Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Psuedoscience Language

Typically whenever someone wants to promote their way of eating, food product, or herbal supplement there seem to be several common phrases that they use.  Here are a few of my favorite "claims" that need to go away.

1) Eating food "x" will stabilize your blood sugar.   I think a lot of people hear this and have this image that something they eat is going to either keep their blood glucose from going to high, or keep it from dropping later.  It's as though the eating of that food will somehow invoke the Blood Glucose Fairy who will wave her magic wand and "poof" all your blood glucose issues will resolve.   Sometimes this is used to dress up a claim that is downright false—one that I still hear is that eating protein with carbohydrate will somehow keep the carbohydrate from converting to blood glucose as fast.  That is incorrect, as only fat and fiber can slow down the emptying of your stomach and allow for a slower entrance into the small intestine and later into the blood stream.  If you have diabetes and you do not want your blood sugar to "spike" after a meal, then limit the amount of carbohydrate you eat at a meal period, and get a little help by eating some good fats and fiber along with that.  If you are pre-diabetic and/or feel like you have a blood glucose drop in between meals, you need to do the same thing to avoid over production of insulin resulting in a blood glucose drop later.  So, a better turn of phrase might be "you can avoid blood sugar and/or insulin spikes after a meal by limiting your consumption of "x" and by making sure you have adequate amounts of "y."

2) Eating food "x" will balance your hormones.  The last time I looked there were more than 60 different kinds of hormones, so I am wondering which one the particular food is supposed to "balance."  I suppose people who have hypothyroidism (aka "low thyroid hormones") or low testosterone or other "sex hormones" might be looking for a magic food to help the body produce more of something, but so far we do not have any good evidence that any one particular food or way of eating will do this.   I do get questions about certain foods, like soy, inhibiting thyroid function, but once again we don't have good human models for this (Link).  We do know that people with thyroid issues might have problems if they eat a lot of seaweed and get to much iodine, but that is pretty much the only good evidence we have.  Now, remember insulin is a hormone, and as I stated above, a person with insulin-resistant problems who eats too much carbohydrate will likely over produce insulin.  But avoiding carbohydrate doesn't "balance" it, it just keeps it from spiking.

3) Eating food "x" will boost your immunity (subtext of lymphatic system).    For those of you who are new to my blog, let me point you to my previous post that explains why boosting your immunity is a bad idea as it is normally understood.   Now, if you do find that you are engaging in a lifestyle behavior that causes yourself to be less than optimal, such as not getting enough sleep, it would be beneficial to correct it, but don’t try to overinflate that tire.

4) Eating food "x" will boost your metabolism.  Once again, I have covered this before.  Unless you’re exercising, and even then, you are probably not burning very many calories by doing whatever they wanted you to do or taking whatever you want to take.
5) Eating food "x" will strengthen your heart.  First of all there isn’t any evidence that particular foods or supplements will actually strengthen your heart muscles, particularly if you already have congestive heart failure or you have already had a heart attack.  You can, however, eat properly to lose weight to take the pressure off a weak heart, reduce your chance of inflammation, and alter your lipid profile, which are all wonderful things, but you are not strengthening the heart muscle.  You can improve your heart function by exercise, even after a cardiac event, but keep in mind that you are actually not “building” muscle in the heart.  If your heart muscle did actually get bigger, then you probably have another underlying serious condition.

Take home message--be very skeptical of anything that promises to "balance," "stabilize," or "strengthen" anything in your body.  You might not really be getting what you want.

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