Harmful or useful: 8 things that still baffle scientists
When it comes to our health, we like definitive answers - after all, there's a lot at stake, but the reality isn't that simple. Lifehacker.
We are constant victims of personal bias and should be more skeptical about the things we have the most confidence in. Crowdsourced conventional wisdom about health lacks solid evidence—not so long ago, almost all nutrition experts recommended high-carb, low-fat diets for weight loss, for example—many people believed these baseless theories.
On the subject: Can foods cause or prevent cancer: a list of food carcinogens
We're usually right in general terms—regular exercise is good for health, being overweight is bad for health, you should get enough sleep—but when you try to be specific, things get hazy. As these seven examples show, our overall health and well-being is a tangled tangle of biological, cultural, and personal influences that are probably impossible to unravel, and many of the things you thought were “healthy” or “unhealthy” turned out not to be.
Glass of wine at dinner
Is a glass of wine with dinner healthy? If anything is bad for you, it's heavy drinking, but in recent years, some research has shown that drinking in moderation, such as drinking a glass of wine with dinner, may be healthier than no alcohol. Because the French, apparently, do not suffer from heart disease as much as representatives of other nationalities.
“In fact, drinking wine is good for you!” - this is a weighty argument for many of us, so it was repeated ad nauseam. But another study of 371 people shows that while those who drink little or moderately are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than people who completely abstain from alcohol, this is not due to "antioxidants" in wine or something else. This is because these people generally have healthier habits than teetotalers and drunkards. Once these other factors are removed from the equation, the positive effects of wine on heart health disappear.
Of course, the original French Paradox study indicates that it controlled for “saturated fat intake, serum cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and smoking prevalence” and yet found French wine drinkers to be “relatively immune” to coronary heart disease. Ultimately, it seems most accurate to say that the effect of a glass of wine with dinner on your heart is likely to be drowned out by the millions of other things you do when you're not eating.
When people say that some ailment or symptom is “due to stress” or “stress related”, I wonder how anyone can know. Can you remember a time in your life when you were not stressed? When you are under stress and not showing any health effects, no one pays attention.
The conventional wisdom is that work is stressful, but vacations are also stressful. Marriage is stressful, but being alone is also stressful. Stress is surprisingly good for you, but also more dangerous than you think.
The problem may lie in the definition of the word. “Stress” is, according to Cancer.gov, “the body’s response to physical, mental, or emotional pressure,” but according to medlineplus.gov, stress is “a feeling of emotional or physical tension” that can result from “any event.” or a thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.” They are not the same, but both are from .gov websites. In practice, "stress" is subjective, and whether it's healthy or unhealthy probably depends on what you mean when you say it.
The research on the health effects of not drinking water is clear: you will die. But once you try to figure out how much water a person needs each day for overall health, things become unclear. Conventional wisdom says “Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day,” which is fine, but if you ask a hydration proponent why you should drink that much, they may not know. The real answer is that there doesn't seem to be any health benefit from drinking a certain amount of water. It does not make your kidneys work better or eliminate toxins.
How much water you need daily depends on many different factors such as temperature, the amount of exercise you do, and the amount of water in the food you eat, but this is not something you usually need to plan for. Except in some circumstances, you can just drink when you're thirsty and you don't have to worry about it. Exceptions: If you are outside on a hot day or are taking diuretics, you should make a conscious effort to drink enough water. Also, sometimes feedback about thirst in older people doesn't work.
On the other hand, drinking the right amount of water seems to make some people feel really good. It's an easy way to feel like you're in control of your health and it can relieve stress, and we all know stress isn't about health.
Health enthusiasts have been warning about the dangers of drinking coffee since at least the 1930s. It seems that a daily cup of coffee has a bad effect on the body: caffeine gives us energy that we have not “earned”, it does not provide any nutrition and is a pleasure, so how can it be useful for us? But how much is anti-coffee thinking puritanical and how based on science?
Studies show coffee drinkers are less likely to get prostate and other cancers, but caffeine is a concern. Coffee can help you lose weight, but it can also raise bad cholesterol levels. This helps us perform better physically, but worsens our sleep. So is coffee good or bad? Like everything, it depends on many circumstances.
What type of exercise is best
A recent UK study of more than 80 people found that "participation in certain sports can have significant public health benefits". For example, people who exercised by riding a bike or playing with a racket tended to live longer than people who spent the same amount of time running.
But don't throw away your sneakers and take up tennis right away. Although the study accounted for several covariates—height and weight, alcohol use, education—it does not appear to have accounted for wealth. So what makes tennis players healthier: time on the court, or the benefit of having the money to afford those expensive lessons or an expensive bike? Maybe it's some third factor? The thing is, no one knows.
While some activities burn more calories or promote more muscle growth than others, people should probably choose workouts they enjoy and are more likely to keep going because inactivity is definitely bad for your health.
The cultural debate over psychedelic drugs is striking. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, LSD and other hallucinogens were seriously studied and showed promising results in certain psychological conditions. The marginals then began touting the potential of LSD and other drugs to educate the world, raise awareness among the masses, and other ways to turn everyone into hippies. Research was halted, drugs were made illegal—partly for political reasons but mostly for personal reasons—and LSD and other substances were heavily criticized as America's "number one public enemy" throughout the 80s and 90s.
Since then, the pendulum has swung hard away from “drugs are bad.” Once again, serious research is underway on psychedelics, showing promising results. Once again, the outcasts are screaming about the life-changing benefits of tripping over the masses. But the truth is, we don't really know how useful these substances are on a large scale, and we also don't know how dangerous they are. Because of the ban on research, we are decades behind in understanding the true pros and cons, and until we study this issue comprehensively, caution is warranted.
We spend countless millions of dollars sending addicts to various rehab centers, but do they really work? Some drug addiction psychiatrists say "probably not" and point to studies showing that the effects of inpatient rehab are modest at best and diminish over time.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, only 43% of people complete their initial treatment program, and 40% to 60% of them relapse within a year of being released. Most rehab programs are based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which are not based on science and are not intended to be applied to other substances in any way. It is interesting how much of our collective belief in the effectiveness of drug rehabilitation programs is based on the fact that this is almost the only option available.
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On the other hand, many, many people report that rehab centers have saved their lives and gotten them off drugs, and there is ongoing research on how to make addiction treatment more effective, including a general reclassification of addiction from acute to serious chronic. But at this point, we don't seem to know how to effectively treat addiction.
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