Disclaimer: this post discusses nutrition and diet, if you are sensitive to those sorts of discussions, consider reading something else. Further, I have
no credentials as a medical expert, nutritionist, dietician, or otherwise. What's discussed in this post should not be miscontrued as medical advice.
One of my more eccentric pass times is reading the latest nutrition papers. I think it is the urge to optimize that leads me to
trying to sift through nutritional data to find the signal in the noise. And there is a lot of noise. Nutrition seems to be a difficult
science to pin down, the number of variables involved is simply too vast, resulting in poor reproducibility that rivals the social sciences.
To make matters worse, industry funded articles have historically
led the public astray, intentionally.
Despite this, I have found I am able to convince myself that there is enough signal to put together a useful personal framework for managing my own nutrition. In most cases,
I wouldn't be willing to give advice based on that personal framework, but there are a few things I am confident enough in to aspouse as though they are fact:
Placebos work and we should all be taking (or doing) them.
If you find yourself thinking those three claims are all non-controversial, there are a surprising number of modern studies to the contrary. For just one example, here is one article to the contrary of point (2) article.
Sure, one of the authors on the paper is the National Dairy Council, but it's published in a real academic journal! However, I will spare the reader from trying to convince them of the first two and focus on the claim (3).
So, placebos work. They have been shown to work on a variety of ailments. So what? So, why aren't we all taking them? For one, there is social stigma. To take a placebo, socially, is very similar to subscribing to
homeopathy. If you find yourself in very materialist social circles (I'm looking at you, engineers), you will certainly get some strange looks when you add ashwagandha root powder to your meal, even after
explaining it's strictly for the placebo.
And to be clear, there is some risk. Namely, that the placebo we choose to take could have some physiological deleterious effects.
One somewhat common homeopathic remedy/supplement I have seen espoused is coconut oil, which I am convinced is in fact deleterious for the majority of those consuming Western diets.
Ironically, in the past studies have used lactose sugar for their placebo pills, a placebo that 65% of the world population is
intolerant to. Further, there is risk for those who are prone to falling into delusional states believing their chosen placebo is more than just that.
So, I follow a three step approach to picking a placebo.
Convenience: I find a cheap, easily consumable compound or easily performable action.
Scientific: I validate the compound/action has a long history of human use and research indicates at worst the compound/action is physiologically non-harmful.
For lack of better term, Spiritually: I thoroughly convince myself that the compound/action has the potential to improve my life in some dimension.
(3) is key, considering placebos work better when we believe they work, and it's also what I think most would struggle with. But you need not believe that your chosen placebo will fundamentally change your life, it won't, you simply need to believe
it will be a net positive. So, if you struggle with spiritual thinking, I suggest you return to the data and convince yourself that a placebo would have some positive impact. You can also pick
compounds which are more likely to be beneficial, such as turmeric (although, be careful with your source).
I also cycle my placebos, which serves two purposes: one, it is a hedge in case one of my chosen placebos does actually cause some physiological harm from long-term consumption; two, it acts as a refresher, as I am more likely to
believe something is improving my life when it is novel.
Of course, this mindset is generalizable to non-placebos as well, which may be the real lesson I am trying to internalize here.
Password: Hint: two words, animal