Nutrition Skepticism is Healthy

This is a great article on the nutrition “myths” that get circulated in the health and fitness industry.”  It’s from BBoy Science— a site which I really enjoy.

I thought this post was incredibly vindicating, especially the part about “Anti-Inflammatory Foods.”  I’ve encountered this concept time and time again in the alternative health world.

The author sums up the concept perfectly:

“Anti-oxidant foods are supposed to neutralize ‘free radicals.’ Free radicals are chemicals that naturally occur in your body, and are involved in some very important things – like killing infections and cleaning up by-products, and much more. However, they are also thought to be one of the things responsible for aging, and perhaps cancer.”

Proponents of the anti-inflammatory diet believe “… that free radicals can sometimes go a little too far in their clean up job. Kind of like how dad would throw out perfectly good cardboard for making crafts when you were a kid. Eating more anti-oxidants is thought to keep those pesky free radicals from going to far. Interesting theory, and sounds sciencey enough right?”

He outlines several problems with the idea that inflammation needs to be fought at all costs.  For one, there isn’t actually any evidence that people who eat a diet high in “anti-inflammatory foods” have a lower incidence of chronic disease.  In addition, the inflammatory response is actually part of the healing process– when you slow it down, you might also be slowing down healing.

*****

I really appreciated this part of the article in particular, because it is relevant to my own life.

When I first started having my digestive troubles in my early twenties, I had a hard time finding a doctor to take me seriously.  (I finally found an explanation, five gastroenterologists later).

After gastroenterologist number three, I decided to give up on doctors for a while.  I went to the health food store down the street– it’s kind of famous in my town, and people come from a 50 mile radius to shop there– and met with their “alternative health nurse nutritionist.”  Basically, she is an RN who has some kind of alternative/holistic nutrition certification.

I told her what my symptoms were, and she gave me dietary recommendations, as well as a long and expensive list of products to buy.

One of the things she was going to have me do was eat anti-inflammatory foods.   She also had me taking several large capsules of curcumin, which is an extract taken from turmeric (you know, the herb).  Many people believe it has anti-inflammatory properties.

I always thought this idea was a little bit fishy.  Apparently Tony Ingraham is on the same page as me.  He writes,

“Furthermore, is lowering inflammation even a good idea? There are serious side effects to anti-inflammatory drugs, so why not in foods as well?”

People shouldn’t assume that just because something is “natural,” or it comes from a food, that it is better than medication.  I would never just take ibuprofen willy-nilly without keeping track of my dosage, so why would I do that with a food that happens to have medicinal properties?  The nurse’s advice just seemed so unspecific… take 5 capsules a day, but also try to include as much turmeric in my cooking as possible.

If I could find a way to use food to take the place of ibuprofen once in a while, that would be great.  Ibuprofen is so hard on my stomach– I couldn’t take it regularly, even if I wanted to. But like ibuprofen, I would want to know the exact dosage I was getting, and I wouldn’t be shoveling it down every day by the truck load, like people seem to imply we should do with anti-inflammatory foods.

Needless to say, the nurse’s recommendations didn’t end up helping me.

Anyway, definitely check this article out, and take a look at BBoy Science in general– it’s a great site!


2 thoughts on “Nutrition Skepticism is Healthy

  1. Critical thinking is so important in all aspects of health, I think. There are so many competing interest spruiking conflicting messages, and some of the sources you would expect to be credible aren’t. And it gets tricky, because even empirically validated treatments and lifestyle options don’t work for everyone – there are always outliers and individual differences to consider. Sometimes what works for everyone else won’t work for you.
    I’ll usually give most things that resonate with me a go, provided they aren’t obviously harmful, or causing undue expense (which is why I get really skeptical about supplements!). But then the biggest thing for me is listening to my body’s reaction – if you don’t feel better, or as good for less money/effort than what you were doing before, don’t do it.
    It can be a minefield though!

  2. This is really interesting. I’ve done the anti-inflammatory diet, too, and a ridiculously long list of supplements that are, strangely, ahem, sold by the practitioner herself. None of it had an impact I could perceive, so I just kind of gave up. Now I try to eat gluten-free and pretty healthfully, but I don’t fret over much when I diverge occasionally.

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