As accomplices go, I had the best in the world, a young lady on a health binge. In the two or three years — actually, much longer — that I’d been talking and talking about dropping excess poundage and related creaks and pains, she had been my encourager and scourge in chief.
In the morning, she strapped on one of those monitors that go around the chest and walked a healthy part of the distance from home to work and back. She was watched what she ate, guzzling tubs of water a day and getting as much sleep as she could. She had her fitness tracking system going, a record of every calorie taken in and expended at her fingertips.
But that was not the half of it. She was cleaning her colon, too, she told me one day.
For a colonoscopy?
Oh, no, she said. Colon cleansing was just part of her fitness routine. Once or twice a year, she said, she would use this product that got rid of all sorts of “nasty stuff” and flushed her insides sparkling clean.
It is good for you, really. You should try it, she said to me.
But the colon manages to clean itself very well without help, doesn’t it?
Oh no, she said. By way of proof, she emailed me pictures of gunk the product’s manufacturers say can’t be expelled any other way.
I was no match for the collective wisdom of the Internet on colon cleansing, but I’d like to think I convinced my health enthusiast that wasting her money was the least of the damage the “cleansing” would inflict.
What wacky things we do in the name of health and fitness.
We may end up none the worse for it, but sometimes we overdo it and create problems for ourselves with the very steps we take to stay fit, and the damage is done before we get wise to it.
Some of the health jags we get on, though, don’t start out sounding crazy at all. In fact, most often they are launched on the best expert advice. The craziness begins when we get to thinking that a great deal more of a good thing must be better. If a glass of carrot or beet juice or whatever is good for the body, you drink it when you can, and keep drinking until eyes and skin take on the vegetable hue.
Worse yet, there is no shortage of companies that do a masterful job of inflating our delusions, fanning fear and anxiety. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration lowered the boom on makers of antibacterial soap, which rides high in the household hygiene market. The agency is requiring proof that the products are not merely contributing to drug-resistance in bacteria, when plain old soap and proper hand-washing work as well to remove germs.
The flap over the usefulness of vitamin and mineral supplements highlights another contributor to the wellness riddle: Experts provide no end of the confusion.
A group of physicians went on a delusion-bursting offensive last week, practically calling out the dietary supplement industry in as blunt a report as you are likely to see in a medical journal:
“We believe that the case is closed — supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with most mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.”
Other researchers have raised similar questions about the efficacy of supplements. The review in the Annals of Internal Medicine last week pulled few punches, concluding that the use of supplements generally is a waste of money. Some $28 billion of waste a year.
Of course, the manufacturers are upset. Case closed? Not by a long shot, they say. (They have a point. Is any case ever closed in nutrition science and health? Sit tight long enough, and you can see the swing from good to bad and back again.) The vitamin wars have just begun. Look out for dueling studies.
Chances are that many consumers for whom a multivitamin pill is a one-a-day, generational habit acquired at Mother’s knee may not fell compelled to break it on the say-so of researchers. For most of us, popping a multivitamin is a reflex, a finishing bow to health gospel. Unless we overdo the vitamin thing, what’s the harm? The thing is, we are getting supplement assists on the side that we don’t even know about. Food producers increasingly take it upon themselves to boost our vitamin intake.
Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org