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The New Science Of Social Networks Shows The Spread Of Weight And Happiness Among Friends

The people you live with, work with, talk to, email, chatter with on Twitter and Facebook—your social network—can be good medicine, or bad.

The intriguing new science of social networks is demonstrating how personal interconnections can affect our health. Ideas and habits that influence health for better or for worse can spread through social networks in much the same way that germs spread through communities. In social networks, though, transmission can happen even though the people may be hundreds of miles apart.

An article in the December issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch explores how social networks can affect weight and mood.

Spreading weight

A study of people taking part in the landmark Framingham Heart Study found that Read more »

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

Mind-Over-Matter In Medicine

[Recently] I came upon a Jan 24 op-ed, “A Fighting Spirit Won’t Change Your Life” by Richard Sloan, Ph.D., of Columbia University’s psychiatry department. Somehow I’d missed this worthwhile piece on the sometimes-trendy notion of mind-over-matter in healing and medicine.

Sloan opens with aftermath of the Tucson shootings:

…Representative Giffords’s husband describes her as a “fighter,” and no doubt she is one. Whether her recovery has anything to do with a fighting spirit, however, is another matter entirely.

He jumps quickly through a history of the mind cure movement in America: From Phineas Quimby’s concept of illness as a product of mistaken beliefs — to William James and “New Thought” ideas — to Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 “Power of Positive Thinking“ – to more current takes on the matter. These ideas, while popular, are not reality-based.

In his words:

But there’s no evidence to back up the idea that an upbeat attitude can prevent any illness or help someone recover from one more readily. On the contrary, a recently completed study* of nearly 60,000 people in Finland and Sweden who were followed for almost 30 years found no significant association between personality traits and the likelihood of developing or surviving cancer. Cancer doesn’t care if we’re good or bad, virtuous or vicious, compassionate or inconsiderate. Neither does heart disease or AIDS or any other illness or injury.

*Am. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 172 (4): 377–385.

The New York Times printed several letters in response, most of which point to pseudo-evidence on the matter. All the more reason to bolster public education in the U.S. — people won’t be persuaded by charismatic, wishful thinking about healthcare.

It happens I’m a fan of Joan Didion’s. I was so taken by the “Year of Magical Thinking,” in fact, that I read it twice. Irrational responses — and hope — are normal human responses to illness, disappointment, and personal loss. But they’re not science. It’s important to keep it straight.

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Learning Lessons From Patients: Attitude Is Everything

When I was in the 8th grade and honored at the “A” team honor roll breakfast, the speech was one that I never forgot: “Attitude is Everything.” Essentially, having a good education and good grades give you the tools to be successful, but having a great attitude toward any challenges ASSURES that you will arrive at that success.

Being a pediatrician AND an endocrinologist, I am blessed to work with many graceful children and their families who face medical endocrine challenges with great attitudes.  I can recall numerous examples but will share one of my favorites: A now 11-year-old vibrant female with hashimotos thyroiditis who was diagnosed at 5 years old. Initially, she required frequent lab checks for medication adjustment (~5-6) which then decreased to ~2-3 annually thereafter for further medication dosing adjustments of synthroid replacement as she outgrew prior lower doses.

Her attitude towards her lab draws has always stuck with me because surprisingly she actually looked forward to them AND to her endo visits! She and her mother would always go out to eat and spend special quality time together whenever she had to have a lab draw. They would always choose Mexican food for these special outings, and in fact would limit all Mexican food intake, making it that much more special. Read more »

The Impact Of Attitude On Life

Life sometimes gets in the way of daily posting. Specifically, the treadmill of life sometimes roars too fast.

But as I strolled through the hospital this morning, there was a plain piece of white paper taped to the wall around the nurses station. Although I’m not overly religious (and even highly conflicted about which rituals are the right ones), these words from a pastor/celebrity stopped me for a moment:

Attitude

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.

It will make or break a company, a church, or a home. The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change the past, we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is plan on the one thing that we have, and that is our attitude.

I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.  And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.

As a cardiologist programmed to “alert” most of the time, words such as these help me. I haven’t seen the studies yet, but I’m guessing that positive attitudes reduce inflammation, which is good for our atria, and our arteries.

JMM

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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