Health Notes

Perpetuating the meat-cancer myth

While decrying meat and fish as cancer causing, an Oxford University group says its research proves that olive oil will prevent cancer of the colon. Both of the group’s suppositions-that olive oil is good and that meat and fish are bad-are based on a survey so broad that anything could be proved-or disproved.

The study was based on a comparison of cancer rates, diets, and olive oil consumption in 28 countries, including England, the United States, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, and China. The average reader will be impressed with the statistics: “Wow, the report must be authentic; look at the number of people investigated!”

If the researchers are going on general consumption figures from the governments of these countries, which they probably are, the numbers will be loose, to say the least. With a survey of this magnitude, the uncontrollable variables will be in the hundreds. Do the Chinese use bat blood in their gravy? Do Africans mix their hamburger with monkey intestines? And, worst of all, do all the other more or less civilized countries reported eat their meat overcooked, as in that favorite international cuisine McDonald’s?

This is an amateurish study of no consequence. Forget it. Eat all the meat you want with its natural fat. Raw meat is the most nutritious, but at least stop cooking at medium rare.

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 9/18/00
Reuters, 9/18/00

Are you suffering from excess happiness?

Do you have grief deprivation? Has your life been ruined by a newfound happiness? Are you depressed because you are no longer depressed?

Is this a joke? Apparently not, if you can believe The New York Times, which reports that, according to psychiatrists, “uplift anxiety” is “an emerging mental health condition” that describes problems incurred by Prozac users unsettled by their new happiness.

I have always wondered if unhappy people didn’t actually enjoy being miserable. It certainly can’t be true of all depressed people; nevertheless, I suspect it is true of a lot of those in the Prozac/Paxil crowd. They grieve for their old miserable selves. It’s akin to losing your pet dog. As one writer expressed it, “The most fundamental aspect of yourself (unhappiness) has been ripped away.”

Action to take:

Well, I can’t tell you to “get a life.” You did that, and look what happened. So give it back and call your psychiatrist-he misses you, and I suspect you really, really miss him.

Human growth hormone and the intestine

Patients with Crohn’s disease respond dramatically to HGH treatment, according to a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. Even if you do not have Crohn’s disease, this report has important implications for all of us. Think of the possibilities for the entire intestinal tract, not just the ileo-cecal junction (where the small intestine joins the large intestine and the inflammation of Crohn’s disease occurs).

Those patients receiving HGH were able to discontinue over half the drugs previously taken, whereas the placebo group increased its drug intake by 4 percent. Since cortisone is the mainstay of treatment, this is a highly significant finding.

New England Journal of Medicine, 6/1/00

Beware junk medicine: zinc and the common cold

Researchers from the University of Michigan report that most symptoms of colds, especially coughs, disappeared much faster for patients taking zinc. While patients taking the sham pill reported symptoms for about eight days, those taking zinc reported symptoms for 4 1/2 days. There were 50 subjects divided into two groups, one taking zinc lozenges and the other a placebo.

Has your attention been riveted on this sensational study? I hope you’re still with me, because recognizing junk science is an important part of our mission. So let’s examine this report.

Twice as many patients taking zinc could correctly guess whether they were taking zinc or the dummy lozenge compared with the patients taking the fake lozenge, the investigators reported. This destroys the infrastructure of the study. Those subjects knowing that they were taking the real thing were more likely to have a placebo effect, thus exaggerating the effectiveness of the zinc.

In addition, there were only 25 subjects in each group-a paltry sampling for such a variable disease as the common cold.

And for the final kibosh on this sophomoric attempt at science, the foundation that funded this study is affiliated with the company that holds a patent for zinc lozenges (Cold-Eeze).

Conclusion: This is another flabby study proving nothing and not worth space in a respected medical journal. Try zinc lozenges for your cold and decide for yourself.

Annals of Internal Medicine, 8/15/ 00

Blood clots and air travel

Our class-conscious press dubbed the alarming incidence of blood clots in the legs, with consequent pulmonary embolism and (often) death from long flights, the “Economy-Class Syndrome.” However, distinguished professors of medicine in England report that the risk is the same no matter where you sit. (They didn’t correlate the incidence of embolism with buttock size, but maybe they should have.)

About 142 patients a year die from deep vein thrombosis in the hospitals around Gatwick Airport alone. Most of these cases occur after long-haul flights. The problem is obviously a serious one (and not only in England but worldwide).

According to a report in the London Telegraph, airlines are supposed to encourage passengers to move about the cabin. But this will obviously make it impossible for the flight attendants to do their job, especially during serving time.

Besides, the more time you spend out of your seat, or unbuckled in your seat, the more likely you are to experience permanent paralysis or death from a sudden downdraft, which can propel you straight up to the ceiling in a fraction of a second.

Action to take:

Learn how to exercise in your seat. If you use a little imagination, you can easily think of ways to do this, such as wiggling your toes, flexing your ankles, flexing your knees, flexing the thigh at the hip, and tensing and relaxing muscle groups like the calves (very important) and the thighs.

It is said that excessive drinking on flights is a risk factor for blood clots. I doubt there is proof of that. But since we live in an increasingly regimented world, I expect the next step to be the banning of all alcohol consumption on commercial carriers. It’s more insurance litigation terrorism. Where will it end?

London Telegraph, 11/22/00

Hormones and heart disease risk in women

“Women with heart disease should not use estrogen replacement therapy as a treatment for heart disease,” said chief author of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine Dr. David Herrington of Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Thanks, but this is old news.

In 1998, the Heart and Estrogen/ Progestin Replacement Study (HERS) found that hormone replacement therapy did not stop arteries from clogging. So this present study merely confirms what is already known.

However, doctors will continue to prescribe these synthetic hormones “because the hormones have been shown to prevent crippling osteoporosis,” according to the researchers of the current study. This also has not been proved. And I predict that, in due time, osteoporosis prevention will also be proven a false paradigm that has enriched drug companies and done nothing for women.

New England Journal of Medicine, 8/24/00
Reuters, 8/23/00