Enjoy Your Vices!
I often tell the doctors I teach, "If people get a long life by cutting out everything they enjoy, then why bother?"
Medicine seems to suffer from the horrible misconception that if things are enjoyable, then they must be bad for you (and vice versa). What a horrible myth! I have found that your body knows better than any physician what is good for you — and tells you by how you feel over time. So if you feel great doing what you're doing, I suspect it's working. On the other hand, most things that really are bad for you will leave you feeling worse overall. I find that Mark Twain was on the mark when he advocated "Moderation in all things — including moderation!"
As an example, people who drink occasional alcohol live longer than those who don't. On the other hand, a heavy night of drinking may feel fun while you're doing it, but the hangover the next day tells you otherwise!
Here are five "vices" that can actually be good for you.
In addition to being a natural antidepressant, dark chocolate is chock full of healthy antioxidants. Chocolate has been shown to help chronic fatigue syndrome, high blood pressure, cough, and a host of other problems. On the other hand it is not low calorie — or low sugar (unless you get sugar-free chocolates; Russell Stover has a great line). So go for quality instead of quantity. When I tell people to avoid sugar, I like to add the three magic words "Except for Chocolate!"
Eggs are actually a wonderfully healthy food. Outside of being a cannibal, an egg is the closest to being a "complete protein." This means the amounts of its component amino acids most closely mimics what humans are made of — and what they need. Eggs suffered the misfortune of the erroneous belief that eating cholesterol raises cholesterol levels, and increases risk of heart disease. This is simply not the case. Your cholesterol levels are set more by fats in the diet, weight, thyroid, genetics, and other factors. The simple truth? Numerous studies over the last 30+ years have shown that eating six eggs a day for six weeks has NO effect on cholesterol. I remember 30 years ago being at a lecture by the wonderful Maryland nutritionist Dana Laake. She noted that eating six eggs a day would not increase cholesterol. Being an all-knowing doctor, after her lecture I told her what an absolute idiot she was to make such a claim. She sweetly smiled and gave me a bunch of scientific references that proved she was right. It helped me with the startling realization that not everything I learned in medical school is accurate. It also got me to start exploring the medical literature myself to see what the studies and research actually showed.
Repeated research has shown that people who drink no alcohol do not live as long as people who have a few drinks a day. The problem is when the alcohol becomes excessive. When it goes over an average of 2 to 3 drinks a day, people who don't drink alcohol do better.
Sunshine is critical for production of vitamin D. Numerous studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a marked increase in diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, falling, immune diseases, and many other health problems. Vitamin D deficiency is becoming epidemic because of the misguided advice to avoid sunshine. The proper advice? Avoid sunburn — not sunshine!
For those who would argue against this "vice," I will make the simple argument that without it humans would cease to exist. Sex with somebody that you love, in a committed relationship, can be wonderfully healthy. One study suggested that it leaves people looking much younger (likely because sex causes release of growth hormone, often called the "fountain of youth hormone"). Other research has shown that people with heart disease are no more likely to have a heart attack during sex. The exception? When they were having sex while cheating on their spouses!
In time, we will get past the medical misconception that "if it feels good it must be bad for you." In the meanwhile, start to check in with your body, and your feelings, to see what they are telling you. That way, if you live to be 120 years old, you actually will be glad that you did!
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.