Definitive Answer To 20 Of Your Biggest Health Questions

I was recently asked my thoughts on this email forwarded to me. Since this covered so many different things and had the phrase “definitive answer” I thought it would be nice to share, along with my thoughts, which you’ll see in italics after each question, answer and their explanation. I tracked it down as an online article from Business Insider, which was summarizing information from a book titled Your Health: What Works, What Doesn’t published in 2010, supplemented with their own most current research to provide us with “a bottom line” on these health issues…

Fwd: Just In From The Doctor – Definitive Answer To 20 Of Your Biggest Health Questions

KK: Right off the bat you know how I feel about titles like this- we don’t have “definitive” anything in the world of health. Anyhow, let’s see what this article has to say about these health issues…

1. Does olive oil prevent heart disease?

Short answer: Yes

The health benefits of olive oil come from the presence of polyphenols, antioxidants that reduce the risk of heart diseases and cancers. But to get these healthy compounds, consumers should buy good-quality, fresh “extra-virgin” olive oil, which has the highest polyphenol content. Most commercially available olive oils have low levels of polyphenols associated with poor harvesting methods, improper storage, and heavy processing.

KK: Olive oil doesn’t prevent heart disease- it is associated with lower levels of heart disease. Big difference. Does it fit into a healthy diet? Absolutely. Will it protect your heart in and of itself? We have no idea although I think probably not. It’s probably neutral or slightly beneficial, which is better than most cooking oils. Certainly the heavily processed commercial olive oils are less desirable than old fashioned, cold pressed, fresh and high quality olive oil.

2. Do cough syrups work?

Short answer: No

In 2006, the nation’s chest physicians agreed that the majority of over-the-counter cough medicines don’t actually work. These colorful syrups typically contain doses of codeine and dextromethorphan that are too small to be effective. Only cough suppressants that contain older antihistamines seem to relieve coughs.
That includes brompheniramine, an active ingredient in Dimetapp.

KK: Agree- most cough syrups probably don’t do much, although ones that knock you out enough to enable you to sleep might have some value. Keep in mind that suppressing coughs is the opposite of what the body is trying to do, we would probably be better off helping support the body to cough up what it’s trying to get rid of instead of using syrups to stop the cough.

3. Do sugary soft drinks lead to diabetes?

Short answer: Yes

The majority of health research is stacked against sugar-sweetened soda. A large 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who drank one or more sugary drinks per day increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 83% compared to those who consumed less than one of these beverages per month.

KK: This is likely another guilt by association. People who drink sodas are more likely to have other behaviors that promote diabetes. Is the sugary soft drink to blame? Only partly. Sodas, although not innocent, don’t lead to diabetes any more than the french fries people eat with their sugary drink or the ice cream after dinner. Diabetes is such a complex adaptation that it’s foolish to point to causality. Not only do we not fully understand diabetes but there are so many things going on in the diabetic equation and development that we need to look at the entire human along with their history, diet and lifestyle, not blame soft drinks. There’s even an argument for strategic soda being a part of a healthy diet (which is an article I’ll write some day). That being said, drinking 100 ounces of soda a day isn’t likely very good for any part of your health.

4. Do I need sunscreen with more than 30 SPF?

Short answer: No

Sunscreens with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 block about 97% of ultraviolet rays, while sunscreens with an SPF of higher than 30 block 97%-98%. It’s more important that you choose “broad-spectrum” sunscreen, meaning it protects against both UVB and UVA rays. Sunbathers also need to apply a generous amount of sunscreen in order to get the full benefit of the SPF.

KK: Agree to this in terms of the SPF issue. Disagree with the use of sunscreen as a general rule. Not only do we have an never before seen epidemic of vitamin d shortage partially due to overuse of sunscreen (which may be part of why research is starting to associate sun exposure with better health), they are mostly chemicals you don’t want absorbing into your skin, blocking pores, disabling skin bacteria and numbing our sun intuition. It would be much smarter to slowly develop your sun exposure from early spring and then only use sunscreen very rarely, when you have no other choice. Then, and only then, use a 30 SPF.

5. Is the MSG in Chinese likely to give you a headache?

Short answer: No

A review of 40 years of clinical trials, published in the journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners in 2006, found that all previous research “failed to identify a consistent relationship between the consumption of MSG and the constellation of symptoms that comprise the syndrome,” including headaches and asthma attacks. The misconception spawned from several poorly-done small studies in the 1960’s that seemed to connect MSG with a variety of maladies that people experienced after eating at Chinese restaurants.

KK: Agree, there’s not much research to support this, although there are plenty of people who swear this to be true. The whole MSG story is still very much in the air and although it appears to not be great for us, I think that there are other things in a Chinese food meal (high carb, high sodium, fried oils) that contribute to things like migraines, if there is a link at all.

6. Do nuts make you fat?

Short answer: No

As much as 75% of a nut is fat. But eating fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. The bigger factor leading to weight gain is portion-size. Luckily, nuts are loaded with healthy fats that keep you full. They’re also a good source of protein and fiber. One study even found that whole almonds have 20% less calories than previously thought because a lot of the fat is excreted from the body.

KK: Agree. Nuts don’t make you fat. Eating too many nuts can make you fat, particularly when paired with sugar and salt. Nuts can be highly filling, are a good source of protein, fiber and fat along with several nice vitamins and minerals but are easily overeaten, which can lead to weight gain or can push other things out of your diet that might be nutritious. Don’t be scared of nuts but don’t think they can’t contribute to you putting on weight if you get a little too liberal with the cashews.

7. Is walking as effective as running?

Short answer: Yes

Studies have shown that how long you exercise — and thus how many calories you burn — is more important than how hard you exercise. Running is a more efficient form of exercise, but not necessarily better for you. A six-year study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology in April found that walking at a moderate pace and running produced similar health benefits, so long as the same amount of energy was expended.

KK: Agree for the most part. Walking is probably the most effective form of activity humans can partake in and is probably better for most people than running. Running might be more efficient but comes at a higher cost, particularly the more you do it. I think some running is good for most people but walking is good for everyone.

8. Is drinking fruit juice as good for you as eating fruit?

Short answer: No

Calorie for calorie, whole fruit provides more nutritional benefits than drinking the pure juice of that fruit. That’s because when you liquefy fruit, stripping away the peel and dumping the pulp, many ingredients like fiber, calcium, vitamin C, and other antioxidants are lost. For comparison, a five-ounce glass of orange juice that contains 69 calories has .3 grams of dietary fiber and 16 milligrams of calcium, whereas an orange with the same number of calories packs 3.1 grams of fiber and 60 milligrams of calcium.

KK: Agree again. Whole is almost always best and although there are some instances where juice might be more appropriate (digestive recovery, post-workout), as a general rule, you lose quite a bit of nutrition and put an unnecessary amount of quick digesting sugar in to your system without the fiber and vitamins that originally came with the original.

9. Are all wheat breads better for you than white bread?

Short answer: No

Not all wheat breads are created equal. Wheat breads that contain all parts of the grain kernel, including the nutrient-rich germ and fiber-dense bran, must be labeled “whole grain” or “whole wheat.” Some wheat breads are just white bread with a little bit of caramel coloring to make the bread appear healthier, according to Reader’s Digest.

KK: Wheat is a tricky thing that we don’t quite have a handle on at this point. As a general rule, most people agree that the more whole and unprocessed the wheat, particularly if it’s been sprouted, the better it is. For some people, however, with certain issues including immune and digestive problems, whole wheat might actually be more problematic because of all the germ and fiber. There is also a growing faction that has discovered life without wheat and claims better health. The one thing that everyone might agree on is that the simpler the wheat is and less extra ingredients it comes with the better it is, regardless of how much whole wheat is in there.

10. Can a hot tub make me sick?

Short answer: Yes

Hot tubs — especially ones in spas, hotels, and gyms — are perfect breeding grounds for germs. The water is not hot enough to kill bacteria, but is just the right temperature to make microbes grow even faster. Even though hot tubs are treated with chlorine, the heat causes the disinfectant to break down faster than it would in regular pools. The most common hot tub infection is pseudomonas folliculitis, which causes red, itchy bumps. A more dangerous side-effect of soaking in a dirty Jacuzzi is a form of pneumonia known as Legionnaire’s disease. This is what reportedly sickened more than 100 people at the Playboy Mansion back in 2011.

KK: Don’t know much about this one but my gut tells me there’s more to this story. Are hot tubs more conducive to germs than the pool? Probably. Can they make you sick? If you’re susceptible to get sick then yes. If you’re healthy, probably not. They’re also not the only warm dirty thing we come in contact with. All that said, swallowing jacuzzi water or soaking with open sores is probably not very smart.

11. Does coffee cause cancer?

Short answer: No

Coffee got a bad rap in the 1980’s when a study linked drinking coffee to pancreatic cancer. The preliminary report was later debunked. More recently, health studies have swung in favor of the caffeinated beverage. Coffee has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, and even suicide.

KK: Agree, I don’t think there’s any reason to think it causes cancer. Coffee has been up and down the health charts, mostly due to the fact it’s a polarizing substance that is so widely used in so many different ways by so many different people. Depending on who’s using it and how they’re using it, coffee could be beneficial, neutral or harmful, just like everything in nutrition. My thought at the moment is that the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to coffee.

12. Do eggs raise cholesterol levels?

Short answer: No

Although egg yolks are a major source of cholesterol — a waxy substance that resembles fat — researchers have learned that saturated fat has more of an impact on cholesterol in your blood than eating foods that contain cholesterol. “Healthy individuals with normal blood cholesterol levels should now feel free to enjoy foods like eggs in their diet every day,” the lead researcher from a 25-year University of Arizona study on cholesterol concluded.

KK: Agree that eggs don’t raise cholesterol levels and that people can enjoy them without worry but disagree with the continued focus on cholesterol levels and saturated fat or that only “healthy” people can have them. There’s probably good reason for unhealthy people to be eating more eggs, particularly if they replace bagels. Ultimately, the worry over dietary cholesterol having any impact on blood cholesterol is becoming a thing of the past.

13. Can you drink too much water?

Short answer: Yes

It is very rare for someone to die from drinking too much water, but it can happen. Over-hydrating is most common among elite athletes. Drinking an excess of water, called water intoxication, dilutes the concentration of sodium in the blood leading to a condition known as hyponatremia. The symptoms of hyponatremia can range from nausea and confusion to seizures and even death in severe cases. To avoid this, drink fluids with electrolytes during extreme exercise events.

KK: Agree. Not much to add here. Hydration is optimized by decent levels of water with some electrolytes and sugar. Anyone who competes in extreme endurance events should know this and listen to their body. The rest of us should also treat hydration moderately and drink when thirsty but not over drink water. Slight but chronic over hydration can have the same but more minor effects as acute, severe over hydration.

14. Can yogurt ease digestive problems?

Short answer: Yes

Our digestive tract is filled with microorganisms — some good and some bad. Yogurt contains beneficial bacteria, generically called probiotics, that helps maintain a healthy balance.
Probiotics can relieve several gastrointestinal problems, including constipation and diarrhea. Certain brands of yogurts, like Activa by Dannon, are marketed exclusively to treat tummy issues.

KK: Not sure about this one, simply because there’s so much we don’t know about bacteria and the digestive system. My instinct is that we are attributing benefit to yogurt but that we will soon find that we were wrong about the mechanism and processes involved. That being said, many people seem to feel better with yogurt in the diet so that’s worth something, although I think there’s a lot more for us to discover in this realm.

15. Do whitening toothpastes whiten teeth more than regular toothpastes?

Short answer: No

Whitening toothpastes usually contain peroxides and other strong abrasives that might make your teeth appear whiter by removing stains. Unlike at-home whitening strips and gels that contain bleach, these toothpastes do not actually change the color of your teeth.

KK: Again, don’t know much about this but instinct tells me whitening toothpastes aren’t all that special. My guess is that in 10 years or so things will change in dentistry, much like they are in medicine, gravitating away from special toothpastes and back to simpler, more natural toothpastes. Dentistry is a big area that I’ve dabbled some research in and I hope to some day do a thorough write up on my thoughts.

16. Is it safe to microwave food in plastic containers?

Short answer: Yes

But the plastic container should display the words “microwave safe.”
This means that the Food and Drug Administration has tested the container to make sure no chemicals used to make the plastic leech into foods during microwaving. If chemicals do seep out into food, the amounts are tiny and not dangerous to our health. As a general guideline, plastic grocery bags as well as most plastic tubs that hold margarine, yogurt, cream cheese, and condiments are not microwave safe.

KK: Agree although don’t be surprised if this one changes soon. At this point I don’t worry about microwaving something in plastic since it happens so rarely but I do use glass whenever possible.

17. Can watching TV ruin your eyesight?

Short answer: No

Watching TV will not destroy your rods and cones as the outdated myth suggests. Before the 1950’s, TVs emitted radiation that could increase an individual’s risk of eye problems after excessive TV viewing. Modern TVs have special shielding that blocks these harmful emissions.

KK: Disagree. Although I don’t think TV will destroy your rods and cones I think it is still not healthy for our eyesight, similar to most electronic devices we stare into, especially for long stretches. Eyesight deteriorates from lack of variability, particularly lack of scanning and changing depth. Staring at an object emitting blue light at a fixed distance with series after series of bright flashes is less than ideal and I think we are going to find that all of our screen time is pretty bad for the eyes and brain.

18. Is red wine better for you than white wine?

Short answer: Yes

Red wine contains much more resveratrol than white wine, an antioxidant found in the skin of grapes
that has been shown to fight off diseases associated with aging.

KK: Disagree, particularly if the reason is simply more resveratrol. We aren’t even sure if alcohol is good, bad or inconsequential for us to start (similar to coffee) and even if it is good for us (meaning it’s not simply correlated with health) there’s still very little to convince me it’s the resveratrol. Wine is probably good for most of us but I think it goes much deeper than the color of the grape skin.

19. Is bottled water better for you than tap water?

Short answer: No

Bottled water is no safer or purer than tap water, although it is substantially more expensive. A recent study by Glasgow University in the U.K. found that bottled water is actually more likely to be contaminated than water from your faucet because it is less well-regulated. Bottled water and tap water typically come from the same sources — natural springs, lakes, and aquifers. While public water supplies are tested for contaminants every day, makers of bottled water are only required to test for specific contaminants every week, month, or year.

KK: Agree, bottled water probably isn’t all that much better than tap but it depends on the water you’re comparing. Some tap water is full of minerals that are probably quite nourishing and missing or taken out of bottled or filtered water while other tap water is probably filled with things we don’t want. I drink more filtered and bottled water as a general rule but when in Oregon I drink nothing but tap water. My thoughts are if your tap water tastes good then default to that over bottled water unless they start adding fluoride, statins and lithium to it like a growing number of people are trying to push.

*Left out of the email forward but in the article:

20. Does sugar cause hyperactivity?

Short answer: No

Following a review of 23 studies, a 1996 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that sugar “does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children.” The age-old myth that kids misbehave when they eat large amounts of candy, cookies, and other junk food, could be related to the type of events where these foods are typically served. For example, kids are more wound-up at birthday parties and during Halloween when sweet treats tend to flow freely.

KK: True that the event can often encourage the craziness but to say that the sugar isn’t involved seems a little naive. Once again trying to establish causality is tricky. Does sugar cause hyperactivity? Probably not. But it also, in a well functioning kid, acts like rocket fuel. It may not be “hyperactivity” as clinically defined but it’s certainly kids being extra active to burning off that extra energy. Hyperactivity is a condition that’s being misrepresented as well and I think that although sugar doesn’t cause it there’s an influence that’s hard to ignore.

The Bare 5 Bottom Line on “Definitive Answer To 20 Of Your Biggest Health Questions”:

1. There are NO definitive answers in health.
2. Health is dynamic and multivariate and is tremendously dependent on the individual and circumstance, it’s never this simple.
3. Although I agree with many, as a general rule, nearly every one needs some detailed discussion for individual application.
4. Chasing answers to questions like these is interesting but is likely to lead us on many wild goose chases and down promising paths that culminate in dead ends.
5. Health is not A causes B. Health is A through T all working together to create U.

Thanks for reading, have a great day!

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