Friday, January 13, 2012

Denying a Hershey's Kiss to live longer

"How much of what you're denying yourself is because you think you're increasing your life expectancy?" asked Rush Limbaugh on his radio show today.

He was discussing the fact that Prof. Chris Semsarian, a cardiologist in Sydney, Australia warned that energy drinks can trigger dire effects when consumed by young people who may not be aware of an underlying heart problem, or when followed by "a trip to they gym." The actual message of the doctor was prudent, but Rush was pointing out how news media ran with the story, headlining that "energy drinks 'can trigger heart attacks'" to satisfy reader/viewer hunger for anything that can prolong your life.

This story comes at the same time that the research "showing" that reservatrol, found in grapes and wine and touted to help the heart and slow aging, was found to be largely based on faked data. A 60,000 page report documents 145 "counts" of fraudulent data in the work of Dipak K. Das of the University of Connecticut's Cardiovascular Research Center, much published in peer-reviewed journals and the basis of the marketing of dozens of supplements.

People will latch onto anything "experts" say increases longevity or helps avoid serious illness.  Whether it's adequately proven or not.  At one time, I took 400 international units of Vitamin E every night, because the consensus was that this antioxidant could prevent cancer, Alzheimer's and heart problems--a consensus that has since been discredited. Before that was the Linus Pauling Vitamin C craze to prevent colds, since abandoned.  Now Vitamin D is the big fad, once again as a preventative to a raft of dreaded diseases, most notably cancer. The National Institutes of Health's exhaustive review, however, summarized, "Taken together, however, studies to date do not support a role for vitamin D, with or without calcium, in reducing the risk of cancer."

There are certainly some things that will enhance risk of death. Smoking, for example, though thousands of people have smoked like chimneys and had no ill effects, and some have even suggested that seeing our President--who earlier this year announced he'd finally quit--taking a drag might humanize his image.  Evel Knieval's jumping a motorcycle over lines of 20 cars might be considered a risky, "death-defying" habit, though he died from diabetes and a lung condition.

Mothers all over the world have admonished children fleeing the house sweaterless that they'd catch their death of cold, even if they'd taken enough Vitamin C to impress Linus Pauling.  The list of risks is limitless; might even be a pretty funny book.

But back to the quote I heard on the radio today that rang so true: How much of what you're denying yourself is because you think you're increasing your life expectancy?  In other words, how much do you deprive yourself of simple joys, or even more complex ones, out of fear induced by some "health" news story? I know someone who won't savor a Hershey's kiss because she's sworn off sugar, considering it "toxic."  I don't buy that one, and now, thankfully, the "experts" are saying the flavanols in dark chocolate provide anti-oxidants that validate my daily fix.

Since I'm immersed in writing a book whose underlying point is "to thine own self be true," regarding what your body tells you, I embrace the notion that our lives are too short and precious to over-ride its personal messages and pleasures.  If we just tune in to the activities and tastes that make us feel strong and satisfied, we're likely to be pursuing our individual best paths to health.

I asked my Aunt Bo, 105 years old and living in sin with her 104-year-old boyfriend, Frank, the secret to their longevity.  They replied in unison, "Keep breathing!" They both used to smoke, when it was popular. They both enjoyed their highball cocktails. They have great stories to tell...but they never took Vitamin C or D or went to the gym.

We don't really know much about what prolongs life best, or avoids this or the other disease, but if every day contains some pleasure, some discovery, some joy in this awesome world, it's a day of gain.  Certainly some effort and discomfort can pay off in health benefits, but at the same time, chronic deprivation, especially when it feels like a sacrifice, won't bring the quality of life that is more important than its mere quantity.


  1. I get so weary of all the health info that we get blasted with. So much of it contradicts itself. Dark chocolate is good for the heart, except that it has a lot of caffeine which is bad for the heart. *sigh* So eat it, but don't. Same with eggs, dairy, wheat, yadda yadda. I'm in such a tizzy about how to eat that it often takes the joy out of eating, ya know?

    Great article!

  2. I know a doctor, who, at age 40, had "always eaten right, exercised right" and had to have a quadruple heart by-pass. Blew his ever-loving mind.

    In the military for 20+ years. The military will feed you eggs and bacon every morning if you want. I ate a ton of them. No sweaty-dah as they say. Praise God, give thanks and eat what you want is my motto.