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8 Health Habits That Are Actually Bad For You

Too much of the good stuff can be a bad thing.

Is there such a thing as drinking too much water? Find out what might actually be harming you under the guise of a healthy habit! By Sasha Gonzales

Drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication. Photo: Peter Bernik / www.123rf.com

Our experts:

- DR CHRISTINA LOW, medical director at Lifescan Medical Centre

- DR HOE WAN SIN, general practitioner at Parkway Shenton

- DR SHERINA DARYANANI, dentist and founder of Teeth @ Tiong Bahru, Dental Clinic

- SUSIE RUCKER, nutritional therapist at Body With Soul

1. Getting too much sleep

From fatigue and depression to high blood pressure and memory loss, you've probably read about the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation. But sleeping too much can also make you lethargic, depressed, anxious and less productive.

If you're prone to headaches, sleeping longer than usual can also be a trigger, says Dr Christina Low, medical director at Lifescan Medical Centre. Other medical problems linked to oversleeping include obesity, back pain and an increased risk of heart disease.

So what is considered too much sleep? Most experts agree that healthy adults require seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but this number depends on various factors, such as your age, whether or not you are physically active, and other health and lifestyle habits. Stress or illness may also cause you to sleep more.

Oversleeping, or hypersomnia, is a very real problem, says Dr Hoe Wan Sin, a general practitioner at Parkway Shenton.

It can be primary - for instance, due to brain disorders - or secondary, due to medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease, iron deficiency, hypothyroidism, chronic kidney disease, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders like narcolepsy or sleep apnoea.

If you have been sleeping excessively for at least the last three months, or are experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, it might be a good idea to see your doctor to rule out any underlying disorders.

(Also read: Different Types of Sleep Disorders)

2. Drinking too much water

While we know that staying hydrated is important for a healthy body, drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication.

"When you drink too much water too fast, such that it is beyond your kidneys' capacity to excrete the excess fluids as urine, you run the risk of water intoxication, which can be potentially fatal," says Dr Hoe. "This happens as the sodium levels in the blood fall to a dangerously low level, leading to brain swelling."

Symptoms of water intoxication include headaches, behavioural changes, confusion, irritability, drowsiness, breathing difficulties, muscle weakness and pain, twitching or cramping, nausea and vomiting. In extreme cases, seizures, brain damage, coma or even death can result.

So how much water is enough? "You should drink enough such that you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is colourless or light yellow," says Dr Hoe. "That works out to at least 1.5 litres a day. If you have heart disease or kidney disease, consult your doctor before changing your daily water intake."

(Also read: Is Singapore Tap Water Really Safe to Drink?)

3. Over-exercising

There is such a thing as exercising too much, and hurting your body in the process.

"Over-exercising can cause muscle soreness, muscle and joint stiffness, and fatigue," Dr Low points out. "When your muscles and joints are stressed, you may sustain injuries like hamstring strains, Achilles tendon tears or shoulder-joint problems.

"You also put yourself at risk of a heart attack if you push yourself too hard while exercising, although this usually only affects people with undiagnosed or pre- existing heart conditions," she adds.

Over-exercising can also sap you of energy, preventing you from functioning optimally.

Dr Hoe advises exercising less often and more gently at the first sign of injury. And if you feel you want to up your exercise volume, limit it to not more than a 10 per cent increase a week.

Having a regular exercise regimen is a good way to maintain a healthy weight, gain muscle strength and joint mobility, prevent osteoporosis, and boost your immunity and emotional well-being.

Dr Hoe recommends about 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise a week - about 30 minutes a day, five days a week - plus muscle-strengthening exercises two days a week. (Also read: Easy Home Exercises to Build Muscle)

4. Brushing your teeth too often or too hard

We brush to remove the build-up of plaque on our teeth, which starts to form as soon as we finish brushing, and if left on the teeth for more than 12 hours, can irritate the gums. Plaque is also a factor in tooth decay.

Dr Sherina Daryanani, a dentist and founder of Teeth @ Tiong Bahru, Dental Clinic, recommends brushing your teeth first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Three times a day is fine, too, but unnecessary. Any more than thrice a day, and you risk wearing down the surface of your teeth and causing gum recession, which will expose the softer root surface. Both these problems can lead to tooth sensitivity.

Another common problem is brushing too hard. This can traumatise the gums, causing soreness in the short term, explains Dr Daryanani.

"In extreme cases, using too much force can cause abrasion cavities along the necks of the teeth (where the crown meets the root), which can weaken the teeth structurally and increase tooth sensitivity."

She recommends using a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head. "Medium or hard bristles can exacerbate the problem if you apply too much force.

"Studies suggest brushing with a force of 150g, about the weight of an orange." Try this test: Press your toothbrush on the surface of a ripe tomato, if you leave an impression on the surface, you're using too much force.

(Also read: The Secrets to Whiter Teeth)

5. Cleaning your ears with a cotton bud

"Even with gentle pressure, using a cotton bud could cause hearing loss, damage your ear canal or rupture your delicate eardrum. And while a punctured eardrum will heal, it can also lead to conductive hearing loss," says Dr Low.

When using a cotton bud, there's also the risk of pushing earwax deep into the ear canal. Impacted earwax is difficult to remove, and all that aggressive cleaning can cause abrasions in the canal, leading to outer ear infections.

Your don't need to clean your ears as they are self-cleaning, but if you must, just clean the outer ear with a washcloth, using a mild soap and warm water, Dr Low advises.

6. Taking too many dietary supplements

Most nutrition experts agree that if you have a healthy, well-balanced diet, you don't need vitamin and mineral supplements. But those with a medical condition that results in nutritional deficiencies should follow their doctor's advice with regard to the dosage.

Overdosing on dietary supplements can have a range of side effects. More than 1g of vitamin C, for instance, can cause diarrhoea; too much iron can lead to an upset stomach, nausea, fatigue and joint pain; high levels of vitamin B6 can cause nerve damage, and excessive zinc intake may cause heart problems, anaemia and a lowered immunity, while also blocking your body's absorption of copper and iron.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center reviewed several trials over a decade involving thousands of patients, and found that overdosing on supplements may also increase one's risk of cancer and heart disease.

Beta-carotene, which some people take to boost their immunity, was found to increase the risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease by up to 20 per cent, while folic acid increased the number of precancerous polyps in the colon.

(Also read: Warning! Don't Buy These Health Supplements)

7. Drinking fresh juices

Many of us drink juice to get extra nutrients into our diet, increase our energy level and fend off illness. But Susie Rucker, a nutritional therapist at Body With Soul, says drinking too much of the wrong juices and using non-organic produce can be counterproductive.

As fruit is high in fructose, a natural sugar, Susie says that drinking too much fruit juice can lead to unstable blood sugar levels, as well as increase your risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

To cut down on sugar content when juicing, she recommends throwing in vegetables like kale and cucumber. If you use non-organic produce, peel them to minimise your consumption of chemicals and pesticides commonly found on the skin.

However, if that glass of fruit juice is your only intake of fruit and vegetables in a day, then you are missing out on dietary fibre, which is important for digestive health, cautions Susie. (Also read: The Best Way to Store Fruits)

8. Eating low-fat foods

Read your food labels carefully as low-fat foods may be high in sugar. Very often, when food manufacturers take the fat out of a product, they add sugar to it to boost its taste. Yogurt, cereal, ice cream and many other snack foods that are labelled low-fat, reduced fat or non-fat, tend to have high levels of sugar.

A healthy diet should include some fat, so there's no reason to avoid full-fat products, unless your doctor has advised you otherwise. What's more, dietary fat is essential for optimal brain function and for processing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, adds Susie.

This article was originally published in Simply Her February 2016.

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