AS A NATION we run up a $200 billion health bill annually and at times don’t seem to be getting what we’re paying for. But consider a few of the important strides medicine has made in the last ten years:
-Heart-disease mortality has fallen bynearly 20 per cent, thanks to improvedmethods of treatment and prevention.
-Life expectancy of the average American has been extended by two and a halfyears -as much as it increased over thetwo preceding decades.
-Leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, andother lymphomas – cancers that frequently strike young people -have yielded dramatically to treatment. The chances ofcure now outweigh the chances of fatality.
-Microsurgery, perhaps the most significant surgical breakthrough of the lastfew decades, has vastly improved patients’chances of recovery in many areas of neurological surgery and has made replantation of severed limbs almost routine.
-Treatment of alcoholism, once initiated only after the victim had reachedrock-bottom, has been shown to be moresuccessful when applied in early stages,thus preventing irreparable damage tothe liver.
-A drug called cimetidine has beendeveloped to treat duodenal ulcers.
-The infant mortality rate has droppedfrom 20 to 13.1 deaths per 1000 live births.
-Amniocentesis and ultrasound technology have revolutionized prenatal diagnosis.
This is not to suggest that medicine has conquered disease. It hasn’t. For example, some otherwise successful treatments for specific cancers have devastating side effects, in some cases leading to other types of cancers. Black infants remain twice as likely to die as white infants. And many diseases are still as unyielding to treatment as they were 20 years ago. But medical advances are being made, and we shouldn’t lose sight of their significance.
DYSLEXIA IS a disorder that hinders reading ability, sometimes causing letters to appear backwards. It affects some 25 million Americans, particularly the young, with boys five times more likely than girls to be dyslexic. At one time it was virtually unrecognized, but later it became almost fashionably commonplace. Because so many schoolchildren were labeled dyslexic, suspicions were often voiced that dyslexia was not a real disorder at all, only a convenient label to cover up an unwillingness on the part of a student to read well.
More recently, however, dyslexia has come to be seen as genetic. The most recent hard evidence supporting this view comes from University of Miami geneticists who have linked dyslexia with the genes of chromosome number 15. Taken together with last year’s Boston study that linked abnormal cell structures with language-function areas of the brains of dyslexics, the University of Miami research seems to show that dyslexia is a physical disorder, not psychological or environmental.
BECAUSE OF the medical risks associated with caffeine-high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, sleep disorders, birth defects, and possibly breast cysts -American coffee-drinkers have been switching to decaffeinated varieties. Although overall coffee consumption is declining in the U.S., decaffeinated-coffee intake has nearly doubled since the early Seventies.
Here are a few things that drinkers of decaffeinated coffee should know:
As you may recall, in 1975 the chemical solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) was dropped from the decaffeination process after being found to cause cancer in animals. TCE was quickly replaced by another solvent, methylene chloride. The cancer-causing potential, if any, of methylene chloride has not been established; the National Cancer Institute will complete a study of the chemical at the end of this year. What is known is that methylene chloride and TCE belong to the same chemical family (chlorinated hydrocarbons).
Does this mean that you’re at risk when drinking decaffeinated coffee? Probably not, because the acceptable level of methylene chloride in decaffeinated coffee is 10 parts per million -and, according to the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers appear to be meeting that standard or bettering it.
But it is worth pointing out that there are two methods of applying the chemical solvent to coffee beans to extract caffeine-directly and indirectly -and that the indirect method apparently yields lower solvent residues. Currently, General Foods, manufacturer of Sanka and Brim, is the only major company known to use the indirect method.
AS WE BECOME a more health-conscious society, hundreds of health-related books are coming on the market. Some are excellent, and some are dangerous, even when there is an M.D. after the author’s name.
The best of these books is obviously one that helps you make sound decisions about your family’s health. If you are interested in beginning a basic health library, the following list includes some of the best recent general-information health books now available.
I was greatly assisted in this evaluation by Dr. Alan M. Rees, professor of library science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Dr. Rees has systematically evaluated the popular health books, and has published his findings in his own book, written with Blanche A. Young, titled A Guide to Consumer Health Information Sources (Bowker, $35). It should prove an invaluable addition to any health library, along with these books:
Take Care of Yourself: A Consumer’s Guide to Medical Care, by Donald Vick-ery, M.D., and James F. Fries (Addison-Wesley, $6.95). This ranks near the top for general health advice. It is clear, concise, complete, and authoritative.
The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, A to Z (Ballantine, $6.95). Don’t be put off by the fact that this book was assembled by the lovelorn’s favorite columnist. Landers is a member of the Visiting Committee of the Harvard Medical School and a trustee of the Menninger Foundation. She had no difficulty in gaining access to the many distinguished people who contributed to this volume. It is not entirely medical, but about two-thirds is devoted to advice about medical subjects, from heart surgery to baldness.
How to Be Your Own Doctor-Sometimes, by Keith W. Sehnert, M.D., and Howard Eisenberg (Grosset & Dunlap, $5.95). Like the Vickery and Landers books, this covers a wide range of medical topics, from diet to exercise to self-care.
High-Level Wellness, by Donald B. Ardnell (Bantam, $2.25). Put out by the publishers of Prevention magazine, this book’s slant is much more toward preventive medicine. It includes many of the latest findings on how to increase your chances for a longer, healthier life.
Where You Live May Be a Hazard to Your Health, by Robert Shakman (Stein & Day, $5.95). This book rates and compares various communities for air pollution, climate, water purity, and other environmental factors important to health.
How to Choose a Good Doctor, by George D. LeMaitre (Brick House Publishing, $5.95). A practical guide if you are looking for a doctor. LeMaitre suggests you don’t choose one over 60 years of age or one that is not board-certified.
The People’s Pharmacy, by Joe Grae-don (Avon, $4.95). Graedon is a pharmacist, and his book is a readable compendium of information on drugs. He evaluates both prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Physician’s Desk Reference (Medical Economics, $14.50). This large volume contains all the drug labeling, including side effects and contraindications, required by the FDA for prescription drugs. The major disadvantages of the book are that it does not evaluate or compare drugs, and the language sometimes is too technical for the layman.
My Body, My Health: The Concerned Woman’s Guide to Gynecology, by Felicia Stewart, M.D., Felicia Guest, Gary Stewart, M.D., and Robert Hatcher, M.D. (John Wiley, $7.95). A compendium of readable health information for women, covering everything from the Pap smear to birth control pills. Perhaps the single most complete -and best -book on women’s health problems.
Woman’s Body: An Owner’s Manual (Paddington Press, $6.95). Richly illustrated, this book also covers the major health topics concerning women in an authoritative and readable manner.
The American Medical Association’s Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care (Random House, $5.95). This new book has the most up-to-date advice on first aid and emergency measures. It offers advice for home care and tells when professional help should be sought. It is well organized and readable.
EVER HEAR OF bioflavonoids? They are found in plants – and some researchers believe they may someday be considered one of the most important disease-prevention factors in the human diet.
Dr. R.C. Robbins, a researcher who has been looking into bioflavonoids for the past 20 years, wrote in Executive Health that they may help prevent heart attacks, cancer, and infections. Dr. Robbins notes this is a “strikingly broad range of activity,” but, he says, “it appears that bioflavonoids are a broad-spectrum primitive defense system acting against disease in plants-and capable as well of acting in man.”
He suspects bioflavonoids may assist in heart-attack prevention, because they exert an anti-adhesive action that prevents red blood cells from clumping together, causing a heart attack or stroke. He suspects they may be useful in cancer prevention because they stimulate enzymes that can make certain cancer-causing materials harmless.
Dr. Robbins, a respected researcher,says he cannot recommend taking bio-flavonoid supplements because suitabledosages have not been established andthere is not enough information to saywhich of the flavonoids are best. However, he does say bioflavonoids are plentiful in oranges and tangerines and suggestsyou eat as many of these a day as you comfortably can.