Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future (hardcover)

Publisher: Hudson Street Press)/$25.95 (272 pages)
Date of Publication: 2009
Reviewed by Alison Rose Levy

Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book, Why Our Health Matters, is a must read for anyone wondering why health care reform is in gridlock or what to do about it. In this book, Weil offers solid, original, clear-minded, and impeccably caring solutions for our health care conundrum.

“I am sure you or people you know have had disastrous interactions with our so-called health care system, resulting in physical, emotional, or financial harm,” Weil writes. “Most of us feel as if we are up against implacable forces and institutions that are beyond our influence.”

Apparently, even the President feels that way. In his campaign, he promised to get the money lenders out of the temple of health care, but so far–no good. He is being outplayed. The ongoing debacle over insurance reform unveils the unmediated power of health care infrastructures bent on self-perpetuation rather than public health. Corporate bottom lines dictate health care policy thanks to campaign finance laws that permit those with the deepest pockets to buy legislators.

“The capitalistic free market system often works well and fairly for both buyers and sellers,” Weil points out. “However when the products that an industry sells are meant to save lives and relieve suffering, free market forces are easily skewed… If you need a product or a service to help control cancer, the seller can demand an unfair price (operating) in a free market run amok.”

As a result, both profits and power have concentrated in the health care sector as the rest of the economy tanks.

Yet even with many other options in health care, options brilliantly detailed in “Why Our Health Matters”, many people still cling to high cost medicine even when it performs poorly for their specific health care needs.


Here’s Weil’s diagnosis: “The wealth concentrated around big pharma and the other corporate pillars of the medical industry has narrowed our country’s concept of what constitutes good medical treatment,” Weil writes.

In that one sentence Weil has pierced to the root of our health care dilemma.

It’s not just that the various arms of industrial medicine can skew policies originally meant to protect the public–and which many mistakenly believe still do. It’s also that over the decades, through media reporting, advertising, and extensive PR re-enforcing their particular brand of health care, industrial medicine has unduly influenced public understanding of health science and care– causing people to believe as gospel what they’ve been taught to believe.

In the recent health care reform debate, it’s become obvious how corporate marketing dollars misdirect public attention into meaningless debates over contrived issues. (Think Obama’s birth certificate, death panels, government option = communism etc.)

But what isn’t so widely acknowledged is how marketing agendas have shaped our understanding of health care. If you believe, for example, that no intervention is valid unless it has been studied in a randomly controlled double blind trial, you have been sold on a research method appropriate for testing toxic synthesized chemical developed by pharmaceutical companies–but perhaps un-necessary for less toxic substances, like foods and plants. This is just one example of the many ways that our attitudes about health have been imperceptibly shaped by corporate agendas.

As Weil notes, the concentration of corporate medical wealth has “made far too many Americans believe the myths that prop up our failing health-care system.”

Of course the biggest myth about American health care is that “because America has the most expensive health care in the world, it must have the best. The Reality: We rank #37 on a par with Serbia.”

These statistics reflect human realities that cause poor health, mortality, and suffering. As Weil points out, three-fourths of all Americans die from preventable diseases, diseases that have been on the rise for the last twenty-five years. Yet billions are spent on research and costly treatments that fail to prolong lives. “Survival with lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death, has improved by less than one month…” Weil writes.

Why Our Health Matters is an incisive analysis of what our system does well, what it does poorly, and how to fix it to improve outcomes and lower costs, and to make human need rather than corporate agendas primary.

To paraphrase Bill Moyers (who recently evoked the defining moment of the American Revolution), Americans must cross the Delaware and yank health care out of the hands of the mercenaries. Weil gives us a handbook for the health revolution.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Rise of Tyranny: How Federal Agencies Abuse Power and Pose Risks to Your Life and Liberty (paperback)

Publisher: Sentinel Press (phone: 202-466-6937)/$24.95 (148 pages)
Date of Publication: 2008
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

In 1996, historian Joseph Ellis, in his seminal biographical look at Thomas Jefferson, entitled American Sphinx, noted: “ […] since the end of the Cold War in 1989, the American government has replaced the Soviet Union as our domestic version of the Evil Empire."

Ellis, far from demonizing the U.S., was looking at our country from a perspective that Thomas Jefferson would have had. Said Ellis: “The underlying logic […] clearly regards the entire federal edifice that has developed in post-Jeffersonian America […] as both dangerous and dispensable.”

Jonathan Emord, a gifted Constitutional scholar and defender of American liberty with whom I have had a number of conversations over the last 14 years, says it this way in this masterful call-to-action, The Rise of Tyranny: “Indeed, our federal government has become a bureaucratic oligarchy scarely resembling the limited federal republic the founders created.”

Emord has crossed swords with, and beaten, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) several times and correctly embarrassed other Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in a string of precedent-setting decisions and opinions after the Reagan era ended.

A former Federal attorney of the old school of zealous, eager and honest anti-regulation, anti-big-government reformers who called themselves Reagan Revolutionaries, Emord lays out a damning indictment of what he describes as bloated, un-accountable government agencies that are in many ways in charge of our healthcare and our civil liberties.

Emord makes a case against what he details as the overt stranglehold of our Federal agencies by Big Pharma and agri-biotech. He discusses the FDA’s approvals of unsafe drugs, its censorship of health information and competition and the government’s elimination of innovation in medicine.

He pulls no punches in his condemnation. Emord writes, for example: “The [FDA], the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS] are three paradigms of combined legislative, executive and judicial powers that have devolved into cesspools of abuse and corruption.”

Fortunately, he also lays out a detailed action plan for Americans to follow in order to restore the liberties for which our country’s founding fathers and our country’s average citizens have fought, struggled and, in many cases, died in order to pass on to us.

Far from being a conspiracy theorist or anarchist alarmist, Emord is, to many, a modern-day American patriot who writes, in the book’s epilogue: “If that love of liberty that has inspired great Americans to sacrifice all to secure its blessings can be translated into political action in our day, we may yet see a restoration of the republic and a rekindling of liberty’s sacred fire.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What You Must Know About Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs and More: Choosing the Nutrients That Are Right For You

Author: Pamela Wartian Smith, MD, MPH
Publisher: Square One Publishers/$15.95 (433 pages)
Date of Publication: 2008
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Despite the fact the fact that there is a multitude of books for sale today that are billed as "nutritional bibles," there are only a few that currently reside on my desk and have become much-appreciated and dog-eared due to constant use: Jack Challem's User's Guide to Nutritional Supplements, Dr. Shari Lieberman's The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book (all editions) and James and Phyllis Balch's Prescription for Nutritional Healing (especially the Avery editions).

That is ... until today. Smith's excellent guide will be my newest at-hand desk resource.

First, in structure, this book is organized very well: nutrients, health conditions, and maintaining health. The entry information for each nutrient and condition is super-concise, clear and practical.

Second, the tome is also chock full of insights and observations that are more up-to-date than anything else out there today. For example, how many nutritional cyclopedias include information about such important conditions that are nutritionally affected as adrenal fatigue, balding, exhaustion and PCOS?

Third, the part of the book devoted to maintaining health has nutritional information that exists nowhere else. For example, the section on bodybuilder's nutrition offers information and mini-charts on supplements to: relieve sore muscles, assist while dieting, support liver health, enhance energy, and more.

While there are always pet favorites we have that, in my case, I wish could have been given more play in the book---such as a longer section on fatty acids or inclusion of acetyl-L-carnitine in the memory enhancement section---these are the smallest of quibbles regarding an invaluable, must-have resource that frankly puts many other such books to shame.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Oldways Table: Essays and Recipes From the Culinary Think Tank (hardback)

Authors: K. Dun Gifford and Sara Baer-Sinnott
Publisher: Ten Speed Press/$21.45 (272 pages)
Date of Publication: 2007
Reviewed by: James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)
In June 2001 I was invited by authors K. Dun Gifford and Sara Baer-Sinnott to serve as a U.S. media delegate at an Oldways conference in Beijing entitled: "2001 China International Conference on Traditional Eating Patterns: Chinese, Asian and Mediterranean Models."

It was one of the most amazing experiences of my professional and personal life. Oldways knows how to bring together international health experts, policymakers and thought leaders to promote global understanding of and interaction with foods. Dun and Sara's Boston-based Oldways Preservation Trust is, in fact, a think tank that advances cultural exchange through the common (and peaceful) language of food, and incredibly good food at that.

It is no surprise, then, that this book—this contribution to food letters if you will—is a rich feast for gourmets, gourmands and gastronomes of all stripes, in addition to food historians to boot. Broken into such sections as Grains; Olive Oil, Butter and Other Fats; Cheese and Yogurt; and Wine, this book is no low-fat journey but instead an enlightened tour of foods and eating that begins with the authors' dicussion of what's wrong with the USDA and low-fat pyramids and what's right with the excellent Oldways EatWise Pyramid, which partly grew out of the 2001 China conference of which I made mention.

With impeccably researched and fascinating essays and introductory sections penned by some of the world's top experts in food (in a few cases by Dun and/or Sara, appropriately), The Oldways Table includes generous servings of mouth-watering recipes gathered during and informed by the authors' travels and learnings from around the world.

As Dun notes in the Preface: "I saw Oldways as an agent of change, as a new organization that would challenge the corporate world's assumptions about the future of our food—about growing, processing, preparing, eating, drinking and enjoying it." The Oldways Table, which I highly recommend, is not only well in keeping with that vision but is wonderfully entertaining too.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking Critic. 75 Pounds and Counting: My Excellent Adventure in Weight-Loss (hardback)

Author: Jami Bernard
Publisher: Avery/$22.95 (304 pages)
Date of Publication: September 7, 2006
Reviewed by: James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

In March 1999, I wrote an article in Better Nutrition magazine called, “Giving Barbie the ‘boot’,” in which I criticized American society’s pressures on young girls to emulate the nearly impossible Barbie body type, an article that I was pleased to see cited by Michelle Varat in her illuminating paper, “Life in Plastic: The Truth Behind Barbie.”

What was the focus of my article? Responsible (and realistic) weight-loss strategies for lasting change. And strategies are exactly what award-winning film critic, author and social commentator, Jami Bernard, focuses on in her wonderful new book, The Incredible Shrinking Critic. She writes: “Lasting weight loss is about strategy, not willpower.”

True enough. Bernard guides us through a deeply personal journey of discovery and body emancipation starting when she opened her eyes to the fact that she weighed 230 pounds and she resolved to lose 100 of them. Originally covering her weight-loss quest in a New York Daily News column called “Our Incredible Shrinking Critic,” she ultimately loses 75—carefully, realistically and consciously.

To lose the unwanted weight, Bernard had to first gain insights (sometimes painfully) into the whys and wherefores of how the extra fat got there in the first place, at one point leading her to write: “I want my body back.” To get it back, Bernard uncovered many of the ways she—and we—often wrongly use food: as a punishment, as a salve for emotional pain and need, as a crutch, as an excuse, and as a way of physically erecting a buffer zone between ourselves and the world which increasingly marginalizes, ignores and resents those of us who are far from the Ken or Barbie physiques.

Ms. Bernard is as generous in sharing her often intimate self-revelations as she is at providing common-sense observations of startling insight and simplicity, such as “To lose weight, you have to cook for yourself.” Although holistic health approaches are not necessarily given their due here, this book is truly a must for anyone who wants to shed not only weight but baggage as well. Uproariously funny and yet also profoundly personal, film guru Bernard has come out with a real-life look at weight goals and how to achieve them, one so fascinating that I’ll buy my own “ticket” right now and suggest you do likewise.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Natural Medicine, Optimal Wellness: The Patient’s Guide to Health and Healing (softback)

Authors: Jonathan V. Wright, M.D. and Alan R. Gaby, M.D.
Publisher: Vital Health Publishing/$21.95 (388 pages)
Date of Publication: 2006
Reviewed by: James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Originally published as The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing in 1999, the return of this encyclopedic and comprehensive natural health resource could not come at a better time. Written by two of progressive medicine’s most well-known physicians, Drs. Jonathan Wright and Alan R. Gaby, Natural Medicine, Optimal Wellness: The Patient's Guide to Health and Healing is collectively backed by decades of clinical experience and 30,000 scientific articles.

Wright and Gaby convincingly show how most chronic illness “can be treated safely, effectively, and relatively inexpensively with natural medicines.” Following foundational chapters--including the fundamentals of natural medicine, digestion and absorption, and food allergy and intolerance--the authors then provide a 300-page encyclopedia of enlightened nutritional and holistic approaches to conditions ranging from acne rosacea to ulcerative colitis.

Natural Medicine, Optimal Wellness is unique in a number of ways, one of which is its format: the condition “chapters” all begin with fascinating and very consumer-friendly case reports by Dr. Wright followed by detailed comments and recommendations by Dr. Gaby.

Another way this book is original is in its selection of health topics, since rarely covered yet common concerns, such as cervical dysplasia and bursitis, are also included.

While I might gently depart from the authors in one or two cases in the 388 pages (such as with the comments about milk and diabetes), what’s much more important is that this reference has automatically earned its rightful place in today's “pantheon” of classic health resources right alongside those “nutritional prescription” and “definitive guide to alternative medicine” tomes, one which deserves to be (and should be) in every health-food store and consumer home health library in North America--and beyond.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ampalaya: Nature’s Remedy for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes (softback)

Author: Frank Murray
Publisher: Basic Health Publications/$14.95 (218 pages)
Date of Publication: 2006
Reviewed by: James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Since I had the privilege of having once worked with modern-day health and nutrition pioneer, Frank Murray, I cannot claim to be unbiased when it comes to Mr. Murray’s books; on the other hand, I do know first-hand what a first-rate health journalist he is.

Ampalaya: Nature’s Remedy for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes is a well-written book about a promising botanical called ampalaya in the Philippines, bitter melon in the U.S. and Momordica charantia by scientists. Written in Frank’s crisp, engaging style,

Ampalaya begins by delivering a good overview of the diabetes epidemic in the U.S., while also offering a fascinating, and colorful, historical chronicle (historical perspective being a forte of Frank’s) on diabetes since ancient times. In addition to a well-referenced chapter on the research behind ampalaya and another on mini-case-histories, the book is jam-packed with practical, take-home information on: diabetes complications; reducing risk factors; taking care of your eyes, feet and kidneys; diet and nutrition in diabetes; overweight and exercise; and more. Frank pulls out all the stops when it comes to useful tips and lists of actionable suggestions, as well.

All in all, this is much more than a health book about ampalaya; it is an invaluable resource for all people who are concerned about diabetes and interested in learning about a powerful variety of ways to improve their health and fend off the risk factors and symptoms associated with this epidemic disease.
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