Wellness ZENter Recap: Alternative Approaches to Wellness


Corporate leaders and risk managers invest considerable time and resources each year to find solutions that will improve the well-being of their organizations and the people who support them now and into the future. Once again, Sedgwick sponsored the Wellness ZENter, a venue at the RIMS Annual Conference highlighting resources to help reach these goals. For those not able to attend the conference this week, several highlights from ZENter sessions led by Sedgwick experts and industry partners are archived on our Facebook page so you can still gain insights to guide your organization’s next steps toward health and productivity in the workplace.

One popular theme covered in multiple sessions was a look toward alternative approaches to wellness. Dr. Teresa Bartlett, Sedgwick’s SVP and senior medical officer, explored two alternative wellness trends – the debate around using marijuana as a substitute for opioids, as well as the use of intermittent fasting as a therapeutic tool. Click the links below to see and hear Dr. Bartlett’s presentations in full, or read on for highlights from her discussions.

Monday’s recap: When is marijuana a substitute for opioids?


The idea of looking to natural substances to alleviate medical ailments is ages old. While benefits may come from incorporating medical marijuana in a therapeutic sense, we cannot assume this practice is risk free. How is your organization responding to the changing medical landscape as it relates to marijuana?

Here’s what we know. Marijuana is now legal in many areas of the U.S. and Europe and all of Canada. Interestingly, Canadian emergency departments have reported many people, especially patients over 50 suffering heart attacks or strokes after trying marijuana, now much different and stronger than it was in their younger days. Their bodies’ CBD receptors are triggering a biological fight or flight response to marijuana in their systems.

What these individuals and others are finding is that, due to breeding variations and a lack of lab testing and standardization, particularly in the U.S., it is hard to truly know the makeup of the marijuana you receive. And because different parts of the marijuana plant produce different compounds and oils called terpenes that prompt different physical and mental responses, it’s often hard to know what you will experience. 

Some variations of marijuana are high in CBD and some high in THC.

  • CBD is the most studied and considered the most therapeutic part of the marijuana plant, believed to help nerve pain, reduce feelings of anxiety, and alleviate some of the symptoms of diseases like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. Sometimes, CBD, when applied topically, is believed to help a part of the body in pain, however this is not as well understood and it’s debated whether it truly can be absorbed and impact pain relief.
  • Does the THC in marijuana actually help with pain? One theory is that it may not actually reduce pain, but it may help someone not to focus on their pain.

As legalization becomes the standard, we will be able to do more testing to better understand the components (CBD vs. THC, terpenes), therapeutic and negative effects of marijuana, especially as an alternative to opioids.

Trends to watch:

  • Sedgwick has seen in some states where marijuana use is legal, judges have urged payment for marijuana as a workers’ compensation treatment, despite arguments that it is a federally illegal substance. Our perspective is beginning to shift and we are reviewing these cases from a clinical perspective. However, dosing is not standardized and makes it hard to understand what is appropriate or reasonable.
  • When we think about some of the negative side effects of the THC component of marijuana, they are concerning – potential for seizure, psychosis, uncontrollable vomiting and increased risk of stroke, lung and heart damage.
  • The American Psychiatric Association published a paper recently that found those who are regular marijuana users actually a have higher likelihood of using opioids recreationally – something to consider if marijuana is being proposed as an opioid alternative.

Wednesday’s recap: Intermittent fasting and the role it plays in healing, weight loss and reducing inflammation


Is intermittent fasting right for you? Inflammation is at the root of almost every common chronic health issue and intermittent fasting has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation and improve health conditions. But do the health benefits outweigh the possible pitfalls? Will you find mental clarity and physical improvements, or will a fasting program interfere with your focus and on-the-job performance?

Think back to cavemen days – people would eat when they found or hunted food rather than eating regularly scheduled meals. These days, our breakfast, lunch and dinner norms – “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” – are primarily the result of what the food industry has told us. The truth is that our bodies don’t need three typical meals per day to function as intended and the benefits of fasting have been tested for many years.

The premise of intermittent fasting is simply going for a period of time without eating. Most people will stop eating after dinner and wait at least 16 hours until their next meal; variations include fasting for different lengths of time or adding full days of fasting into a weekly routine. The general recommendation is, when eating, to limit your diet to whole foods, nothing processed, and when fasting, only drink water, coffee or tea.

Why 16 hours of fasting? At that point, autophagy, a restorative phase when your body eats bad proteins and waste cells that can cause damage, kicks in. This natural healing response has been shown to reduce inflammation at the cellular level, which can provide relief for those with issues like joint pain or skin conditions. Glycogen, the sugar stored in your liver, is depleted and you begin to use fat your body has stored. For this reason, intermittent fasting has been popular for weight loss. Some studies show that during fasting human growth hormone spikes up, insulin resistance improves, your brain becomes more acute, lethargy decreases and even gene expressions can be restored. Certain studies on animals have shown cancer cell reduction through fasting, and even anti-aging effects. There is certainly more to be learned.

Ideally, we would introduce nutrition advice, including intermittent fasting when appropriate, as part of treatment plans and recovery tools after a workers’ compensation injury. It’s unrealistic to expect someone’s health to improve if they are sedentary and eating junk food during a recovery period. Our industry may be a few years away from that advice becoming mainstream, but the concept is a valuable one worth pursuing.  

Always keep in mind that an intermittent fasting program should be done after consulting with a doctor, especially for those with chronic conditions. Intermittent fasting is not necessarily recommended for pregnant women, children or those with a history of eating disorders. One good resource to learn more is Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Obesity Code, and the Facebook group “The Dr. Jason Fung Fan Club.” Many apps are available to help track fasting and provide further guidance. 

By Dr. Teresa Bartlett

Courtesy of Sedgwick Connection

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