That’s what I thought too until the other day when I learn that showers are bad for you. That’s right, showers. It used to be baths. We were warned of the perils of sitting in a bath, swilling around in a warm soup of our own effluent. The Japanese, we were told – very clean people, of course – traditionally take a shower before they get into the bath and then shower again after they get out. They won’t do that now, not once they’ve read the latest research.
The trouble is that Mycobacterium avium, a bug that causes lung disease, finds shower heads a comfortable billet. While human adolescents in hooded tops hang out at the shopping mall, Mycobacterium avium kids with time on their hands swing on down to the shower head. There they lurk menacingly, nattering about what they did the night before: ‘Nothing much; just caused a bit of lung disease. What about you?’
The trouble comes when you first turn on the shower, according to some egg-head from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The first rush of cleansing water delivers the hapless showerer with a cloud of bacteria which he or she then breathes in. This is particularly unpleasant for people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly.
Anything that includes the word ‘elderly’ is of intense interest to Mr Pobaan, whose first bloom of youth is but a distant memory, if only I could remember it.
The Boulder boffins go on to suggest that the bugs they found could be responsible for the increase in lung infections observed these days, as people take more showers and have fewer baths.
So there we have it. The bath, which we were told was unhygienic, could be a safer place to freshen up than the shower, which we were told was the modern way. If you take my advice, you won’t bother washing at all. But please stand down-wind of me.
Still reeling from this news about showers, and beginning to pong a bit as a result, I happen upon another piece of revisionary research which will come as a shock to Mrs Pobaan, the star in my heaven and my constant would-be protective angel.
You see, Mrs Pobaan worries a lot about my health. I know this is counter-intuitive; all my friends tell me that the reason she married such an old fossil was that she could get her hands on the Pobaan millions more quickly. I understand this urge to see your husband buried with the greatest possible urgency, and I do occasionally check the food she prepares for me for that tell-tale arsenic taint. Until she finds the best way of poisoning my soup, my lovely wife does put a lot of effort into keeping me alive. It’s a bit like having a second mother, someone who hands you a tissue when you sniff, warns you not to go up a ladder unless someone’s holding it at the bottom and – here’s the crucial one – tells you to drink only decaffeinated coffee.
With this latest admonishment ringing in my ears, it is with some amusement that I discover this week that caffeine is now officially good for you. This time, the scientists are from the Harvard Medical School. They studied 50,000 female nurses in America, which is something I could have helped them with if they’d only bothered to ask. Women amongst this group who drank two or three cups of proper coffee a day were 15% less likely to get depressed. If they drank four cups a day, they cut their risk by a fifth.
I don’t think you can go on increasing your caffeine intake and expect your risk of depression to go so low that you actually become happy. According to a clever chap at La Trobe University in Australia, drinking five cups of coffee a day can start messing up your mind. He got students on different levels of coffee intake to listen to three minutes of a hissing sound and then asked them if they could hear Bing Crosby singing ‘White Christmas’ in the background. I’m not joking; this is true. The ones who drank five cups of coffee were three times more likely to say they could hear the song (which wasn’t there) among all the hissing than the ones who’d sipped nothing stronger than herbal tea.
The conclusion to all this impressive science seems to be that, if you’re a female nurse and you don’t want either to get depressed or to hear Bing Crosby every time you put air in your tyres, you should stop after your fourth cup of coffee.
Don’t imagine that it’s only scientists in the US and Oz who are concerned about our welfare. There’s a bunch of them at the University of Eastern Finland who have taken time out from sledding and gnawing reindeer steaks to see whether swallowing fistfuls of vitamin pills is actually good for you. Being keen to get a travel grant, they studied 38,000 American women. They were in their 50s and 60s, so I wouldn’t have been so eager to help out with this research. What the Finns discovered was that vitamin pills are only any good if you’re actually short of the vitamin, which you shouldn’t be if you’re eating your greens. If you take dietary supplements that you don’t need, you’re dicing with death. Iron tablets, for example, can increase your risk of dying by 2.4%.
It makes you wonder if the elderly ladies in the study quite understood what taking an iron supplement actually means. Someone ought to tell the old biddies that chewing on nuts and bolts is bound to end in tears.