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Friday, February 19, 1999 Published at 17:16 GMT


A little of what you fancy . . .

BBC Doctor Colin Thomas: "Take everything in moderation"

I was being a good boy and studying my BMJ, and blow me down with a feather I read a study showing that dietary fibre actually doesn't appear to protect you against bowel cancer at all.

This of course negates the years I have spent eating breakfast cereals which taste more like the packet.

A recent study lead by a team of researchers from Harvard University and a women's hospital in Boston noted the eating habits of more than 80,000 female nurses over sixteen years.

They found that women who ate high fibre diets were at just the same risk of developing cancer as those who didn't.

Before this study most doctors had assumed that a high intake of dietary fibre protected against colon cancer, largely because colon cancer was found to be very rare in African populations whose food is unprocessed, and so carries a higher level of dietary fibre.

But please note this study is not saying that fibre is bad for you, and the study is only focussing on one aspect, - cancer.

This does not rule out the other beneficial effects of fibre on the gut. For example acute appendicitis is very rare in Africa.

Doing porridge

Porridge manufacturers have over the past few years extolled the virtues of eating oatmeal to reduce your cholesterol.

However a recent study has shown that the effect is quite marginal and probably only amounts to about a 2% reduction.

In fact the effect may be due as much to the porridge filling the 'hole' which might have been occupied by cream cakes or deep fried black pudding!

It seems the cleverer and more technological we become, the further away answers seem to be.

We now have magnetic resonance scanners which can analyse down to a pin head, but it is now more difficult to decide between the normal and so-called abnormal variant.

With the wealth of scientific studies produced these days one would expect the answers to health problems to become clearer, but in many cases they throw up more questions than answers and confuse the general public to boot.

It seems the more we know about medicine the less we know how to advise patients.

I'm sure if you or your doctor took notice of every scientific study you would surely go mad. So the best advice I can give? "Everything in moderation" - including advice.

As an example of this a medical friend told me of an elderly man who hobbled into her surgery and collapsed in the chair next to the only other patient, a white haired but alert looking gentleman.

"What are you here for?" Barked the new arrival.

"Oh just a general check-up" came the reply

"Well you look pretty good to me, what's your secret?"

"No secret, I drink 20 pints a night, smoke 40 fags and I'm usually out late with at least two young women."

"Gosh that's amazing" marvelled the old man "how old are you?"

"Twenty-four "

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