Finding innovative ways to improve European health

Some of the answers are in front of us…

When one of the Consumer Choice Center’s policy fellows, Nur Baysal recently published a blog post on senolytics on this page, I started to wonder about other alternative ways to improve health. COVID-19 has had many people take up worse habits in their daily lives, while others have used their spare time to pursue healthier diets and exercise routines.

Meanwhile, the European Union is following old adages in their pursuit of making the continent live longer. Sugar taxes are quickly approved and supported by the European Commission, tobacco control rules are applauded, and alcohol is targeted by new measures. The EU’s Beating Cancer Plan even eyes vaping as a threat to public health, which has very little support from the scientific community, but unfortunately, evidence-based policy-making is not integrated too much into the hearts of the Berlaymont building in Brussels. 

Their responses are stale and old-fashioned, while the world keeps turning and innovating. Senolytics is a high-tech approach to prevent ageing, but some of our older household goods lying around turn out to be comparably helpful to improve our health. 

To turn to a personal story: two years ago, I underwent surgery to remove my tonsils and to fix a disfiguration in my nose that had bothered me for years. Both surgeries went poorly, which led to a much longer recuperation time. I faced long and painful days in the hospital that I was only able to deal with due to a large amount of anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers. I have since gotten better, but a lasting effect of the drugs I’ve been giving is a more sensitive stomach. With constant acidic reflux, I need to be more careful about what I eat and reduce my stress levels not to worsen it—avoiding snacking as a part of this effort.

I’ve since discovered that chewing has had positive effects on avoiding some of the sugary alternatives that cause my stomach upsets. With sugar-free gum, I’m able to keep my mind off of the sugary or salty snacks in the kitchen. This 2011 study found that chewing gum reduces the desire for snacks by 10%, which makes a significant dent in my afternoon cravings for those foods that are unhealthy. On top of that, it improves my ability to focus, which is particularly useful during long Zoom call mornings or proofreading afternoons.

Chewing gum contains xylitol, a chemical compound categorised as “sugar alcohol”. It has fewer calories than sugar and does not raise blood sugar levels. On top of that, daily chewing xylitol gum reduces biofilm formation by 42%, which reduces bacteria in the mouth. Thus, chewing gum has become a kind of wellness routine, freeing me from craving crisps or downing a third espresso.

My friends around me have taken different routes. A mix of meat-only diets and cycling seems to work for one of my good friends, while my father has completely given up on meat but taken up an impressive 100 kilometres running routine. Balancing work, exercise, and diets is essential because while healthier lifestyles are important, they ought not to take over our lives or make us miserable because we feel like we need to give up on too much.

The government is preaching abstinence while individuals are finding solutions. We should celebrate the ingenuity of companies that allow us to find smart solutions for complicated problems. On top of that, we should follow scientific evidence and adapt our decision-making accordingly. If the last two decades have taught us anything, it is that we can’t legislate away obesity or medical problems with large-scale policy plans or bans.

Originally published here.

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