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Health Habits So Unhealthy They'll Destroy Your Life

Stop doing these things, immediately.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to health—but many people have no idea their everyday habits are causing harm. "In the US we tend to spend outlandishly on developing fancy drugs and other treatments for diseases, rather than on trying to prevent them. This is a big problem," says Monique Tello, MD, MPH. Here are five habits so unhealthy they could endanger your life. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Too Much Water

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Excessive water ingestion can lead to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia, where there is low blood sodium as a result of too much water. "Kidneys can excrete up to 28 liters of fluid in a day, but only one liter an hour," says Christina Lang, MD, internal medicine and pediatric physician at UCHealth in Fort Collins. "Drinking more than this can lead to water intoxication and electrolyte imbalances. This can lead to dangerous fluid shifts into the cells of the body, particularly the brain. With excessive water drinking, above what the kidney can excrete and/or without replacement of electrolytes (sodium, potassium), a person can have swelling of the brain (cerebral edema), which can be fatal." 

2

Over-Exercising

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Exercising to the point of causing damage to your body can have long-term ramifications, experts say. "When your body exercises, cellular damage occurs," says Dr. David A. Greuner, cardiovascular surgeon and Surgical Director at NYC Surgical Associates. "This is because you are training to some degree past your comfort zone, which results in your body adapting to become stronger. So, for a time after exercise, you'll typically feel sore, or fatigued. Your body then needs time to rebuild the damage to become stronger. If you cause a significant amount of stress to your body while it has not had time to repair itself, overtraining occurs."

3

Orthorexia

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An unhealthy obsession with "clean eating" can lead to serious eating disorders, experts say. "Someone with orthorexia is specifically concerned with having really healthy foods in their body, with an unhealthy obsession over the quality of the food," says Terri Griffith, a clinical coordinator at the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.

"Ultimately, orthorexia can have severe consequences resulting in malnutrition and other serious health implications," says Lauren Smolar, senior director of programs at the National Eating Disorders Association.

4

Supplements

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Dietary supplements land thousands of people in the ER every year. The FDA classes supplements as food, so knowing what's safe and what isn't can be tricky. "This has huge consequences for the whole category of dietary supplements—from vitamins, minerals, probiotics and all sorts of new ingredients," says Pieter Cohen, MD, internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "What it means is that the manufacturer can introduce anything into the market that they believe is safe. The FDA's job is to identify the products that are causing harm after they've been on the market and remove them from store shelves… Because the FDA isn't vetting these products before they show up on store shelves or on the internet, what happens is that they can pose unpredictable risks."

5

Intermittent Fasting If You Have Diabetes

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People with blood sugar issues should talk to a doctor before attempting intermittent fasting (IF), or time restricted feeding (TRF). "Both IF and TRF will drop a person's glucose levels, meaning that medication adjustments are necessary to avoid hypoglycemia during the period of calorie restriction," says diabetes expert Dr. Robert Ratner. "Changes in eating patterns on a daily basis will also require medication adjustments to keep glucose levels in range."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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