April  2018
Issue No. 91
In this issue

About Us  
Insurance logo 
  A not-for-profit ministry of
Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust Inc.

Church of the Brethren Insurance Services provides the following products: dental, vision, basic life and accidental death & dismemberment, supplemental life and AD&D, dependent life and AD&D, long-term disability, short-term disability, voluntary accident insurance, and Medicare supplement for eligible Church of the Brethren employees .
Dental, vision, and Medicare supplement coverage may also be available for eligible retired Church of the Brethren employees.
For eligibility information, call Connie Sandman at 800-746-1505, ext. 3366, or contact your human resources representative.
Medical and ancillary plans (named above) may be available to Brethren-affiliated employer groups.
Long-Term Care Insurance is available for all members of the Church of the Brethren, their family and friends, and employees of Church of the Brethren-affiliated agencies, organizations, colleges, and retirement communities. 

Contact Us 
1505 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120

Have you ever looked out into the night sky, thought about the vastness of space and the billions of galaxies, and been filled with awe? We do indeed live in an astonishing universe. This month we are going to look inward at another universe that is equally amazing and numberless - the world of the very small.
Did you know that your body is made up of about one trillion cells, but what is even more remarkable is that in and on your body are as many as 3.8 trillion bacteria. Your body carries more bacterial cells than its own cells, and these bacteria are essential to your survival.
We are going to look especially at the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, also known as the "gut," and how it communicates with the brain. And we will also consider things you can do to keep yours healthy.
Since the entry point for the gastrointestinal tract is the mouth, it is appropriate that we are highlighting dental insurance this month - the product that has to do with oral hygiene.

Also you may remember that our January issue focused on the flu. It happens that 2017-18 has been a bad flu season, the worst in many years. So, we have included a brief but sobering update. We are glad to report that experts estimate the flu activity will end by mid-April. By the time you are reading these words, this virulent season will almost be over. We hope you have not been in its grip.

On a lighter note, we hope you enjoy our jokes in the " LOL" section.
May this month bring you good health and good weather with a few gentle "April showers" to get you ready for "May flowers."

Old and New --
Online account information for those with BBT medical insurance coverage

2018 account information

Brethren Insurance Services recently switched medical insurance providers - to BlueCross BlueShield Highmark. For access to all your medical account information as of January 1, 2018, you can log in to  www.highmarkbcbs.com.
2017 account information

If you still need access to your 2017 medical insurance information, it is available through your Blue Access for Members account at  www.BCBSIL.com until June 30, 2019.

More than a pretty smile

The case for dental insurance

Prevention up front

When it comes to dental insurance, think of the old adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Most insurance policies pay benefits after the problem has developed, but dental insurance is designed to prevent problems. Medical insurance begins paying for treatment only afte r a certain deductible is met. Dental insurance, on the other hand, begins reimbursing you when the treatment begins and continues to a certain limit. This encourages you to get preventative care because it is paid for up front.

Dental insurance promotes good hygiene

Good dental hygiene helps keep a healthy bacterial balance in your mouth, preserving your  teeth and also your general health. Dental plaque, which forms on teeth that are not treated to regular brushing and flossing, is  linked to infections and diseases. Your mouth is a window into the rest of your body. It can show signs of nutritional deficiencies, illnesses, general infections, even drug abuse. It can be a port of entry for infection by allowing  harmful bacteria to enter the  bloodstream. It can be a measure  of your overall general health. These  are all reasons why dental hygiene  is so necessary and why the  preventative character of dental  insurance is so important.

Why  Brethren Insurance Services?

If you do not have dental insurance, you may want to consider it. Many Church of the Brethren-affiliated employers provide their employees with access to the excellent dental plan offered by Brethren Insurance Services.

The plan covers 100 percent of the cost of two oral examinations per calendar year. Thus, you will be more likely to get your regular checkups. By emphasizing prevention, the plan enables your dentist to anticipate problems and correct them before they become serious. The plan also offers discounts on many procedures. (The discounts may vary according to provider and network status.) These discounts continue even after you reach your maximum, meaning you will still be paying less for your care, and your dental dollars will stretch even further.


The plan provides 100 percent coverage for oral exams, cleanings, x-rays, fluoride treatments, sealants* and space maintainers.* It offers 80 percent coverage (after deductible, if applicable) for fillings, extractions, endodontics, non-surgical periodontics, and oral surgery. It provides 50 percent coverage for: surgical periodontics, inlays, onlays, crowns, dentures, bridges, implants, and orthodontics. The maximum annual benefit will be $2,000, $1,500, or $1,000 depending on the premium you pay. Some services may be subject to a deductible. (*Age restrictions apply to these services.)

Your teeth and you

Dental insurance takes the bite out of your dental bill. With Brethren Insurance Services, you will be able to maintain your dental health without draining your budget. Remember, when your teeth and mouth are in good shape, it's more likely that you will be too.

The gut --- your second brain

The gastrointestinal tract, sometimes called the "gut," is 30 feet long in an adult and is made up of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine or colon, with the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder sending in secretions to aid in digestion. These organs perform six tasks: ingestion, secretion, propulsion, digestion, absorption, and elimination. Put in more plain terms, fuel (food) is taken in, acted on by various secretions, propelled through a tubular system, broken down so it can be absorbed into the blood stream, sent throughout the body, and anything left over is eliminated.

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek "father of medicine" said, "All disease begins in the gut." It's not just digestion that is affected by gastrointestinal health. The NAVA Health and Vitality Center asserts that "beneficial bacteria in your digestive system have the capability of affecting your body's vitamin and mineral absorbency, hormone regulation, digestion, vitamin production, immune response, and ability to eliminate toxins, not to mention your overall mental health."
Extraordinary nerve network

The Enteric Nervous System is the  extensive mesh-like network of 100  million or so neurons that line the entire gastrointestinal tract. Its main role is to control digestion, but in doing so, it communicates back and forth the with the brain, indicating the overall health of the gut and thus of the immune system. An article on the ScientificAlert  website asserts, "Your digestive system is your second brain, and it controls you far more than you realize."
Have you ever had a "gut feeling"? Do you "trust your gut" when makin g a  decision? Have you had a "gut check" moment when you are profoundly challenged or in danger? According to Scientific American , your brain and gut are connected by this network of neurons and by a "highway of chemicals and hormones" that constantly provide feedback. How hungry are you? Are you stressed? Have you eaten something that is poisonous or that can cause disease? The brain-gut axis gives constant updates on the state of play throughout the whole gut. Remember that sinking feeling you get when you suddenly realize you did something you wish you hadn't? When you are stressed, your gut knows it.
The enteric nervous system is so vast that it can operate independently of the central nervous system, if, for instance, the vagus nerve, which connects the nerve networks in the gut to the brain, is severed. This "second brain" cannot compute or create, but it can manage the complex workings of the whole gastrointestinal tract. The network of neurons in the gut is as large and complex as the network in the spinal cord. So, why is the gut the only place in the body that needs its own "brain?" Perhaps, in order to monitor the trillions of microbes in the gut.

                Click to enlarge

More microbes than you can imagine

Each of us has about a trillion cells that make us who we are. But there are another 3.8 trillion bacterial cells in you and on you at any moment. You have about 30,000 genes, but there are more than a hundred times more bacterial genes.
The body is actually composed of more bacteria than cells; we are more "bug" than human! Collectively these trillions of bacteria are called the "microbiome." Most of these reside in your gut, sometimes referred to as the gut microbiota, and they play multiple roles in our overall health - a complex ecosystem of between 300 and 500 bacterial species.
Your gut bacteria have evolved with you since your birth. They help you digest your food and they fight off viruses. But this biomass of bacteria also communicates with neurotransmitters in the enteric nervous system to send messages that influence how you feel. According to Psychology Today, "There is evidence that a healthy gut can curb inflammation and cortisol levels, lower your reaction to stress, improve memory, and even reduce neuroticism and social anxiety."
Gut/brain "talk"
The communication between brain and gut goes both ways. The central nervous system is in contact with the gut through the autonomic nervous system, the involuntary part that controls heart rate, breathing, and digestion. According to Scientific American, "This circuitry of neurons, hormones, and chemical neurotransmitters not only sends messages to the brain about the status of our gut, it allows for the brain to directly impact the gut environment. The rate at which food is being moved and how much mucus is in the lining - both of which can be controlled by the central nervous system - have a direct impact on the environmental conditions the microbiota experiences.

Mind over microbes and vice versa

The nervous system, through its ability to affect gut transit time and secretions, can help dictate which microbes inhabit the digestive system.  In this case, even if the decisions are not conscious, it's mind over microbes ... recent evidence indicates that not only is our brain 'aware' of our gut microbes, but these bacteria can influence our perception of the world and alter our behavior. It is becoming clear that the influence of our microbiota reaches far beyond the gut to affect an aspect of our biology few would have predicted - our mind."
According to Scientific American , "Down the road, the blossoming field of neurogastroenterology will likely offer some new insight into the workings of the second brain - and its impact on the body and mind." Dr. Emeran A. Mayer, Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Psychiatry at U.C.L.A., is working on "how the trillions of bacteria in the gut 'communicate' with enteric nervous system cells (which they greatly outnumber). His work with the gut's nervous system has led him to think that in coming years psychiatry will need to expand to treat the second brain in addition to the one atop the shoulders." Even though the research is rudimentary and complex, it is becoming clear that the brain and gut are so deeply connected that they sometimes seem like one system, not two .


How does it work? Three possible explanations

Scientists are trying to map out how this connection works. An article found on the website of Science in the News at the Harvard Graduate School of the Arts and Sciences reports that researchers think they have identified three ways that gut microbes send signals to the brain through the "gut-brain axis."
In the first method microbes may signal the brain through the vagus nerve. The researchers speculate that "when gut microbes prompt the release of serotonin [a mood stabilizer] and stimulate the vagus nerve, it may in turn alter activity in the hypothalamus and other brain regions."
In the second method of gut-brain communication, the gut microbes may stimulate immune cells, which could then signal the brain. Gut microbes can prompt immune cells to produce and release small proteins called cytokines, which may then travel through the bloodstream to the brain. Cytokines are involved in the ability of cells to perceive and respond to their microenvironment.
The third method may work through metabolites, produced by microbes in the gut. These small molecules may signal the cells that line the digestive tract to increase serotonin production and the increased serotonin could then stimulate the vagus nerve. Or the metabolites may enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain.
These three methods are still largely speculation, but the research underlines the complex and interesting connections between the bacteria in the gut and the brain. Studies seem clearly to show that gut microbes affect the brain, but neuroscientists are only in the early stages of explaining how.


Your smart gut

It's an interesting picture isn't it -- the gut and the brain talking back and forth in the background of your consciousness? It's reassuring to know that your body can take care of you even when you're not making a conscious effort -- that even your intestines have a kind of intelligence -- but it's also a bit disturbing to know all that activity is going on to keep you alive and healthy while you have very little to do with it. It reminds you how steady and yet how tenuous life is. Still, in the end, isn't it lovely to think that you have a gut that's a lot smarter than you thought?
The gut --- your second brain

Listen to your gut

Here are suggestions for keeping your digestive system healthy. They come from a number of different sources, including doctors and nutritionists. Because you have to eat to live, the way your body digests your food is critical to your daily health. It makes sense to pay attention to what you put into your body and how and when you do it.

Eat a high-fiber diet.

A diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits keeps the food moving through your digestive tract, makes you less likely to be constipated, and helps prevent diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome. It helps you maintain a healthy weight. Adult women (19 to 50 years old) need about 25 grams of fiber daily, while men of the same age require about 38 grams.

Consume both insoluble and soluble fiber.

You need both for bulk and absorption. Foods having insoluble fiber are wheat bran, vegetables, whole grains. Soluble fiber can be found in oat bran, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Limit foods high in fat.

Fatty foods slow down digestion and make you prone to constipation. When you do eat fatty foods, pair them with high-fiber foods.
Eat lean meats.

Protein is essential, but you should stay away from fatty cuts. Pork and skinless chicken are good lean meat choices. These are the good bacteria that are naturally present in your digestive tract. They combat the effects of poor diet, antibiotics, and stress. They can enhance nutrient absorption, may help break down lactose, can strengthen your immune system, and maybe even help if you have irritable bowel syndrome. Eat a good source of probiotics each day, such as low-fat yogurt. 

Eat mindfully.

Stop, sit down, turn off the television, computer, or phone. Really experience the food you are  eating. You will be better able to notice when you feel full and satisfied, and you may eat less than you would when you are grabbing a meal on the run. Try to eat your meals at the same time each day.

Smaller is better.

Smaller, more frequent meals can be easier to digest properly, and they can reduce indigestion, heartburn, and bloating.
Drink bone broth.

A further suggestion for people with poor gut health is to drink a daily cup of bone broth. It is packed with minerals and collagen that help restore the integrity of the gut lining. Bone broth can be purchased ready-made, but if you are budget-conscious, it is easy to make your own bone broth the way grandma used to make it by simmering whole chicken, or bone-in cuts of beef or other meats with herbs and vegetables. Carefully remove the meat from the bone, and save the broth for soups or drinking.

Stay away from sugar.

Sugar feeds harmful bacteria, can cause bloating, and can damage the lining of the gut. Be wary of the sugar in energy drinks, fruit juices, and low-fat foods.

Chew your food well.

Take small bites and chew your food thoroughly. This helps start digestion.
Avoid processed foods.

Stay away from foods with chemicals, additives  and processed sugars.
Add a little salt.

High-quality unprocessed sea salt contains more than 80 trace minerals for optimum biochemical performance.

Stay hydrated.

Drink plenty of water. Fiber pulls water in and helps you absorb the nutrients in the food you eat.  But don't hydrate with sugary drinks.
Pay attention.

Notice how you feel after a meal. This may help you pin down foods that leave you uncomfortably bloated, suffering from heartburn, or running for the bathroom. Some high-fiber foods can cause gas and bloating for some people. Over-the-counter remedies containing alpha-galactosidase enzyme (such as Beano) may help prevent gas and bloating from high-fiber foods. If you experience any kind of discomfort in your digestive tract, think of the symptoms as signals telling you something, then look for a solution.


Change one thing at a time.

People sometimes feel better after giving up several things at once - gluten, dairy and sugar, for example, and so they feel that they must do so for the rest of their lives. But most people have one issue that leads to 70 per cent of their gut symptoms. Your focus should be finding and eliminating that one trigger before you try anything else. Some people experience digestive success with alternative or heirloom flours, lactose-free milks or receiving their dairy intake from hard cheeses, and there are several varieties of alternative sugars that can be tolerable and enjoyable.
You don't need to be daily to be regular.

The idea that you need a daily bowel movement is not quite true. Normal bowel activity is classified as anything more than three times a week and fewer than three times a day. Nor does the stool have to be a specific consistency to be considered 'normal', so long as you pass it easily.
Don't be afraid of laxatives.

Many people who have constipation think laxatives will make the bowel lazy, but that isn't the case. If you have had your bowel checked to ensure there is no underlying condition that needs treatment, using laxatives when you need them is not harmful. Colonic irrigation, though, is not helpful. In the hands of a trained practitioner you are safe from bowel damage, but gut bacteria are important to bowel health, and washing out the colon depopulates the bacteria levels.

Gargle every day.

Digestion starts in the brain when the vagus nerve, running between the brain and the gut, sends signals triggering the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Many people with poor digestion have a weak vagal signaling process. There are a few ways to strengthen it: you can sing or gargle for two minutes each day or use a tongue depressor to stimulate your gag reflex two or three times.
Don't smoke or use caffeine or alcohol excessively.

Liquor, coffee, and cigarettes can interfere with the functioning of your digestive system. They can lead to stomach ulcers and heartburn.
Deal with acid in your stomach.

Many people who suffer from indigestion, acid reflux or heartburn think it is because they produce too much acid, but it is just as likely that they don't produce enough. This triggers a pressure change which allows the muscle at the top of the stomach to open, letting the contents pass back out. Eating a little protein at each meal and chewing well both raise acid production. Also try a tablespoon of raw cider vinegar (it must be the type that contains the mother sediment) in a glass of water immediately before you eat.
Exercise regularly.

Activity keeps food moving through your digestive tract. It decreases the time it takes for food to move through the large intestine and stimulates natural contractions of intestinal muscles. Exercise also reduces constipation and, of course, helps you maintain a healthy weight. It is true, though, that after a big meal your body may need an hour to begin the digestive process before engaging in strenuous exercise.
Manage stress.

Notice there are GI tract-related words that are used when talking about stress. You say someone "choked," or something was "gut-wrenching." Stress can impair contraction of the GI tract, induce inflammation, and increase susceptibility to infection. Research has shown that people who seek therapy for stress and mental anxiety see a reduction in GI symptoms. So, find ways to reduce the stress in your life.
Repairing your gut.

It is possible to reverse and repair damage to your gut caused by years of bad diet and imbalances. First, figure out what is going on in your GI tract, using the advanced diagnostic testing available. Then by changing your diet, by adding supplements where indicated, and by thinking carefully about and meeting your nutritional needs, you can return your gastrointestinal tract to health. 
FLUUpdate from the January issue of Well Now!

A bad season for the flu

Our January issue focused on the flu and came out in the middle of the flu season. Now that the season is beginning to wind down, an update is in order. Here are facts reported in a February 23 article in The Washington Post about the 2017-2018 flu season:

  • The number of people seeking care for flu at doctor's offices and emergency rooms has been almost as high as it was for the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic.
  • Through February 17, 97 children died of the flu.
  • The season was unusual because it hit almost the whole continental U.S. at the same time.
  • The predominant strain this season has been the H3N2 which is also the nastiest. Seasons when this strain is dominant have more hospitalizations, more deaths, and more illnesses. This strain has been around for 50 years and can adapt more quickly to outwit the body's immune system.
  • The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the flu has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses and 12,000 to 56,000 deaths each year in the U.S. since 2010. Stats are not in yet for this year, but they are expected to be high.
  • A vaccine's effectiveness varies from year to year depending on the strain that year. Even in a good year when it is well-matched to the flu virus, effectiveness is only 60 percent. A report from the CDC shows that this season's vaccine has been overall 36 percent effective, but only 25 percent effective against the H3N2 strain.
  • Experts say the flu activity will likely continue into mid-April.
jokesLOL -- The Best Medicine

Is there anybody up there?

A climber fell off a cliff, and, as he tumbled down, 
he caught hold of a small branch.
"Help! Is there anybody up there?" he shouted.
A majestic voice boomed through the gorge:
"I will help you, my son, but first you must have faith in me."
"Yes, yes, I trust you!" cried the man.
"Let go of the branch," boomed the voice.
There was a long pause, and the man shouted up again, 
"Is there anybody else up there?"

Two positives

An MIT linguistics professor was lecturing his class. 
"In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn't a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative."
A voice from the back of the room said, 
"Yeah, right."

Just a second

A guy said to God, 
"God, is it true that to you a billion years is like a second?"
God said yes.
The guy said, 
"God, is it true that to you a billion dollars is like a penny?"
God said yes.
The guy said, 
"God, can I have a penny?"
God said, 
"Sure, just a second."
For Your Long-Term Care Needs
Brethren Insurance Services offers Long-Term Care Insurance all through the year
If you're interested in purchasing coverage, you should know that e ligibility for benefits is determined by the inability to meet at least two of these six activities of daily living -- bathing, eating, dressing, toileting, continence, or transferring. Cognitive impairment can also trigger benefits.
It's difficult to think about the fact that a debilitating condition or a disabling injury might leave you unable to care for yourself, or that when you reach your twilight years, the time will come when you will need some extra care. Long-term care insurance makes sure that you will get the care you need. It helps assure that the cost of your custodial care will not eat up your savings. Finally, and this is one of the best things about LTCI, it can help protect your children and other relatives from having to use their resources to care for you.
Brethren Insurance Services offers Long-Term Care Insurance for all members and employees of the Church of the Brethren and their family and friends; and also for employees of Church of the Brethren-affiliated agencies, organizations, colleges, and retirement communities and their families and friends.
If you are interested in obtaining this coverage, contact Brethren Insurance Services at  insurance@cobbt.org or 800-746-1505 for a free, no-obligation proposal or  click here to request more information.