10. Prostate Cancer
Strictly a male disease, prostate cancer was not widely known until after the 1990’s. Genetic research of diseases exploded during the past decade, and prostate cancer research benefited greatly from this research. While no single cause for prostate cancer is known, some research has shown a correlation between prostate cancer and the BRCA genes that have been linked to breast cancer.
9. Salt (Sodium)
Yes, one of the most popular condiments has frequently and wrongly been blamed for a variety of health problems. Salt can cause fluid retention, which some argue causes increased blood volume and high blood pressure. Of course, there is more to blood pressure than just blood volume (see #6 for more on this). Sodium is vital to proper functioning of the adrenal glands which control your response to stress. Poorly functioning adrenals — often caused by a lack of sodium in the diet — can keep your body from handling stress properly.
8. Colon Cancer
In 2005, Fox News’ anchor Tony Snow was diagnosed with this all-too-common disease, succumbing to it in 2008. Colorectal cancer is more common in people with chronic bowel conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. While many cases of colon cancer are idiopathic, it is believed that smoking and a diet high in sugar and unrefined carbohydrates can increase the risk of colon cancer.
7. Aortic Dissection
The 2003 death of actor John Ritter brought this formerly obscure cardiac condition to the forefront. Aortic dissection is an almost always fatal event in which the inside wall of the aorta — the artery leading blood away from the heart — leaks and allows blood to enter the other layers of the artery, causing it to expand and rupture. Although aortic dissection can affect women (Actress Lucille Ball being another famous victim), it hits men twice as often as women.
6. High blood pressure
One of the risk factors for aortic dissection, high blood pressure or hypertension is another disease that affects men disproportionately. High blood pressure is most commonly blamed on sodium (salt) in the diet because it can cause an increase in blood volume. However, increase blood volume alone does not cause increased blood pressure. The ability of blood vessels to expand and contract, the health of the immune system, blood sugar, caffeine, smoking, and stress have a much greater impact on blood pressure than salt.
If you turn on the television for just a few minutes, you will likely see a commercial (geared toward men) promising to lower cholesterol. The implication is that high cholsterol levels in the blood lead to heart disease, but nothing could be further from the truth. There have been no studies proving that high cholesterol leads to heart disease of any kind. In fact, many men who have died of heart attacks had what would be considered “healthy” levels of cholesterol. The irrational demonization of cholesterol has led to many absurd products and behaviors, the most inane of which would be egg substitutes. Cholesterol itself is neither good nor bad. Even so-called “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol is not necessarily good or bad. It is the “puffy” type of LDL cholesterol that is a problem, but it hardly merits the hyperbole it has received in the past 10 years.
A severe blood sugar (glucose) imbalance that can lead to a host of serious diseases is more prevalent in men. The most common form — Type 2 diabetes — is caused by a diet high in sugars and carbohydrates. The incidence of diabetes in the U.S. has increased by over 4 million people just in the past decade, and is expected to continue, with an estimated 30 million U.S. diabetes by 2030. Men tend to engage more frequently in the unhealthy behaviors that cause diabetes, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and eating nutritionally void, high-carbohydrate foods.
In 2004, President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative disease that affects the brain and kills men faster than women. Nobody knows what causes it, but research on this disease has exploded, with over 500 clinical trials occurring in the past decade alone.
2. Influenza/H1N1/Swine/H5N1/Bird Flu
The 2000’s saw two of the most ridiculously over-hyped communicable disease scares since AIDS. In 2005, Bird Flu hit the scene with a vengeance. Although the flu itself only killed a handful of people, many canceled trips to Asia where the flu was supposedly lurking. As time has told us, the Bird Flu scare turned out to be nothing more than just a scare. Fast forward to the end of this decade, 2009, when another flu scare came on the scene. Swine Flu or H1N1 seemingly began to spread like wildfire throughout North America, starting in Mexico and making its way around the U.S. then eventually around the globe. Unlike Bird Flu, Swine Flu was a world traveler. But like Bird Flu, the Swine Flu turned out to be another over-hyped scare. The reality is that the CDC instructed physicians to stop testing for H1N1 just a few months after it appeared. Without testing, there is no way to truly know how many cases were H1N1, and how many were something else. But ask yourself how many people you personally know who had lab-confirmed Swine Flu. That will give you an idea of just how widespread it really wasn’t.
1. Saturated Fat
I have chosen to put this as the #1 health scare of the decade not only because it has received the most attention in the health community, but because it is the most overblown and misleading health issue to-date. Saturated fat has long been considered an artery-clogging, heart-stopping, disgusting substance that must be avoided at all costs. We are encouraged to replace butter with slimy, hardened oils, to only eat dry, lean steak and chicken, to opt for watery skim milk instead of whole, and to supplement our coffee with a mysterious industrial white liquid instead of real cream. Yet, despite heeding all these recommendations, heart disease is still the number one killer of men in America. The reality is that saturated fat is necessary to human life. Saturated fat is what gives your cells their strength and structure. Two-thirds of your brain is composed of a saturated fat called oleic acid. Despite all this, saturated fat has been accused of causing heart disease in men, an conclusion based on studies which only looked at men who are diets high in saturated fat and high in carbohydrates. The science doesn’t lie. Studies have shown that diets high in saturated fat and low in carbohydrates are actually healthier than low-fat diets. My own personal experience bears this out. I consume very large amounts of saturated fats, and have for a long time, but I also eat a diet low in carbohydrates. My cholesterol, triglycerides, and all other risk factors for heart disease are excellent, even after consuming saturated fats regularly for years now.
All health scares have a positive and a negative side. Even ridiculously overblown scares can cause people to focus on their own health and take steps to learn more about it. Legitimate health concerns also show us the importance of getting and staying healthy, even if they may be a little scary. The bottom line is that you are responsible for your own health, and it’s up to you to do your own research and make your own health decisions. As the different health scares of the decade have shown, you can’t trust anybody else to make those decisions for you.