Micromanaging health

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This article by Dr Piotr Wozniak is part of SuperMemo Guru series on memory, learning, creativity, and problem solving.

One more bad school habit

The way we maltreat our own health must be added to my list of 100 bad school habits.

In free learning, we meticulously built a coherent semantic network of knowledge of high applicability. At school, we are subject to coercive learning that leads to interference, forgetting, and knowledge of poor coherence and poor consistency.

Our approach to health management reflects coercive passive schooling. Many people reason that if a supplement is good for an aspect of health, more of the supplement will be good for overall health. If two different supplements have some positive health effects, mixing them up will also be good for health.

Health micromanagement correlates with schooling

Farmer's lifestyle

A simple and effective approach to staying healthy is to follow a lifestyle in agreement with one's biological needs. A rugged farmer, when feeling unwell, begins with rest and rehydration. In most cases, he comes back to work in no time without ever figuring out his problem. To visit a doctor, a farmer would really need to have serious cause for concern. When he is in pain for a longer while, the pain is a good motivator to seek intervention. A farmer may live a life in oblivion of corona virus. He is less likely to get infected, and more likely to never notice the infection.

In contrast, a well schooled adult will study minerals, vitamins, supplements, customized diets, sleeping pills, nootropics, energy drinks, simulants, painkillers, anxiolytics, and the like. He will be curious about Lasik surgery, liposuction, cosmetic surgery, diet pills, breast augmentation, gastric bypass, etc. Children at school will be bombarded with unwanted diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, bad memory, Asperger, or ODD. Many will seek those diagnoses just to make their lives at school easier. Due to this schooled approach, in which disjointed facts rule over abstract models, we should expect further escalation of health care costs.

Farmer's lifestyle is a form of medical prevention

My confession

I am guilty of being schooled too. Decades ago I thought that painkillers are good idea when running a marathon. I thought that vitamin supplements boost health. I believed in the myth of an anti-dandruff shampoo. I used eyedrops for eye irritation.

Learning and self-experimentation cured me from bad ideas. Today, my only drugs are coffee and beer. They have a long history of safe use by humans, and I have a long personal history of safe use in my own repetitive life. I use my "drugs" as my favorite forms of profuse rehydration with a diuretic benefit. However, both coffee and beer have some nice brain effects. If one "drug" works nice, it might be tempting to use both at the same time. Unfortunately, caffeine and alcohol have a large antagonistic overlap. I use coffee only after sleep, and alcohol only during exercise. In combination my "drugs" could form a toxic brew that would not be too healthy for the brain. At doctor's recommendation, in 1996, I started drinking beer and coffee as a form of kidney stone prevention. It worked like a charm. Over years of use, my "drugs" blended with my routine. I use no other supplements or medication (unless herbs and spices fall into that category).

Donald Trump's Covid-19 infection

On Oct 2, 2020, Donald Trump was feeling unwell. He tested positive for coronavirus. He was instantly given a "therapy" of multiple drugs and supplements that are supposed to boost his immunity and overall health. He was taken to Walter Reed Hospital. Little does Trump seem to realize that rich people, like Michael Jackson, can easily become victims of their comfort-seeking and ignorance. They will pick and choose their doctors until they find one who would always provide the most pleasing therapy. Almost anyone would prefer a herbal cocktail over a surgical intervention.

Even riskier is the approach, in which a patient picks and chooses the advice from many doctors. Every doctor has his own models of optimum health, and his own areas of preference, ignorance and bias. One may focus on one area of priority and propose and an antimuscarinic drug, while the other might give preference to another aspect of health and propose a cholinergic drug. Both doctors may be right in terms of an isolated problem they are looking at. An extreme illustration is to suggest autologous blood doping (remember Lance Armstrong?) as opposed to the medieval blood letting. If the patient takes selective advice from many independent doctors, he is at risk of choosing two opposing opinions with two counteracting therapies. As a result, he may get no effect from either, and side effects from both. This is a schooled approach to using health service in the name of a fast fix.

Without coherent knowledge, money and power are health risks

Trump took unproven Regeneron antibody cocktail. The therapy makes sense in theory, but each drug that targets the virus may also modulate the body's own immune response, which is the most precious component of a healthy recovery. In hospital, Trump received remdesivir, which interferes with viral RNA production. Theoretically, monoclonal antibodies may result in higher cost-to-benefit ratio of remdesivir. In all likelihood, Trumps is the first patient ever to receive such a combination. Such precarious steps should probably only be taken as a last resort. Was there really a single brain with no vested interest to make a good analysis and provide the recommendation? Perhaps that was Trump's own brain as an orchestrator in chief?

In addition to unusual therapy, Trump received melatonin (hopefully in alignment with his circadian cycle), while his son claimed that the President works hard, sleeps little, and feels ok. Trump received histamine antagonist, aspirin, zinc, vit. D, and more. Each of those boosters have their own side effects. The concerted action might actually weaken Trump and his immune defenses. After a week of devastating stress (tax disclosure, chaotic debate, looming electoral defeat, etc.), I thought Trump's immunity was likely to be in the gutter. I was only slightly reassured by a claim that he does not ever seem to be getting sick. This might testify to a strong immune system. The more so, his doctors should faithfully cling to the Hippocratic Oath. The pressure to recover fast and to look good in a suit was also a risk factor. When his blood oxygen dropped and he was administered dexamethasone, I estimated the risk of death to be 30%. If I was Trump, I would forget about the world, occupy my mind with anything but his dire health and political position, take plenty of fluids, rest or move around, and eat to please the mind (see: my approach to viral infections).

I am delighted to admit I was wrong about Trump's health risks. He recovered fast. Monoclonal antibodies might have worked, or his own immune system did a great job despite the administration of corticosteroids. The latter would indicate that Trump has already adapted well to his unusual baseline stress level. He thrives in a fight, and went through the infection as smoothly as most people. We will never know if Trump survived thanks to or despite the medical intervention!

Harms of micromanagement

Big pharma, supplements industry, quacks, greedy doctors, schools, and hypochondriacs keep escalating the drive for micromanaged health. They keep interfering with the health of the public making it progressively worse. Expected lifespan statistics are misleading. We should rather look at life quality. A healthy life is rather more fun and more desirable even if it is shorter. Instead, many of us seem to choose to live on a never ending life support.

By micromanaging health, we risk getting less healthy

Further reading



For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see Super Memory Guru