Allergic to nothing
For every health issue that needs to be solved, there might be one that is entirely made up, like the one where people claim wi-fi makes them sick.
This article (bit.ly/12VJXDp) covers a study that shows how absolutely simple it is to convince people that invisible things they can't see make them ill.
The researchers showed a slice of documentary pseudo-science as the instigator, which goes to show you how damaging these shows can be in regard to mass hysteria.
Of course, things that make you sick aren't invisible -- they're tiny, but you can see them on a certain level. Consider those who claim wind turbines cause sickness. Or that they're allergic to unnamed everythings. The human mind may be the most miraculous thing in the universe, because it is so adept at creating physical symptoms to back up psychological realities.
Welcome to America, now die
There are real public health issues that beg to be solved, as this New York Times article reveals about mortality statistics among immigrants (nyti.ms/10kX2ra).
The piece says that "the longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes ... while their American-born children may have more money, they tend to live shorter lives than the parents." This is despite the fact that "as early as the 1970s, researchers found that immigrants lived several years longer than American-born whites even though they tended to have less education and lower income, factors usually associated with worse health."
Being an American, it turns out, can kill you! No surprise, it's our American habits that do the job-- horrible diets, not moving bodies, smoking, drinking. So at least longtime residents of the country are dying at a similar rate to immigrants, right?
Odds that are hard to ignore
The British Medical Journal has released the results of a study that shows that about half of all Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) deaths occur within co-sleeping families (bit.ly/1688Rpd) and that 88 percent of those would have been prevented by having the baby not sleep with the parents. I know this is going to be controversial for some.
It was previously thought that drugs, smoking and alcohol were important factors, but now the rate has been shown to be the same among families without those issues. And though the rates of SIDS deaths have dropped 50 percent in the last 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control (1.usa.gov/13L4gpj), since its campaign to put babies to sleep on their back, it reports "SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants aged 1-12 months, and is the third leading cause overall of infant mortality in the United States."
The article lists two doctors speculating on bacteria and toxins as part of the SIDS mix, if you go to their page you will find one of them does no research at all and the other is a psychologist. So ignore them until you hear further evidence.
I understand that co-sleeping is very important to some families, but the almost 9 to 1 odds of prevention make the report compelling.
Cooperating with cancer
The latest issue of Wired (June, 2013) has a thought-provoking but admittedly alarming piece that suggests the war on cancer is unwinnable because the disease is inevitable to the way our evolution works. Author Mark Wolverton suggests that cancer is best thought of not as something we need to beat, but rather something we need to manage.
It's a hard view to accept, but I think that if we did, it might bring peace to our souls and efficiency to our medical practice.
The article argues, in the simplest terms, that your body's battle against cancerous cells is a continual one that never ends, a result of the way evolution works -- from birth, your cells mutate, and as Wolverton puts it, "the longer you live, the more chances for a distorted, pernicious cell to elude the body's defenses and develop into full-blown cancer."
Or as a cancer researcher from University of Oslo says, "It's the inevitable consequence of our multicellular composition."
And the conundrum as posited by Wolverton is, "the better we treat cancer, the longer we live, leading to more cancer in the population over time."
Wolverton lays out a view of cancer as a chronic condition that needs to be managed, and our body as a cooperative that we -- that part of us that is our self -- are not really the center of.
We are not alone
This made me think of a recent column about bacteria from Michael Pollan in the New York Times (nyti.ms/11b2yrR) which acknowledges that, biologically, we are not in this alone. In many ways, humans are just walking habitats for societies of bacteria.
One microbiologist characterizes a human body as "an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants." Pollan promotes this as a humbling new way of thinking about the "self" that "has large implications for human and microbial health, which turn out to be inextricably linked."
You aren't a single person. You are an ecosystem. A society. A planet.
And that's really the key to understanding our own health. The sooner we accept that humans are not the center of the universe and that the space we call our body is not ours alone, the sooner we will understand the true nature of disease.
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor. He blogs at blogs.thetranscript.com/arts.