How to live long enough to see the end of illness
2018-02-07 from Mcleans.ca
Take statins if you’re over 50, and baby Aspirin, too. Drop the vitamin supplements like they were a lit cigarette. Junk the juicer. If the vegetables at the supermarket aren’t today-fresh, opt for fresh frozen. Wear sensible shoes. Eat lunch and go to bed at the same time every day. Get your flu shot. Move around a lot, even when you aren’t exercising. Digitize your medical records, family history and genetic profile, and store this information on a USB stick. Carry it with you always. Share it, anonymously, with the world.
Think of yourself as a system: cancer is not something the body gets and health is not something it has—both are states, dynamic processes really, that the body undergoes. And your system is not the same as anyone else’s: the daily glass of red wine that does wonders for your friend may be killing you. Take note of the specific, unchanging details of your system. Is your ring finger longer than your index finger? That ups the risk of prostate cancer for a man, and of osteoarthritis for a woman. (No one knows quite why, but the marker is well-established.) Keep an eye on your more changeable fine points. Check your nails: yellowish hue bad (go for a diabetes check); white crescent at the base good (iron levels are sufficient). Check your ankles: indentation marks from your socks or loss of hair could mean circulatory problems and increased risk of blood clot.
Do all these things, which essentially add up to two commandments—cut down on daily sources of life-threatening inflammation and take an active part in your own health care—and you stand a very good chance of living to see the end of illness.
So argues Dr. David Agus in The End of Illness, a passionate and provocative assault on the rut in which he believes modern medicine is stuck, especially his own speciality, oncology. It’s been almost a century since deadly infectious disease was pushed into the background of the West’s mortality tables. Yet while deaths from the leading chronic killer, heart disease, have declined by 60 per cent in the developed world since 1950, the cancer death rate has barely budged.
Agus, 46, has the credentials to demand a hearing. He’s a professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California, the 2009 GQ “rock star of science,” founder of two personalized medicine companies and a man who “looks at death two or three times a week,” as he sombrely notes in an interview. “Every week I tell people, ‘I’m sorry, I have no more drugs to try on you.’ I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s killing them, and it’s killing me.”
We need to admit our mistakes and radically reorient ourselves, Agus says. In chorus with a growing number of chronic disease specialists, Agus thinks it’s time to forget the lessons erroneously drawn from the victorious war against infectious diseases, time to realize chronic illness is different. It is not discrete parts that can be targeted with drugs or surgery like a colony of alien bacteria, but the whole system. Cancer is a verb, he repeatedly and strikingly stresses: the body of a leukemia patient is “cancering.”
And with most types of cancer, we are scarcely likely to win a war, not if victory is defined as a complete cure. But if we look at the body as a system, with a few simple lifestyle changes, plus new technologies already in the pipeline, three inexpensive medicines, and a change in the way we store and share medical information, we can achieve a different sort of victory: prevention, delay, control. The end of cancer, the end of all illness, Agus says, is in sight.
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