Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hard To Swallow

     Boy, do we love pills. Too bad there aren’t any pills to make us smarter.
     Instead, we pop pills to lose weight, to grow hair, to get healthier without having to exercise or improve our diets, to do just about anything we can dream of. The problem is: Unintended consequences.
     Take me, for instance. I’d seen the ads and commercials for glucosamine. Helps the joints, they promised. My joints are getting a little creaky so I started taking glucosamine. And the next time I went in for my annual checkup, my blood test showed a spike in my glucose level. Not quite diabetes territory, but heading in that direction – a direction I’d never headed before.
     And then I began to think: Glucose. Glucosamine. Pretty similar. Could there be a connection? I checked with my doctor (which I should have done more carefully before), and stopped popping the glucosamine pills. Another blood test, and my glucose levels were back to what’s more normal for me.
     Lesson learned? Not entirely.
     I’d also read and heard a lot about Omega-3 fatty acids – how good they are for heart health and all that. These fatty acids are found in salmon and sardines, among other things. I like both fish, but I don’t eat them daily. Would a daily fish-oil pill do a better job? My doctor didn’t say no, so I started taking them.
     And then, last February, I had the hemorrhagic stroke I’ve written about here previously. In the absence of other causes, the doctors guessed that the prescription blood-thinners I’d been taking for hypertension and incipient heart disease may have contributed to the stroke. My super-thinned blood had leaked right through a small vein, causing a pool of blood inside my skull that, in turn, caused the stroke. And guess what: Fish-oil pills also act as blood thinners. I’d been exacerbating the process.
     So I’m not taking glucosamine or fish-oil pills any more. I’m not even that high on taking a daily multi-vitamin pill. Eating a well-balanced diet should be sufficient for most people’s needs. The vitamins and minerals in vitamin pills are extracted from natural sources, removed from the other source materials that could be making them work better if they were all left together.
     Self-prescribed pills are major industry. They’ve become a part of our “I want it now” culture.
     I’m just no longer on the bandwagon. Unless someone comes up with that make-you-smarter pill.

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