It's been a while since we checked in with our friends in the white lab coats (motto: 'All the News That's Sure to Confuse'), so let's see what they've been up to lately.
It's summer now in the northern hemisphere, and in many places that means heat, humidity, and the Bad Hair Day from H*ll. Hot cars. Hot offices. No wonder we're a surly lot.
Not exactly, say some medical researchers. They think we're grumpy because of the low-carb craze. Call it what you want: Adkins, South Beach, whatever — the latest diet fad involves eating plenty of fats and proteins and cutting way back on carbohydrates (ie, the stuff that tastes good ). While a lot of people have been losing weight on such a regimen, they're also losing their sunny dispositions. Why? Because in spite of what your mothers may have told you, your brain does not run on protein. It runs on glucose. Sugar, in other words. Carbs. And if you don't eat enough carbs, your brain doesn't have enough fuel to operate at top capacity. Think about what happens if you put cheap gasoline in your car. It spits, sputters, misfires, and generally runs rough. That's your brain on Adkins. At least that's the latest theory from the White Lab Coat Brigade.
The previous diet craze, which recommended eating plenty of complex carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein, and cutting way back on fats, apparently didn't do a whole lot of good because people got fatter and fatter on their low-fat fare. So dieters are confused as well as surly. My opinion is that no one regimen is appropriate for everyone. A friend of mine, who happens to be diabetic, went on a very low-carbohydrate diet years ago, and it's the only thing that's been able to control her blood sugar. She feels wonderful. On the other hand, I gave Adkins a try a few years ago, and I must say that I was never surly but only because I felt too lousy to muster up a good snarl. Nowadays I inhale a few pounds of chocolate every week and stay happily svelte. So go figure.
As if dieters weren't having enough trouble, they have to deal with the social pressure to be thin. And it appears acceptable to discriminate against big people, particularly big ladies, at least in some circles. Earlier this year there was a hullabaloo over the sacking of opera singer Deborah Voigt by the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden because she wouldn't look good in the costume. Being one of the best singers in the world wasn't enough to save her from the humuliation of being publicly deemed 'too fat'.
What on earth were they thinking? This is opera, fer cryin' out loud. Did they never hear the expression 'It ain't over until the fat lady sings'?
The subsequent outcry was, ahem, operatic. Of course this sort of thing has been gonig on for years in the pop music arena. Hefty ladies with prodigious voices may be allowed to record, but it's likely that the video will feature some slim young thing lip-synching and shaking her smaller-and-supposedly-more-attractive booty. Interestingly, hefty male singers don't seem to have the same problems. The recently-retired tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who was known to enjoy his meals, never lost a role due to his girth, but he never had to wear a slinky black cocktail dress, either, for which we're all grateful I'm sure.
But I digress. Medical researchers have plenty of theories as to why we're too big and what to do about it. But the theories boil down to one simple thing: in many cases, we eat more calories than we burn up. On your feet, they say. Eat less and exercise more. Put on your running shoes and hit the road. Oh, and don't forget the sunscreen, right?
Of course not, you silly person! Some doctors are now saying ultraviolet light from the sun or a tanning machine can be good for you. Bear with me, please.
I believe that Americans have gone overboard with their fear of the sun. I think that sensible exposure to sunlight is really important for your overall health and well-being.
- Dr Michael Holick of Boston University
The reason sunlight is good for us is vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphate from food and is essential in the formation of bones and teeth. A deficiency of this vitamin causes rickets in children and osteomalacia1 or even osteoporosis in adults. Not only does vitamin D help keep bones strong, it appears to reduce the risk of other cancers. Recent studies on animals and some human surveys have suggested that it might help prevent breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Our skin manufactures the vitamin when it is exposed to ultraviolet light. In a study — you knew there'd be a study — Dr Holick looked at individuals who always wore a sunscreen before they went outside and found that, by the end of the summer, they were deficient in vitamin D. He also looked at young people who used tanning machines and found that, on average, they had greater bone density than those who did not use the machines.
There is disagreement, naturally, about just how much vitamin D we need. In the US, the Recommended Daily Allowance2 is 400 IU, but some researchers suggest getting much more than that for optimum health (but not too much because it can be toxic at high levels). A glass of vitamin D fortified milk supplies only 100 IU and a multivitamin only 400 IU. So many people need the sun in order to avoid deficiency.
Are you ready to bang your head against the wall? Well, don't, because there are studies linking head trauma to a number of really nasty ills such as Alzheimer's disease, brain cancer, and aneurysms. What I am going to do is grab a candy bar, pop a Deborah Voigt CD in my Walkmantm and go sit in the sun. Sometimes you just have to live dangerously.
- Keep up-to-date with the latest in medical advances and advice with BBC Health
- About Vitamin D from the US National Institute of Health
- About Low-Carb Diets