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Let Inga Tell You: ‘Prevailing medical advice’ doesn’t seem to prevail very long

Inga says she spent 20 years limiting herself to two eggs a week, and then suddenly eggs were OK again.
Inga says she spent 20 years limiting herself to two eggs a week, and then suddenly eggs were OK again.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

The jig is up, medical science. I don’t believe a word you say anymore.

The one thing about being 70 is that I have had the opportunity to watch “prevailing medical advice” (the ultimate oxymoron, in my view) flip-flop multiple times.

When my sons were infants, babies had to sleep on their stomachs to avoid crib death; now they have to be on their backs. Our friends with ulcers who spent 30 years avoiding spicy foods are now being treated for a bacterial infection. People with diverticulosis were once relegated to soft diets; now they’re filling up on roughage.

Olof and I have dutifully switched back and forth between butter and margarine several times in the past 30 years (but frankly preferred the butter years).

The New York Times recently reported that even 50 years ago, exercise was considered dangerous for people over 40, and for heart disease, bed rest was prescribed. In my youth, teenage acne was treated with radiation.

I spent 20 years limiting myself to two eggs a week and then suddenly eggs were OK again. (I demand a cholesterol refund!)

Remember SAM-e, chondroitin and tryptophan? Actually, probably not. They were the miracle cures of their time. Now even the current darling — Vitamin D — is getting bad press. Medicare just denied a lab test for Olof’s Vitamin D level, saying testing for it is no longer thought “routinely medically necessary.”

People in my advanced age group are having a hard time embracing the recent popularity of foods like coconut oil, its 14 grams of fat per tablespoon always considered a fast track to premature death. Now it’s a health food. I decided to add a jar to my supermarket basket but only got five steps before the chest pains started and I put it back. It’s like Mao waking up one morning and exhorting the Chinese to embrace democracy.

And don’t even get me going on hormone replacement. Or calcium supplements, for decades the sacred cow of medical advice for women, now thought to cause heart disease in supplemental form (you’re supposed to get it from your diet.) If that’s true, what took medical research so long to figure it out? I’ve been taking supplemental calcium for at least 40 years. Aside from a big fat refund, I want an extended warranty on my heart from you guys.

Ambiguity fatigue has taken its toll on me. In my heart of hearts, I’ve begun to think of medical researchers as the Enron executives of health care. What happened to all those studies, for example, showing HRT was good? If those studies were all flawed, how do we know the new ones aren’t, too? Before I completely change my life again, they’re going to have to convince me. And I’m going to be a really hard sell.

When one reads about medical treatments through the ages, one is frequently horrified at the amount of suffering that was inflicted on people by what passed for the gold standard of medical science in their day. (Before long, I think they will be saying that about colonoscopies.) Of course, you say to yourself, they didn’t know what we do now.

But c’mon, admit it: Is “now” just as flawed as it was 50 — or 100 — years ago?

All you can really do, I’ve decided, is go with what feels right, knowing that whatever you’re doing is bound to come back into favor again at some point. It’s kind of like riding out a down market. In fact, I like to think of it in terms of medical research ``futures: I personally plan to go short on Lipitor (my pick as the next pariah of health care) and go long — very long — on chocolate. A person, after all, has to live.

Sorry, medical science. It’s over between us. You’ve lied to me one too many times. No, the constant volte-faces are a level of perfidy that cannot be countenanced. I’m done with you changing the rules!

And speaking of which, there is nothing that irritates Olof and me more than finally hitting the cholesterol and blood pressure targets our doctors have set, only to have them announce that new research has found that these numbers should be yet lower. We’re in a loop of perpetual medical fail. Is this a plot?

I’ve concluded that Olof is right: Since medical science doesn’t really have a clue, you can pick what you want to die from. Neither of us is willing to die from tofu, since we don’t like tofu. But I’m willing to die from chocolate. He’s willing to die from single malt Scotch.

Fortunately for me, there are plenty of opportunities with chocolate to get enough calcium from one’s diet. As a first step, I’m going to drastically up my intake of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Strictly medicinal.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at inga47@san.rr.com. ◆