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Men Who Want to Live Longer Will Love This Study

Report: Can sex add years? A team of researchers thinks so. But wait, there's more. What about the woman who heard voices telling her she had a brain tumor?

January 26, 1998|THOMAS H. MAUGH II | TIMES MEDICAL WRITER

Men who have sex frequently live longer than men who reach orgasm with less regularity, British physicians report.

Dr. George Davey Smith and his colleagues at the University of Bristol studied 918 male residents of the Welsh village of Caerphilly who were between the ages of 45 and 59 when the study began. The men were divided into three groups: those who had sex more than twice a week; those who had sex less than once per month; and those who fell somewhere in between.

Smith's team reported in the year-end issue of the British Medical Journal that those in the lowest-frequency group were twice as likely to die over the 10-year follow-up period as those in the most-active group. Men in the intermediate group were 1.6 times as likely to die.

The team offered no explanation for why the sexually active should live longer, but a commentary in the same issue by Dr. Matthew Hotopf and Dr. Simon Wessely of King's College in London speculated that Smith actually had cause and effect reversed. They argued that men who were healthier--and thus more likely to live longer--were most likely to have frequent sex.

Every year, the British Medical Journal saves its most unusual contributions for the year-end issue. Be they flippant, vulgar or simply unexpected, the articles offer welcome respite from the normal journal fare. For example:

Many physicians believe that patients who are overweight generally remove their shoes before stepping onto office scales in an effort to minimize the reading.

Dr. Timothy Harlow, a general practitioner in Cullompton tested this hypothesis while weighing 122 consecutive patients who came to his office, excluding those whose physical disabilities or shoe style (such as lace-up boots) precluded easy removal.

He observed that, even though 40% of his patients took their shoes off, those who did were no more overweight than patients who kept their shoes on.

Harlow professed "disappointment at the slaying of an interesting hypothesis by a mundane fact. There is, however, further work to be done on the extended hypothesis that removal of car keys from a pocket before weighing is a certain sign of obesity."

Dr. Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye of the Lambeth Health Care NHS Trust in London reported on the unusual case of an apparently healthy woman who suddenly began hearing voices telling her that she had a brain tumor.

Her doctor referred her to Azuonye, a psychiatrist. He offered counseling and medication, which initially silenced the voices. But while she was vacationing abroad and still taking her medication, the voices returned, telling her to return to England immediately for treatment.

In an effort to assuage her anxiety, Azuonye eventually persuaded neurosurgeons to perform a brain scan, even though the woman had no symptoms of a tumor. To their surprise, the scan revealed a dangerous meningioma, which was surgically removed.

When the woman regained consciousness after the surgery, she later reported, she heard the voices a final time: "We are pleased to have helped you. Goodbye." Her antipsychotic medication was halted, but the woman never heard the voices again. Twelve years later, Azuonye reported, she is healthy and very sane.

And, finally, Dr. John M. Eagles of the Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen and Dr. George B. Rhind of Roodlands Hospital in Haddington examined the widespread impression that medical specialists--called hospital consultants in England--neglect their patients for the golf course, while general practitioners, stressed by recent government reforms, would have less time for the activity.

They surveyed the 1977 male graduates of Aberdeen and Glasgow medical schools, seeking information about their golfing activities. To their surprise, they found that GPs were more likely to have golfed at university, to be current golfers and to be members of golf clubs. Furthermore, since graduation, the GPs' golf scores had decreased by a mean of 3.9 strokes, while those of the consultants had increased by 0.8.

They speculated that golf--"a sport that we believe does nothing other than increase stress"--rather than government reforms was the primary source of increased stress among GPs and that "hospital doctors would do well to ignore the illusory allure of golf to which general practitioners have so sadly fallen prey."

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