Holiday Season Brings Health Concerns

By: Steve Fullhart & Dr. Alan Xenakis Email
By: Steve Fullhart & Dr. Alan Xenakis Email

The holiday season brings with it a set of health concerns, including diet and emotional health.

KBTX Medical Contributor Dr. Alan Xenakis with the Texas A&M Health Science Center joined Brazos Valley This Morning Tuesday to provide tips on staying healthy through the holidays.

Click on the video to watch the segment from BVTM, and read below for plenty of additional details provided by Doc X.

What is “Holiday Heart Syndrome?”
It’s the season for many of us to overindulge in champagne, spiked eggnog and hors d'oeuvres. And although pounds gained in December can be shed next year, the more immediate effects of holiday excess can be serious. Binge drinking and overloading on sodium can trigger abnormal heart rhythms. The condition, known as "holiday heart syndrome," can require emergency medical care. With "holiday heart syndrome," your heart basically beats very erratically, chaotically, and extremely fast. Patients have described the feeling as "like having a Mexican jumping bean inside your chest."The term "holiday heart syndrome" was coined in 1978 when researchers detected heart rhythm abnormalities in 24 study participants, none of whom had a history of heart disease. What they all did have was too much to drink, too fast. Since then, several studies have confirmed alcohol's heart rhythm-disturbing effects. The most common abnormal heart rhythm, atrial fibrillation, occurs when the upper heart chambers quiver instead of contracting regularly. Although it's often asymptomatic, it can lead to congestive heart failure or stroke. As the moniker suggests, holiday heart syndrome peaks on weekends and at holidays.

Although alcohol alone can derail normal heart rhythms, its effects are exaggerated when mixed with caffeine. So be aware that the popular practice of mixing alcohol with energy drinks is a "very bad combination."

Salty foods, such as holiday ham and pre-packaged appetizers, can lead to fluid retention and exercerbate heart rhythm distrubances. So, despite the season's temptations, maintaining a relatively normal diet will lower the risk of holiday heart problems. Similarly, when it comes to alcohol, moderation is key. If you don't drink much all year, avoid drinking a year's worth in one night. And if you do drink regularly, avoid drinking more than usual. If your heart starts racing or beating irregularly, you should stop drinking and sit down and if the feeling persists for five minutes, you should seek medical attention.

What is the “Health Rule”We Should Follow Concerning Holiday Leftovers?
Holiday foods: 2 hours -- 2 inches -- 4 days.
2 hours is the maximum time a food can go from oven to refrigerator. "You take it out of the oven, you have your nice meal, but within two hours, you really need to be putting that food away and in the refrigerator," she said in a pre-holiday interview.
2 inches is the depth of containers you should use to quickly cool warm foods. That means dividing up big pots of soup, taking turkey meat off the bones and putting these into multiple, small containers.
4 days is how long leftovers can stay in the fridge,unless you freeze them. However, stuffing and gravy go bad more quickly and should stay in the fridge no more than 2 days before you must eat them or toss them.

What Are Two Majopr Stressors We Most Often See In The Midst of the Holidays?

Loss of a Loved One:
Embrace the grief. Own it. The more we face the grief and bring it into our lives the closer we will be to the person we have lost through passing or separation. Through this ownership, instead of avoidance, we can truly celebrate the person’s life.

Excessive spending and/or debt:
Lose the guilt over excessive spending. Give yourself permission to accept that you are in a financial bind and that part of your response is not only financial responsibility by recognizing your situation honestly, but also allowing yourself to enjoy situations that have little monetary cost. These situation might include family get togethers, reading, making scrapbooks, going for walks, and other family activities that require no money just personal investment.

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