Blog | gutCARE - Part 2

Keep Colorectal Cancer At Bay With These Healthy Diet Tips

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March 23, 2020 Blog

Diet is a huge factor in maintaining a healthy body, but did you know it could also go as far as to keep you cancer-free?

In particular, experts have found certain food types that increase one’s risk of contracting colorectal cancer – the most common cancer in Singapore – while some foods help to reduce the risk.

While diet won’t guarantee a fool-proof defence against cancer, studies show that the association between diet and colorectal cancer incidence is strong. Thus, reducing your chances of contracting colorectal cancer can be as simple as making a few dietary adjustments.

Foods associated with increased colorectal cancer risk

For a start, here are some foods you should cut down on if you wish to guard yourself against colorectal cancer:

  • Alcohol

Studies show that having about 50g of alcohol a day (or three and a half drinks) can increase one’s risk of contracting the cancer by 50%. To minimise the effects of alcohol on one’s cancer risk, limit drinks to no more than two a day.

While the mechanism of alcohol intake to cancer remains unclear, some suggest that the responsibility lies with acetaldehyde, a DNA-damaging chemical that results from the breakdown of ethanol. Alcohol consumption is also linked to numerous other health conditions like liver disease and pancreatic cancer.

  • Red meats

Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb have been found to be associated with up to 20-28% increased risk of colorectal cancer, and is linked to higher risks of other cancers like that of the pancreas and prostate. While red meats are a good source of iron and proteins, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting intake to not more than 510g of red meat per week, and complementing it with other iron and protein sources.

Experts say the culprit behind red meat’s link to cancer may be the high levels of saturated fat. This leads to an increased emission of bile acids (chemicals that break down fats), of which excess turns into secondary bile acids, a carcinogen. Other possible contributors are Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) – carcinogenic chemicals formed from cooking meats at high temperatures, as well as nitrites and N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) – suspected carcinogens.

  • Processed foods

According to research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), every 50g of processed meat (about one hotdog) eaten daily raises one’s chances of contracting colorectal cancer by 18%. Processed foods like ham, bacon, and sausages should be only eaten occasionally.

The components suspected to be involved in contributing to the higher cancer risk are similar to that of red meat: saturated fats, HCAs, PAHs, nitrites, and NOCs.

Food recommendations for preventing colorectal cancer

On the flip side, researchers have found that certain diets are favourable in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. These tips will help you maintain a diet that is low-risk and beneficial to overall health.

  • Try the Mediterranean diet

In their studies of diet and colorectal cancer, researchers noticed that people with diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and fish were less prone to getting colorectal cancer. The cancer risk is reported to be up to 45% less than those who had a meat-based diet.

The high fibre content of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains are thought to be beneficial for gut health as it reduces the amount of time that potentially cancer-causing compounds can stay in the digestive system and wreak havoc on the body. Additionally, fish offers the body healthy fats while providing it with the proteins it needs.

  • Eat in moderation and go low-fat

Obesity is also a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Studies find that people who are obese have about 30% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than people of healthy weight, and this effect is higher in men than in women.

Eating in moderation, watching one’s consumption of fatty foods, and regular exercise will be helpful for maintaining a healthy weight.

How to stay vigilant against colorectal cancer

Indeed, there are many steps you can take to maintain a low-risk, cancer-free lifestyle. Apart from a healthy diet, regular physical activity and abstaining from smoking are some other steps you can take.

It is also crucial to be aware of the common colorectal cancer symptoms like blood in stools, persistent diarrhoea or constipation, bloated stomachstomach pain, nausea and/or vomiting. If you have any known risks or symptoms, be sure to keep up with regular colon screenings at your nearest health facility, or with a colon cancer specialist in Singapore.


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March 16, 2020 Blog

How much do you know about colorectal cancer? Given that colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore, it will be worth your while to understand a little bit more about it so that you can better guard against it.

Unfortunately, many people have misconceptions about colorectal cancer, which could lead to unwarranted fear or misled complacency. Here, we address some of the most commonly heard misconceptions our doctors hear from patients regarding colorectal cancer, and correct them with the facts.

Myth: Only men get colorectal cancer.

Fact: Colorectal cancer can affect both men and women.

Colorectal cancer is amongst one of the top 3 cancers diagnosed in Singapore, and it affects people across both genders. According to research from the Singapore Cancer Registry based on figures from 2011 to 2015, colorectal cancer makes up 1 in 7 of cancers diagnosed in women, making it second only to breast cancer, with lung cancer following closely behind.

In men, colorectal cancer makes up 1 in 6 cancers, making it the top cancer diagnosis amongst men in Singapore, followed by lung and prostate cancer.

Myth: People under 50 years of age don’t need to be worried about colorectal cancer.

Fact: Colorectal cancer can affect persons of any age.

The risk of contracting colorectal cancer rises as one grows older, but it does not mean that young people are safe from it. In fact, the incidence of colorectal cancer in younger people is on the rise. 10 years ago, only about 1 in 10 cases of colorectal cancer were in persons below the age of 50, but in the years 2011 to 2015, this rate has increased to 1 out of 5.

While age is one risk factor, young people also need to be aware of other factors that put them in risk, like their family history, existing or history of bowel-related conditions, a diet high in red meats and/or processed foods, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption.

Myth: Persons without symptoms do not need colorectal cancer screening.

Fact: Screening can detect cancer before symptoms arise, and offers a higher chance for effective treatment.

As many as half of colorectal cancer patients don’t display the common symptoms like blood in stools, diarrhoeaconstipation, bloated stomach or stomach pain before the cancer is discovered. Screening tests help to detect cancers before symptoms surface, and allows for early intervention, which increases the chances of effective treatment and full recovery.

Some screening tests also detect pre-cancerous growths like polyps. Colonoscopy is one screening method that also offers the possibility of removing small polyps before they develop into tumours.

Myth: I must get a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer.

Fact: There are several tests available for colorectal screening.

Colonoscopy stands as the most reliable method for detecting colorectal cancer. However, for those who prefer not to undergo colonoscopy, there are various alternatives available as well.

Stool tests like the faecal occult blood test or the faecal immunochemical test are non-invasive methods to detect blood in the stool. One can also opt for CT-assisted virtual colonoscopy to let the doctor examine the colon without a physical colonoscopy.

While these tests are good for preliminary testing, it should be noted that any abnormal results are still best checked out through a colonoscopy.

Being informed about your risks and options when it comes to your health is one of the best ways to guard against diseases like colorectal cancer. If you would like to know more about your risk for colorectal cancer, don’t hesitate to consult a colon cancer specialist in Singapore to walk you through a thorough health history examination and give you advice on screenings recommended for you.


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March 10, 2020 Blog

When it comes to colorectal cancer, early detection is the key to successful treatment. However, colorectal cancer is notorious for not having many symptoms – in fact, over half of the cases do not present symptoms at all.

Thus, knowing when to start screening for colorectal cancer is paramount to early cancer detection. People at higher risk should begin getting screened at an earlier age, with higher frequencies of screenings.

What are the risk factors for colorectal cancer?

To determine if you are at higher-than-average risk of colorectal cancer, these are some signs you should take note of:

  •    Family history

If you have an immediate family member who has had colorectal cancer, you are considered to be at higher risk for the cancer, as it means you likely share genetic, environmental or lifestyle factors that predispose you to it.

  •    Inherited syndromes

Some inherited conditions have been associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer. These include: Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), Lynch Syndrome, Turcot Syndrome and Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome.

  •    Diet

Studies have shown an increased risk of colorectal cancer in persons with diets high in red and processed meats. Frequent consumption of meats cooked at very high temperatures through methods like frying or grilling is also thought to be a risk contributor.

  •    Smoking

Tobacco in cigarettes contains known carcinogens that may be ingested during smoking. Thus, smokers or non-smokers with frequent exposure to cigarette smoke are reportedly at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

  •    Alcohol use

A meta-study found that every 10g of alcohol consumed per day gives you a 7% rise in risk of getting colorectal cancer. This is attributed to acetaldehyde, which is a chemical formed during the break down of alcohol in the body. The compound can lead to DNA damage or the formation of polyps in the colon.

  •    Age

Colorectal cancer can strike individuals of any age, but the risks are significantly higher in older persons. Over 90% of colorectal cancer cases were diagnosed in people above the age of 50.

  •    History of colorectal cancer or polyps

Persons who have had colorectal cancer previously have a higher chance of developing cancer in the colon or rectum again. Having a history of polyps – even benign or removed ones – may also increase one’s chances of getting colorectal cancer as it means there is a potential for more polyps to form.

  •    History of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

People with chronic or recurrent conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which involve the inflammation of the colon, may be at increased risk of colorectal cancer. The risk may increase according to the length of time one experiences IBD, as well as the percentage of colon affected.

  •    Obesity

Overweight or obese persons have an estimated 30% higher risk of contracting colorectal cancer than a person of healthy weight. A variety of factors may cause this, such as the tendency of obese persons to have chronic low-level inflammation, or the increased production of adipokines, which are the hormones responsible for cell growth.

What are some symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Majority of patients with colon cancer in Singapore do not show symptoms at their early stages. However, if present, these symptoms may include:

  • A permanent change in bowel movement (diarrhoea or constipation)
  • A feeling of incomplete emptying of bowels
  • Blood in stools (appearing as bright red or dark-coloured stools)
  • Bloated stomach with frequent abdominal pain
  • Rapid weight loss with for no apparent cause
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you tick the boxes for having a high risk of colorectal cancer, and/or experience any unusual symptoms with your bowel system, it is best you consult your doctor or a colon cancer specialist for a medical examination. Regular screening in the form of colonoscopy is also a good measure to guard yourself against the cancer.


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March 3, 2020 Blog

Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore, with about 20 persons out of 100,000 getting diagnosed with it every year. The good news is, colorectal cancer is treatable, especially if detected early.

A crucial step in guarding against colorectal cancer is regular screenings. This increases the likelihood of discovering pre-cancerous or cancerous growths, and increases the success rate of treatment methods.

But speaking of screenings for colorectal cancer, do you know what they are? In fact, there are quite a few tests available for rectal and colon cancer in Singapore, but each comes with their pros and cons. Take a look at some of them below.

Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy has long been regarded as the golden standard for polyp detection. It involves the insertion of a long, thin, flexible tube with an attached camera into the rectum to assess the large intestine. Colonoscopy has a high detection accuracy, and can examine the whole length of the colon. During the procedure, small polyps can also be removed, or biopsies performed.

The recommended frequency for a person of average risk is once every 10 years. For people at higher risk, or those who have polyps before, the recommended frequency may increase as advised by their doctor.

Disadvantages

A full bowel preparation is necessary before the procedure, and sedation is required during the process. Taken together, the prep, process, and recovery time may take up to a whole day or more. With colonoscopy, there is also a small risk of bleeding and perforation of the intestinal walls.

Faecal occult blood test (FOBT) / Faecal immunochemical test (FIT)

These are tests which detect blood in the stools. The stool samples can be collected at home before being sent to the doctor’s lab for testing. There is little risk as there is no direct contact with the body involved. The recommended frequency for FOBT/FIT as colorectal screening is once a year.

Disadvantages

The detection abilities of FOBT and FIT are not as robust as colonoscopy, as not all cases of cancer result in bleeding – and not all bleeding means cancer. Upon finding positive (abnormal) results, a colonoscopy is still usually needed to confirm the presence of polyps or cancer.

Sigmoidoscopy

Similar to a colonoscopy, a thin, flexible scope is used to view the rectum and colon. With sigmoidoscopy, only the lower colon can be examined. A biopsy or removal of polyps can be performed during the procedure, which usually does not require sedation. Bowel prep is needed, but this is less intensive than what is necessary before a colonoscopy.

For people at average risk who choose to do sigmoidoscopy as a routine screening test, the recommended frequency is once every 5 years.

Disadvantages

Sigmoidoscopy does not examine the entire length of the colon, so it could miss polyps that are further up the large intestine. As with colonoscopy, there is also a small risk of bowel perforation.

Virtual colonoscopy / CT colonography

CT colonography uses computed tomography (CT) to examine the colon and rectum. A tube is inserted at the opening of the rectum to inflate the bowel with air to aid in visualisation. CT colonography allows examination of the entire bowel to detect polyps and cancer, without the risk of causing injuries to the bowel. No sedation is required.

Disadvantages

Full bowel preparation is necessary before the procedure. Studies show that CT colonography is slightly inferior to colonoscopy at detecting cancer, and is even less reliable when it comes to finding smaller polyps. In the case of abnormalities detected, a follow-up colonoscopy will need to be performed for further exploration or removal of polyps.

Conclusion

The reliable detection abilities of colonoscopy make it, by far, one of the most reliable methods for detecting colorectal cancer. But due to its more invasive nature, risks present, and inconveniences to the patient, some may prefer other screening methods like the low-risk and cost-effective FOBT/FIT, or the less-invasive CT colonography.

The screening test best suited for you should consider your preferences as well as your doctor’s recommendation. If you detect any abnormalities in your bowel health, are above the age of 50, or have a high risk of developing colorectal cancer, do speak a colon cancer specialist about when you should start regular colorectal cancer screening.


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February 26, 2020 Blog

Did you know that colorectal cancer isn’t actually just one type of cancer? What people refer to as colorectal cancer can refer to two types of cancers, both affecting the large intestine. If the cancer is due to a tumour in the colon (the long part of the large intestine), it is called colon cancer. If the cancer occurs in the lower 6-8cm of the intestine, it is referred to as rectal cancer.

Many people have heard of colorectal cancer, but not many are clear about what it is. So, here are 8 facts about colorectal cancer that will give you a quick overview of the condition, its occurrence, and prognosis.

1. Colorectal cancer is on the rise in young people

Commonly thought of as a cancer for the aged, colorectal cancer can in fact inflict persons of any age. Recently, doctors and medical researchers have noticed a trend of rising colorectal cancer diagnoses in younger individuals.

Prior to 2010, only about one in 10 cases of colorectal cancer were in persons below 50 years old. This occurrence has since risen to one in five cases. Of those aged 40-49, the incidence of colorectal cancer is 10-20% higher than it was 15 years ago.

2. Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore

The Singapore Cancer Registry recorded more than 9,800 new cases of colorectal cancer between 2011 and 2015. This makes colorectal cancer the most common cancer to inflict people in Singapore. Amongst men, colorectal cancer is the most highly diagnosed cancer, and in women, it is the second – with breast cancer taking the top spot.

3. Survival rates for colorectal cancer have been increasing

Despite the high incidence rate of rectal and colon cancer in Singapore, there is a relatively low mortality rate arising from it. This is thanks to more advanced treatment methods that make the prognosis for colorectal cancer quite favourable.

Rising awareness and more people going for screenings also help to detect the cancer earlier, increasing the likelihood of cure and survival. About 75% of colorectal cancer patients in Singapore are diagnosed at Stage I, II, or III, before the cancer cells have spread to distant organs.

4. Colorectal cancer has no early warning signs

More than half of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer exhibit no symptoms, especially if the cancer is in its early stages. This highlights the crucial nature of screenings in detecting the cancer early.

In patients where symptoms are present, they typically have to do with the bowel, for instance, diarrhoea, constipation, the feeling of incomplete bowel movement, bloody stools, recurring abdominal painbloated stomach, or rapid, unexplained weight loss.

5. Poor diet choices increase the risk for colorectal cancer

A widely reported risk for colorectal cancer is diet. Alcohol consumption and obesity are contributors to the risk of developing colorectal cancer, as they are for a number of other health issues.

In particular, processed meat seems to be a big culprit. A World Health Organisation group’s meta-analysis of over 800 studies found that every 50g of processed meat consumed daily increases one’s risk of getting colorectal cancer by as much as 18%.

6. Family history can put one at higher risk

Inherited conditions like familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch Syndrome makes one more prone to developing colorectal cancer. Even without these conditions, a family history of colorectal cancer also puts one at higher risk for the disease due to the increased likelihood of common environments and lifestyles.

Other risk factors include a personal history of colorectal cancer, or pre-existing conditions like inflammatory bowel disease.

7. Not all colon polyps are dangerous

Colorectal cancer tumours form from growths in the large intestine called polyps. However, not all polyps are cancerous. In fact, polyps are pretty common, with 25% of people getting at least one polyp by the time they reach 50 years of age.

A polyp with a length of 1cm has an estimated 17% chance of developing into a malignant tumour in 10 years. For this reason, doctors still usually recommend that polyps be removed even if they are deemed non-cancerous.

8. Colonoscopy is one of the best screening methods

The best guard against colorectal cancer is timely screenings. Colonoscopy is widely regarded as the golden standard for colorectal cancer screening as it is able to detect polyps along the whole length of the large intestine with high reliability. Through colonoscopy, biopsies or removal of small polyps can also be performed.

Other screening methods include CT colonography, barium enema, and faecal immunochemical testing. Although they are not as reliable as colonoscopy, they are still useful for preliminary tests or in cases where a patient is not suitable for colonoscopy.

Assess your risk for colorectal cancer

Knowledge isn’t enough to guard yourself against colorectal cancer. Instead, you have to put it into action to assess your own risk: Do you have a family history of colorectal cancer? Does your diet put you at high risk of colorectal cancer? The higher risk you face, the earlier you should begin going for colorectal cancer screenings.

To learn more about colon cancer or rectal cancer, don’t hesitate to consult a colon cancer specialist in Singapore. Your doctor can also advise you on the best time to start colorectal cancer screenings.


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February 14, 2020 Blog

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, many couples will have plans this week for a romantic date. While the ambience and taste of the food top the list of priorities when settling on a dinner location and menu, you might also want to consider the type of foods you’ll be having.

Uncomfortable situations like bloated stomachs, diarrhoea, excessive burping or flatulence are the last things you want ruining your after-dinner plans. But the fact is, you might not realise that certain foods you’ve eaten were the cause of the irritation. So, to avoid such a situation from occurring, keep a lookout for these foods you should avoid for the evening!

Foods to avoid on a date

  • Beans: Beans are notorious for causing bloated tummies and flatulence. Our digestive system is unable to digest oligosaccharides (a type of sugar) in beans. Thus the compound is only broken down in the large intestine, causing fermentation and gas production.
  • Coffee: Your favourite morning pick-me-up is a known irritant to the digestive system due to its acidic nature. Bloating and diarrhea are some possible side effects of having coffee, and this is made worse if you add milk and sugar.
  • Dairy products: Lactose intolerance needs no introduction, but dairy also contains other components like casein and whey that many people don’t know they are actually sensitive to. To be safe from the frequent toilet runs, opt for alternatives like almond or soy milk instead.
  • Garlic/onions:Like beans, garlic and onions are also flatulence-inducers, in addition to giving the eater pungent-smelling breath. While they are nutritious, having too much during a date may not be the best idea.
  • Fried foods: Fried chicken or fish and chips may sound like a tempting choice, but their high fat content means the digestive system is likely to be overloaded, resulting in discomfort like bloating or nausea.
  • Overly salty foods: High amounts of sodium in foods such as processed foods, canned foods, and cured meats causes water retention and bloating, which can make one look puffy or feel uncomfortable.
  • Carbonated drinks: The urge to burp after downing a can of coke is probably familiar to everyone. Not to mention, the high sugar content in sodas adds to the bloat and unhealthy nature of these drinks. For a safer, healthier choice, go for still water or tea instead.
  • Overly spicy food: *Resist the urge to show off your spice tolerance, because an overload on spice can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea. Existing reflux and stomach ulcers can also be aggravated by the acidity and capsaicin in hot spices. 

What to eat instead

With so many foods to avoid, you might be wondering what’s left to eat on your dinner date! Generally, you will want to stick to a meal that is lower on carbs, sugar, and sodium – as these are the main culprits of bloat and flatulence.

Here are two suggestions for a meal that is suitable for the occasion:

  • Chicken: *Choose a lean cut of chicken for a good source of protein that is less heavy than red meats. Just make sure to stay away from fried permutations, and go easy on the sauce if there’s any. You can pair this with a side of salad and baked potatoes for a balanced diet.
  • Salmon:  Salmon is a good source of protein and healthy fats, making it beneficial to heart health. It is tasty to boot, and wonderful paired with some cooked veggies and fragrant brown rice.

Conclusion

The above food guide is applicable for any meal wherein you need to make a good impression – meaning it is great advice for that high-stakes business meeting or a meal before a stage performance. It doesn’t mean you need to swear off garlic, onion, diary, coffee, or beans forever, as these foods also have their health benefits.

By avoiding these foods for the evening, you’re more likely to enjoy an embarrassment-free dinner date this Valentine’s! However, if you experience uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, stomach pain, persistent diarrhoea or constipation even without eating any of these common trigger foods, it may be a sign that something is wrong. It might be a case of food contamination, or other gastrointestinal problems like colon cancer. Do consult your doctor for a thorough examination, which may include diagnostic tests like a colonoscopy or CT scan.


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February 4, 2020 Blog

With the Chinese New Year weekend just past, most people might be still recovering from the effects of the heavy feasting of one too many pieces of bak kwa and pineapple tart. The heavy-headedness and gastric pain are all too familiar – sometimes accompanied by heartburn and diarrhoea or constipation, over-indulging in rich foods during the holidays often has its consequences.

In fact, you might be gearing up for another round of gatherings and reunion meals this weekend, in true observation of CNY’s 15 days of festivity. To minimise your chances of suffering from a tummyache post-CNY meal, here are some tips you can follow:

Eat slowly: Over-eating is the key culprit when it comes to the cause of post-feasting tummy ailments. So, ignore the kiasu part of your brain that tells you to gobble up your favourite foods before they run out. Instead, take your time to eat. This gives your body time to register when it feels full, so that you can stop eating before you go over your limit.

Remember the fibre: Sumptuous as your CNY goodies and reunion meal look, it is likely sorely lacking in fibre, making it a perfect recipe for constipation. So, listen to your elders and eat your greens this CNY. The mandarin oranges you use to greet the relatives are also a convenient and rich source of dietary fibre, as are most fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans.

Get moving: Walking about can help with digestion and reduce your chances of suffering from gastric reflux. You can offer to help with serving food or clearing away the dishes, or get your family to go for a walk together after the meal. Clocking in some exercise daily will also help your body feel less sluggish overall.

Drink a soothing tea after: After a huge meal, bloating is a common issue. Battle it by drinking a hot cup of chamomile, ginger, or peppermint tea. These teas have soothing properties that help to reduce bloating, indigestion, and gas. If these don’t sound like your cup of tea, you could also try capsule supplements that contain these herbs.

What to do if you already have an upset stomach

If you are already experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms of over-eating, you can find some relief by getting your diet and exercise back on track. Here are some things you can try:

  • Consume more fibre: Dietary fibre from fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and beans are beneficial to overall digestive health and promotes healthy bowel movement.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids will help whether you are experiencing constipation or diarrhoea.
  • Take an antacid: Over-the-counter medications like Gaviscon can provide quick relief for indigestion and heartburn.

In most cases, you won’t have to worry as these digestive issues typically resolve themselves within a day or two. It is only when symptoms persist for more than a few days that it becomes a cause for concern. For example, if you experience chronic heartburn that doesn’t go away even after medication, your doctor may need to perform an endoscopy to check for other causes.

With these tips, hopefully, you won’t have to suffer yet again after another reunion meal!


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January 21, 2020 Blog

Most people look forward to digging into delectable reunion meals during Lunar New Year, but at the same time, they dread the potential outcomes of doing so: weight gain.

The good news is, health professionals say that feasting for a day or two is unlikely to cause significant and lasting weight gain. However, it is true that over-eating can lead to uncomfortable acute conditions like acid reflux, indigestion, and gastric pain.

Frequent over-eating can also lead to a slew of chronic health conditions. When you consume too much, this forms an excess of free radicals in the body, which cause harm to DNA and body tissues. This is one reason why unhealthy diets and obesity are associated with a higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as cancers like pancreatic cancer and colon cancer.

Thus, for the sake of your health, over-indulging is still generally not recommended. As this is easier said than done, here are some tips that may help you watch your food intake this weekend.

  • Drink up before eating: Prefacing your meal with a glass of water or bowl of warm soup helps you eat less later on, as the liquids partially satiate the tummy before you even begin eating.
  • Attack the proteins first: Proteins are the healthier option when it comes to filling up your belly. It makes you feel full quicker, and is better for you as compared to carbs or fats. Just make sure you’re going for the leaner cuts of protein or those with good fats – great examples are chicken breast or fish.
  • Use smaller plates: Using smaller-sized kitchenware forces you to take less each serving, while making you feel like you’ve taken more due to the overcrowded visuals of your plate. Plates with busy, colourful designs can have a similar effect. Additionally, having to get up to get another serving gives you a chance to think twice about whether you really need more.
  • Organise activities besides eating: You don’t have to limit yourself to the dinner table during Lunar New Year. Rally your family to join in some physical activities together, like going for a walk or cycle. You can also enjoy indoor activities like board games or karaoke with your relatives to draw the attention away from eating.
  • Don’t slack off on the exercise: In between visitations, try to clock in some exercise to keep your metabolism going. Simple home exercises like push-ups or sit-ups are a great way to beat the sluggish feeling – a short 15 minutes a day is better than doing nothing at all.

Undoubtedly, you will need a fair amount of self-control to conquer the temptation to devour everything in sight this Lunar New Year. But doing so will reap you the rewards of being able to enjoy the festivities without falling ill or suffering irreparable health consequences later on.

In fact, these tips are applicable for any time you are faced with an abundance of good food, new year or not. Keep them handy so that you can enjoy eating guilt-free every time!


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January 14, 2020 Blog

The Lunar New Year festivities are known for being a time for family gatherings and feasting. The problem is, this is most often a recipe for throwing our health off-balance, leading to ailments like sore throat and gastric pain. Your elders may attribute this to one thing – and you’ve probably heard this before: the heatiness of Chinese New Year goodies.

The familiar notion, to some extent, governs the eating habits of most Singaporeans and Asians around the world, but have you ever stopped to wonder what ‘heaty’ means when it comes to food?

What are ‘heaty’ and ‘cooling’ foods?

Heaty and cooling are two ends of the continuum, and they hark back to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) observations and teachings from 2000 years ago. While the concept is unheard of in Western medicine, the TCM perspective believes in the balance of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ for optimal body health. Rather than being based on chemical composition, the classification of heaty and cooling foods is based on symptoms and effects that different foods have on the body.

⦁ Heaty foods

Heaty foods are classified for their ability to raise body temperature, stimulate the body, and promote blood circulation. Excessive consumption of heaty foods is said to tip the body’s balance, leading to ailments like fever, throat pain and irritation, acne, and mouth ulcers.

Most high-calorie foods fall under this category, as are foods cooked at high temperatures. Examples of heaty food include deep-fried foods, durian, red meat, chocolate, nuts, and spicy foods.

⦁ Cooling foods

Cooling foods, on the other hand, are characterised as foods that eliminate toxins from the body and cools the body down. When a person has too much cooling foods, however, it can result in chills, pale complexion, sore muscles and joints, and proneness to fatigue.

Foods in this category tend to be low-calorie foods that are cooked with low heat, or raw foods. Many also taste refreshing and soothing. Some examples are watermelons, coconut, cabbage, mangosteen, and green tea.

Common misconceptions

Apart from being just age-old traditions, the concept of heaty and cooling foods have stuck due to its relative reliability. Yet, there are a number of customs surrounding this that you may have questioned. Below, we go through some popular traditions relating to heaty and cooling foods to find out if they are scientifically valid, or just superstition.

1. Saltwater and durians

⦁ Statement: Drinking saltwater from the durian husks after eating its fruit will dispel the heatiness.

⦁ Science:  Drinking saltwater is not recommended due to the high salt content. There is also no reason to believe that drinking out of the durian husk will make a difference. Gargling saltwater, however, does help to draw out toxins and relief inflammation – you can do so using a normal mug or glass.

2. Pregnancy and papaya

⦁ Statement: Eating an excess of cooling foods like papaya and pineapple during pregnancy increases the risk of a miscarriage.

⦁ Science: There is no evidence to show that cooling foods cause miscarriages. However, some warn against eating too much pineapple and unripe papaya during pregnancy. Enzymes bromelain in pineapple and papain in unripe papaya may trigger early contractions and labour in women at the later stages of pregnancy.

3. Heaty foods and hemorrhoids

⦁ Statement: Consumption of heaty foods increases one’s likelihood of getting piles and worsen existing hemorrhoids.

⦁ Science: Common causes of hemorrhoids are increased pressure to the anal area due to frequent heavy-lifting, pregnancy, delivery, obesity, constipation, and diarrhoea. While there is no evidence that heaty foods directly cause piles, having too much heaty foods may lead to constipation, which can aggravate or cause the formation of piles. Eating cooling foods is thus not an effective method of piles treatment.

4. Chocolate and acne

⦁ Statement: Chocolate is a heaty food that causes acne.

⦁ Science: Research findings have been divided on this. There have been reports of chocolate consumption being linked to increased formation of pimples, but scientists have not been able to determine if this is due to cocoa itself, or the sugars, fat, or other components in chocolate.

The bottom line

Whether you are a firm believer in heaty and cooling foods, or more of a sceptic, one thing you can take away from the TCM perspective is to approach your diet with the principle of moderation in mind. The body needs nutrients from varied food sources, so make sure to get a balanced diet, and not over-eat only one type of food.

In addition, you should pay attention to how your own body reacts to different foods, as everyone’s body and tolerance to foods are different. Some people’s bodies react more aggressively to ‘heaty’ foods, while others find no problem consuming them frequently. By discovering your own body’s tolerance and sensitivities, you can avoid a lot of health problems down the road.


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January 7, 2020 Blog

As the new year rolls around, some common new year’s resolutions people make include: Exercising, eating healthy, quitting smoking, or managing your alcohol intake. These often top the list of resolutions, showing how health is a top priority for many people.

A key step not to overlook in monitoring your own health is also by undergoing regular health checkups and screenings. If you are not already implementing these into your health routine, this year may be a good time to start.

What is health screening?

Health screenings are a vital part of personal healthcare as they can help you detect conditions early, even before symptoms arise. In turn, early intervention lets you and your doctor perform early intervention to keep your condition under control. By managing your condition from its infancy, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing further complications later on.

There is an extensive number of screening tests available, so it will be useful to find out from your doctor about which are recommended for you. As a general guide, the health screenings you should undergo at each age are outlined below:

Age 20-29

At this age, the risk for most chronic conditions are still low, so doctors don’t usually see a need for a battery of tests. Instead, look out for obesity through a body-mass index measurement, and keep track of your blood pressure. These two factors can inform you of your risk of cardiovascular disease, which is something to be concerned about, especially if you have a family history of heart disease.

Other routine checks you will want to keep up with are your usual vision and dental checks. In addition, sexually active persons should consider being tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Women are also recommended to go for pap smears once every three years to check for cervical cancer.

Age 30-39

The risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes picks up around this age band, so doctors recommend starting to go for comprehensive blood tests. The blood tests can tell you your blood glucose and cholesterol levels, which are key indicators for diabetes and heart disease respectively.

Watch out for thyroid disease – which affects metabolism and overall body functions – with a thyroid function test, which detects the level of thyroid hormone in your blood. Another test you may consider is the vitamin D deficiency test, which measures the level of vitamin in the blood. Vitamin D is suggested to be important for preventing and treating diabetes, and its deficiency has been associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Age 40-49

As an ongoing effort to detect and manage your heart health, you should continue to keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol, or start if you haven’t. In addition, as you enter your forties, the risk for cancers like lung cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer become more concerning.

Heavy smokers at high risk of lung cancer should get a lung cancer screening. For men, you should begin to get checked for prostate cancer especially if you are obese, on a high-fat diet, or have a family history of prostate cancer. For women, a mammogram once every 2 years is recommended.

Age 50 and above

The risk for chronic conditions and cancers continues to rise as a person passes the fifty-year mark. One silent killer that does not often present symptoms till a late stage is colon cancer. For detection of colon cancer, an endoscopy of the colon (colonoscopy) every 10 years or a yearly faecal immunochemical test is highly recommended.

Other common conditions for this age include ailing vision, increased forgetfulness, and hearing loss. You should get these monitored regularly at a holistic health checkup, and be on the lookout for the onset of dementia.

Health screenings for you

For personalised recommendations taking into account your lifestyle and family’s medical history, do consult your doctor. With regard to cost, you won’t have to worry about footing the bills – in Singapore, citizens and PRs enjoy generous subsidies on various health screenings. Consult your GP or enquire at a polyclinic to find out more about the schemes you are eligible for, and kick off your new year with a commitment to better health!


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