Tag Archives: health fads

Why I’m not jumping on the turmeric bandwagon

Screenshot from 2018-09-10 09:43:50

 

In a faraway land, the native people have been using X root(or fruit, or spice) as a fountain of youth, the ultimate cure-all, and as an energy-booster for thousands of years. It has been recently “discovered” by western science, and its medicinal effects have been supposedly verified by scientific research. The list of health benefits is almost endless, and it is now taken as a supplement, put in lattes, teas, juices, face-masks, lotions, in practically everything! And one ever gets old or gets cancer again.

This sounds like turmeric, doesn’t it? Well of course it does! But it’s also the same exact trajectory for every other amazing “superfood” or exotic herb from the past 30 years. I remember when it was green tea, then goji berries, then countless other things. Now turmeric has taken center-stage.

Does it live up to the hype? Preliminary research does show turmeric has some anti-inflammatory effects — but so do a million other things. It’s also an antioxidant, but antioxidants as disease-preventers has been almost entirely discredited.

I admit I tried turmeric a bunch of times many years ago, and noticed no benefit, unless you call upset stomach a benefit. I really don’t have any use for it, except when enjoying spicy south Asian cuisine. While I frequently experience inflammation from all the running I do, that’s the body’s natural response to stress and muscle damage. The soreness and inflammation I often experience is well within the range of normal and so I just let the process take its course. “Lack of turmeric” is not a known medical or athletic condition.

However, many athletes regularly take turmeric for it’s anti-inflammatory effects to help speed recovery. It’s possible it actually is helpful for some athletes, and people with certain inflammatory medical conditions, but as I said before I mainly experience an upset stomach after taking turmeric.

Except for some epidemiological studies, there aren’t that many long-term placebo-controlled studies on turmeric and general health and turmeric and athletic performance. We don’t know what kind of side effects turmeric could cause when regularly taken in medicinal amounts(keep in mind that curcumin, the main medicinal chemical in turmeric is very poorly absorbed by the body). In this case I think it’s just best to leave well enough alone and not over-complicate my health and fitness regimen with something that may be useless or potentially harmful(though it’s unlikely to kill anyone). If you want to continue using it, great, but at least know all the relevant facts and please consult a health professional in case of contraindications.

Related articles:

Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine

Turmeric May Not Be a Miracle Spice After All

Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health

Is gluten-free the way to be?

A wheat field in Idaho

A wheat field in Idaho

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, you’re likely very much aware of the gluten-free diet craze that has swept the country. While it seems like it is “new”, its proponents use the exact same play-book as those who promote fat-free and carb-free diets to the public. The strategy is simple: identify one nutrient or food group as the culprit responsible for the obesity epidemic, and a laundry list of other serious health problems. Remove this food and your health will improve. This time it is gluten, which is simply a protein composite found in wheat and closely related grains, and gives wheat dough its well-known elasticity.

As unscientific as these eliminationist claims may be, there is often a grain of truth to them. While dietary fat may not be the main or only cause of obesity, too much of it isn’t good for you; the same is true of carbohydrate or anything for that matter. And while evidence for gluten being harmful to the general population is lacking, people with celiac disease, who are a tiny minority of the population(about 1%), absolutely have to avoid all gluten containing grains or they will experience severe gastrointestinal problems. There is a slightly larger percentage of the population that is sensitive to or allergic to gluten and wheat, and are better off avoiding it.

Just because some people have serious problems with a certain food doesn’t mean that the general population will benefit from avoiding that food. I’m allergic to bananas, but it would be nonsensical to advocate a banana-free diet to people who aren’t allergic to bananas.

Besides the fact that there are no recognized benefits for the general population, a gluten-free diet can be much more expensive, though it is unlikely to be harmful if a person is still eating a healthful diet otherwise. Ultimately, to help separate the wheat from the chaff, what does the scientific evidence say? According to Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population? in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

There is no evidence to suggest that following a gluten-free diet has any significant benefits in the general population. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that a gluten-free diet may adversely affect gut health in those without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.31 Additional research is needed to clarify the health effects of gluten, and potential consequences of avoiding gluten-containing grains.

So it looks like the general population is unlikely to derive any benefits from a gluten-free diet. If you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease or wheat allergy by a medical doctor, you are unlikely to benefit.