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The Woody Allen School of Medicine

It's distressing to practice medicine in a particular way for years and then have new research come along to tell you that you've been doing it all wrong. Perhaps it's simply progress when new research contradicts old. On the other hand, the contradictions do leave you with a sense of distrust. Afterall, who's to say that the latest research won't be contradicted by the next.

For instance, researchers have known for years that there is a direct correlation between high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease. With that knowledge, physicians prescribe low fat diets and cholesterol lowering drugs in order to decrease the risks of heart disease. But now, other research has discovered an increased rate of violent death - by suicide, homocide, or accident - in those with low cholesterol levels. These patients, presumably the healthy people who avoid clogging their arteries with fatty foods, are three times more likely to be depressed than those with higher cholesterol levels and hence at greater risk of violent death.

Stanford University did a study of 10,000 middle aged men showing that those who took up 30-40 minutes of moderately vigorous daily exercise lived an average of ten months longer than their couch potato counterparts. But a later comment on that research noted that adding up the time spent exercising offset the life extension.

Now it may be said that I am not unbiased in noting these research conflicts. Admittedly, I am more in the shape of a pear than a Vin Deisel. I don't dispute that exercise is healthy and a balanced and heart-safe diet is reasonable. I've just concluded that we tend to go overboard sometimes in our pursuit of health and longevity.

A major obsession for many is losing weight. But our ideal standards are often based on the models that advertise clothes and products. Most of these models would have been described as anorexic in generations past. Americans spend billions of dollars trying to lose weight. And yet, there is no evidence that any restrictive diet, drug, surgery, or mass marketed diet program has any long term effectiveness. There are, however, significant studies which show that dieting can cause both psychological and physical harm.

If fantasies could come true, I would be an advocate of the Woody Allen School of Medicine. In his movie "Sleeper," Woody is frozen after dying during minor surgery. When he's awakened two centuries later, we discover some unusual advances in medical science. His doctors are dumbfounded that he would want to eat wheat germ and organic honey.

"Oh, yes," one doctor recalls, "those foods were once thought to be good for you."

"What about fat, steak, cream pie, and hot fudge?" the other asks incredulously.

"Oh, those were thought to be unhealthy. Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true."

As science pursues its vigorous research, I think there are a lot of folks out there, including myself, that are hopeful the Woody Allen school of medical theory prevails.