Christmas and our health
By Dr Brighton Chireka
“Kari mubhokisi babamukuru. Nyarara zvako ndichakubaira huku” (Christmas box uncle; relax I will slaughter a chicken for you). People of my generation will remember this statement as it was in our Grade Two Shona book story about Christmas. As someone who is from a strong rural background (SRB) I can remember those days as we celebrated Christmas by having rice and chicken. Christmas Day was and is still a special day and a lot of money is spend preparing for this day. We meet our families and food will be in abundance as we eat, drink and be merry. In so doing, our health does suffer a great deal and the damage can be permanent or take long time to undo after the festive season.
I would like to share a few tips with readers of this column and hope that the knowledge will empower them. We must remember that knowledge is only powerful if we act upon it. We will perish if we ignore knowledge which is freely being given on this column. There are three conditions that I am going to talk about because they are likely to increase among us during this festive season.
The first condition is Obesity. Obesity is a term used to describe somebody who is very overweight, with a lot of body fat. The second condition is indigestion. Indigestion can be pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen (dyspepsia) or burning pain behind the breastbone (heartburn); Chirungurira in Shona).The third conditionis Gout, which is a type of arthritis where crystals of sodium urate form inside and around joints.
Let’s look first at Obesity
Obesity is a term used to describe somebody who is very overweight, with a lot of body fat.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of whether you’re a healthy weight for your height. For most adults:
a BMI of 25 to 29.9 means you are considered overweight
a BMI of 30 to 39.9 means you are considered obese
a BMI of 40 or above means you are considered severely obese
Causes of obesity
This is caused by lifestyle habits such as eating more calories, particularly those fatty and sugary foods, than you burn off through physical activity. We are eating more and more and we are not exercising as we are spending a lot of time sitting. We rarely walk nowadays and rarely cook proper, healthy foods. We like “take aways” and we like to drive everywhere instead of walking. We are likely to over eat this Christmas and pile up more weight on top of what we have already.
We need to take steps to tackle obesity. We will perish not because we do not have knowledge but because we decide to ignore knowledge. The information is here for you for free. Obesity can lead to a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions such as: Diabetes Mellitus
Breast and Bowel cancer
Obesity can also affect your quality of life and lead to psychological problems, such as low self-esteem or depression.
Obesity can also cause indigestion as discussed below. Remember that there are no “quick fixes” for obesity
The best way to treat obesity is to eat a healthy, reduced-calorie diet and to exercise regularly. One needs to stick to the good habit otherwise one gets back those excess kgs if they go back to the lifestyle of eating and sitting too much.
Remember that even losing what seems like a small amount of weight (such as 3% or more of your original body weight), and maintaining this for life, can significantly reduce your risk of obesity-related complications like diabetes and heart disease.
Secondly, let’s look at Indigestion
Indigestion can be pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen (dyspepsia) or burning pain behind the breastbone (heartburn or Chirungurira in Shona). Symptoms usually appear soon after eating or drinking.
Common associated symptoms include:
feeling full or bloated
feeling sick (nausea)
bringing up (regurgitating) fluid or food into the gullet (oesophagus)
Why it happens
Indigestion may be caused by stomach acid coming into contact with the sensitive, protective lining of the digestive system (mucosa). The stomach acid breaks down the lining, leading to irritation and inflammation, which can be painful.In most cases indigestion is related to eating, although it can be triggered by other factors such as smoking, drinking, alcohol, pregnancy, stress or taking certain medications.
Treating indigestion at home
One can treat indigestion at home by changing their diet and lifestyle and then try antacids medication which one can buy over the counter. Losing weight if one is overweight will help reduce indigestion. Cutting or stopping smoking will help as well.
Diet and alcohol
Make a note of any particular food or drink that seems to make your indigestion worse, and avoid these if possible. This may mean:
eating less rich, spicy and fatty foods
cutting down on drinks that contain caffeine – such as tea, coffee and cola
avoiding or cutting down on alcohol (We are likely to drink more alcohol this festive season but my advice is – let’s cut down so as to stay healthy).
If you tend to experience indigestion symptoms at night, avoid eating for three to four hours before you go to bed. Going to bed with a full stomach means there is an increased risk that acid in your stomach will be forced up into your oesophagus while you are lying down.
Also relaxing and avoiding stress can help with the management of indigestion. This means there is a lot one can do about indigestion before they see a doctor. Very rarely, a serious underlying health condition is the cause of indigestion. If this is suspected, then further investigation such as an endoscopy will be required (see below).
When to see your doctor?
Most people will not need to seek medical advice for their indigestion. However, it is important to see your General Practitioner (GP) if you have recurring indigestion and any of the following apply:
you are 55 years old or over
you have lost a lot of weight without meaning to.
you have increasing difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
you have persistent vomiting
you have iron deficiency anaemia
you have a lump in your stomach
you have blood in your vomit or blood in your stools
This is because these symptoms may be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as a stomach ulcer or stomach cancer. You may need to be referred for an endoscopy to rule out any serious cause. An endoscopy is a procedure where the inside of the body is examined using an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube that has a light and camera on one end).
Last but not least, let’s look at Gout
Gout is a type of arthritis where crystals of sodium urate form inside and around joints.The most common symptom is sudden and severe pain in the joint, along with swelling and redness. The joint of the big toe is commonly affected, but it can develop in any joint.
What causes Gout?
Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is a waste product made in the body every day and excreted mainly via the kidneys. It forms when the body breaks down chemicals in the cells known as purines. If you produce too much uric acid or excrete too little when you urinate, the uric acid builds up and may cause tiny crystals of sodium urate to form in and around joints.
Factors that increase your risk of gout include:
age and gender – gout is more common when you get older and is three to four times more likely in men
being overweight or obese
having high blood pressure or diabetes
having close relatives with gout (gout often runs in families)
having long-term kidney problems that reduce the elimination of uric acid
a diet rich in purines, such as frequently eating sardines and liver
drinking too much beer or spirits – these types of alcoholic drinks contain relatively high levels of purines.
There are two main goals in treating gout:
relieving symptoms – this can be done by using ice packs and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), painkillers; in some cases, alternative medications such as colchicine or corticosteroids may also be needed
preventing future gout attacks – through a combination of lifestyle changes, such as losing weight if you are overweight, and taking medication such as allopurinol, which lowers uric acid levels.
So cut down on BBQ (Gochi Gochi) and alcohol this festive season to reduce your chances of getting a gout attack!
Complications of gout are uncommon but can include:
tophus formation – tophi are small to large firm lumps sometimes visible and easily felt under the skin
permanent joint damage – caused by ongoing joint inflammation between the acute attacks, and by formation of tophi within the joint that damage cartilage and bone; this is usually only a risk if gout is left untreated for many years .
Kidney stones – high levels of uric acid can also lead to stones (uric acid and calcium stones) developing inside the kidneys.
As this is our last article before Christmas, may I take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Healthy New Year. Do not let food kill you and no more excuses as the information has been made readily available to you for free, thanks to www.docbeecee.co.uk website.
This article was compiled by Dr Brighton Chireka who is a GP and a Patient Engagement Advocate (PEA) in Folkestone Kent, UK. He is also an NHS Certificated Change Agent (CCA). You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Dr. Chireka has used all reasonable care in compiling the information, but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.