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On Gluten, Mindful Meditation and Colon-Cleansing

What makes smarter than average people less smart about their health? We are living longer but not healthier, despite all the attention paid to health in the media. What we need is more funding for food research and better labeling, not less. More responsible journalistic reporting, not more sensational pronouncements.
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Woman Meditating in her Bedroom
Woman Meditating in her Bedroom

I live in L.A. now. Well, not in L.A. but close enough to hear its nutty muttering. Close enough to shop at supermarkets that have entire aisles of gluten free food, attend "mindful meditation" sessions at a number of locations, and experience the promotion of a constant stream of colon cleanses, all meant to make me more healthy.

L.A. is not so different from other metro areas. There are plenty of true believers here, but it's not Jesus they are promoting so much as the religion of health. The problem is that there is absolutely no credible evidence that any of these things will make you healthier or live longer.

Take the gluten-free craze. Ordinarily smart, well-educated people swear they feel better now that they have reduced or eliminated gluten from their diet. But there is precious little evidence that avoiding gluten does anything at all for someone who does not have celiac disease. Even Harvard says so.

As for mindful meditation there's an app for that. Actually a lot of apps. By some counts as many as 22 meditation timer apps alone. Real monks must go nuts when they read about this stuff. When I see notices of mindful meditation classes, it makes me want to run not walk to the nearest Starbucks for the most caffeine I can possibly swallow in one drink. I suppose there's nothing dangerous in meditation -- after all, Buddhists have been doing it for centuries. It's just a bit odd that some of the angriest people I have known are the strongest proponents of meditation. Maybe if they weren't doing it, they would cause some serious damage, but it's sad to me that what a good walk around the block used to do, must now be sold and packaged in a variety of electronic forms that will keep you from walking around the block ever again.

And then there are colon cleanses. We are not "clean" inside, goes the theory. We clean our outsides, we brush our teeth and bathe, but what do we do to clean our insides? One of my favorite websites says colon cleansing is a load of you know what. The body has a natural mechanism for disposing of waste material and it's called pooping. Everybody does it. There are even books about it, lots of books. Somehow this idea that our natural processes are not clean has produced a fad that is not only of no benefit but can actually be harmful.

What makes smarter than average people less smart about their health? Why do so many people make choices that have little to no science behind them, like refusing to vaccinate their kids or worrying unnecessarily about Ebola? There is the culture of celebrity to blame, especially in LA where billboards are still in vogue and celebrities gleam down at you from every angle. When a celebrity supports something, it makes it seem more plausible, right? Google can also be blamed. How many times when you google something do you look beyond the first page? What websites do you rely on? Mayo Clinic or Dr. Oz? It is often all mixed up on the first page of a Google search. Is the evidence you seek supported on a variety of conscientious sites like WebMD or Sciencebasedmedicine?

We are living longer but not healthier, despite all the attention paid to health in the media. Any given morning you can hear a TV doctor explaining the latest research study on chocolate or coffee, and explaining the evidence badly. What we need is more funding for food research and better labeling, not less. More responsible journalistic reporting, not more sensational pronouncements. A website like Gary Schwitzer's Health News Review should be a regular go-to source for questions about the latest food fad. Coffee is good for you; no, it's bad. Carbs will kill you; no, they are necessary for energy. Every woman should get an annual mammogram at 50; no, it's really 40. It's no wonder people get confused.

Staying healthy seema pretty simple to me. Walk regularly. Eat as much fresh food as you can. Put your smart phone down after dinner and turn it off. (That will also help you get more and better sleep). Talk to each other don't just text. And yes, meditate if you must. Just don't overdo it. Any of it.