THE THINKING ELIXIR?
We are beset with claims from dietary supplements that promise us many health benefits. Name an ailment and there is some herb, vitamin, or elixir that guarantees that it will eliminate the problem.
Each morning, I down a vitamin designed for those who want to be twenty-something but are fifty-something. After I take this powerful multivitamin, I swallow two fish oil soft gels designed to help my vascular system, a capsule of vitamin E purported to aid my immune function, and saw palmetto which is supposed to reduce my potential for prostate cancer. After swallowing them, I wonder whether all these capsules will really deliver on their promises. As these supplements swish around inside my stomach, I think about the chemical reactions taking place. Are all those additives doing battle against diseases lurking within me, or are they reacting with each other creating the conditions for some future medical problem?
While teaching a couple months ago, I said something during a lecture that just did not make any sense. From the reaction of the students, I knew that I had misspoken. Listening to the echo in my mind of what I had just uttered, I said to the amused students that they could expect this occasionally from me-considering my age. As they snickered, I warned them that they will have a similar problem when they reach my age. One of my students who is both a nurse and a nutritionist said, "What you need to take is ginkgo biloba. It will increase blood flow to your brain." Needless to say, I rushed off to a health food store the next day and purchased several months' supply of ginkgo.
The following week, after teaching my three-hour class, I asked them whether they saw any difference in my mental functioning? They all politely nodded affirmatively. At the time, I thought that they were merely patronizing their aging professor. However, I did not make any obvious faux pas during the lecture.
Driving home from class, I pondered the efficacy of ginkgo. Perhaps more blood flowing about my brain did work. Maybe I had found my fountain of (mental) youth in this herb. After I got home, I surfed the web for additional information about ginkgo. I felt that I had once again conquered a medical emergency with a capsule. While looking through various sites devoted to good health, I stumbled across an article that noted that heart attacks, strokes, and cancer were the top killers of Americans. During the past couple years, both my heart and prostate were found to be in excellent shape. With this clean bill of health, I can now worry about dying from a stroke. Suddenly, it dawned on me that if I increase blood flow to my brain to help me think more clearly, would I not also increase the possibility of a cerebral hemorrhage?
Was my vanity of wanting to present a perfect lecture creating a possible stroke? It didn't seem like a very smart trade-off. Had ginkgo worked without my fear of having a stroke, I would have gladly absorbed the cost of this dietary supplement. Now, I won't add ginkgo permanently to my daily regimen, but I didn't want to throw away the remaining capsules. Being Scottish, I watch my money prudently. So, when I run out of ginkgo, I won't replace it. Returning to my daily nutritional drug therapy of fish oil, vitamin E, saw palmetto, and a multi-vitamin, I am still looking for a wonder herb that will improve my thinking processes and even reverse the aging process.
While you may not be quite as neurotic as I am, don't you share my desire to find something that will guarantee healthful benefits without harming our health? Read the newspaper or watch television and you will discover a drug or herb remedy that has just been found either not to work or to be potentially harmful. What are we to do? We want to maintain or improve our health, but we don't want to jeopardize it.
We perhaps should stop thinking in terms of wonder drugs as a cure all. Maybe we should eat properly and exercise daily. In addition, we might be well advised to listen to Aristotle's advice long ago by doing things in moderation. We need also to make informed decisions and then, having made what we think is the best course of action, live life to the fullest. For me, this approach would mean, making the best decisions that I can about my health and then quit obsessing about it. Losing sleep over this doesn't make for a long and happy life.