7 Small Ways to Help Stop the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic touches our lives in many ways. Every day, 115 Americans die from opioid overdoses. But there are small things you can do to help.

Talk to your family about avoiding opioids for pain

Try not to start. Opioids, including hydrocodone and codeine, are very addictive. If your doctor prescribes opioids for you or a family member, push back. Ask about options.

You may need an opioid for post-operative pain. But you may also be able to get pain relief for most outpatient surgeries by trying alternate medicines, including over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

My daughter, for example, turned down a hydrocodone prescription by her doctor when she had pain after a wisdom teeth removal. My daughter told me, “I told the doctor that I didn’t want that stuff. We don’t use opioids in our family.”

The doctor ignored the request. My daughter brought home the hydrocodone, which she never used.

Never use someone else’s pain medication

An acquaintance of mine spotted the bottle of hydrocodone that my daughter brought home after she had her wisdom teeth removed.

“That’s the only medicine I’ve ever had that helps my knee pain,” she said. “My doctor won’t give it to me anymore. I don’t know why. Can I have this? I’ll buy it from you?”

“No,” I told her firmly. “Your doctor has a reason for not prescribing this. I don’t know that reason. This medicine was prescribed for my daughter, not you. You should not use other people’s medicines.”

Learn to spot the signs

Learn to spot the signs of an opioid overdose, especially if someone in your home is using an opioid, such as heroin. You can pick up the drug Naloxone (also called Narcan), which reverses overdoses from opioids, at more than 2,000 pharmacies throughout New York state. To learn how to use the drug, click HERE for a YouTube video, or click HERE to look for a class.

Become familiar with treatment options

Become familiar with the outpatient, inpatient, detox, sober living and other types of treatment beds that are available near you. Go to the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) website and click on “Find available treatment beds in New York State.”

Learn about other community resources that are available in your area

Talk with others about how you manage pain

We all deal with pain in different ways.   You may want to consider whether the following options are suitable for you when managing your pain: over-the-counter pain relievers, acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy, physical therapy or yoga. If you suspect stress is causing your pain, consider talking to a health care professional. It might help.

Dispose of unused or unwanted prescription drugs

  • Visit the website of the Drug Enforcement Administration on how to dispose drugs and to locate an authorized collection site near you. Or, call the DEA at (800) 882-9539.
  • Take part in National Prescription Drug Take-Back events by the DEA or by local law enforcement agencies.

Most importantly, don’t shy away from talking about the crisis as a family. Don’t blame anyone. Acknowledge the illness and the loss and suffering. Try your best to get informed.

Think you have the flu? Here’s what to do

This year’s severe flu season has dominated headlines. Every time someone near me sniffles, coughs or sneezes, I find myself in a slight panic – oh no, have I just been exposed to the flu?! After all, you can catch the flu just by being in the room with someone with the virus.

I’ve never been particularly fearful of the flu. My family gets the annual flu vaccine, we cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands often, and try to avoid those who may be sick. But as the number of local flu cases increases, so has the concern.

You have the flu. Now what?

So what do you do if you find yourself with flu-like symptoms? The flu shares similar symptoms with the common cold: a cough, sore throat, runny nose, and congestion. How do you know if you have the flu? Unlike a cold, flu symptoms come on suddenly and can include fever, headache, fatigue, and aches in your muscles and joints.

If you suspect you have the flu, medical experts offer these five recommendations:

  1. STAY HOME and avoid contact with other people. This limits your risk of exposing others to the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
  2. CALL YOUR DOCTOR as soon as you think you may have the flu. It’s best to call and not go to the office.  Your provider can usually diagnose you over the phone and if needed, can prescribe an antiviral medication. Antiviral drugs tend to shorten the duration of the illness and reduce complications when taken within two days of getting sick.
  3. TELEMEDICINE visit if it’s after office hours, or your doctor is not available. Telemedicine providers, such as MDLIVE, can address your condition and prescribe needed medications either by phone or video conferencing. The visit might even cost you less than a trip to urgent care or the emergency room.
  4. EMERGENCY CARE. There are certain times when emergency care is needed. Your doctor may recommend the emergency room if your condition worsens or you are in a high-risk group. This includes young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with respiratory, cardiac or chronic conditions.
  5. GET A FLU SHOT – it’s not too late.

Should I get a flu shot?

I’m glad my family was vaccinated, even though reports show the flu vaccine may not be as effective as in other years. Medical experts still recommend the flu shot because it helps reduce the overall number of cases and reduces the severity of symptoms for those who do get sick.

Fortunately, so far our flu shots and increased awareness have helped keep the flu at bay!

For more tips on staying healthy this flu season, check out:

Curious to see how this flu season is different from last year? Check out our flu season graphic for the latest on flu activity.

From Addict To Leader: One Woman’s Path To Sobriety

Sarah Lee reflects on her sobriety whenever she walks by a corner room on the second floor of the Jennifer House in Rochester.

She took her first step toward sobriety while staying in the yellow room at the house run by Spiritus Christi Prison Outreach. The house is a short-term residence for women who are often battling addiction and re-entering society after a stint in jail.

“When I first came to the Jennifer House, I was given a choice,” she said. “I made the choice to be sober. For the first time in a while, I had made the right choice.”

Sarah kept making the “right choices.” Today, she’s still at the house, but in a completely different role. Today Sarah is the director of the Jennifer House. It’s a role that she said is both humbling and surreal given how far she’s come since her 52-day stay there in 2008.

Sarah Lee

From Addict to Leader

Sarah stayed sober, graduated from the Jennifer House and moved into supportive housing. She went back to school, earning her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.

“I never envisioned that I’d be a leader,” said Sarah, who is also in the process of earning her Master of Social Work degree. “It’s a very humbling experience and an honor.”

Sarah said it helps that she can relate to what many of the residents are going through.

“When I say I understand, I understand,” she said.

Straight-A Student Turns to Drugs

For Sarah, the life of an addict started at the age of 14. That’s when the straight-A student took her first drink of alcohol.

“When I had my first drink, I loved it,” Sarah said.

Her drinking led to 11 years of drug use, including marijuana, ecstasy and crack cocaine. She committed crimes, landed in jail a few times and a drug treatment court sent her to the Jennifer House.

Sarah now urges her residents not to forget the person they were while using. Sarah, for example, said she doesn’t hate the version of herself who used to be known on the streets as “snowflake.”

“Snowflake kept me alive, despite all the drugs,” Sarah said. “She was resilient, persevered and somehow survived.”

“But I had to let that person go to become Sarah again,” she added.

You can Have Fun and Be Sober

Sarah’s understanding of how hard it is to break the cycle of addiction helps guide her programming.

The goal of the house’s wellness initiative, for example, is to show the former addicts that they can have fun and be sober.

A grant from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has helped Sarah fund this program, which is run by a volunteer, part-time recreation therapist. The wellness initiative includes exercise programs at local fitness centers and outings to try white water rafting, horseback riding, bowling and yoga.

Residents of the Jennifer House on a white water rafting trip.

The activities, Sarah said, help residents fight their cravings, decrease stress and increase self-discipline and confidence – all skills essential to recovery. About 80 percent of residents use what they learn from the program to develop new, healthy habits, she added.

Exercise, after all, has been hailed as one piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping people overcome addiction.

Sarah also links each outing to the residents’ own struggles to be sober.

The residents’ battles with the rapids while white water rafting, for example, is like their fight for recovery. The rapids are tough, but you still have to fight through them.

“Life feels like that when you’re in recovery, but you can get through it,” Sarah said.

If You Struggle With New Year’s Resolutions …Try This Instead!

I pride myself on being an eternal optimist. I believe I can turn any situation sunny if I smile enough and I can accomplish anything if I work hard. However, New Year’s resolutions always stump me.

We’re so ambitious and positive on Jan. 1. We’re inspired to hit the gym and get off the couch. Unfortunately, 80 percent of people give up their new goals around February, returning to their sweatpants and Netflix marathons.

But what if we stopped looking at the New Year as a time to leave our guilty pleasures behind, but instead decided to “take on” something new?

Wise wisdom from grandma

I got this idea from my grandma. We’ve always lived right down the road from my grandparents,  so it’s no surprise that she and my grandpa continue to be some of my biggest influences.

We spent almost every holiday together, including New Year’s. I remember asking her at a very young age what she was going to give up in the New Year, to which she bluntly said “nothing.”

She wanted to “take something on” instead by being nicer to people in the New Year.

It’s easier than you think!

She’s going to be nicer to people? What kind of resolution is that?

Doesn’t the start of a new year mean that we have to completely turn ourselves around?

Or are we making resolutions so difficult that we can’t stick to them? We hear phrases like, “I’m going to stop smoking,” “I’m not going to spend unnecessary money,” “I’m going to quit eating fatty foods and carbs.” All are good resolutions, but sound a little overwhelming and hard to accomplish once the excitement of the New Year wears off.

What if we replaced all of those challenging goals by “taking something on” instead?  A once negative phrase that sounded too monumental has turned into a doable challenge.

“I’m going to start finding healthy substitutes instead of cigarettes.”

“I will create a budget, so I can see where I’m spending my money.”

“I’m trying one new healthy food each week.”

Simple changes are often all we need to make a big difference.

4 things to take on

  1. In my household, we would try a new food on New Year’s Eve. One year it was caviar, another year it was anchovies (for good luck!). Although that sounds like nothing, for a 10-year-old, eating fish eggs was traumatic!
  2. Try spending quality time with your friends and family by putting the electronics away.
  3. Vow to try a new form of exercise like biking, instead of throwing away money on a gym membership you know you won’t use!
  4. Try to make your bed every day- or if that’s a little too challenging, try at least during the work week. For more, read Overwhelmed with Life? Try Making Your Bed.

My favorite resolution

If you’d like to try the  “take it on” method of New Year’s resolutions, you may want to start with my grandma’s resolution of being nicer to people.

It’s a great way to practice “taking something on,” while helping others in need. The world can always use people who care about the well-being of others, and sometimes that can be difficult. Picture what a different world it would be if we took the time to project our positivity and good spirit onto someone else!

Be Nice- It’s that simple!

So how can you be nicer to people? Hold the door for someone at the office, give up your seat on the bus ride home, volunteer in your community, and the list goes on! There are hundreds of opportunities throughout our day that we might miss if we don’t pay attention.

 

Cervical Cancer survivor Christine Baze wants everyone to get this vaccination. Here’s why.

Before you decide whether or not to have your pre-teen vaccinated against HPV (human papillomavirus), you may want to read about Christine Baze’s battle with cervical cancer.

Don’t have kids that age? You may still want to read Christine’s story. The National Cancer Institute says HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives.

While in most cases HPV goes away on its own and doesn’t result in any health problems, it can cause genital warts and cancer in women and men. The HPV vaccine provides protection against cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (throat and mouth), penile, vaginal and vulvar cancer and genital warts.

Here’s Christine’s story.

It was spring 2000 and Christine was on top of the world, having quit her job as a marriage and family therapist to devote herself full-time to a career in music. Happily married, she and her husband dreamed of starting a family someday.

She showed up for her regular gynecologist’s annual appointment in March figuring it would be the same old routine visit. After all, her Pap smears had been “normal” the last 13 times.

This time, however, her Pap smear came back “abnormal.”

Her doctor explained she had abnormal cells on her cervix, and if left untreated, they could develop into cancer. He explained the cell changes were a result of HPV that she probably had contracted years ago. Although there’s now a vaccine for HPV, the Food and Drug Administration didn’t approve it until 2006, years after Christine unknowingly had contracted the virus.

Cancer was a worst case scenario, her doctor advised her, but referred her to an oncologist specializing in gynecological cancer.

Otherwise healthy, Christine told her doctor, “There’s no way I have cancer,” but agreed to see the specialist.

On April 18, 2000, Christine’s life changed forever. The diagnosis came back cervical cancer.

Her full-time job was surviving

Just months before, Christine had put her professional life on hold to pursue her passion: singing, performing and writing music. Now, her full-time job was surviving.

On April 28, 2000. Christine underwent a radical hysterectomy that removed her uterus, cervix and connective tissue. The surgeon left the one healthy ovary intact, in case Christine and her husband wanted to try in vitro fertilization with a surrogate mother. Later, they did try, but it failed.

“No little Crissi for this Christine,” she remembers thinking.

“You really don’t know how much you want something until you can’t have it,” Christine, a native of Elmira, New York, told Syracuse University students at a sexual health awareness day on campus February 2017.

The author with Christine at her Syracuse University appearance.

 

Fried Inside and Out

Surgery was only the beginning. External radiation five days a week for five weeks ran concurrent with four rounds of chemotherapy, and then was followed by three rounds of internal radiation.

She felt fried inside and out, emotionally drained and spiritually wounded.

As a licensed family and marriage therapist, Christine knew what she needed to do and did it. She got her own therapist, joined a support group, tried different medications and even got a puppy.

Christine’s dog, Harold

Although Christine survived the cancer, her marriage didn’t weather the fall-out.

Harold and Maude Wake Her Up

A chance viewing of the 1971 cult flick, “Harold and Maude,” was Christine’s call to “kick cancer to the door and begin living again.”

At almost 80, Maude’s zest for life provides a stark contrast to rich, bored 20-year-old Harold’s obsession with death. Eventually, the old woman turns Harold into a believer—and Christine, too.

“No matter what Maude was up against, she prevailed,” said Christine.

“She was a survivor, and so am I.”

Even the movie’s soundtrack by Cat Stevens propelled Christine to run to the piano she hadn’t touched in months. She played the melody and belted out the lyrics to “Trouble”:

“Trouble move away, I’ve seen your face and it’s too much for me today.”

The sunny umbrella that Maude flaunted among a sea of black ones in the movie’s funeral scene led to the name of the nonprofit that Christine founded not long after seeing the movie classic.

Under the shelter of The Yellow Umbrella Organization, Christine talks and sings about something no one wants to talk about: cervical health. She calls the series of concerts The Yellow Umbrella Tour, promoting the HPV vaccine, cervical cancer prevention, and regular screenings and tests for those who may be infected and not know it.

Paint It Yellow

Christine has done 100-plus tour dates and more than 250 events with PAINT IT YELLOW to talk about HPV and cervical cancer prevention. The venues are middle and high schools, colleges, community settings, workplaces and clubs. She also appears in the highly acclaimed documentary, Someone You Love: The HPV Epidemic.

“Christine has a kind of radiance about her,” said Melissa Klinko who was instrumental in bringing the Yellow Umbrella tour to Elmira under the auspices of her employer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Back in her hometown, Christine lit up the stage where she’d once performed as a student.

“She turned a life-threatening illness and devastating situation into a positive experience that touches the hearts and minds of young, old and in between,” said Klinko. ”Who knows how many lives she’s saved because of her message?”

HPV Vaccination Rates Low

The CDC reports that nationwide six of 10 parents are choosing to get the HPV vaccine for their children.

In states where vaccination rates are lowest, cervical cancer rates are the highest, according to another national study.

But the number of cases of cervical cancer and death by cervical cancer has decreased in New York state over the last 40 years thanks in large part to regular Pap smears and HPV vaccinations.

“Many parents would tell me that they didn’t think they needed to worry about that right now with their adolescent son or daughter,” said Nicholas Massa, M.D., a pediatrician and medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“However, adolescents should be vaccinated before they become exposed, because protection is greatest before he or she has initiated any type of sexual activity with another person. And, despite how much we try to guide our children and despite how open a relationship we may have with them, we will not likely know when that first time will be.”

Some parents may believe that if they have their children vaccinated against HPV that their kids will begin engaging in sexual activity, especially at a younger age, but studies don’t bear that out, he said, citing one published in Pediatrics.

Dr. Massa also said providers may need to become more comfortable talking about it with their patients and their parents.

For those too old for the vaccine, education and prevention are the first line of defense for women and men, Dr. Massa said, advising that women should follow the Choosing Wisely® recommendations for screenings. Even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV.

“So the risk is real for all.”

It didn’t take my voice.

Although music and The Yellow Umbrella are her passions, Christine continues to work part-time as an outpatient mental health therapist at Mass General for Children at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts. Troubled teens are her specialty.

“Cervical cancer took lots of bits and pieces of my body,” Christine said, “but it didn’t take my voice.”

To hear Christine’s “voice” as she educates others about cervical health, watch the following video.

For more information, read 11 Facts About HPV And Cervical Cancer.

Simple Stress-Busting Tips For The Holidays

Lisa Cooper did a small thing the other day that helped lessen her holiday stress.

She got home before her kids, threw a quick dinner together and actually did a quick workout before anyone got home.

She ran in place in her living room, did a few wall squats, planks and stretches. Then, she capped off her hurried workout with a few minutes of silence sitting in front of her Christmas tree. She meditated by listening to her breaths. She felt less stressed by the time her family got home.

“I have anxiety. I sometimes feel as if I’m going to explode,” Lisa said. “I’m not going to get rid of the anxiety, but I can learn how to manage it.”

It’s no secret that holiday demands can cause a lot of stress in people during this time of year. You might be stressing over family strife, financial concerns or ways to tackle an ever-growing to-do list.

A note in Lisa’s cubicle reads, “Decide just how much anxiety a thing may be worth and refuse to give it more . . . “

People are stressed about different things and show stress in different ways.

Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

For Lisa, it comes down to recognizing the warning signs that she’s feeling anxious or stressed and doing something about it. When she starts feeling anxious, she might:

  • Take deep breaths or go for a quick walk.
  • Keep lists of everything she has to do. When she crosses something off her list, she feels better because she sees she’s getting things done.
  • Plan ahead. Lisa spends her Sundays planning her meals and doing her ironing so she has less to do during the work week.
  • Contact her therapist when she has trouble breaking out of her anxiety.

If you have any concerns about how you feel, reaching out to your primary care physician or another health care provider is always an option, added Ann Griepp, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for behavioral health at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Click on the following videos for more tips from Ann on how to cope during the holidays. Or, read 12 ways to reduce holiday stress.

 

6 Things to Do for Yourself this Holiday Season

Staying healthy (and sane) throughout the holiday season is more than just tackling a holiday weight-loss challenge or cutting back on the fruit cake. It’s about adopting an active, lifelong process of balancing and integrating all aspects of your life for optimal health.

There are actually six elements of wellness that reflects the whole person; each element is connected and one aspect of your life affects another. If you want an all-around healthier you for the holidays and beyond, here are some ideas for enhancing each “wellness” part of your life:

Career

  • Sign up for a class at a local college that may increase your skills at your current position or be the first step to a different career.
  • Read a book that will help you determine your strengths, prepare for the future or enhance your job prospects.

Social

  • Join a social club, e.g., Rotary club, or a hobby organization, e.g., running.
  • Enroll in a class at your local parks and recreation department or join a book club.

Community

  • Stay a few hours with a disabled person so that a caregiver can get some respite.
  • Volunteer for a cause that’s near and dear to you, e.g., adult or child literacy, or a one-day event to raise funds to find a cure for a specific disease.

Financial

  • Schedule a session or two with a financial adviser or a money coach to set and work towards goals for retirement, travel or a rainy day.
  • Pay off a bill for someone or make a plan to pay off your credit card debt.

Emotional

  • Subscribe to an app for music, books or podcasts that will lift your spirits.
  • Get “lost” in a hobby that stirs your creative soul.

Physical

  • Order an Empire Pass which gives day-use vehicle entry into all of the New York State parks and then use it! Enjoy the scenery while you get in a hike.
  • Walk around a local greenhouse in the middle of winter to surround yourself with warmth and the beauty of plants and flowers. The Lamberton Conservatory in Rochester may be an option!

Above all, give yourself the time to pursue the things that give you pleasure. Start small, but try to do something in each wellness element. As Stevie Wonder sang, “Time is long but life is short.” Make the most of it!

 

Spotlight on Alana Hughes and H2 Fitness

Alana Hughes wants to inspire you to feel your best and live a life you love through fitness.

Alana Hughes

Alana turned around her health years ago by losing about 40 pounds and embracing a healthy lifestyle. Those positive changes inspired her to start H2 Fitness, a full body “boot camp” program, with her business partner and best friend, Juvar (JT) Houston. Together, they teach fitness classes throughout the city of Syracuse and surrounding areas.

Alana and Juvar

Soon after starting the business, Alana was diagnosed with Lupus. But she never let that stop her from being fit and staying positive.

What are you trying to do?

H2 Fitness is on a mission to get our city fit. Fitness is fun! It’s not just about the push-ups and the sit-ups. It’s about changing the way you feel about yourself mentally, emotionally and physically. When you feel good, you do good.

We try to create a fitness community. That’s why we call ourselves “the fit family.” We kayak, hike and run 5Ks with our clients in addition to just training. When you’re supported by a community, you can exceed your goals and expectations.

What motivates you to keep up with your fitness schedule?

Before we started H2 Fitness, I was a client. I was overweight and I didn’t feel good about myself. JT was actually my trainer. With his help, I lost about 40 pounds. I felt much better and was a lot more active. Now, I could play with my nephews and not be tired. I could go to parks and on bike rides and things like that. I loved that feeling. That’s what keeps me motivated. I don’t want to lose that feeling.

You’ve shared a lot on the challenges of being healthy when you have an autoimmune disorder, such as lupus. How do you manage to stay fit while also managing your condition?

Before I got into fitness, my joints would swell so much that I couldn’t walk. At the time, I didn’t know what it was. My doctors had me wear a boot and walk on crutches. It got so bad that I was using a walker. I was even in a wheelchair for about two weeks because the pain was just too much.

Later, after we started H2 Fitness, I was diagnosed with lupus.

Lupus can be tough. It’s unpredictable. I try to avoid sugar, processed food and stress. Exercise helps by keeping me strong. But everyone is different. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Everyone has to work at their own pace.

How do you make sure you don’t push yourself too hard?

Get to know your body. If your body is telling you that you are tired, then you need to rest.

Don’t forget to appreciate the little things. Stop and smell the roses. Look at the sky. Enjoy the sun. Even in the wintertime, enjoy the beautiful snow.

Healthy eating can be a challenge. How do you stay on track?

On Sundays, I try to prep my meals for at least the next three days. I prep my breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus my snacks and drinks– usually water or some kind of smoothie. On a Wednesday or Thursday, I prep again for the next few days.

Buying in bulk and prepping my meals saves me money. A lot of people say that eating healthy is expensive, but I don’t think that’s true. I think when you don’t plan it can be expensive.

Any words of encouragement for those just starting out?

Just get started. You’re already taking the first and hardest step by just showing up. The first day will always be the toughest. But don’t stop! Once you push past that first day, it will be behind you. The exercises don’t become easier, but you’ll become stronger.

Remember, whatever you set out to do, you can accomplish it. Nothing worth having comes easy. Just keep working, and know that we’re here to support you. Whether I know you or not, I want you to feel better, live better, and be happier!

What are your favorite Outdoor workout tips?

I recommend taking advantage of whatever is in your surroundings. If there are stairs, run them, jump up them, do leg exercises. If there’s something to run around, like a lake or a reservoir, run around it!

Where is your Favorite place to work out in Syracuse?

The Woodland Reservoir in the Strathmore neighborhood of Syracuse. It’s absolutely beautiful there, and you can get a great workout. When you are at the top of the hill you can see the whole city. You can work out on the hill and stairs, and it’s just gorgeous.

Gluten-Free… Is it Really Healthier?

Gluten gets a bad rap these days. But is it deserved?

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein that is naturally found in wheat, rye, barley and similar grains. The protein gives the grain its shape, strength, and texture. It’s typically found in products like bread, cereal, and pasta.

Gluten can be a problem for some people. About 3 million Americans have celiac disease, which is an auto-immune digestive disorder where eating this protein can lead to serious health problems. Other folks have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, where consuming it results in headaches, dizziness, rashes and other symptoms. For people with celiac disease or a sensitivity, eliminating all sources of this protein from the diet can reduce problems and symptoms associated with their condition.

Going Gluten-Free

It’s often thought that a gluten-free diet is healthier than a conventional diet. True, many nutritious foods are naturally gluten-free, like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Following this diet may help you eat more whole, unprocessed foods. But, just because a product is gluten-free, doesn’t mean it’s healthier. Gluten-free cookies, for example, and other baked goods are still highly processed and are high in calories and added sugar.

Additionally, whole grains, like whole-wheat foods, contain the entire grain kernel and include nutrients like dietary fiber, B vitamins and minerals like iron and magnesium. Going gluten-free means potentially missing out on the benefits of whole grains, including reducing the risk of heart disease and help with weight management. Recent research suggests that people should not be encouraged to remove gluten from their diet unless it’s medically recommended.

Don’t worry if you do have celiac disease or a sensitivity: you can still reap the benefits of whole grains by choosing foods like buckwheat, quinoa or brown rice.

What’s the Bottom Line?

If you think you might have celiac disease or a sensitivity, talk with your doctor before making changes to how you eat. Otherwise, whole grains should be included as part of a balanced diet. Need some inspiration? Avocado toast is a great way to enjoy whole grains.

Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Someone Quit Smoking

Don’t smoke? You might think the Great American Smokeout and other quit smoking efforts don’t apply to you.

But if you have a friend, family member or co-worker who wants to quit, there are things you can do to show your support.

“Smoking is incredibly addictive and it’s a very hard habit to quit,” said Eileen Wolff, workplace wellness consultant, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “But support from family and friends can make all the difference when it comes to quitting cigarettes and other forms of combustible tobacco.”

Quitting A Very Addictive Habit

Quitting smoking is one of the most important things a smoker can do to improve their health. Wolff offers the following tips for supporting those who are trying to quit:

  1. Encourage the people in your life who smoke to make a plan to quit.
  2. If you know a smoker who is giving up tobacco during the Smokeout, offer to give up something as well. Maybe cut out soda, coffee or sweets.
  3. Create a “survival” kit for the smoker who is trying to quit that can include hard candy, gum, straws to chew on and other items that mimic the act of smoking.
  4. Serve as a support person for someone who is trying to quit.

Quit Smoking Support

“If you’re supporting someone who is trying to quit, try to see the journey form their point of view,” Wolff added. “Try to avoid judging or criticizing the person who is in the process of trying to give up a very addictive habit.”

Other Do’s and Don’ts include:

DO serve as a distraction! Take them on a bike ride, a long walk, a hike or take in a movie.

DO help them remove anything that reminds them of their habit. Remove ashtrays, for example, and wash linens, blankets and anything else in their house that smells of smoke.

DO talk to the person who is trying to quit about your level of involvement. Can you check in regularly regarding their progress, and ask how they’re feeling? Tell the person who’s trying to quit that it’s OK to reach out to you whenever they need help.

DO stay positive and upbeat. Celebrate when they hit “quit smoking” milestones.

DON’T get annoyed by their likely very grumpy personality. Quitting smoking can make you depressed, anxious and irritable. Remind the person that these withdrawal symptoms are usually pretty bad during the first week, but often lessens over the next month.

DON’T offer advice. Ask how you can help and what kind of support they need.

Help To Quit Smoking

Lastly, there’s a slew of resources available for those who are trying to quit:

“It’s hard to watch a friend or loved one go through so much as they try to kick a tough addiction,” Wolff said. “But showing your support is the first step you can take to help them quit.”