10 Surprising Ways The Modern World Is Making Us Sick
January 20, 2015 Kristance Harlow
Everything in moderation, as the old adage goes. As it turns out, that couldn’t be more accurate, as research continues to shed light on how the modern world is damaging our health. We might be living longer today than our ancestors did, but the current era isn’t as health-friendly as we might think.
10. Feeling Guilty Can Damage Your Health
Every January, people around the world resolve to leave their bad habits behind and embark on a journey of self-improvement as the new year begins. Then, a few weeks later, everyone starts to feel a little guilty for not following through.
But while a little guilt can encourage someone to make positive changes, too much guilt is a different story. Feeling guilty isn’t just unpleasant—it could be causing damage to your immune system. Researchers from Hull University found that people who felt guilty about their favorite activities had decreased levels of the antibody immunoglobulin A in their saliva. So if two people like to unwind with a box of wine and some trashy reality shows, but only one feels guilty about it, then the guilty person is more likely to catch viral and bacterial infections. That means your favorite “guilty pleasure” could be the reason you seem to catch colds more often than someone who just calls it “pleasure.”
9. Light Pollution
According to astronomers, the majority of Americans under 40 have never experienced true darkness. Urban areas experience a phenomenon called “sky glow,” where artificial light is scattered by water droplets, creating a dome of light over the city. Even inside our own homes, the little lights on electronics like alarm clocks and televisions stay on 24/7—and our bodies just weren’t built to handle that. In fact, light pollution in the developed world is now so bad that it’s damaging our health. According to physicist Eric Vandernoot, the human body is hardwired for a cycle of light and darkness. Overuse of light in the evening is connected to a number of health problems, including increased risk of diabetes, obesity, depression, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.
Sleep disorders are another big problem. In fact, light pollution may have actually changed the entire way we experience sleep. Before the industrial revolution, it was common for people to sleep for two periods of around four hours each, separated by one to three hours “of quiet wakefulness.” Even today, studies have shown that people tend to revert back to this sleep pattern once light pollution is taken out of the equation.
And even if you buy blackout curtains and cover those flashing LEDs, you might still be in danger from excess light, since the streetlights are still on outside. Turning streetlights off has actually been found to drastically reduce crime (even criminals need to be able to see). Of course, that might not be much comfort to anyone trying to find their way home in the pitch dark, but at least they won’t get mugged.
8 Added Sugar Is Worse Than You Realized
Sugar itself isn’t bad for you—glucose is essential to powering the body, especially the brain. The problem is that people are now consuming more sugar than ever, and you can definitely have too much of a good thing. And while our ancestors got most of their sugar from fruits and grains, these days most of our sugar is added to various processed foods—the average American eats 27.5 teaspoons of added sugar a day. It’s hard to cut back, too—the brain has a built-in trigger to let you know when you should stop eating and sugar consumption makes it less effective over time.
It’s only relatively recently that we’ve started to realize just how bad too much sugar can be for you. In the 1970s, when the public became concerned about fat in foods, manufacturers simply replaced fat with sugar. Since then, sugar consumption has shot up worldwide. Which is unfortunate, since sugar is now linked to high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, premature aging of the skin, dementia, brain damage, poor metabolism, and liver damage. Added sugar might even be damaging to our very DNA. In fact, some scientists now regard sugar as a problem potentially as damaging as alcohol and tobacco.
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