A “2009 GQ Rock Star of Science” doctor has written a provocative and inspiring book that presents a revolutionary approach to treating and preventing disease. In The End of Illness, oncologist Dr. David Agus brings his ideas out of the lab, showing us how to live healthy, vibrant lives and move gracefully into old age.
Agus starts by asking us to fill out a personal health inventory questionnaire, a four-page checklist originally designed to help patients prepare for annual check-ups. Agus is a big believer of personalized medicine, and he wants each of us to customize our health care to accommodate our physiology, genetics and value systems. He explains, “Nothing about health is one-size-fits-all, so until you know how to perform your own fitting, you won’t be able to live the long and happy life that is awaiting you.”
Genetic testing is another way we can empower ourselves to improve our health. We can currently look at genetic risk profiling for about forty conditions, ranging from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer’s to glaucoma. Agus points out that this is not necessarily our destiny. If we use the right tools, we can shift our fate to live longer than what our DNA dictates.
Agus takes on the $25 million vitamin and supplement industry. He devotes an entire chapter entitled “Proceed with Caution” to discussing the pitfalls of Vitamin D. He argues that while Vitamin D may appear to be an anticancer miracle worker in the lab where you can control cell cultures, this effect does not replicate itself in live people. And more importantly, each of us has a genetic predisposition to maintaining a certain level of vitamin D and no number is perfect for everyone.
In a subsequent chapter, Agus gives data on the research and explains why he feels the “hype” over all vitamins and supplements is overrated. The doctor does not mince words when he makes the following claims: “Tumours devour Vitamin C like candy so you could be feeding your cancer rather than fighting it when you consume excess Vitamin C” and “To get the same amount of fish oil you would from a single serving of salmon, you would have to consume 20 to 30 fish oil capsules.” While he does not have any problems with people taking vitamins to correct deficiencies or address certain conditions such as pregnancy, Agus believes that taking vitamins generically for health makes no sense.
I was amused by the following advice: “Don’t trust anything that comes out of a blender, juicer or glass jar.” Agus wonders if the body really likes consuming ten carrots or a whole head of broccoli all at once. And he advises us to consider buying frozen fruits and vegetables instead of what looks like fresh produce at the supermarket.
To root out chronic inflammation, Agus offers many practical, easy-to-implement strategies. Wear comfortable shoes. Get an annual flu vaccine. Take a statin and baby aspirin if you are over the age of forty. The easiest but often the most challenging advice to follow is keeping a regular schedule. Agus reminds us that when we break the body’s natural rhythm, we are no longer performing optimally. Our bodies will respond positively when we stick to the same sleep-wake schedule seven days a week, eat our meals at the same time each day, and take downtime during our waking hours.
As a cancer survivor and the daughter of parents with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases, I appreciate the doctor’s advice to focus on the present year and not rely on a textbook to tell me something that might happen in ten years time. By the time we reach that ten-year mark, there will be “new therapies, new treatments and new roads to take.”
Dr. David Agus has written a truly motivational book that deserves a place on everyone’s bookshelf.
Thanks for dropping by, Jenny. I’ve always wondered about vitamin C, iron and calcium. Most medications carry the warning not to consume foods containing these vitamins when taking the required pills. I stopped taking vitamins years ago and I find that I am more conscious of what I eat. I know there is no backup plan, so I need to get all my nutrients from food.
I’m so glad you reviewed this book! I saw Agus on the Daily Show some months ago; and I’ve been meaning to check the book out.
The vitamin part is the scariest for me because of a study that came out recently about how harmful vitamins can be when taken habitually over the course of decades. So I eventually asked my doctor about it who said the same thing Agus said: if you don’t have any deficiencies, don’t take vitamins. Needless to say, this was a bit of a surprise.