Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What you do in the name of "health" may not be so healthy

The most recent issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine (Winter 2011) discusses many of the ideas we have been discussing in our posts. Diet, food allergies, soy, antibiotic resistance, soap, over the counter medications, exercise, and dietary supplements are all fair game in this sweeping look at things that both Allopathic medicine and CAM practitioners get right and wrong.

So let’s look at what Johns Hopkins had to say...

“Stop That” is the title of the article in question and it discusses 10 common misconceptions about so-called “healthy” practices that may do you more harm than good. With so many people (from the news to our well meaning friends) telling us different things about what is and is not “healthy”, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of believing something just because you heard it somewhere. So, let’s briefly discuss the 10 points the article addresses:

  1. Supplements: Some pros and cons are discussed with the main message being that a healthy, well balanced diet is the best way to get the nutrients we need. However, the supplement industry is a booming business (billions of dollars a year). Many people will self-medicate with supplements without understanding the risks. It is important to seek the advice of a health care practitioner with experience with nutrition. Treating yourself is just a bad idea when it comes to pharmaceutical medications and the same holds true for supplementation. Our post titled “Not all supplements are created equal” discusses many of the issues with supplements and how to protect yourself.
  1. Soy: While I personally avoid most soy because almost all soy is genetically modified and laden with pesticides, the Johns Hopkins article avoided those particular topics. Instead, they focused on the issues surrounding soy based supplements, primarily those for menopause. Not that long ago, soy-based supplements were touted as a great “cure-all” for the symptoms associated with menopause, but a lot of research has since shown that these products actually increased the risks of cancer. As stated in the article, foods with soy do not appear to cause this effect; it is only when the soy is processed and concentrated into supplement form that the risks appeared.
  1. Dieting: This section focuses on the risks of a drastic change in diet. Some people go to extremes when it comes to losing weight. It is important to discuss any changes in your diet with your health care practitioner to make sure that there are no major health risks associated with whatever diet you think might help you lose weight.
  1. Milk and Iron Deficiency in Infants: When parents switch babies from drinking (iron fortified) formula to cows milk (which contains very little iron), they are not always aware of the risks of anemia. In addition, many children may be allergic to certain compounds in cow’s milk.
  1. Antibiotic Resistance: This serious problem is briefly discussed. For a more detailed discussion of this topic see our article on Antibiotic Resistance.
  1. Antibacterial Soaps: As we discussed in our Antibiotic Resistance article, antibacterial soaps are not all they are cracked up to be. Not only do they offer no greater protection from microbes than regular soap, they are also very bad for the environment.
  1. Over the Counter Medications: This section focuses mainly on acetaminophen (or Tylenol). Most people think of acetaminophen as a pretty safe medication, but taking too much of it is the leading cause of liver failure in the United States. Acetaminophen is found in Tylenol, Nyquil, and many other cold remedies, as well as in medications like Percocet. Each on its own may be safe, but if you take to many different medications without realizing what is in them, it can quickly add up to dangerous levels.
We discussed the overuse of anti-inflammatory medications causing serious side effects in our post on NSAIDs. The message here is that just because you can buy a medication, without a prescription, does not mean that it is safe for you. Make sure to read the labels of all over the counter medications because they might contain acetaminophen or other medications that, when taken in excess, can cause severe illnesses.
  1. “Natural” Doesn’t Always Mean Healthy: The label natural can be very misleading. Natural has become a catch word that allow manufacturers to charge more for their products. Unfortunately, there are no regulations concerning what “natural” means. Beware and don’t fall for this misleading marketing claim. For more information on the natural label have a look at our post on the misleading “Natural” label.
  1. Childhood Allergies: Even as little as 10 years ago, children who were allergic to milk or eggs were simply told to avoid the foods at all costs. It turns out that many of these allergies may not be problematic if the products in question are thoroughly cooked. In addition, exposing some children to the thoroughly cooked versions of these foods can help them to eventually overcome the allergy. Furthermore, the “strict avoidance” mantra of years past may actually have been doing more harm than good, making the allergies worse for many children. The nature of allergic reactions is not entirely understood, but the strides in research in even the last decade are helping to unravel this complicated subject.
  1. Excessive Exercise: Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle. There is no real argument against that fact in medicine. But, too much exercise can cause serious problems, such as exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis (severe muscle break down leading to serious kidney damage). The concept of “too much of a good thing can be harmful” is a recurring theme in medicine, and exercise is no exception.
Overall, I found the article to be a very good read and I hope you enjoy it too.


Stop That - from Johns Hopkins Magazine (Winter 2011)

Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.


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