(WHAT TO DO AND WHAT TO AVOID TO LIVE LONGER & BETTER, BASED ON INTERVIEWS WITH DOZENS OF DOCTORS & MORE THAN 150 STUDIES)

A Stronger Heart!      Fad: COCONUT OIL…..It sounds exotic, internet “experts” swear by it and a book called The Coconut Oil Miracle is in its fifth edition.  But, “There are no known benefits of coconut oil,” says Steven E Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.  Coconut oil is 82 percent saturated fat—30 percent more than butter.

                                    Fail: ANTIOXIDANT SUPPLEMENTS…..Eating lots of fruit and vegetables can slash your risk of heart attack by 30 percent, in part due to an abundance of antioxidants—nutrients that cool inflammation and reduce plaque in your arteries.  But research shows that antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E and beta-carotene have no heart benefits when taken in pill form. In fact, high doses could indirectly hurt heart health by messing with the natural production of antioxidants.

                                    Fail: HIGH-FIBER JUNK FOOD…..Yes, fiber helps control cholesterol and lower diabetes risk.  But if you pack fiber into snack bars and other sweets, the sugar can do more damage than the fiber does good.  Even though the Food and Drug Administration allows food with added fiber to have heart-health claims on its labels, you should also focus on the sugar level when assessing food to buy.

                                    Fail: HOMEBLOOD-PRESSURE MONITORS (Unless you do this)…..If you’re among the 51 percent of 35-to-64 year-olds who use a blood pressure monitor at home, you get an A for effort.  But 70 percent of home devices were off by at least 5 point in a 2017 University of Alberta study. For an A in your final grade, take yours to a doctor’s appointment once a year and compare results with a doctor’s monitor.  You may simply need a bigger blood pressure cuff, the researchers note.

                                   Fail: FISH OIL TABLETS…..These supplements don’t lower heart attack risk at all, according to a large Oxford University analysis involving more than 77,000 people.  Because over-the-counter supplements aren’t regulated, “It’s not always clear what you’re getting,” says David Becker, a cardiologist with the Temple Heart and Vascular Institute in Philadelphia.  Eat fish, not pills.

FIXES:  A HANDFUL OF NUTS…..The tastiest news in heart disease prevention has to be the power of nuts to help cut heart attack risk by 30 percent.  That’s what happened when people in a Spanish study added a small handful of nuts a day to an already healthy Mediterranean-style diet (plenty of produce, whole grains, lean protein).  One caveat: Nuts are high in calories, which could lead to weight gain that could undermine any heart benefits you might otherwise see.

FIXES:  SLOW-FAST WORKOUTS…..Couch potatoes in their 50s rebuilt heart strength and function with a doable exercise routine made up mostly of walking.  The weekly workout used in the UT Southwestern Medical Center study looks like this:

  • 1-2 days:  30 minutes moderate-intensity exercise like a brisk walk.
  • 1 day:  60-minute session of the same.
  • 1 day:  30 minutes of interval training (say, several four-minute bursts of high-speed walking, broken up by a slower pace to recover).
  • 1-2 days:  strength training sessions using weights or exercise machines.

A Happy Stomach! Fad:  GLUTEN FREE ‘JUST BECAUSE’…..A 2013 survey showed that nearly 30 percent of US Adults were trying to minimize or avoid gluten.  That makes sense if you have celiac disease or other symptoms of gluten sensitivity. Not for everyone else. A study published in 2017 of more than 110,000 people found that going gluten free could raise the risk of heart disease.  “Cereals and grains have important health benefits,” says Shajan P Sugandha, a gastroenterologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Fail:  COLON CLEANSE…..This involves putting large volumes of liquid into the rectum to detoxify the body, enhance immunity and fight disease.  “It’s based off misinformation that things sit in your colon for years, which is ridiculous,” says John Pandolfino, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.  Risks include cramping, pain, nausea, potentially fatal electrolyte imbalance, renal failure and gut perforations.

Fail:  PREBIOTIC SUPPLEMENTS…..These nondigestible fiber compounds promise to decrease inflammation and lower your risk of disease.  Save your money, says Stacy Sims, a senior research fellow at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. The supplements are expensive—about $20 a bottle.  And, she says, “You may not need to promote the growth of the bacteria they’re promising to promote.” Instead, eat foods that are rich in prebiotics, such as garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, dandelion greens and Jerusalem artichokes.

Fail:  PROBIOTIC FOODS…..Stores sell bacteria-spiked foods like dark chocolate and muffin mixes, not to mention probiotic pills.  Don’t buy in. “Though supplements have large numbers of bacteria, they’re often not diverse—and the gut biome is extremely diverse,” Sims says.  You should consume naturally probiotic-rich, unpasteurized fermented foods and drinks like yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha.

FIXES:  PEPPERMINT OIL…..A review of 121 trials found that peppermint oil is effective at treating irritable bowel syndrome.  “The menthol, its main constituent, has a very relaxing effect on the GI tract,” says Rosario Ligresti, M.D., director of the Pancreas Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

FIXES:  FECAL TRANSPLANT…..Donor stool with healthy bacteria is inserted into a patient’s colon to alter the flora and treat ailments such as lupus and diabetes.  “People have pooh-poohed this idea for years,” Ligresti says. “But we now know that, for certain conditions, it can change your life almost overnight.” In a study of 30 people (average age 67) with inflamed colons from C. difficile infections, 29 recovered through this therapy.

Smoother Skin:    Fad:  MICRONEEDLING…..This beauty trend involves poking tiny holes in your skin, using a device that looks like a lint roller covered in short needles.  The procedure stimulates the production of collagen, the skin’s main structural protein, and purports to firm your face and give it a more youthful appearance.  “This is a fad that actually works,” says Tina Alster, a clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. The procedure has come to rival the use of lasers in dermatologists’ offices, but Alster, founding director of the Washington Institure of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, says home devices can also be effective.  Such dermal rollers commonly sell for about $25 and up. Makers claim the procedure is painless; reports can vary.

Fails:  COLLAGEN CREAMS…..Collagen does work as an injectable to decrease wrinkles.  However, you can rub it into the skin all day long, and there’s no science that says it’s going to do anything.

Fails:  HEMORRHOID CREAM FOR PUFFY EYES…..A lot of people swear by dabbing Preparation H around the eyes to shrink swelling.  And while it does work, you should save it for special occasions. Most hemorrhoid creams contain hydrocortisone, which can thin the skin with extended use.

Fails:  PLACENTA CREAMS…..Fillers, creams and facials containing placenta (and the stem cells inside) have become a skin rejuvenation craze, but don’t run so fast to buy them.  There’s no scientific research confirming that fillers or creams containing placenta will affect your skin. And while stem cells can be miraculous in causing cells to grow, they may also present a risk that cancer cells will grow.  “Stem cells can go rogue,” Alster says. “There has not been enough research to show the long-term safety of them.”

Fails:  WATER…..Drinking water won’t improve the look of your skin, unless you’re already dehydrated.  “If you’re hydrated and you drink more water, you just go to the bathroom more,” Alster says. “For your skin’s sake, hydrate from the outside in, not from the inside out.”  In other words: Moisturizing can be more beneficial to the skin than drinking extra water.

FIXES:  HYALURONIC ACID…..As we age, collagen and hyaluronic acid (HA) both diminish.  Collagen injections are old news; the latest procedure is to inject HA into the wrinkle.  Common brands are Juvederm and Restylane. Not only does HA plump up the wrinkle, it is a surfactant, which attracts water to the area for further lifting.  “Hyaluronic acid is what makes babies’ cheeks chubby, and aby adding it to all the right places, we can restore contour,” says Patricia Farris, a dermatologist in New Orleans.  Look for HA pills, too. A recent study showed that oral ingestion of HA for 12 weeks in people 59 and under suppressed wrinkles and improved skin luster.

FIXES:  CONED SUTURES…..A decade ago, dermatologists and plastic surgeons inserted permanent barbed sutures under the skin to create lift in sagging jawlines and other facial areas.  But the sutures were prone to infection. “After a while, you could see some of the strings too, and people looked like marionettes,” Alster says. The sutures soon fell out of favor, but their new and improved cousin, InstaLift, is all the rage now.  These coned sutures, which doctors slide under the skin using a local anesthetic, dissolve in about two years. While under your skin, they also stimulate collagen production so that, even after they dissolve, your face shouldn’t come crashing down.

FIXES:  LASERS FOR LIVER SPOTS……People are increasingly using pigment-specific lasers—the kind usually used to remove tattoos—to treat liver spots.  These lasers can be effective at blasting away a liver spot or two without a big recovery. If your liver spots are plentiful, more intensive ablative laser treatments are renowned for producing fast and excellent results, but recovery takes up to three weeks.

Relief from Pain:   Fad:  Cupping…..Much of the world discovered cupping when swimmer Michael Phelps revealed large circular bruises on his back during the 2016 Olympics.  This pain-relief fad has only grown since. Used in traditional Chinese medicine, hot glass cups are placed along sensitive trigger points on the body to create suction.  “It increases blood flow and can reduce muscle tension, which causes an increased sense of overall well-being,” says Stacey Simons of Simons Physical Therapy in Tucson AZ. However, “many patients will say that they have had no relief with it at all.”

Fails:  DAITH PIERCINGS…..Some people who have found acupuncture helpful as a short-term treatment for reducing migraines are now getting their daith (the innermost cartilage fold of the outer ear) pierced, in the hopes that this will provide a more permanent end to their headache hell.   While it may have a placebo effect, there is no research to indicate that this sometimes-painful piercing will affect the symptoms or frequency of chronic headaches.

Fails:  SOFT NECK COLLAR…..If you’ve thought of purchasing a soft neck collar to wear during the day for neck pain, you should think again.  While they do provide some support to the spine, the collars are best used at night. Extended daytime usage can actually weaken supporting muscles and structures in the neck, leaving you with less stability and ongoing neck problems.  

FIXES:  DRY NEEDLING…..Although it looks similar to acupuncture, dry needling has been around for only a decade.  Whereas acupuncture is designed to remove blockages and restore chi (healing energy), dry needling is used to reduce muscular pain and has shown short-term success.  The theory goes that the needle, inserted into a trigger point, causes biochemical changes that help reduce pain and create twitch responses that help the muscle to relax.

FIXES:  ROLLERS…..It may feel silly, but getting down on the floor and rolling out those kinks in your back with a tennis ball or a long foam roller can make you feel better if you’re aching.  Simons says these items release sensitive spots in the muscles or connective tissue, also known as trigger points. Do you have difficulty getting down on the floor? Put that tennis ball or foam roller between you and the wall and get rolling for up to five minutes.  

(as written in AARP Bulletin, May 2018)