The End of Illness, by David B. Agus, M.D., is a book that describes in great detail the amazing complexity of the human body and what is happening to it when it begins to change, specifically with regard to illnesses such as cancer. Dr. Agus is an oncologist with an exciting, if not revolutionary, outlook on the future of how we treat, or actually prevent, such diseases. And although he is an oncologist, this is not just a book about cancer. It relates to all health issues we face.
While we have made great progress in combating death from other diseases, he is disappointed in the progress the medical profession has made in the fight against cancer and wonders if our way of looking at cancer is keeping us from curing it. We need to look at cancer as a "system."
Our goal should be to prolong our life and to make it a better one. To do so, we need to understand that steps can be taken to stop illness before it strikes rather than dealing with it after the fact. He likens it to going to war in order to understand peace. It is better to never have to go to war than to win the war. In other words, it is better to prevent the disease than to have to fight it.
Dr. Agus wants to empower us to take control of our bodies and the future of our health. He gives us a checklist to help us "get to know ourselves" and how we are feeling and explains ways in which we can, and should, become more involved in our own health care.
Health is a system of checks and balances, and each person's system is different. He gives advice on steps to take to understand your personal body and health, some suggestions on tests to take and how to be more involved in the process of keeping track of what is going on in your body. It is important to work in partnership with your doctor.
Since the main focus of the book is cancer, it is interesting to note that while many diseases can be attributed to external causes, cancer is the "sleeping giant" that lies within each of us, not a "germ" that attacks us from outside. He suggests that we are ultimately responsible for controlling whether or not this giant wakes up. I always wondered if cancer was a modern illness caused by something new we were exposed to. The author answered that by explaining that there is evidence that people had cancer at least 2,000 years B.C. Cancer isn't just a particular thing...it is a failure of a system, the communication between your cells that causes some to be destroyed. Like other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, cancer isn't something the body "has" or "gets"; it's something that the body does.
Again, Dr. Agus puts great emphasis on ways in which we can be effective in our own health care. He explains why it is helpful to have a family health history, a genetic profile, in order to understand what risk factors you have. He also points out the fact that this is not necessarily your destiny, that you can "shift your fate" armed with these tools.
The author emphasizes the importance of not being quick to believe every headline with regard to health issues, such as vitamin supplements. He encourages thorough research and study of data. He devotes an entire chapter to the controversy over the vitamin D supplement. Even in the case of this doctor's data, you need to read it and decide for yourself. He then goes on in the next chapter discussing other vitamin supplements, gives data on the research that has been done, and will explain why he feels the "hype" over vitamins is overrated. He considers them to be shortcuts that are only necessary under certain conditions.
Dr. Agus covers "fresh" vs frozen fruits and vegetables, the popularity of juicing (and why you might want to avoid it), what fish to eat, wine, and how to eat for a healthy "gut." He discusses other areas that affect our health such as exercise, keeping a daily routine, and the importance of good sleep. The difference between this book and others, however, is that he breaks it down into such detail that you will thoroughly understand why and how to apply this to your life. Another great chapter. Yes, this information can be found in other health books, but not explained so thoroughly and in such depth.
The chapter on inflammation is profound. I had read some on this issue, but I never really understood the different areas of our lives that contribute to it (internal and external) or how detrimental it could be to our health. We're talking inflammation from obesity, external trauma, and even the flu. This is a very informative chapter, one you will want to share with others.
The author writes a chapter discussing the work being done at the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine at the USC and Applied Proteomics. This is the company he, along with Danny Hillis, cofounded. The work involves "trying to find the key to understanding all of our body's proteins and how they work together to create the language our bodies speak, which ultimately translates the dialogue of our health." Yes, this chapter is a bit over my head, but I do understand that the goal here is personalized medicine and how in the future it will change the way we are individually being treated; or more importantly, how it will help us to prevent needing to be treated.
Towards the end of the book, Dr. Agus gives advice in which he explains the reason we need to reevaluate the medications we take on a regular basis, keep track of our health issues and how they may be changing, keep up on new technologies and how they may apply to your life. The author is excited about new technology on the horizon that will virtually change health care in the near future. He encourages us to be willing to share medical information so that it can be used, via technology, to increase researchers' knowledge, add to the databases.
In conclusion, I would say this book is about preventive medicine, living a healthy life, rather than waiting to diagnose where we have gone wrong. Illness is largely preventable. Guide your body back to a healthy state, as he puts it, whereby your system will allow you to function on all cylinders and enjoy a high quality of life.