailed to the name and address on file with Social Security. To update an address call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, or visit SSA.gov.
  • Be patient. It may take some time to mail the new cards. You may not receive the card at the same time as your friends and neighbors. If you do not receive a card by April 2019, call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).
  • Keep your card safe. Many Medicare beneficiaries have additional coverage through private insurance companies. Not all plans require the Medicare card be shown at the doctor, hospital or pharmacy. So, if you don’t need to carry your card, store it at home in a safe place.

To learn more visit:

https://www.medicare.gov/forms-help-and-resources/your-medicare-card.html