Aside from political scandals and rumors of celebrity dalliances — which are pretty much tabloid fare wherever there are tabloids — an alien first encountering Japan’s weekly tabloid magazines might conclude he has come to Earth in a nation of inquisitive hypochondriacs. With a blizzard of feature stories, advice and exposes covering everything from the temperature of water in your bath to dealing with toe fungus, it is no exaggeration to say that stories on health and prevention are a major magazine standby, and the appetite for such fare shows no sign of abating.

While the topics covered are kaleidoscopic, in a nutshell, the most basic articles adhere to a standard formula: either “Eating/drinking/taking X is good for you” or “Eating/drinking/taking X is bad for you.” These can then be further divided into various categories depending on the season and so on.

This time of year, for example, a proliferation of articles for those who suffer from hay fever — an estimated 25 percent of the population — can be found. And we’ll soon be seeing sage advice on how to pace yourself when drinking at the inevitable company cherry blossom-viewing gatherings, along with the most effective treatments for nursing a post-party hangover.

Leading the pack on the medical front is Shukan Gendai, which this spring is celebrating its 58th anniversary. Since last year, it has been running a potpourri of health advice, with a series of articles chanting the mantra “___-tte wa ikenai” (“___ is of no use”/”You shouldn’t ___”). This includes advice not only for humans but their pets as well.

One such article lists 50 drugs people are advised not to take. (No. 21 is Viagra, use of which, Shukan Gendai warns, may add to strain on the heart.) That was followed by 30 surgical procedures, including eight for types of cancers, that are best avoided. The worst is surgery for gastric fistula; third is prostate cancer (reduces quality of life). Also discouraged were elective procedures such as Lasik treatment to correct myopia, dental implants and bunion surgery.

Shukan Gendai’s March 18 issue introduced the gluten-free diet and then went on to address problems of incontinence: “Here is how to resolve urination and elimination troubles.” The lead sub-headline — “Concerns for which there is nobody to consult with” — pretty much tells it all.

“Many middle-aged and elderly men have difficulties with urination,” it reports. “But because their numbers are fewer than females, many are reluctant to discuss this with someone. Or, as the head of their family, their reluctance to reveal an embarrassing episode of incontinence is understandable.”

Shukan Gendai’s March 25-April 1 issue noted that some 70 million people in Japan at some time in their lives suffer from discomfort or pain in their neck and shoulders: “Momu no wa iryō de wa nai!” (“Massaging is not medical treatment!”), it warns.

Last week, Shukan Bunshun (March 16) accused NHK’s venerable Wednesday evening program “Gatten” (formerly “Tameshite Gatten”) of playing loose with the facts on health. Over the past year, it alleged, at least four programs related misinformation. One was that skin condition improved following a colonoscopy; another was that sleep medication had favorable effects on diabetes; and yet another suggested that consumption of collagen promoted healing of bedsores. A fourth, broadcast on May 11 of last year, was really off the wall: It suggested that getting a scare while visiting a spook house at a theme park could cause blood clots to form.

The same issue of Shukan Bunshun devotes three pages to extolling the health benefits of nattō. For the uninitiated, nattō is soybeans that have been boiled and sprayed with a bacteria naturally present in rice straw that causes fermentation, endowing them with more protein and other beneficial properties. Consumed mostly in eastern Japan, the primary reason why nattō has not become popular in other parts of the country, or overseas, is due to its slimy consistency and strong ammonia-like odor.

The article cites a study involving 30,000 adult men and women that started in the city of Takayama, Gifu Prefecture, in 1992. Sixteen years later, 677 had died as a result of stroke. According to professor Chisato Nagata of Gifu University School of Medicine, the test subjects were divided into four groups related to their consumption of nattō. People who ate the gooey beans regularly had a 32 percent lower incidence of stroke than those who seldom or never ate them. The former group also had a 25 percent lower incidence of mortality from circulatory-related ailments. Nattō is also said to be effective against certain types of cancer, including those of the breast and prostate.

Noting that strokes most commonly occur during the morning hours, professor Takafumi Hamaoka, sports medicine specialist at Tokyo Medical University, advises, “Since the benefits of the nattokinase bacteria last about eight hours, you should eat it in the evening.”

Shukan Post (March 24-31) devoted eight pages to the subject of erectile dysfunction (E.D.). The latter section of the article warns against habits that can affect men’s performance. One is sitting down to urinate. Others include drinking beer and sweetened coffee beverages and engaging in prolonged bicycle rides. (Cyclists are said to suffer 1.7 times more than those who don’t ride.) Good dental hygiene (brushing one’s teeth regularly) also has benefits in this area. And since briefs help the groin maintain a higher temperature, they’re preferred over boxer shorts.

Also, gents, don’t sit with your legs crossed. And, oh yes, nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict, so smoking is to be avoided.

Another means of prevention — try not to laugh — is laughing. Physicians at Osaka’s Moriguchi Keijinkai Hospital tested 36 male volunteers. After dividing them into two groups, one was shown Charlie Chaplin and “Mr. Bean” comedies, while the other watched weather reports. The testosterone generated by the former appears to not only have helped migitate their E.D. problem, but the reduction in stress is also believed to have beneficial effects on those with cases of atopic dermatitis. Substituting one type of itch for another, one might say….

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.