How Not to Die: An Animated Summary

How Not to Die: An Animated Summary
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We have tremendous power over our health destiny and longevity.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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 biography. 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 a second, if effectively the cure to our #1 killer could get lost down some rabbit hole and ignored, 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 actually 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 would not be willing to take many of these drugs if they knew how little benefit these products actually 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 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 vast majority of premature death and disability is preventable with a plant-based diet, and other healthy lifestyle behaviors.

I didn’t want to just write a reference book, though. Yes, there’s thousands of citations to peer-reviewed scientific papers, but I also wanted it to be a practical guide on translating this mountain of evidence into day-to-day decisions, and so, that’s what became the second half of the book. First, I start out 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. Basically, real food that 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, greens every day. I talk about the healthiest beverages, the healthiest sweeteners, how much exercise to get. 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—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 #1 cause of death in the United States is our diet. The #1 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 better care of themselves. Of course, the 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 largely 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 a 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 the 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 own health, for our family’s health. We can’t wait until society catches up to the science again, because it’s a matter of life and death.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

A huge debt of gratitude for Malkhaz Geldiashvili of FightMediocrity; we’re so blessed to have such great supporters willing to share their talents to help us help others.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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 biography. 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 a second, if effectively the cure to our #1 killer could get lost down some rabbit hole and ignored, 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 actually 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 would not be willing to take many of these drugs if they knew how little benefit these products actually 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 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 vast majority of premature death and disability is preventable with a plant-based diet, and other healthy lifestyle behaviors.

I didn’t want to just write a reference book, though. Yes, there’s thousands of citations to peer-reviewed scientific papers, but I also wanted it to be a practical guide on translating this mountain of evidence into day-to-day decisions, and so, that’s what became the second half of the book. First, I start out 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. Basically, real food that 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, greens every day. I talk about the healthiest beverages, the healthiest sweeteners, how much exercise to get. 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—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 #1 cause of death in the United States is our diet. The #1 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 better care of themselves. Of course, the 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 largely 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 a 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 the 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 own health, for our family’s health. We can’t wait until society catches up to the science again, because it’s a matter of life and death.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

A huge debt of gratitude for Malkhaz Geldiashvili of FightMediocrity; we’re so blessed to have such great supporters willing to share their talents to help us help others.

Doctor's Note

Last month I was so excited to be approached by fellow YouTuber Malkhaz Geldiashvili of FightMediocrity, expressing interest in animating an overview of How Not to Die. What a perfect addition to my introductory video series. I sent him some narration, and two weeks later it was done!

These videos that depart from my typical deep dives into the primary nutrition science literature are just my attempts at mixing things up a bit, and hoping to appeal to those just opening their eyes and mouths to evidence-based eating. If you want to see the other eleven introductory videos, here they are: 

  1. The Story of NutritionFacts.org
  2. Why You Should Care About Nutrition
  3. Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Health
  4. The Philosophy of NutritionFacts.org
  5. Behind the Scenes at NutritionFacts.org
  6. How Not to Die from Heart Disease
  7. How Not to Die from Cancer
  8. How Not to Die from Diabetes
  9. How Not to Die from Kidney Disease
  10. How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure
  11. What is the Healthiest Diet?

 Now back to our regularly scheduled programming :)

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