Lisa Markwell: I don't want to bother my GP, or go near Dr Google. So health scares suit me


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The Independent Online

Some news reports just make people roll their eyes. Unusual weather, for instance. Or the latest "witty" Jubilee-themed sandwich. Or a fresh health scare.

Me, I love a health scare. Well, love isn't quite the right word. I am interested in them and always try to take the time to read to the end of the report, rather than scan the headline. If one were to just read the top few lines and stop/start drinking red wine; stop/start taking supplements; or stop/start running, it could be more than a little detrimental. Tempting, but a bad idea.

The latest eye-catching report says that taking calcium supplements can "raise the heart attack risk by 86 per cent". Since that headline appeared in The Independent, a newspaper not given to sensationalist reporting, and because the words below it were written by our esteemed health editor Jeremy Laurance, this was something to be taken seriously.

Calcium is not a very sexy subject. A shortage of it affects (most often) post-menopausal women and they're not "hot". Well, they are, you know, hot, but not in that way. They're of limited interest to agenda-setters, whether that's Hollywood moneymen or the editors of Newsnight or the designers of fashionable clothing. But, here's the thing: there's an awful lot of them.

For boring reasons to do with the combination of cancer and thyroid problems, I am supposed to take two calcium supplements a day, a total of 3,000mg of the stuff. In our report, it does, of course, give a nuanced breakdown of who faces the risks and who needs extra calcium. No one, it says, should have more than 1,100mg a day of calcium – it floods the system and could cause heart problems. So, should I stop taking the tablets?

Herein lies the problem. We are indoctrinated (no pun intended) into not bothering our GPs unless a limb has dropped off or our hearts are beating out of our chests, but what's a worried pill-popper to do? Who do we ask?

With each health scare, GPs must wince and brace themselves for calls from those either too worried or too ill to wait until their next scheduled appointment. I've learned the hard way not to consult Professor Google on matters medical – that way lies paranoia and misinformation. But I am glad to have been given the health-scare news so that I can make what might be a sensible change (I'll await a GP consultation before making it permanent).

The decision is to stop taking the tablets and go on a diet. That might sounds like I need another kind of medication – to treat terminal stupidity – but here's the logic. The generally accepted variety of diet that deals with middle-aged spread is a high-protein, low-carbohydrate one, like the Dukan. If we calcium-depleted 40somethings eat lots of cheese, yoghurt and oily fish, we'll have trimmer waists and calmer hearts. And we won't panic if tomorrow we're told that smoked mackerel pâté gives you Alzheimers.

How am I supposed to concentrate?

Week one of the long GCSE exam season draws to a close. And everything colludes in preventing sustained study. It's hot. There's a rugby final at Twickenham. An urgent need to learn Spanish (not a GCSE subject) before the summer holiday. There was even a burst of vacuuming yesterday evening... The change from prolonged, short-unit-based GCSEs to the old system of fewer, longer exams will not come soon enough for my teen but, really, cannot come soon enough in general. Unless they start a qualification in concentration.

God knows, sustaining attention on anything for weeks and weeks is a challenge. I can feel myself leaving longer gaps between Leveson updates, despite a keen professional interest; I almost missed yesterday's window-cracking drama. For the teenager and for me, tips in how to prevent distraction until the end of June would be most welcome.