Drop Those Vitamins: A Guide To The Future Of Medicine
Dr. David Agus is one of the world’s leading cancer doctors, specializing in treating patients with advanced prostate cancer. He is also a professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and Viterbi School of Engineering.
His first book, “The End of Illness,” became an immediate New York Times Best Seller, and his new book, “A Short Guide to a Long Life,” is receiving much press coverage a month after its publication.
In “A Short Guide to a Long Life,” Dr. Agus created a list of daily habits that everyone should follow in order to live a long and healthy life.
Some of his ideas go against what many doctors recommend and have been deemed controversial; for example, his stance that vitamins are bad for you.
In 2011, about half of the American population took vitamin supplements and the number was on the rise. Doctors have long encouraged vitamin supplements because they are beneficial for those who do not get all their nutrients through food.
Despite this, Dr. Agus believes that people need to stop taking vitamin supplements altogether and doctors should stop recommending them.
Neon Tommy talked to Dr. Agus about the vitamin debacle and why much of what he speaks of is so disputed. He also spoke about the issues regarding politics and health, and gave tips about how our generation can help increase awareness about preventive medicine.
What do you think your most controversial health tip is?
“When I tell people to stop taking all vitamins and supplements, they get pissed. Because for many people, it is their crutch. They’ve been doing it for 1, 2, 5, 20 years… and I just took away that crutch. And I just say, ‘Listen, there’s no data that shows it benefits anybody, and there is potential harm.’ Sometimes people get very emotional about [these things].”
Do you think the reason people get emotional about it is because they don’t have enough prior knowledge about health? Is the issue about what the media has portrayed as correct health practices?
“Yeah, there is a notion in our country that taking vitamins is healthy, but when you take medication, it’s a sign of weakness. And the notion is that ‘I’ve had fast food today, let me take a vitamin to counteract it.’ Or, ‘I’ve smoked today, let me take a pill to counteract it.’ But if you look at the data, it certainly does not agree.”
Why do you think the points you bring up in your book are considered contentious?
“I think it is the opposite. I think it is the most conservative book out there. While it may debunk myths, I don’t think it’s controversial at all.”
How do you think we can shift the focus of medicine from curing diseases to preventing them in the first place?
“Doctors are incentivized to treat; we are not incentivized to prevent. And to me, it’s got to change from the ground up. Each patient is going to push for these [changes] rather than changing from the top down through doctors. I really think there will be a movement or revolution among patients to make this beneficial change.”
In that case, do you think that the future of health is bright?
“I think we have no choice but to think it will be bright. I think we are at an amazing time where we have technology, where we have an understanding, and where we have the Internet where we can get that information out there and hopefully make a change.”
A lot of politicians focus on arguing about health care reform instead of focusing on health itself; how can we change this?
“For the last 50 years, it’s been all about health care finance, and when you want to switch it to health, it’s a very different argument… I am certainly a believer in access to care; I think its great, but at the same time, we need to change the debate toward health. When the greatest health leader in the last decade of our country is the Mayor of New York City, you know there is something wrong. I challenge you to say, ‘Who is the surgeon general now?’ Most people don’t know. Most people cannot even come up with a name when asked who the health care leader of our country is. So without leadership, you are not going to get changes in normative behavior. You are not going to get people focusing on new ideas. We need to start to create a culture of leadership.”
Do you think that health classes in elementary school, middle school and high school are teaching kids the right way to stay healthy?
“In general, I think all the sciences, not just health, is about domains. There’s biology, there’s physics, there’s chemistry. I really think there needs to be something called ‘convergence to sciences’ where they all converge together. That’s where we can really make a change.”
What can college students do to raise health awareness among peers and everyone else?
“Ah, that’s a great question. Remember, most interventions you do aren’t going to affect you for 10, 20 or 30 years. So how do you get someone to care about the little problems in health that we have? As you look at the book, you will see that I am a believer in movement over time. So, how do we educate people to start to move more…? Something as simple as that, that doesn’t cost money, that all of us can do and is achievable. We are sedentary. There needs to be a cultural change, and it’s probably easier if you ask your parents to do it, and ask your friends to do it. But, I think we need to start creating this movement. That’s the only way we are going to get health change in our country. The good thing is that someone your age is the person to do it. It’s a whole new era with the technology you have, and the social media you have. Listen, Facebook and Twitter can take down the government in countries like Egypt. Why can’t we use it to actually do good in health?”