One drink a day shortens your life

Ah, alcohol.

Some people don’t touch it for religious reasons.

Some people drink in moderation.

Some to excess.

Alcoholic drinks are classified by how many units of alcohol they contain. A recent study suggested that drinkers who consumed over 12.5 units (100g) of alcohol were more likely to die sooner than those who did not breach this amount.

If we follow current UK guidelines, this means that we should not drink more than 6 pints of average strength beer at 4%, or these might have serious repercussions for our health.

6 pints! Some people exceed that in a single day or two!

The limits established by the UK seem lower compared to those in the other countries, but nevertheless, each country sets its own guidelines based on lifestyle and economic factors.

The crux of this research was that adults over the age of 40 would lose between one or two years of their life is they exceeded the UK guidelines.

The somewhat irony of this research was that drinking alcohol was linked with higher incidences of cardiovascular symptoms, except for heart attacks, where it was lower.

How can these be so? How can drinking lead you to develop health problems, yet not cause you heart attacks?

This is where the “blind spot” of the research falls. It may not just be the drinking that is difficult to measure empirically.

You may argue that is not so much the level of alcohol that is the problem, but the lifestyle factors associated with the level of alcohol.

For example, those who exceed the UK threshold for alcohol consumption regularly may have lifestyle concerns or health worries that cause stress on the heart. Think of someone who is depressed and drowning himelf in sorrows. It is not necessarily the alcohol that he keeps swigging down, but more the stress that the depression is taking on him.

You may also argue that those who don’t exceed this limit have less stressful lifestyles. Or perhaps they have other outlets for stress, such as sport and exercise, and hence do not feel the need to drink as much.

It is like analysing football fans. You might find that the ardent supporters are more likely to have suffered the stresses, the highs and lows of their football team. They are also likelier to be older fans. Those who have not followed football teams as passionately or for as long are likely to be younger individuals. But you cannot say the number of football games watched cuts your life expectancy.

Why do drinking limits differ from place to place? I mentioned earlier that in some countries, this is due to economic interference. But how is this so? Imagine a country like, say, Spain, which produces various kinds of wines. As a higher percentage of the country’s economy depends on sales of alcohol, it is likely that Spain will have higher recommended guidelines. And Spain does. While UK men are told not to drink above 14 units of alcohol, this limit is 35 units in Spain. A staggering 2.5 times higher than in Britain!

The UK limit is also lower than Ireland (21.2). What does Ireland export? Guinness. It has been calculated that every day 10 million glasses of Guinness are sold all across the world and 1.8 billion points of Guinness are sold.

It is difficult to measure the health effect beyond the recommended threshold because it would be unethical to make someoe drink above that limit for a long time. But the results of the study suggest that consumption for many people is best reduced and monitored.

 

Broccoli is good for your heart

“Research has shown eating broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts to be particularly beneficial for the hearts of elderly women,” The Guardian reports.

Researchers investigating the benefit of a vegetable diet in Australia found that women who consumed the highest number of vegetables displayed less thickening of the walls of a vessel that supplies blood to the brain. The blood vessel is known as the common carotid artery and it has been linked to incidences of stroke, as a blockage in the artery prevents blood getting to the brain.

 

Might it have been a case of merely the consumption of vegetables? After all, we know that vegetables are good for you. Did the consumption of broccoli specifically have health benefits?

When looking at specific types of vegetables, researchers in Australia found that cruciferous vegetables seemed to provide the most benefits. These are a range of vegetables that belong to the same cabbage “family” (Brassicaceae) and include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

While previous research has linked a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables to lower risk of heart attacks and stroke, this study looks at the potential effect of specific types of vegetables.

The study could not merely narrow down the benefits solely to the consumption of vegetables, particularly broccoli But after variances in other factors was taken care of, the results held true after taking account of other factors such as women’s lifestyle, medical history and other components of their diet.

Cruciferous vegetables are good for you and the evidence suggests that older women in particular should make an effort to include them in their diet.

The researchers who carried out the study came from Edith Cowan University, the University of Western Australia, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Flinders University and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, all in Australia. The study was funded by Healthway Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. It was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Heart Association, and is available to read free online.

Surprisingly enough, the Mail Online reported the study results accurately. Nevertheless, as is often the case, did not make it clear that this type of study cannot prove that one factor (cruciferous vegetables) is a direct cause of another (carotid artery wall thickness).

The Guardian headline and introduction said the study showed vegetables provided “heart benefits”, although thickening of the carotid artery is more closely linked to risk of stroke.

The new wonderfood?

Wow, pasta is in the news again. In the 1990s it was claimed that eating pasta would mean consuming large anount of calories, which then get deposited as fat.

And now the surprising media focus is now on how pasta can help you lose weight? It is incredible to think how two pieces of research can have such different results over time.

The latter fact was what was reported in newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and the Independent.

Carbs have become a common focal point for newspapers because it is almost unavoidable that we have to consume them every day. Newspapers tend to focus on common foods such as pasta, rice and bananas because the majority of readers consume them and this makes the news relevant, newsworthy, and inclines the reader to purchase a newspaper or read a web page loaded with adverts.

The common carbohydates that feature in news are white flour, rice and potatoes. They have been criticised for causing weight gain, alongside sugar.

Pasta is a low-glycemic index food, which means the carbohydrates don’t release sugar in the bloodstream when broken down.

But the abundance of carbohydrates in daily food also means that when it is absent, it is newsworthy. Which is why when celebrities go on a zero-carb diet, like the Adkins diet, the news is jumped on.

In the cited research, researchers looked at pasta that was used as a part of an overall low-glycemic index diet, compared to a high glycemic index food.

When pasta was eaten as part of a low GI diet, it was more likely to cause weight loss than if it were eaten as part of a high GI diet.

The research is still out on that one really. But is eating a low GI diet part of the solution that it appears to be? I would suggest not.

I would suggest that those who eat a low-GI diet anyway would be more inclined to eat a high fibre type of pasta.

High fibre pasta keeps you full and you feel fuller on less calories. Thus less calories remain with the body and get deposited as fat. Excess calories end up as fat, you see.

Those who ate pasta as part of a high GI diet would be less likely to be health conscious and hence the type of pasta would be less specific, less high-fibre and more ordinary pasta, requiring one to eat more calories to feel full.

Look at it this way. Less health concious people drink norrmal tea. Health conscious people drink peppermint tea (or some other sort).

Those who drink peppermint tea as part of their daily diet would be more likely to be health conscious, while those that consume normal tea are likely not. But that doesn’t mean you should stretch research and say peppermint tea helps you lose weight.

To summarise, what I would propose is not that pasta helps you lose weight, but that high-fibre pasta means you consume less calories and hence lose weight. It has nothing to do with being used as part of a low glycemic index diet or a high glycemic index diet. But low GI diet followers are more likely to eat high fibre pasta.

This was the bit of information that was not supported by articles.

The researchers found that “when pasta is consumed in the context of low GI dietary patterns, there is no weight gain but marginally clinically significant weight loss.”

The Mail Online, England’s favourite Health Daily, of course stretched the truth by saying that one should forgetting eating courgettes and going to the gym. Who ever knew a humble common daily event like eating pasta would have such a great effect?

That was the Mail Online’s spin to it, but don’t rush to eat lots of pasta. The extra consumption of pasta would merely make you pile on the pounds again. It is unethical to report like this but in this day and age it sells articles and is inportant though, even if it is peddling mistruths!

Exercise, depression and newspapers

Can the Mail Online be true? A recent headline claimed that suddenly stopping exercising, or what might be termed as exercise cessation, could trigger depressive symptoms in adults.

If you have been reading the Mail Online for long enough, your first thought should be – its the Mail Online.

The Mail Online has consistently resorted to sensationalist headlines, and its paper publication, The Daily Mail is also no different. The reason, as I have explained before too, is that the latter hooks you into buying a paper to satiate your interest, while the former hooks you into reading in order to have more “dwell time” on the page – which is stuffed with adverts which play as you scroll down the article, giving them a side earning, as well as giving the site an overall boost in terms of SEO. If you look at the Mail Online web page, you will notice that the side bar is chock full of sensationalist articles which induce you to keep clicking and keep remaining within the site. But first of all a hook is needed, which is where a sensationalist health article comes in.

The sensationalist article takes the slightest tenuous link between facts and links them to form fiction which you would not normally read. As I have said before, this is how it works: A shark swims. A whale swims. The Mail Online then says a shark is a whale.

So the Mail Online (and no other newspaper, it must be mentioned), based its article on a University of Adelaide study of just 152 participants which stated that after stopping exercise, participants started to feel depressed.

First of all, if you haven’t guessed by now, I refute the claims. Of course, when you have made a plan to exercise and end up not doing so, you feel guilty, but not depressed – that would be taking the guilt symptoms too far.

Secondly, the biggest group of participants in any study was 40 – and the total from all six studies that the university referred to was 152.

There were also other anamolies reported. Some participants had guilt in the second week but not the first. It is not clear if any of the participants had depression in the first place, but it is likely the Mail Online substituted “guilt” with the more extreme “depression”.

Let’s use a bit of common sense. If you lead a fairly active lifestyle, exercising three times a week for about 1.5 hours in total, and then you stop for an extended period, you are likely to feel you should be exercising but are not, and this disconnect will trigger guilt within you – not depression. It is even arguable that any depressive symptoms you feel will be alleviated when you return to exercise, not because of any physical benefit, but more because your guilt will dissipate with the ticking off of the mental checklist.

But at least it sells papers or web traffic, and that is all what some publications are about. As long as there is enough padding to mask the business end of the publication, the selling of adverts, then it appears publications can make the news up.

Obese children now from lower-income households

In bygone times having large children were prized. It was a sign that you were rich, had the wealth to feed your children and that they ate well. Unlike those skinny people who had no food to eat. Larger children were a mark of status, coming from higher income households where there was more disposale wealth.

This trend appears to be reversing. A study of obese children in England found that many of them were of poorer socio-economic backgrounds.

How has this happened? It is easy to point the finger at an abundance of high fat, high calorie, cheap food. In short, fast food.

Take a walk down your high street. Start by counting how many chip shops you can see, or shops selling fried chicken. You would probably see a fair few. And see what happens when the kids are dismissed after school. You will see many crowding around these shops, getting their fill of fried chicken and chips.

To top that all off: to quench their thirst after consuming the oily, high sodium food, many opt for sugary fizzy drinks.

The high fat, high calorie, high sugar diet is repeated over many days and weeks. We may talk of the social responsibility in allowing fast food places to target school children but that is what happens because fast food shops know where the bulk of their clients lie. To make matters worse, some children assume that eating fried chicken gives them protein to grow big, which is what they want. Chicken is a source of protein, but when fried it is high in fat and the combination of caloric drinks does not help either.

The consumption of such a high fat diet is a ticking time bomb for the NHS. In two or three decades from now many people will increasingly be obese, and there will be a higher population of middle-aged obese that threatens to burden the NHS.

The NHS should encourage exercise, but unfortunately many of the measures – such as to take 10,000 steps a day – are ill conceived. You could do 10,000 steps a day, but if that is done at a slow pace that hardly taxes your heart rate, you are not burning fat. In addition, fat burning only takes place after the body has been active for at least twenty minutes, at a heart rate of at least 60% MHR (Maximal Heart Rate).

The overabundance of cheap fast food has meant that lower income families see it as a cheap affordable way to feed their children. And when their children get obese, they are viewed as being “big” which many think is good for them.

We are at a point of disconnect, but what we have to address is this. Better, nutritional food costs more. And it doesn’t taste as good at the same price. Unless we can introduce subsidies on healthy food, we will only evolve into a society that increasingly consumes junk food. The price we pay for promoting healthy eating through subsidies will go a longer way towards reducing the ticking time bomb of poor social health.

Going to bed with your smartphone is not a good idea

Okay, let’s be clear. When I say going to bed with your smartphone, what I really mean is you have your smartphone on a table by your bedside.

Research has shown that thee quality of sleep is affected for those who have smartphones nearby within arm’s reach.

Why should this research not surprise us? Firstly, those of us who have them nearby are more likely to be more responsive to emails, alerts and vibrations which all signify that more information for us to process has come in. Going to sleep with such a mindset, with work lingering in the mind, interferes with our restful periods when this happens for a long time.

Secondly, the backlight from your smartphone can cause you to waken up earlier than you intend to. While is good news for those of us who have problems waking up and keep having to hit the snooze button, perhaps we should consider that the reason we keep hitting the snooze button is we have not sleep well.

Imagine it is summer and gets light earlier. Even if you sleep in a dark room, the light from your phone will hit your visual sensors and trick you into thinking that it is already later than it is. Even if you glance at the phone and realise it is only 5am (I say only because most people are still asleep then, but maybe you are one of the early risers) you have difficulty going back to sleep now because your restful period has been disturbed and this affect your body clocks.

Do you notice how unseasonal temperatures affect wildlife? If you get a week of warmer weather in the winter, flowers and insects start to think that winter has passed and spring is here, and then emerge, only for the cold to hit again, leaving them vulnerable.

The smartphone provides unwanted stimulus in terms of light and sound. Even if it is fully muted and the screen is completely dark, its presence by the side of the bed means you can never fully switch off.

The solution, even is to go low-tech. Get an alarm clock, or a watch if you need to set an alarm as a wakeup call. Leave your phone in a different room like the living room. Try to keep your bedroom sacrosanct, as a place where work does not intrude. You will find it makes a difference to your restful periods.

 

Disconnect for a better quality of life

We live in a world that is more technologically advanced than our grandparents’ generation. For some, the gulf between generations is even closer. Those of us who have parents in their late forties and fifties will almost certainly find that their version of the twenties is much more different than ours. The difference can almost solely be put down to the impact that technology has had on our world.

When computers were rolled out en masse, and the influence of technology was making its way into daily life, we were told that they would simplify life. Computers would do the drudge work that humans used to do, giving us more free time to explore leisure pursuits. At least, that was how it was sold to us.

 

Has that happened? Not really. The average citizen found himself needing to be more computer literate. As the society became more dependent on things like emails, mobile phones, and computers, human beings found themselves needing to know how to work such devices and all their functions. Remember the days when all you had was a simple choice of a digital or traditional film camera? Nowadays the choices have exploded exponentially. Of course, unless you are a purist, you would say having digiital cameras isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t. But making the transition to using them as part of daily life has only increased the mental burden of information we hold in our heads, and that is making us actually less productive. And that arguably is one of the problems with technology. It has resulted in an explosion of information – the information overload that overtaxes our mental processes and leaves us mentally fatigued and less able to focus on important issues.

Social media is another area – touted to enhance links between people from your past, now the need to catch up with the latest social gossip, to promote yourself, to be on track with it all, to be in … all that has a bearing on one’s mind and mental health. It is no wonder that some people report being depressed after scrolling through social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Has technology enhanced our lives? It has made it easier for companies to push work that used to be done by employees onto users. For example, if Wikipedia existed in the 1980s, it would have had big offices and employees to research and type out the information on its databases. Now it encourages collaborative work – in short, it makes uses do it for them.

The problem is that information is endless and cannot be fully captured, and runs perpendicularly to our innate need to grasp everything. We want to box it all, yet it cannot be boxed. The human civilization generates terrabytes of data every year, and trying to keep on top of it all will leave us tired and fatigued and restless and depressed, an ever-insatiable need.

The solution? Disconnect. It would do you a (real) world of good. And if that is too drastic, trying limiting the amount of screen time you have.