A life lived at full throttle can’t be sustained. Eventually, we’ll start calling it a night and ask for takeaways after a couple of rounds. But what about overindulging in stuff that seems good for us? Sleep, for instance? Or coffee? Or antioxidants? We combed the research and consulted experts across a range of fields. In that process, we were thrilled to hear that it’s difficult to OD on sex or masturbation. Ditto fruits and vegetables. But the dark sides of other health-enhancing moves surprised us. Toxicologists have an expression for this principle: “The dose makes the poison.” That’s never been truer than with these five “good” things.
Your daily java provides long-lasting health advantages. Recent research suggests a link between coffee consumption and lowered risks of Alzheimer’s disease, liver cancer and prostate cancer. But beware the tell tale buzz of caffeine addiction, which can set in if you slurp more than 300mg of the stuff each day. (A 12-ounce Starbucks standard brew – the Tall size – has 260mg of caffeine.) As your body adjusts to regular caffeine exposure, your fatigue-regulating adenosine system – which is hijacked by the drug – becomes more sensitive, and you’ll feel sluggish in your non-caffeinated moments, reports a 2010 British study. How to spread your caffeine fix
Pace your daily intake. “Better to spread it throughout the day to prevent overdose,” says James D. Lane, PhD, a US-based psychophysiologist. “It’s the high peak of caffeine in your blood that causes problems.” If you normally drink 12 ounces with your breakfast, limit yourself to half that in the morning, and have the other half at lunchtime. If a deficit of nightly sleep can make you gain weight and lose mental sharpness, as well as increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, then scoring tons of shut-eye must be good, no? Not exactly. In a 2010 study in the journal Sleep, men who logged nine or more hours a night were 43 per cent more likely to have heart disease than six- or seven-hour sleepers, regardless of their age, BMI, physical activity, alcohol use and preexisting diseases. But you may be among the minority who naturally need a lot of sleep – which is okay, as long as you feel refreshed the next day. “If you’re still sleepy, something may be affecting sleep quality, such as sleep apnoea or restless leg syndrome,” says Dr Clete Kushida, a US-based medical director. If you suspect one of these is a factor, get your physician to refer you to a sleep centre for evaluation. How to wake up easier
If you’re just sleeping too much, set your TV timer to wake you up. The light-and-noise combo is more rousing than an alarm clock, says Dr Christopher Winter, a US-based sleep expert. “Light tells your brain to stop making the sleep hormone melatonin,” he says. Use the right tools for the job. We wish doctors would internalise this message better. “When a doctor doesn’t want to be wrong because there’s a slight chance a patient has a bacterial infection, or if a patient insists, then antibiotics are more likely to be prescribed,” says Dr Lauri Hicks, a US-based medical director. Upper-respiratory infections are classic examples. They account for 75 per cent of all antibiotics prescribed by general practitioners, yet their cause is viral about 90 per cent of the time. What’s the harm? Antibiotic overuse can spawn resistance in fast-evolving bacteria, such as NDM-1 and the skin infection MRSA. Also, antibiotics can kill beneficial bacteria in your body. How to battle infections better
Ask your doctor if your condition could resolve itself without a prescription, or whether a firstline antibiotic, like amoxicillin or penicillin, would be more appropriate than a broad-spectrum antibiotic like azythromycin. When knees and muscles ache, wounded warriors dose up on “vitamin I” – ibuprofen. And if the recommended 400mg of magic relief from pain and swelling don’t quite do it, well, pop two more. So goes the logic that leads men to pop them like Tic Tacs. Ibuprofen is a painkiller that decreases the production of prostraglandins, which can act as pain and inflammation messengers. When used habitually, though, they deter those hormones from doing another vital job: generating tissue-building collagen. Injured bone, ligament and muscle can’t heal as quickly or grow at the same rate, says Stuart T. Warden, PhD, a US-based assistant professor specialising in physical therapy. “Taking ibuprofen before a workout won’t reduce soreness and can decrease the effectiveness of exercise,” he says. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also inhibit cyclooxygenase, an enzyme thought to be involved in the protection of heart and stomach linings. This can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, nausea, diarrhoea and intestinal bleeding. How to ease the pain
Stop the prophylactic pill-popping and head for the pool after your workout. “The best treatment for muscle soreness is gentle exercise, like hydrotherapy. So, walking or running in a pool for 20 minutes is one option,” says Dr Warden. The movement alleviates the fluid build-up that causes pain. Free radicals: They’re as scary as they sound. These cell-damaging molecules are thought to contribute to arthritis, diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease. Your potential lifesavers? Antioxidants. Those in betacarotene and vitamins C and E attack and neutralise the roaming free radicals. But antioxidant supplements are a different story. They might actually sideline your body’s antioxidant defences. In a German study, young men who exercised for four weeks saw an improvement in their sensitivity to insulin – a known exercise benefit that helps prevent type-2 diabetes – while those who exercised for four weeks while supplementing with vitamins C and E saw no boost. How to improve your immunity
Let nature do its thing Score your antioxidant infusion from a balanced diet; you’ll hedge your bets in favour of any still-unknown benefit and avoid mega-dosing. “It may be there is something in wholefood ‘packaging’ that makes the nutrients better absorbed or used than they would be in supplements,” says Dr Katherine Zeratsky, of the Mayo Clinic in the US.