Thursday, June 20, 2013

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, by T. Colin Campbell

Read this book.

This is a very different book than Dr. Campbell's influential, "The China Study,"although it references his prior work.  In this book, Dr. Campbell covers four inter-related topics:
  1. The whole food, plant-based (WFPB) approach to nutrition.   Here, Dr. Campbell gets to the bottom line of "The China Study" very quickly, in easy to understand language.   It is very brief.  If you're not familiar with WFPB, here's a description of it as an "alternative" treatment to costly drugs, with their dangerous side-effects:

    "...[WFPB] would typically resolve the root cause of the disease fairly quickly, thus ending all symptoms and increasing their life expectancy and the quality of that life.  Side effects would include achieving their ideal weight, having more energy, looking and feeling better, and even helping to preserve the environment and slow global warming."

    Sound crazy?   As Dr. John McDougall often says, why is it a crazy alternative therapy to try eating well but a perfectly acceptable therapy to crack open someone's chest and run their blood through a machine while sewing a piece of artery to their heart?

    There's ample scientific evidence to support the claims in Part I of the book.  And in work by Dr. EsselstynDr. McDougall, and Dr. Ornish (who also has a more science -oriented website).

  2. In Part II, Dr. Campbell explains reductionism and how it gets in the way of evaluating breakthrough science.  In short, it means that researchers might notice that apples seem like healthy eating.  They notice there's vitamin A in an apple.  So they look at the health effects of vitamin A, with a goal of making a vitamin A pill that will provide the healthy effects.  Presumably without the hassle of eating the apple.  But, unfortunately, all sorts of systems get in the way of this working out the way a pill lover might like.   All of which is clearly explained.

  3. Part III might make you cynical.   Dr. Campbell exposes the financial systems that affect how health care is delivered.  Or, as he says, disease care.  As they say, just follow the money.

  4. Part IV might make you even more cynical.   He exposes the funding behind the big medical charities.   Not that the participants are evil, but the driving forces are clearly not in line with helping folks.   Dr. Campbell also points out the messaging that pervades the media -- that you're a victim of environmental toxins and bad genetics -- but that one day a magic cure pill will be invented to save you.   Dr. Campbell refutes that messaging, suggesting that a huge number of people can take responsibility for their health via a WFPB diet and diminish the odds of disease (even in cases where the genetics are against you).  
If you just want to understand the basis of WFPB eating and why it helps, there are easier books to read:  Rip Esselstyn's "My beef with meat," or Dr. John McDougall's "The Starch Solution"would be at the top of my list.    If you want to understand why the mainstream of big pharma -funded organizations, from medical to charity, don't want to highlight this free alternative to drug and medical therapies, then Dr. Campbell's book is for you.

By the way, this WFPB model of nutrition is not easy to do!   Why?   First, our training:  I have years of experience enjoying steak and that isn't easily overcome; I suspect it is even worse for cheese addicts!    Second, restaurants are tuned up to provide the Standard American Diet (SAD), which makes eating out a chore.   Third, you'll never see a TV or magazine add that doesn't promote some aspect of the SAD nutritional model, so there's constant reinforcement for bad habits.   Finally, there's so much money made by the dairy, meat, and pharmaceutical industries that their ability to fund ads, contribute to politicians in return for key appointments, fund medical journals, research grants, and the like, is pretty much infinite.    So even though I first read "The China Study" back in 2008, I'm still not 100% there with WFPB.   Yikes, that's just not smart.

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition

An aside about genetics.  When folks like Angelina Jolie make a public statement about their decision (in her case, to undergo a "preventative" double mastectomy because of fear that eventually she might contract breast cancer due to the detection of a mutated BRCA1 gene, it will just encourage people to follow her role model and mutilate themselves out of fear.   Gosh, why so harsh?  Look at one of the topics that Dr. Campbell discusses in this book; it is about a different gene but the lesson is the same.

The punch line of this particular study [1] is much easier to follow than the title:  146 patients showed metastasis (cancer) in the sentinel lymph node.  So standard medical practice is to cut:  remove the lymph glands.  Side effects?  Yikes.  Like maybe the loss of the use of your leg for a year, for starters.  (Chemo therapy also is indicated with all sorts of horrid effects.)  Sounds bad, but necessary, right?  Back to the study: the doctors dutifully cut all 146 patients.  But then, the removed lymph glands were examined.  Only 20% had cancer cells.  Which implies that 80% had an over-aggressive, if not unnecessary, surgery.    

So if you're one of those 80% (in this example) who even with a genetic disposition or even with a demonstrated appearance of cancer cells, can do just fine without radical surgery, then it sounds like you'd want to avoid that surgery.  Right?  But standard medical practice would just cut.   And (anti-) role models like Ms. Jolie would encourage you to cut even before the appearance of symptoms.   Golly, that seems way more harsh.   Maybe better to get ahead of the genetic predisposition by using the WFPB approach to nutrition.

[1] Dewar, D. J., Newell, B., Green, M. A., et. al., "The microanatomic location of metastatic melanoma in sentinel lymph nodes predicts nonsentinel lymph node involvement," Journal of Clinical Oncology 22, no. 16 (2004): 3345-49.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Beef with Meat, by Rip Esselstyn

The sub-title of Mr. Esselstyn's book is, "the healthiest argument for eating a plant-strong diet."  To jump to the punch line, Mr. Esselstyn believes that avoiding meat (of all sorts, including fish and dairy products) is essential to good health.   In this, he follows in the footsteps of his famous father, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD.

What distinguishes Mr. Esselstyn's writing is how accessible it is.   In this book, he addresses a variety of common myths about meat -based diets a chapter at a time, in simple and clear language.

You may recall his prior book, "The Engine 2 Diet," which also promoted a "plant -strong" (i.e., meat and dairy product averse) approach to nutrition.   That book leveraged Mr. Esselstyn's credibility as a firefighter (and former professional Ironman competitor).

I marked up quite a few recipes (out of the 140 in "My Beef with Meat") to try and am optimistic about them.

For bar-b-que chewing folks who aren't sure what the hoopla is about avoiding meat, and want to know what their "enemies" are thinking, this is a great overview.   If, on the other hand, you're on the borderline and thinking about reducing your meat intake, this book will answer most of your questions. And, if you're already convinced about a plant-strong (or starch -based) approach to healthful eating, then you'll get a bunch of simple answers to your meat -eating friends' questions and challenges, plus some recipes.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

What an odd book!   A good indicator though is when a novel generates polarizing reviews not so much about the writing or dialogue but about the underlying message, decrying it or praising it as socialist, anarchist, green, etc.

So here's the deal:   our narrator is a former hippie, now professional writer, cynical and depressed.   He answers an ad "teacher seeks pupil ... apply in person," and meets his teacher.   Who happens to be a well educated gorilla (Ishmael) who speaks telepathically.

Don't let this part put you off; it is well done and shortly you hardly notice.   A bit weird, yes, but no harm done.  It is, after all, a novel.

The notion of Ishmael's lessons is that mankind sees themselves as gods, answering to no one, and in complete control of the world, with which we may do as we like.   As a consequence, the world's ecosystem is fraying, or as Ishmael describes it, man views the world (living and inanimate ecosystems) the way one might imagine the pilot of a primitive attempt at an aircraft views his flight in a non-aerodynamic glider launched from a high mountain -- it seems to be flying when really it is just descending to its inevitable crash landing.

This is actually very well done, and is not preachy at all.   It is a fast, thought provoking read.   I recommend it.

Ornament of the World, by Maria Rosa Menocal

The premise of this history of medieval Spain is to examine "how Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a culture of tolerance."   Sadly, for me at least, this goal was not achieved.

First off because of horrible writing.   Difficult to get through, and difficult to figure out what the author was hoping to convey from section to section.

Then, because of the emphasis of Professor Menocal's romantic notion of peaceful coexistence over the facts (e.g., the 1066 Granada massacre of Jews).   Although I could forgive even this if the writing were  clear or interesting; it is neither, which is the primary problem.

Understanding the relationships between these three groups could be fascinating, but this is not the book to read.   Just say no.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Heft, by Liz Moore

I seldom give up on a book once I start reading it.  This novel was one of the few exceptions; I made it only 80 pages in before stopping.   Why?  It was sad and felt pointless.

The preponderance of positive customer reviews on Amazon really surprises me; as of this writing, only 2% were negative.   Guess that puts me in the elite minority on this one.