Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Prevention Fatigue

It's exhausting trying to stay healthy. There's a vast amount of conflicting advice about preventing various illnesses. Prevent one thing and you're likely to cause another.

Take alcohol. Is it life threatening or life extending? That seems to depend on whether, if you're a woman, you're more worried about breast cancer or heart disease, since recent studies strongly indicate that as few as a couple of drinks a week can increase the risk of breast cancer, while other studies show that drinking moderately can prevent heart disease. To further complicate matters, there are studies that suggest the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk may be offset by folic acid. But how much folic acid? There's evidence that too much folic acid can be carcinogenic. Beware.

Then there's the weight issue. Many believe, and studies support, the claim that it's unhealthy to be overweight. But how overweight? Apparently, being too thin isn't good either, at least when it comes to osteoporosis—thin women are most at risk. So, what's a girl to do? Should I gain weight to protect my bones or keep the weight off to prevent various diseases, including diabetes?

Speaking of diabetes, the latest news is that coffee can help prevent it. But before you up your intake, consider that coffee is bad for reflux. And if you like sugar in your coffee, that opens up a whole other area of concern. Sugar seems bad for us in so many ways, including increasing the risk of diabetes, yet it tastes so good. But trying to prevent diabetes by resorting to artificial sweeteners isn't necessarily a good choice, either. Ever since warnings years ago about a link between saccharin and cancer, I've felt uneasy sweetening my food with anything other than sugar or honey.

It's exhausting scrubbing each lettuce leaf in the hope of avoiding ecoli. It's tiring reading labels to make sure there are no trans fats or other bad ingredients in my food. And it's downright soporific keeping track of all the latest studies in order to know what preventive action to take next.

My prescription—enjoy an occasional glass of wine, take a little folic acid, have that mug of coffee in the morning, and indulge in an occasional cookie or slice of cake. Above all, don't feel guilty about not being perfect. Easier said than done.


  1. Hmm, that's sorta what Susan Love said in her new book, “Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health,” reviewed in the Times today: www.nytimes.com/2010/01/05/health/05well.html

  2. Mia,

    Thanks for mentioning Susan Love's new book and providing the link to the Times review. I read the review and it did get me thinking about the subject.

  3. My great grandfather lived to be 105 in the Great Smoky Mountains. My mother remembers meeting him when he was 103. She said she smoked, chewed tobacco and drank moonshine. He ate nearly everything fried--they even fried their corn and spinach. He was a turncoat during the civil war, and outlived two wives. He married his third wife in his early 90's. She was in her early forties. He (presumably) fathered two more sons.

    Our family is so careful about our diet. We steam, bake and eat as many raw fruits and vegetables as we can...but sometimes I wonder.