Preparing for the holidays builds stress up over the months leading to the actual celebration of Christmas. Once the holiday season sets in, a different scenario plays out—with festive occasions that are teeming with potentially dangerous practices that add to the stress or even aggravate existing health conditions.
Changes in temperature and stress factors, physical or psychological, contribute to a decrease in one’s immunity. People are more susceptible to catch viral illnesses. Exposure to many people during parties can heighten the spread of coughs or colds.
Robert Vicencio, M.D., a cardiologist from St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, says overeating and overindulgence are among the main factors that can put a person’s health at risk. Be mindful when partaking of the following:
• Desserts should be taken in minimal amounts. High sugar and trans-fats are found in pastries and baked goods. Most desserts contain empty calories that contribute to weight gain or cause an increase in triglyceride levels.
• Foods rich in sauces, high in fat, or heavy in salt, such as lechon, crispy pata, hamonado, steak, pasta, breads or rice. Most of our favourite holiday dishes are high in salt or fat. Salt causes fluid retention and can increase blood pressure. These foods can also elevate cholesterol levels and aggravate weight gain.
• Alcohol has been cited for certain health benefits when taken in moderation—but harmful effects include weight gain from the high calorie content of drinks, altering the way medicines work, affecting one’s blood pressure, increasing risk for liver damage, and increasing risk for accidents. Too much alcohol irritates the heart muscle, resulting in “Holiday Heart Syndrome” or irregular heartbeats called atrial fibrillation. These fibrillations, in turn, can eventually lead to strokes.
Eating healthy during the holidays
• Eat and drink in moderation. Minimize drastic changes in diet.
• Do not skip meals to compensate for eating party food later. Overeating is a result of this kind of starvation.
• Eat small amounts of the food you enjoy. Include healthy food choices for every meal. Keep your plate as colourful as possible with a variety of vegetables or salad. Skip the sidings and add-ons.
Avoiding the alcohol binge
• Keep yourself well-hydrated.
• Choose non-alcoholic beverages.
• Do not try to keep up with how much others are drinking.
Heart attacks and other risks
Chest pain or heaviness, shortness of breath, pain in the left arm or jaw can be a sign that your heart is getting an attack. The American Heart Association refers to it as the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and the “Happy New Year Heart Attack” phenomenon. The potential mechanisms include:
• inappropriate delay in seeking medical attention;
• increased emotional stress;
• overindulgence due to increased intake of food, salt, fats and alcohol;
• increased respiratory problems (influenza, upper respiratory infections, etc); and
• less doctors available who are familiar with individual patients during holiday schedules.
Aside from heart-related conditions, Dr. Vicencio says there may be an increased risk for stroke or poorly-controlled diabetes. Even for those who consider themselves healthy and fit, food-related illnesses such as diarrhea or dyspepsia are among the common ER consults. Symptoms of food-related diseases include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Holiday revelers should exercise caution when eating. Leftover food should be stored properly to prevent bacterial growth that can cause gastroenteritis. Observe proper hygiene when preparing food.