Busting health myths and other BS with Laura Thomas, PhD
If you’ve got an Instagram account, you’ll know that there are plenty of insta-nutritionists offering advice on a daily basis, and yet they don’t have a single qualification between them. As someone who is always trying to balance sugar issues with eating just a little bit healthier, I thought it was time to hear the real deal from someone who was actually, you know, qualified.
I stumbled upon Laura Thomas’ Instagram account via a friend who’d seen her article on coconut oil (it ain’t all that after all guys – link below…) and knew I’d be interested. As Laura has a PhD and has put some serious years in, we ended up having a lot to talk about, so this is one of two features. Our first topic?
The myths that both the health industry and those wannabe health vloggers and bloggers are feeding us every single day.
Should I drink more than three litres of water per day?
There’s a common perception that drinking in excess of two litres of water per day will give us skin that a supermodel would be proud of. Although I always aim for two litres, I did go through a phase of trying for four – after seeing Nadia’s skin on Great British Bake Off! With way too many toilet trips, I didn’t last long enough to find out if it would work, so I asked Laura if I should have stuck with it.
Laura says NO: "There’s definitely evidence that if you don’t drink enough water, it shows up in your skin. You can tell when someone’s dehydrated. Beyond that, there isn’t a ton of evidence that drinking past that point will give you clearer skin. There’s stronger evidence for things like eating more fruit and vegetables and nuts and seeds with essential fatty acids. There is growing evidence of the link between dairy products and acne, especially in teens. Anecdotally, I always find that when I cut out milk from my diet, my eczema clears up almost completely. (This is something I totally agree with; if I eat dairy for a couple of days, a few days later my skin will be lumpy and bumpy. If only I could ditch cheese permanently...)
"So stay hydrated, but you won’t see any added benefits. Focus on orange and green vegetables instead, as they’re high in Betacarotene, which is a precursor to Vitamin A, which is required for cell regeneration. Obviously Vitamin C for building things like Collagen. We can also help by guarding against pollution by using clay-based products to thoroughly cleanse our skin."
Interestingly for us chocolate-lovers, Laura also shared that a small study has been done, where women were given unprocessed cocoa in a drink every day, maybe a tablespoons worth, and were compared with women who were given a placebo. The women who were given the chocolate, due to the high flavonol content, saw improvements in their wrinkles and skin elasticity. Yay!
Supplements; do we need them?
Since giving up meat I take Vitamin D, a B12 complex, Evening Primrose Oil, Zinc and a probiotic. I’ve taken many more in the past, but I feel like these are kinda working – but maybe I’m imagining it?
Laura says NOT REALLY, BUT: "It really depends. In general, for a healthy person who’s eating a varied diet with lots of different types of food, I wouldn’t recommend supplements. I recommend getting all of your nutrients from the food that you’re eating. There is no evidence that we need supplements unless you have a deficiency, so Iron for instance, if you are anaemic, but that would be under the supervision of your doctor of course.
"There is some evidence that taking some antioxidants (A, C and E) can actually result in them becoming pro-oxidant. It’s not super clear at this point, but there is some evidence linking them to a higher risk of lung cancer.
"There is also some evidence that eating something containing Vitamin C, an apple for instance, is better than taking the supplement, as it’s made up of several nutrients that work together so we actually end up getting more from the fruit.
"There is one caveat – Vitamin D recommendations have changed (Laura’s written a great two-part, in-depth article on getting the D). Now it’s recommended that we all take a supplement in the winter months – even sometimes in the summer, if you cover up for religious reasons, or have children who tend to be more covered up – people with darker skin. It’s definitely recommended if you don’t eat meat but there’s little proof that backs up the message of eating more eggs and oily fish. You’re better off supplementing, but be careful as there is a risk of toxicity. Often people want to buy the most potent or most powerful, when they don’t actually need it. And IV drips are a waste of money!" (I completely agree with Laura on this – I tried one in LA and all it did was give me scary red pee.)
Can drinking and eating collagen-based products improve my skin?
"Collagen has been used as a filler for a long time in the cosmetic industry, and obviously you can see the effects of that. But in terms of a supplement; we’re not so sure. Collagen is a protein, so as soon as you consume it, once it’s in the stomach, it’s gonna denature the protein and break down into amino acids and polypeptides, so by the time it’s gone through the digestive process it doesn’t look much like collagen anymore. There are lots of studies on the benefits of collagen, but most of them are funded by the collagen brands, so I’m very sceptical. I’ve seen expert studies on skincare research and they’re sceptical of it too.
"It probably won’t do you any harm, but there are other things you can do for your skin. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink enough water. It’s really boring, but things like getting enough sleep and staying out of the sun will probably do more for your skin than a collagen product."
Biggest myths of 2016?
side from the global adoration of coconut oil, which Laura states has to stop NOW (read her article here), the myth that causes her the most annoyance is the protein obsession.
“Our fixation with protein isn’t going away anytime soon, but unless you are an elite athlete, the chances that you need extra protein are very, very slim. All that protein can put pressure on and do damage to our kidneys; it can change the composition of our gastrointestinal microbiome towards one that is less favourable. Red meat in particular is linked to colorectal cancer, so I’m really concerned about what’s going to happen to the people who went hard on the protein powders when they get older. What’s going to happen to their kidneys? Their joints? What’s going to happen to their gastrointestinal tract? Also, when your diet is so high in protein or fat, you tend to get a lot less complex carbohydrates in the form of fibre. This also compromises our gut health; our microbiome is linked to everything – from cardiovascular disease to our mental health! Eat more plants; by default you will get more fibre."
Laura’s one big DO?
Turmeric. While I cook with turmeric once a week, in a veg curry, and might make a juice containing it once a week, Laura advises a daily turmeric supplement. She says: “there’s a lot of evidence on how it’s been proven to reduce inflammation and might protect our DNA from oxidative damage which will help to prevent ageing inside and outside.
"Take it with black pepper; it boosts the absorption of the turmeric, which means it will stay in your circulation for longer, and will be in contact with your cells for longer than it would if you were to take it on its own.“
Love what Laura has to say? Check out her features for The Huffington Post and have a listen to her podcast, Don’t Salt My Game now! Here’s a link to her most recent one: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/ep25-perseverance-positivity/id1111787243?i=1000377728022&mt=2