7 surprising things that really should worry you

In our fast-paced world of nonstop tweets and round-the-clock news, it’s probably not shocking that we’re feeling more worried. According a 2018 poll by the American Psychiatric Association, almost 40 percent of Americans said they were more anxious than the year before.

But is any of it warranted?

“People get their information from a variety of sources: friends, family, the media, health-care providers. Not all of these sources should be given equal weight,” said Eric Chudler, who along with Lise Johnson, wrote the book “Worried? Science investigates some of life’s common concerns” (WW Norton), out Tuesday. “Unfortunately, there is plenty of misinformation, and most people are not trained to evaluate this information critically.”

So Chudler and Johnson investigated over 50 perceived threats surrounding food, travel, the environment and more and found that while many are harmless (if you don’t have celiac disease, then gluten should not be feared), many others are genuine.

Here are seven real concerns you shouldn’t blow off.


You know the studies that say a drink a day is good for your heart? Well, the party-pooping authors of “Worried” pour cold water over that advice.

“Unfortunately, re-analysis [of those studies] has shown that when other factors are accounted for, moderate drinkers really don’t have any mortality advantage,” they write. “Furthermore, the risks associated with alcohol consumption are so great that they outweigh any potential cardiovascular benefits.”

The authors also argue that many who consider themselves moderate drinkers are not as moderate as they think.

Noting that the “recommendation for moderate alcohol consumption” is “one standard drink a day” for all women and men over 65 and two a day for men younger, they write that many “moderate” drinkers regularly exceed this level.

“One drink is 12 ounces of 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor,” they write. “If you drink a pint of craft beer with 7 percent ABV, you are having more than one drink.”

Cats and dogs

Between 2001 and 2006 in the US, over 85,000 people a year were “injured and treated in emergency departments in falls associated with dogs and cats,” with 31 percent of those tripping over their dogs.

Pets can cause more traditional aggravation as well.

“Dogs bite more than 4.5 million people in the United States and send 800,000 people to the doctor’s office every year,” the authors write.

While rabies from dog bites has been virtually eliminated in the US, the disease “kills more than 59,000 people worldwide each year, with 99 percent caused by dog bites.”

But cat owners shouldn’t be feline any better. “Cats are responsible for 10-15 percent of emergency-room visits due to animal bites, and 30 percent of people who visited a doctor for a cat bite have to be hospitalized.”

A lick or scratch can transmit a bacterium called Bartonella henselae which causes cat-scratch disease. CSD affects 12,500 people a year in the US, and can cause fever, headache, blisters and even pneumonia and brain damage.

Medical errors

A 2016 study by Johns Hopkins found that a staggering 250,000 people die in the US every year due to medical errors.

The reason, the authors write, is that the people who provide medical care are as human — and therefore as fallible — as their patients.

“Certainly, there are some cases of gross negligence or incompetence,” the authors write, “but many medical errors are just slip-ups. People get tired, especially at the end of a long shift.”

For patients, asking as many questions as possible to ensure your doctor understands the issues you face and how to address them is the safest strategy.

“Ask a lot of questions before, during and after interventions, even if your provider seems busy,” they write. “Don’t be intimidated or assume that people know what they’re doing.”

Flame retardants

Due to a 1975 California law intended to curb cigarette fires, products including couches, baby products, carpets, clothing and more are treated with chemicals intended to prevent fires.

But these chemicals are not just virtually useless for stopping fires, the authors write, they have also been associated with health issues including infertility, decreased IQ, damage to developing nervous systems and cancer.

“Many flame retardants are bioaccumulative,” they write, “which means they build up in our bodies, primarily in fatty tissues.”

At this point, “pretty much everyone in the United States has some concentration of these chemicals in their bodies . . . the highest in small children.”

Since these chemicals collect in dust, “controlling the dust in your home and washing your hands frequently are the best defense.”

Dietary supplements

America’s enormous dependence on supplements — we bought over $41 billion’s worth in 2016 — isn’t nearly justified by their presumed effectiveness.

“There is no convincing evidence that well-nourished adults enjoy any benefit from extra vitamin supplementation,” the authors write.

“On the other hand, overconsumption of vitamins can have some negative health outcomes. This is especially true for fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) because they are more difficult for your body to clear. Acute vitamin overdoses can, in fact, be fatal.”

The authors recommend you talk to your doctor before taking any supplement and that you get your needed vitamins naturally whenever possible.

“Remember,” they write, “most of the time you’re better off with the broccoli in your refrigerator than the supplement in a jar.”

Antibiotics in livestock

For half a century now, farmers and ranchers have used antibiotics to boost the size of their animals.

Most of those drugs are excreted, and when that excrement is used as fertilizer, they make their way into our food.

“Antibiotics contaminate soil, ground water and crops,” the authors write. “They are consumed by insects and birds. They are consumed by us.”

Antibiotics can lead to a range of bad side effects. On the milder side, they can cause diarrhea and vaginal yeast infections. But they can also cause an infection called Clostridium difficile (C. diff) which can be difficult to kill with antibiotics and which “kills thousands of people every year.”

Right now, the authors say the best course of individual action is “to create a demand for responsibly raised meat.”

“The good news is that more and more antibiotic-free options are available to consumers.”

Public-transportation germs

Think the New York City subway is gross? Science agrees.

“When swabs from NYC subway turnstiles, exits, ticket kiosks, benches, handrails, doors and seats were taken, researchers found hundreds of different species of bacteria,” the authors write.

“Most (57 percent) of these bacteria turned out to be harmless, but 12 percent of species were known to cause human disease.”

These dangerous pathogens include bubonic plague, anthrax and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The latter is particularly worrisome, because “MRSA infections are difficult to treat and can cause life-threatening symptoms.”

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