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Hugo Infante/Government of Chile

All 33 miners were safely rescued from the mine on Oct. 13.

Chilean miners should watch health

by Anna Lempereur
Oct 14, 2010

After being stuck underground and subject to high levels of stress for more than two months, all 33 rescued Chilean miners should be followed to prevent health problems, including making diet and lifestyle adjustments to reduce their risks of heart disease, health experts said Thursday.

Dr. Robert Minutello, cardiologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, said, "I think all of these miners should have a mental health expert involved in their care because even though they’re overjoyed right now, it’s difficult to tell the level of the emotional trauma, and their recovery from this ordeal may not be entirely predictable.”

He believes the main risk to the miners was during the peak moments of stress, the first 17 days when they did not have communication with the outside world.

Minutello said all of the miners should also be on a heart-healthy diet if they aren’t on one already, emphasizing low fat, low salt and low saturated fats.

Dr. Virendra Mathur at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston said it is extremely important for those miners who were malnourished to gently regain their original weight.

“During those 17 days, they were taking two crackers a day and some milk – that was it,” he said.

Mathur stressed they should not regain weight rapidly because the body will then accumulate mostly fat instead of muscle. He said if a person who is starving is thin to begin with, trying to gain weight too quickly could accelerate the tendency to develop blockages and cholesterol buildup.

“If you have any kind of tendency to deposit cholesterol in your arteries, then it will accelerate it immensely and that will be very harmful,” he said.

Dr. Randal Thomas, preventive cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said he would advise the miners to include in their diets vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins, such as fish and chicken.

Minutello said although miners do physical labor, they might not do regular aerobic activity. He recommended them to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days per week, whether it is biking or walking.

“For them, I would still improve their diet and institute an exercise regimen that would last a lifetime, not just temporarily after this event,” he said.

Thomas said emotional stress is a potential trigger for heart disease risk as well. He said certain hormones and internal reactions could harm the body when a person is exposed to this type of stress.

“Particularly being in a high-stress situation and being isolated at the same time if you’re by yourself would compound,” he said.

Thomas said fortunately the miners were around each other, which was beneficial to their stress levels.