How Not to Die

This week, I’m wrapping up reading my latest book How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease written by a doctor named Michael Gregor, who also leads a non-profit site called Reading this book has frankly made me even more angry about medicine in today’s world (or maybe just this country). In the book’s introduction, Dr. Gregor notes that he was inspired to go into medicine because of a truly life-changing turnaround he saw his grandmother go through. When she was just 65, she had a bypass surgery and was told that she probably had days or months at most to live. She entered into a pilot program (in a wheelchair) that required a plant-based diet and daily exercise. After about a month there, she walked out on her own two feet. And on her new plant-based diet and exercise regimen that she continued, his grandmother lived for another 31 years and was even able to see her grandson graduate from medical school.

Once he was of age and met all the requirements, Dr. Gregor applied and was accepted into 21 different medical schools. Much to his disgust, all medical schools in this country spend less than 1 percent of their curriculum on diet and nutrition. He eventually chose to matriculate at Tufts’ medical school, which at the time had the highest number of hours devoted to nutrition focus. He even interviewed at Cornell’s medical school, where one of the interviewers flat out said that there was zero connection between one’s nutrition and one’s health outcomes. Is this what our medical schools are filled with — people who really believe this? No wonder I think medicine in this country is crap.

If there’s one thing I’ve really followed that my dad taught me when I was young, it’s that I really hate taking medication unless I absolutely need it. “Your body is a lot stronger than you think it is,” my dad used to say. But what is “absolute” need, really? I suppose whooping cough is “absolute” need. Then what about high blood pressure? Do we really need high blood pressure medication? A study that Dr. Gregor notes in his book illuminated the fact that by taking two cups of strongly brewed hibiscus tea every day that on average you can actually see the same results as taking the leading HBP medication on the market. What would you rather take — tasty (but sour) hibiscus tea or pills every day?

I always read books like this with a grain of salt; even if I could live longer and healthier on a plant-based diet and eliminate all dairy and meat products, I know I’d be missing out on things I love in life, which I don’t want. But he offers a lot of insight into how USDA food recommendations are marred by food industry money and lobbyists, the benefits of pure grains, fruits, and vegetables that pharmaceutical companies have nothing to gain from if you ate them more, but you’d have lots to gain from a health perspective. He also discusses the science behind all of these things and evidence-based medicine (which I recently learned from a medicine-focused Freakonomics podcast is still not fully embraced by our medical community, surprise surprise; my friend, who is in her second year of doing her residency program now, confirmed this to me in her medical schooling). I realize we live in a factless world now with Dipshit as president, but how can you not embrace evidence-based nutrition and medicine?

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