By Denrele Animasaun
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” —Hippocrates
Over the years, I have come to accept that we, as a people do not like to discuss health issues and we will do almost anything to avoid talking about our health even if it kills us. So let be honest, we are not very good at prioritising our health and as long as the outside looks good, then we are good to go. As long as no one knows and we keep going on and on, ignoring our body and all the signals telling us to stop and care for our health.
Yet we all know that our health is our wealth, without good health, we can barely function. And when we become unwell our first instinct is likely to seek spiritual intervention before we consider going to the hospital. We strongly believe that whatever the illness or condition it is, it will miraculously disappear with spiritual intervention or if we ignore it.
It is unfortunate because we all know how most of these cases end, not too good and still, this pattern is repeated time and time again.
We are a suspicious lot; we strongly believe that should we entertain the fact that we are unwell, then we will be unwell. There is a major flaw in our way of thinking and it is time to change the dogma.
Winston Churchill once said that “Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” So how healthy then is the nation’s assets? I definitely believe we can do better. Our men, in particular, are more reluctant to seek help than women for whatever that plagues them. Men have been conditioned to man up, not complain and what if they get a niggle and the niggle becomes unbearable, that does not mean they should go and get help or should they?
Some years back, I set up a free service at selected barbers and hairdressers in South East London when I realised that black people were not engaging with health agencies. I reckoned that since everyone goes to their barbers and hairdressers, I could go in and raise awareness on a lot of health issues affecting our community such as sickle cell, diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
So knowing that, our people like looking good and that they often go to the barbers and hairdressers as regularly, if not more frequent, than they go to the church or mosque. I would go in with a portable blood pressure machine; measure their blood pressure and it was shocking how many people had serious hypertension. That is why heart attack is a silent killer for that reason; because it can be sudden. I found men in particular, do not look after their health and many have gone years without visiting their doctors.
The reality is, machismo is killing our men and it is about time they took their health seriously. One of the biggest killers of black men is prostate cancer and black men are two and half times more likely to get this type of cancer. The likelihood is higher if there is a close family connection.
Of course, most people do not know this because there is a strong wall of silence. We do not talk about these things; that no one should know our business or that such thing are a white man’s diseases. Let us get real here.
It is everybody’s business to know the facts and educate one another and we should stop thinking that talking about cancer means that we are wishing it upon ourselves. Not talking about it has not served our men at all.
Cancer is no longer a death sentence as it once was and early detection means that the prognosis is very good. In the UK, it is as a matter of routine to monitor black men in their mid-40s with a family history of prostate cancer. The older one gets the higher the risk of prostate cancer and it is highly recommended that as one gets older it is better to have regular check-ups. It is also important that men should be aware of any changes and they should pay more attention to their bodies for unexpected growth or lumps and if they notice anything in their urinary habits, urinating frequently especially at night, weak urine stream, pain when urinating, blood in urine, pain in the pelvis, hips, upper legs or spine.
Let me stress that if prostate cancer is caught at an early stage it is curable and it is no longer a dreaded death sentence. There are so many different methods of effective treatments that are less invasive than open surgery.
It is also important to adjust one’s lifestyle. High incidence of prostate cancer is also linked to health, sociological and environmental factors; stress, pollution, having a family connection with prostate cancer and obesity promotes the propensity of prostate cancer.
A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher may have an increased risk of prostate cancer. If you are overweight or obese, work on losing the weight, walk at least thirty minutes a day, five days a week. It is imperative to reduce portion sizes, and aim to drink water, eat regular breakfast, lunch and dinner and steadily increase walking or any form of exercise more regular that more and less regular.
Research has shown that men who eat a lot of dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt and processed food daily have a higher risk of prostate cancer.
And if you have a healthy weight, continue to maintain it by exercising most days of the week and choosing a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eating a low-fat diet choosing more fats from plants than from animals such as coconut oil and olive oil. Make fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies or add more them to soups and stew dishes for variety.
A healthy consumption that is low in red meat, beef, lamb, goat and duck; do go easy on smoked meat or fish (this process is carcinogenic, cancer causing)
Eat more fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel which contains omega-3 fatty acids linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. The benefits are: it also will improve other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and breast cancer.
Let’s us take care of our best assets, one step at a time, I wish our men-folk a healthy and long lives.