The health benefits of worrying

In the August issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, coming soon, I discuss the “worried well” phenomenon and the benefits of being a bit worried about your health. It motivates you to take the right steps for a healthy lifestyle.

Of course, first, you have to make sure the steps you take are correct and based on scientific evidence. Unfortunately, the mainstream government-industrial-medical complex gave out faulty advice for decades. They told us to avoid dietary cholesterol, saturated fats, and sodium, thereby eliminating some of the healthiest foods on the planet. That’s why I keep reporting the actual evidence regarding your health.

People who are “worried well” are also more likely to volunteer for clinical research studies (well-known for decades as the “healthy volunteer effect”). This factor means that participants who volunteer for studies are more likely to engage in many healthy activities, above and beyond whatever one specific factor is actually being tested in the study. As a result, clinical studies often don’t represent the population as a whole. And their findings are not generalizable.

Health ideals motivate food shopping

The Nielsen Company and the National Marketing Institute recently performed a study looking at how shoppers make food and beverage selections. They found that consumers fall into one of five distinct categories. Consumers tend not to overlap but remain consistent in their shopping behavior. It turns out, a person’s health ideals motivate their shopping.

So — what kind of shopper are you?

They called the first group “well beings” (19% of shoppers). Well beings are highly proactive and continually search for the next best thing to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Of course, most of the “new” information out there about healthy lifestyle is pure hype rather than science. And clueless “experts” parrot the mainstream medical blather or the marketing hype of the natural products industry.

The next group is called “food actives” (18%). Food actives represent the mainstream healthy group with a more traditional and balanced perspective. I might call this the “common sense” group because they listen to what their grandparents and parents recommended. In fact, the real science continues to confirm the old-fashioned advice about moderation and a balanced diet and lifestyle. This is my group.

A third group are aficionados of “magic bullets” (23%) who prefer to manage their health with mainstream medicine. They run to the latest drug or medical procedure. They don’t want to commit to a healthy lifestyle. Instead, they misplace their faith in the ministrations of modern medical technology above all else. Evidence shows that this approach is more about faith than real science.

I will never forget my lunch meeting with a prominent man who clearly belonged to this group. I had travelled to Atlanta on my 40th birthday to deliver the keynote address for the American Medical Writers Association. (At this event, I also discovered that over 80 percent of “independent” medical writers actually work on contract for big pharma.)

A prominent donor to our public health education project, which I led with former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, invited me to lunch. (The man is also a donor to a prominent, high-tech medical institute in Boston.)

The donor sat red-faced, uncovered, in the broiling southern sun, slathering ketchup onto his burger and fries. Between bites, he chain-smoked cigarettes. Knowing about my research at the National Cancer Institute, he wanted to know when we would develop a preventive pill he could take to counteract his habits.

I explained there is no such pill, nor should there be.

I was not invited back.

“Fence sitters” (20%) make up the fourth group in the Nielsen study. They aspire to be healthy, but admit to difficulty juggling family, work and the stresses of daily life. Marketers exploit this group (including working moms) by packaging convenient, “healthy” foods that are anything but healthy — like the scandalous “lunchables” I reported on during our first year of publication.

Finally, there is the “eat, drink, and be merry” group (20%). They remain indifferent toward healthy eating or initiating most healthy lifestyle activities. There might actually be some benefit to belonging to this group, as they may well end up better off than the other groups (except for the commonsense “food actives”). And not paying attention to government diet and lifestyle recommendations is a good thing when those recommendations have been all wrong, mostly wrong or partially wrong, depending upon which politically correct risk factor they were focused on.

In fact, as I reported last year, one study that found people with extreme longevity (in their 90s and 100s) actually drank more, smoked more, got less exercise, and had less healthy diets compared to average. Familial and genetic factors are surely involved in longevity and susceptibility to illness as well. Another reason why the one-size-fits-all, one-pill-for-every-ill approach of modern medicine just doesn’t make sense for individuals.

My advice for healthy living?

Follow a balanced diet with fresh, organic foods. Drink alcohol in moderation. Get moderate regular exercise, such as swimming, walking and yardwork — preferably outdoors in Nature — and get some sun. Supplement with a daily B complex and 10,000 IU of vitamin D. And try herbal supplements for what ails you. Avoid hospitals, drugs and medical procedures.

And, don’t spend a lot of time in front of the television (with apologies to the Nielsen organization, which sponsored this study).


“Are healthy thinkers also healthy shoppers,” Nielsen ( 4/6/2010