What’s good for me? New stud­ies can cloud old ad­vice

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Chris­tian Toto

In Woody Allen’s fu­tur­is­tic farce “Sleeper,” the comic wakes up af­ter a long cryo­genic sleep and is ad­vised to take a drag on a cig­a­rette.

“It’s one of the health­i­est things for your body,” the fu­tur­is­tic doc­tor says in the 1973 com­edy.

For health con­sumers, the line be­tween what’s healthy and what isn’t is no laugh­ing mat­ter.

Pota­toes and eggs are a healthy part of one’s diet one year, then, years later, re­searchers say they should be con­sumed in mod­er­a­tion. The same holds true for caf­feine in­take, hor­mone-re­place­ment ther­apy and stretch­ing be­fore a work­out.

Be­ing a healthy con­sumer means wad­ing through reams of ma­te­rial, some of which con­tra­dicts it­self over time.

Linda Yer­ardi, a di­eti­tian and nu­tri­tion ed­u­ca­tor with Mercy Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Bal­ti­more, says part of the blame can be pinned on when re­search be­gan on what peo­ple eat and how it af­fects them.

“Nu­tri­tion is such a young field,” Ms. Yer­ardi says. “Most vi­ta­mins were dis­cov­ered only 50 or 60 years ago. Even the folks who dis­cov­ered them didn’t know much about them.”

A cul­ture starved for blan­ket state­ments doesn’t help.

“Our so­ci­ety tends to take cer­tain pieces of in­for­ma­tion and idol­ize them,” Ms. Yer­ardi says.

Some­times the press will pounce on a par­tic­u­lar study, like one link­ing red wine to longevity, and draw some in­ac­cu­rate con­clu­sions.

“We can’t take one or two stud­ies, es­pe­cially from other coun­tries, and ap­ply them to our­selves,” Ms. Yer­ardi says.

The latest find­ings also can tell only part of the nu­tri­tional story.

Green tea is a health­ier op­tion than soda, but it, too, has caf­feine and could be prob­lem­atic for some­one who should avoid that stim­u­lant.

So if a fu­ture head­line slams green tea as “bad for us,” that could be why, even though that only tells a part of the over­all health im­pact.

Bethesda, Md.-based Dr. Pamela Peeke, au­thor of “Body for Life for Women” and the Dis­cov­ery Health Chan­nel’s chief med­i­cal correspondent, re­cently flipped through an old mag­a­zine and saw an ad­ver­tise­ment invit­ing read­ers to swal­low a tea­spoon of sugar for an en­ergy burst.

No ad­ver­tise­ment, or doc­tor, for that mat­ter, would sug­gest such a spoon­ful to­day.

Yet even some­thing as in­no­cent, and old-fash­ioned, as the “three squares a day” eat­ing plan isn’t the health­i­est way to live, Dr. Peeke says.

Eat­ing ev­ery three or four hours is a bet­ter plan, Dr. Peeke says, mix­ing full but healthy meals with nu­tri­tious snacks such as fruits and veg­eta­bles.

“That way you don’t walk around starv­ing, and you don’t overeat at meals,” she says.

Dr. Peeke un­der­stands that con­sumers can be flus­tered by con­flict­ing health re­ports, but she says that stick­ing with cred­i­ble sources will pro­vide a solid foun­da­tion for over­all health mat­ters.

Turn to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health and large as­so­ci­a­tions such as the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion for the latest, gim­mick-free in­for­ma­tion on stay­ing hearty and healthy, she says.

“It’s the job of big as­so­ci­a­tions to stay on the cut­ting edge,” she says, adding that the news­let­ters of Berke­ley Well­ness (www.well­nesslet­ter.com/) and Har­vard’s Women’s Health (www.health.har­vard.edu/news­let­ters/Har­vard_Wo men­s_Health_Watch.htm) can sup­ple­ment what­ever com­puter users find on th­ese ma­jor Web sites.

If Web surf­ing isn’t enough, she ad­vises con­tact­ing one’s doc­tor or, if he or she is busy, the of­fice’s nurse.

“They’re right on top of [the in­for­ma­tion],” she says.

Ex­er­cis­ereg­i­men­saren’tim­mune to the ebb and flow of health ad­vice.

Pat McCloskey, di­rec­tor of train­ing at Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-are­abased One Fit­ness, says con­ven­tional wis­dom dic­tated that peo­ple stretch be­fore start­ing a work­out.

Then the approach shifted, and in­struc­tors told clients that stretch­ing a cold body could do more harm than good.

To­day, One to One in­struc­tors are telling some clients to stretch be­fore hit­ting the weight room or tread­mill.

Not all stretches are cre­ated equal, nor are all ex­er­cis­ers, Mr. McCloskey says.

“One per­son might need to stretch their ham­strings,” he says, but an­other per­son may not need that kind of prepa­ra­tion be­fore work­ing out.

In the ex­er­cise field, in­struc­tors 30 years ago sought out body­builders for the most up-to-date ad­vice on weight train­ing.

As a re­sult, “ev­ery­one trained the same way,” Mr. McCloskey says.

Then in­struc­tors be­gan lis­ten­ing to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ex­perts for ad­vice along with body­builders and ex­perts in the sports-per­for­mance field.

Now in­for­ma­tion flows from all of the above, but of­ten at a snail’s pace.

The Greeks may have ex­celled at ath­let­ics, but ex­er­cise as a science “is still in its in­fancy,” Mr. McCloskey says.

Dr. Sylvia Med­ley, a physi­cian of in­ter­nal medicine with D.C.-based Cap­i­tal Med­i­cal As­so­ciates, ad­mits it can be frus­trat­ing to see the evo­lu­tion of health ad­vice doled out by the latest stud­ies.

“It’s an art and a science,” Dr. Med­ley says. “Medicine is con­stantly in flux.”

Too of­ten, what’s good health news for one per­son may not be ben­e­fi­cial to an­other.

Take hor­mone-re­place­ment ther­apy, a process that has un­der­gone the ebb and flow of health opin­ions.

“Some peo­ple have a lot of re­lief from symp­toms with HRT,” Dr. Med­ley says of a treat­ment plan meant to help older women un­der­go­ing menopause. “The is­sue be­comes weigh­ing the risks.”

Some­times peo­ple mis­use the in­for­ma­tion put on their plate.

The pro­tein found in an egg might be over­shad­owed if the egg is fried in ba­con grease, she says.

Health trends may come and go, so Dr. Med­ley sticks with the ba­sics — a good diet, mod­er­ate ex­er­cise and con­sid­er­ing one’s fam­ily his­tory to scout for po­ten­tial chronic con­di­tions.

Dr. An­dre Micha­lak, with Prov­i­dence Hospi­tal’s in­ter­nal medicine di­vi­sion, says that in his nearly 20 years in prac­tice he has found a dra­matic dif­fer­ence be­tween pa­tients then and now.

“The older gen­er­a­tion is much stronger than us be­cause they eat bet­ter foods than we’re eat­ing,” Dr. Micha­lak says, blam­ing foods grown with pes­ti­cides and other mod­ern ad­di­tives that can hurt nu­tri­tional con­tent.

Two steps for­ward, one step back.

Il­lus­tra­tion by Jack Hornady / The Wash­ing­ton Times

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