Can There Really Be An End To Illness?


In his recent book “The End of Illness,” David Agus, MD claims that “the end of illness is closer than you think.”  He has proposed a shift in thinking about how we promote health, that:  

-        We need to “honor the body as a complex system”

-        We need to stop looking for “the one secret that can improve health.”

-        Good health rests on eating real food


I would agree with these proposals, but after reading the book I found little evidence that we will see an end to illness.  His so-called ‘shift in thinking about health’ actually continues the current medical approach - expensive tests, drugs and discrediting natural based therapies.


Central to the author’s strategy are new tests that will predict illness. He sees great hope in genetic testing and a new protein analysis called “proteomics.” It is important to know that he has a vested interest; he has established two companies that conduct these tests.  I was left to wonder how the tests would actually lead to the end of illness. Genetic testing, which is very expensive, determines the probability, not the existence of illness.  I did not find anything to support the claim that “proteomics” would bring an end to illness. 


A credible strategy proposed by Dr. Agus is to lower inflammation in the body; this makes sense because inflammation is at the root of many illnesses.  To do this he recommends two drugs: statin medications and aspirin.  While both drugs can reduce inflammation, Agus did not acknowledge their serious side effects.  Statin medications deplete natural nutrients (e.g. CoQ10  that the heart needs). Some people cannot tolerate statins due to their side effects. Aspirin (a salicylate) is caustic to the stomach lining and can adversely affect the kidneys and respiration.  Meanwhile, Dr. Agus neglects to mention the natural ways to reduce inflammation which alternative health practitioners use effectively.  


Perhaps the most disturbing part of the author’s position concerns diet and supplements. He believes we will get enough nutrients from a diet of natural, whole foods, and states that: “it is relatively easy to eat well in North America.”  I know, and my clients will attest to the fact that, it is actually very difficult to eat well because our food supply is full of processed foods and genetically modified ingredients (virtually all corn and soy in North America are genetically modified).  There is mounting evidence that GMO’s have adverse health effects. 


Dr. Agus goes to great lengths to ‘prove’ that supplements are not beneficial and could actually be harmful.  His proof is based on flawed studies and generalizations e.g. we don’t need multiple vitamin supplements and therefore don’t need other types of supplements. When a study found benefit from supplements he passed it off as due to some other variable.  I would agree that supplements are not always needed.  As a nutritionist, I know that diet comes first; then I help my clients identify which supplements they need and at what dosage.  Certain health conditions and illnesses increase the need for specific nutrients, something that Dr. Agus, a cancer specialist, should have acknowledged.


The author describes a compelling picture when illness is ended: “to die peacefully in your sleep after your last dance that evening.  You don’t die of a particular illness and you haven’t been gradually wasting away under the spell of some awful, enfeebling disease.” After reading his book I found little assurance that this can be achieved.  The human body does wear out eventually and we will die of something. Beyond a catchy title and well-meaning platitudes, this book does not live up to its promise.  His proposed shift to a system-wide view of health is heavily reliant on expensive tests and pharmaceutical drugs.  I suspect these approaches will do more to support the pharmaceutical industry than to end illness.