Strokes triple in middle-aged women
There's a new study that has uncovered what sounds like a frightening trend: from 1999 through 2004, the incidence of strokes in middle-aged women tripled. And this was women between 35 and 54 years old, who are normally categorized as a "pre-stroke" demographic. Strokes generally occur at an older age. What's more, men are, as a rule, more susceptible to strokes than women - yet the incidence of strokes in men of the same age remained unchanged during the same period.
Sounds alarming, doesn't it? So why am I so unconcerned?
While I don't question either the reliability of the research or even the statistics used in the research, I do wonder about how the researchers are confidently able to call this spike in strokes a "trend." Also, the doctors have fallen back on a convenient and over-used "cause" that's at the root of this trend: obesity.
This research is presented to us as something earth-shaking. But it just isn't. I do not doubt that, yes, three times the average number of middle-aged women had strokes over a recent six-year period. But I find it hard to call ANY statistic that's compiled over such a short period as six years a "trend."
I also don't like the alarmist way in which this research is presented. I'm always telling you about medical issues that I believe are important and need to be addressed quickly. But I'm usually telling you about historic trends that affect large numbers of people - to me, that's what defines a medical issue or crisis. But this "triple the number of strokes" research was based on this statistic: almost two percent of women from 35 to 54 reported suffering from a stroke during the six years in question. In the previous health survey, only about half a percent of women in that age range suffered a stroke.
When you're dealing with such a small sample group, how can the researchers call this a "trend" and keep a straight face? Though he wasn't involved in the research, the neurology chief at the University of Illinois, Dr. Phillip Gorelick, said that the new research means "we need to redefine our textbooks about strokes in women."
What? After statistics like this come back after just a six-year sample group, you're ready to re-write medical textbooks? It's absurd.
Beware of statistics, my friend. Statistics can be twisted about and tied in knots like so much taffy. They are often pliable enough to fit the shape of almost any argument, theory, or idea. And as much as I blame the hyperbole of the researchers, who obviously wish to get the word out about what they believe is an important discovery, I also blame the reporters who seize upon statistics like these to make an eye-catching headline: "STROKES AMONG MIDDLE-AGED WOMEN TRIPLE." And there's also plenty of blame to go around for doctors like Dr. Gorelick, who when asked for a comment, legitimize what could be no more than a statistical anomaly by saying that the textbooks need to be re-written.
It's even worse when they use a blanket "cause" for this new "trend" like obesity. Know how they reached that conclusion? Well, other statistics, of course. The researchers found that during this same period, women's body mass indexes were up, waistlines were an average of two-inches larger, and blood sugar levels were higher. But was this the case in the women who suffered all those strokes (three times the average)? Not necessarily. This was merely the average of the same demographic.
Crazy! While there certainly are key health issues that can trigger strokes, there are many other factors in an individual's life - heredity, diet, other existing health conditions - there are too many to count. Obesity could not have been the sole factor in all of these strokes.
Don't put too much faith in statistics. Sometimes, they can be revealing; but just as often, they're just numbers.
The dangers of LOW cholesterol
Every time you zig, it seems the research zags. High cholesterol has been among the biggest health bugaboos of the last two decades. But now it seems that having a cholesterol level that's too low could give you an increased risk of developing stomach cancer.
This isn't the first news about the dangers of low cholesterol. Others studies have found links between low cholesterol and increased death rates from other forms of cancer. This latest research comes from Japan and suggests, according to researchers, "that patients with low serum cholesterol should consider regular gastro-intestinal examination for the prevention of gastric cancer."
This comes as no shock to me, as I've long warned about the dangers of letting cholesterol dip too low - an uphill struggle in this day and age. I've long maintained - obviously, in sharp divergence with the mainstream - that anyone with an LDL cholesterol number LOWER than 200 risks serious health problems. In fact, I don't caution anyone to worry about cholesterol at all until their LDL hits 300 or more.
Doctors should look for the real cause of the problem and stop chasing the cholesterol level. Cholesterol is a marker, and a protective mechanism, not a disease. We've been in such a cholesterol-lowering frenzy that I'm afraid that this new research could just be the beginning of a new trend - illnesses occurring because cholesterol is too low. This is something that we need to keep an eye on. And of course, you can trust me to do so!
p.s. Whether or not strokes are climbing at the alarming rate that some of these statistics indicate, it's still good to be aware of the signs of a stroke. Knowing the signs of a stroke-and getting immediate treatment when you see them-can mean the difference between life and death, or between a full and partial recovery. Go to my website, www.DouglassReport.com, to print out a card with the 5 Common Signs of a Stroke.