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
"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
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.