Chasing the secret of long life
2008/10/28An old volume I recently picked up at a used bookstore in Tokyo contains an anecdote about Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738), a Dutch physician who became famous in Europe during his lifetime. The story concerns a certain unpublished manuscript owned by Boerhaave, which was discovered with its seal intact among his personal effects after his death.
The title translates as "the deepest secrets of medicine" in English, and the book was thought to contain the secret of longevity.
At auction, bids for the book rose higher and higher, even though nobody knew anything about the content. This episode shows how the human thirst for knowledge of good health and long life has been with us through the ages.
More than ever, people today eagerly lap up any health-related information. While we shouldn't fall for dubious or phony health tips, newspapers are full of stories about medical experts' opinions and research findings, such as a recent claim that drinking green tea prevents diabetes. Such stories apparently appeal to a large readership.
Being over 50, I am greatly interested in the recent news that drinking "seven cups of green tea a day" keeps diabetes at bay. For some time, however, my beverage of choice has been coffee because coffee drinkers are said to be at a lower risk of liver cancer.
Yet were I to start guzzling both green tea and coffee at teatime to "run after two hares," as the saying goes, I suppose my midsection would soon become bloated.
Just the other day, it was reported that elderly men in their 60s and 70s who are "somewhat chunky" are likely to live longer than their skinnier peers. Many people must have been greatly heartened by this news, but let's get this clear: If your bulk owes mostly to fat, and not muscle, you are actually at a greater risk.
Keeping healthy is a multidimensional commitment. We must beware of placing too much trust in any single theory or discovery, as it will only put us on an emotional roller coaster and wear us out.
Back to Boerhaave. The book was auctioned off at an exorbitant price, but the pages turned out to be blank.
The only words it contained were to the effect: "Keep your head cold, your feet warm, and your body relaxed. That way, you can laugh at all doctors."
I leave it up to each reader to decide whether Boerhaave was a sarcastic doctor or a wise observer of human nature.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 27(IHT/Asahi: October 28,2008)