Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Do Childless Couples Have An Increased Risk Of Death And Mental Illness?

I hate scientific studies that don’t investigate the assumptions on which they’re based.  They do harm.  The findings slither around and get into the heads of people who treat people for the issues the research purports to understand.  And the misconceptions become protocol.  Here’s one example:

The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published an article declaring a connection between childlessness and increased risk of death and mental illness.

Among the findings:

  • Having a child cut the risk of early death, particularly among women.
  • The early death rate from circulatory disease, cancers, and accidents among childless women was four times as high as that among those who gave birth to their own child, and 50% lower among women who adopted.
  • Similarly, rates of death were around twice as high among men who did not become parents, either biologically or through adoption.
  • The prevalence of mental illness in couples who adopted kids was around half that of other parents.

What the study states but doesn’t investigate is that for their research they used:  ”population-based health and social registers, we conducted a follow-up study of 21 276 childless couples in in vitro fertility treatment.”

Do you hear the sound of “WHAT!??!” beginning to reverberate?

Might it be that couples who have been living in the infertility system for months, maybe years and have had their original life script expectations erased, have had doctors and drugs and timetables invade their intimate time, have spent gobs of money, and have had repeated cycles of devastating disappointment may be in a very different state than couples who have CHOSEN not to have children?

And let me state my assumption up front.  Choosing not to have children is not dysfunctional.  It’s not a psychological condition.  It’s not an ethical/moral lapse.  It’s not a sign of immaturity or selfishness.  It’s a legitimate choice.

It may be that the researchers’ findings do apply to couples who undergo infertility treatment in order to have a child.

But there is harm in assuming that all couples who don’t have children are at higher risk for death and mental illness.

***

This post originally appeared at Barbara’s blog, In Sickness As In Health.

Research Suggests Certain Professions Are More Associated With Schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and their first-degree relatives more frequently work in creative professions, suggesting some truth to the long-mythologized link between artists and madness. The way the link plays out along family lines suggests a genetic cause, researchers reported.

While smaller studies have looked specifically at small groups of creative populations such as artist’s workshops and their rates of mental illness, researchers in Sweden conducted a population-based study of how often mental illness occurs among people and their relatives, and its association with creative and non-creative professions.

The researchers performed a nested, case- control study using longitudinal Swedish total population registers and compared it with occupational census data. Creative professions included visual artists such as photographers and non-visual artists such as performers and writers, as well as members of the scientific professions among university academics. Accountants and auditors acted as a control group.

Results appeared in The British Journal of Psychiatry. Overall, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Pay Tribute To The Veterans In Your Life By Learning More About PTSD

My ability to sit peacefully day after day and write about health or enjoy my family owes more than I’ll ever know to the hard work and sacrifice of generations of American men and women who served in the Armed Forces. On behalf of my colleagues at Harvard Health Publications: Thank you for your service.


One of the challenges faced by many servicemen and servicewomen returning from war is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

In a nutshell, post-traumatic stress disorder is a lasting and exaggerated reaction to a terrifying or life-threatening event. It makes a person feel like he or she is living through the event over and over again. PTSD shows itself in three main ways:

Re-experiencing. People with PTSD mentally relive the triggering trauma in daytime flashbacks, nightmares, or inescapable thoughts about the event. Sights, sounds, smells, or other stimuli can bring the event to life.

Avoidance. People with PTSD tend to Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Studies Find Consistent Molecular Architecture Of The Human Brain Across Individuals

Source: JNenad Sestan, MD, PhD, Yale University Department of Neurobiology and Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, via NIH

Human brains have a consistent molecular architecture despite all the other genetic differences across individuals and ethnicities, according to two studies that recorded when and where genes turn on and off in multiple brain regions throughout life.

Despite individual and ethnic genetic diversity, the human prefrontal cortex shows a consistent molecular architecture, as shown in this picture. The vertical span of color-coded areas is about the same, indicating that our brains all share the same tissue at a molecular level, despite distinct DNA differences on the horizontal axis. Each dot represents a comparison between two individuals.

The research appeared in the Journal Nature and was described by the National Institutes of Health in a press release.

The first study focused on Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Study Provides Reassuring Evidence Regarding ADHD Drugs

If your child is being treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may have one less thing to worry about today. A study involving 1.2 million children and young adults provided reassuring evidence that the drugs used to treat ADHD do not increase the risk of death from heart disease.

Researchers, who published their results yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed medical records from a nationwide private insurance plan along with health plans based in Tennessee, California, and Washington State. They compared children taking stimulant drugs (like Ritalin and Adderall) that are commonly used to treat ADHD to children not taking these drugs.

Among all of the children, heart attack, stroke, or sudden death were rare, affecting a little more than 3 in every 100,000 children per year. Cardiac problems were no more common among children using a stimulant as among those not taking one.

The study Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »