Expert Commentary: John Q. Cook, M.D. - 11/20/2009

In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in ancient traditions of medicine and healing.  The cumulative wisdom of Chinese, Indian and other Eastern traditions stretches back for thousands of years.  Many of my patients are intrigued but also puzzled by claims of potential health benefits that come from drinking or eating various substances that have the potential to enhance our quality of life. I have tried to help my patients when they come to me with questions about the benefit and risk of green tea, magnesium supplements and many other traditional substances.  It’s easy enough to do a Medline® search with the name of one of these substances, and out will pop a list of hundreds of studies, some of which claim to show benefit, some of which show no effect, and some of which raise the possibility of harm.  If you take the time to read these studies with a critical eye, it will quickly become apparent that many of the studies are poorly constructed and really don’t show anything.  It’s reminiscent of the debates over coffee, estrogen, and vitamin E.  Last week’s study made me run to the health food shop or the drug store and buy some new miracle food; this week’s study makes me want to throw it away.


Even with beneficial substances you typically have to study large numbers of people over a very long time in order to document a significant health benefit. 

Here are some simple suggestions that I give my patients.

1.    Just because something may be good for you, don’t overconsume!  We seem to live in a culture where if a little of something is good; we assume that more is better.  If you go to China, you won’t find people consuming liters of green tea!  The ancient Greeks taught us Westerners the benefits of moderation.  A little blending of East and West might be helpful here.

2.    Know the source!  Just because something may be good for you, watch what’s mixed in with it.  We learned this the hard way when we bought salmon because it was healthy to eat; then discovered it came from a Chinese fish farm with toxic levels of mercury and arsenic.  Many health supplements are grown outside of this country and are sprayed with high levels of pesticides.  If the company that sells you a food or a supplement can’t provide you with reliable information regarding its purity, don’t buy it.

3.    There are no magic foods.  The pattern of nutrition is more important to your health than any one food type you may consume.

Health is in the pattern of your life, not in the details.  Patients of mine in their seventies and eighties who are full of energy and vigor have taught me that it’s the pattern of living that counts.  Here are some elements of the pattern:  daily exercise or physical activity, the Mediterranean diet (lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain, with very little fatty meat), good sleep patterns, stress reduction, avoidance of smoking, and lots of human contact.  This pattern will give you a number of extra years of high quality existence.  It also costs very little.

As a plastic surgeon I am compelled to mention a way in which my chosen craft can help to reinforce healthy patterns.  One mean trick that the aging process plays on us is that the very exercise that maintains a trim body leads to a gaunt, poorly toned face.  More than one patient has confided in me that she intentionally gained weight in order to make her face look better.  When done with sophistication facial rejuvenation surgery can allow a patient “to have her cake and eat it:” a beautifully toned body and a face that radiates vitality.

John Q Cook, M.D.


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