Generally Beneficial or Specifically Detrimental?

How many times have you heard that something is “good for you”? Do you ever wonder if it’s good in general? Is it good for everybody? Is there really anything that’s all good, no matter what? Is there anything that’s actually good for everybody, regardless of your situation?

The fact is that most things have both benefits and detriments, advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons. Hardly anything is completely risk-free.

Much of what you hear about health matters boil down to what’s generally beneficial: “Carbs are bad for you,” “Estrogen is dangerous,” “Red wine is good for you.”

So, is that it? Do any of these beneficial things have any detriments? And do any of these detrimental things have any benefits?

The problem with sound bites like these is that people take them at face value. They think that’s the whole story, when, in fact, it never is. Everything —  absolutely everything — has both benefits and detriments. The key is to specify them. Things that are generally beneficial for some purposes may be specifically detrimental for others, and vice versa.

Let’s take carbs, for example.

Somehow, carbs have gotten a bad rap. “They make you fat,” “They cause diabetes,” “They provide empty calories.” Poor carbs! When did carbohydrates become the bad food group?

With generalizations about how bad carbs are, people fail to specify which carbs are bad. They also fail to designate the specific instances in which carbs are bad.

When you hear someone say that carbs are bad, do you ever stop to think about the fact that all fruits and vegetables are carbs? Whole grains are carbs, too. So is fiber. These things constitute the vast majority of carbs. And we all know that fruit, veggies, whole grains, and fiber are very good for us. So that leaves just sugars and starchy carbs as the bad guys. Seems to me that the mantras about carbs being detrimental are just too general.

What about estrogen?

Here’s a hormone that has been surging through your body your entire adult life. It’s given you all your feminine qualities – your soft skin, your thick and shiny hair, your moist vagina, your dainty features. Not only that. It’s also kept your heart arteries supple, your bones dense, and your brain sharp.

The fact that your body loves estrogen is evidenced by the long list of miserable symptoms you experience when it disappears at the time of menopause. And in addition to those symptoms, you say hello to high risks for heart attack, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s Disease when your estrogen goes bye-bye.

But, despite all these generally beneficial aspects of estrogen, somehow, it’s become the enemy. Women are running around talking about how estrogen causes all sorts of cancers and saying that women should avoid it. There’s even a term called “Estrogen Dominance” that blames estrogen for nearly all gynecologic problems.

How can it be that something that’s been so generally beneficial to your body for so many years suddenly becomes specifically detrimental? And precisely when did it go from being the good guy to becoming the bad guy? Could it be that estrogen has both benefits and risks? Could these generally detrimental statements be overkill?

Well, as it turns out, estrogen is mostly good most of the time. But, timing is key. When you lose your estrogen at menopause, your body starts aging. With enough aging, it can’t handle estrogen any more. So, women who replace their estrogen loss early in their post-menopause find it generally beneficial. But women who go for a long period of time without estrogen and then start taking it late in their post-menopause discover that it is specifically detrimental with regard to certain risks. If you ask me, that makes aging, not estrogen, the bad guy.

And then there’s red wine.

You’ve probably heard, “Two glasses of red wine are good for you.” Does that mean two glasses of red wine are good for everything? Is there anything for which red wine may not be the best benefit? Or what if one glass is better than two?

This mantra has women drinking wine galore. If two glasses are good, then three or four must be better, right? And if red wine is good for you, then why not assume it’s good for all your menopausal woes, right?


Despite red wine’s general benefits, it also has specific detriments. It all depends on which disease you’re addressing.

Two glasses of red wine per day is a stretch in the first place. Somehow, the quantity has doubled in terms of what’s “good for you.” One glass of red wine is good for you ... but only if you’re talking about preventing a heart attack. One glass of red wine does indeed lower your risk of heart attack.

But if you shift to discussing osteoporosis, that same one glass of red wine per day becomes much more iffy. One glass of red wine per day is borderline excessive in the context of osteoporosis, and it can actually increase your risk.

Oh, and if you expand the discussion to breast cancer, all bets are off. In the case of breast cancer, one glass of red wine per day definitely increases your risk ... significantly.

So, it all depends on the details. Nothing is just beneficial or just detrimental. Everything has both benefits and detriments. It all depends on the specifics.

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