Book Summary – The Lucky Years (How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health)

In mammals, females tend to live longer than males. This difference may hinge on men having only one X chromosome, on women having hormones that enable them to cope better with aging or on women being able to bear children, which could encode their DNA for longevity. Science pays particular attention to the potential of female stem cells. These cells are often switched off, but what if science could switch them on again?

“The Future You”

Visits to your doctor will be different in the future. You’ll bring your data with you. A week before your check-up, you’ll prick your finger and put a drop of blood on a biochip that you’ll mail to the doctor’s office. You’ll wear technology that transmits other data automatically. Since it monitors your vital signs constantly, you’ll have context if, for example, your blood pressure or heart rate go up after a disturbing phone call or a run on the treadmill. You and your doctor will develop “a game plan” for your health. Medical centers will offer one-stop shopping where you can have all the tests or procedures you need on the same day.

“It’s human nature to believe that there’s a ‘secret’ to being thinner, younger, sexier, smarter and richer.”

Telemedicine, in which doctors confer with patients through videoconferencing, will allow physicians to serve patients worldwide. Sick people will have access to specialists who don’t live near them, saving time and money. Wearable technology that constantly records your physical data will reduce errors in diagnosis and treatment. For example, three months’ worth of blood pressure readings are more revealing than one reading at a doctor’s office.

“The three chief areas where you can make great strides in honoring your body’s homeostasis are your eating times, sleep-wake cycles and…physical activity.”

Proteomics,” the study of the body’s proteins, can reveal when you’ve had a cocktail, how hard you’ve worked out and how much sleep you got last night. Other upcoming technology includes phone apps that potentially diagnose mental health issues and the use of aggregated data from many patients to help individual patients.

“The context of a diabetic with asthma is not the same as that of someone with heart disease and depression. But, ideally, every context can be nurtured and cared for to slow the aging process.”

Imagine an app that can tell when you’re feeling anxious by measuring your tone of voice or texting speed, and can talk to you through a virtual assistant or call one of your friends, which might be lifesaving for the clinically depressed or suicidal.

“The Two-Week Challenge”

To evaluate your health status, take the two-week challenge. For 14 days, track your basic measurements. You’ll need a blood pressure cuff. Track your chronological age, family history, daily patterns and habits, weight and nutrition, medications, unexplained symptoms, sleep, movement, mood, and motivation and energy levels. Regardless of your age, take your blood pressure twice a day over the two-week span, testing it during different times of the day to identify your blood pressure range.

“When the world around you is obese, you begin to identify overweight as normal, and this thinking is not based on the scale but on how you simply perceive yourself in your context.”

Creating a family health tree can help you predict risks and future conditions or diseases. Use the free US government website at https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/ to create a family health history, and share it with your relatives. The human body loves patterns and predictability. Maintaining a daily routine is less stressful and keeps the body in balance, the condition of homeostasis.

“Driving is not a right; driving is a responsibility. Likewise, health care is not a right; it’s a responsibility.”

Track your weight, because being overweight causes health problems. Enter your weight into an online calculator to find your body mass index (BMI). The ideal BMI is 18.5-24.9. However, if you have big bones or dense muscle mass, you can get away with a 26 or 27 – if you aren’t diabetic and you’re in good physical condition. Eat whatever diet works for your physiology. Record what you eat for the two weeks. Don’t count calories, but be specific and write down what you consume. Note food that you cook at home versus restaurant food. Track the prescription drugs and vitamins or supplements you take each day.

“The…debate about vaccines and autism…was sparked by an unscrupulous doctor who published a bad study in a prestigious journal more than 15 years ago.”

During the two-week challenge, also take note of any unexplained symptoms, such as night sweats, stiff joints, upset stomach or anything out of the ordinary. Track your sleeping habits. The benefits of getting enough sleep include depressed appetite, lower rates of infections, less stress and greater mental capacity. Lack of sleep leads to “hypertension, confusion, memory loss, chronic colds, the inability to learn new things, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression.”

“The power of big data cannot be overstated.”

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is easy, and it makes a positive difference. Keeping your body in motion also contributes to a longer life. Walking just 20 minutes a day can reduce premature death by 30%. Some experts say a 25-minute daily walk can add seven years to your life. Record the minutes you spend exercising and the intensity of your exercise. Don’t worry about calories burned; just record a general idea of your exercise habits. Finally, keep track of your moods, and rate your energy level from one to five (five is highest).

“The Danger of Misinformation”

Misleading headlines proclaiming the latest miracle cures bombard Americans. These stories feed into the underlying idea that a mystical secret holds the key to being happier, thinner and richer. Distinguishing between credible sources of health information and false or dangerous claims is difficult. Many Americans turn to Wikipedia for answers. But a 2014 study by the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found major errors in nine out of ten Wikipedia articles about the US’s top 10 costliest conditions or diseases – including major depression, diabetes, coronary artery disease and back pain. Always check with multiple sources to answer any health question.

“One of the most powerful questions a doctor can ask a patient is simply, ‘How do you feel?’”

People are still dealing with the repercussions of a flawed 1998 study in which British doctor Andrew Wakefield found a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. Doctors usually give the MMR vaccine to children who are a year old, and they administer a booster shot between ages four to six. Wakefield’s study included only 12 children. He claimed the MMR vaccine could alter the immune system and damage the brain. The British medical journal The Lancet published his research, which ignited a media firestorm. Subsequent research found no such connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. The authorities stripped Wakefield of his medical license, but the damage was done.

“One study will have a conclusion that’s totally opposite to another study’s bottom line. Look no further than the research on foods that cause or prevent cancer to appreciate this disconnect.”

The article sparked the antivaccine movement which gained traction in the US after celebrities and bloggers, all without medical degrees, claimed their children got sick after taking a vaccine. “When one thing happens after another, that doesn’t mean the first thing caused the other.” This hasn’t stopped “antivaxxers” from seeking evidence to back up their claims. Experts in a variety of scientific fields have published more than 100 articles dismantling the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

Gluten

Different studies proclaim what’s “good” or “bad” for you to eat. Then a few years later, the studies reverse course. One study may praise certain foods while others vilify them. Ditto with diets. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains. Gluten-free (GF) foods don’t have that protein, and omitting it from your diet has become a popular trend. GF products were headed for approximately $15 billion in sales in the US in 2016. Americans with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, can’t eat gluten, but for other people the decision to eat only GF food is a lifestyle choice. The jury’s still out on whether gluten causes intestinal distress.

“People are going to believe what they want to believe – and those beliefs will drive their behaviors.”

In Australia, Monash University’s Peter Gibson studied 37 people who claimed to have gluten sensitivity and who suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). He gave them three different diets and collected urine and fecal samples for nine days. One diet was high-gluten, one was low-gluten and one had no gluten. Subjects didn’t know which diet they were eating. “All of the diets – even the gluten-free diet – allegedly caused gas, bloating, pain and nausea to a similar degree.” The results were the same in a second study with more participants. Some experts say the problem isn’t gluten, but such triggers as “fermentable oligodi monosaccharides and polyols,” or, for short, “FODMAPs,” which are carbs that some people find difficult to absorb and digest.

“Movement Matters”

Most Americans don’t get enough exercise. Modern technology fosters a sedentary lifestyle. Research showed that American women who sat nine or more hours a day were more likely to be depressed than those sitting six hours or less. Sitting reduces the circulation of blood and oxygen to the brain, causing a lack of feel-good hormones. Sitting for long periods is “the new smoking.” Prolonged sitting can increase blood sugar, leading to diabetes or heart problems. Globally, physical inactivity is the fourth-leading risk factor for mortality. It is directly related to other risk factors that make up 40% of global mortality. Being physical doesn’t mean running a marathon or having an aerobic workout. “Leisure time physical activities,” such as dancing, gardening or other hobbies, transportation (walking or cycling), occupational (having a labor-intensive job), household chores, playing games, sports, and the like all provide health-building movement. Being active leads to better health and longer life expectancy.

“We think what we want to think. And we’ll go to the end of the Earth (even if we think it’s flat and that the sun revolves around it) to protect our coveted beliefs.”

You’re never too old to start exercising. People who start in midlife and increase their fitness activity 20% decrease their chances of later developing a chronic illness by 20%. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk while making phone calls and take a five-minute walk break once an hour to stretch. Strength training becomes more important as you age because it builds muscle mass. Peak strength occurs between ages 35 and 40. Strength declines about 1% per year after that. More muscle mass and strength leads to lower weight, a lower risk of high blood pressure, and lower levels of triglycerides (blood fats) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, among other things.

Sleep, Sex and Touching

Along with the well known results of taking statins and aspirin, three unsung “wonder drugs” curb inflammation: sleep, sex and touching. In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation suggested widening the recommended sleep times for different ages. It called for seven to nine hours of sleep for young adults (ages 18-25) and adults (26-64). Seniors (65 and older) need seven to eight hours. Sleep controls your hormones, which regulate appetite, stress levels, energy, immune system, cognitive skills, and more.

“I’ve never had a patient tell me, ‘I wish I had died last year.’ Even my sickest patients don’t regret living longer than expected.”

When your consciousness shuts off at night, your brain works to clear toxicity. When researchers kept mice constantly awake, the animals’ neurons fired all the time, thus releasing free radicals – highly reactive molecules missing an electron. Free radicals can damage healthy cells. When mice sleep, they produce neurons with antioxidants that scoop up free radicals.

Sex reduces pain, relieves stress, strengthens blood vessels and boosts immunity. Quality is better than quantity. Touching also tames inflammation. Without touch, humans and animals die. “One of the first senses we develop is touch. It’s arguably the most essential and fundamental sense for survival, stimulating our bodies in important ways throughout our lives.”