Keep it simple

Sometimes I just despair as I read new guidelines. Don’t you? Maybe you are not a physician and don’t try to keep all of this impossible stuff in your head. Mine is full. Tilt.

Diabetes alone: if someone has type II diabetes, there are specific blood pressure guidelines, cholesterol guidelines, we are to do a hgbA1C lab test every six months minimum and more often if they are out of control, and a urine microalbumin/creatinine ratio yearly. If that starts being abnormal we are to start one of two classes of blood pressure medicines even if they have normal blood pressure.

Oh, and don’t forget: a yearly eye test and we are supposed to check their feet at EVERY visit to make sure they are not getting diabetic ulcers.

Got that? And that is just type II diabetes. And there are a whole raft of medicines, about forty right now. Some are weekly shots, some are daily tablets, some are twice a day or with every meal and they all have their own side effects, how fun. Check drug interactions, are their kidneys ok? Is their liver ok? Diabetes increases the risk of heart attack and stroke and don’t forget those feet.

Diabetes is one of the most complicated sets of guidelines, but there are a rather appalling number of guidelines. Maybe we should sic an AI on that job: Mr. Smith has type II diabetes poorly controlled, hypertension, erectile dysfunction, feels a little short of breath and has a bruise on his left shin after tripping yesterday. Please, AI, organize a twenty minute visit to cover as many things as possible efficiently and have the note finished and followup arranged by the end of it. Then it turns out that what Mr. Smith really wants to talk about is his niece who has just overdosed and nearly died from heroin, so everything else goes out the window. Maybe I should see him weekly for the next month.

Do you want to keep it simple and stay out of the doctor’s office and more importantly out of the hospital? If you are 25 and healthy, you don’t much care because old is unimaginable.

But there is a very nice study that looked at just five things regarding health, over 28 years for men and 34 for women: “The researchers looked at NHS and HPFS data on diet, physical activity, body weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption that had been collected from regularly administered, validated questionnaires.”

Here is an article about the study: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/healthy-lifestyle-5-keys-to-a-longer-life-2018070514186

Here is the study: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.032047

So let’s break the five things down. Here are the more formal definitions: “Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study (1980–2014; n=78 865) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986–2014, n=44 354), we defined 5 low-risk lifestyle factors as never smoking, body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2, ≥30 min/d of moderate to vigorous physical activity, moderate alcohol intake, and a high diet quality score (upper 40%), and estimated hazard ratios for the association of total lifestyle score (0–5 scale) with mortality.”

First: never smoking. I would add never vaping and not living in a cave and burning wood and hopefully not living right next to a 12 lane superhighway, all of which are bad for the lungs. Ok, while we are at it, don’t use methamphetamines or heroin or cocaine or krocodil, right? They didn’t even include those in the study.

Second: Body mass index 18.5-25. If you aren’t there, it is diet and exercise that need to change.

Third: Thirty minutes or more per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. That can be ten minute intervals. Three can have an enormous effect on number two.

Fourth: moderate alcohol intake. Ok, alcohol is bad for the heart, period. So is tobacco. They defined moderate as less than or equal to “5 to 15 g/d for women and 5 to 30 g/d for men”. Let’s do the math: a 12 ounce beer that is 5% has 14gm of alcohol. Here: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/what-standard-drink. The 8.9% 16 ounce beer at our local pub has quite a bit more. Here is a website where you can calculate how much alcohol is in a drink: https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/Tools/Calculators/Cocktail-Calculator.aspx.

Fifth: Diet. There is an overwhelming amount of confusing information on the internet and some of it is not only confusing but wrong. “Diet quality in the NHS, HPFS, and NHANES was assessed with the Alternate Healthy Eating Index score (Methods in the online-only Data Supplement), which is strongly associated with the onset of cardiometabolic disease in the general population.” I have not assessed my own Alternate Healthy Eating Index score. However, there are a couple very straightforward things that help with diet. First: No sweetened drinks. That means that sugary coffee with the syrup should go. I quit drinking mochas when I read that a 12 ounce one has 62 grams of carbohydrate. I would rather have a small dark chocolate. And sodas are just evil and juice not much better. Eat the fruit instead. Second: eat vegetables, every meal. A fruit is not a vegetable and no, potato chips don’t count. I mean a green or yellow or red vegetable. You can saute any vegetable, or any that I can think of. I am not counting grains as a vegetable, so pasta, pizza, potato chips and so forth do not count. Beans do count. Third: the DASH diet recommends only a tablespoon of sweetener per day. That is not very much. You can make that cheesecake slice last a week! A small piece of dark chocolate daily or tablespoon size chunk of that cheesecake.

I had a diabetic patient who would be fine, fine, fine, then out of control. “WHAT are you eating? And drinking?” The first time it was two 16 ounce Mochas a day. Then he was fine for a year and a half. Then labs went haywire again. “What are you drinking?” “Well,” he said, not wanting to admit it, “Ok, I decided to try Caramel Machiattos.” “No, no, no! You can’t do that! You’ll end up on insulin!” “Ok, ok, got it, got it.”

And what is the difference if I try to do those five things, you ask, skeptical. “We estimated that the life expectancy at age 50 years was 29.0 years (95% CI, 28.3–29.8) for women and 25.5 years (95% CI, 24.7–26.2) for men who adopted zero low-risk lifestyle factors. In contrast, for those who adopted all 5 low-risk factors, we projected a life expectancy at age 50 years of 43.1 years (95% CI, 41.3–44.9) for women and 37.6 years (95% CI, 35.8–39.4) for men.The projected life expectancy at age 50 years was on average 14.0 years (95% CI, 11.8–16.2) longer among female Americans with 5 low-risk factors compared with those with zero low-risk factors; for men, the difference was 12.2 years (95% CI, 10.1–14.2).”

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I took the photograph from Marrowstone Island. What does a healthy seal diet look like? I am so lucky to have miles of beach to hike, as long as I watch the tides and don’t mind rain.

One thought on “Keep it simple

  1. It’s daunting.

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