How Not to Die: An Animated Summary
“How Not to Die: An Animated Summary” It all started with my grandma. I was just a kid when the doctors sent my
grandma home in a wheelchair to die. Diagnosed with end-stage heart disease, she
had already had so many bypass operations that the surgeons essentially ran out of plumbing. Confined to a wheelchair. crushing chest pain, her doctors told her
there was nothing else they could do. Her life was over at age sixty-five. But then she heard about Nathan Pritikin,
one of our early lifestyle medicine pioneers, and what happened next was documented in Pritikin’s
It talks about Frances Greger, my grandma. It was a live-in program where everyone was
placed on a plant-based diet and then started on a graded exercise regimen. They wheeled her in, and she walked out. Within a few weeks, she was walking 10 miles
a day and went on to live another 31 years until age 96 to continue to enjoy her six
grandchildren, including me. Her miraculous recovery not only inspired
one of those grandkids to pursue a career in medicine but granted her enough healthy
years to see him graduate from medical school, so it’s really all thanks to her.
During medical training, I was shocked to find
out that this whole body of evidence on reversing chronic disease with lifestyle changes—opening
up arteries without drugs, without surgery—was being largely ignored by mainstream medicine. Wait for a second, if effectively the cure to
our #1 killer could get lost down the rabbit hole, what else might be buried in the medical
literature that could help my patients? I made it my life’s mission to find out. That’s what led me to start NutritionFacts.org
and that’s what led me to write the book, How Not to Die. Surveys show people wildly overestimate the
power of pills and procedures to keep them healthy. For example, patients believe cholesterol-lowering
statin drugs are about twenty times more effective than they are in preventing heart
attacks. No wonder most people continue to rely on
drugs to save them! But our leading killers aren’t caused by drug
deficiencies. The dirty little secret is that most people
surveyed said they wouldn’t be willing to take many of these drugs if they knew how
little benefit these products offered.
Whereas cleaning up our diets is not only
safer and cheaper but can be more effective in preventing, arresting, and reversing some
of our leading causes of death, because you’re treating the actual cause of the disease. Each year, the CDC compiles the 15 leading
causes of death and so I have a chapter on each: How Not to Die from Heart Disease, How
Not to Die from lung Disease, How Not to Die from Brain Diseases, digestive cancers, infections,
diabetes, high blood pressure, liver diseases, blood cancers, kidney disease, breast cancer,
suicidal depression, prostate cancer Parkinson’s disease, and how not to die from so-called
iatrogenic causes, which is essentially death by a doctor. That’s the first half of the book and the
good news is that we have tremendous power over our health destiny and longevity—the
the vast majority of premature death and disability are preventable with a plant-based diet and
other healthy lifestyle behaviors. I didn’t want to just write a reference
book, though. Yes, there are thousands of citations to peer-reviewed
scientific papers, but I also wanted it to be a practical guide to translating this mountain
of evidence into day-to-day decisions, and so that’s what became the second half of
First I start with a Traffic Light system
to classify everything into red light, yellow light, and green light foods. Though there are exceptions that I talk about,
the best available balance of evidence suggests the healthiest diet is one that minimizes
the intake of meat, eggs, dairy, and processed junk, and maximizes the intake of fruits,
vegetables, beans (split peas, chickpeas, and lentils), whole grains, nuts and seeds, mushrooms,
herbs, and spices. Real food grows out of the
ground. Those are our healthiest choices. Some foods, though, have particular medicinal
qualities and so I then center my recommendations around a Daily Dozen checklist of all the
things I try to fit into my daily routine. So for example, I recommend a quarter teaspoon
of the spice turmeric a day, a tablespoon of ground flax seeds, berries every day, and greens
every day, I talk about the healthiest beverages, the healthiest sweeteners, and how much exercise
The whole daily dozen list with recommended
serving sizes is available as free apps for both Android and iPhone, just search for Dr.
Greger’s Daily Dozen. There is only one diet that’s ever been
proven to reverse heart disease in the majority of patients, this plant-based diet. If that’s all a plant-based diet could do—reverse
the #1 killer of men and women, then shouldn’t that be the default diet until proven otherwise? And the fact that it can also be effective
in treating, arresting, and reversing other leading killers like high blood pressure and
type 2 diabetes, would seem to make the case for plant-based eating simply overwhelming. Most deaths in the United States are preventable
and related to nutrition. According to the most rigorous analysis of
risk factors ever published—the Global Burden of Disease study funded by the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation—the number one cause of death in the United States is our diet. The number one cause of disability is our
diet which has now bumped tobacco smoking to #2.
Smoking now only kills about a half million
Americans every year, but diet now kills hundreds of thousands more. So obviously, nutrition is the #1 thing taught
in medical school, right? The #1 thing your doctor talks to you about
at every visit, right? How could there be such a disconnect between
the science and the practice of medicine? Doctors have a severe nutrition deficiency–in
education. Most doctors are just never taught the impact
healthy nutrition can have on the course of illness and so they graduate without this
powerful tool in their medical toolbox. There are also institutional barriers, such
as time constraints and lack of reimbursement.
In general, doctors aren’t paid for counseling
people on how to take care of themselves. Of course, drug companies also play a role
in influencing medical education and practice. Ask your doctor when’s the last time they
were taken out to dinner by Big Broccoli. It’s probably been a while. It’s like smoking in the 50s. We already had decades of science linking
smoking with lung cancer, but it was ignored because smoking was normal. Most doctors smoked. The average per capita cigarette consumption
was 4,000 cigarettes a year, meaning the average American smoked half a pack a day. The American Medical Association was reassuring
everyone that smoking–in moderation–was just fine.
There was this same disconnect between
science and public policy. It took more than 25 years and 7,000 studies
before the first Surgeon General report against smoking came out in the 60s. You’d think maybe after the first 6,000
studies they could have given people a heads up or something? It was a powerful industry. And today’s meat, sugar, dairy, salt, egg,
and processed food industries are using the same tobacco industry tactics to try to twist
the science and confuse the public. Until the system changes, we have to take
personal responsibility for our health, and for our family’s health. We can’t wait until society catches up to
science again because it’s a matter of life and death.
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