We asked leading Chicago doctors to weigh in on some common health conceptions
MYTH OR FACT? Vitamin D deficiency is associated with heart disease, osteoporosis and depression.
FACT. While many people know that vitamin D deficiency can be associated with decreased bone strength (osteoporosis), it can also be associated with heart disease, depression, diabetes and even cognitive impairment in the elderly.
“Recent studies have also shown that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with an accelerated progression of breast cancer, which further argues for the potential health benefits of consistent vitamin D intake through a good diet, reasonable sun exposure and consideration of daily oral supplementation,” says internist Scott Palmer, MD, Rush University Medical Center.
Palmer recommends daily consumption of foods fortified with vitamin D such as cereal, yogurt and orange juice, or supplementation with 1,000 to 2,000 units of vitamin D3 per day. He also recommends at least 15 minutes of sun exposure a day if possible, but he notes to use sunscreen if you’re spending more than 30 minutes outside.
MYTH OR FACT? Red wine is good for your heart.
FACT. “Alcoholic beverages of all types, but especially red wine, are linked to a lower risk of heart disease. But the decision to use alcohol for medicinal purposes is nuanced, especially for women,” says cardiologist Stephen Devries, MD, FACC, Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology. Alcohol is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer and several other types of cancers, though the advantages may outweigh the risks for up to one drink per day for women and one to two drinks for men. “But if you don’t enjoy alcohol, or if it poses special risks based on your history, there’s absolutely no reason to start. There are plenty of other natural ways to stay healthy, including diet, activity and stress relief, that are much more powerful than alcohol,” Devries says.
MYTH OR FACT? Gluten-free foods are not any healthier than regular foods.
MYTH. Gluten is a protein found in wheat-containing products like breads, pastas, baked goods and many processed foods, as well as in foods made from barley and rye. “Gluten-containing foods tend to have a high glycemic index, meaning they raise blood sugar levels rapidly, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, abdominal obesity, insulin-associated cancers and other blood-sugar–associated diseases and health issues,” says naturopath Katherine Chavez, ND, Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern. “Foods that are naturally gluten free, like vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meats and fruits, are healthier in many ways than foods that contain gluten.” However, gluten-free versions of breads, pastas and snack foods made with simple starches and added sugar are usually no more healthy than their gluten-full counterparts.
Originally published in the Fall 2016 print edition
Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.