25 Ways You're Damaging Your Health and Don't Even Know It
Sure, we all know that eating junk food, avoiding exercise, and drinking like Jimmy McNulty isn't going to do any favors for your health and overall well-being. However, did you know there are many other habits, rituals, and practices most of us engage in that are also damaging our health—only we have no idea?
Eat This, Not That! Health spoke to some of the top health and medical experts around the country to reveal all the ways that we are inadvertently doing harming ourselves.
Eating Anything That Has Been Tainted With This Chemical
You might think you are eating a super-healthy diet, but are in fact consuming dangerous chemicals. "Most grain and soy products in North America are sprayed with glyphosate, a known carcinogen and gut microbiome disruptor," explains Dr. Steven Gundry, MD, medical director at The International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine and the New York Times best-selling author of The Plant Paradox and The Plant Paradox Cookbook. Basically, we unwittingly eat glyphosate while eating "healthy" whole grain products. He points out that even new plant-based hamburger meat products may have glyphosate in them—as well as most of our animal products like chicken, beef or pork, as most are fed with these same tainted grains and/or soy.
The Rx: In order to avoid eating foods tainted by glyphosate, there are a number of things you can do. Eat organically, eat locally by shopping at your farmer's market for meat and produce, or grow your own produce.
Consuming Too Much Gluten
Dr. Gundry points out that the vast majority of whole grain products are loaded with plant proteins called lectins which are part of the plant's defense system against being eaten. "As The Plant Paradox series show, lectins are major causes of leaky gut, arthritis, depression, weight gain and brain and heart disease as well as autoimmune diseases," he explains.
The Rx: Reduce your gluten consumption. "As I have reported at The American Heart Association, most patients who remove gluten and other lectin-containing foods resolve autoimmune issues and leaky gut within months," he says.
Adding Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners might be a zero-calorie sugar-free alternative, but they aren't doing any wonders for your digestive system. "Most people who use artificial sweeteners have no idea that they are destroying and altering their gut bacteria, the microbiome with every packet, the same bacteria that have the potential to keep them lean and happy," Dr. Gundry says.
The Rx: Try to avoid artificial sweeteners. If you need a boost of sweet, you can always opt for a natural sweetener such as stevia.
Bad Sleeping Positions
You might not realize it, but certain positions while sleeping can damage your health. "Many people will sleep every night on their sides in the fetal position. While this seems harmless, this sleeping position can actually be detrimental to your health," points out David Greuner, MD, of NYC Surgical Associates. "When you sleep like this, it cuts your diaphragm's free range down which can cause back pain as well as issues with your lungs."
The Rx: Try another sleeping position. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the healthiest way to sleep in on your back.
Not Hydrating Properly
It can be hard to remember to drink enough fluids. But try and remember it can be hazardous to your health. "Vein insufficiency can be amplified due to dehydration," explains Dr. Greuner. "When you are hydrated your blood is thinner and flows better. When your blood is thicker, it can make vein insufficiency problems worse."
The Rx: Drink lots of fluids! The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences recommends 2.7 (11 cups) liters to 3.7 liters (nearly 16 cups) per day. "Make sure to stay hydrated to keep your entire body healthy including your veins!" says Dr. Greuner.
Buying "Organic" Packaged Foods
Just because a product is called "organic" doesn't mean it is good for you. "Many packaged products are highly processed, and may contain many unhealthy ingredients," points out Talia Segal Fidler, MS, HHC, AADP, nutritionist at The Lodge at Woodloch. For example, they may contain a high sugar content. "Even though it is organic, it is still sugar and still a processed product."
The Rx: Remember that processed food is processed food and sugar is sugar—even if it has an organic label on it.
Drinking Fruit Juice
Most of us were raised believing that drinking fruit juice was actually good for you. However, Fidler points out that many fruit juices are loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. "There are hardly any connections between the fruits and that beverage," she explains. "You are basically only consuming sugar!"
The Rx: If you are going to drink juice, look for ones that are 100 percent juice and no added sugar. Better yet, eat a piece of fruit instead, so you get the belly-filling fiber.
Eating Yogurt with Added Sugar
Eating yogurt that has added fruits, or giving it to children thinking it is a good thing, is pretty common. Unfortunately, Fidler points out that those "fruits" are loaded with unhealthy sugar which defeats the purpose.
The Rx: "A better choice is to buy plain organic yogurt and add freshly cut fruits to it," Fidler suggests. "For extra sweetness you can add a bit of local honey."
Eating a Lot of Large Fish, Such as Tuna
Sure, many fish are high in good fats and can be a great addition to your diet. However, Fidler points out that size matters when it comes to just how healthy a swimmer is. "The larger the fish, the more likely that it may have a high mercury levels and other toxins," she explains. This is due to the fact that the fish has lived longer and accumulated toxins overtime.
The Rx: Fidler suggests eating smaller fish, such as sardines, mackerel anchovies etc. Or, opt for a deep-water fish that isn't exposed to the same toxins.
Consuming Farm Raised Salmon
While farm raised salmon may boast health benefits in the form of omega 3 fatty acids, they can also be contaminated with toxins, explains Fidler. According to one study, it is higher in cancer-causing pollutants.
The Rx: "Salmon needs to be chosen carefully," says Fidler. "Wild caught is always best, and try and avoid farm-raised fish!"
Eating Gluten-Free—But Not Being Aware Of Ingredients
While a gluten-free diet may be beneficial for some people, if you aren't mindful about substitutions you may doing more harm than good. "If we are still buying baked goods that are loaded with unhealthy hydrogenated fats, preservatives, additives, sugar, we are still consuming processed foods as well as high-caloric flours and starches," points out Fidler.
The Rx: Read your labels! If you aren't sure what an ingredient is, do your research.
The keto diet may be one of the trendiest of the last few years, but it can result in consuming way too many animal products, points out Fidler. This can result in constipation, bad breath, and acidity in the body. "Many animals are treated with antibiotics, hormones and are raised in factory-like conditions that can affect the person who is consuming the product," she explains.
The Rx: Try and keep your diet as plant based as possible! There is a good reason the Mediterranean diet is consistently chosen by experts as one of the healthiest on the planet.
Prolonged sitting can lead to numerous health issues, explains Joanne C. Skaggs, MD, Internal Medicine at OU Medicine in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. "We know that most people don't get enough exercise. But even for those who meet the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) physical activity guidelines for Americans, if they sit the rest of the time, they have worse health outcomes!" adds Samantha Smith, MD, a Yale Medicine sports medicine doctor in the Department of Orthopedics. "Our bodies evolved to keep moving, and modern office life is not conducive to that."
The Rx: "Be sure to move more and sit less," Dr. Skaggs says. "The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week with emphasis on muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week. This can prolong your life." Dr. Smith also suggests setting a timer to remind yourself to get up and walk around. "Every step counts!" she maintains.
"Toughing It Out" During An Illness
So many people opt to avoid the doctor and try and force themselves to function as usual when they aren't feeling well. "Pushing through to get things done further stresses your immune system and can lead to more serious complications of the illness," points out Rachel Franklin, MD, Medical Director, OU, Physicians Family Medicine in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Rx: Take the time to recover by getting the rest your body needs!
Over Streaming Before Bed
Binging your favorite shows on Netflix right before bed can have a serious impact on your health, according to Dr. Franklin. "Besides taking time away from your sleep schedule, this can also lead to chronic insomnia," she points out.
The Rx: Turn off your television or tablet and give yourself an ample amount of time to unwind before bedtime.
Not Eating Enough Fiber
Just like not drinking enough water, many people fail to consume enough fiber. "Fiber is essential for proper digestion and weight loss" says Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, PA. "Fiber helps fill you up which makes you eat less, but also offers nutrition value which your body needs." He also points out that when people do fad diets—such as juicing cleanses—they lose the valuable fiber from fruits and vegetables.
The Rx: Dr. Conrad suggests adding valuable fiber to your diet for health and weight management. "Try adding chia seeds and flax seeds to oatmeal, yogurt, or on top of salads," he says. "Vegetables like broccoli and Brussel sprouts are also high in fiber."
Your mom didn't yell at you for slouching just because of the way it looks. "Slouching at your desk or while walking may feel harmless, but over time it can lead to poor muscular balances and degenerative changes in your spine," Dr. Thanu Jey, DC, Clinic Director at Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic explains.
The Rx: Since posture is simply a habit that magnifies over time, Dr. Jey urges the importance of understanding what good posture is. "Whenever you find yourself slouching, cue yourself to straighten your back, pull your shoulders back, and stack your head back over your shoulders."
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Don't skimp on sleep, urges Monique May, MD. "By not getting the recommended amount of sleep per night, you increase the risk for problems such as fatigue, obesity, high blood pressure, memory and concentration problems, stroke, depression, and advanced signs of aging."
The Rx: Getting enough sleep—that's seven to nine hours for most healthy adults—should be made a priority. "Things you can do to foster good sleep habits include going to bed and waking up at the same time (even on weekends), avoiding caffeine late in the day, getting regular exercise, and not watching TV or using a computer or phone in the bed," Dr. May explains. Also, eliminating the blue light from all screens (TV, phone, computer, and tablet) helps to keep your body on a regular sleep-wake schedule.
Not Prioritizing Your Mental Health
When people think about their "health," many simply focus on the physical aspects of it. However, Deanna Crosby, Psy D, is the Clinical Director at New Method Wellness, points out that mental, emotional, and spiritual health is just as important. In fact, many studies have found links between mental health and physical ailments.
The Rx: In order to prioritize your mental health, Crosby suggests making sure you are getting enough sleep, aren't focusing on perfectionism, and "letting go" of things that you don't have control over.
Many people are under the impression that only heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking can have adverse health effects, but there is evidence that even moderate drinking can impact the physical structures of the brain, points out Sal Raichbach, PsyD, Director of Clinical Services, Ambrosia Treatment Center. "The CDC defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men," he points out. "Recent studies show that even at this level, alcohol can shrink a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for short-term and long-term memory and spatial awareness. There aren't any definitive conclusions on what that means for cognitive function or overall health, but it does show us that the body's relationship with alcohol is more complex than we initially thought."
The Rx: While having a drink or two every now and then won't do any long term damage, try and keep your alcohol consumption at a minimum. "If you're looking for a guaranteed way to optimize your brain health, avoiding alcohol is the way to go," encourages Dr. Raichbach.
Drinking Out Of Plastic Bottles
Plastic water bottles may be a convenient way to store your fluids, but drinking from them can seriously damage your health in the long-run. "Plastic has BPA Bisphenol A in it," explains Kristine Blanche, RPA-C, Ph.D. "Studies show an increased risk of breast cancer with BPAs."
The Rx: Invest in some great BPA-free water bottles, like the ones found here.
Dr. Blanche points out that our bodies send us messages that something is not right via symptoms. While it can be easy to brush them off, if they are a sign of something substantial, avoiding them could be detrimental to your health.
The Rx: Whether you are experiencing inflammation, pain, a lack of balance, a rash, or headache, always listen to your body and speak with a medical expert.
Using Deodorant Formulated with Aluminum
Do you know what ingredients are in your deodorant? According to Dr. Blanche, many deodorants contain the ingredient aluminum, which might help you feel fresh but can harm your health. "Aluminum is a heavy metal and is toxic to the body," she says. "Putting toxins over the lymphatic system congests the lymphatics and can increase risks for breast cancer."
The Rx: Pay attention to every little ingredient on the label of your personal care items and make sure to educate yourself about the potential implications. With deodorants specifically, look for a brand that is aluminum free, like Native.
Using Teflon Pans
Teflon pans were all the rage for quite some time, due to their non-stick abilities. However, Dr. Blanche reminds that Teflon is made with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)—a dangerous chemical that has been linked to thyroid conditions, testicular cancer, kidney conditions, and low birth weight.
The Rx: If you are still using Teflon pans, it's time to go shopping! There are so many other non-stick options available that don't involve toxic chemicals getting activated by heat, contaminating the food you put into your body.
Not Taking Vitamin D Supplements
People are more sun-safe than ever, avoiding getting too many rays and lathering up in SPF to protect their skin from damage. However, this also means that we are getting less vitamin D. "Vitamin D levels are the lowest I have seen in my career," maintains Dr. Blanche. "Vitamin D used to be boosted during sun exposure but due to pollution, the UVB rays are filtered out and we can no longer rely on the sun."
The Rx: Take your vitamins! And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick.