Mandan News

Skeptics Corner: Delving into health related myths

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

With the invention of the internet, it has grown easier to research health information. At the tips of nearly anyone’s fingers is a mass of knowledge that one can use to try to increase their health. However, at the same time, their is also a great amount of misinformation being spread about. Here are three such pieces of the latter.

Juicing
The process of juicing is simple enough. Like many of the other claims on this list, advocates present juicing as nearly a “miracle” cure. The current craze touts it as not only a way to loose weight, but also to detox the body.

At first glance, it would seem as if drinking juice would be an ideal way to loose weight. It does consist of consuming vegetables and fruits, and usually appears to be less calorics than eating whole foods. Yet, things aren’t always as they seem.

With the process of juicing, the foods being processed become more concentrated. While an eight-ounce cup of orange juice is relatively small, it can equal the calorie equivalent of four medium oranges. It is not just the quantity of calories in a given size either, but the amount that is consumed.

“Would a person actually sit down and eat four oranges in one sitting?” Gayl Canfield, director of nutrition for Pritkin Longevity Center, said.”But you can down that glass of orange juice in fewer than five minutes.”

According to Jennifer Nelson, director of clinical dietetics and nutrition at the Mayo Clinic, juicing can also leave one less than satisfied, thus leading to the consumption of more calories.

There can also be long term dangers of going on an all juice diet. After just a few days, a person’s lean muscle mass begins to break down, which in turn causes the body to burn fewer calories.

As Nelson points out, once solid food are eventually reintroduced, weight gain also quickly pile back on, making much of the effort in vain.

Juicing also tends to remove the bulk of fiber from the produce being processed. While advocates of the trend claim that the body needs a rest from digesting fiber, most individuals do not come close to the recommended levels that are suggested daily.

Yet, the major claim, recently in regards to juicing, is that it helps detox the body. Proponents of the process claim that throughout our life, toxins build within side the body, and can get to dangerous levels. These toxins, they claim, can lead to a variety of problems, such as cancer.

While they are correct in regards to the body building up toxins, they do miss a key aspect of the human body. The body naturally detoxes itself through the use of the liver and kidneys. These organs are quite effective of performing this task, and can do so better than any juice or other concoction can. The major problem though is that the claims in regards to detoxing with juice are not supported by scientific evidence.

One of the largest faults with juicing though is that it can be quite pricey, and much is wasted. The initial investment of a juicer can cost hundreds of dollars, which can be avoided if one uses a blender. Most of the cost though is through buying the produce.

It takes a relatively large amount of fruits and vegetables to be processed to make a cup of juice. A good deal of the actual produce is wasted, often including the nutrient-rich skins as well as the fiber left behind in the pulp. In comparison, consuming whole foods requires much less as the entire product is being consumed, and the full nutrition is being gained.

That’s not to say that juicing doesn’t have some benefits. For individuals who do not enjoy eating fruits and vegetables, juicing is a way in which they can still get their recommended amounts. However, actually eating the produce is more effective.

Antioxidants
While many are not certain what an antioxidant is, when they appear on a label, the general assumption is that the product is healthy. For many, it automatically signifies something that can prevent cancer.

The actual situation is a bit more complicated. An oxidant is the technical term for a chemical process that is associated with things breaking down. It is a necessary part of the body’s biological functions, as it relates to the food that we digest, as well as thousands of reactions being conducted by our cells.

Many oxidants produce what is known as “free radicals.” To put it briefly, a free radical is a molecule that has an unpaired electron. Because they are missing an electron, the molecule will search for an extra one to balance itself. If they don’t, then the free radical breaks down. The potential danger is if one of these free radicals would “steal” an electron from our DNA, which could be disastrous.

Yet, the body has developed defense systems in order to protect from such problems. Part of this includes the production substances that effortlessly, and safely, neutralize these free radicals.

The theory that proponents of antioxidants put forth is that by increasing the antioxidants in our bodies, the defense will greatly be increased as well. However, things are not quite as simple as that.

While free radicals do have the potential to cause damage, the body also uses them in a positive manner. Free radicals also place in helping the immune system. Some white blood cells even release free radicals in order to help kill bacteria.

Ridding the body of all free radicals is not necessarily a good idea though. The research on the subject instead shows that the use of antioxidants actually have a negligible effect, or even possibly a negative effect.

As with the idea of detoxing, the human body is meant to regulate itself, and usually does so quite well.

Coconut oil
It seems that recently, the media has become filled with information about coconut oil. Various sources have touted it as a “miracle” cure for everything from obesity to HIV.

The evidence for such claims though is not convincing. Most appear to be personal testimonials rather than from actual research.

Research that has been done on coconut oil has largely focused on its impact on cholesterol levels.

“All that has been studied well is the impact of coconut oil on cholesterol levels and the findings are intriguing but we still don’t know if it is harmful or beneficial,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health.

Recent studies do indicate though that coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which raised both LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol levels. In addition, coconut oil also contains high amount of saturated oil.

With the research not being sufficient, the suggestion that coconut oil consumption is healthy is not quite accurate. While it may not be a problem if used in moderation, the evidence thus far does not support the many supposed “miracle” properties that some have ascribed to it.

Conclusion
Usually, when a product is marketed as a “miracle” cure, or as a “super-food,” it is a sign that something isn’t quite right. Such claims hardly ever are backed by actual research, and often can pose serious problems later on.

Each week, the Skeptics Corner will delve into a variety of claims that are questionable, and try to pick out either the fact or fiction in each. The material will be drawing on recent news stories, as well as articles submitted to editor@mandan-news.com.