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Imagine there was one simple activity you could cut from your daily schedule that would save you time, money, water and energy and help keep countless plastic bottles out of the ocean. With all of these gains in the face of climate change, most people would probably consider it. But what if that simple activity you could cut from your daily schedule was . . . showering?

James Hamblin, a medical doctor and staff writer for The Atlantic, knows exactly what it’s like to give up showering for good. In his provocative book Clean: The New Science of Skin, Hamblin explains why he stopped showering five years ago. Although he admits that this course of action isn’t for everyone, he argues that our modern idea of extreme hygiene has gone a little overboard. In this entertaining and deeply researched book, he suggests that our addiction to soap and skincare is creating more problems than they solve. Along the way, he discusses Dr. Bronner’s, Gweneth Paltrow’s Goop and soap making, and he speaks to dermatologists, biologists, allergists, peddlers of snake oil and a paraphernalia-collecting soap historian.

Many people will be horrified at the idea of not showering for a prolonged amount of time, but according to Hamblin, our dedication to sterile cleanliness is relatively new. Following the Industrial Revolution, theories about germs and infectious diseases led to the explosion of the soap industry to promote good hygiene, but it also gave birth to the marketing ploy that clean, germ-free skin equals good health. What if we need those “germs” on our skin that we lather and wash away every day? Hamblin examines the discovery of beneficial skin microbes that live on our skin and in our pores. Wash the microbes away, and the immune system goes haywire, causing allergies, eczema and other skin conditions. What if an industry that claims to keep us healthy is actually harming us?

Organized and thorough, the research and history Hamblin presents are uncomfortably compelling. This is a fascinating, rich mix of science, marketing and culture that will have you questioning everything you think you know about your daily skincare routine.

Imagine there was one simple activity you could cut from your daily schedule that would save you time, money, water and energy and help keep countless plastic bottles out of the ocean. What if that simple activity you could cut from your daily schedule was . . . showering?

I don’t often cover health books here—there are so many, all filled with worthy but seemingly similar content. But Dr. Frank Lippman’s updated edition of How to Be Well caught my eye. “[A] manual of the essential skills that anyone can use to navigate safely and smoothly through the wild terrain of wellness today,” this one is so gorgeously designed that I genuinely wanted to keep looking at it. Lippman’s advice covers everything from bone broth to foam rollers to electromagnetic frequencies. A lot of what’s here is textbook health-service journalism fare, but also included is a list of healthy fats (think smoothies, tahini, Brussels sprouts with bacon), eight ways to “harness the power of dark to improve your sleep,” 10 baking-soda cleaning hacks and more. An index of basic protocols for common complaints and goals—brain fog, acne, weight loss, anxiety—is an especially nice way to close out this book. 

A manual of the essential skills that anyone can use to navigate safely and smoothly through the wild terrain of wellness today.

We all know what it takes to be healthy—or at least we think we do. The advice comes at us from all directions: Crush your workout! Learn to meditate! Eat vegan!

In her latest investigation, Natural Causes, the sharp-tongued Barbara Ehrenreich, whose bestselling Nickel and Dimed scrutinized the inner workings of the American economy, approaches the proclamations of the health-and-wellness culture with a wary eye. Ehrenreich examines the cellular activity in the human body in order to discover if everything we do to control our health is really worth doing.

Ehrenreich has the science chops to do a serious study—a Ph.D. in cellular immunology comes in handy when exploring the world of macrophages and neutrophils. What she finds is surprising. Our immune cells, it turns out, are not always the good guys defending the body against invaders. Sometimes, they attack or help the attackers (like cancer) spread their influence.

With a scientist’s keen eye, Ehrenreich precisely explains the intricacies of the immune system. She’s equally at home in other disciplines, too, moving seamlessly from biology and philosophy to history and poetry. Her book is richly layered with evidence, stories and quotations from all of these disciplines and sprinkled with barbed humor. Ehrenreich lets nobody off the hook, skewering Silicon Valley meditators and misogynist obstetricians with equal vigor.

It’s impossible to read this book without questioning the popular wisdom about the body and its upkeep. At the very least, you’ll be able to make better decisions about how to work out, whether to have that mammogram and when to just order the steak.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

We all know what it takes to be healthy—or at least we think we do. The advice comes at us from all directions: Crush your workout! Learn to meditate! Eat vegan!

The seed for the creation of my book was planted in 1993 when a favorite patient of mine suggested that I write a populist book about male sexual health and held up a three-by-five card with his recommended title: “Penis Power.” This was back in the days before everyone used the internet, when Howard Stern could still shock listeners, and before Viagra ads appeared on primetime television.

At that time, having the word “penis” on the cover of a mainstream men’s health book was taboo. I pointed out to my publisher that the word “penis” accurately describes a body part. Asking me not to use that word would be like asking a cardiologist not to use the word “heart.” I shouted, “Get over it!” to no avail. 

What makes so many of us giggle or blush when the word “penis” is written or spoken? The fact that there is no logical explanation for these reactions propelled me, in part, to write The Ultimate Guide to Male Sexual Health: How to Stay Vital at Any Age

"I want to help men and women who are misinformed or confused about the male body, as well as those who think they know everything but still have a lot to learn."

I have been a practicing urologic surgeon for more than 40 years, and my professional goal has been to cure what I call penis weakness (PW), a condition that plagues men (and their partners) at an alarming rate and is compounded by a misunderstanding of exactly what is going on in their bodies and brains. Unfortunately, men who have suffered from the self-doubt and anxiety caused by this condition have done so with shockingly little support from the medical community. 

My book addresses the malady directly and speaks to both men and women—to straight couples, gay couples and everyone in between. This book will give readers the skills and confidence to address most problems surrounding male genital health and sexual potency, setting the cornerstone of a personal sexual revolution. 

With the commercial success of major pharmaceutical drugs designed to aid erectile dysfunction, some of the significant issues of male sexual health have become part of our social consciousness. Yet many couples still deprive themselves of the complete sexual satisfaction they deserve. 

My goal is to help every man, and every woman in that man’s life, to not only learn the biological functions of the penis but to understand that it is much more than the condition of its blood vessels and nerves—it is an organ of expression. A man’s penis is what he thinks it is!

One of my objectives is to educate, but my book is not a medical textbook. Nothing in it is overly technical. My purpose is more practical: I want to help men and women who are misinformed or confused about the male body, as well as those who think they know everything but still have a lot to learn. 

Although this book is about male sexuality and male physiology, the principles presented will be helpful to all men and their wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends and partners. I want all readers to become experts on how the male genital system works, how and why it doesn’t work on occasion, and how to get it to work again for as long as possible.

A lot of information in my book will surprise you. Some of it may shock or outrage you. I firmly stand behind my observations with one purpose only: to end the plague of PW and the attendant cynicism, despair,and frustration. Often, a simple shift in attitude and an adjustment in behavior patterns can give us the confidence we need to achieve happiness in our sex life and ultimately in every aspect of who we are as human beings. 

The Ultimate Guide to Male Sexual Health will elevate the mind, the heart and the spirit—not just the male apparatus. The man who has penis power is blessed, and so is the partner with whom he shares it.

Dudley Seth Danoff, MD, FACS, is the attending urologic surgeon and founder/president of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Tower Urology Group in Los Angeles, California. He is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Male Sexual Health: How to Stay Vital at Any Age, now available in an updated second edition.

 

Urologic surgeon Dudley Seth Danoff sets out to help men—and the women in their lives—understand what's going on in their bodies and brains in The Male Guide to Sexual Health.

Yes, Gary Taubes, the “prosecutor” in the provocative, eye-opening book The Case Against Sugar, took his 8-year-old son trick-or-treating in his Oakland, California, neighborhood on Halloween.

“Clearly I don’t think any of us should eat sugar, and I try to stay away from it,” he says during a call to his home (built by the founders of the Clorox Bleach company) in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood that he shares with his two boys and his wife, the author Sloane Tanen. “But it would be foolish to deny my experience as someone with children and as someone with a sweet tooth.”

Which brings us to the perplexing question raised in his opening chapter: Is sugar a food or a drug? Taubes reports on some astonishing scientific studies of newborns’ first responses to sugar that strongly suggest sugar has addictive properties that are quite different from other carbohydrates. Taubes himself seems to regard his own sweet tooth as an addictive response to sugar (as well as to high fructose corn syrup, a cheap sugar substitute). “I realized that in thinking about the history of sugar, I had to keep in mind that you might be thinking about the history of a drug,” says Taubes, who speaks rapidly, softly and with passion.

Taubes’ historical account of the rise of the consumption of sugar, covered in the early chapters of the book, is fascinating. For example, this reader had no idea that the addictive power of blended tobacco in cigarettes—beginning with Camel cigarettes in 1912—was created by the introduction of sugar.

“It’s an amazing story!” Taubes exclaims. “It turns out that increasing the sugar content of tobacco leaves—or marinating the leaves in a sugar sauce—has the effect of making the nicotine much more inhalable so that you can bring it into your lungs, which is much harder to do with cigar or pipe tobacco. As such, it made it much more addictive and allowed the carcinogens in smoke to get to this huge surface of the lungs.”

Almost every page of The Case Against Sugar resounds with such revelations. But the heart of Taubes’ prosecution of sugar challenges contemporary beliefs about the underlying causes of obesity and diabetes. His question is this: Why has sugar not been more directly implicated in the dramatic rise of obesity and diabetes? Citing a study of Arizona’s Pima Indians, whose sudden increase in diabetes occurred as they adopted a Western diet early in the 20th century, Taubes says, “The question was, what was causing that? Sugar should have been a major suspect. In the 1920s very influential public health authorities were blaming the epidemic increases in diabetes and obesity on the prevalence of sugar. And then it vanishes from the conversation. The question is, why did it go away?”

In a chapter called “The Gift That Keeps on Giving,” Taubes documents how the sugar industry was let off the hook when medical and nutrition sciences decided that obesity caused diabetes, and that obesity was caused by an updated, scientific Puritanism that blamed sloth and gluttony—overeating and a sedentary lifestyle.

"The book is basically saying that the prime suspect of what’s causing insulin resistance is sugar."

“We are seeing worldwide epidemics of obesity and diabetes, and the diseases associated with them—heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s,” Taubes says when asked about our ingrained belief in the sloth-gluttony narrative. “It’s undeniable that as populations begin to eat Western diets, you see these epidemics come along. We now know that both obesity and diabetes are disorders of what’s called insulin resistance . . . and that is a fundamental disorder in what we now call metabolic syndrome. . . . The book is basically saying that the prime suspect of what’s causing insulin resistance is sugar.”

If that’s true, why did medical and health researchers get it so wrong? Taubes, who has at least once refused the food industry’s monetary support for his journalism, is surprisingly agnostic on the ethical issue of who pays for the research. “The industry needs people who are critical of the data,” he says. “And the only way they’re going to get them is to pay them. Nobody is ever going to do this for free.”

Nevertheless, Taubes is vigorously critical of the ethical and scientific standards of current nutrition research—often funded by the food industry—as he has been in the previous bestsellers Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories. He says that in earlier books such as Nobel Dreams and Bad Science, he cut his journalistic teeth by looking at experimental scientists in physics, chemistry and nuclear physics. “I was taught by these exquisite scientists how to think about these issues critically and skeptically,” he says.

Turning to contemporary health research, he was shocked to find a lack of similar rigor.

“Critical aspects of the methodology of public health and nutrition research are incapable of establishing reliable knowledge, which is the goal of science. Because they can’t do it, instead of being hypercritical as they’re supposed to be, they sort of take this philosophy that it’s the best they can do, therefore it’s good enough. The counter to that is—and I’ve actually given lectures where I’ve said—if that’s the best you can do, get out of the business! Sell shoes, take guns away from gang members, do something useful.”

Taubes says his approach in this book is deliberately prosecutorial. “I really want to get the facts across,” he says. “I’m synthesizing massive amounts of data. It’s based on hundreds of interviews that might spread over years, and it’s invariably based on an unconventional take on the evidence.”

Given his unconventional take, The Case Against Sugar seems destined to be controversial. So does he expect pushback? 

“I expect this book to give everybody something to dislike,” he says with a laugh. Then again, New York magazine has recently asked him to write an article. The working title? “How I’ve Been Vindicated.”

 

This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Yes, Gary Taubes, the “prosecutor” in the provocative, eye-opening book The Case Against Sugar, took his 8-year-old son trick-or-treating in his Oakland, California, neighborhood on Halloween.

As a child, I remember eating chalky Flintstone vitamins. I don't remember asking why—it was just part of our morning ritual as we siblings sat down for breakfast. As a young mother, I remember obsessing over my daughters' eating habits, wondering if their growth would be stunted by the omission of a key nutrient. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Catherine Price’s new book, Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection, because it reveals where some of these ideas and habits originated. What's stunning about her research is how little we actually know about our bodies and the way they employ these chemicals.

The discovery of the substances eventually called vitamins solved a lot of the problems that had plagued humankind for a long time. Many diseases, such as scurvy or beriberi, resulted from a lack of specific nutrients. Once those nutrients were ingested, people usually recovered.

The discovery of vitamins led to problems as well as solutions, however. As Price explains, people became more enamored of processed foods, which lack many of the healthy benefits of whole foods. Once those processed foods became enriched with vitamins, they took on a perception of healthiness they didn't actually deserve. Does it really matter that Pop Tarts have been laced with essential nutrients? They're still Pop Tarts. Another problem was the anxiety created by experts such as Elmer McCollum, who popularized the use of vitamins, but also employed scare tactics that we are still susceptible to today.

Vitamania is carefully researched, and Price is a curious writer engaged with her subject. Her book offers a compelling new perspective on our quest for perfect diets, perfect bodies and perfect health.

As a child, I remember eating chalky Flintstone vitamins. I don't remember asking why—it was just part of our morning ritual as we siblings sat down for breakfast. As a young mother, I remember obsessing over my daughters' eating habits, wondering if their growth would be stunted by the omission of a key nutrient. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Catherine Price’s new book, Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection, because it reveals where some of these ideas and habits originated. What's stunning about her research is how little we actually know about our bodies and the way they employ these chemicals.

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