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02 Mar
2009

 

To Your Health  Print

To Your Health!I’m not a scientist, but I do believe in the scientific method as a disciplined way to test the validity of a hypothesis in support of a theory. Yet, I don’t believe in the conclusions some people draw from a given scientific study. It makes me crazy when I hear a talking head on the news at night telling me that everyone should be drinking a lot more wine (or eating more chocolate or drinking more coffee or whatever) because some study conducted at the University of Ignorance concluded that it will extend your life dramatically. Did the study actually reach that conclusion? Hey, don’t believe everything you hear on the TV news or read in the newspapers! What did you think this was—an article on the health benefits of drinking wine?

Yeah, we’ve heard it all many times before. Red wine contains resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that can slow down the aging process and extend your life. Why? Because someone did a study six years ago to demonstrate that resveratrol extended the life span of yeast cells by 80%. And then it took how long until someone demonstrated that you had to consume more red wine than humanly possible to get enough resveratrol to have a positive impact on you? When they come out with the concentrated resveratrol pill and, if 10 years later people aren’t getting serious side effects from it, I’ll consider taking it. Check out the CBS News 60 Minutes segment about the promise of the resveratrol pill and how extreme calorie restriction contributes to heart–health and longevity.

But what about the French Paradox—the observation that the French suffer a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease, despite having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats? Hey, did you ever go to France? The people walk around a lot. It’s called exercise, and if you do it a lot, it seems to make up for some of your lousy eating habits. And who ever proved that saturated fats were the problem anyway? A lot of people think the problem is consuming too many carbohydrates. Then again, the Japanese ate a lot of rice and did just fine until they started adopting the dreaded “Western lifestyle”.

Exactly what is the Western lifestyle? According to Wikipedia, the Western lifestyle is defined as “a social classification of people significantly influenced by the (often romanticized) attitudes, ethics and history of the American Western Cowboy Culture. This lifestyle affects this sector of population’s choice of recreation, clothing, and consumption of goods.” Time out! If I wear a pair of jeans, I’m a cowboy? So, if I drive an Aston Martin, I’m James Bond? Real cowboys work very hard physically. They ride horses and do ranch work. Even the rodeo guys (some of whom aren’t real cowboys) exercise a lot. I think Wikipedia needs some major help on this one.

I think the “Western lifestyle” could more properly be summed up as “a social classification of people who descended from folks who faced serious hardships and left their home countries to make new lives in a new world but who, several generations later, found it increasingly difficult to make enough money to support their ever–growing desire for recreation, clothing and consumption of goods so they increasingly spent longer hours at desk jobs trying to avoid change, which inevitably reduced the time they devoted to exercise and socialization and led to the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in passive entertainment and overindulgence in food and drink”. Now, that’s the USA I recognize, where more than one in three adults are obese (BMI≥30)—not just overweight (BMI≥25), but obese. And nearly one in three children (ages 2–19) has a BMI at or above the 85th percentile! And the trend is going in the wrong direction.

Again, the scientific method helps to understand this. Hypothesis: People are fat. Observation: Look around. Yep, lots of fat people. Conclusion: People are fat. And I live in Los Angeles—home of the six–pack (not the one you carry in your hand)! Since ancient times, we’ve had the proverb, “All things in moderation, nothing in excess.” That seems to be the current advice in the medical community on the issue of drinking wine.

So, what do doctors (who seem to know everything, even if it is the opposite of what they knew not long ago) now recommend? After decades of telling everyone (except themselves) not to drink alcohol, they now repeat that oft–heard recommendation, “One glass of wine a day for women; two glasses for men.” Why is it that men get two glasses? I think it is because doctors are convinced that men won’t come back to see the doctor if they aren’t allowed at least two glasses of wine a day. Yes, that’s right. I said “at least two”. Because doctors will admit that these are general guidelines and we all know that we are each an exceptional case.

The CDC Calorie Balance ScaleSo, besides “people are fat”, what have I learned over these many years on this planet? I’ve learned that basic health is a function of maintaining both a reasonable body weight and a reasonable exercise program, which is easier said than done. So, how do you reduce your body weight and lower your BMI? Last Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a press release announcing the findings an NIH–funded study published the next day in the New England Journal of Medicine that finally proclaims what I’ve known since I took high school chemistry. The study showed that people who reduce calorie intake lose weight, regardless of the mix of fats, proteins and carbohydrates they consume. (The various diets were low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in dietary fiber, which made them “heart–healthy”, but that’s beside the point.) It isn’t what you eat, but how much in terms of calories! And regular exercise burns calories and enables you to consume more calories. It’s that simple, folks. Beyond that, it’s eat, drink and be merry. With that, I have to run (literally). My third glass of wine is waiting.