I must admit that my immediate response to an article linking cynical distrust to dementia hit home. When you read dozens of medical articles every week, a few inevitably apply to you. “Oh, dear,” I thought. “I’m known to be pretty cynical. I’d recently mislaid both my keys and wallet in one day. Maybe I’m doomed.”
But then I read the details of the cynicism-dementia study and I felt somewhat relieved. My cynicism applies mainly to the food industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and Chicago politics. About everything else in life I’m skeptical rather than cynical. I really do try to follow one of Jonathan Swift’s “Resolutions When I Come To Be Old,” namely “not to be peevish, or morose, or suspicious,” a real challenge for us both.
Back to cynicism
Working primarily with older patients, researchers in Finland created an eight-item “cynical distrust” psychological test they administered to 1,240 people of both sexes. Enrollees were asked to agree or disagree with such generalizations as “I think most people would lie to get ahead,” “It’s safer to trust nobody,” and the like.
As a side note, even though you yourself are probably much younger than the participants in this study it might be a good idea right now to measure your personal level of cynicism (at the bottom of this link) regardless your age.
When all the data was analyzed, researchers found that those with the highest level of cynical distrust had higher risks of developing dementia and also a higher death rate for their age. The conclusion was that “psychosocial and behavioral risk factors (e.g., cynicism) may be modifiable targets for prevention of dementia.” And for you HT readers under 50, the researchers also noted that “One potential subject for further investigation is to assess whether long-standing cynical attitude has more ominous outcomes than later-acquired cynicism and whether the change of attitude to a more positive one has influence on mortality.”
If perchance you feel yourself slipping into a negative and cynical view of the world even as you read this Health Tip, consider reprogramming your brain using daily affirmations. Your life will very likely be enriched by starting each day meditating on a positive new thought. Here’s a link to a small and totally nonsectarian organization that will send you an affirmation and lovely short video each morning, absolutely free.
Worthy of cynicism
But before we start feeling too good about ourselves, it’s really challenging not to be cynical as I report the following:
First, as background, in July, 2013, researchers from Johns Hopkins University reported in the American Journal of Public Health an analysis of the diet beverage and calorie intake patterns of 24,000 adults over 20. Their conclusions were entirely predictable. Overweight people drink more diet beverages and eat more solid-food calories than healthy weight people. You see evidence of this every day. Just listen to orders being placed at McDonald’s (“I’ll have a large fries with that, and, oh, a Diet Coke.”). Or watch the checkout line at a supermarket where Brobdingnagian bags of Bugles balance atop boxes of diet Barq’s. Any waitperson will tell you of the diner who orders a mega-meal, sips her soda, and asks, “Hey, are you sure this soda is diet?”
Feathers thoroughly ruffled, the American Beverage Association (ABA) called the Johns Hopkins study “flawed.” So they decided to buy their very own study, published in the June issue of Obesity. Not surprisingly, the lead investigators had previously received consulting fees from the Coca-Cola Company. The study is pretty pathetic: just 303 overweight people (remember, the Johns Hopkins research included 24,000) were tracked for 12 weeks. Half drank water, the other half various chemical swills laced with so-called “non-nutritive sweeteners” (NNS).
These studies cost money, but remember, my cynical friends, you can purchase the results you need and the ABA got its money’s worth. Over the 12 weeks, the NNS group lost four pounds more than the water group. Armed with the researcher’s concluding statement, “Water is not superior to NNS for weight loss during a comprehensive weight loss program,” the publicity division of the ABA can now swamp the Weight Watchers, the Jenny Craigs, and the Overeaters Anonymous people with their “scientifically proven” data. And since the main NNS is good old fashioned but mildly addicting aspartame, once your average WW enrollee has allowed her membership to lapse, at least she’ll leave permanently hooked on her diet drink, deluded in the notion that it’s actually helping her avoirdupois.
While the FDA continues to regard NNS products, like aspartame, as “GRAS” (generally recognized as safe), they’re actually not so safe. One small but vocal group has been gathering information and warning America about the dangers of aspartame for years.
Symptoms of NNS withdrawal
Here at WholeHealth Chicago we see a surprising number of patients with longstanding, unexplained physical and emotional symptoms who drink some serious quantities of diet beverages. Virtually all are overweight. Virtually all take on a deer-in-the-headlights gaze when we suggest they’ll need to go off their diet sodas. And virtually all experience withdrawal symptoms (usually headaches) when they do.
Aspartame/NutraSweet was invented at Big Pharma’s G.D. Searle & Co, which was bought by Monsanto (yes, the GMO people), and finally purchased by a private equity firm. Aspartame is embedded in 5,000 “food” products and regularly used by 250 million people around the world. Initially the FDA banned aspartame because animal studies showed it was causing brain tumors, but the then-Chairman of Searle, Donald Rumsfeld (remember him?), used his political clout to get it approved. Knowns, unknowns, whatever.
Information like this can make you cynical. Or just don’t think about it. Forget all about this beverage-industry funded “research,” bypass your predisposition to dementia, and sign up for those daily affirmations.
David Edelberg, MD