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When Healthy Habits Backfire

Some Healthy Habits Can Cause Trouble; Find Out What to Do

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4. Drinking water. From constipation to kidney failure, the risks of dehydration are well known. But drinking more water than your body needs can cause a perilous drop in the concentration of sodium in the bloodstream. This condition, known as hyponatremia, can trigger fatigue, headache, nausea, and vomiting; severe cases can be fatal. Hyponatremia is more common in people with kidney disease and congestive heart failure, but it also affects athletes -- who, mindful of the need to replace water lost through perspiration, often gulp water during endurance events. In 2002, researchers at Harvard University Medical School tested participants in the Boston Marathon and found that 13% were suffering from hyponatremia. Experts say healthy people should drink according to thirst, ignoring the familiar admonition to consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. “The eight-by-8-ounce rule can potentially lead to diluting the kidneys and impair kidney function,” says Joseph Stubbs, MD, president of the American College of Physicians and an internist in private practice in Albany, Ga. What if you’re running a marathon or competing in another endurance event? “Guidelines generally recommend [consuming] no more than eight ounces every 45 to 60 minutes of exercise,” Stubbs says. “But that can vary according to how much sweating one does.”

5. Brushing your teeth. Good dental hygiene is essential for keeping teeth and gums healthy. But brushing too often or with too much pressure can thin the enamel, darkening teeth and giving them a “sandblasted” look. What’s more, aggressive brushing can cause gum recession, making the teeth painfully sensitive and raising the specter of tooth decay and loss. To avoid these problems, brush (and floss) gently twice a day. Make sure your brush has soft synthetic bristles with rounded tips. 

6. Taking vitamin supplements. For most people, there’s little risk in following federal guidelines regarding the intake of vitamins and minerals. But some people far exceed the guidelines, assuming that bigger dosages will bring bigger health benefits. In fact, vitamin overdoses can trigger serious health problems. Hypervitaminosis A, for instance, can cause nausea, diarrhea, rashes, and metabolic disturbances, among other things. “I’ve seen people literally turn yellow from consuming too much vitamin A,” Stubbs says. The bottom line: If you're going to take vitamins, don't overdo it -- too much can be risky. 

7. Sleeping late. Especially for people whose busy schedules leave them sleep deprived during the week, getting a little extra shuteye on weekends sounds like the responsible thing to do. After all, adequate sleep not only curbs fatigue and mental fogginess but also cuts the risk for serious medical conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and autoimmune disorders. Problem is, varying one's sleep patterns -- sleeping late on weekends or napping during the day -- can trigger headaches in some people. Doctors say that it’s best to stick to the same sleep schedule all week long -- especially if you’re prone to migraines. Better to make your sleep schedule healthier all week long than to count on weekends to make up for it.

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Reviewed on September 25, 2009

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