Sunday, January 18, 2009

By the Numbers?

I've stopped worrying too much about health numbers. I do weigh myself once per week, usually on Sunday morning, just to check to see how things are going. I have stopped going to the doctor for regular checkups to determine whether my cholesterol numbers, my blood pressure numbers, my PSA numbers, etc. are where they should be.

You may say, and indeed some have said, that this is foolish. After all, a person my age (66) should track his/her health status on a regular basis to be sure nothing goes awry and so that we can nip a problem in the bud before something awful occurs.

I have a different philosophy. I believe that our health is largely in our own hands. True, if the worst happens and a serious illness hits, I will run to the doctor. For many people there is reassurance in regularly checking cholesterol and blood pressure. But, if a person is following a good lifestyle, especially including an excellent high nutrition diet, at least moderate exercise, plus regular good sleep, stress management, etc., they are doing the most important things to stay healthy. Under these circumstances, running to the doctor periodically to be checked may be a waste of time. Efforts should be directed elsewhere. I am very pleased with the results of my high nutrition (Furman Nutritarian) eating program. As Dr. Fuhrman has said, "Remember, your dietary quality is more predictive of cardiac risk than a cholesterol level."

I do not have a lot of faith in the PSA examination. Although there are clearly some cases (rare as they may be) where early detection of prostate cancer has saved lives, there are many more cases where the PSA examination leads to unnecessary biopsies, and worse, unnecessary surgeries and radiation treatments. I know I am taking some risk here, but given my lifelong commitment to healthy lifestyle, I believe that I am at a higher risk for false positives and unnecessary procedures than I am for falling victim to an undetected cancer or other illness.
So my lifetime commitment is to take charge of my own health, to not worry about annual physicals, blood lipid tests, or cancer screening tests and to stay away from the medical business unless some serious acute illness arises.

I should also state that in the past I have had these tests and have been pronounced healthy. I had a Colonoscopy at age 61, and periodic blood lipid tests and PSAs until a couple of years ago. For anyone who is at high risk for heart disease or cancer, then being checked periodically plus a healthy lifestyle would be a wise choice.

I am not recommending my approach to others. I have a great deal of confidence in the power of lifestyle to keep us healthy. Others may conclude that they are going to do both, i.e., cover all bases and lead a healthy lifestyle plus have their doctor check them periodically for heart disease risks and signs of early cancer. I see nothing wrong with doing this, except please be aware that running to the doctor to be tested carries with it its own risks of false positives, stress, and unnecessary drugs and procedures. I choose to avoid the latter and realize that there is some small risk in following my approach.

So the only number that I am concerned about is my weekly weigh-in. Being a Nutritarian and keeping my weight and body fat percentage at a healthy level (175 and 10% for me) provides me with enough assurance of good health. It's liberating!


kneecap said...

I agree! I don't go to the doctor. I'm tempted to try to get an appointment with Dr. Fuhrman while I still have some form of health insurance (i.e., while I am gainfully employed), just to get blood work done and make sure I'm not deficient in some area, like vitamin D or B12. But really, I could do that in my home town, but then I'd have to go to a doctor who is going to tell me to get a PAP smear and mammogram and all kinds of things I don't want.


Howard Veit said...

I have been thinking about getting an appointment with either Dr. Fuhrman or Klaper also. My reason would be to establish a relationship in the event something happens. As I understand it, he will order lab tests from a local lab and have them sent to him and then you have a phone consult.

What kind of work do you do?

Howard Veit said...


Dr. Fuhrman does not take Medicare and I wonder whether he takes any HMO or other private insurance. I would pay the full charges out of pocket if I used him.

kneecap said...

Hi Howard,

1) I'm an astronomer. Here is my regular website:
I've been tempted to put a link to my blogs there but haven't had the courage yet. I've been very slow at admitting to people how crazy I am. Astronomers and academics in general are actually quite conservative and old-fashioned even though most consider themselves liberal politically. I'm stereotyping of course. :)

2) I have a health savings account so I was wondering if that would work. If not, I'd be willing to pay out of pocket too.

Howard Veit said...

I checked out your website. You have a very interesting background. I thought once a pilot, always a pilot. Did you have a hard time stopping? My background is far less administrator, health research, public administration DHHS(Director, Federal Office of HMOs under Carter)consultant to insurance companies.

kneecap said...

I think I have an obsessive personality. I got obsessed with flying for ten years. It was great fun. But I was missing something in my life, something less selfish, so I got involved in a church and that has taken over a big chunk of my time. Then I got obsessed with this healthy eating and that takes the rest of my free time. I don't miss flying, surprisingly. I am going to do some flying soon to get current and then help a friend ferry his plane for maintenance, and I'll see how I feel about it then.

With your background, maybe you are in a good position to be able to influence more people about healthy eating. hmmm.