Our Health — Are There any Right Answers or Just Different Degrees of Wrong?

By Jason Menard

It seems like everyday something else has been shown that it will eventually kill you – and it’s getting harder and harder to know what’s good for you or what’s going to get you in the end.

A Health Canada expert panel investigating the risk factors of COX-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx, Celebrex, and Bextra released a report on July 7, 2005 outlining their findings. The good news was that these drugs offer no more risk of cardiovascular issues than ibuprofen.

The bad news? Ibuprofen’s worse for you than they thought!

It’s just another in the long list of products that were supposed to be of benefit to you that allegedly can end up killing you. Remember the wonder vitamin that was Vitamin E? People were gulping mass quantities of it and touting its antioxidant properties. Oh, wait, it seems that Vitamin E, in certain doses, may actually increase the risk of cancer. Oops. Sorry about that one. Or, with obesity being the number-one health concern for North Americans, people flocked to the fen-phen regimen, only to find that some of the side effects had nasty consequences for your heart – like death.

Where do you turn? The next time I have a headache to I have to weight the benefits of pain relief with the long-term risks of a stroke? Who do you trust? A couple of years back my wife and I were in an auto accident, the result of which has left us with lingering pain. Originally, I was given Vioxx, but I scrapped that after initial reports. Then I took Celebrex, after researching that it was a safer alternative in that class of drugs – but, lo and behold, that may not be the case. So that was taken out of the medicine cabinet.

So what now? Grin and bear it? Or pop a few Advils and mortgage my long-term cardiovascular health for short-term comfort? Continue taking acetaminophen and codeine and hope my liver doesn’t call it quits? Who do you trust, who do you believe? And how can we trust anything anymore when one year’s wonder drug is next year’s health scandal?

Advil or Tylenol? Butter or margarine? Fried or grilled? Sugar or aspartame? Boxers or briefs? Are there any right answers or just different degrees of wrong? Sometimes it makes you long for simpler days – like when we were still drawing on cave walls and trying to make that wheel thing work. At least then the things that would kill you were obvious. Trees good, water good, dinosaurs and big, toothy cats – avoid.

We’re a society obsessed with the conflicting ideals of youthfulness and longevity. We’re so desperate to combine both that we’re always looking for the next great advance in medicine and science. That’s why snake oil sellers were – and are – so successful. They play on the base need we have to find that magic bullet, a panacea for all that ails us.

This desire for optimal health now has blinded us to the importance of long-term studies. We’re willing to believe anyone and anything as long as we can justify it to ourselves. Whether it’s the pharmaceutical industry hyping the next wonder drug or anecdotal evidence on a particular natural health product, we’re starving as a society for anything that offers the promise of living a long and healthy life, without considering the consequences.

What we really need is a pill for patience – but that would probably end up killing you in the long run anyway. The simple fact of the matter is that there really is no magic bullet, and all we’re doing is playing Russian Roulette with our lives. Time and time again the key to a long, healthy life has been laid out before us – eat right, exercise occasionally, and avoid poisoning yourself with habits like smoking and excessive drinking.

But we’re all hedonists at heart and that simple, yet boring, message of practicality doesn’t mesh with the lifestyle we want to lead. We want it all, and then we want a simple solution to eliminate the negative effects of our actions. Conversely, when we’re legitimately dealing with pain, we’re always on the lookout for something newer, something that works better to improve the quality of life – and hopefully not affect its quantity.

Whether it’s fat in foods, aspartame in drinks, compounds in medicine, there are always going to be conflicting reports about whether or not their good for you. Some people are so concerned about micromanaging what goes into their body they end up creating yet another insidious force to their lives – stress.

So perhaps we should turn to a revered Canadian anthem for guidance. As Trooper once said, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time. So have a good time — the sun can’t shine everyday.” It’s sound advice. And, to quote another 80s icon, Schoolhouse Rock, “knowledge is power.” Today’s world moves so quickly that we have to inform ourselves to the best of our ability and try to make the best decisions we can, given the resources we have.

All we can do in this life – and to live our lives – is to do our best. And to avoid the things we know will kill us in the end. I know about dinosaurs, it’s just the rest of the world that I’m not sure about.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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