How to apply health science from headlines

“At 114, Now She’s the Oldest”: When a newspaper reporter asked Bess Cooper, the world’s oldest person, to what she ascribed her longevity, she answered, “Minding my own business — and I don’t eat junk food.”

Her son says it has to do with “good genes.” He has every reason to hope that’s true.

Let there be no question about it — we don’t pick our parents, and if your parents died of natural causes at a younger age, you are probably in for an abbreviated life yourself, when compared to people whose parents lived a lot longer. Ditto Alzheimer’s disease. I have reflux esophagitis just like my father. He always had a Tums in his mouth.

How about in your family? My dad died at 74; my mom died in her late 80s. I think I exercise a lot more than he did, I don’t smoke (he did), but I suspect I am much more compulsive about work than he was. So we know there are genes at play here, but there are also environmental factors.

Last week we learned that some of the hydraulic fracturing companies were putting millions of gallons of diesel oil and unnamed chemicals into the shale to extract the natural gas. Would you want your kid to be drinking water that had been thus contaminated? What about living near PCBs? Hey, pick ‘em and choose ‘em. I suspect that we control a lot less than we think. Every day, someone tells us what to do, what to eat and how to behave.

I have a good friend whom I dearly love. He smokes. He has children, a wife and a good job. The other day, I told another friend that I was going to do an intervention with him. My other friend told me in no uncertain terms not to. We can’t get an addict to stop by just getting after them. They have to make that decision for themselves.

Maybe, but with that kind of reasoning, should we just give up on every heroin addict, alcoholic, or sex addict and consign them to the department of lost causes? I’ll never believe that.

“High Cholesterol Is ‘Out of Control’ “: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released a report saying that those with untreated high cholesterol are at grave risk.

We are told that more than half of those with high cholesterol get treatment. For the rest, that’s obviously bad news. And just as obviously, folks with the least — who can’t afford medical treatment — are at-risk not only for high cholesterol, but for things like high blood pressure, which is also easy to keep under control if you get the right meds.

That is why we need some kind of comprehensive health insurance for everyone. If I had my way, it would be Medicare for all, but that clearly isn’t going to happen in the short run. The Obama program does put many of those at greatest risk on the rolls.

Interestingly, many of the folks who see themselves as religious and concerned, caring people are against the Obama program.

Hey, you can fool most of the people most of the time about your motives — but can you fool whoever makes the final evaluation in heaven?

The more new drugs we need, the more the drug companies grow rich.

That’s fascinating, because much of the basic research that leads to drug company “discoveries” comes out of the basic science research that is conducted by the federal government. We pay to make them rich. What’s new?

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 2/6/11

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