Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Getting along with colleagues helps you live longer?

I think that what this study may really have shown is that people in poor health have a worse social life

A friendly work environment and a positive relationship with your co-workers has long-term health benefits, according to the latest research.

Dr Sharon Toker of the Department of Organizational Behavior at Tel Aviv University's Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration says that employees who believe that they have the personal support of their peers at work are more likely to live a longer life.

"We spend most of our waking hours at work, and we don't have much time to meet our friends during the weekdays," explains Dr Toker. "Work should be a place where people can get necessary emotional support."

Dr Toker and her TAU colleagues Prof. Arie Shirom and Yasmin Alkaly, along with Orit Jacobson and Ran Balicer from Clalit Healthcare Services, followed the health records of 820 adults who worked an average of 8.8 hours a day through a two-decade period. Those who had reported having low social support at work were 2.4 times more likely to die sometime within those 20 years, says Dr Toker.

The 820 study participants were drawn from adults aged 25 to 65. Researchers controlled for various psychological, behavioral or physiological risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and depression, and administered a questionnaire to participants, who were drawn from a wide variety of professional fields including finance, health care and manufacturing.

Researchers asked about employees' relationships with their supervisors, and also assessed the subjects' evaluation of their peer relationships at work, and whether their peers were friendly and approachable, a reflection of emotional and professional support. Dr Toker suspects that the perception of emotional support was the strongest indicator of future health.

During the course of the study, says Dr Toker, 53 participants died, most of whom had negligible social connections with their co-workers. A lack of emotional support at work led to a 140% increased risk of dying in the next twenty years compared to those who reported supportive co-workers, she concluded.

While building a supportive environment for employees may seem intuitive, Dr Toker says that many workplaces have lost their way. Despite open concept offices, many people use email rather than face-to-face communication, and social networking sites that may provide significant social connection are often blocked.

To make an office friendlier to health Dr Toker suggests coffee corners where people can congregate to sit and talk; informal social outings for staff members; an internal virtual social network similar to Facebook; or a peer-assistance program where employees can confidentially discuss stresses and personal problems that may affect their position at work anything that encourages employees to feel emotionally supported, she says.


The hidden risks of top herbal remedies that pharmacists don't tell us about

Herbal medicines can pose serious health risks that consumers are not warned about, researchers say. They surveyed different versions of the five most popular remedies – St John’s wort, Asian ginseng, echinacea, garlic and ginkgo – and found they were commonly sold over the counter with no safety warnings.

Yet St John’s wort, widely used to combat low moods, can reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill. And Asian ginseng, used to boost the immune system, and echinacea, often used to protect against colds, also have their dangers. Even garlic – used to lower high blood pressure – can be dangerous in large quantities.

The researchers at Leeds University’s school of pharmacy surveyed 68 products on sale to the public and found 51 of them (75 per cent) contained no information on precautions, interactions with other medicines or side effects.

Seventy per cent of them (48 of the 68 products) were marketed as food supplements, despite their powerful effects. Just three products contained sufficient information on risks and side-effects. The products were bought at two health-food stores, three chain pharmacies and three supermarket chemists.

Under an EU directive in April this year, certain herbal medicines have to be licensed and carry health information, but of these five products, only St John’s wort and echinacea require a licence. Of the 12 St John’s wort products surveyed by the Leeds researchers, four contained no safety messages, and of 13 echinacea products, nine failed to provide the required information.

The other three remedies do not have to carry any warnings, as long as they make no medical claims.

The fact that so few products provided sufficient information could be because shops are allowed to continue selling old stock, with no warnings, until their expiry date.

Professor Theo Raynor, who led the study, said: ‘The best advice to consumers is “buyer beware”. Herbal medicines ...... should be taken with as much caution as any over-the-counter medicine. ‘Any substance that affects the body has the potential to do harm if not taken correctly.’

He advised consumers to look for the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) logo, which means remedies have been approved by the Government. ‘People should tell their doctor about herbal medicines they are taking so they receive the best care,’ he added.


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