Reviewed by Robert E. Hamilton (Ethiopia 1965–67)
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in enhancing your own personal health but are not a zealot about it — that is, you are not a member of the “health nut choir” — read Gene Stone’s “Afterward” first. The zealots will buy and read this book for their own reasons. The rest of us, though, who drive cars but don’t read Road and Track magazine, who want to be healthier without purchasing a library of “how to” publications, will be particularly interested in Stone’s two observations in the “Afterward” which link the “health secrets” of the 25 people included in his book. Stone says that his interviewees have been successful in staying healthy because they found an exercise or health practice which: (1) works for them; and (2) they practice it consistently.
“The road to good health,” Stone writes, “is paved with simple, low-or-no cost techniques.” The reader smiles however, having just previously read that Stone — a writer specializing in health issues (e.g. Engine 2 Diet) — “has undergone dozens of treatments from hypnotherapy to biofeedback, rolfing to Ayuvedic herbal rejuvenation.” Simple? Low-or-no cost? The dust jacket alone qualifies as a workout as one jogs through references to the 25 “secrets” of good health which are to follow.
You can smile — but don’t scoff unless you have seriously interviewed 100 people about their own secrets to “excellent health” and selected the 25 possessing “the most worthwhile secrets to health.” Even after personally testing numerous ways to stay mentally alert and physically healthy, Stone had another goal: He wanted to eliminate colds and various types of flu which still visited him periodically. His stable of 25 did not always avoid contracting a cold, but their individual health secrets made the cold a short-term visitor. He had already read and spoken to health care professionals, but he decided to solicit the advice of non-professionals who were living practitioners of their secrets and who successfully avoided, or minimized, the common cold and flu.
Each secret “makes sense and has a proven scientific underpinning,” he asserts. These include food (garlic, vitamin C), exercise (lift weights, stretch), environmental (understand germs), emotional (talk to friends), and physical secrets (nap, cold showers). “Chicken soup really works,” he concludes. Enjoy the anecdotal description of dunking your head daily in warm hydrogen peroxide as Bill Thompson does. Yoga is old stuff, but it still works to enhance the immune system, lower blood pressure, and help overcome depression and anxiety. Stone himself is a vegan (Secret #17).
The table of contents tells it all — alphabetically: Blue Zones, brewer’s yeast, calorie reduction, eating dirt, positive attitude, and so forth. The introduction and sidebar articles describe the historical, scientific, and peculiar benefits and side-effects of the various “secrets.” The discriminating reader will be unhappy at the lack of footnotes relating to the “scientific evidence” and reference to “hundreds of studies” which prove a particular point without citing one. If you’re going to rely upon the British medical journal Lancet Oncology to prove a point, Mr. Stone, tell the reader what issue to search. Likewise, a general reference to a University of Nebraska study on chicken soup which appeared in Chest in the year 2000 is not very helpful. You can read about soft drinks still available which were “once marketed as patent medicines,” but without a citation, as well as “Stanley’s Snake Oil” without tripping over a footnote.
“Despite centuries of lifesaving advances in medicine and public health,” Stone notes, “medical professionals still can’t tell us how to stay well. The common cold is just as common as it was eons ago, and sickness itself shows no sign of abating. So why not look for solutions to sickness among those for whom the common cold is uncommon?”
Despite not giving scientists and medical professionals the final word on health, the dust jacket includes endorsements by Andrew Weil, M.D.; Mark Hyman, M.D.; Mark Liponis, M.D.; and Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. As Dr. Liponis remarked, “I’ve been a doctor for more than two decades and even I learned some new ways to stay well.” Stone does not recommend that we avoid medical professionals altogether — his publisher certainly did not — but neither does he include a chapter on something truly controversial: the effect of prayer on those who are ill. He has taken a step away from medical professionals and scientists as the only authority on how to live a healthy life, but it is not a step in the direction of the paranormal or religious authority. Now that would make for a set of interesting interviews for Stone’s next book.
Robert E. Hamilton, Ph.D. is a consultant to private sector, NGO, and institutional projects in Africa. He has worked as an academic lecturer or outreach director to several universities, a private sector communications and marketing director, a director of a health care NGO, and a stockbroker.
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