A life lived at full throttle can't be sustained. Eventually we start calling it a night and asking for the doggie bag after a couple of rounds. We begin feeling more sorry for than envious of Charlie Sheen. But what about overindulging in the stuff that seems so good for us? Sleep, for instance. Or coffee. Or antioxidants. If those things are inherently good -- even lifesaving -- can't we just gorge ourselves on them? After all, who ever heard of someone going on an antioxidant bender?
Nobody: That's the problem. So we combed the research and consulted experts across a range of specialties. In our process of elimination, we were thrilled to hear that it's difficult to OD on sex or masturbation. Ditto fruits and vegetables. But the dark sides of other health-enhancing moves surprised us. Toxicologists have an expression for this principle: "The dose makes the poison." That's never been truer than with these five "good" things.
Good/Bad Thing #1: Sleep
If a deficit of nightly sleep can make you gain weight and lose mental sharpness as well as increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, then scoring tons of shut-eye must be just what the doctor ordered, no? No. In a 2010 study in the journal Sleep, men who logged 9 or more hours a night were 43 percent more likely to have heart disease than 7-hour sleepers-- regardless of their age, BMI, physical activity, alcohol use, and preexisting diseases.
But you may be among the minority of people who naturally need a lot of sleep--which is okay, as long as you feel refreshed the next day. (Struggling To Sleep? Discover 6 ways to sleep better.) "If you're still sleepy, something may be affecting sleep quality, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome," says Clete Kushida, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of Stanford Sleep Medicine Center. "These conditions fragment sleep, so they can actually make you sleep longer." If you suspect one of these is a factor, your physician can refer you to a sleep center for evaluation.
Wake up easier If you're just sleeping too much, set your TV timer to wake you up--the light-and-noise combo is more rousing than an alarm clock, says Christopher Winter, M.D., a Men's Health advisor and medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital sleep medicine center in Charlottesville, Virginia. "Light tells your brain to stop making the sleep hormone melatonin," he says. "This is better than leaving the curtain open--flickering TV light is more bothersome to your brain than steady light."
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Good/Bad Thing #2: Antibiotics
Use the right tools for the job. We wish doctors would internalize this message better. Many insist on banging in nails with screwdrivers by prescribing antibiotics--which fight bacterial infections--for viral ailments. "When a doctor doesn't want to be wrong because there's a slight chance a patient has a bacterial infection, or if a patient insists, then antibiotics are more likely to be prescribed," says Lauri Hicks, D.O., medical director of the CDC's "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work" campaign. Upper-respiratory infections are classic examples. They account for 75 percent of all antibiotics prescribed by general practitioners, yet their cause is viral about 90 percent of the time. What's the harm? Antibiotic overuse can spawn resistance in fast-evolving bacteria, such as NDM-1 and the skin infection MRSA. Also, antibiotics can kill off beneficial bacteria in your body.
Battle better Ask your doctor if your condition could resolve itself without a prescription, or whether a first-line antibiotic, like amoxicillin or penicillin, would be more appropriate than a broad-spectrum antibiotic, like azythromycin. "There's a perception that newer antibiotics are more effective, and that's not always the case," says Dr. Hicks. "Good old penicillin is still an important initial therapy, and it leaves options for further treatment."
Good/Bad Thing #3: Coffee
Your daily java provides long-lasting health advantages. Recent research suggests a link between coffee consumption and lowered risks of Alzheimer's disease, liver cancer, and prostate cancer.
But beware the telltale buzz of caffeine addiction, which can set in if you slurp more than 300 milligrams of the stuff each day. (A 12-ounce Starbucks standard brew has 260.) As your body adjusts to regular caffeine exposure, your fatigue-regulating adenosine system--which is hijacked by caffeine-- becomes more sensitive, and you'll feel sluggish in your noncaffeinated moments, according to a 2010 British study. The buzz that addicts feel is merely the emergence from fatigue-causing withdrawal symptoms.
Spread out your fix Pace your daily intake. "Better to spread it throughout the day to prevent overdose," says James D. Lane, Ph.D., the director of Duke University medical center's psychophysiology laboratory. "It's the high peak of caffeine in your blood that causes problems." If you normally drink 12 ounces with breakfast, limit yourself to half that in the morning, and have the other half at lunchtime.
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Good/Bad Thing #4: Ibuprofen
When knees and muscles ache, wounded warriors in a hurry to heal dose up on "vitamin I"-- ibuprofen. And if the recommended 400 milligrams of magic relief from pain and swelling don't quite do it, well, pop two more. In fact, why not head off workout pain by gulping several ibuprofen tablets before going running or playing hoops? So goes the logic that leads men to pop them like Tic Tacs.
Ibuprofen leads a broad pack of painkillers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These drugs decrease production of prostraglandins, which can act as pain and inflammation messengers. When used habitually or preventively, though, they deter those hormones from doing another vital job: generating tissue-building collagen. Injured bone, ligament, and muscle can't heal as quickly or grow at the same rate, says Stuart T. Warden, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Indiana University's department of physical therapy. "Taking ibuprofen before a workout won't reduce soreness and can actually decrease the effectiveness of exercise," he says. NSAIDs also inhibit cyclooxygenase, an enzyme thought to be involved in the protection of the heart and stomach linings; this effect can lead to an increased risk of heart attack in susceptible people, as well as nausea, diarrhea, and intestinal bleeding.
Ease the pain Stop the prophylactic pill popping and head for the pool after your workout.
"The best treatment for muscle soreness is gentle exercise, like hydrotherapy--so walking or running in a pool for 20 minutes is one option," Warden says. The movement alleviates the fluid buildup that causes pain.
Good/Bad Thing #5: Antioxidants
Free radicals: They're as scary as they sound. These cell-damaging molecules are thought to contribute to arthritis, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease. Your potential lifesavers? Antioxidants. Those in beta-carotene and in vitamins C and E attack and neutralize the roaming free radicals. But antioxidant supplements are a different story--they might actually sideline your body's antioxidant defenses. In a German study, young men who exercised for 4 weeks saw an improvement in their sensitivity to insulin--a known exercise benefit that helps prevent type 2 diabetes--while those who exercised for 4 weeks while supplementing with vitamins C and E saw no boost.
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Let nature do its thing. Score your antioxidant infusion from a balanced diet; you'll hedge your bets in favor of any still-unknown benefits, and avoid megadosing. "It may be there is something in whole-food 'packaging' that makes the nutrients better absorbed or used than they would be in supplements," says Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., of the Mayo Clinic.
Pace your coffee intake to stay healthy -- and stave off caffeine addiction.
Toxicologists have an expression: "The dose makes the poison."
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