9 Popular Health 'Facts' That Are Actual Bulls**t
Time to read: 6 mins
There's something incredible about the health and wellness community and its ability to be resistant to logic, wisdom, and truth.
Common health "facts" that were built on shaky evidence and have now been fully dismissed are still rife. There is also an obsession with the placebo effect...a beneficial effect produced by a treatment/product/service, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the treatment/product/service itself, and must therefore be due to the belief in that treatment.
Examples include the idea that you need juice detox to rid you of those nasty ‘toxins’ and that sports drinks like lucozade are the only way to hydrate after any workout - like, because they have all the electrolytes and shit!!
The evidence of these are like many other old wives tales and fall into the category of myth and legend that are totally, or at least mostly, incorrect.
Here's the truth...
1. Taking your vitamins will keep you healthy
Sounds legit right? Vitamins are good for you so taking more will be even better...here lies the problem. You only need a certain amount, aka the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI), anything over is just waste, or even dangerous!
Despite one in three Britons taking vitamins or mineral pills, evidence from studies looking at almost 500,000 participants has shown that supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. The research scientists also suggested that companies selling supplements were fueling false health anxieties to offer unnecessary cures.
Malnourished people might benefit from some supplements, but most of us should just get our vitamins naturally from food...and any supplementation should be based on the analysis of a fully qualified dietitian. If you think you might be missing something in your diet go see a qualified expert and maybe get a blood test!
2. The more you sweat, the more you burn
Sweating more after your favourite spin class? That doesn't mean you necessarily torched any more calories than usual (sorry!). Sweat is a biological response that cools your skin and regulates internal body temperature, and actually gets more efficient with regular exercise. Sweating works through an effect called evaporative cooling - water rich secretion from the sweat glands is evaporated from the skin surface and has a cooling of the skin effect which reduces body temperature. Hence, in hot weather, or when the individual's muscles heat up due to exertion, more sweat is produced.
Maximum sweat rates of an adult can be up to 2–4 liters per hour or 10–14 liters per day. Studies have actually shown that fitter people sweat earlier and more in a workout compared to sedentary individuals, possibly to allow for greater work to be achieved and to prevent heat exhaustion. So in all honesty, sweating more abundantly is more likely to be the result of an overheated studio, the weather or your personal physiology as it is a hyper-caloric grueling gym sesh.
3. A juice cleanse will 'detox' you!
Possibly the most annoying myth to me is the juice cleanse and its detoxification claims. It’s also so frequently promoted by glossy magazines and “celebrities” (seriously guys what credibility do these people have to give you diet advice). However it's both wrong and unhealthy. Its very hard to find any studies that provide any evidence for the claims they make.
First off, juicing gets rid of the good stuff...or at least a lot of it! Juicing is a way of removing helpful fibre from fruits and vegetables. A standard apple contains about 18g of sugar, a glass of apple juice could require pressing up to 10 apples (that's the sugar of 10 apples too). It’s really easy to consume a glass..try eating 10 apples!!! Fruit juices can contain the same or more sugars than fizzy drinks (aka sodas for our American readers). Juicing is basically making the fruit and veg less nutritious by removing the fibre and accumulating the sugar.
Secondly, your body has a natural process of ‘detoxing’ through the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract and it naturally removes harmful chemicals this way. Literally, there is nothing in a juice that will hurry that process along, it’s actually more of what’s lacking in a juice diet that makes it work! If juicing has any benefit it is probably from calorie restriction, it's no surprise people will lose weight when the average juice diet ranges from 600-1000 calories, that’s just simple math! It’s lack of food and not the juice doing the work, the benefits are similar to what you would find with intermittent fasting; which studies show has a platitude of benefits.
4. Everyone should drink eight glasses of water a day
Hydration is very important, but the idea that eight glasses of water is essential is a strange one. Its often perpetuated that drinking lots of water has benefits such as improved skin quality and warding off liver and heart disease, although finding conclusive evidence of this in the research is not gonna happen!
People can get a lot of their water from foods and other beverages, even coffee and tea count (the diuretic effect of caffeine is cancelled out by the abundance of liquid!). You don’t need to hit a specific target though, in general you just need to drink when you’re thirsty.
The clear benefit that marks out water as the go to beverage is its lack of calories...it’s the best diet drink going!! Getting all your hydration needs from water could massively reduce your daily calorie intake, which is no bad thing at all!
5. Stretching helps your body recover faster
Stretching at the end of a workout, to some people, is the best part..especially if its your personal trainer doing it for you!! However is there any point? Stretching is defined by Armiger and Martyn, in their book Stretching for Functional Flexibility as "the application of force to muscles and tendons in order to achieve a change in their length, usually for the purposes of improving joint range of motion, reducing stiffness or soreness, or preparing for activity".
Stretching before or after exercise has been shown in numerous research papers to not improve muscle soreness or affect post training range of movement on subsequent days. Interestingly, contrary to popular belief, several studies have shown that during stretching blood flow, capillary oxygenation and velocity of red blood cells have been shown to actually decrease - it would appear that stretching after a workout does not help and may actually be counterproductive.
Although it may sound odd and goes against exercise folklore, serious stretching after workout is contraindicated for recovery and adaptation. Most reasoning behind post workout stretching is perpetuated by a belief system and the placebo effect rather than any physiological benefit.
At LBE we are big fans of flexibility training and practices such as yoga should be included in a well rounded training schedule...however post workout may not be the best timing for it! With that all being said if its the only time you can fit in some stretching its still better than nothing!
6. Weightlifting will stunt children's growth
This myth was fully put in its place for me while witnessing a talk from renowned pediatric exercise scientist - Professor Avery Faigenbaum from The College of New Jersey. He has systematically debunked the myths surrounding youth strength training in numerous research papers. Furthermore he has actually shown it to be hugely beneficial and a must for all children to include in their modern often sedentary lives.
In the past, some people theorised (note *theory* no one produced the proof) that if a child lifted something heavy (barbells or dumbbells) the force would damage the soft growth plates on the end of their bones. The bones would then heal and fuse prematurely leading to a reduction in growth. This just simply isn't true. Avoiding ALL forms of strength training as a rule is just counterproductive. This myth was perpetuated by people pointing out how small Olympic weightlifters and gymnasts were...but being small makes you better biomechanically for these sports. The sport doesn’t make you small...it’s like telling your kid to play basketball and suddenly expecting them to grow!
Your muscles don’t know the difference between the force provided by training or the force provided by vigorous work or play. A muscle will create force to counter any type of resistance. If the resistance is introduced safely, on a regular basis and at the right intensity, the muscle will respond by getting stronger.
If this myth were true, the youth all over the world would be suffering from this horrible condition. Kids that play youth sports would just stop growing and we would have to limit running speeds, prevent any climbing, and ban piggy back rides and wheelbarrow races. All of these activities require heavy muscular effort, but DO NOT STUNT GROWTH.
7. Sports Drinks are the ultimate workout accessory
We all know that fizzy drinks and similarly sugary soft drinks like Ribena are bad for us (right?), but what about ‘sports' drinks like Lucazade or Powerade? Sports-focused advertising has successfully convinced us all that downing a bottle of this stuff is the best thing ever and will have a huge effect on performance or recovery, especially if you've gone for a jog recently - it's replacing all those fundamental electrolytes, after all!!
(note - electrolytes are salts and minerals, such as sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate, which are found in the blood. They can conduct electrical impulses in the body like muscle contractions). Although what this also translates to is they are also full of energising carbs, in this case SUGAR!
Ironically people are religiously doing 30 mins of cardio burning 200-300 calories, to lose a few pounds and then drinking their sports drink with up to 500 calories. These people are then confused with their subsequent weight gain! For most people the amount of sugar in these drinks is far more than is needed - even if you've been exercising. Lower calorie options, which many of the same companies are now selling, are a much better choice. Or, if you want the smartest and lowest calorie choice, drink water!
8. The only way to measure a successful workout is how many calories you burn.
Always pounding yourself into oblivion gets boring and ineffective very quickly. Different types of exercise promote different benefits and we need to access as many of these benefits as possible. For example a strength session will not necessary burn the most calories per hour but it promotes adaptations, such as improved muscle quality and positive nervous system changes.
Yoga is also not much of an energy consumer, and according to an ACE study: a 50-minute power yoga session will only burn 237 calories, versus the 500 to 600 calories you could fry Spinning for that amount of time. However it impacts in other areas - it will improve flexibility, posture and help reduce injury risk and improve movement quality.
While burning calories can be a positive outcome for a workout it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. It doesn’t tell you everything you need to know on whether that workout made you better than before you did it! At LBE we always want to promote a well rounded athlete with a well rounded and varied training schedules, covering multiple fitness components!
9. Eating fat will make you fat
The tide has started to swing back the other way on this one, but recommendations for low-fat foods still remain frustratingly common. The demonisation of fat for its calorific density and health damaging effects was largely perpetuated by shady science influenced by a sugar lobbyists. It turns out that the mass marketed decision to cut saturated fat from diets led to increased consumption of sugar and processed trans fats, all of which were most likely less healthy alternatives - and actually damaging.
Fat is an essential nutrient, something necessary to life. Fat provides two functions - providing energy and providing structure. Saturated fat, used to form cell membranes all over your body, is a basic building block for hormones and is crucial for good immune function. So claims that solid fats contain few essential nutrients, are silly.
Another benefit of Fat, are that they make you feel full earlier and longer. They actually increase satiety, especially the medium-chain triglycerides found in butter and coconut oil. These fats activate the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin and slow stomach emptying.
We need a moderate amount of fat — especially healthy fat — in our diets.
So there you have it - 9 Health 'facts' debunked! What others do you know about?