Here is my belief about the health of our bodies: given reasonably good care – eating well and some moderate amount of exercise – a body should toot along without too many interruptions until time to depart this world.
Of course, I know that’s nonsense. Otherwise healthy people get all kinds of horrible diseases, conditions and illnesses every day. But I still think it should be that way and although I’m moderately interested in health discoveries from medical researchers, there are so many contradictions contained in them that it seems counterproductive to pay undue attention. I’m sure there must be a study somewhere that proves carrots will kill us.
So, I read the announcements with a degree of interest and then go on my way generally unheeding of their advice.
However, we are all different and a few days ago, I received an email from TGB reader, Linda Sandler, who wrote:
“This morning’s newspaper brought news of medical research that caused me to be both frustrated and anxious (with the anxiety winning out). Namely, the new finding that one glass of wine a day is correlated with a significant increase of breast cancer in women…Of course, I’ll stop immediately, but I can’t seem to get the new facts out of my mind.”
Linda is referring to the Million Woman Study in Britain, the size and length of which – 1.28 million women aged 50 to 64 over about 12 years – is the largest ever to examine alcohol and cancer in women:
“...just one glass of chardonnay, a single beer or any other type of alcoholic drink per day increases the risk of a variety of cancers…
“Even among women who consumed as little as 10 grams of alcohol a day on average - the equivalent of about one drink - the risk for cancer of the breast, liver and rectum was elevated, the researchers found.”
- - The Washington Post, 25 February 2009
It wasn’t so long ago we were told that red wine is good for us. And five days after the Million Woman Study was reported, WebMD published a story about the results of some other research showing that moderate wine drinking may help prevent a specific cancer:
“…findings from three newly published studies suggest that drinking wine in moderation may help protect against esophageal adenocarcinoma or a precancerous condition, Barrett's esophagus.”
You see the difficulty I have in giving much credence to differing health studies – there is no way to sort out what to do. It reminds me of the hysterical warnings about marijuana during the 1960s – that using it leads to hard drugs like heroin. I was amused when NORML (National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws) pointed out that all heroin users also drank milk as babies, but no one was advocating banning milk.
Nonetheless, I concede that my breezy attitude toward health (which will undoubtedly sink me in the end since everyone in my family dies of one or another kind of cancer) is not necessarily held by others and Linda Sandler’s anxiety is to be taken seriously. Here is what else she said in her note:
”I’m wondering how other elder women deal with this type of contradictory medical advice, or if this is my personal and private angst. It seems that as I get older I feel more and more vulnerable to the vagaries and randomness of major illness.”
I am curious too not only about how you deal with confusing medical information, but if you have greater or lesser concern about your health as you’ve gotten older. And not just women. I think men reading this would also have some useful things to say.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Alan Ginocchio has a rueful observation on Another Top 10 Senior Moment.]