A Metal Airframe and Five Ways to Strengthen or Weaken It

Just this week – and hence this article – I have been advised to increase my intake of 17 different elements that will doubtless help me lead a healthier and happier life.

I was recently in California and, wandering around Venice, came across the Muscle Beach spectacle. Those of you who know me will note that I might be politely described as “wiry.” Those who do, and have a brutally honesty streak, might say I am “scrawny.” So maybe it should come as no surprise that when I asked one of the mesomorphic giants with muscles in places where I don’t even have places, why he was lifting weights in such a public place, he said “because I used to look like you.” With tendons that looked like steel struts, he certainly had the appearance of having a frame capable of withstanding lots of stress.

I have the privilege to regularly fly a sleek aircraft with a carbon fiber frame – a deceptively skinny frame that is capable of withstanding lots and lots of stress. Deceptively scrawny…maybe like me? Materials that we use to construct airplanes are important and the materials that are used to construct humans are also important.

Of course, we are all carbon-based life forms – it is one of the elements that are fundamental to life, and pretty much everyone knows that. But we don’t rush out to eat chunks of coal, although sometimes pregnant women have pica, the urge to eat odd stuff, of which coal has been a desired comestible; “Waiter, can I have some French fries with my lightly battered coal?”

Human beings contain a lot of water, seemingly more so at 10,000 feet when there is no red pee bottle on hand! Water, of course, is made of hydrogen and oxygen, yet we don’t often hear of people feeling a bit dry and having the desire to inhale some hydrogen!

Which is why I am perpetually bemused by the intense discussion related to – and wide availability of – metals and other elemental supplements to improve human health. First, before someone starts to pen me a vitriolic diatribe, let me state that I concur there are people who need them and that there may yet prove to be value in taking additional selenium, manganese, or kryptonite…oops, that one slipped out.

Like most Americans, I subscribe to a health insurance plan, attend docs for regular check-ups, and have the audacity to buy stuff online. As a result, I get barraged with email and snail-mail advertising and recommending all sorts of stuff for all sorts of situations. Just this week – and hence this article – I have been advised to increase my intake of 17 different elements that will doubtless help me lead a healthier and happier life. My central messages here are:

  1. Just as the poster featuring Abraham Lincoln proclaims, “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.” Use discretion in acting on what you read.
  2. More of something good is not necessarily better. We see that with medications when people say, “Well, if two tablets are good at getting rid of pain, four must be better....” Think of fueling a plane for a given journey – adding too much may put you over-limits for a given configuration. Just because bracing an aircraft with spars and ribs is good, adding others may actually weaken and destabilize the plane.
  3. Understand your own diet – if you have specific nuances to your diet, you may need certain supplements. Even strict vegans eat animals – tiny insects on a lettuce leaf!
  4. Understand your own medical situation; for instance, those who have had a gastric bypass operation for morbid obesity need to take B12, those with Menkes kinky hair syndrome will require copper supplements, and living with celiac sprue dictates additional zinc must be consumed.
  5. Medicine changes as we learn more. When I was at medical school, ulcer disease was deemed to be caused by stress and was treated with various surgical interventions; now we know it is an infectious disease (Helicobacter pylori) and is treated with antibiotics. Today’s “miracle cure” might become tomorrow’s source of medical jokes or will be proven inefficacious, so keep well informed.

Regardless, although the folks at Muscle Beach may be overdoing it, they have the right idea – focus on exercise and a good diet and, just as pilots keep their planes balanced, keep your life in balance.

Jonathan Sackier

Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.
Topics: Pilot Health and Medical Certification, Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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