A left-handed compliment for health studies

Here's the headline that took me by the hand. "Left-handed women may face higher cancer risk, study says." Here's what happened. Over 12,000 middle-aged women participated in a breast cancer screening study for 18 years in the Netherlands. Lefties were more than twice as likely to develop breast cancer before experiencing menopause.

"The researchers stressed that left-handed women should not be unduly worried based on these findings, nor should they be screened more closely for the disease." How helpful and comforting.

The good thing, as my friend Judy says in the face of disaster, is that if you're a youngish left-handed woman you now know your risk of cancer is higher - without any invasive procedures, claustrophobic tests, or reading People Magazine in the waiting room. Or you're right-handed.

The bad thing, if you take this study seriously, is that you're left-handed. Blame what hormones did to you in the womb, just like the study did (but don't blame your mom.) Too bad you can't blame the nuns. You used to be left-handed and may still be ... unbeknownst to you ... if the nuns "corrected" it out of you with a yardstick as a wee lass, left-handedness being the devil's work.

When it comes to health, almost all information can be a dangerous thing - even the headlines.

Should you take an aspirin a day? Take your pick: "Aspirin Could Save More Women's Hearts;" "Study Questions Daily Aspirin's Overall Benefit;" "Aspirin, Ibuprofen Might Boost Risk of Certain Breast Cancers." It's enough to stress you out.

Stress? "Stress May Reduce Women's Risk of Breast Cancer." Chocolate, the natural stress reducer for women? "Chocolate Could Help Reverse Smokers Vessel Damage." And laughter? "Laughter is A Common Asthma Trigger." Not funny.

Then there's the duh category: "High Blood Pressure Can Be Lethal in Overweight." "Nursing Home Costs Vary Widely by Area." "Depression Raises Seniors Death Risk." Who pays for these studies of the obvious? (Don't answer that - I might laugh.)

Here's a typical conundrum for the health conscious from the Website DrKoop.com.

"There is a fine line between healthy drinking and risky drinking. More studies are being done on the possible benefits wine (particularly red wine) may have on heart disease. However, it is a very controversial topic."

On the one hand (right, perhaps?) "There is some evidence from population based studies that people who drink moderately may be less likely to develop heart disease than nondrinkers."

On that other hand, "... drinking alcohol has been linked to high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, suicide, motor vehicle accidents, physical abuse, obesity, heart failure, arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms), pancreatitis, and liver disease. In addition, although some studies suggest that alcohol may raise HDL (the good kind of cholesterol), it also raises triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood)."

Getting the upper hand on the controversial wine versus aspirin issue, the medical web site advises, "Taking aspirin in accordance with your doctor's instructions is a more standard method for lowering your chances of developing a blood clot if you are at risk for heart disease or stroke. Note: you should NOT drink alcohol if you take aspirin regularly." Thanks a lot.

As confusing as this is, at least we're not mice. "Green Tea Compound Stops Alzheimer's in Mice." And then there are the three that didn't stop last month. "Plague Infected Lab Mice Are Missing" from a university lab in New Jersey.

I'm feeling better already; I'm not in New Jersey.

n Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.


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