Around the same time I was born a man with a guitar in a bedroom in coastal New Jersey said:
- Well now everything dies, baby, that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.
It’s been 28 years and Atlantic City has not “come back” in any measurable way. But unless you’re a Turritopsis hydrozoa you can certainly bank on the first half of that statement: everything dies. Baby. And while there are some folks out there making a bid for immortality, the rational thing to do would probably be to live in a way that guarantees getting the most out of the time one has.
So we try to live healthy lives. Or at least try to manage our health in a way that it maximizes our happiness. And it’s not so easy. First off it seems that our bodies aren’t quite used to the idea of being able to eat any old time we want. As calorie-rich foods have become more and more abundant in the developed world, this has really started to become a problem as more and more folks have struggled to maintain a healthy weight:
Which is a real problem because so many things are so delicious. And it’s not always easy to tell what’s “good” for us and what’s “bad,” or even what “good” and “bad” even mean. I mean, clearly, if I ate at Taco Bell every day it would probably be deleterious to my health, not to mention my relationship with my wife. And I don’t exactly think eating reconstituted vegan bean mulch is going to make me fill happy and fulfilled. But most things tend to be of more ambiguous value. For example, all throughout the 80s and 90s there was a sort of comical dance in the nightly news media as eggs would become “good” or “bad” depending on the knee-jerk oversimplification of whatever study had recently come out in regard to their value. Having had an omelet for breakfast Sunday morning I can assure you that, regardless, they are delicious and good for nursing hangovers, which are, in turn, bad.
So if we toss out meaningful definitions of “good” and “bad” then just about anything can be “good” or “bad” for you. While direct claims to improving well-described signs of health such as “lowers blood pressure” may fall under the domain of the FDA here in the US, there’s still plenty of room for nebulous buzz words: “improves vitality!” “Contains antioxidants!” “All-natural!”
That last one’s especially devious. At some level, assuming the supplement or food product in question doesn’t contain, say, plutonium, it is natural in the sense that it can exist in nature. But the “all-natural” gambit is more drawing on the idea of the “good old days” when people were healthy because they didn’t eat processed foods “one molecule from plastic” or made out of trans-fats or… whatever. And there’s truth in the idea that the American diet is unhealthy, for sure – probably more due to portion size than anything else – and so the market out there for better living through lack of chemistry seems to be rooted at least in the sound hypothesis that we as Americans could be taking better care of ourselves.
But this brings up a sticky situation in that, if “all-natural” is better for us, why are we living longer now than ever? It’s a very contentious issue: as of the time I wrote this there were over 330 comments on that linked SBM post by Dr. Amy Tuteur. I tried reading some but… man. Everyone’s got their own ideas: child mortality versus adult mortality, quality of live versus longevity, artificial versus natural means of life extension, blah, blah, blah. It becomes a form of information overload, and, when presented with too much information all at once, we tend to ignore almost all of it and remain under-informed.
Green portion may be exaggerated
Which would be okay if everyone presenting their potentially life-improving products were being equally honest with the data they use to back up their claims. Of course, that’s rarely the case. Taken out of proper context, evidential claims can be made that run completely counter to what’s actually going on. Should you believe in the OMG magical healht power of acai berries or ACCAI BERRIES EXPOSED? Honestly, to me they both sound pretty moronic.
The one thing we can say for sure after centuries of searching for simple answers to maintaining good health and being largely sold various forms of snake oil is that there is no simple answer, no magic cure-all for what ails ya.
So what to do, then? Certainly moderation in anything is probably the best idea, but, more than that, when considering whether or not any sort of potentially health-improving technique to employ – whether a supplement, diet or lifestyle change – is to research it as best as possible. Using the power of awesome thinking means being informed about important decisions, and health is pretty important. After all, everything dies, so you might as well make the best of what you’ve got by optimally managing health and happiness. And if that’s not awesome I don’t know what is.('’) delicious