Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 22, 2006

Pressure Drop

Filed under: health and fitness — louisproyect @ 5:02 pm

It is you (oh yeah)
It is you, you (oh yeah)
It is you (oh yeah)

Cause a pressure drop, oh pressure
Oh yeah pressure drop a drop on you
I say a pressure drop, oh pressure
Oh yeah pressure drop a drop on you

I say when it drops, oh you gonna feel it
Know that you were doing wrong.

Toots and the Maytals, “Pressure Drop”

Last week I had my blood pressure checked as a follow-up to a routine exam taken about a year ago, when I was advised that it was “slightly high”. That’s the same thing I heard this go round, with a reading of 140/82. The first number, systolic blood pressure, measures the maximum pressure exerted as the heart contracts, while the lower number indicates diastolic pressure, a measurement taken between beats, when the heart is at rest. A normal blood pressure would be something below 120/80. The nurse who took my pressure advised me to lay off salt and red meat, and to exercise 30 minutes a day even if this only means walking. I now join 65 million other Americans suffering from hypertension. They say that half of the population over 60 (I will be 62 in January) has the condition–unless of course you are dead. That’s one way to get really low numbers.

A few months ago I had a visit from an old friend from my Trotskyist days. He works as an editor for a medical digest company and spends 8 hours a day with his nose in medical journals looking for articles that he culls together for publication. As a result, he is totally fixated on health issues, particularly anything that relates to major illness. He is a walking encyclopedia on cancer and heart disease and spends every minute worrying about what he should eat and drink in order to avoid getting sick. He is also free with his advice and began to lecture me about my beer belly the minute he walked in the door. He himself has nothing to worry about on this score, although I don’t exactly think that his 6’2″ height and 130 pounds would be considered normal. He looks like one of those emaciated Bosnians shown in the photos that became the centerpiece of a suit against the folks who ended up in Spiked-Online. He warned me that I might end up like John Hillson, another ex-SWP’er around my age who died of a heart attack a couple of years ago.

Frankly, I am more worried about ending up like my high school teacher who died about six months ago. I used to run into him in a wheelchair when visiting my mom at her nursing home. After suffering a major stroke, he was completely paralyzed. The thought of ending up like that summons up fears more pronounced than any Edgar Allen Poe short story can evoke.

After hearing the nurse’s advice, I decided to turn over a new leaf. Exercise is no big deal for me since I have been jogging since 1970. Yesterday I went 4 miles instead of my usual 2 and plan to ride my stationary bike on days when I am not out jogging.

Diet is more complicated. I eat in a cafeteria near Columbia University and have no way of determining whether there is salt in soup, sauces, etc. It is one thing to lay off red meat; it is another to avoid salt.

FRANK HALL knows he probably should not eat Hungry-Man dinners. The frozen meals have as much as 2,230 milligrams of sodium per serving — far more than the government’s recommended daily allowance for older people — and Mr. Hall’s doctors have advised him to strictly limit salt consumption to help keep his blood pressure down.

But once a week, when grocery shopping with his granddaughter, Mr. Hall, who is 80 and has heart disease, tosses one or two of the big blue packages in his cart anyway.

”They’re really convenient and I figure you can splurge a little bit once in awhile,” said Mr. Hall, who lives in Goldthwaite, Tex.

Sprinkled into everything from bread to cheese, soups and breakfast cereal, just about every fast-food restaurant meal and now even fresh cuts of meat, salt is ubiquitous in the American food supply. And according to government data, Americans eat far too much of it.

Now the nation’s largest doctors’ group, the American Medical Association, is going after the government and the food industry to reduce what it sees as a persistently high level of salt in many processed foods.

(NY Times, September 16, 2006)

This might ring a bell. Salt now joins the list with trans-fatty acids and corn syrup as major threats to our health. This is not to mention the carcinogens that are present in all sorts of foods, even those that might constitute an alternative to red meat. If I decide to eat salmon instead of steak, I might be trading a stroke for a tumor according to MRZine.

As long as American food industry is making huge profits selling junk that can give us a stroke or a tumor, then the pharmaceutical sector can benefit from selling stuff that will cure us. Watching Sunday morning television today, I was struck by all the ads for cancer and heart disease medication. A couple of hours later, when the football games begin, there will be a new set of ads for McDonalds and Burger King just to make sure that the food industry gets its due.

My friend suggested that it might not be that much to worry about, since I can always take Plavix, an anticoagulant. Of course, if you’ve seen a Plavix ad on TV, you’ll notice the usual disclaimer at the end:

If you have a stomach ulcer or other condition that causes bleeding, you shouldn’t use PLAVIX. When taking PLAVIX alone or with some medicines including aspirin, the risk of bleeding may increase. To minimize this risk, talk to your doctor before taking aspirin or other medicines with PLAVIX. Additional rare but serious side effects could occur.

So do I really want to take this with my chronic heartburn?

When we are young, we really don’t pay much attention to such matters. It is only when you hit that borderline territory between youth and old age that you begin to have such worries. If society was reorganized in such a fashion that environmental factors–broadly speaking–could be reduced to a minimum, then old age and dying would be less scary.

In the Old Testament, we constantly hear about some elder passing away peacefully after serving God for 80 or 90 years. With the ravages of late capitalism besieging us on all fronts, perhaps the age old dream of socialism raises the idea of millenarian salvation once again on new foundations.


  1. Damn. Sorry to hear about that Lou. Chokes me up. You have no idea.

    Try this: 1 aspirin daily, 2 glasses red wine, no refined sugars, oily fishes (or you can get the fish oil tabs, but then there’s the concentration of heavy metals to worry about unless the refinining is done properly), dark/bright greens and reds and orange colored fruits and vegetables, rice, oats…

    Beans are good– soy, you know, edamame, fava and chickpeas.

    Forget the Plavix–

    Try Papaya enzyme for the heartburn, and if that doesn’t work, try Prilosec OTC.

    Or just fuck it, tuck into the spare ribs, french fries, diet cokes– yeah and enjoy those Marlboros after dinner, and die with a grin, and barbecue sauce on your face.

    Comment by dms — October 22, 2006 @ 10:06 pm

  2. I think anyone who has a blood pressure reading of 140/82, and can jog 4 miles hasn’t got too much to worry about. If anything – you sound almost as fit as a butchers dog to me.

    I did a six mile jog the other day – that nearly killed me.

    Best wishes.


    Comment by Courtney Hamilton — October 23, 2006 @ 11:42 am

  3. I wish you good health, but I must confess it seems to me that using mild hypertension in one’s sixties as an argument for socialism is a bit over the top. Our taste for excess salt is a product of human origins in tropical Africa and our evolution. It predates ancient society, feudalism, and capitalism.

    To revise the punch line of an old joke, “Come the revolution, you’ll eat a healthy diet and you’ll damn well like it!”

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — October 23, 2006 @ 5:03 pm

  4. I wish you good health. I’m fairly young, still in college. But I do not need to hit 60s or so to start worrying about health. My mom and dad worry me and draw my concern to health issues like heart disease and disbetes. Think looking up the family medical record helps planning how to take care of one’s and other family members’ health.

    Comment by crashahelmet — May 15, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

  5. I wish you good health. Why not go to gym room if there’s one near your place? I like the treadmills and I think they are suitable for all age groups except children who are not tall enough for the machines.

    Comment by Pat — May 18, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

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