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Resolve to Stop Resolving

Rather than belabor the whole New Year’s Resolution thing I wanted to start out the new year with a top 5 stories list. You know I don’t think people should wait for a certain date before they begin the process of changing themselves. The day to start changing is today. I have a friend who says … ”I will start my diet on XX date.” He then uses this as an excuse to overeat until that date … ”Well, soon I will be on a drastic diet … overeating now can’t make a difference.” Then, of course, the date comes around and he has another excuse as to why he is putting it off. My friend is very well intentioned and I think he really means it but this pattern has occurred so often you would think an intelligent person would recognize this but that just goes to show that it is hard to really know yourself. Change your life and habits or don’t but the day to do that is today … not tomorrow or Jan 1st.

My top 5 medical stories are probably not the 5 your own doctor would list. I would urge you to bring up any of these articles to ask your doctor if they are in fact true but I think you’re just going to upset your doctor because it’s extra work for them or challenges their long held beliefs.

Story #1 is the United States Preventive Task Force statement regarding  treating cholesterol and primary prevention. They state “There is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against statin use for people older than age 75.” I know many many people older than 75 that are taking a statin drug just because their numbers are high. I have seen multiple patients in their 90s never having had a heart attack or stroke that are given a statin drug which is designed to prevent premature death but I don’t think there is anything premature about death In your 90s. This recommendation from this independent panel is likely to go ignored because it doesn’t agree with current practices for most doctors. One of the scariest things to me is that when we have new evidence —unless it agrees with our current thinking— we have a tendency to ignore it.

Story #2 is the recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine that suggested that most supplemental oxygen is a waste. Essentially if you can walk around with your oxygen bottle you probably don’t need it! Medicare, who makes most of the rules, has long stipulated that oxygen therapy is appropriate for people if their oxygen saturation when tested in the office is less than 89%. If oxygen is low you should prescribe oxygen and the patient should benefit and live longer and require less hospitalizations and feel better. It certainly made sense but unfortunately this most recent study shows that for the vast majority of people getting submental oxygen there is no difference of hospitalizations, life expectancy or patient’s satisfaction. Again, what we have been doing for many people for many years seems to be not appropriate or not cost-effective or simply not impactful to the patient’s health. Despite this report which was well done and published in a major journal I believe most doctors again will not change their practice. Don’t get me wrong … people with very severe lung disease who require oxygen should not have it yanked away from them but many people who had episodes of low oxygen saturation when they’re walking or moving around do not benefit from supplemental oxygen based on this most recent and thorough report.

Story #3 is more speculative and claims that there is a link between Alzheimer’s and insulin resistance. There has long been evidence that diabetes increases your risk of dementia and it may actually double your risk although the numbers are debatable. Newer understanding suggests It’s not the sugar itself but the insulin resistance that may cause these proteins to build up in the brain. For every patient out there with known diabetes there is at least one other with insulin resistance so it’s understandable how dementia could be a major problem in the years to come. Of course I liked this finding because it confirms the validity of my suggestion of skipping breakfast to help you lose weight and lower your insulin level. Google intermittent fasting.

Story #4 is about hot peppers. Hot peppers can apparently kill you. I am a big fan of a moderate use of spices, onion, ginger, and garlic. I think they’re all healthy for you and when I was younger I used to hit the hot peppers a bit more than I do now and even now I can get a good sweat going from eating a hot pepper. There is however a danger from hot peppers and that is if you have a pepper that so irritating that it causes you to vomit violently. This can cause a spontaneous esophageal rupture which is also called Boerhaave’s syndrome. There was an article recently about a patient who was in hot pepper eating competition and vomited so vigorously that he ruptured his esophagus and this is usually 100% fatal unless treated surgically. I’m told he recovered fully but he did spend over 3 weeks in the hospital and I’d hate to see his hospital bill! Although this is a cautionary tale I think most of us are safe and I continue to recommend peppers, onion, horseradish, etc. because I think these vegetables and preparations are very healthy for you.

Story #5 is that we finally have proof of the benefits of breathing. Not your day to day breathing although it’s obviously beneficial to keep breathing. I’m talking about conscious breathing likely doing yoga … being aware of your breath and focusing on your breath. There was an article in the December 6th Journal of Neuroscience that mentioned that scientists at Northwestern Medical Center have discovered the rhythm of breathing creates a “activity in the brain that enhances emotional judgments and memory recall. Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered for the first time that the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgments and memory recall. “When you breathe in, we discovered you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, all across the limbic system.” You know I love yoga and recommend yoga to almost everyone … I really don’t need any more studies to make me a believer. Anyone who has practiced deep breathing exercises knows how powerful these techniques can be but it’s nice to see scientific evidence of their benefits.

Listen, it’s the beginning of the year. You don’t have to make a resolution but you can make a plan so that this time next year you are healthier and in better shape than you are now. Maybe it’s the time to finally quit drinking soda. Maybe skipping breakfast will find you 5-10 pounds lighter next year. What separates the dreamers from the successful people is making a plan and following up on the plan. Start today! Until next month … get well … stay well.

Dr. Barry