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M. P. Ravindra Nathan
Diseases of Success
By M. P. Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACC

The enviable success of Indian-Americans and its effect on their health has caused me concern lately. "Oh, yeah?" you ask. Well, consider these factors:

Recently, I attended the funeral of a friend who died of prostate cancer at 64. Healthy and active, he had been shocked by the diagnosis. He read up on his malady and concluded, "You know, I have been eating a lot of meat since I came to USA, some 30 years ago; maybe that is why?" Possibly true; the latest research suggests that a diet high in meat but low in fiber can lead to cancer.

A busy Indian physician had a sudden cardiac death. When I talked to his wife, she said tearfully, "B was such a busy person, so immersed in his work. He was also diabetic." He'd had mild chest pains the week before.

At 64, Mr. M. shouldn't have had a stroke. He had hypertension and had a mild heart attack 10 years before, but "had followed the instructions of his doctor," his wife insisted. He was a type B personality, mild-mannered and philosophical. Still got a crippling stroke. Was he too busy to take care of himself?

After a late-night celebration, Mr. K. hit a pothole while driving home with his family. His car hit a tree. One family member was seriously injured. Did he doze off at the wheel, tired after a day of work?

A young engineer working in a prestigious company recently complained: "You know, uncle, I break out in a rash sometimes." Skin allergy tests yielded no clues. Then one day, he noted the rashes occurred during arguments with a colleague. "Stress, most likely," I said.

During a party with a few friends, suddenly one of them exclaimed, "Ah, there it is again. ... I missed a beat." Later, he admitted getting frequent palpitations especially after a drink or two. I asked him to stop alcohol altogether and he felt well subsequently. The strong association between alcohol and the risk of cardiac rhythm disorders and other types of heart disease is well-established.

"You know I become tired by afternoon, which is quite unusual for me, " one of my friends in his late 30s said. "How about checking your blood sugar?" Two days later he was diagnosed with "new onset diabetes mellitus.'' A study in the Oct.1, 2004 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology has found a high prevalence of diabetes mellitus (about 18%) in Asian Indians living in the United States.

Obesity is a growing epidemic among Indian-Americans, too, including our children. It goes hand in hand with diabetes.

After hearing this doleful litany your first reaction is, "Oh, my God, what do we do now?" Well, we need to undo some of the unhealthy routines in our lives. Immigrant Indians have enjoyed the rich, diverse life in this country but there may be a price.

Sometimes the strictures of this fast-paced life can wear you out. Try making a few changes in habits and daily routines. Get a family physician and have regular checkups. With Christmas and New Year approaching, include a prudent diet and daily exercise in your new year resolutions. Also, cultivate a philosophical attitude towards life. It's not necessary to catch every fish in the ocean.

Happy Holidays.

Cardiologist Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan lives in Brooksville.

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