22 health lessons from the excellent BBC series “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor”

The BBC ran an excellent second series of three episodes of “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor”. You can dig into all their conclusions here. Here are the take away lessons from it:

1. Moderate amount of exercise every day is better than few intense gym sessions a week. Anything outdoors from walking to gardening is good enough to be considered moderate. Most exercises only have beneficial effects that last for 12–24 hours after exercise.

2. Coffee helps caffeine addicts to keep working at normal levels. This conclusion is a bit simplified because there may be a genetic component in the equation, which might mean the some people need it to keep working at normal levels not just because they are used to it.

3. Fatty foods are probably not going to cause acne or make it worse. Chocolate, or similar sweet things, might do. The science is scant.

4. E-cigarettes seem to be definitely better than cigarettes. But beyond the obvious harm of nicotine addiction, the jury is still out if they are harmless.

5. Less salt may not lower blood pressure, but it wouldn’t be harmful to eat less of it. What you should eat more, however, is potassium — found in broccoli, spinach, apricot and bananas.

6. Most claims about the benefits of omega-3 aren’t that strong. Eating fish, though, is beneficial to reducing heart attacks. But replacing fish with pills as a source of omega-3 does not have the same effect. This might be the case because it is a combination of nutrients in fish that provide the real benefits.

7. Best painkiller to start with is paracetamol, which can be taken in combination with caffeine, ibuprofen, codeine, or all together.

8. Instead of caffeine, chewing gum can increase alertness and sage pills can give a cognitive boost. Both of those might be beneficial without the downsides associated with caffeine (see point 2).

9. Cold pasta changes the structure of starch such that some of the carbs are converted into dietary fibre. It means you don’t get the high-carb load in the blood normally associated with pasta. Reheated pasta is even better than cold pasta, and it is tastier too.

10. Acupuncture may actually have a pain-relief effect. We don’t know how but studies are showing positive results!

11. UV-A, which we can get from the sun, lowers blood pressure and has a lasting effect. The decrease is only 2mm Hg, which is not much but still lowers chance of stroke by 10% and heart attack by 7%. For people with red hair, or if you burn instead of tan, or if you have a family history of melanoma, the sun may not be a solution for you. But for the rest (that is, most of us), the sun is beneficial.

12. It’s impossible to avoid BPA in plastics (bisphenol-A). There is little evidence that the concentration we consume it in is harmful.

13. Saturated fats in certain foods such as nuts or milk might be good. But jury is still out.

14. Vitamin C may not help fight a cold, but zinc supplements taken within first 24 hours can help (beware of side-effects though).

15. Vitamin D supplements work, so does fish and of course sun. But use supplements only when at risk of deficiency.

16. Energy drinks don’t have any more caffeine than normal coffee drinks that millions consume every day. Those with palpitation problems should avoid both.

17. Cold packs are for use on sudden injuries and can help reduce inflammation. Hot packs are for use to treat ongoing pains, such as neck or back pain, to relieve symptoms.

18. Meats after the use-by date should be thrown, but other foods could potentially be consumed. Remove the mouldy bits on breads, cheese and fruit, and you’re good to go. Consuming slimy food items, on the other hand, including those found on vegetables, are a bad idea. The slime tends to be of harmful bacterial origin, not benign fungal origin.

19. Two squares of dark chocolate every day is enough to get the benefits from flavonoids. You can rightly feel guilty if you eat more.

20. When it comes to added sugar in our diet, it is clear that it should be treated as a luxury item. Cutting down sugary drinks will go a long way to help, so would noticing hidden sugar in food items such as chocolate bars and cereal.

21. Waxing pulls the hair out from the follicles, which is why when they grow back it feels as if they are thinner. Shaving only cuts the hair, which makes them appear thicker and harder. However, if one leg is waxed and the other is shaved, you will find no difference between them 12 weeks on.

22. Garlic, beetroot and green leafy vegetables are quite good at reducing blood pressure.

Here is a link to lessons I learnt from the 2013 series of “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor”.

Image credit: BBC