What are you more likely to be afraid of:
A shark or a candy bar?
Driving in your car or flying on a plane?
Falling out of your bed or being hit by lightning?
The flu or avian flu?
It’s interesting how we humans assess risk. It turns out, we’re pretty bad at it. Our risk of choking on a candy bar is 3,000 times greater than being attacked by a shark. Our risk of being killed in a car accident is over 44,000 times greater than dying from an airplane crash. No one in America has died from avian flu, but 36,000 people died from the “regular” influenza virus just last year. You have a greater chance of dying from falling out of your bed than from a snakebite, shark attack, airplane crash, stampede, skydiving, dog bite, bee sting, and lightning strike…combined. And then doubled.
It’s interesting how our evolutionary development intersects with the rapid changes in human society over the last 50 years. We simply haven’t caught up, physically or mentally. A fascinating article I caught the other day explains our faulty risk assessment in greater detail, but what concerns me most is how this judgment quirk of the human brain has an impact upon our health.
A few noteworthy points:
The brain fears what is new or unusual, rather than what is likely.
The brain also has a cumulative way of reasoning. So, if you’ve (just hypothetically) gotten away with an unsafe behavior in the past – say, driving under the influence, or speeding recklessly, or eating junk food in high school without gaining much weight – your brain rationalizes that you can continue taking the risks, even though the odds are stacked considerably against you (again, a hypothetical “you”).
The brain has a bad risk memory, and a bad consequence memory, too. Though junk food might cause you to have a spare tire now, the memory is that you “have always been able” to eat junk food. We consistently underrate our risk and overrate our success. We consistently underrate consequences. That’s just part of human biology. It served us well when we had to worry about being attacked by a mammoth or filling up on all the seeds and berries one could possibly ingest in the likely event that food might not come around for a while. But, these days, with the food and drug supply being what it is, coupled with consistently sedentary behavior, hours in front of computer screens, and long commutes, it’s no wonder we are witnessing widespread health problems.
This isn’t an issue we can solve in a day. It’s simply something to be mindful of as we go about our daily business, making all manner of choices. The real things to fear – heart disease, lung cancer from smoking, fatal diseases caused by obesity – are literally hundreds of thousands of times more likely than any (admittedly scary) prospect of death by large animal or flying transport. My take on all this? Make smarter choices in how you move, what you eat, and how you handle stress, and you’ll outlive all the people worrying about avian flu and spinach. You’ll feel better, too.
Here’s the excellent and highly-enjoyable – and not even scary – article on our risk assessment ability. You’ll want to check it out. Clickativity
The latest study doesn’t look good for black cohosh. Here’s the clickativity.
Our take: The study was performed by the National Institutes of Health (your friendly government agency), and looked at just over 300 women – so, not exactly a conclusive study. However, size does not always matter – a good study is a good study. The researchers found that women taking black cohosh for hot flashes had a half-episode less per day than women on the placebo treatment. This marginal difference might be enough for some women to take the herbal supplement, but it’s not significant enough to pass scientific muster (and that’s really a good thing – that’s why science rocks).
Black cohosh has been used for hundreds of years and was a traditional Native American medicine. If you suffer from hot flashes and find that black cohosh has helped you, there’s probably nothing to worry about as it is a fairly harmless herb (though it can cause headaches and stomach discomfort in some).
The study designers did state that the jury’s not out and larger studies need to be conducted.
About a year and a half ago, a big study was released on echinacea. The report was that the herb did nothing to prevent or alleviate cold and flu viruses. The study was certainly well-designed: participants were locked up dorm-style in a completely controlled environment for the duration of the study. But despite the strict parameters, the scientists forgot something: the echinacea plant has different parts that can be utilized for medicinal purposes. Because herbal supplements are not regulated the same way as drugs are regulated, the type of echinacea in the assortment at your local GNC can literally vary from bottle to bottle. Other studies testing different sources of echinacea have proven a benefit. It just goes to show that “the latest study” is almost never the last word.
The Fuming Fuji is outraged at the marketing of toxic food, especially when it’s aimed at the small fry. This week, the Fuming Fuji has decided to have a serious problem with macaroni and cheese.
But, Fuming Fuji, you ask, isn’t mac ‘n cheese at least rich in complex carbohydrates, calcium and protein?
The Fuming Fuji says no!
The claim: Fuming Fuji notices a certain brand of mac ‘n cheese promotes itself as having calcium.
The catch: Classroom chalk also has calcium, and it is much less fattening. Children like chalk. Yet they do not sell chalk. Mac ‘n cheese is one of the emptiest foods known to humanity. Cats and dogs agree.
The comeback: Come on. It can’t be that bad, especially if you throw in some diced up hot dogs for protein?
The conclusion: The Fuming Fuji cannot believe what was just said. HOT DOGS? For protein? The Fuji only has time for one outrage per week. This week, it is macaroni and cheese, which is bleached processed flour mixed with chemically-altered powdered cheese product and fat. Enough with the calcium obsession! Calcium does not make up for garbage food.
The catchphrase: Heart Attack ‘n Cheese.
WORKER BEES’ DAILY BITES
Howdy! Here’s the latest & greatest from the world of health news (of course, with our views):
Where Studies Get Tricky
More breast cancer news. A study of about 2,400 women found that non-hormone-receptor breast cancer survivors who ate 20% fat in their diets had a lesser chance of cancer relapse than those who ate just under 30% fat in their diets. The lower-fat group had 238 relapses, while the higher-fat group had 302 relapses. What’s unclear about this is if the weight loss is what spurred better survival rates, or the actual percentage intake of fat. Or, if there were other factors unforseen (smoking rates, family history, pregnancies). Or, if a difference of about 60 is enough to make a claim. This is where studies get difficult…clickativity. Let’s discuss, Apples.
Food Poisoning? I’ll Take That to Go, Thanks.
Again? Seriously, again? We’re starting to think restaurants just really hate their customers.
It’s a Good Day for Alcohol…Is That a Good Thing?
We’re not exactly impressed. Liquor is medicine now? (Well, it is a drug…)
We still say be careful with the alcohol hype. Better to get your antioxidants from something that can’t also poison you (like a good multivitamin). However, because we’re big proponents of moderation here at the MDA, we do agree that a glass of wine with dinner is probably nothing to worry about, and may even be good for you. We’re also glad to hear this news.
We’re a Little Scared to Let the Big Apple See This One
And in another genius decision, the FDA approves Celebrex for tots. Terrific. What’s especially terrific is that, while these folks voted 15-1 to approve the drug for kids, they only voted 8-7 to approve it as safe. Basically, what this boils down to is that they don’t know for sure that it’s safe, but they’re going to allow it anyway, and Celebrex has to keep tabs on the situation. While we would like to believe that Celebrex has kids’ best interests at heart, that’s kind of like telling a criminal who is out on parole that he should monitor himself in case he gets into trouble. Mind-boggling, is it not? Truth really is stranger than fiction.
HRT is all over the news again. This, from Newsday:
“Statistics from a major study revealing that rates of the most common form of breast cancer dropped dramatically between 2002 and 2003 are being greeted with applause and skepticism as the medical and advocacy communities digest the news.”
Yes, it’s a tough one to chew. In brief, cases of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer (which accounts for nearly 3/4 of breast cancer cases) dropped dramatically from 2002 to 2003. This was the same time that several key studies, including a famous government-funded study (the Women’s Health Initiative), found that hormone replacement therapy (or HRT), particularly that derived from mares – in drugs like Prempro and Premarin – was linked to a significant increase in breast cancer risk.
It makes sense. Estrogen is a powerful hormone and using it in drug therapy has been and continues to be a risky proposition. A dramatic drop in estrogen-receptor breast cancer cases, occurring in tandem with the much-publicized discontinued use of HRT by millions of women, isn’t something I think the drug industry or medical community ought to be stumped by. These are highly-trained, intelligent individuals, and frankly, I think the situation is quite clear. What’s to digest? In one year – the same year in which Prempro saw its sales cut by half – breast cancer rates dropped by over 7%; for women over age 50, the rate was 12%.
This is why it is so important to be critical of any drug therapy that is recommended to us, especially for treating health matters that are either part of aging or can be prevented or better addressed through lifestyle choices. Blood pressure pills and cholesterol-lowering pills and arthritis prescriptions can help, but as we see with the HRT scandal (and last year’s Vioxx and Celebrex disasters), there are always side effects. There are always unintended consequences.
This doesn’t mean you ought to toss your medications if there is a legitimate need for them; but arm yourself with knowledge, be ruthlessly critical of everything that anyone recommends to you, and consider whether there are safer, more natural alternatives. The alternatives are often not as easy in the short term, but they’re certainly easier than painful and even fatal side effects down the road.
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