May 24, 2006

“Average” Health

I have noted that you respond to questions about specific disorders. But I want to know what an average person, without a specific disease, can do to improve his or her health?

You are correct in your observation that we tend to answer specific questions because those are what are usually asked. However, we do try to keep topics general enough to be of common interest.

I am fascinated by your use of the word “average.” I think I know you well enough to believe “average” in this context means those people who want the benefits of health, but will not exert themselves unduly to alter the lifestyle rut into which they have comfortably settled.
If we were to consider the most harmful lifestyle practices commonly in vogue, it would seem they could be listed as follows:

  • Inactivity or physical indolence, which must surely be one of the most prevalent.
  • Overeating, which is a polite term for gluttony. In particular, the consumption of too many saturated fats.
  • The inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables.
  • The smoking of cigarettes and the use of tobacco in any form.
  • The consumption of alcohol.
Now, the “average” person doesn’t normally want to do anything to change the status quo. But just in case an “average” person is actually on the fringe of average, below are some suggestions.
We suggest that you begin by spending regular devotional time. Prayer and Bible study on a consistent basis will motivate you to seek the Lord’s will for your life—in all areas. Then you will be able to rise above the “average”—and we suggest you may enjoy the following:
1515 page14First, walk more. Either take the dog for a walk, park the car as far as possible from the doorway, and always step briskly. Climb the stairs rather than ride the elevator. If you are above average, join a gym and get into a regular exercise program.
“Average” people eat meats, cheese, and drink whole milk. If you want to be better than average, consciously decide to reduce meat. If you substitute fish for meat, you will have made an advantage. And if you decide to become a vegetarian—even if only for so many days a week—you will be consuming better fats and reducing risk.
Reducing meat makes room for other foods. Whole grains, rather than refined flour-based foods, add tremendously to your diet, as do legumes (at least a few servings a week). Eating a half dozen nuts a day will make a difference. And, of course, fresh fruits and vegetables are foundational to good health. Watch the size of your portions, and don’t eat more than your activity dictates.
The use of tobacco and alcohol is, perhaps, one of the most pernicious habits with which the average person is likely to be tempted.
Most “average” Adventists are not troubled by tobacco and alcohol, though some persons in our community are being seduced by the concept that wine in moderation could be healthful. In so thinking, they become the puppets of an industry targeting them for profit.
It is good to remember that “average” people live lives of average health and average longevity. If you want better than average, you had better become so!

I have read that soy products may possess some thyroid-inhibiting substances. I have hypothyroidism and am on thyroid replacement. I’m worried that soy products may hurt me.

Many plants contain substances that compete with iodine in the thyroid, or inhibit iodine uptake and binding with tyrosine in the thyroid. These substances are sometimes called goitrogens. However, in plants that we eat as food they are not very potent, and under normal circumstances when consumed in usual amounts do not have clinically significant effects.
The cabbage family of foods, or what is sometimes called the “brassica” family of green vegetables, contains these goitrogens. But their good vastly offsets any minor interference with thyroid function they may have. Soy products are in the same category. When eaten in moderation, their benefits dwarf the tiny fraction of interference with thyroid function.
Now, to the crux of the matter. Your thyroid is not working properly for some other reason, and you are taking a replacement, thyroxin, which will not be influenced significantly by these plant goitrogens. You have no reason to be worried at all. Take your replacement thyroxin, relish your soy, and enjoy life.

A note of caution about some of the Web sites you may access if you merely type in “soy” on the search engine. There are extreme views promoted on many topics. Soy is one of these topics, and several sites are either avid promoters or vehement antagonists of soy. Go to more scientific sites such as Pub Med ( These sites give “peer reviewed” opinion. They strive for objectivity as opposed to emotional responses. This advice applies to nearly all health inquiries. The personal sites or lobby group sites are often unreliable sources of information, and reflect the bias of the Web site operator. Be careful. It is easy to be led astray if you do not know how to separate propaganda from science.
Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., F.R.C.P. (c), is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department; Peter N. Landless, M.B., B.Ch., M.Med., F.C.P.(SA), F.A.C.C., is ICPA executive director and associate director of Health Ministries.
Send your questions to: Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland, 20904. Or you may send your questions via e-mail to [email protected]. While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend that you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health.