Don’t Read These Articles

We are all deluged with medical “news”: reports of miracle drugs and wonder cures fill newsfeeds and airwaves. But what I object to are reports on studies that warn us of impending doom only. It seems their only purpose is to incite worry in the reader or viewer. On some level these studies might help lead to further, useful research, but for you and me today, it’s just fodder for confusion and fear.

Here are 3 articles that I hope nobody reads or takes any notice of, and why.

“False-Positive Mammograms May Indicate Increased Risk of Breast Cancer Later”

This headline is from a article about a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention warning that for up to 10 years after a false-positive mammogram or breast biopsy, women are at higher risk of really having breast cancer. What am I supposed to do with information? I can’t control if I have a false positive. My peace of mind is violated for what? Worst of all, if you read very carefully you’ll find out the absolute risk is 1%. Because I had a false positive breast biopsy 8 years ago my risk of breast cancer just increased by 1%. I say, “How dare you scare me over 1%!”

The widely reported study emphasized the much more scary numbers of 39% and 76% increased risks of breast cancer, but those are relative risks and based on tiny base numbers. The specter of breast cancer is held over every woman’s head and I’m tired of living in fear. There is no action that I can take (according to this research) that will counter this increased risk (except to not have a mammogram? Seems a bad choice to have to make). My New Year’s resolution is to set aside all the advice about avoiding breast cancer and just live my life. I’ll deal with it if and when I have to, but stop giving me more to worry about!

“Thin People With A Spare Tire Are Worse Off Than Obese In Mortality Risk”

A study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that a roll of belly fat in otherwise thin people is associated with 2x the mortality rate compared to those who have overall body overweight and obesity. What am I supposed to do with this information? Most slender people with that muffin top can do very little about it — it’s how their bodies store fat. No single exercise is going to cut fat from just one region of your body. While you can lower your overall fat per cent with exercise, your body will continue to try to store fat right around the belly.

I asked my personal trainer, Kofi Sekyiamah, health and fitness instructor, who said, “Fat cannot be metabolized from one specific part of the body. If one has a high percentage of fat deposited in the abdominal region, the emphasis should be on overall body fat reduction through consistent exercise and nutritional changes. Also, it’s a misconception that strengthening the abdominal muscles will help to reduce fat in that region.”

Why am I being told about a health risk that I can’t do anything about? I’m already overwhelmed with trying to figure out if I can eat eggs or not. The study might indicate where further research could be impactful, so it’s good for medicine. This otherwise unhelpful study was publicized in many places, but I saw it in, which claims in its About Us section: “…we want our stories to be the kind of things you talk about at a bar with your friends.” Let’s raise a toast for focusing on news we can use next time.

“Drink To Your Health: Study Links Daily Coffee Habit To Longevity”

200,000 doctors and nurses followed for more than 30 years — sounds like that would be the basis for a pretty good study, yes? Not so fast. First of all, the research wasn’t even studying coffee consumption. The scientists ran a bunch of numbers to see what popped out. They were searching for correlation, but that isn’t causation.

The participants self-reported many of their activities on a questionnaire each year. Self-reporting can be very misleading. Just ask me how much ice cream I eat. I don’t even admit that to myself. So we don’t know how accurately the respondents estimated their own coffee input.

Andrew Maynard, who studies risk assessment at Arizona State University, was interviewed by NPR about this study. From the article: He summarizes the benefits documented in this study as “small.” He says this study does not prove cause and effect between drinking coffee and living longer. Rather, it points to an association. “There are a lot of unknowns as to what [may explain] the increase in life expectancy,” Maynard says. Another waste of research time. (The headline is from NPR and the study published Circulation.)

And secondly, what about quality of life? If you can handle 15 cups of coffee a day, wow. Like most people, I find that when I drink a lot of coffee (more than 4 cups) I get the same side effects that warns of:

  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Stomach upset
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Muscle tremors

And, frankly, if I drink too much coffee, my life might be lengthened, but I worry about the other drivers on the road when I’m hopped up on caffeine.

Suzanne B. Robotti

Suzanne Robotti founded MedShadow Foundation in 2012. Learn more about Su and her mission.

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