The understanding of illness is incomplete without studying the genetic as well as environment components, the latter being manageable, says author David Agus

“What is the metric for health? Is it your cholesterol, how much you slept, what you ate? What is health?” asks David Agus. If Mark Twain said health is about eating and doing all that you do not want, Agus is looking for a more positive definition, basing his search on long years of experience in treating cancer.

Author of a book titled “The End of Illness”, Agus says we all want to live long and live well. Where did we go wrong? “In my mind it is infectious disease. We got fooled. Antibiotics came along and they worked. No matter what the attacking organism was, if we identified it we could treat it with antibiotics. The problem is disease is not like that. Human disease cannot be categorised or treated like bacteria.” Agus says with a quote that we should not just focus on the germs and forget about the system. “The diagnosis requires understanding the system. Who the host is? Diseases are within not without. If you think of disease as a complex system it is a different way of approaching it. There are the inputs, which is what you eat, your environment, genetics, etc., and the output is how you feel. The state system in the middle is that which we cannot comprehend. It is almost impossible to understand the entire system but you do not have to know everything to treat. You just have to know the controls and if you know them you should learn to apply the brakes.”

Agus goes on to say that because we do not really understand the system we end up endorsing or promoting products that are not actually as beneficial to health as they appear at first sight. For instance, margarine, which took the place of butter some decades ago, has disastrous effects on the health of the people. Similarly, he says doing lots of exercise and then sitting in one place for the rest of the day is not good enough. The legs pump stuff up and keep the metabolism going. So to be on your feet as long as possible is the only way to stay healthy.

“All of a sudden non-communicable diseases have become dominant. If you look at the Third World, most of the deaths are due to non-communicable diseases. There is an environmental component and a genetic component. The environmental component can be managed by all of us. It is what we eat, where we go, how we live, our lifestyle.”

It is then that Agus goes on to say that aspirin is seen to be effective in preventing cancer. Five years of taking aspirin daily can reduce GI cancer and 20 years can reduce death due to lung and prostrate cancer and so on. “Another preventive are the statins.” Statins are a class of medicines used to lower blood cholesterol.

Agus goes on to say a study looked at women who were perfectly healthy but opted to take vitamins to be healthier. The intake of vitamins has by itself increased the death rate! If you go to the doctor today with a broken bone, you are advised vitamin D immediately. Agus says that women who took vitamin D had 26 per cent more fractures! Those who took vitamin E to prevent prostrate cancer could not escape it. Instead, they showed greater tendency towards cancer. He gives many more examples in the same tone.

“There are tenfold more bacteria and viruses in our bodies than we know,” says Agus and ends with another piece of news. “Breast cancer was not so prevalent in China but when the people moved to the U.S. it started approaching the same American figures. Why? Because it is all about the microbiome we process food.”

So, says Agus, making a case for preventive drugs like aspirin and statins, that prevention is better than cure; cure being difficult as we do not know the system we are treating.

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