Learn To Distinguish Good From Bad Health Advice
1. Take antibiotics to treat a cold
WRONG! Coughs, colds and flu are usually caused by viruses against which antibiotics do not work.
Avian flu virus, Attribution: Cybercobra at en.wikipedia*
Many people upon developing symptoms of a cold immediately visit the doctor for medication. Unfortunately, doctors in the past have too often prescribed antibiotics for simple coughs and colds, especially for children, claiming pressure for this comes from overprotective parents. This oversubscribing has resulted in an alarming rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria so when true bacterial infections occur, as after an operation, the antibiotics given no longer work. The World Health Organisation has described the rise of antibiotic bacteria as the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century. The best way to treat a cold is to stay at home, keep warm, drink plenty of fluids and take a vitamin C supplement (500mg to 1g).
2. Over-weight or obese people should start running to lose weight quickly
WRONG! If you are overweight then the chances are that you have done little exercise for some time. Only work out to lose weight after assessment of your heart and blood pressure by your doctor.
Every day overweight and obese people can be seen running, often on hard concrete surfaces, in order to rapidly shed pounds. Hectic exercise to lose weight is also seen in TV programmes like “The Biggest Loser”. Such sudden changes in lifestyle from massively overweight to hectic exercise freaks can be dangerous and even fatal. Obese people often have heart disease and high blood pressure so the last thing they need is bullying by an ambitious personal trainer into excessive aerobic exercises and weight training. Another problem with jogging by obese people is the extra stress this puts on the knee and hip joints. Overweight people often have mobility problems even before starting high impact exercises (see: It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details of low impact exercises).
3. Don’t take vitamin supplements as they are a waste of money
WRONG! There is very good evidence that certain groups of people benefit from taking vitamin supplements.
Recent calculations have indicated that in the USA, UK, as well as other countries, as many as two thirds of the population would benefit from taking some form of vitamin supplementation (see It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details of which vitamins to take for your age group). For example, if you live in Northern Europe which has insufficient sunshine for effective vitamin D synthesis for 6 months from October to April then you probably have a Vitamin D deficiency. Surprisingly, Vitamin D deficiency is also common in hot countries like Australia and Brazil as people often avoid the sun and use sun blockers. This deficiency can lead to autoimmune diseases, rickets, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and depression. Many other examples of people likely to benefit from vitamins supplements include pregnant women who need folic acid (vitamin B), the elderly who should take multivitamins, and vegetarians/vegans who need vitamins B12 and D.
4. Missing breakfast will help you lose weight
WRONG! Missing breakfast will lead to unhealthy snacking of high sugar and high fat foods mid-morning and will contribute to weight gain and obesity.
As the name implies, the breaking of the overnight fast is essential in order to raise the blood sugar levels and increase your metabolic rate. You will be more active throughout the day, burn more calories and be less likely to crave unhealthy foods. Missing breakfast will result in rapid rises and then falls in blood sugar levels leaving you feeling listless and tired. In addition, children going to school without breakfast have lower concentration and energy levels, worse behaviour as well as memory and attention span problems (see: It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details of healthy breakfasts).
5. The healthy over 50s have no need for an annual health checkup
WRONG! Regular health checkups are important at any age but are particularly important for the over 50 year olds.
Unfortunately, as you age, the body is more likely to develop health problems. Fifty year old women will be entering the changes associated with the menopause and will need health advice. They should already be having regular smear tests for cancer of the cervix and examinations for breast cancer. Men should also have regular checks throughout life for testicular cancer but after 50 years old may begin developing enlargement of the prostate gland and need a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test annually. Both sexes after 50 years old would also benefit from regular checks for cancer of the colon. In addition, in the 40-50 year old, the results of the lifestyle adopted in the previous decades will begin to show. Thus, smokers and drinkers may have respiratory, cardiac and neurological problems needing attention, while sedentary and obese people may have diabetic, cardiac and mobility issues. Fortunately, sometimes, new-found health awareness may occur in 50 year olds and may partially reverse some of the damage done. Giving up smoking and drinking to excess and adopting a healthy diet and exercise will pay dividends although excess abuse with carcinogens (cigarettes and alcohol) will have already taken their toll.
6. You can get good advice from personal trainers about health and nutrition
WRONG! In most cases, the one thing missing in many gyms is someone with knowledge of health and nutrition. Direct experience with numerous personal trainers confirms their knowledge of weights and exercise but also often their lack of understanding of health and nutrition.
Unfortunately, this lack of training can have dangerous consequences. For example, recently, a middle aged man who had just recovered from a cardiac bypass operation began exercising with a personal trainer. The trainer was inexperienced and immediately put the man on a treadmill and increased the speed until the man was exhausted with chest pains. Luckily, the man survived but took advice to switch to another trainer. In addition, without advice on diet and nutrition there is little point in overweight people going to a gym to lose weight without being placed on an appropriate diet. Finally, since anabolic steroids do such harm to the body, why are personal trainers sometimes seen instructing steroid freaks? The trainers involved either have no understanding of basic physiology and the havoc inflicted by steroids or else they do not care and just train for short-term results.
7. White bread and white rice are highly nutritious and should be eaten every day
WRONG! White bread and white rice have had most of their essential fibres, vitamins and minerals removed and are therefore nutritionally inadequate.
We have been brainwashed into thinking that any white food is superior and healthy but this is not true. White flour and white rice are made by removing the outer layers of the wheat and rice seeds that contain over 90% of the bran fibre and most of the vitamins and minerals. This produces white flour for making white bread and pasta as well as the polished white rice that most people buy. White flour is worse than white rice as it is also bleached with poisonous chemicals. White flour is commonly eaten by people who go on to develop heart disease, cancers and type II diabetes. Just think of the number of cakes and biscuits made with white flour. Even “fortified” white bread with added synthetic vitamins and nutrients is inferior to whole meal and organic bread. White rice, however, does still contain some protein, vitamins and minerals.
8. Eating organic food is a total waste of money
WRONG! There is good evidence that certain organic foods not only contain lower levels of toxic pesticide chemicals but also have higher levels of essential nutrients.
The debate about the advantages/disadvantages of organic food versus conventionally grown food has raged for a number of years. The author previously reviewed this topic and concluded that some organic foods did indeed have lower levels of pesticides and contain higher levels of several antioxidants, vitamins and flavones (see: It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details). This conclusion has now been verified in a recently published review which looked at 343 previous publications and concluded that there were significantly higher levels of a range of antioxidants, such as polyphenolics, in organic crops (Baranski and colleagues, 2014). Many of these latter substances have previously been associated with reduced incidences of diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases as well as some cancers. The Baranaski review (2014) also showed that the occurrence of pesticide residues was four times higher in conventional than in organic crops and that levels of toxic cadmium were also significantly higher. The debate regarding the efficacy of organic foods should now be ended and scientists should be looking at the reasons for these differences and their potential benefits to people eating organic produce. The Baranski review (2014) also explains why the previous Food Standards Agency report of organic versus conventional foods had incorrectly concluded that their were no significant differences. These latest findings do not mean that you should buy everything organic as this can be expensive and some organic foods are difficult to find. Consult It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details of which organic foods should be a priority to buy.
Baranski and colleagues, “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops : a systematic literature review and meta-analyses”. British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 112, pp 794–811, 2014.
9. Probiotics have no beneficial effects on health
WRONG! There is mounting scientific evidence that probiotics (live beneficial bacteria) are useful for the treatment of a number of human conditions including gastrointestinal disorders like diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
The human body contains 100 trillion cells of which 10 trillion are human cells and the remaining 90 trillion are microbes (O’Hara and Shanahan, 2006). Many of these microbes are found colonising the gut where they may have major influences on digestion, development of immunity, and control of dangerous and pathogenic microbes. In the gut, the microbes and the immune system are in close contact so that any upset in the microbial flora due to antibiotic treatment, alcohol misuse or food poisoning may have widespread results throughout the body. When the delicate balance between the normal gut microbes and the immune system is disturbed then conditions such as diarrhoea, bacterial infection, colitis (includes irritable bowel disease, IBS), asthma, and respiratory infections (colds and flu) may occur. Trials have been carried out on the influence of probiotics (friendly bacteria normally found in the gut) given in dairy products or directly as pills, containing intestinal species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium bacteria, on these conditions. The results showed evidence that probiotics are effective in shortening acute infectious diarrhoea, in preventing travellors diarrhoea and diarrhoea caused by the hospital pathogen, Clostridium difficile, as well as in relieving the symptoms of IBS. In addition, probiotics have been reported to shorten the length of respiratory infections in children and indicate that feeding Lactobacillus bacteria to mothers in the prenatal and early postnatal periods may both treat and prevent asthma in children. However, beware, as yoghurt manufacturers have rapidly jumped on the probiotics band-wagon as a way of marketing their products when there is little idea about doses or guidelines for use.
A.M. O’Hara and F. Shanahan, “The gut flora as a forgotten organ,” EMBO Reports, vol. 7, no. 7, pp. 688–693, 2006.
10. Sex, chocolate and alcohol can seriously damage your health
RIGHT and WRONG! It all depends on how much and how often!
Almost every day articles are being published on the evils of sex, chocolate and alcohol with possible health and social benefits of these pleasures poorly publicised. In moderation, these activities may actually be beneficial. In a recent book entitled Sex, Chocolate and Alcohol Can Be Good For You I explain both the benefits and risks of these activities if indulged in moderation and in excess. I recommend the book to people of most ages in the hope that it will be informative and help to provide a more balanced view of pleasures that are an integral part of most people’s lives.
* “H1N1 navbox” by Cybercobra at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons: