Thursday, August 04, 2011

Vitamins, Antibiotics, Medical Care and Life Expectancy

Life expectancy continues to slowly improve in the United States. This is generally attributed to improved healthcare. I learned only this week that there is no data to support a link between improved life expectancy and healthcare. In fact, shockingly, there is solid data to the contrary. A majority of Americans spend alot more healthcare dollars after turning 65 than in their early 60's. Apparently there is no hard evidence to show that the extra healthcare spending is actually improving longevity.

Lots of the medicare and medicaid dollars go to nursing homes. When I last looked it up, I was disappointed to read that close to two thirds of nursing home patients survive less than 2 years. I really don't know if this is true. I have, however, visited nursing homes and the experience isn't pleasant. It's obvious that many of the people living in nursing homes are in very poor health. I also know, not from any statistics, just from asking around, that it is unusual to move out of a nursing home and live independently again.

Until I reflected on this issue again this week, it hadn't occurred to me that it is, in fact, highly likely that there is a negative correlation between health insurance and longevity. The more expensive insurance plans facilitate prescription drug use. The lower the copay, the more likely people are to take higher doses of more medications.

So what is causing increased life expectancy? There are growing holistic and alternative health movements in America. Plenty of Americans have seen what happens to family members taking multiple drugs, and are working hard on basic preventative measures - reduced stress, high quality food, exercise, sunshine, and vitamins. I have no data except the people I know. Yet I think even the tiny numbers of my own friends and family are telling a story. Just as the economic middle class is disappearing, so is the healthy middle. Senior citizens are dividing into examples of shockingly healthy 80 and 90 year olds, and miserably unhealthy 80 and 90 year olds. The "ordinary" good health for 80 and 90 year olds is in decline. I do have data for this. 36% of American seniors are taking 4 or more prescription drugs, while 20% are taking none. So - more than 50% are seniors are at the extremes (>4 or none). As time passes, more and more people are going to understand the relationship between drugs and misery in old age, and work harder and harder to get to their old age in excellent health. Getting in shape means using less health insurance, not more.

If you're afraid of spending your old age caught between a rock and a hard place of multiple pills vs. misery (and then multiple pills and misery vs. death), you've got much to gain and little to lose by giving vitamins and antibiotics a try.

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