Research is expensive. Doing research that accurately captures the needs, health risks, and can fine tune advice for every group—the young and old, the healthy and chronically ill, different genetics, people from or living in different places, different altitudes, climates, and cuisines—is still a dream for the future. Many of today’s recommendations are based off of a tiny sliver of the world, often young and twenty something. They’re augmented by studies, and sometimes even anecdotes before studies get funded. And that means that what’s recommended often doesn’t go far enough.
Recent research, for instance, finds that overweight and obese people get even less benefit from the flu vaccine. Medicine is dependent on metabolism and body size, so being larger usually means you need more. Or having a weakened immune system (which also happens when you weigh more as your body deals with more) can interfere with shot efficacy. While there’s lots of possible reasons that all seem obvious in hindsight, the confirmation that overweight people need a little more flu protection is still new.
Or, take a calcium supplement. Not only are recommendations mostly based off young white women, most bone density tests aren’t properly calibrated. It requires an experienced doctor to really navigate bone health risks. Bone density fluctuates–throughout the seasons, with different stages of life, based on where you live and what you do.
We don’t get to stay in our twenties forever, so data quickly becomes a little fuzzier on what we actually need. One thing that seems to help is increasing how we support ourselves with age. Whether it’s a little more (making sure you get a good calcium supplement each day) or whether it’s a little gentler (modifying how we exercise).
There’s so much data out there that’s not being used to our benefit, so in the meantime, we need to rely on common sense. Like—we need more calcium to support our bones as we age. Different body types might need extra support. And we need to stay checked in with our own bodies and health, because there are limits to comparing ourselves to others.