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Vitamin D Lowers Risk of Dying From Cancer, Fish Oil Reduces Heart Attack Risk: Study

A large U.S. study designed to gauge the health benefits of vitamin D and fish oil supplements concludes that the omega-3 oil can dramatically reduce the odds of a heart attack while vitamin D’s benefits seem to come from lowering the risk of death from cancer.

Neither vitamin D nor fish oil lowered the odds of stroke or of getting cancer in the first place in the trial, whose participants did not know whether they were taking the real supplements or a dummy pill.

The heart attack rate in fish oil recipients was 28 percent lower than among those who got the dummy pill, or placebo, and it was 77 percent lower among African American participants – although the lead author of the study told Reuters Health that this dramatic drop in risk among black participants needs to be confirmed.

For people taking vitamin D who developed cancer, the death rate from cancer was 25 percent lower, possibly because the vitamin “may affect the biology of the tumor so it’s less likely to spread and become metastatic,” said lead author Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“If you’re talking about prevention of cancer, that may take treatment for well over a decade.”

It took a few years of vitamin D use for the reduction in cancer deaths to become clear.

The results were reported Saturday at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions meeting in Chicago and online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Both supplements have a reputation for being beneficial based on animal tests and observational studies involving large diverse populations or ethnic groups. But large studies that directly test the benefits of vitamin D and fish oil in supplement form have given inconsistent results.

The new study, known as VITAL, is the first large test of both in the general population. Most previous research has focused on volunteers with an elevated risk of heart attack, stroke and/or cancer.

vitamine d

The researchers gave 2,000 international units of vitamin D per day, 1 gram of marine omega-3 fatty acids, or placebo supplements to 25,871 volunteers aged 50 or older. None had a history of cancer, heart attack or stroke. At least half stayed in the study for more than five years.

Based on the new findings, “people already taking vitamin D or fish oil will feel there’s no reason to stop,” Manson said.

People who are considering starting the supplements may want to wait “because we are going to be publishing findings for other endpoints – diabetes, cognitive function, depression, autoimmune diseases – over the next six months,” she said. “These findings may help people decide if the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks for them.”

And people should not be taking higher doses than what was used in the study, Manson noted. With megadoses, “the risk may outweigh the benefit. With high doses of vitamin D there can be a risk of high blood calcium levels developing. Some have suggested a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, falls and even fractures.”

By other measures, neither supplement seemed useful.

Among fish oil recipients, the rates of death from any cause, death from cancer and death from heart disease in general were not significantly different than for people not taking fish oil supplements.

In addition, the collective odds of having a heart attack, stroke or death from any cardiovascular cause were essentially the same whether people were taking fish oil or placebo.

It was only when researchers teased out individual elements of heart disease – such as the rate of heart attack, the rate of fatal heart attack and the need for angioplasty – that a benefit stood out.

Even a little fish oil seemed to help. Volunteers who consumed less fish than average – less than one-and-a-half servings per week – and received the real omega-3 supplements saw a 40 percent reduction in the risk of a heart attack.

In the vitamin D study, which was “the largest high-dose randomized trial of vitamin D in the world,” according to Manson, supplement and non-supplement recipients had similar rates of heart attack, stroke, death from heart attack and cancers of the breast, prostate, or the colon and rectum.

It was only the odds of dying from cancer that were reduced.

By Gene Emery Reuters    November 13, 2018
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Four Nutrients You Probably Need More Of

Chances are, you need to boost your intake of at least one or two nutrients. Even the most disciplined eaters can be, unknowingly, skipping out on key essentials, which can eventually drain energy and lead to health problems.

According to Health Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), conducted in 2004, many people’s diets don’t provide enough vitamins and minerals. (Results from the 2015 CCHS have yet to be released.)

Haphazard eating and an increased reliance on heavily processed foods can undermine your diet.

Certain eating plans can also shortchange your body of nutrients.

A low-carbohydrate diet (e.g., ketogenic, Atkins-style) can deprive you of gut-friendly fibre, vitamin C and folate, a B-vitamin that repairs DNA in cells. Gluten-free diets can lack fibre and folate, too.

Even if you do eat the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals, you might need more. Aging and certain medications can interfere with nutrient absorption.

Sure, you can take a supplement to bridge nutrient gaps. And, in some cases, I recommend that you do.

Adding whole foods to your diet, though, should be your first line of defence. Along with vitamins and minerals, whole foods deliver fibre, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals.

Nutrients to pay attention to

Vitamin A

It’s necessary for normal vision and immune function. Yet, according to Health Canada, more than one-third of Canadians don’t consume enough.

There are two types of vitamin A in foods: retinol, ready for the body to use, and carotenoids, which are converted to vitamin A in the body. Foods high in retinol include beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, tuna, milk and cheese.

It’s carotenoids, though, that many people need more of. In addition to providing vitamin A, research suggests that a higher intake can help guard against heart attack, stroke and certain cancers.

Outstanding sources include sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, collards, kale, dandelion greens and cantaloupe. You’ll absorb more carotenoids if you eat your meal with a little fat.

fruits veggies

Vitamin B12

As many as 35 per cent of Canadian adults don’t consume the daily recommended 2.4 mcg of B12, a nutrient needed to make red blood cells, repair DNA and keep our nerves working properly.

B12 is found primarily in animal foods – meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. Some foods are fortified with B12, including plant-based “milks” (1 mcg per cup) and soy products. Fortified nutritional yeast, sold in natural-food stores, is also high in B12.

If you’re over 50, you might be getting less B12 than you realize. The absorption of B12 from foods relies on an adequate release of stomach acid. As many as 30 per cent of older adults have atrophic gastritis, a condition that reduces the stomach’s ability to release acid.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), drugs used to treat ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease, interfere with B12 absorption by reducing stomach acid. Metformin, a medication that controls blood sugar, also reduces B12 absorption.

Older adults, vegans and people taking PPIs and metformin long-term should take multivitamin or B-complex supplements to ensure they’re meeting daily B12 requirements.

Vitamin C

More than one-third of our diets fall short of vitamin C, used to make collagen, help the immune system work properly and enhance iron absorption from plant foods. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells from free radical damage.

The recommended daily intake is 75 mg (women) and 90 mg (men). (Smokers need an extra 35 mg.)
Include at least two vitamin C-rich foods in your daily diet such as red and green bell peppers (152 mg and 95 mg per ½ medium, respectively), oranges (70 mg per 1 medium), kiwifruit (64 mg each), strawberries (98 mg per cup), cantaloupe, broccoli, cauliflower and tomato juice.

To prevent chronic disease, some experts recommend a daily intake of 200 mg, an amount you can get by eating at least 5 daily servings (2.5 cups) of fruits and vegetables.

Magnesium

As many as 4 out of 10 Canadians consume too little magnesium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure, blood sugar and muscle and nerve function. That’s likely because some of the very best sources – pulses, leafy greens, bran cereal – are not everyday foods for many people.

Eating a diet high in magnesium is also tied to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and colon cancer.

Adults need 310-320 mg (women) and 400-420 mg (men) each day. Excellent sources include oat bran, brown rice, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, black beans, lentils, tofu and edamame.

People who are likely to take a proton pump inhibitor long-term should take a daily magnesium supplement (200 to 250 mg) in addition to eating magnesium-rich foods.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

November 4, 2018      Leslie Beck


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6 Easy Ways To Get Healthier That Have Nothing To Do With Exercise

When it comes to getting healthy, it’s not all about working up a sweat. In fact, there are tons of practical and beneficial habits you can work into your day-to-day that have nothing to do with hitting the gym or making rounds on the ClassPass circuit.

Some of these lifestyle adjustments involve eating more mindfully, which includes techniques like slowing down as you eat and paying attention to signals that let you know when you’re full. But getting enough sleep, reducing stress and cutting back on alcohol are all important too.

“Our environment, our habits and our mindset are almost just as important as what it is we are putting in our mouths. And we have to realize that,” said Lisa Young, a registered dietitian and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.

Here are some tips for boosting your health that have nothing to do with burning calories, but are almost guaranteed to leave you feeling better:

1. Slow down at meal time.

These days, everything we do ― eating included ― tends to happen at hyper speed. And it’s simply not good for your health. Nutritionists advise slowing down and chewing each bite of food somewhere between 20 and 30 times, which makes it easier to digest and absorb. In fact, the more you break down the food in your mouth, the more you’re going to absorb in the intestine, said Kelly Johnston, a registered dietitian and health coach at Parsley Health.

For the sake of digestion, try setting aside a bit more time so you can eat your meals in a less hasty way, even if it’s not 20 to 30 chews per bite of food.

“I always say the first line of digestion is your mouth, and chewing is such an important part of that,” Johnston said. “The less work you do in your mouth, the more work you have to do in your stomach and intestine, which can cause bloating downstream, constipation and just more work for the intestine.”

Eating at a slower pace also gives you more time to register fullness, which can lower your chances of overeating.

“Challenge yourself to take at least 15 to 20 minutes to finish a meal, because that is how long it takes for your gut to tell your brain it’s full,” said Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian in New York City.

2. Limit your distractions while eating.

Despite the fact that more than half of Americans eat lunch at their desks each day, nutritionists say this isn’t the best choice for your health. For one, the body has trouble prioritizing digestion when you’re stressed.

“The uptick of the stress hormone cortisol may cause nutrients to become poorly digested and disrupt the normal digestion process,” Beckerman said.

We get it though: Sometimes you have no option other than to work through lunch. In these situations, Young suggested planning exactly what you’re going to eat. This can help you avoid overeating, which seems to happen way too easily when you’re focused on your screen rather than the food you’re putting in your mouth.

“The problem when you eat mindlessly is that you don’t even realize that you’ve eaten,” Young said.

3. Eat whole rather than processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods are often high in sodium and added sugars and come with long lists of ingredients, many of which do little in terms of benefiting your overall health. Making a real effort to swap processed for whole foods is a great way to get healthier. Consider focusing on foods that exist in nature like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy fats and high-quality proteins like beans, fish and meat.

Processed foods have fillers, stabilizers and thickeners that can disrupt your body’s ability to soak in essential vitamins and nutrients from real foods,” Beckerman said. “You’ll be able to deliver and maximize the purest forms of nutrients to your body when you can eat whole foods.”

4. Get enough sleep.

When you’re trying to squeeze in time for everything possible in life ― work, social commitments, family, exercise, cooking healthy meals and more ― maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is often pushed aside. But getting enough sleep probably deserves a higher spot on your list of priorities. After all, this is the time of day where your body relaxes and repairs.

The exact amount of sleep varies from person to person, but somewhere around seven to eight hours a night is a good target, Johnston said. You surely know this from experience, but when you don’t get enough sleep, your body struggles the next day.

“Research shows that if you don’t get enough sleep, you automatically usually have an elevated blood sugar the following day because you haven’t metabolized well,” Johnston said.

Meanwhile, sleep deprivation disrupts the balance of the body’s hunger and satiety hormones, which can lead you toward that bottomless-pit feeling where you eat and eat but don’t feel full, Beckerman explained. Not getting enough sleep also leads to low levels of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s energy balance by inhibiting hunger. The result? Increased cravings of sugary and sweet foods, Beckerman said.

5. Find a way to let go of stress.

Some stress is good for you, especially the type that appears when you’re excited. But chronic stress, the kind that feels inescapable, can have a ton of negative effects on the body, from depression and anxiety to gastrointestinal problems and cardiovascular disease. For the sake of your health, it’s important to find a stress-relieving habit you can turn to regularly to balance the daily demands that drain you.

For some, this release can have to do with exercise, like going for a walk or going to a yoga class. For others, it might mean journaling, meditating or talking to a close friend. Really, the method is up to you as long as you take some time to yourself to let some of the stress fade away.

“Just recharging your battery is so important,” Johnston said.

6. Cut back on alcohol.

Besides contributing to those dreaded hangovers, drinking more than the recommended amount (up to one drink a day for women and two for men) can increase your risk of cancer and high blood pressure, as well as contribute to poor sleep, overeating, impaired cognitive function even after the alcohol leaves your system and earlier signs of aging, like wrinkles and broken blood vessels.
Many types of alcohol are also super sugary, which can lead to weight gain and problems with blood sugar levels. Additionally, alcohol and sugar can both negatively impact “the health of our gut and our microbiome,” Johnston said.

Alcohol also impairs the efficacy of the hormone leptin, which as mentioned earlier, plays a role in keeping you full.

“This imbalance influences our powerful brains towards convincing us that we want more carbohydrate heavy and greasy meals,” Beckerman said. So, while there’s usually nothing wrong with a drink here and there, it’s best to keep it to a minimum.

By Beth Krietsch,   10/25/2018   HuffPost US


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Can Eating Organic Food Lower Your Cancer Risk?

In a study, those who ate more organic produce, dairy, meat and other products had 25 percent fewer cancer diagnoses over all, especially lymphoma and breast cancer.

People who buy organic food are usually convinced it’s better for their health, and they’re willing to pay dearly for it. But until now, evidence of the benefits of eating organic has been lacking.

Now a new French study that followed 70,000 adults, most of them women, for five years has reported that the most frequent consumers of organic food had 25 percent fewer cancers over all than those who never ate organic. Those who ate the most organic fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other foods had a particularly steep drop in the incidence of lymphomas, and a significant reduction in postmenopausal breast cancers.

The magnitude of protection surprised the study authors. “We did expect to find a reduction, but the extent of the reduction is quite important,” said Julia Baudry, the study’s lead author and a researcher with the Center of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics Sorbonne Paris Cité of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. She noted the study does not prove an organic diet causes a reduction in cancers, but strongly suggests “that an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk.”

The study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, was paid for entirely by public and government funds.

Nutrition experts from Harvard who wrote a commentary accompanying the study expressed caution, however, criticizing the researchers’ failure to test pesticide residue levels in participants in order to validate exposure levels. They called for more long-term government-funded studies to confirm the results.

“From a practical point of view, the results are still preliminary, and not sufficient to change dietary recommendations about cancer prevention,” said Dr. Frank B. Hu, one of the authors of the commentary and the chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

He said it was more important for Americans to simply eat more fruits and vegetables, whether the produce is organic or not, if they want to prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends consuming a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of refined grains and limited amounts of red meat, processed meat and added sugars.

Dr. Hu called for government bodies like the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture to fund research to evaluate the effects of an organic diet, saying there is “strong enough scientific rationale, and a high need from the public health point of view.”

The only other large study that has asked participants about organic food consumption with reference to cancer was a large British study from 2014. While it found a significantly lower risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among women who said they usually or always ate organic food, it also found a higher rate of breast cancers in the organic consumers — and no overall reduction in cancer risk.

The authors of that study, known as the Million Women study, said at the time that wealthier, more educated women in the study, who were more likely to purchase organic food, also had risk factors that increase the likelihood of having breast cancer, such as having fewer children and higher alcohol consumption.

foods to buy organic

The organic food market has been growing in recent years, both in Europe and the United States. Sales of organic food increased to $45.2 billion last year in the United States, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 survey.

For food to be certified organic by the Department of Agriculture, produce must be grown without the use of most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and may not contain genetically modified organisms. Meat must be produced by raising animals fed organic food without the use of hormones or antibiotics. Such items now represent 5.5 percent of all food sold in retail outlets, according to the organic trade group.

A representative of the Alliance for Food and Farming, a group that seeks to address public concerns about pesticides, said consumers should not worry about cancer risks from consuming conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables. “Decades of peer-reviewed nutritional studies largely conducted using conventionally grown produce have shown that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables prevents diseases, like cancer, and leads to a longer life,” executive director Teresa Thorne said in an emailed statement.

For the study, researchers recruited 68,946 volunteers who were 44, on average, when the study began. The vast majority, 78 percent, were women.

Participants provided detailed information about how frequently they consumed 16 different types of organic foods. The researchers asked about a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy and soy products, meat, fish and eggs, as well as grains and legumes, bread and cereals, flour, oils and condiments, wine, coffee and teas, biscuits and chocolate and sugar, and even dietary supplements. Study volunteers provided three 24-hour records of their intake, including portion sizes, over a two-week period.

The information was far more detailed than that provided by participants in the British Million Women study, who responded to only a single question about how often they ate organic.

Participants in the French study also provided information about their general health status, their occupation, education, income and other details, like whether they smoked. Since people who eat organic food tend to be health-conscious and may benefit from other healthful behaviors, and also tend to have higher incomes and more years of education than those who don’t eat organic, the researchers made adjustments to account for differences in these characteristics, as well as such factors as physical activity, smoking, use of alcohol, a family history of cancer and weight.

Even after these adjustments, the most frequent consumers of organic food had 76 percent fewer lymphomas, with 86 percent fewer non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, and a 34 percent reduction in breast cancers that develop after menopause.

The reductions in lymphomas may not be all that surprising. Epidemiological studies have consistently found a higher incidence of some lymphomas among people like farmers and farm workers who are exposed to certain pesticides through their work.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified three pesticides commonly used in farming — glyphosate, malathion and diazinon — as probable human carcinogens, and linked all three to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

One reason an organic diet may reduce breast cancer risk is because many pesticides are endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen function, and hormones play a causal role in breast cancer.

By Roni Caryn Rabin     Oct. 23, 2018
 


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6 Facts That Totally Changed What I Thought I Knew About Cannabis

This primer for newbies will teach you how to navigate the world of weed. 

OK, I admit it: I’ve always been a bit of a dunce when it comes to cannabis. I’m 31 and have only smoked a joint a handful of times with friends (and once on a first date when we got so high that I burst into hysterical laughter because there were too many pho options on the menu). Until I spoke with Up Cannabis’s horticulture manager, Katie Iarocci, who manages the growing, harvesting and processing of Up’s plants, words like sativa, indica, cannabinoid and terpene were gibberish to me. Katie was kind enough to answer all my questions, changing everything I thought I knew about cannabis. (As we already discussed, I didn’t know much.) If you’re in the same boat as me—a cannabis newbie and sort of curious—get ready to learn a whole new language.

Fact #1: Cannabis has a lot of slang names.

Cannabis, marijuana, weed, pot, kush—they’re all basically the same thing. The big difference? Cannabis is the technical name of the plant, whereas all other terms are slang. Points to you if you already knew this factoid before reading this article… because I didn’t before writing it.

Fact #2: There are many types of cannabis and each one creates a different experience.

I always thought pot was pot—that it all looks and smells similar and basically has the same effect on the brain and body. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The two most common types of cannabis are sativas and indicas (which then have infinite strains within those categories, as well as hybrid versions). Sativas and sativa-dominant hybrids are preferred for daytime use because they “promote more of an energetic, creative high,” says Katie, whereas indicas, or indica-dominant hybrids, are better for relaxation and nighttime use. Find out how cannabis can be used as a remedy for stress.

Fact #3: Just because you hated one strain of cannabis, doesn’t mean you’ll hate another.

If you tried cannabis once and didn’t like it, you might want to give it another go. Aside from the fact that you might prefer a sativa over an indica and vice versa, each strain will also have its own unique levels of cannabinoids—over 100 chemical compounds that make up the cannabis plant. The two best-known cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD), which combats pain, inflammation and anxiety, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is psychoactive (meaning it will get you high) and acts as a muscle relaxant and antiemetic (i.e. it prevents nausea and vomiting). The levels of CBD and THC in the strain you choose will affect your experience.

Still totally confused about where to start? Thanks to legalization in Canada, it will be much easier to learn about the strains that a brand offers, though it will still likely involve some trial and error to find the strains that work best for you. Up has five cannabis strains to start: Eldorado (a sativa with high THC and low CBD for an energizing, creative high), Gems (a sativa-dominant hybrid with a stimulating head high and a bit of a relaxed body feeling), Grace (an indica that will put you to sleep), 50 MC (an indica-dominant hybrid that offers mild sedation and is better for nighttime use) and Morning Moon, pictured above (an indica-dominant hybrid that’s high in CBD and is perfect for a novice user).

Fact #4: Each strain has a unique scent and flavour.

Remember how I told you I thought all weed smelled the same? Katie felt the same way when she was younger, but now she can tell a strain just by its scent. That’s because each one has a special blend of terpenes, which are “organic compounds produced by a wide variety of plants that are used in perfumery, aromatherapy and even food flavouring,” says Katie. “When you smell lavender essential oil, for example, those are terpenes that you’re inhaling and you’re receiving those molecules into your olfactory nerves and sending messages to your brain.” Those terpenes have the ability to promote wellness, the same way that breathing in lavender essential oil promotes a calm feeling. Here’s some more information on how terpenes can boost your health.

Fact #5: There’s this thing called “The Entourage Effect” and it matters for consumption.

For the same reason that vitamin capsules often won’t be as effective as simply eating a wide variety of foods filled with nutrients, consuming isolated cannabinoids such as CBD won’t have the same effect as if you were to “consume cannabis with the entire profile of cannabinoids intact,” says Katie. “That’s called the entourage effect and it’s a theory that’s gaining a lot of traction as research continues.” It doesn’t mean that taking isolated CBD capsules or using CBD oil has no effect. It simply means that using the entire bud—whether you smoke it, vape it or eat it in an edible—will potentially have more impact on your overall wellbeing. Hopefully, with legalization in Canada, more research can be conducted into this theory.

Fact #6: The illicit cannabis market was dominated by men, but that’s changing.

Guess what? Cannabis isn’t just for men, even though men have historically dominated the space, choosing and using strains for their own benefit. But as Canadian cannabis brands like Up begin to enter the marketplace, they’ve started to target women with advertising and education. Of course, selling to women helps the bottom line of any company, but it’s also important that cannabis be available to women if they choose to partake. “We could really use female consumers’ feedback,” says Katie. “Historically cannabis works for men, but maybe there are other strains that are better for women.” Plus, cannabis shows promise for helping alleviate menstrual symptoms—something that men know nothing about.

Think you’re ready to try some cannabis again or for the first time? Dosing is key. Up goes by the motto that “one puff is enuff,” because until you understand how a strain affects you, you should start with just a small dose and slowly increase. “It’s a huge misconception that you take a puff and can be transported into outer space,” says Katie. Becoming “greened out” or incredibly high (see my above first date experience) only happens if you smoke or ingest too much weed at once. So take a puff and see how it goes. You might love it, you might want to try a different strain or it might not be your thing.

Whatever you decide, have fun and be responsible, too. 

Andrea Karr


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The Top 3 Reasons Why You Self-Sabotage and How to Stop

Faulty thinking and fear of failure play a part.

It’s easy to sabotage yourself when you’re trying to meet an important goal, like developing healthier habits, getting assignments done on time, saving money, managing weight, or building healthy relationships. Self-sabotage isn’t just one thing — it can have many causes — but the end result is that you get off track, mess up relationships, don’t get things done, or don’t perform as well as you would like. All of this can lead to feeling bad about yourself and expecting to fail, which leads to more self-sabotage to avoid facing failure head-on, which perpetuates the cycle.

Below are some of the ways in which you may sabotage yourself and suggestions for what to do instead. My colleague and fellow Psychology Today blogger Alice Boyes has an excellent new book out called The Healthy Mind Toolkit, which provides simple, practical psychological tools to help you stop self-sabotaging and develop healthy habits and attitudes instead.

Why do you sabotage yourself?

There are many reasons for self-sabotage, but three of the most important ones involve your thinking patterns, fears you may have in intimate relationships, and the tendency to avoid things that are difficult or uncomfortable. Read on to find out more.

1. Faulty thinking

Our human brains tend to be wired to cling to the familiar, to overestimate risk, and to avoid trying new approaches. This tendency, known as the familiarity heuristic, leads us to overvalue the things we know and undervalue things that are unfamiliar. And when we are under stress, we tend to rely on the familiarity heuristic even more. When our brains are tired, we resort to old habits and ways of doing things, even if they don’t work well. We are drawn to go with the familiar, even when a different option offers a clear advantage.

In one study, researchers asked subjects to do a complicated word puzzle. One group performed under time pressure, while the other was told to take as much time as they needed. After the puzzle was done, subjects were told they had to do another puzzle, but were given a choice between a longer puzzle invented by the same person who designed the first puzzle or a short puzzle designed by somebody they did not know. The group who performed under more stressful conditions (time pressure) were more likely to choose the longer puzzle, even though this would put them at a disadvantage. It’s as if their brains got confused trying to compare the advantages of length versus familiarity, and so they resorted to the “familiarity heuristic.”

It’s not always easy to tell when your brain is relying on a heuristic. Try to make important decisions when you’re not stressed and to consider the pros and cons of each choice, rather than just going with something that intuitively sounds like the best choice (but may not be).

2. Fear of intimacy or fear of rejection

We all know people who sabotage relationships when they reach a certain level of intimacy. Some people cheat, others pick fights or get controlling to push the person away, still others reveal all their insecurities or become too needy and clingy. These are all unconscious ways in which our brains fear getting trapped or rejected if we get too close. Many of these patterns are based on childhood relationships with caregivers. If you have “insecure attachment,” you may unconsciously fear repeating the past. Perhaps your parent was rejecting or neglectful, critical, inconsistent, or you had to be the “parentified child.” Parts of our brains remember this pain and begin to act in adult relationships as if we are with our parent (or perhaps do the complete opposite in an extreme way, which gets us into trouble as well).

If your fear of intimacy or rejection is strong, it is better to mindfully allow your insecure or fearful feelings to be there, while actively working to find healthy, mature ways of talking about them, rather than running away or pushing people away. You need to remind yourself that you are an adult now and have a much greater capacity to tolerate stress and rejection and to take care of yourself than you did as a child. Also remind yourself of what you have to gain by staying engaged. Try to be more self-aware and to notice the effects of your behavior patterns on your relationship happiness.

success

3. Procrastination and avoidance

A third way you may self-sabotage is by not dealing with problems until they get so big that you are forced to deal with them. Or not being able to discipline yourself to get work done on time. There are several potential reasons for procrastinating and avoiding. You may never have learned the skills to break tasks up into smaller pieces, or you may be too tired to plan out a schedule for doing the work. Alternatively, you may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task or feel like an imposter who doesn’t have what it takes to succeed. Self-sabotaging by not getting started, staying up too late, or going out with friends or watching television instead of working is a very common pattern. In the short term, you manage to avoid the discomfort of an anxiety-provoking or boring and unrewarding task. But in the long term, the things you’ve put off come back to bite you.

You may also procrastinate and avoid because you are perfectionistic, overthink things, or can’t decide where to begin. All of these tendencies tend to have an anxiety component. You can counteract them by giving yourself a time limit to choose or by allowing yourself to make an imperfect choice. It helps to see yourself as being able to learn from experience and improve over time. This is what researcher Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset makes the possibility of failure less scary, whereas if you see your abilities as fixed, you are more likely to avoid performance situations or sabotage  yourself so your weaknesses won’t be clearly exposed.

Procrastination and avoidance (as well as addictive behavior) can also be ways of not taking responsibility for your actions. These behaviors allow you to blame outside factors, like not having enough time, if you do poorly, rather than admitting your role in not using your time well. Some of us fear success, because we shun the limelight or fear that others will expect more from us than we can deliver. But rather than facing this fear head-on, we tend to set ourselves up for failure instead.

Take-Home Message

When it comes to self-sabotage, one size doesn’t fit all. You may be too tired and stressed to think through complex choices and instead rely on easy (but inaccurate) heuristics. You may sabotage relationships, because you fear closeness and intimacy or fear rejection. Or you may procrastinate and avoid, because you fear failure or lack planning and time management skills. The solution differs depending on the area of self-sabotage. Getting enough rest and not taking on too much can help you think more clearly and make better choices. Understanding the roots of your fears of intimacy and rejection and taking small steps towards more closeness can help in the relationship arena. And taking more responsibility for planning and motivating yourself and adopting a growth mindset can help with procrastination at work.

References
Boyes, Alice (2018). The Healthy Mind Toolkit. TarcherPerigree

Jun 11, 2018

Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.