‘Tis the Season

By January 11, 2012 No Comments
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Hip Hop artists have been paying homage to the holidays since the late 1970’s. Some of the best of these songs feature artists that work with Hip Hop Public Health, including “Christmas in Hollis”, by Run DMC and “Christmas Rap” by the Treacherous 3 and Doug E. Fresh. Other artists that have recently made Holiday Hip Hop songs include Kanye West (“Christmas in Harlem”) and Ludacris (“Ludacrismas”). There was even a “Christmas on Death Row” album released by Suge Knight in 1996 that featured the popular “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto” by Snoop Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, and Nate Dogg.


Nate Dogg suffered his first stroke on December 19, 2007.  Unfortunately, he represents the thousands of Americans that have strokes and heart attacks during the holiday season.  The highest number of incidents occur on Christmas Day and New Years Day. There are several reasons why stroke and heart attack risk rise at this time of year.


First, individuals are much likely to consume large amounts of alcohol during the holidays. Not only does this increase the risk of automobile and other types of accidents; it also increases the risk of the development of atrial fibrillation, or an abnormal heart beat.  This phenomenon has been called “Holiday Heart Syndrome”, and it can affect individuals whether or not they have a history of heart disease. Furthermore, the abnormality of the heart rhythm allows blood in the vessels to pool and form clots, which may migrate to the brain and cause an ischemic stroke.


Second, individuals tend to consume a tremendous amount of WHOA foods during the holidays: foods that contain high amounts of salt, sugar, and fat. Thus, individuals tend to gain weight during the holidays, which may lead them to become overweight or obese over the years. Consumption of WHOA foods in addition to a lack of physical activity can also contribute to the development of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), which is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Individuals with PAD are also at an increased risk of death following a cardiovascular or cerebrovascular accident.


Third, the stresses of the holidays cause an increase in the levels of stress hormones in the body.  Not only are stress hormones, such as cortisol, associated with truncal obesity, or the accumulation of fat around the vital organs in the midsection of the body, but stress hormones can also lead to dramatic increases in blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.


Lastly, when people begin to exhibit symptoms of heart attack or stroke during the holidays, they often delay treatment as to not disturb holiday activities and any good times being had by themselves and their loved ones. This is a major mistake, as disability or even death can be avoided in a matter of minutes.


During this time of year, it is helpful to be conscious of the types and amounts of food and beverage that you and those around you are consuming.  Individuals should also make it a point to develop an end-of-year exercise regimen and schedule to counteract the effects of increased food intake and stress hormone levels. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions that often fizzle out before Spring, it behooves us to commit to making lifestyle changes that can last a lifetime.  Healthy Holidays!