To repeat a tired cliché, health is definitely wealth. That’s why it’s no surprise that more and more Filipinos–especially those who are attempting to combat the drudgery of modern city living—are arming themselves with holistic exercise regimens, wholesome fresh food choices, and a activities that nourish their mental and emotional wellbeing.
The statistics have something to show for it, too. In its 2017 Annual Survey of Philippine Business and Industry (ASPBI), the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) revealed that the health and wellness sector was one of the top performers in the formal economy. The sector boasted an income generation of PHP 10.6 billion, and the ASPBI counted as many as 422 registered establishments and more than 9,000 registered employees. Not only are health and wellness businesses making a killing—new trends have also accumulated significant cultural capital, what with the rise of social media influencers and channels dedicated to health and wellness messaging.
But a guy sure can’t help asking: even if we are supposed to be concerned about our health and wellbeing, have some of the so-called health movements gone too far? What’s with all the strange obsession about things that could potentially be detrimental to our health? With every breath we take, are we incrementally poisoning ourselves?
In other words, how much of this tossing and turning about health is actually warranted? When do we draw the line between being healthy and kind to our bodies versus being swept into a state of debilitating paranoia?
Well, that’s what we feel like unpacking today. We aim to debunk some popular claims about health that have made their rounds both in the local and international spheres. We’ll identify three big myths, and identify what you should and shouldn’t believe about them.
And don’t forget, this is in support of the success and improvement of the Philippine health and wellness sector—and against sloppy or pseudo-scientific claims, unnecessary fear-mongering, and general myopia about what or what doesn’t make someone healthy.
Ready? Let’s get to reading!
How the Health and Wellness Craze Evolved Here and Around the World: Some Takeaways
The boom in health and wellness in the Philippines covers a wide range of interests, from skincare and fitness routines to fad diets and the preference for organic food product that are supposedly as close to nature as we can get. Cebu’s The Freeman, for its part, has recently written an interesting roundup of health food trends for Filipinos in 2018. Whereas last year we saw the rise of steamed cauli-rice, smoothie bowls, and cruelty-free cosmetics, this year we dabbled in super-powders like matcha and turmeric, sugar-free eating, and prebiotics.
Social media and aggressive local networking also have a part to play. Thanks to platforms like Facebook, Filipinos might already know about the likes of Food Babe and David “Avocado” Wolfe, as well as the GOOP empire created by lifestyle mogul Gwyneth Paltrow.
Up-and-coming Filipino entrepreneurs are not to be outdone either. Heck, at the next Christmas bazaar you’re headed to, you’ll probably encounter a load of “food supplements” labeled with a list of benefits three times longer than their ingredients. Plus, the local chapter of a big multi-level marketing (MLM) company may be shilling overpriced vitamins and instant weight loss solutions just nearby. You can bet that their recruiters are savvy, will quickly deal with questions, and won’t take no for an answer.
On the surface, these charismatic, creative, articulate, and exceptionally confident entrepreneurs and ambassadors might be credited for the new wave of curiosity in wellness and nutrition among people. But there’s a dark side to this type of health and wellness messaging. Though public interest in these disciplines may have increased, the level of clarity about important concepts may have been compromised along the way. Many Filipino consumers now continue to fall prey to simplistic but attractive sales pitches.
These endeavors can be classified as sloppy science at best and pseudoscientific at worst. In Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (1997), author Michael Shermer defines pseudoscience as “claims presented so that they appear [to be] scientific even though they lack supporting evidence and plausibility.” Shermer believes that people buy into these un-scientific approaches because they’re a source of comfort and certainty in a world that’s everything but.
Similarly, in a chapter for Science and Engineering Indicators titled “Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding” (2000), author Melissa Pollak discusses the harms that claims like these can inflict upon the general public: the impairment of critical thinking and informed decision-making, financial losses, reliance on band-aid solutions, and disappointment from unrealistic hopes and expectations.
Needless to say, there’s a pretty big subset of health- and wellness-related myths that fall under this subset. Fields like nutrition science are admittedly complex, and ordinary folks might not be equipped with enough basic knowledge of human physiology to discern fact from fiction—and experts from charlatans. They may not know that the latter will ignore or even completely skew scientific knowledge in order to fit it into their worldview or their chosen narrative. In these circumstances, skeptics have every right to examine holes in the logical, methodological, or rhetorical bases of each strange claim.
Moreover, maybe we ourselves can adopt a more skeptical view of these health trends. Some health and nutrition gurus might, for example, point their fingers haphazardly at commercial food and beverage manufacturers, as well at “big pharma,” effectively making them the bogeymen in the equation.
To an extent, some of their claims may be true, as some of these institutions and enterprises will be driven by corporate interests. For some of these organizations, it will forever be a push and pull between what’s good for consumers and what will rake in the profits.
But the point that we’re getting at is this: tackling issues in disciplines like health and nutrition is a complicated process. There are no easy answers. If there were—and if seasoned, licensed professionals could assert with the confidence and finality of “gurus” that X will completely cure Y—then don’t you think that our world would be free of disease, pain, and suffering by now?
Sadly, that’s not the case. Some of the shortcuts being peddled these days are actually pretty harmful, but the beliefs are selling like carb-less hotcakes. And that’s why we’re taking the opportunity to expose three of the most persistent health myths that you need to be careful of these days.
Myth #1: You Can “Detox” and “Cleanse” Your Body of Toxins with Magic Potions
Now, this is a craze that has made a comeback from its heydays in Ancient Egypt. Also known as “colon cleansing,” this myth perpetuates the idea that we need to flush toxins that have accumulated from our bodies through methods like a juice cleanse. The juices in question are often exquisite blends of multiple fruits, vegetables, and even spices. And you might observe, as in the shelves of local supermarkets or boutique health stores, that some of these drinks pack a hefty price.
There’s nothing wrong about downing a glass of fruit or vegetable juice per se. Fresh juice is delicious, and opting for it keeps us away from heavier sugar bombs like soft drinks, coffee shop beverages, or milk tea. But replacing three square and balanced meals a day for a set of juice bottles so that you can “detox” your body? Sorry, but we wouldn’t buy it.
Dr. James H. Grendell of the Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York, puts it succinctly: “The human body is well designed to eliminate wastes and toxins, and a number of organs play a role.” Look no further than your liver and your kidneys, which are what the human body uses daily to draw substances out of the bloodstream and excrete them naturally, i.e. by pooing or peeing.
Dr. Philip S. Chua, a cardiac surgeon who has practiced in Cebu and Northwest Indiana, also wishes to caution Filipinos on this new “snake oil” trend. Products like specialty juices are likely not tested by food and drug administrations for the efficacy of each health-boosting claim, and they are also not studied for potential long-term side effects and complications. Those who go on a juice cleanse are in danger of suffering dehydration, starvation, hypoglycemia, bowel perforation, and drops in blood pressure. And so, these “magic potions” are not the detox weapons they’re marketed to be.
- That your kidneys and liver do not do enough detoxification work if you’re a normal human being;
- A person or a company that shills juices that cleanse your body of toxins—without naming what exactly those toxins are.
Myth #2: All Chemicals Will Kill You
Welp, this is a difficult one to stomach. We never thought we’d all have to revisit our grade school science classes to dispel this very malignant class of conspiracy theories.
The general “anti-chemicals” stance is now prevalent not only in matters concerning food, but also in other commercial products like cosmetics, personal care items, and vaccines. Some so-called health practitioners advocate throwing out X, Y, and Z just because it contains one component that may give you cancer or any other condition.
This approach is particularly dangerous when used to attack modern medicine. Andrew Wakefield’s notoriously error-ridden and unethical study on how vaccines might increase the risk of autism, released by The Lancet in 1997, has already been proven false. And yet, it’s alarming how the anti-vaccine movement persists today. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children run the risk of spreading easily treatable conditions, like measles, polio, and whooping cough to other children.
The reasoning behind movements like this is usually that big pharma and conventional drug manufacturers are out to suck you dry of your money, and will kill your body with unnecessary “chemical” products because mass production is easier than investing in a cure—say for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and what have you.
But if we apply this faulty “anti-chemical” anything logic, we might as well draw the conclusion that we should never eat apples—because their seeds contain cyanide, and consuming cyanide could result in cardiac arrest and immediate death. Accordingly, we should also ban water, since water is also chemical with the particularly scary scientific name of dihydrogen monoxide. You see why that approach is wrong? It’s the kind of assumption that a dosage of a chemical—naturally occurring or not—could kill you regardless of form and amount.
- That food and drug companies don’t formulate their products in accordance with standards like that of the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US FDA for safe consumption;
- That the presence of ONE chemical in ONE product will automatically give you cancer, diabetes, autism, or other complex medical conditions.
Myth #3: “Pure” and “Raw” is Always Better
You’ll be surprised at how much traction this belief has gained because of super-strict and prescriptive diets, like the raw vegan and the raw Paleo diets. Proof of our world’s collective fall from grace: there are proponents who actually advocate consuming raw, unpasteurized milk (a potential carrier of E. coli and Salmonella) and raw, unfiltered water. Yes, raw, unfiltered, and unsanitized water, which has killed millions of people throughout history. Let that sink in for a moment before you read on.
A lot of the good things in life can be enjoyed raw, with their original flavors and nutrients intact. Who doesn’t love a good plate of properly prepared sashimi? And we’d probably do well to switch out those salt-laden potato chips for some crunchy carrot sticks.
But it is absolutely wrong to purport that the only way to get maximum nutritional value out of a food is to consume it raw. Self-styled nutrition guru Vani Hari, otherwise known as Food Babe, once asserted that food placed in the microwave would accumulate carcinogens and lose all of its nutritional value—a claim that’s been sufficiently proven false by the American Cancer Society. Another notable figure in the raw-foods-only fracas is David “Avocado” Wolfe, who misrepresents his health and nutrition credentials, and who peddles “raw chocolate” that may contain more calories gram per gram than an ordinary Hershey’s chocolate bar.
Simply put, many factors actually affect the nutritional value of food products meant for human consumption, and these include their quality, how they’re kept, how they’re cooked, and how much of them you’ll be eating.
- That a food is only healthiest in its raw and pure form;
- That your microwave is evil!
When it comes to matters of health and wellness, informed perspective is the key. Google could definitely help you check on a claim twice to see if it’s backed up by solid research. In addition, feel free to consult the pros, like doctors, licensed nutritionists, and actual scientists.
We do know the struggle of trying to lose weight, dodging imminent threats to our bodies, and in general, looking for a holistic way to feel good about ourselves. But, another cliché may afford us some timely wisdom: “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.”
Here’s to being in good health, and trusting that we’ll uncover the many mysteries of the human body and of the universe in due time without falling into too many scams along the way.