Hello and welcome to the Nutrition Facts podcast, I’m your host Dr. Michael Greger.
Now, I know I’ve made a name for myself in explaining how not to do certain things – just look at my books – How NOT to Die – and my upcoming book, How NOT to Diet. But what I want to share with you is actually quite positive: what’s the best way to live a healthy life? Here are some answers.
It’s time for the nutrition facts grab bag, where we look at the latest science on a whole variety of topics. First up, the effects of cell phone radiation. And while that sounds a little scary, today we look at the effects that cell phones have on the quality of our sleep.
“Sleep is crucial to the development of physically and psychologically healthy children,” but a number of factors have been identified as interfering with sufficient sleep, including the use of electronic media devices. These days, most children, and nearly all adolescents, “have at least one such device in their sleep environment, with most used near bedtime.” And such use is associated with “inadequate sleep quantity and quality, with resultant excessive daytime sleepiness.” So, there are calls “to minimize device access at bedtime.” But, wait a second; not so fast; “which came first, the media use or sleep problem?” Are they not sleeping because they’re on their phone, or are they on their phone because they can’t sleep?
“Higher media use has been consistently associated with all sorts of sleeping problems.” Is it because they’re so caught up they push back their bedtime? Or does it so kind of key them up that they have trouble falling asleep? In college-age students it may be more of the reverse: the not sleeping leading to pulling out their screens instead of just staring at the ceiling though in early childhood it may be a bit of both. How might screen time interfere with sleep?
It may not just be pushing back bedtimes and overstimulation. “The light emitted from devices may affect circadian timing” by interfering with the production of melatonin, the sleepiness hormone that starts ramping up as soon as the sun goes down. But put a screen in someone’s face, and the excess light at night may confuse your brain. Look, of course, if you’re sitting there checking email with the lights on, then you’re already overexposed, and the little extra from the screen may not make much of a difference. But if you are sitting in the dark and need to send off that final text, then having the light settings tweaked to yellow your screen may help.
But what about the cell phone radiation? Might leaving your phone on the nightstand somehow affect your sleep? There’s an enzyme called ß-trace protein that makes a sleep-promoting neurohormone in the brain, and researchers found that those with greater long-term cell or cordless phone exposure tended to have lower levels of this enzyme in their bloodstream. So, the thinking is that the emissions “may affect the release” from the tissues surrounding the brain, especially those right up under the skull, closest to the phone. So, there is a kind of possible mechanism if cell phones do indeed affect sleep, but you simply don’t know until you put to the test.
Study participants were exposed to 30 minutes of a cell phone in talk, listen, standby, or off modes. All the lights and speakers were disabled. There was insulation used to prevent them from feeling if it was heating up or anything, so the participants didn’t know which group they were in. After the exposure, they took the phones away, shut off the lights, and told them to try to fall asleep. Those exposed to the phone when it was off, or in listen or standby mode fell asleep within about 20 to 30 minutes, but after being exposed to the same phone in talk mode, it took an average of closer to 50 minutes to fall asleep.
The reason for the significant difference between talking and listening might be due to the fact that the typical SAR value, the specific absorption rate, how much cell phone energy your body absorbs is about nine times higher when you’re talking than when you’re just listening to someone else talk.
When you do finally get to sleep, though, what are the effects of cell phone exposure on sleep quality? There’s been about 20 studies, split about half and half in terms of whether cell phone exposure affected sleep parameters, and not all in a negative way. It reminds me of the brain function data. Yeah, an increase in the excitability in the brain cortex, the outer layer of the brain in response to exposure to cell phone emissions might disrupt sleep, but that increased excitability may mean like faster reaction times.
Similarly, in affected study subjects, those exposed to an active cell phone showed significantly more R sleep. But R stands for REM, so they got like 4 percent more potential dream time; so, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In our next story we ask, who has the healthiest thoughts, attitudes, and habits regarding food? Here are some answers.
At the turn of the century, if you would have asked teens why they chose to eat vegetarian, most might say they do it because they don’t want to kill animals, followed by wanting to eat a healthier diet. More recently, “to help the environment” became a leading reason among young people, followed by eating healthier, and then animals. A smaller fraction gave weight loss as a reason. Yeah, they might think it’s healthier, and care about animals and the environment, but they also might be doing it for weight-loss reasons. Yes, we’re in the midst of an “obesity epidemic,” but there’s also been a rise in eating disorders. Might vegetarianism be a red flag for the presence of an eating disorder?
A survey of adolescent and young adult vegetarians found they tended to eat better and have healthier body weights, but those who ate vegetarian were also more likely to report eating disorder-type behaviors. “It’s important, however,” commentators were quick to point out, “not to suggest that vegetarian diets cause eating disorders.” When people start eating more plant-based, their risk for chronic diseases goes down, not up. Maybe it’s the “children who have not yet adopted a vegetarian diet who require our special attention, as they have poorer diets and are at significantly higher risk for obesity.”
To which the authors responded, yes, they “agree that vegetarianism does not cause eating disorders”; they’re just saying that one should explore with them why they’re doing it. “While it is important to recognize the potential health benefits, it is also important to investigate a teen’s motives for adopting a vegetarian diet.” See, “studies have shown that adolescents who have symptoms of eating disorders may then go on to adopt a vegetarian diet as a weight-loss method, as a socially acceptable way of avoiding eating.” So, rather than an increased prevalence of eating disorders among those who eat vegetarian, there may be an “increased prevalence of vegetarianism” among those with eating disorders.
See, the study was just a snapshot in time; so, they couldn’t tell which came first. Might eating vegetarian just be “a way to disguise food restriction during the early stages of an eating disorder? Or does experience with vegetarianism increase vulnerability for the development of eating disorders in the first place?” To answer the question, you need to know which came first. And, in most cases, eating vegetarian came at least a year after the first eating-disorder symptoms. Similarly, in a series of anorexics, in fewer than 1 in 10 “did meat avoidance predate the onset of their disease.”
It’s this kind of data that led the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to conclude that “prior use of a vegetarian or vegan diet does not appear to increase the risk of an eating disorder.” In fact, they may have even lower dietary restraint scores. “Dietary restraint represents the conscious limitation of food intake,” the perception of constantly having to limit food intake “to prevent weight gain.” Perhaps the reason vegetarian women exhibited less restrained eating is because they really didn’t need to worry as much, because plant foods are just calorically less dense. “This could translate into less concern or stress when it comes to eating,” which may, in turn, help explain why they saw fewer ovulatory disturbances among women eating vegetarian. In fact, maybe that’s one of the reasons vegans report less stress and anxiety. Perhaps one of the reasons increasingly restricting animal foods is associated with better mood is that vegans reported dieting significantly less, and that’s one of the things that seems to be stressing women out.
And vegans and true vegetarians didn’t just have significantly lower levels of restrained eating, but also less emotional eating, less compulsive eating, and “greater levels of acceptance in relation to food.” “This highlights previously unacknowledged positive aspects of adhering to a completely meat or animal product free diet” when it comes to thinking about food, though we don’t know if this actually translates into protection “against developing disordered eating.” “Vegans appear to have the healthiest attitudes towards food, closely followed by vegetarians.”
But no one had actually taken a large sample of vegans and just put them through the EDE-Q, which is one of the most widely used diagnostic tools, until now. “The first large sample of vegans to complete the official Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire. And, vegans scored significantly lower, significantly better, consistent with the data showing vegans tended to diet less frequently. “Taken together, these findings suggest that vegans and omnivores don’t differ markedly in reported eating attitudes and behaviors, and when they do, vegans appear to endorse overall healthier thoughts and habits.”
Finally, today a bit of useful information about the safety of marijuana edibles.
Smoking marijuana “can create respiratory problems.” And so, vaporized cannabis is one alternative. But what about eating it?
“Vaping is likely less harmful than smoking,” and marijuana edibles are another alternative, but may carry increased risks to children and increased risk of overdosing. I’d add a third risk to that, and that’s pets. “Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, edibles comprise almost half of total cannabis sales,” and a “significant correlation” was found between the rise in use and the rise in marijuana toxicosis cases at veterinary hospitals, contributing, they think, to two dog deaths in the state.
Thankfully, “there have been no reported deaths among children from marijuana exposure,” though some have ended up on life support as an edible marijuana overdose can “lead to severe respiratory depression.” Colorado regional poison control cases did increase significantly after recreational pot became legal, and at a higher rate than the rest of the United States, which is one reason the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to oppose legalization.
Some states have since banned selling marijuana-infused candy with that kind of imagery, but to play it safe, maybe we shouldn’t be making cannabis candy at all.
“To put this in perspective,” though, “the Rocky Mountain Poison Center” reported thousands of kids in Colorado “required treatment after accidentally ingesting things like cosmetics and vitamins,” compared to the relatively few cases involving marijuana edibles. And you want to talk about poisoning deaths? How about alcohol? Whereas deaths attributed to marijuana are few and far between, though, there have been a few.
The problem is that you may not feel an effect from edibles for an hour or two after consumption, and so, you don’t know how much to take, and may then over-consume after an hour since you haven’t felt anything yet. But it takes like three hours for cannabis compounds to peak in your bloodstream, compared to just like 10 minutes when you smoke it, and at least that first full hour to really feel much.
That’s what happened right after legalization in Colorado. A 19-year-old died after consuming a marijuana cookie. He had one piece, twiddled his thumbs for 30 to 60 minutes, didn’t feel anything, so ate the rest of the cookie. Two-and-a-half hours later, he jumped to his death off a fourth-floor balcony. A month later, a second guy apparently went psychotic and fatally shot his wife while she was calling 911 for help.
A common story for these kinds of cases was eating the recommended serving size, feeling nothing, and so, then deciding to eat the rest, ending up restrained in the psych ward complaining that they’re god or mutilating themselves because “friends wanted their energy back.”
The marijuana industry responded by basically blaming the victims, saying look, “No one buys a bottle of Jim Beam and thinks they should consume it all in one sitting.” Yeah, but people do expect to be able to eat a whole cookie. I mean, who eats just one-tenth of a cookie?
I mean, you look at other over-the-counter products, and there’s specific labeling as to dosing and warnings. “It seems odd that edible cannabis was not held to the same standard as a bottle of Tylenol.” In 2016, Colorado Regulators did enact new rules for labeling edibles, including their THC content, right on the labels. How accurate are those labels, though? We didn’t know, until they were put to the test. “Of 75 products purchased, involving 47 different brands of edibles, only 17% were accurately labeled.” Only about one in six came within 10% of the labeled value. “The greatest likelihood of obtaining more-than-you-bargained-for products was in Los Angeles,” whereas Seattle seemed to tend to over-inflate their labels.
It’s hard to study marijuana of any kind, due to illegality, but based on a hundred thousand tweets about edibles, most people, it seems expressed a “positive opinion,” for what it’s worth.
One unexpected benefit arose in a focus group of teens on marijuana edibles. Several students in high school, it seemed, were eager “to learn how to cook,”
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