Saturday, December 18, 2010

Health tips—follow at your own peril

The media and pharmaceutical researchers are trying to drive me crazy. I’m almost there.

Every now and then, articles in newspapers and magazines and reports on the nightly news tout study results that indicate a substance—vitamin, supplement, prescription, food—or an activity is the new miracle that will keep us from getting just about everything bad: cancer, heart attacks, strokes, dementia, wrinkles, old.

So we gleefully buy supplies of whatever it is and follow the regimen—for a while. Sometimes a long while. Then, a new report comes out saying just the opposite. Here are some of the conflicts that have me in a tizzy:

Then: Take Vitamin E. It'll help you avoid heart attacks, strokes, dementia, and maybe cancer. My parents bought into this and stocked up on bottles of Vitamin E softgels from Walgreen’s.

Now: Don't take Vitamin E supplements. Forget what you've heard about it; it doesn't do any of those wonderful things we said it would. But Vitamin D? It's a wonder drug.

Then: (See “Now,” above.) Take Vitamin D. It’s a wonder drug. Ward off cancer, heart ailments, strokes, osteoporosis, dementia. Take large doses, at least 2000 IUs a day.

Now: It’s possible that the new recommendations for Vitamin D were too optimistic and at too high levels. More research pending…

Then: Take Fosamax if you have osteoporosis or its prelude, osteopenia. This miraculous drug will make your brittle bones stronger and rebuild bone you’ve lost.

Now: Stop taking Fosamax if you’ve taken it 5 years or more. Studies show it can actually cause certain fractures of the femur. It’s also been linked to “jaw death” and esophageal problems. (This is not a universal recommendation by all doctors, but many agree with this.)

Then: Take Hormone Replacement Therapy: estrogen and progesterone. You’ll stay young and healthy and stop having hot flashes and other menopause mayhem. This medication can even ward off dementia!

Now: Oops. A large study showed that many women had more heart attacks, strokes, and even dementia if they were on these medications for a long time (more than 6 years). This is still a controversial topic. There’s also zero proof that the medications can keep women youthful.

Then: Never leave the house without sunscreen. Wear it at all times, even on cloudy days.

Now: Make sure you get about 15 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) to make sure you get your Vitamin D.

I might be better off if I didn’t read or listen to any of the medical news reports, but I might also miss out on the regimens that can save my life—or at least make it healthier.

The best tip of all? Buy pharmaceutical stock and you’ll at least be richer, or rich enough to afford the medicines you'll need to counteract the medicines you took earlier. (Caution: This tip is null and void if the company you invest in gets sued or its "miracle" drug tanks.)