I’m a Ph.D. Health Science Writer, and I Do These Five Practices to Improve My Own Health

I’m a Ph.D. Health Science Writer, and I Do These Five Practices to Improve My Own Health
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Margulis.
Jennifer Margulis
“So, what do you do for a living?” the young woman sitting next to me on the airplane asked.
“I’m a science writer,” I explained.
She looked intrigued. “What do you write about?”
“Mostly health and wellness,” I said.
“Wow,” she answered. “You must be really healthy!”
My seatmate, who had recently graduated from college, told me she wanted to lose weight (which is why she was drinking a diet soda) and that her job was working with children diagnosed with cancer
“My boss says it’s unavoidable and just bad luck or bad genes,” she said, “but you have to wonder.” 
Then she asked me a question that I’ve been thinking about ever since: She wanted to know what I do differently based on my science and health research and reporting.
The first place that question led us was to talk about how the food industry undermines human health by hiring cutting-edge scientists to develop Frankenfoods that are inexpensive to produce, addictive, and toxic to your health. 
I chose my words carefully so as not to offend her as I explained that in researching articles I had learned that diet soda actually promotes weight gain, especially in women and obese people. According to a 2021 peer-reviewed investigation published in the science journal JAMA Network Open, though these beverages have no calories, drinks made with artificial sweeteners like sucralose may actually increase food cravings,
I told her that artificial sweeteners have also been linked to endocrine disruption, which means they can cause the hormones your body produces naturally to get out of whack, leading to metabolic problems, Type 2 diabetes, unwanted weight gain, precocious puberty, and other health issues. 
What’s more, they’ve recently been found to put consumers at an increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, according to research published in the British Medical Journal this September.
In addition, drinking colas that contain “caramel color” is a bad idea if you want to avoid cancer-causing exposures. This highly processed colorant is often contaminated with carcinogens during the manufacturing process. In particular, the carcinogen, methylimidazole, which was identified as toxic in 2007. 
Consuming soft drinks also significantly increases your risk of developing asthma for both children and adults.
We were talking so much that when the plane was landing it felt like minutes since we had taken off. But the truth is I had stopped drinking soda before I started writing about science and health full-time. 
On the other hand, here are five things I started doing differently because of my health reporting:
  1. I Drink Matcha
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, author of the 2022 book, “Younger You: Reduce Your Bio Age and Live Longer, Better,” argues that green tea is excellent for your health, longevity, and DNA. In a 2021 peer-reviewed randomized control trial that Fitzgerald and a team of researchers published in the journal Aging, 43 healthy adult males, ages 50 to 72, were to decrease their genetic age by an average of three years compared to controls that ate a standard American diet. Part of the lifestyle practices that reversed ages was drinking two cups of green tea per day.
Inspired by my husband’s love of green tea, I did a deep dive into the research. It turns out that the theanine and caffeine in green tea create the perfect balance for humans to enjoy being alert and energetic without getting jittery. When writing the article, I also learned that green tea is good for your heart
Matcha is green tea of very high quality that is ground into powder. Instead of steeping it, like green tea, you whisk it in hot water. It’s delicious, especially with non-dairy milk (I like oat, soy, and camel), and sweetened by blending it with a whole date or two.
  1. I Take Magnesium 
Part of my work as a health and science journalist is consulting with medical doctors who want to get their ideas to a wider audience. 
I learned from a Yale-trained M.D. I was coaching that magnesium deficiency has become increasingly common in the United States and that a lack of magnesium can contribute to constipation, muscle cramps, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, shortness of breath, anxiety, and insomnia, among other health problems. 
Because of over-farming and over-use of pesticides and herbicides, our food is much less rich in magnesium than it should be. 
That’s why magnesium deficiency is common even among people who eat mostly whole, real, healthy foods. 
In fact, one 2020 study found that magnesium content in fruits and vegetables dropped in the last 50 years. Food processing also leaches magnesium out of food. 
“As a consequence, a large percentage of people all over the world does not meet the minimum daily magnesium requirement,” the scientists wrote.
The doctor I was coaching routinely tests patients’ magnesium levels. But you don’t really need to do expensive testing. I simply started taking a high-quality magnesium supplement. The difference was remarkable. I felt less anxiety, had fewer headaches, and started getting better quality sleep. 
Magnesium is water-soluble so you can figure out how much you need by taking it to what the doctor called “bowel tolerance.” If you get the runs, you’ve taken too much. Also make sure you take it with food, as it can irritate sensitive stomachs. 
Other ways to increase your magnesium include soaking for 20 minutes or longer in an Epsom salt bath and spraying on topical magnesium, which can help with muscle soreness and is also a great replacement for conventional deodorant.
  1. I Put Astaxanthin On My Skin Instead of Sunscreen
I never heard the word “astaxanthin” before I wrote an article about it. Astaxanthin is a compound made by marine algae that they use to protect themselves against sun damage. Though the FDA does not recognize it as such, it’s actually an incredible sunscreen for humans as well as sea creatures.
I’ve never liked the greasy feel of sunscreen and I’ve always felt like both conventional and more natural anti-sun products come up short. 
Once I learned about astaxanthin, which is an extraordinarily powerful anti-oxidant as well as an effective sunblock, my husband and I started using it topically in the form of a skin serum. We are also taking an organic astaxanthin supplement. It works. We spent nearly six hours on a boat in the full sun recently and did not burn.
  1. I (Aspire To) Do Weight-Bearing Exercise 
I recently spoke at a health conference in Ashland, Oregon. The speaker after me was a naturopathic doctor, who is also a chiropractor, Tyna Moore. Moore mentioned that one of the most important things you can do for your metabolic health is lift weights. 
Strength training, Moore told the audience, is especially important for women. Moore argued that strength training is helpful for longevity, bone health, stress relief, and mental and metabolic health. You need muscle mass for optimal health.
“Strength training is non-negotiable,” Moore said in a December 2022 podcast. She insisted that strength training helps with everything from mitigating pain to improving your sex life. “It’s utterly critical that you start some kind of journey into strength training,” she said. 
Having more muscle mass appears to improve cancer and other disease survival rates, according to a 2018 review published in the journal Annals of Medicine. 
The truth is I’d rather have a barfy bug than go to the gym and lift weights. But I really like exercising outside and I can strength train that way using my own body weight. After learning about the importance of building muscle, I strive to do more “You Are Your Own Gym” body-weight exercises. These include tricep dips and wall push-offs.
  1. I Started Fasting
My editors asked me to write an article about autophagy or autophagocytosis. Like astaxanthin, these words were new to me. 
It turns out our cells have built-in mechanisms by which they “eat” the faulty parts of themselves in order to rejuvenate and regenerate. In more scientific terms, autophagy or autophagocytosis is a process that delivers unwanted or toxic material inside the cytoplasm to the lysosome for degradation. By eliminating damaged organelles and proteins, it promotes cell survival.
Autophagy helps protect you against developing diabetes, neurological disorders, and cancer. It also helps the body fight infectious diseases and recover from chronic problems induced by long COVID and vaccine injuries
One way to induce autophagy is to fast. When I started researching fasting, I was fascinated to learn that it appears to help resolve many health issues. 
I used to fast once a year, on Yom Kippur, which is the Jewish day of atonement, for the spiritual benefit of self-reflection. But I’d never done a 3-day water-only fast, which is what some doctors recommend. 
I did my first 3-day fast in November. It’s not yet part of my health routine but I plan to start fasting more regularly.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author of “Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family.” A Fulbright awardee and mother of four, she has worked on a child survival campaign in West Africa, advocated for an end to child slavery in Pakistan on prime-time TV in France, and taught post-colonial literature to nontraditional students in inner-city Atlanta. Learn more about her at JenniferMargulis.net