Health And The News
We all worry about our health from time to time, whether for specific reasons or just general worries. It’s completely understandable, we want to be in good health and fit to live a full and happy life. But there are so many bits of information floating around out there that can contribute to health worries. It’s not uncommon to read or hear about this thing or that thing causing health problems. We can be led to worry that too much of one thing, or too little of another, will have dire repercussions.
Your health is the most important thing you have. It is natural, then, that scare stories worry a lot of people. If you are trying to ensure that you live a long, healthy life you do want to know what to stay away from. And perhaps because we’re all a bit more informed these days, it isn’t a huge leap from noticing a symptom to thinking things are dire. In other words, in an era when so many of us have come to rely on Dr. Google, issues which wouldn’t have bothered us before have become fuel for fear.
None of this is helped by headlines which tell us that a wide range of foods cause cancer. Not just foods, various consumer items have been blamed for a rise in health issues, usually cancer.
Indeed, in some places, the headlines have said that Facebook will give you cancer. It’s got to the stage where people will, jokingly, wonder what the headline writers will say causes cancer next.
Because of the principle of “no smoke without fire”, not everybody finds these articles to be scaremongering. They couldn’t run these stories, could they if there wasn’t a grain of truth in the headlines? And that’s a reasonable question, but it depends on what we consider being “a grain of truth”. Some behaviors will decrease our risk of getting ill. If something that we do means we aren’t practicing those behaviors, you could argue that it increases the risk.
It is certainly a long jump from that to say that – for example – Facebook causes cancer. And while we can say that anything which encourages us to live healthily is good, it’s also irresponsible. When so many things are claimed to be bad for us, it raises the fear of these illnesses. So when something happens that is quite benign – a headache, a cough or anything similar – panic is natural.
What this has led to is a sense that we are never any further than just around the corner from a health scare. It has increased the sense that we could fall ill at any moment. In a time when medical science has never been more advanced – for the better – we’re now more scared than ever that something will kill us. It’s something of a paradox. Yes, we should all eat and live healthily. We shouldn’t be reckless. But we shouldn’t be so scared, either.
No-one should take unnecessary risks with their lifestyle that increase their chances of illness. Cancer is still a highly dangerous illness, killing four million people under 70 every year worldwide. Therefore it makes sense to ensure you avoid things that do contribute to it. It makes sense to visit your doctor if you recognize symptoms which are not getting better. Early detection makes all the difference for successful treatment of any illness.
It’s also worth remembering that options for treatment of any serious illness are improving. Just, for example, treatments using sourced info from Poseida are at this very moment being developed. It is expected that they will lead to more effective treatment of cancers.
There are fewer and fewer cases in which a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence. And the same goes for other conditions that carry the same serious toll.
While HIV infection is still not something to take lightly, early detection and proactive treatment can mean a full, healthy life.
It is important to note the difference between “treatable” and “harmless”. But even in cases where a disease has been diagnosed as “terminal”, more people are dying of what we used to refer to as “old age” or “natural causes”.
So What Does This Mean For People In General?
As has been covered already, living healthily is still beyond important. While treatments have improved and life expectancy increased, no-one should feel immortal. The idea that “well, I know someone who ate right, didn’t smoke and still died of cancer” may be persuasive. The idea it puts forward is that you’re either marked or you aren’t. The fact is that you might well get cancer, but if you’ve lived healthily, you will have the best chance of beating it.
Additionally, as noted before, you have to decide whether you are going to pay attention to health news stories. If you are, you need to read them in depth, because not a single one of those stories can be responsibly reduced to a headline. Stories that suggest eating a certain food can give you cancer often mask the fact you’d need to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. And even then, it would simply raise your risk, not guarantee you’d get ill.
There is no possibility of getting all the news you need from a headline. This is as true of good news as it is for bad. A headline that suggests a “cure for cancer” is as irresponsible as any that tell you a food will give you cancer.
The news that lies underneath the headline, and any information on where that news came from, are what is important. Many journalists these days have so little time to research a story that they simply re-hash press releases. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this can lead to readers walking away with false impressions. So you need to either ignore them and live healthily, or read everything.
But Who Has The Time To Do That?
Unless you’re a doctor, no-one does. That’s the point. The health scare stories that make up all too many media outlets’ health sections are irresponsible. Typically, they are – as mentioned – press releases rehashed by overworked staff writers. This can often mean that there is very little research done into the source of the story. So the news that comes to us is from someone who isn’t a medical expert, via someone who also isn’t a medical expert.
Unless you have the time and the mastery of human biology to qualify as a doctor, it’s not a great idea to pay great heed to such stories. Particularly when the physical effects of stress and anxiety are proven to be negative. You won’t get healthier from reading anything with a doom-laden headline. In fact, the overall effect is going to be negative.
The human body is a hugely complicated organism. When we feel unwell, it can be for a variety of reasons. There is a long list of things that it needs to do for us to be at our best. And if we are feeling under the weather, it can be for essentially very benign reasons.
Doctors talk about the concept of a “zebra”. Essentially common symptoms can be indicative of something bad. They can also be something entirely run-of-the-mill. The bad thing, which is rare, can stick in a person’s mind because it is exotic (like a zebra). The simple, straightforward thing (more like a horse) gets pushed out of our mind. When we hear hoof beats, it’s likely that what’s approaching is a horse. We shouldn’t ever jump to thinking it is a zebra.
So When Should You Panic?
You should never panic. If your issue is something serious, then panicking is not going to help you get better. What you should do is speak to a doctor, explain what you’re dealing with and why you are concerned. Do not let them dismiss your concerns as over-worry, because it never hurts to be sure. If it is something serious, early detection and treatment are your best hope. If it’s benign, good. No harm in finding out.
It’s good that we are finding out more about the way our bodies work. Genome treatment is seeing to it that there are treatment options for conditions that would have meant certain death a few years ago. It’s even good that the average, non-doctor, person in the street has more knowledge than we used to. Our instincts are, for the most part, well tuned. But we should not let knowledge fuel fear.
We could all wait and wait for something serious to go wrong, and if it does we won’t have been any better off for waiting. If it doesn’t, we’ll have spent more time on worrying than we did on living. Focus that time on informing yourself responsibly. Live a life as healthily as possible. And keep in mind that if something is going to pose a real risk to your health, you’ll hear about it somewhere other than in a headline.