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Thread: Superstitious May Increase Their Risk of Death

  1. #1

    Superstitious May Increase Their Risk of Death

    Friday December 21 1:21 PM ET
    Superstitious May Increase Their Risk of Death
    NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Chinese and Japanese Americans with heart disease appear to be at greater risk of dying of a heart attack on the 4th day of the month, a number that is deemed ``unlucky'' in China and Japan, researchers report.

    ``This effect is not evident in white Americans, nor is it evident in Chinese and Japanese Americans who die from causes other than chronic heart disease,'' according to the report published in the British Medical Journal for December 22/29.

    The findings ``are consistent with the hypothesis that cardiac mortality increases on psychologically stressful occasions,'' Dr. David P. Phillips, of the University of California at San Diego in La Jolla, and colleagues report.

    Upon learning that some Japanese and Chinese Americans avoid the number 4 and deem the 4th day of every month as unlucky, the researchers set out to learn if heart attacks peaked on that day each month.

    In the study, the team examined computerized death certificates of more than 200,000 Chinese and Japanese Americans and more than 47 million white Americans. The death certificates contained cause of death information and whether or not the person suffered chronic heart disease.

    ``On the fourth (day) of the month, cardiac deaths were significantly more frequent than on any other day of the month (for Japanese and Chinese Americans), and were 7% higher than the average for the rest of the week,'' the authors write.

    This jump in risk ``does not seem to occur because of changes in the patient's diet, alcohol intake, exercise or drug regimens,'' according to the report.

    Interestingly, Phillips and colleagues note that the word for ``four'' sounds very similar to the word ``death'' in the Japanese and Chinese languages.

    In their study, Phillips and his team term the phenomenon ''the Baskerville effect'' because in the novel ``The Hound of The Baskervilles'' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the character Charles Baskerville dies of a heart attack that is induced by extreme psychological stress.

    ``The Baskerville effect exists both in fact and in fiction and suggests that Conan Doyle was not only a great writer but a remarkably intuitive physician as well,'' they write.

    The investigators also note that there is no such increase in heart attack-related deaths seen on the 13th of the month among white Americans. This may be because there is no linguistic link between the number 13 and death, the authors speculate.

    SOURCE: British Medical Journal 2001;323:1443-1446.

  2. #2
    This same journal issue has a whole series of articles on "paranormal" in medicine. The article appears to be quite convincing. The authors examined the death certificates of nearly 210,000 Chinese or Japanse compared to about 47 million "white" Americans who died between 1973-1997. The first group had a 17% higher incidence of deaths from chronic heart disease on the 4th of the month. The incidence was 27% higher in California. Both of these are statistically significantly different from any of the other days of the month and from the white population.

    I am puzzled, however, by two factors.

    First, superstition about the number four associated with death is most prevalent in Southern China and is not particularly common in Japan. One would also expect the effect of this superstition to be less in American Chinese. The magnitude of the effect seems to be too great. If this were true, one would see a much greater effect in China and Japan. It also is not clear why this is more prevalent in California versus other states.

    Second, as the authors pointed out, there was no compensatory decrease of mortality in the days that follow the fourth. If the people were close to death and died prematurely on the fourth, one would expect a decline in the number of deaths in the days that follow.

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