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Happy healthy Chinese New Year


Good health is something many people wish for at Chinese New Year, but the festival can also bring with it health issues such as stress from preparations, food poisoning, high blood sugar levels, gastric problems, sore throat and blisters.


From spring cleaning and reunion dinner preparations to queuing at the bank for clean, crisp notes for red packets, it can be stressful to accomplish so many tasks within a short period of time.

“It is important to keep in mind that the festive period is a time of celebration and enjoying the company of loved ones, and we should not let such momentary stresses dampen our happy moods, which can be detrimental to our health," said Dr Philip Koh, chairman of Healthway Medical’s medical board.

He suggested keeping task checklists, prioritising tasks and delegating them to family members to help reduce the load of responsibilities. Consider preparing ingredients for the reunion dinner in advance, and making the washing of dishes after a reunion dinner a shared effort among family members and friends.


A key ingredient of yu sheng is raw fish, and raw food is always a cause for concern as it can increase the risk of food poisoning.

“Gastroenteritis is the medical term for food poisoning or stomach flu, and is caused by a bacteria or virus,” said Dr Eric Wee, senior consultant gastroenterologist at Nobel Gastroenterology Centre.

Sometimes, even when the raw fish is handled properly, it may still harbour viruses, bacteria and parasites. Hence, it is advisable to consume products from a reputable supplier. If you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to pass on the yu sheng, said Dr Wee.

Symptoms of gastroenteritis - profuse vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps - can manifest within eight to 24 hours of eating the contaminated food. The symptoms are often self-limiting and usually run their course after about four days. During this time, prevent dehydration by drinking isotonic drinks. If the symptoms persist for more than a week, see a doctor.


“Over-eating is never healthy. Even a seemingly healthy meal, such as soup-based steamboat, can cause problems if consumed in excessive amounts,” said Dr Wee. A big meal, especially one that is oily, can certainly trigger gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), where acid reflux causes bloating, upper abdominal pain, heartburn and regurgitation, he said.

However, eating a light lunch does not give you an excuse to over-indulge at the reunion dinner. “A normal stomach will empty its contents within six hours,” said Dr Wee. “So, it is inconsequential whether you have a light or normal-sized lunch.”

To minimise the experience of heartburn, bloating and regurgitation associated with overeating, Dr Wee advised that it is more helpful to watch the portion of food eaten instead.

Another tip: Avoid lying down after a heavy meal, and try to stay upright for three hours. “This gives the stomach time to empty its contents into the small intestine, thereby minimising the symptoms of GERD. If needed, a medicine such as domperidone that empties the stomach at a faster rate can also help," said Dr Wee.


Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) chalks up the sore throat to the over-consumption of "heaty" food. These include bak kwa - and even reunion dinner favourites like mala steamboat, chives, sea cucumbers, prawns and mussels, according to TCM philosophies.

Conventional medicine’s explanation for a sore throat is a cold or flu - not what you ate. The stress of preparing for the festivities and the lack of sleep from late-night mahjong sessions can take their toll on the immune system, making you prone to contracting a cold or flu. Being in close proximity to relatives and friends who are already sick can also increase your risk of catching the bug.

Rest is your best remedy. If the local clinic is closed during the Chinese New Year period, alleviate symptoms with over-the-counter medicine such as cough mixture and paracetamol to relieve body ache and fever. If you are flu-free, avoid catching it by not touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, without washing your hands.


Being conscious about food intake is especially important for those with chronic metabolic problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

“Diabetic patients should avoid bingeing on foods with high sugar content. This can lead to unhealthy blood glucose fluctuations,” said Dr Wee. Instead of soft drinks, opt for Chinese tea which has virtually no calories, suggested Dr Wee.

“When eating a meal, take an additional serving of vegetables and fewer carbohydrates. Eating on a smaller plate also helps to create an illusion of a bigger meal, despite a limited quantity of food,” he said.

Source: CNA/bk

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