Some time ago I came across "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre. A jaw dropping expose on causation vs correlation in scientific research and a crash course in understanding how such research gets appropriated to fulfill a particular agenda, whether it's selling drugs, filling column inches or simply justifying yet more psuedo science.
With The Health Delusion, Aidan Goggins and Glen Matten have picked up the guantlet and decided to take the healthcare, diet and pharmaceutical industries to task. But it's not enough to shine a light, the authors come armed with a wealth of information that actually makes a difference. Like Ben Goldacre, both Aidan and Glen come from an academic background. Their biggest gripe is that the most compelling information out there seems to be ignored, misinterpreted or simply passed by. In the introduction, there sense of frustration at the current state of affairs is palpable.
"Despite all the mind-bending advancements of modern medicine, a stark fact remains: If you are a healthy adult in today's sociey, you're in the minority. Does that really sound like the definition of a healthy society to you?"
At the conclusion of The Health Delusion, the authors state that what they have on offer is not complicated, in fact, it's really simple. But before we get back to basics we can take a journey through the headlines, fads, psuedo science and big pharma/food companies that got us here.
The Health Delusion makes it's case very early on. Despite all the advances in modern healthcare, despite the wealth of information at our fingertips we are struggling. Struggling with the diseases of what Dr Robert Lustig calls the "industrial global diet". But it is not just one thing, we are in the midst of a perfect storm with the food and pharmaceutical industries conspiring to keep us consumming at the cost of our health.
Globally, the diet industry is worth around $150 billion. As The Health Delusion highlights "Clearly the profits are not performance related!"
The beauty of this book is the perfect mix of science and common sense. Each chapter includes notes in the form "science blasts" information boxes and a summary. Whilst it's easy to read section by section, it is also ideal to dip in to the areas that interest you most.
Chapter one lays out the agenda. We are bombarded with information on health and diet, most of which is edited to fill column inches by self proclaimed gurus and experts. The Health Delusion offers some insight on how research is conducted and how it can be manipulated. All of this in an effort to look beyond the headlines and apply some critical thinking.
Part 2 looks at the holy grail of supplements, antioxidents. Pill munchers beware, some of what is on offer migh make you choke. This chapter is filled with "Doh!" moments. More is not better. And we don't escape the irony that it is the most health concious who are the supplement industries best customers.
The next section is a "what's what "of natural protection. A reminder of Michael Pollans appeal for us to"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants". Again, the science and the summary make the choices clear.
Next we move on to the big S. Selenium, it's role in immune function, cancer prevention and overall health care. As with all things in the Health Delusion, they are quick to point out the schism between the headlines and the research.Next up, Vitamin D, whose benefits have been heralded across the media this year. Once again, we get the real science behind the headlines and some startling information about D-deficient "sun smart" dermatologists and the catch 22 of too little or too much sun.
Part 3's Diet Discrepencies looks at the short term success and long term failure popular diets. This has been a common topic amongst a number of my friends recently. Seems each week there is a new quick fix on the block. Diet Discrepencies has much to say on the long term metabolic effects of novel dieting. We move on to physical activity. It is heartening to see the prescription for movement given equal headline status. It is not just about the obvious benefits in terms of metabolism. Their is a boatload of evidence out there that simply getting more movement in your day provides physical and mental benefits. If in doubt check out The 100 Rep Challenge for a daily fix.
We continue with a look at fat, the issues with BMI as an indicator (Wladimir Klitschko has a BMI of 28, you can tell him he's overweight) and the admonition to "get active or pay the price".
Milk, Beef and Plant based diets get the Delusion treatment in section four. Again, amidst the Paleo, Juicing, Raw Food evangelists, there will be much wringing of hands. But none of what the Health Delusion suggests requires a particular dogma, a special t-shirt or a funky pair of barefoot running shoes to be implemented. And this is at the core of much of what is on offer. A kind of science based common sense that seems to have been largley ignored because it doesn't come in a shiney wrapper.
Part V is devoted to developmental growth. You are what your mother ate. The effects of pre-natal diet appear to have a profound effect on the long term health of offspring. Whilst the ubiquitous Folic Acid gets mentioned there are a host of other considerations that we seem to be missing out on.
Failing Fats looks at just how much misinformation has spread regarding fat intake. It would seem that the entire food industry has shaped us to their design. Somewhere along the way they succeeded in getting everyone else to go along for the ride. The very organisations and institutions that we rely on to look out for our best interests seem as disastrously misinformed as the rest of us. Brain health and the effects of food on our moods is covered with a look at the benefits of EPA supplementation.
Finally, Prescription Junkies looks at the culture of medicate now worry about it later. With big pharma trying to control every aspect of health care from preventitive to paleative we are discouraged at every turn from taking matters in to our own hands, made to feel awkward for asking questions about our health care and expected to simply follow the prescription. The Health Delusion makes it clear that our most pressing issues cannot be solved with a pen and a presciption pad. Our health lies in our diet and our lifestyle. Simple as that.
Health Delusion delights in asking difficult questions and then answering them. The information notes through out are engaging, each chapter concludes with recommendations. For those who are interested a complete reference list of accompanying research is included.