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Because I know better I do better

By Margaret Muthee | January 27th 2020 at 09:00:00 GMT +0300

Sunday Magazine
Medical professionals share habits they have picked or dropped due to their medical experiences.

Four medical practitioners share the lifestyle habits they have picked or dropped due to their medical experiences.

THE ONCOLOGIST

Dr Adarsh Chandramouleswar, an oncologist at HCGCCK Cancer Centre in Nairobi

I stay away from smokers

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Smoking increases your risk of cancer. Keep in mind that the smoke from tobacco is a toxic mix of chemicals and even being around smoker is dangerous for you. Even occasional smoking isn’t safe. Smoke from cigarettes contain about 7000 chemicals

I keep my weight in check

I do regular physical exercise because it is very important. Gaining too much weight is a health risk that I avoid. I do know for sure that excessive weight increases your cancer risk. I watch what goes on my plate and that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, reducing the red meat and other processed foods.

I skip the supermarket and go to the grocery

While food shopping is a day-to-day activity, I check out what goes into that cart. I mostly go for natural fresh foods as opposed to artificial or processed foods. I also avoid stored foods and particularly all these sodas, stored meats and other processed foods. This is because if it lasts long without going bad, it is loaded with preservatives. And most processed foods have high amounts of sugar that has devastating effects on your health.

SEE ALSO: France bans hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19

Practice safe sex

A change in lifestyle is important in avoiding the risk of common cancers. HIV lowers your immunity by targeting your CD4 cells so that it makes you susceptible to various cancers.

I get annual screenings

Every year, without fail, I check myself in for cancer screenings and other health checkups. This is because some cancers are easily treatable when detected early. I always advise men to get a prostate cancer checks and for the women, get breast checks (mammogram) annually and cervical cancer checks (pap smear) every three years.  

THE GENERAL PRACTITIONER

Dr Mary Murugi, a general practitioner at AAR Thika

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I ensure the kids get enough outdoor playtime

Every day when they finish their homework, my children have to go outside and play. It aids in their brain development. The frontal cortex which is integral for controlling emotions and problem solving is activated during playtime. The physical exercise is good for promoting heart health and they develop their motor skills too. So get your children off the screen and let them have a merry good time outside.  

I know that exercise is more important than diet in cancer prevention and thus is a must do.

I have made exercises a normal routine since I learnt that exercise is actually more vital in cancer prevention than my diet. Yes. Shocking, but true.

Exercise reduces inflammation in your body, boosts immunity and studies recommend atleast 30 minutes daily of exercise. I have at least 150 minutes of active exercise every week. I prefer home workouts due to time constraints. I log into YouTube for exercise videos and I have enrolled in an online class by Dr Esther Dindi to keep me motivated.

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I stay away from smoking zones

I am not a smoker but I have learnt to avoid places where people are smoking. The risk of second hand smoking is just as much as that of a smoker, so if you can avoid it, please do.  Second hand smoking causes lung cancer as you inhale a high level of carcinogens (cancer causing agents) in the smoke.  Smoking is a risk that could lead to hypertension and some blood vessel diseases including stroke and heart attacks that could lead to limb amputation.

I greatly mind what is on my children’s plate

As a doctor, I know that cancer risk can go high if I take certain meals or in higher quantities than necessary. I avoid a lot of processed foods especially for the young ones. You will not find commercial juices or soda in my house. I make sure all food groups are represented in each family meal.

THE GYNECOLOGIST

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WHAT I TELL THE WOMEN IN MY LIFE…

Dr David Chiuri, practicing gynecologist at Thika Level 5 hospital

Be smart about your choice of contraceptive

Don’t just choose a method because it worked on your friend. Always consider:

1. Your preferences and history of use. Has previous use of contraceptives caused you any problems?

2. When you want to conceive next. There are short term methods and long term methods of contraception and one has to consider which one to pick.

If pregnant, avoid anaemia

Pregnant mothers should take an adequate amount of a balanced diet, and foods which contain iron because physiological anaemia is common in pregnancy. The food should contain adequate protein, adequate vitamins and also iron. Also, do not skip meals and have an adequate fluid intake and supplements. For supplements iron is a must. Pre-natal vitamins could be optional but they have the advantage of improving baby weight and general well being during pregnancy.

If you have ever suffered a miscarriage, care has to be taken for next conception

If you have had previous cases of loss, there are those medicines we use to help in supporting the pregnancy and preventing events that could lead to loss. Additionally, ante-natal follow up is recommended. Symptoms that could indicate sexual health problems include changes in patterns of menses, recurrent or persisting abnormal vaginal discharge and persistent low abdominal pain.

THE PSYCHOLOGIST

Paps Wanyungi, a psychologist

 I avoid mental distress as much as I can

In my line of work, I have seen the effects of negative emotions. Mental distress can lead to serious mental health issues. But then again, negative life experiences are normal. So I avoid piling up things emotionally and mentally. Whenever I realise negativity is getting out of hand, I start probing myself and looking for ways to address it and sometimes just vent.

I do not engage in negative self-talk

I am big on self-affirmation and positive declarations to counter negativity from myself and my environment. I also seek audience with my networks to iron out misunderstandings wherever possible. Also, positive energy is infectious. Give it and you will get it. Sometimes people battling with depression and other mental illnesses just need someone positive around them to resuscitate them.

I have an outlet for my pain

Prayer is my lifeline. Spending time with God keeps me on top of anything that happens in my life. I started morning runs with some workout buddies at 4am and it has been quite a rejuvenating experience with days full of energy and positivity. Journaling and using various apps and consistently keeping a diary have also kept me grounded.

When I go back and read my past thoughts and experiences, I always realise how much I have grown. I also see the challenges that I have overcome.

I handle negative people based on who they are to me

Every difficult person is a hurting person with poor self-awareness, and therefore a baggage of issues that have not been dealt with. How I deal with them depends on two thing: Who they are to me and how adversely their behaviour affects me. If they are a one-off brief encounter, I sometimes let it slide, but most of the times, being a very assertive person, I will let them know my perspective on the issue at hand before they walk away. However, when a person is in my life for longer, I will consistently share feedback and whenever possible, I will set boundaries and communicate what I do not allow in my space. Many times, I naturally find myself also probing on what could be hurting them and support them to get through it if they are affirmatively responsive.

I take work breaks

I have a rhythm in my life of getting away for 3 days every 3 months. I leave my phone behind and just go off by myself and prayerfully reflect and plan my life. I have not been consistent lately but at least twice a year I have done it and came back feeling brand new with clarity and focus. I am big on delegating. I always try to differentiate what MUST be done by me and what can be done by others. On dealing with toxic workplaces, the psychologist is quick to offer her remarks.

 I offer the gift of presence to depressed people around me

I don’t trivialise other people’s emotional or mental pain. I wish others wouldn’t too. Don’t always assume depressed people are seeking attention. Don’t always try to ‘knock them out of it’. Empathy is a very important component for their recovery and even survival. Don’t make it worse. If you are not sure of what to say, just be there and shut up. There is something called the gift of presence.

WHAT GYNAECOLOGISTS TELL THEIR WOMEN FRIENDS

1. Let thy flower be!  

Forget the feminine products that promise a rosy smelling vagina. The vagina is an amazing organ that comes with its own self-cleaning mechanism. If it has a strong odour, you should get checked as that could mean you have an infection. Other than that, avoid heavily scented soaps and douching products as they may upset the natural balance of good bacteria. Good old plain water is enough for a good cleanse.

2. Never in the mood? Check your birth control

Most birth control options involve manipulating hormone production so that you do not ovulate. However, some of these hormones contribute to your sex drive, including the sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG).  This hormone reduces the amount of testosterone, but this may work against you in terms of desiring sex, because testosterone is thought to enhance your sex drive. Studies show that women on birth control have upto four times the normal amount of SHBG in their bodies, meaning less testosterone. In addition, less oestrogen, which is also reduced by the pill means it may be harder to get wet during sex, which makes it painful and less desirable. Talk to your gynaecologist about possible birth control alternatives. You can choose non-hormonal contraceptives such as an intrauterine device (IUD) which is sometimes called a coil.

 3. Working out too hard can cause infertility

Exercise is great for your health and fertility, but too much of it can have the opposite effect.  According to a Norwegian study headed by Sigridur Lara Gudmundsdottir, training every day to the point of extreme exhaustion raises your risk of infertility.This is especially true for women of normal weight. This however, can be reversed by going back to moderate exercise.

4.      Your pelvic organs can collapse

This is when the pelvic organs (rectum, bladder, uterus) that are supported by the pelvic muscles drop from their normal position and press against the vagina or protrude through it. The bladder is the organ that most commonly does this.

Pelvic organ prolapse happens when the pelvic muscles are weakened, mostly during childbirth but can also be caused by surgery to remove the uterus, which can leave other organs without support. This prolapse happens years after childbirth.

To lessen the risk of undergoing pelvic organ prolapse, do exercises that strengthen the pelvic muscles, such as kegel exercises. Also ensure that you maintain a healthy weight, do not smoke, and take measures to control constipation, which exacerbates the weakening of the pelvic muscles.

5. Your vagina narrows down during menopause

You might have enjoyed sex during your younger years, but as you grow older, you may have found that it gets more painful. This can not only be caused by dryness of the vagina, but also narrowing of the vaginal canal, as it becomes less elastic. This is the vaginal atrophy (atrophic vaginitis) which is the thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls. The bad news is that this can begin as early as in your late 30s (during perimenopause – the period before menopause), when your ovaries start producing less oestrogen. By the time you hit real menopause, your ovaries don’t produce any oestrogen, which produces lubrication, resulting in more dryness.

There is a remedy. More sex. Having more sex can help the situation. This helps to maintain some elasticity. Also, you can use vaginal moisturisers even when not being sexually active to keep things fresh. You can also get your doctor to prescribe oestrogen cream or pills and use lubricants during sex.

 WHAT ANDROLOGISTS TELL THEIR MALE FRIENDS

 1.      The bigger your belly, the worse your sex life will be

There was a time when the bigger the belly a man had, the more revered and sought after he was.  But, did you know that the size of your belly is inversely proportional to the quality of your sex life?  The bigger the belly, the less the sexual satisfaction. Abdominal fat, which is visceral adipose tissue, actually impedes the production of the hormone testosterone, which lowers your libido. In turn, less testosterone leads to more abdominal fat, creating a vicious cycle.

So exercise. Walking is one of the easiest forms of getting your workout in. Also, do some strength-training to develop muscle mass. Having muscles helps your body burn more calories even when you are not working out. In addition, quit sugar and replace processed carbohydrates with whole grains, which help in burning fat.

2.       Men need kegels too

This is especially when you have diabetes, bladder issues or have had surgery of the prostrate. A weak pelvic floor can be identified by constantly needing to go to the toilet, having trouble urinating, leaking urine after using the toilet or during movements like sneezing. 

 Kegel exercises are done by starting and stopping the flow of urine while urinating. This helps strengthen the pubococcygeus (PC) muscles, which can help control erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.

3.       Have children when younger

The older you are, the more likely you are to have a child with genetic defects. A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that children born to men over 45 were 3.5 times as likely to be diagnosed with autism as those born to men aged 20 to 24.

4.       STDs do not always have symptoms

Any sexually active adult is at a risk of contracting an STD, and many of them have them already but do not show any symptoms. The problem with this is that symptoms can show up when the disease is at an advanced stage and cause complications such as infertility. You can also infect a partner while having no symptoms.

5.       Your penis health is a good indicator of your cardiovascular function

How well you are able to get and maintain an erection is often a good indicator of how well your cardiovascular system is functioning. If it is not working properly, it could mean that the cells your kidney, brain and heart could be malfunctioning and it would be good idea to get a checkup.


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