32 Odd Health Facts: Polar Bears, Hallucinations & Chocolate - Blog

32 Odd Health Facts: Polar Bears, Hallucinations & Chocolate

1. The adult human body contains 20-30 trillion red blood cells

People living at high altitudes tend to have more red blood cells per litre of blood, and men have higher concentrations of red blood cells than women, on average. Red blood cells are far more numerous than white blood cells or platelets.  

2. Did you know that sleeping too much reduces your life expectancy?

Studies show that sleeping more than 9 hours a night increases your chance of premature death. But so does not sleeping enough, of course! Less than 6 hours a night has been shown to increase your risk of heart disease and compromise your immune system. So, it’s about balance – how much we need varies from person to person.  

3. Drinking one 150ml can of sugary soft drink a day increases your chances of getting type 2 diabetes by about 20%. It significantly increases fat deposits in the liver, increasing the risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


4. Laughter reduces your risk of heart disease. Laughing can increase blood flow by up to 20%, by expanding the arteries

This effect lasts for up to 45 minutes after you stop laughing. It’s also clinically proven that laughter reduces stress hormones and boosts the immune system by increasing the number of T cells and antibodies in your blood stream.  

5. Between 2000 and 2015 the average global life expectancy increased by 5 years

This is the biggest jump since the 1960s. However there are still large discrepancies between countries, and between the rich and poor within countries. According to the World Health Organisation, this jump in last couple of decades was mostly due to an increase across the African region from 50.6 years to 60 years, brought about by an increase in child survival, improvements in malaria control and access to HIV treatment. The countries with the highest and lowest life expectancy in 2015 were Japan (83.7 years) and Sierra Leone (50.1 years).  

6. Learning a language or musical instrument is good for your brain

Learning new skills improves cognitive functioning, particularly as we age. Learning how to do something new not only creates new connections in the brain, it strengthens existing connections and actually makes it easier to learn in future. This is true for young and old, and continuing to learn as an adult slows the aging of your brain. According to one study, being bilingual as an adult can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by 4.5 years.  

7. Reading a book reduces stress

Reading can lower your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, by as much as 68%. As well as lowering stress levels, reading fiction increases your empathy and improves your mood, research has shown. Especially if you’re someone who enjoys a good novel, here’s yet another reason to while away the hours immersed in a fictional world.  

8. Smelling rosemary can improve memory and concentration

In fact, this shouldn’t be news to us, as ancient Greek scholars used to use it to improve their mental faculties, by wearing rosemary wreaths or rubbing its oil on their temples.  

9. Did you know that it’s estimated the average person worldwide takes about 5,000 steps per day?

A moderately active person walks approximately 7,500 steps a day, which over a lifetime is roughly equivalent to walking five times around the earth. 10,000 steps per day is considered optimal for positive results in terms of lower blood pressure, helping you maintain a healthy weight, reducing your risk of heart disease and improving your mental well being.  

10. Did you know that vocalising reduces pain?

One study looked at the effect of saying “Ow!” in response to pain, and found it increased pain tolerance. Shouting or swearing when you’re in pain can actually reduce your experience of the pain. The study found that just hearing a recording of yourself saying ‘Ow’ had no effect, concluding that the physical act of vocalising is part of the effect. One theory is that the same parts of the brain that experience pain are also involved in mouth sounds, so we can’t focus on both at once. Sounds that require a minimum of articulation and maximum volume output seem to be the most effective.  

11. Another study suggests that low-pitched noises are more effective than screams

This could be because of the lower vibration that helps relax the muscles. Vocalising also produces endorphins – singing even more so. So, if you have your wits about you enough to sing while in pain, do it! Mothers in labour often report that making noise such as shouting and moaning helps them cope with the pain.  

12. Brushing your teeth too soon after eating or drinking can soften the tooth enamel, especially after acidic foods


13. Your posture can affect your state of mind

Studies have shown that sitting up straight actually decreases cortisol and increases testosterone, making you more likely to recall positive memories. Our body language also affects our decision making, as one study showed.  

14. Did you know that butter contains several essential vitamins?

Butter has been given a bad rep – for decades we were told ‘saturated fats are bad’. But it turns out that the sugar and refined carbohydrates are the main problem in terms of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Butter actually contains a fatty acid called butyric acid, which helps reduce inflammation in the digestive system. It also contains vitamins A, D, E, B12 and K2.  

15. Did you know that nutmeg can cause hallucinations?

Nutmeg is psychoactive and, in high enough doses, can cause a combination of hallucinations, nausea, confusion and paranoia, hyperactivity, euphoria, and chest and abdominal pain. The small amounts of the spice in certain dishes and beverages is not enough to cause noticeable symptoms, and fatal poisoning is very rare, but it’s toxic consumed in large amounts.  

16. Roughly 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by rainforests and the other 80% by microorganisms in the oceans. Rainforests are also estimated to contain more than half of the world’s species of plants, insects and animals.


17. Did you know vitamin D is not actually a vitamin?

Strictly speaking, vitamins are nutrients the body can’t produce on its own, and has to get from food sources. Vitamin D, though it is essential to many processes in the body, is not a vitamin because our bodies can create vitamin D through a process of photosynthesis when our skin is exposed to the sun. Vitamin K is another exception, manufactured in the gut by friendly bacteria. Some animals can make vitamin C, but we humans need to get it from our diet – as is the case with most vitamins.  

18. Did you know that cinnamon essential oil is capable of fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

Other essential plant oils, such as thyme and tea tree, have also been shown to be capable of treating infections that no longer respond to antibiotics.  

19. Turmeric has been found in multiple studies to be a more effective anti-inflammatory than either aspirin or ibuprofen.


20. Dads get post-natal depression too. In fact, about 1 in 25 New Zealand fathers suffer from post-natal depression

Plunket estimates 1 in 8 mothers experience post-natal depression. PND is often linked with a lack of the hormone oxytocin, which is normally produced in women following childbirth, but also created in both parents through parental bonding after birth.  

21. Did you know that wearing sunscreen can cause vitamin D deficiency?

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth, boosts immunity and actually protects against skin cancer (as well as other types of cancer). The body can’t produce it and we don’t get enough from our food, but our skin photosynthesises vitamin D, so regular careful exposure to the sun (without getting burnt) is your best source.  

22. Did you know that eating dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) can help prevent heart disease?

Cocoa contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, as well as several flavonoids and essential minerals. Regularly eating small amounts of dark chocolate improves blood flow and regulates blood sugar. It’s high in magnesium, a mineral many people are deficient in, which is essential for building bones and muscle, maintaining the nervous system, and healthy sleep and stress levels. Numerous studies have linked the antioxidant compounds found in dark chocolate with improved cognitive function and reducing your risk of dementia. Milk chocolate doesn’t offer these benefits, so look for dark chocolate made with cocoa butter and at least 70 percent cocoa.  

23. Multiple studies have recently shown a correlation between vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and autism

There is also evidence to suggest that vitamin D supplementation in children with autism when they are young may be able to help reduce the severity of the disorder.  

24. Did you know that New Zealand’s soil is deficient in several minerals essential to human nutrition?

Selenium, iodine and chromium are low in foods produced in New Zealand and these are common deficiencies in Kiwis. These three nutrients are trace minerals (meaning we only need tiny amounts) but are essential for our immune system, thyroid function and metabolism.  

25. Your brain requires up to 20 percent of all the energy your body uses, even when you’re sleeping. It uses slightly more energy when you are engaged in learning a new skill.


26. The human body has between 650 and 840 muscles (depending how you count them) and 206 bones.

Babies are born with around 270 bones, but some of these fuse together as they grow.  

27. Did you know that polar bear liver is so high in vitamin A that it is poisonous for humans to eat?


28. Did you know there are several different types of omega fatty acids?

The two main groups of omega fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. Both are essential, and both have different functions for our health. However, the ratio has to be right, and modern Western diets tend to contain too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. The ideal ratio is thought to be 1:1. When considering your omega-3 intake there several subtypes. The omega-3s derived from marine animals (EPA and DHA) are the most beneficial. Other omega-3 fats are found in certain nuts, seeds and seaweed, but these plant-based foods are a weak source of omega-3 and no substitute for fatty fish sources. The omega-3 that comes from plants is called ALA, and must be converted into EPA to be usable by the body. This process is inefficient, so you don’t get as much usable omega-3 at the end. The most important source of these essential fatty acids is fish oil.  

29. Did you know there are several different forms of magnesium to be found in off-the-shelf magnesium supplements?

Not all are created equal in terms of absorption and bioavailability. Magnesium citrate, magnesium orotate and magnesium amino acid chelate are the most easily absorbed by the body and are also gentle on the stomach. Some supplements might appear to be have higher doses of magnesium, but if it’s a poorly bioavailable form, such as magnesium oxide or magnesium hydroxide, it won’t be as effective. If you are deficient in magnesium, look for a supplement that has the three types mentioned above – such as About Health’s Element 12 Magnesium formula – and consult with your health professional to help you find the right magnesium supplement for you. An additional benefit of magnesium orotate is that it is bound to orotic acid, which has been shown to strengthen the heart muscle and increase energy and endurance.  

30. Did you know that gut health has a significant effect on mood and memory?

The microbial diversity and health of your digestive tract has a direct effect on brain health. Leaky gut syndrome, for example, can be a contributor to depression, anxiety and even Alzheimer’s. The gut helps to regulate the body’s response to stress, and when there’s an imbalance it can’t do this properly. A healthy diversity of probiotics (‘good’ bacteria) means we are better able to absorb nutrients and less likely to suffer from chronic inflammation, stress, depression and anxiety. Our immune system is directly dependent on a healthy gut.  

31. In recent years, researchers have repeatedly drawn a link between gut health and Alzheimer’s disease

Discovering that Alzheimer’s patients have a different make-up of bacteria in their gut that is less diverse and contains more of the ‘bad’ bacteria than the ‘good’ probiotics that keep inflammation in check. This pattern of gut flora imbalance has also been observed in people with depression and autism.  

32. Around the world, about 36 million people are totally blind

And roughly seven times that many have some kind of vision impairment. 16 million cases of blindness are caused by cataracts, according to the World Health Organisation. About 80% of cases of vision impairment worldwide are avoidable or curable.