What I'm Reading (Sept. 15)

Take a deep breath
Food strikes back and tries to kill you
Dr. John Ioannidis, pre-pandemic, on public health communication

For various reasons, this week’s What I Am Reading includes three articles that I mentioned when I started this column, three years ago. It is not that I ran out of material, I just ran out of bandwidth being off the grid. The interesting thing, at least to me, is that these three articles cover the same topics I continue to read about.


“Slow, deep breathing is probably the oldest folk remedy on Earth. It is so ingrained in us that people will find themselves doing it instinctively ahead of public speaking, or while enduring the pain of a wound being disinfected. Such careful breathing is always associated with an experience of cooling, of decelerating. It works in almost any scenario where the mind is being catapulted by the body, and we want control.”

Breathing is so natural and vital that it quickly fades into the background, not so much ignored or forgotten, but unnoticed. But breath is one of two voluntary ways we have of altering the response of our nervous system. From Aeon, Breathtaking, an essay exploring our breath and its history.  


“… the hot flavors in spices, the mouth-puckering tannins in wines, or the stink of Brussels sprouts. They are the antibacterials, antifungals, and grazing deterrents of the plant world. In the right amount, these slightly noxious substances, which help plants survive, may leave you stronger.

Parallel studies, meanwhile, have undercut decades-old assumptions about the dangers of free radicals. Rather than killing us, these volatile molecules, in the right amount, may improve our health. Our quest to neutralize them with antioxidant supplements may be doing more harm than good.”

After the nutritional furor over the recommendations for eating or not eating red meat, an essay from Nautil.us entitled, Fruits and Vegetables Are Trying to Kill You. And it is not just those vegetables, like kale; the problem also includes all those anti-oxidant supplements we buy that may be doing more harm than good. Don’t be put off by the title; it is an interesting look at mitochondrial energy production and the creation of reactive oxygen species – free radicals. It introduces you to hormesis, the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; at least when given in small doses. 


“Effective dissemination of public health messages may need to focus on a few, powerful, easily understood, uncontentious pieces of advice. For example, uncontested, major recommendations include the following: do not smoke (or quit smoking), exercise regularly, do not eat too much, do not become obese, do not drink alcohol in excess, and sleep well.”

From JAMA, a short viewpoint, Neglecting Major Health Problems and Broadcasting Minor, Uncertain Issues in Lifestyle Science by John Ioannidis, MD, a physician who studies research and is leading the way forward in debunking junk science. If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Ioannidis, you might consider this article from Vanity Fair, Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science.