7 things you didn't know were affecting your health

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Published July 13, 2020

Key Takeaways

In medicine, the biopsychosocial model is king. It is both philosophy and practice. From a philosophical vantage, it helps clinicians comprehend how disease, illness, and suffering impact multiple levels of organizations ranging from the molecular to the societal. In practice, it explains how psychological and social factors influence biological functioning, contributing to a patient’s health outcomes, diagnosis, and care.

Although certain biopsychosocial factors impact health in predictable ways, such as with smoking and depression, other variables have more surprising effects. Here’s a look at some unexpected or overlooked phenomena that affect health.

Social relationships

Although humans are by nature social creatures, modern life in the industrialized world has decreased the caliber of social relationships. Many people no longer live near family members, while others delay getting married or having children. Moreover, loneliness and resultant depression have become big issues.

People with healthy relationships seem to be healthier. Per the results of a meta-analysis published in PLoS Medicine, which spanned 148 studies, researchers found that there was a 50% increased chance of survival in those with stronger social relationships. This correlation stood after adjusting for various covariates, including age, sex, and health status. 

“The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking and it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality (eg, obesity, physical inactivity),” the authors wrote.


5G is the new, well…4G. Importantly, 5G can transfer data up to 100 times faster than 4G due to higher transmission frequency. Along with its higher transmission frequency, does 5G also have increased health dangers from radiofrequency radiation? It’s a highly controversial topic. 

4G radiation penetrates human tissue to a depth of a few centimeters, while 5G is believed to penetrate into the human body only a few millimeters, researchers have found. 

“As the frequency goes up, the depth of penetration into biological tissues goes down, so the skin and eyes, rather than the brain, become the main organs of health concern,” said Andrew Wood, of the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR).

“The major hurdle is that the power levels involved in mobile and wireless telecommunications are incredibly low, which, at most, produce temperature rises in tissue of a few tenths of a degree. Picking up unambiguous biological changes is therefore very difficult,” he continued in an interview with Nature Research.

Not everyone agrees with that relatively harmless assessment, though. 

“The common ‘wisdom’ presented in the literature and media is that, if there are adverse impacts resulting from high-band 5G, the main impacts will be focused on near-surface phenomena, such as skin cancer, cataracts, and other skin conditions. However, there is evidence that biological responses to millimeter-wave irradiation can be initiated within the skin, and the subsequent systemic signaling in the skin can result in physiological effects on the nervous system, heart, and immune system,” wrote Ronald N. Kostoff, PhD, research affiliate, School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology, and coauthors in Toxicology Letters.

Scientists like Dr. Kostoff are calling for more investigation into the possible health effects of 5G, but the tech industry is already busy rolling it out. 

Your food

Prepackaged food items are always a convenient option, but are they the healthiest? Take bagged salad, for example: Salad is supposed to be healthy, right? Not when you toss in a parasite. 

Just recently, a multistate outbreak of Cyclospora infections was recently traced back to a popular bagged salad mix sold by Fresh Express, which contained iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, and carrots. On June 27, 2020, the company recalled brand-name and private-label salad products that came from its Streamwood, IL, facility. To date, 509 consumers have fallen ill and tested positive for the disease after eating the salad mix, with 33 people hospitalized but no reported deaths.

Symptoms of cyclosporiasis begin an average of 7 days after exposure to the parasite, and most commonly include watery diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, bloating, cramping, increased gas, and fatigue.

Treatment for the infection is trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX) as well as antidiarrheal medications, although most people with healthy immune systems will recover without treatment. Notably, no alternative antibiotic treatment is available for those who don’t respond to TMP/SMX or who have a sulfa allergy and can’t take it.

If cyclosporiasis is left untreated, symptoms can last a month or longer, with diarrhea relapsing and fatigue persisting after resolution of gastrointestinal distress. The disease is not typically fatal, and some people show no symptoms, particularly in tropical and subtropical areas where cyclosporiasis is endemic.

It’s important to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables, including bagged salads, before consumption. Here’s a list of other multistate outbreaks traced back to food products.

Social media

Social media has become the new social norm. In the United States, for example, 7 of 10 people use social media to connect with others, disseminate information, read news, and entertain themselves. With all this exposure, the health effects of using social media make a fruitful topic for research.

In a study published in Health Effects & Behaviors, researchers surveyed 1,027 Americans to ask about their emotional connection to social media and how it affected their social routines. The researchers found that although routine use of social media was correlated with beneficial health outcomes, emotional connection to social media was related to negative health outcomes, including social well-being, self-rated health, and positive mental health.

According to the authors, their findings suggested “that the widespread concern about the negative health effects of social media use in general may not always be tenable. In line with earlier observations, social media could be a helpful tool that can provide individuals with the opportunity to connect and reconnect (after physical disconnection) and maintain their social capital.” 

They continued: “On the contrary, the finding that emotional connection to social media use is negatively associated with the three health-related outcomes suggests the need for considering the potential harmful impact of social media use even as a normal social behavior.”


Although COVID-19 put a dent in professional fireworks shows, plenty of people were still popping off personal fireworks in their backyard this past Independence Day. 

While fun, fireworks can also be very dangerous. In the weeks surrounding July 4th in any given year, an average of 180 Americans go to the emergency department each day with fireworks-related injuries, of which 57% are burns. 

Injuries to the hands and fingers account for 30% of all fireworks injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Other common fireworks injuries occur to the legs (23%); head, face, and ears (16%); eyes (15%); and arms (10%).

The most common fireworks responsible for injury are sparklers (12% of total cases), firecrackers (11% of total cases), and Roman candles (6% of total cases). Of note, 56% of the time the firework used is unknown.

Certain precautionary measures can be taken to prevent firework injuries. For instance, it’s a good idea to keep a bucket of water or hose close by to douse any flames. It’s also a good idea to light only one firework at a time, and once lit, to back away quickly. Never relight or pick up fireworks that have not been fully ignited, and make sure to completely wet any spent or partially spent firework before disposal. Lastly, don’t buy fireworks wrapped in brown paper, which may be professional fireworks that are being resold illegally. Professional fireworks are more dangerous than consumer-grade fireworks. 


Speaking of fireworks...let’s talk about marriage. According to a report commissioned by the US Department of Health & Human Services, marriage has mixed effects on health.

On the upside, marriage likely curbs most substance misuse. “Studies consistently indicate that marriage reduces heavy drinking and overall alcohol consumption, and that effects are similar for young men and young women, and for both African Americans and whites,” the authors wrote.

“Although the research is less extensive, marriage is also associated with reduced marijuana use for young men, but less so for women. Less is known about the effects of marriage on the substance use of older adults. Studies of marriage and smoking reveal no consistent pattern of results, suggesting that marriage may have little or no influence on this behavior,” they noted.

On the other hand, marriage is associated with sedentary lifestyle and modest weight gain (fewer than 5 lbs) in both men and women. After all, champagne and chocolate strawberries on “date night” do come with calories! Less convincing evidence points to a decrease in physical activity after marriage, particularly in men.


The latest census data show that the US divorce rate between 2008 and 2018 was approximately 46%.  Divorce is no walk in the park, and can take a toll on one’s health. But, fortunately, most divorced people surmount this challenge. 

“The experience of separation or divorce confers risk for poor health outcomes, including a 23% higher mortality rate. However, most people cope well and are resilient after their marriage or long-term relationship ends,” wrote David A. Sbarra, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, in a  review article published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Unfortunately, the negative health effects of divorce aren’t shared equally, but are concentrated in a minority of individuals. “Despite the fact that resilience is the most common response, a small percentage of people (approximately 10–15%) struggle quite substantially, and it appears that the overall elevated adverse health risks are driven by the poor functioning of this group,” Dr. Sbarra noted. 

People who have a hard time distancing themselves from this life-changing experience and ruminate about it frequently have more emotional distress after divorce. Additionally, these people experience more cardiovascular responses (elevated blood pressure, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and clinical cardiac events) that, if sustained over time, could lead to heart disease.

Importantly, for people without a history of depression, divorce does not lead to a higher risk of a subsequent depressive episode. But for those who do have a history of depression, 6 out of 10 experience a depressive episode after divorce. 

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