We’ve all been there at least once – not finishing a course of antibiotics, using your partner’s prescribed sleeping tablet – but which of these so-called harmless habits should you avoid for good? We asked the experts…
Shortcut 1: Substituting vitamins for fruit and vegetables
Most of us don’t reach the recommended fruit and vegetable intake. But if the reason we need all that greenery is about nutrients, surely a high-dose vitamin pill is the answer? “Things like vitamins A, E, B and beta-carotene in vitamin pills are all isolated chemicals,” says dietician Sue Baic. “They don’t impact health in the same way as nutrients from fruit and veg, which also contain essential phytochemicals, antioxidants and fibre – all essential in preventing cancer and heart disease.”
The simple advice about choosing different coloured fruit and vegetables matters. “It’s the synergy of the nutrients in fruit and vegetables that’s protective,” says Sue Baic. “That’s why a wide variety of colours is so important.”
Shortcut 2: Using your partner’s prescribed sleeping pills
If you have been battling to sleep and have tried all the home remedies you know about, the sight of your partner’s prescribed sleeping tablets is your only solution. But is it worth it? “If you can take just one, then the odd sleeping pill won’t necessarily hurt you, but few people manage that,” says Dr Cathy Moss, “For just about everyone, sleeping pills are addictive and, other than the terminally ill or those with severe jet lag, I never recommend them.”
If you have serious sleep problems, you’re far better off asking your GP for a referral to a sleep clinic that can examine the reasons for your insomnia.
Shortcut 3: Not finishing a course of antibiotics
You might feel better after a couple of days of antibiotics, but experts advise you finish the dose. “Clinical trials on these drugs’ effectiveness will be based on patients taking them over a certain time to kill off all the bacteria that’s causing your illness,’ says Dr Andrew Hayward. “If you don’t finish the course, you might end up with some bacteria left in your system, which could multiply and become resistant.” Antibiotic resistance could mean that when you really need antibiotics in the future, they don’t work.
Take antibiotics only when you really need them, but when you do, always finish the course.
Shortcut 4: Using a friend’s toothbrush
This is not a good idea. “Our mouths contain 3,000 different bacteria,” says Dr Nigel Carter, “so we should never share brushes.” Like the bacteria in your gut, the balance found in your mouth is unique to you. “The transfer of just one bacteria from one person’s mouth to another can create the beginnings of gum disease,” says dentist Bryan Long. If there is something bleeding in the mouth, sharing a toothbrush could also contribute to the spread of illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis.
You’re better off keeping floss in your handbag and just using that. Flossing takes away 60% of plaque in your mouth – that’s more than brushing.