Back at the dawn of time, when you could smoke in the lunch room, I worked in a factory that–I’m not joking–retouched high school yearbook photos.
It was 10:30am in the year 1973 and time for first break. (Our job provided deadly monotony and exposure to chemicals for eight hours minus two fifteen-minute breaks and a half hour for lunch unpaid. Oh, you worked there too? Eight to Four-thirty? Eh, Paisan!)
Anyway, we were enjoying our brief respite and eating plastic-wrapped muffins. There was nothing to look at but yesterday’s Evening Bulletin. In the ‘Women’s Section’ was the latest health scare. Saccharin causes cancer.
For the younger generation, let me clarify that Saccharin was the great white powdery hope for women who wanted to be slim while still eating food. But now it was proved deadly.
Andrea was having none of it. She waved her coffee cup.
“Everything causes cancer!” she cried. This cup causes cancer!” She’s shaking the paper cup with the Greek key pattern around the rim.
Well yeah, Bunky, no one gets out of here alive. And you can’t go nuts about the latest headlines. The news reporters have no more memory than a gerbil. This week’s panic leads.
It helps to take the long view. Reporters, bless their little Journalism Degree hearts, don’t know squat about Science. They would probably like to actually report some news, but real life is 8:00-4:30 with lunch not included.
Well, I could go on. My topic today is a recent medical study that is both disappointing and counter-intuitive..
A decade ago, the federal government launched the three-part study to see whether intensely lowering blood sugar, blood pressure, or fats in the blood would reduce heart attacks and strokes in diabetics. The first piece of the study — about blood sugar — was stopped two years ago, when researchers saw more instead of less risk with that approach. Now, the other two parts of the study are in.
The drugs used in the study to manage hypertension and cholesterol did not improve health or longevity in the people enrolled in the study.
This is disappointing because Diabetes is punching the time card on the shift that Tuberculosis used to work. He’s got a different M.O. He reaps the fatter and the older instead of the younger and the thinner. But he’s got greedy and is taking out so many that society might have to recognize a non-contagious epidemic.
What can we conclude from early study results that indicate that drug treatment for hypoglycemia, and high cholesterol does not improve health for people with type II diabetes?
We could conclude that having good blood sugar control doesn’t improve your health, but that doesn’t make sense. If your pancreas is doing its job you can eat cotton candy for breakfast and feel just fine. And it’s better to have clear coronary arteries than not, I think we would agree.
I would examine this study and question whether the drugs that were used on the volunteers were effective in promoting health. That’s not the same as promoting optimal lab test results.
Your individual concern is to find what works. A drug that totally sucked for the woman sitting beside you in the waiting room might work miracles for you.
Taking the long and cynical view of this recent study, I first would like to know how much influence the drug companies had in the design of the research. Context is everything. Ask an artist if you don’t believe that.
And the conclusion I draw from this study is not that controlling your blood sugar and cholesterol is useless. Rather, I question whether the drugs tested were the best ones. And whether drug therapy is the best approach. Maybe diet and exercise would work better. But there’s no lobby for that.
And these studies, comprising a few thousand people for a few years can’t answer the most important question–What should I do to stay healthy?
Taking the long view, I would say to use the old wisdom of eating right and exercising. If that doesn’t fix things, ask a doctor you trust to prescribe the drugs that seem like the best choice. Ask your doctor to track the effectiveness and explain the lab test results to you. Some people really need to take prescription drugs, and they are healthier when they do. I really mean that. Be reality-based. If a pharmaceutical helps you then for goodness sake, take the pill.
We unfortunately don’t have a science press to educate the public. We have a cage of gerbils chasing headlines.
Science seems wimpy sometimes. Studies don’t ‘prove’ anything. They support a hypothesis. How dry and dull.
The latest studies may show that drug treatment is not effective, or maybe that other drugs would work better, or we need better drugs, or maybe that diet and exercise is the only effective treatment.
Like Gilda Radner said, ‘It’s always something.’
We can’t panic on cue every time studies ‘prove’ something. It’s good to be skeptical, and take the long view, and ask who’s signing the checks. That’s something that reporters don’t usually dig deep enough to investigate. When they do, it gets buried on the back pages.
I think that taking care of yourself is a good idea. If you have a chronic disease like diabetes you should watch the research for new developments while doing the old-fashioned stuff to take care of yourself. A cure may be a long ways off, meanwhile we have to live in the world we’re in and make the best of it.