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Answers to the health quiz

Question 1: Does chocolate make you happy?

Chocolate contains substances such as the amino acid tryptophan that can produce feelings of happiness. The body uses tryptophan to produce serotonin, a hormone that functions as an antidepressant. Another substance released by chocolate is phenylethylamine, which arouses feelings similar to falling in love. However, eating a bar of chocolate is certainly not a sure-fire way of making an unhappy person happy, because it doesn’t contain enough of these substances to make a difference. But it’s an undisputed fact that eating chocolate can make you happy by evoking pleasant childhood memories.  

Question 2: Do artificial sweeteners make you gain weight?

The rumour persists that artificial sweeteners make you gain weight indirectly by increasing the insulin levels in your body, which in turn makes you hungry – and you put on weight. But these claims aren’t substantiated by scientific evidence.

Sweeteners such as aspartame and cyclamate are slightly modified amino acids, which means they’re very similar to protein structures. Unlike sugar substitutes such as xylitol and sorbitol, sweeteners don’t contain any calories, which is why many people opt for diet drinks. But you have to be careful, because diet drinks are still sweet, which prevents you from weaning yourself off the sweet taste. You’re still better off drinking water.

Question 3: If you’re not sleeping well, should you go to bed earlier?

This commonly heard advice is incorrect. You should actually do the exact opposite and only go to bed when you’re tired. The more sleep hungry you are, the faster you’ll nod off. The aim is to sleep less but more efficiently, i.e. increase the amount of time you spend asleep in bed. If you go to bed earlier when you’re having problems sleeping, you’ll only make it worse. You hope it’ll help you relax, but you’ll probably end up spending more time awake in bed tossing and turning, which makes it even more difficult to fall asleep.

Question 4: Do deodorants cause breast cancer?

There’s no conclusive evidence linking the use of deodorants containing aluminium compounds to breast cancer. The alleged risk associated with aluminium salts, which are used to create the antiperspirant effect of deodorants, is based on laboratory research on cells. But these experiments can only be applied to a limited extent to living organisms, especially humans. On the basis of what we know at the moment, there’s no good reason to stop using any type of deodorant.

Question 5: Is the quality of men’s sperm in decline?

Articles claiming that environmental pollution and contact with toxins at the workplace is causing a decline in the quantity and quality of sperm in men in Switzerland and other countries have created a media sensation. However, more recent long-term studies over a period of ten years have revealed no noticeable changes in the quantity or quality of men’s sperm. Not only this, but other newer studies even indicate a slight decline in the number of involuntarily childless couples.

Question 6: Is coffee bad for you?

Coffee has a bad name. But, despite earlier pronouncements, it doesn’t rob the body of fluids to cause dehydration, nor does it pose a risk to the heart. In fact, studies show that coffee even seems to help prevent diabetes, liver cancer and other types of cancer.

Question 7: Doe an apple a day keep the doctor away?

There’s at least a kernel of truth in the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” British scientists recently did a study of whether eating apples really has a positive effect on heart health. They investigated people over the age of 50. Every day, each test subject was either given a drug designed to lower blood pressure (a statin) or asked to eat an apple.

The results indicate that eating an apple a day is just as good at reducing blood lipids as commercially available statins. Both groups of participants also displayed an equal reduction in the risk of dying of cardiovascular diseases.

In other words, eating an apple a day won’t keep the doctor away indefinitely, but there are many good reasons for sinking your teeth into the juicy fruit.

Question 8: Is sleep before midnight the most beneficial?

This statement may apply to early birds – known as “larks” in sleep research – who hit the hay early in the evening so they can get up first thing the next morning, but strictly speaking it isn’t true. However, night people – known as “owls” by sleep researchers – who rarely get to sleep before midnight don’t need to worry about their health or productivity. Everyone enters an intermittent phase of deep sleep within two to four hours of dropping off. It doesn't matter whether this deep sleep takes place before or after midnight.

Question 9: Is it healthier not to eat meat?

It’s true that vegetarians are healthier and live longer than meat eaters, but only compared with people who eat meat very regularly. Moderate meat eaters who eat meat less than twice a week suffer no notable disadvantages compared with vegetarians.

However, the lower mortality risk of vegetarians is not necessarily linked to the food they eat. On the whole, people who don’t eat meat tend to have a different lifestyle to the general population. It’s likely that it’s this lifestyle that keeps vegetarians healthy rather than the mere fact that they don’t eat meat.

So, anyone who claims it’s healthier not to eat meat is on shaky ground.

Question 10: Does the full moon disrupt sleep?

Some 40% of the population claim they sleep worse at full moon. Is it their imagination? Opinions differ among sleep experts. Some researchers find there’s no link between phases of the moon and the quality of sleep, but others disagree.

For a long time, many scientists believed it was the brightness of the full moon that could be responsible for disturbing sleep. However, a research group in Basel recently made a strange discovery: having carefully analysed the measurement data for people sleeping, the researchers found that our internal clock appears to respond to the cycle of the moon even though the subjects were sleeping in fully darkened rooms in the sleep laboratory. At full moon, activity in the areas of the brain associated with deep sleep fell by 30%. In addition, it took the study participants five minutes longer to fall asleep at full moon, and they slept for 20 minutes less.

The latest research indicates that people may well be influenced by a moon cycle as well as a circadian cycle.

Question 11: Does fish oil help prevent heart attacks?

For a long time, oil-rich fish such as salmon, herring and tuna containing a high level of omega-3 fatty acids were believed to help prevent heart disease. This has proven to be a myth.

The body can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids itself and needs to get them from fish, vegetable oils, meat and other foodstuffs. The hype about omega-3 fatty acid was triggered by studies in the 1970s, when researchers noticed that the Inuit living in North Alaska rarely suffered heart attacks. They – rather hastily – put this down to the Inuit’s fish-rich diet. In the meantime new studies have been conducted, and the research done in the 1970s has been subjected to critical review.

The conclusions are sobering: not only are fish oil capsules completely ineffective when it comes to preventing cardiovascular diseases, but they also increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Question 12: Does fasting shrink your stomach?

If you eat less, your stomach shrinks, which means you feel fuller faster and don’t gain weight. This may sound perfectly reasonable, but it’s just wishful thinking! In actual fact, the stomach is extremely stretchable and, although it may retract as a result of fasting, it doesn’t get any smaller. Consequently, its maximum capacity remains the same even after a long period of fasting.

But there is good news! You can train your brain to think that your stomach’s full with less food. Eat slowly and always ask yourself: do I need to eat more to feel full? This teaches your head and stomach to be satisfied with less.

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