Multi-vitamins increase risk of death in some cases

Over the last few decades, people have been more concerned about health. The fitness boom of the 1970s led to a running craze and the 1980s could be described as the supplement decade, where people started taking multivitamins. (We could refer to the 1990s as the bodybuilding age and the noughties as the creatine and steriod age.)

Why do people take supplements? As the term suggests, it is to make up for vitamins that might be missing in your diet. But a report by the Guardian found that not only did supplements not have any positive effect, some vitamins actually have a higher risk of death of poor health.

Researchers at the University of Toronto looked at the effect of various vitamins on the risk of heart disease and stroke. What were the results? There was no significant proof that vitamins prevented heart disease, although folic acid, found in the B vitamins, did reduce the risk of stroke.

However, niacin (vitamin B3) and antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E) were associated with an increased risk of all causes of death, according to the findings published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology.

Too many people have assumed that multivitamins only have a positive effect, but the levels in the products on sale can be well over the daily recommended limit, sometimes by as much as 1000%.

Vitamin C, in particular, is assumed to be good but too much can be dangerous.

There should be no need to take multivitamins if you are on a balanced diet, and the money spent could turn out to be a waste, or even harmful, if you happen to get supplements that have high levels of certain vitamins.

The pianist Robert Schumann suffered from poor health and even lost the use of his left hand, causing his performing career to be over. While part of it was reportedly due to a device that he used to widen the reach of his handspan, medication he was taking did not help either – which goes to show you must be careful what you put in your body.

Part of the problem is due to what we call anchoring. When we have a fundamental belief in an assumption, subsequent opinions are formed relative to that first opinion. If you believe supplements are good, then successive formulations of opinion are assumed to be good too, even though they may be distorted.

Why outlets for stress help mental health

According to data scientist Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz, Google searches are a more accurate indicator of our innermost thoughts and emotions, because people believe they are anonymous on the internet. Well, in light of the recent developments of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, people are more aware of the issues of privacy, and if you haven’t, certainly you would have been bombarded by companies asking your data consent, to opt in voluntarily, instead of being opted in. But the latter concerns over privacy also are a breeding ground for spam. Wait to receive “opt out” messages from spammers who then ask you to fill in your account details on their site – beware!

Coming back to the issue of using data trends for insights, people are less inclined to tell the truth face to face or in a survey, because of how they feel it would reflect on them. They may worry about how their innermost thoughts are perceived and the effect it has on others around them. For example, did you know that many adults regret having children? The time and energy devoted into parenting detract from promising careers and pursuits. But yet admitting this would be akin to telling a child “I never wanted you”.

The problem with modern life is that we have to manage a lot of contradictions. For some, children are a source of happiness, but they detract from our own and cause us unhappiness. Ever seen an adult who wanted to do something but couldn’t because he or she had to stay home with the kids? In the 1980s, work was rebranded to look cool, to be able to do the thing you enjoyed most as a career, but for many the enjoyment of work is not as what it seems. We don’t necessarily do the things we enjoy, just the things that give us the financial freedom. Enjoyment is secondary.

The whole thing points towards a big, fat disconnect between the way our lives are going and the way we want them to.

And disconnect breeds mental stresses and health deterioration in the long term.

It is my opinion that society is walking towards a social and mental health timebomb.

As companies trim their workforce, and job security wanes, and the stresses of life impact on us and causes us a disconnect between the reality of life and our expectations, what can we do?

We can learn to manage our expectations of life.

There are many things that people around say which are not necessarily true. Things like “You should enjoy your job”, “no pain no gain” and other sayings or axioms that we take to heart but are actually not helpful. Try telling a homeless person “no pain no gain”, or talk about “trading it all in, to do the things you love” to someone who is struggling with job security, with a mortgage and children to bring up. Don’t listen and accept blindly the things around you, because as Seth says, everybody lies.

The second thing you can do is to find outlets for your mental triggers.

Seth’s research into Google data trends suggest that money and climate are high causes of depression. So what if you live in a cold place, and have no money to spend? Are you screwed?

Seek to establish some form of financial security. Spend less, save more. Work towards maximising income and minimising expenditure. Forget momentarily the trappings of modern appearance; we all want to look cool but life involves knuckling down and setting aside the need to look hip. This is how society encourages us to spend – it tells us we need the most modern gadgets and things, the best clothes – but we really need to live frugally, although it is easier said than done.

Find outlets for expression. Listening to music may be cool or great, but it is also receptive, not productive, so too much music can only cause you to feel more stressed. Instead, seek to do things such as learning to draw, or learning the piano, which uses a different part of your brain and allows you some temporary from of escape from life’s stresses and stressors. And learn to channe frustration into something creative, like many other Classical music composers in the past. And something like taking up piano exams could provide a target to aim for, in terms of self-fulfillment, and a diversion from daily life too. It is something meaningful you can do for yourself.

Modern life is about contradiction, and we have to learn to bridge the ever-widening gap. Learning to straddle the two is one of the most important skills we could teach the generations to come.

Triumph – but at what cost?

Guess who the most hated man in Egypt is right now?

Clue: It is one of their politicians.

It’s not even Donald Trump.

In fact, it’s got nothing to do with politics.

The man that is fanning the flames at the moment is footballer Sergio Ramos.

Ramos plays for the Spanish team Real Madrid as a centre-back. That is to say, he is one of two players in front of the goalkeeper, to stop opposing players from getting their strikes in.

Ramos has made a reputation for himself over the years as a hardman, using physical play to intimidate or put off opposing strikers from coming into his zone. This means that instead of shooting directly from the front of the goal, where the width gives a larger target, opposing players have to go from the side, where the angle is narrower. Ramos’ reputation as a hardman has meant he has been sent off many times in his career.

And as he has aged, and his physical skills have declined, Ramos has resorted more to guile and trickery, to get players sent off or carded, to influence the game. He writhes around at the slightest contact as if he has been hit by a train, and he is always playing mind games with the opposition.

So why is Ramos the most hated man in Egypt right now? Last night’s Champions League football final saw Real Madrid take on Liverpool. And in the game Ramos practically arm-barred talismanic Mo Salah into the ground, slamming his shoulder into it and dislocating it.

You can see that Ramos deliberately traps the arm before using his left leg to deliberately induce a fall.

The old wily fox realised that the only way to have an edge was to take out the opposing team’s most influential player.

Salah is out for the World Cup. Which is why many Egyptians will be fuming at was what not a deliberate attempt to play the ball at all. With Salah out, Egypt doubts.

The sad message is what it sends to kids and fans. Real Madrid is one of the most popular teams in the world, and Ramos is one of the more well-known players in it.

But subscribing and following a team means justifying such acts and condoning them. It breeds a “win at all costs” mentality that includes negative competition.

Drive is a good thing to have. The Baroque music composer J S Bach once walked two hundred miles to watch a concert by Dietrich Buxtehude. And Bartholomeo Cristofori went through many revisions before he produced the working version of the piano. But when the drive to win is tempered by ill practice, it sets up the wrong mindset, which, exacerbated over time, compounds a disconnect between perception and reality, which is where mental deterioration begins.

The problem is also because supporting bad practice demands we re-frame evidence. Is Sergio Ramos a dirty player? If you are an Egyptian, or a neutral, you might say “Yes”. If you are a Real Madrid fan, you would say “No”, despite his reputation over the years (look how the Real Madrid and Barcelona matches always end up with Madrid trying to roughhouse Leo Messi). But in saying “No”, you are forced to accept and even justify an incorrect act.

Remember how in the World Wars people claimed innocence for acts of atrocities because they said they were only following orders? The whole evidence of evil actions was reframed by the act of purporting to follow the company line – in this case the national line.

And in not admitting to wrong actions, but trying to justify them in order to avoid the humbling admissions, we only create distortions of truth.

The pursuit of success to obtain triumphs at all costs leaves much to be desired. It demands we be ruthless. And the fact that we could even consider ruthless to have some positive tinge to it goes to show how distorted our senses are.

Mental health time bomb.

Managing sound and noise

How loud is loud? You have to wonder. We often see people plugged into their headphones, listening to music. Most of them are quite conscious of the effect their music has on others and not to turn it on too loudly. But there are some for whom music needs to be played loudly, as if they are having a personal disco, for it to have any effect or meaning. And then there are the real anti-socials, playing music deliberately loudly as if to provoke a reaction, antagonising others to speak up while their devices blare away.

It is of course anti-social to play music at loud limits that annoy others. Every one has a different limit, and unfortunately it seems there are those that will challenge these boundaries and step in the gaps of ambuguities. But leaving the anti-social nature of it aside, how loud is loud?

The World Health Organisation recommends 85 decibels to be the safe limit for eight hours of listening, while a maximum of fifteen minutes is recommended for sounds at one hundred decibels. But at discos, the sound levels have been registered to be at higher levels. Even in sporting events, the cheering of football crowds can reach over a hundred decibels. (You can find the information here. Which is why football fans deliberately make noise to rattle opposing teams. Football player Timo Werner had to be substituted in a RB Leipzig match against Besiktas, despite wearing ear plugs to block out the noise, because it was causing him headaches and respiratory problems.

Exposure to loud noises can cause one to lose hearing function over time. The problem with hearing impairment, is that the loss is permanent. The composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven had to cope with losing his hearing, but fortunately managed to deal with it. But perhaps we need a keener measure of sound pollution. We know a train may produce sound levels of up to a hundred decibels, but how far away or how close we are to it affects the impact too. If we are standing next to a pneumatic drill and it is constantly drilling, it would do us more harm than if we we heard it from three streets away.

Why is sound pollution a problem? Listening using earphones, by virtue of their proximity to the ear canal, may cause more damage even at a lower volume compared to listening to louder noises from a further distance. If you are at a classical music concert and sat in the front row of say, a performance of music by Wagner, it is going to have more of an impact on your ears than if you were in a back row. It is not inconceivable that we will see more lawsuits filed in the future by various professionals working in the sound industry (stage technicians), music industry (dancers), teachers, construction workers, filing suits against their employers claiming that their health and safety at work as not enforced. A teacher, for example, having to work with noisy classes may sue his school for giving him the class with more noisy students while other colleagues got “better students”. It sounds silly but it is not a far-fetched idea that in an economy that is stagnant, individuals seeking to claim compensation to make up for financial shortfall may resort to noise levels as a source of contention.

Digit-al Overload

Nintendo, of course, was – and still is! – the games maker that popularised the game console offering multi-dimensional movement easily by the use of thumbs. Before Nintendo invented their games console, if you wanted a game character to make a diagonal movement, you would have to hold the Up arrow at the same time as you held the Left or Right arrow, depending on which direction you were aiming to go. Circular flowing movements were impossible. But the rotary joysticks on the top of the distinct console meant new movements were possible, bringing gameplay into a whole new era.

Much of the control of the Nintendo console is operated by the thumbs, forefinger and middle finger. The ring finger and pinkie are there to stabilise the console. The thumbs are responsible for most of the buttons; a large arrray of controls is slaved to them. The thumbs are responsible for movement and activating special functions, so during gameplay a large part of the time, the thumbs are engaged in active operation, unlike the other fingers that sit passively until recalled. And since Nintendo games are addictive, incentivising the user to stay playing for hours, many spend a lot of time over-using their thumbs without being aware of it – until the onset of pain.

Many people often speak of how the younger generation suffer from Nintendo thumb. They attribute it to the lack of awareness among the young. But adults are equally guilty too. The New York Times reports how adults are increasing seeking medical intervention for a kind of localised RSI, “texting thumb”, caused by the use of over texting. The world of technology has evolved and the pace of life has accelerated to the point where people are on their phones all their times, and phones are increasingly the choice of communication – whether texting, or responding to emails. You may blame the Blackberry, which popularised the texting and typing using thumbs. But thumb overuse is increasingly common and can become very debilitating.

Many people type as part of their job – it is hard to find someone who doesn’t, even on a subsidiary level – so the overuse of the thumb can lead for strain on the tendon, which may prove to be debilitating to the point of having to stop work. The cited report mentioned how some people couldn’t even use forks! An extreme case of a hand injury could be the pianist Robert Schumann, who after a hand injury, had to give up his performing career, and become more of a composer. Our hands are valuable assets – just ask the pianist Sergey Rachmaninov, who was said to have larger hands than the average pianist which he used to great effect in playing chords and show more technical skills. Who knows what these pianists would have done had they suffered from Texting Thumb or Nintendo Thumb?

Is the solution to phone addiction and thumb overuse a poorer phone? Hardly. Poorer phones have worse designs – remember having to press the “2” button three times to get a “c” character and stress digits even more. The solution to phone addiction is a conscious human being.

Diverting negative energies into positive gains

You’ve heard of Twitter. You’ve heard of trolling. And if you haven’t heard of the latter, you must be of the social media landscape, which may be a good thing for you. Trolling is the process – some may call it art now, unfortunately – of sending someone offensive messages in a bid to get them to respond. Some might liken it to baiting. It was a way of provoking conversation by say something to unsettle someone. I personally call it needling. It is like one of the silly things children used to do, to poke each other with a finger until someone got fed up and reacted. Over the years it has evolved into and art form, of saying something objectionable until someone “flames”. Unfortunately the development of such social terms only conveys how acceptable a practice it has become.

Twitter was a good medium for trolling – some say it still is – because it offered anonymity. And it was instantly responsive to news. Back in the days of the Arab Spring, and the London riots, people were using Twitter to communicate instant messages alongside Blackberry IM. It was almost as if these events opened the eyes of the authorities to the power of social media and how they needed to police it. To this effect, many have social media accounts to “communicate” with the public. Twitter may have had its twitterstorm, and while Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are having their turn in the news, Twitter remains an important feature of the social landscape nonetheless.

The responsiveness of Twitter and its immediacy mean that people can send anonymous messages to others and watch the impact as it unfolds Imagine receiving a message from someone who purports to know you somewhat like “The guy at the next table is watching you”. Immediately you would react to the sense of danger, and then feel a sense of embarrassment if it turns out to be a hoax and that you have been pranked. That’s what one form of trolling is. A cheap, inconveniencing laugh at someone else. And when you’ve been hoaxed, there is the embarrassment too that your hoaxer is in the vinicity observing you. But sometimes others troll (trawl) the Twitter landscape just to be objectionable, to say things to others without being physically around to be accountable for their words.

It’s not nice being trolled. It is akin to be digital bullying. A BBC report investigated some teens who had been trolled. But when they dug deeper, they had a nasty surprise. The ones responsible for the trolling, the cyber-bullies were the teens themselves.

Welcome to digital self-harm.

Why do people leave nasty online messages for themselves. One of those teens said that it was a way of getting attention and sympathy. When we are bullied online, we get some words of sympathy from others and a bit of their time and attention. Julian – not his real name – received the message “Nobody cares what you think. Just deactivate your account. No one likes your posts, and you’re a waste of everyone’s time.” Later it was discovered the digital hate mail originated from himself.

As he says of those who have been trolled, “they were quite popular so their followers would really support them through it and send them nice messages. I didn’t have many followers at the time so I thought sending myself a hate message might be a good way to get attention.”

Another girl, Sophie, sent herself hurtful comments in order to open up a discussion with herself, she said. She said she suffered from anxiety and to bring it out to the open, she penned a 1000-word response to her online hater – herself.

It may be useful, especially if you were concerned about an issue such as, say, one’s sexuality and needed to bring it out to the open. And one can perhaps understand that. But when a trolling comment is used only for the sake of generating attention, it really calls to mind the state of one’s mental health.

What kind of state is the mental health of someone who abuses themselves online to draw attention? Most would say “not good”. To that effect there are attempts to track those who do so. One of these methods involves checking the IP addresses of user accounts, to see if two have the same address – meaning they were sent from the same computer and individual.

What can you do if you are feeling down and need an outlet for your mental frustration? Sometimes it is useful to learn a new skill or do something to deflect your mental situation away briefly. You may find it useful to learn a new skill like learning the piano. And try to channel your frustration into a creative activity, because it will keep you from dwelling on your circumstances and the drive, directed correctly, will propel you to greater heights. The composer Ludwig van Beethoven, by all accounts, had a difficult childhood, but as a Piano Teacher in Crouch End expounds, Beethoven managed to transcend the difficulties faced to become a skilled musician and composer.

Certainly it is better to do something self-fulfilling, rather than self-harming!

The social signal of music

If you look around you, on your daily travel to work, or perhaps just as you are moving through society, you will notice that many people are plugged in to their headphones, listening to music, trying to pass the time. And how headphones have evolved. They used to be merely a tiny pair of plugs to stuff into your ears, now they have become large ear mufflers that purport to cancel out exterior noise, and many of them are bluetooth enabled, meaning you are no longer limited by the length of a wire and can be unencumbered by its messiness.

Of course, this has meant that the music industry has taken advantage of it. Now that many people are listening to music, thousands and thousands of hours are devoted each week to producing music for listeners to devour. This has of course given rise to the number of people producing and recording their own music, and the number of apps and other music technology software for that kind of purpose. But what does the increasing popularity of music really tell us?

It doesn’t really tell us that music is increasingly popular on its own merit. That is to say, that the music nowadays is of good quality. What it does tell us, unfortunately, is that society is fragmenting socially.

You might be thinking that is a crazy thing to say, but if you examine what situations you see the use of headphones in use, it may shed some light on this viewpoint.

People use headphones to shut off one of their senses to the world. This means that on public transport for example, if they are hogging a seat that has been prioritised for a person that needs it more, for example, an elderly person or a pregnant lady, they may avert their gaze and pretend they have been so immersed in their music that they did not notice the need. One of the unwritten social contracts is to give up your seat for someone – a young child, a pregnant mother or an elderly person – who may need it, but using headphones means that one can break out and default on this without hearing the reprimand of the others.

The above is only an example. But what it highlights is that we use headphones not so much to enjoy music, but as a barrier to the social world around us. If you travel on a bus, and a group of youths are making a ruckus, no one dares to even utter a word for fear of retribution, being involved in a discussion with those out to get attention via argument, or lack of bother. The solution? Headphones. Pretend you never heard. Shut out one of your senses to the world.

It is a shame really because music was meant to be enjoyed, but now it is a shield to the world. Actually, not a shield, but a lance to say keep away. As a Crouch End piano teacher tells us, it could offer us such positive experiences. But it is somewhat disheartening that we use music to divide rather than to bind us. And it is not just merely the use of headphones. A noisy car blaring out noisy music, or a person playing loud music on public transport, is equally guilty of trying to impose some sort of social control on the people around that they do not like or want. We should try to use music more positively instead of as a divisive tool.