There are some advice that we hear many times from multiple people, but some common beliefs about health habits are not actually true. Fat was thought to be a cause of obesity, but that is contradictory to the more recent findings that low carb high fat diets can promote weight loss. Low fat products turned out to be high in carbs, and actually less healthy. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocado are now promoted as health foods, and salmon, which contains high levels of fat, is considered to be very nutritious and beneficial for brain health. What are then some of the other myths about health habits?
Hot cocoa before bed can help you sleep – actually the National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding dark chocolate/cocoa/cacao in the evening. Dark chocolate contains caffeine, therefore a cup of hot cocoa would not be caffeine free. The USDA National Nutrient Database indicates that a cup would contain 7.44 mg caffeine. That’s not a lot, but chocolate also contains theobromine, which increases hearth rate and can cause sleeplessness. Theobromine is an alkaloid, it is found in the cacao plant, the tea plant, and the kola nut. All of these plants are known stimulants. Therefore the combination of caffeine and theobromine for a lot of people would create a state of alertness, and therefore it will not help you sleep. Interesting fact – caffeine is partly metabolized into theobromine in humans. Theobromine is also an antagonist of adenosine receptors, just as caffeine, but weaker. Wakefulness is promoted when adenosine receptors are blocked in the brain.
Coffee increases anxiety – I don’t think there is a yes or no answer to this question, that’s why this statement is not correct. It seems that it varies for people. For some it seems that it does increase cortisol and therefore can contribute to feelings of anxiety and fear. For others it may actually be helpful. Some studies indicate that coffee is beneficial for people with OCD and helped to reduce intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
The roles of arousal and inhibition in the resistance of compulsive cleansing in individuals with high contamination fears
We are better off taking a multivitamin every day – no, we don’t actually know that. Maybe, maybe it makes no difference, maybe worse off. Obtaining vitamins and minerals from food, plus from a multivitamin, may lead to overconsumption. And more, as we know, is definitely not always better. Over consumption of folate may increase the risk of some cancers, overconsumption of iodine may lead to thyroid disorders, too much vitamin A can be harmful, and iron build up in the brain may be associated with declines in thinking and memory.
Iron and the brain
Mood supplements that are sold over the counter are safer than antidepressants – they are really not. For example, 5-HTP supplement is sold in most pharmacies in Canada and in health stores, that doesn’t make it safer than Prozac. From Wiki: 5-Hydroxytryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid and chemical precursor as well as a metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin. So if you consume it, will it just raise your serotonin and make you happier? Not necessarily. If someone is unaware that they are bipolar, taking supplements such as SAMe, 5-HTP, or St. John’s Word could make them manic. These supplements are not mood stabilizers. And since it can affect serotonin levels, it is not without side effects, just as antidepressants are not. Some people experience increased suicidal thoughts when taking medications or supplements that increase serotonin. You can also read user reviews of 5-HTP to see for yourself that it is not completely safe. Some users state experiencing elevated heart rate, vivid nightmares, suicidal thoughts, and insomnia. Be careful with any supplement that you try, observe any changes that happen, read about possible side-effects and contraindications.
Red meat and dairy are bad for you – I heard this often, but it’s not what actually recent studies show. I’m sure in some high amounts, daily consumption of red meat and dairy would lead to too much saturated fat, but that does not mean that the optimal amount is zero. A recent article in Nature states that the longest life expectancy in Japan may be related to the balanced diet consisting of a typical Japanese diet food products, as well as Western diet items such as meat and dairy. “The decreasing mortality rates from cerebrovascular disease are thought to reflect the increases in animal foods, milk, and dairy products and consequently in saturated fatty acids and calcium, together with a decrease in salt intake which may have led to a decrease in blood pressure… The typical Japanese diet as characterized by plant food and fish as well as modest Westernized diet such as meat, milk and dairy products might be associated with longevity in Japan.“
There are also inconclusive results in regards to red meat consumption and mental health. A systematic review of meat abstention and depression, 2020, indicated that “the most rigorous studies demonstrated that the prevalence or risk of depression and/or anxiety were significantly greater in participants who avoided meat consumption.” On the other hand, a cross-sectional study published in 2021 concluded that “after controlling for potential confounders, women in the highest quartile of red meat had a highest prevalence of depressive symptoms.”