As we become more interested in staying healthy and living longer, we begin paying more attention to studies, reports, and findings about things that are either good for us to do or contra-indicated. We want to consume more foods that are good for us and avoid those that seem to be harmful. If there are exercises to do or avoid, or other activities that are recommended, we are interested in learning about them and possibly engaging in them also.
The interesting thing about reports of things that might be good or not so good for us and our clients to be doing is to separate true cause and effect relationships from those that are coincidental or not related. Certain activities have existed long enough for scientists to conclude that there definitely is a causal relationship between two items or activities. For instance, eating more calories than we need to maintain our current weight will result in weight gain.
Eating a lot of so-called empty calories because, while they may taste great, don’t provide that much nutritional value and can lead to weight gain also if consumed in excess. Desserts, ice cream, candy, and other sweet items fall into this last category, although people are free to ingest them. There may not be any immediate health consequences. but long-term effects could be noticed – weight gain, dental issues, complexion disorders, and diabetes are some of the possible outcomes of eating more sweets than our bodies need.
Not everyone is noticeably affected by the foods they eat or don’t eat, but there could be a long-term impact. Also, there is a question of how much consumption of certain foods is too much. Each person is different as is their metabolism and their propensity for ill-effects from consuming certain foods. One person might have a relatively quick adverse reaction while another might notice no ill-effects for a long time, if at all.
There generally is a cause and effect relationship here – eat a lot of foods with added sugar or anything else with a large caloric load, and weight gain and possibly other health effects can result. It’s not necessarily immediate, however, and there is no scale or formula to use that predicts how much consumption will yield what type of result. So, the cause and effect are demonstrated but not to any degree of specificity. We can’t caution family members or clients, or monitor our own habits, about the limits of what should be consumed before there is a predictable result.
Even taking medication that typically produces dizziness in people and has warning labels attached to the containers may not affect everyone the same. In fact, some people may not notice any difference in their behavior while others are noticeable dizzy and impaired. Having a glass of wine might have a similar effect on some people and have little or no impact on others.
There are so many things that we (and scientists) observe that we can label as beneficial or potentially harmful, but again, there are so many individual differences in how those activities affect people. Generally, seven or eight hours of sleep is recommended for a person, and there are consequences of drowsiness and poor performance for some people who consistently get less sleep than this. However, some people survive on five hours of sleep or less on a regular basis and show no signs of sleep deprivation. This is a case of not being able to say definitely (although many people do) that lack of sleep causes health issues, poor focus or attention, and a lessened performance. It can in many people, and it doesn’t in others.
For years, coffee consumption has been thought to increase blood pressure, cause hyperactivity, lead to insomnia (especially when consumed late in the day), and potentially cause or elevate other conditions. Yet, study-after-study, and there have been many in recent years, have found that coffee consumption has definite health benefits such as warding off dementia, not increasing the risk of hypertension, reducing inflammation (helpful for so many ailments), and increasing longevity, among others. Initially, it was thought that very minimal consumption of a cup or two a day would provide these benefits, then it changed to moderate intake of three to five cups a day, and the latest report suggests that even drinking eight cups a day is fine.
This is why making direct cause and effect associations, predictions, or assumptions can be risky. Sure, certain behaviors can lead to undesirable outcomes, but most are not the type where there is a specific predictor of a result for a particular activity. The results, when they are present, generally are more long-term in their development and detection.