In the mid-1980s, the newspaper I worked at started a wellness program. We saw a nurse. We got our blood tested.

I returned for the results.

The nurse asked: “Are you a vegetarian?”

I was not yet married. I was on my own and eating like it. I ate hamburgers. And dishes made with hamburger. If I was lucky, the hamburger hadn’t yet begun to ripen.

Occasionally, I ate tuna-fish sandwiches, with lots of mayonnaise.

So: “No.”

“Well, your cholesterol is very low.”

And low cholesterol, as I understood it, was good. Over the years, I had more blood tests. I learned there was good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. I had very low bad cholesterol, or LDL. I would brag about it to Cindy. We met at that same newspaper and got married.

“I have my epitaph all figured out,” I’d say.

“What’s that?”

“It wasn’t the cholesterol.”

As achievements go, it ranks right up with good hair. So no effort on my part. Still, I’d bring it up on doctor visits. “I have low cholesterol,” I’d say, thinking I might get a gold star or something.

I leave it to Cindy to keep me grounded.

I was sitting at the computer, the one I’m at now, a few weeks ago. Cindy spoke from the other room. She mentioned a brief she was reading in the New York Times science section. It said people with low bad cholesterol, charting between 50 and 69 parts per something, were at a 65 percent higher risk for a brain hemorrhage.

I checked my online chart.

“No problem,” I said. “My LDL is below 50.”

“Oh, then your chances are triple.”

That took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t have enough bad cholesterol. And what to make of medical science? One day you’re told wine is good for you, the next you’re told if you so much as sniff it you’ll die a horrible death from an assortment of diseases.

That’s just pick-and-choose science. I choose wine. I’m waiting for the good news on beer.

Sometimes it’s a matter of science catching up with the obvious. Magazine and newspaper ads from the 1930s touted the benefits of smoking. The right brand of cigarettes were good for your throat. And more.

Here’s an ad from 1937. I happen to have a photocopy on hand.

“For digestion’s sake — smoke Camels,” it read.

Yes, Camel’s costlier tobacco works better than Tums. Of course, now we know that’s laughable. Coffee, on the other hand, has become an essential part of any healthy diet.

Coffee used to get a bad rap for giving you jittery nerves. Now it’s good for you. I drink about two cups a day. And apparently that’s not enough. You need three or four to live long and prosper, according to the most recent studies.

Cindy has a single cup in the morning. But it’s a big cup. It’s registered under a Liberian flag and might fit through the Panama Canal. I go to the coffee pot for a refill and there’s a trickle left. I think of all those healthy people drinking cup after cup of coffee. And here I am, a cup-a-day short of outliving the cat.

Actually, I don’t think our cat will ever die. She’ll outlive us all and several generations beyond. She’ll live to see the day science enables cats to learn a language and write memoirs. Coming from a cat, it won’t be pretty.

I’ll have to take away her coffee.

Marijuana, meanwhile, has come a long way. It was once the scourge of a nation. I saw the films in high school. Two reefers and you’re mainlining heroin. Now marijuana is medicine in more than 30 states, Arizona included.

Touted health benefits are largely anecdotal. But a doctor writing for a Harvard Medical School blog heard good things from patients. Marijuana works for chronic pain and is much less addictive than opiates. And I’ve talked to people who swear by it. Edibles helped one marijuana card-holder deal with chronic pain from neuropathy, a long-term side effect of chemotherapy.

Chronic pain is one of a dozen-plus conditions that qualify for medical marijuana in Arizona. I didn’t see dangerously low LDL on the list.

So I’ll have to self-medicate. I could start by dining out. I’ll order two fried eggs, bacon, pork chops, a hamburger and fries done up in a vat of lard.

Then I’ll put down my menu and explain.

“I have to watch my cholesterol.”


Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at