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Sometimes it’s good to be bad.

By Lisa Bendall

It sharpens your brain, it protects your heart or it reduces your risk of diabetes. Is it a breakthrough medication? A no-nonsense health regime? Think again. Believe it or not, it could be your guilty pleasure that’s helping you.

What you think of as an indulgence – like eating chocolate, having a glass of wine, even smoking marijuana – could have a bright side. New scientific evidence is showing that some of our so-called bad habits may actually boost our health.

That may seem counter intuitive, when we often hear about the risks of opening a bottle or lighting up a joint. “The instinct of public health regulators is to protect people. So they tend to err on the side of caution in saying, research has shown this might be bad for you,” says Dr. Cindy Jardine, a scientist at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health with an interest in health risks, adding: “We forget that ‘the dose makes the poison.’ We just need to be aware of where the tipping point is.” Intrigued?

Read on for surprising – and perhaps welcome – news about a few of our favourite indulgences.

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Coffee Cheers You Up
Ever notice you’re a little less cranky after your morning coffee? There may be a solid scientific reason for it. Psychologists at Germany’s Ruhr University Bochum have shown that after a strong hit of caffeine, people tend to pick up on positive words more easily. (They saw no effect with negative or neutral words.) The researchers believe that caffeine works in the brain to stimulate dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and reward.

Not only can coffee lift your spirits, it can protect your ticker. “It seems pretty clear that coffee can prevent the development of heart failure in middle-aged people,” says Dr. Murray Mittleman, director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

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