The Circadian Code
The Circadian Code: Lose Weight, Supercharge Your Energy, and Transform Your Health from Morning to Midnight by Satchin Panda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In The Circadian Code, researcher Dr. Satchin Panda, PhD explains the impact and significance of our internal clocks. A professor at the Salk Institute, Panda is also a founding executive member of the Center for Circadian Biology at the University of California, a Pew Scholar, and a recipient of the Julie Martin Mid-Career Award in Aging Research.
According to Patcha, daily rhythms are a driving force in all biological processes. Light exposure, exercise, and when and what we eat can all impact these internal clocks. As a result, the key to optimal health is to align our behaviors with these internal mechanisms to ensure we are working with as opposed to against our physiology.
A relatively new field of biology, the impact of these circadian rhythms has only recently been explored and accepted. And I think most of us intuitively understand and accept the premise. Clearly we've evolved to thrive in our natural environment, that until only recently hadn't changed all that much.
For example, we have a horse that literally turns into a wooly mammoth every year as winter approaches. The thickening and growth of his coat is signaled by the shortening days. In fact, since getting our horse I have learned that if you want to delay or prevent a horse's winter coat from coming in you can keep them under lights. This is because the continuous light exposure tricks a horse's body into thinking that it is still summer. The reverse process occurs during Spring, as the days lengthen. Horses will suddenly start to shed their thick winter coats.
According to Panda, humans are also very sensitive to light, and too much, too little or light at the wrong times can impact our body systems negatively since like the horse, humans have evolved with certain internal mechanisms that respond to our environment.
He blames LED lighting, computer screens and other sources of artificial light. as well as shift worker and other lifestyle changes made possible thanks to artificial light as a contributing factor to poor sleep and an increase in chronic diseases.
But it's not just our exposure to light that matters when it comes to keeping our internal clocks running smoothly and on time. Our digestive system is also a key player, with the timing of our meals being a significant factor. He claims that the ideal method of eating is one that restricts eating to less than 12 hours a day at a minimum with additional benefits seen if eating is restricted to 8 hours. He calls this "time restricted eating" or TRE, but it sounds an awful lot like intermittent fasting. He also suggests eating your last meal at least 3-4 hours before bedtime to allow the digestive system to do its thing. According to Panda, eating too close to bedtime causes our digestive system to kick into gear at a time when it wants to shut down. This can cause reflux/heartburn, poor inadequate digestion, a delay in the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) as well as increased circulating levels of insulin. It can also delay or minimize our fat burning capabilities while sleeping.
In fact, Panda spends a good bit of the book discussing TRE and its benefits as identified through his own research that you can sign up to participate in if you'd like and are willing to track your eating for the advancement of science.
It's certainly an interesting topic. We know that the calories in vs. calories out model of obesity is flawed. We also know that our weight problem also can't be fully explained by looking at activity levels. I think this adds another dimension to the discussion. If you believe Panda, many of his research participants report losing weight through TRE regardless of what they eat, leading Panda to conclude that what we eat may not be as important as when. That said, he does advocate for a healthy diet. Just saying.
Definitely worth the read.
The Death of Cancer
The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable--and How We Can Get There by Vincent T. DeVita Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Like most people, I've seen firsthand the havoc that the big "C" can inflict not only individuals but also on their families. In addition to treating dozens of patients who suffered from cancer, I recently watched my brother-in-law lose his own battle with cancer at the age of 52.
It's always struck me as bizarre that when we hear about a mass shooting or terrorist attack, we are overcome with a sense of imminent fear. Our hackles are raised and we are on high alert. And we mourn the victims, memorialize their deaths. But the truth is that for most of us the real enemy isn't a deranged shooter or radical extremist. Our killer and our deaths won't make the evening news. Because for about half of us the real threat lives inside of us.
I've always wondered what would happen if the time and energy we put into the gun control debate were instead targeted toward a bigger threat like cancer. This is not to diminish the issue of guns and gun violence, but rather to put the discussion into perspective.
The thing that makes cancer so difficult to treat is that cancer cells aren't some external invader like a virus or bacteria. They are our own cells. Rogue cells that turn against us.
In The Death of Cancer, DeVita takes us on a journey that explores the war on cancer, a national initiative that started in the 1960s and one that has yet to be won. In the process, he highlights the obstacles that we face, many political and institutional, and some driven by egos, doctors stuck in the past and unwilling to move forward for whatever reason.
DeVita speaks with disdain about our inability to make the bridge between science and its practical application. And if there is a villain in his story, it is the FDA, which he paints as a huge barrier to our progress. He acknowledges the importance of some oversight, but accuses the FDA of a sort of group think that in an effort to protect people from an untested drug, deny them the one shot at life they've got. After all, as he points out, when it comes to treatment, these patients are going to die sooner than later, and many would take a chance on a drug that had yet to go through the grueling approval process if it gave them a shot at a cure, or even just kept them alive long enough for the next drug to be discovered.
He believes, and I agree, that when you are dealing with something like cancer, you've got to consider what is at stake. We are talking about patients who are fighting for their lives. You have to be aggressive and be willing to take a chance, for many a last chance.
DeVita started his career at the NCI (National Cancer Institute) where he eventually developed a chemotherapy cocktail for those with Hodgkin's lymphoma that led to a cure, building on treatments that were already being given to patients with leukemia. Back then, the idea of using a combination of chemotherapeutic drugs was considered aggressive and radical, barbaric even. Up until that point, tumors were removed with disfiguring surgeries or exposed to radiation as a means of eradicating the cancer with marginal success. Most cancer patients died, sooner rather than later.
DeVita seems to blame many of our missteps on egocentric doctors who either consciously or unconsciously saw these new treatments as a threat to their livelihood. He also attributes a lack of progress to good old fashioned bureaucracy and, at times, poor management of our cancer centers, and he should know. In addition to working at the NCI, he eventually became the director. He served as director of the National Cancer Program, chief physician of the renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the director of Yale Cancer Center. He is also a former president of the American Cancer Society and the coeditor of a cancer textbook.
Ironically, he is also a cancer survivor, after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and successfully treated at the end of his career.
This is really a fascinating read. In addition to providing the reader with a timeline and history for the evolving treatment of cancer, he brings attention to the many barriers, some physical and some ideological, some understandable and some ludicrous, that we've faced to get where we are. And while he admits that we haven't quite won the war, and that maybe we never will, we've still made significant progress, not only in establishing cures but also in developing treatments that keep people alive in the absence of a cure. In a nutshell, the prognosis continues to get better and better.
The Telomere Effect
The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Elizabeth Blackburn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I will admit that the book is repetitive at times, and it does seem as if the impact of stress on telomere length gets more air time than it deserves, but I chalked this up to one of the two authors having a specialty in the field of psychology.
I also can understand why the conclusions are described by some reviewers as anticlimactic. Once again, we're being told to exercise, eat whole foods, get adequate sleep and destress. Ah, duh.
But, I think the strength of this book and the research is that while we've long accepted that exercise, eating whole foods, sleeping and destressing are good for us, we are only now starting to explore and understand the underlying physiologic reasons why. And anything that deepens our understanding is useful. I honestly don't know what people expect when they read a book like this? To learn that exercise, whole foods, sleep and stress management aren't good for us after all? Or maybe they are hoping for a magic pill...which is kind of the point. Magic pills don't exist.
Interestingly, despite an every-growing multibillion dollar health and wellness industry we've never been sicker or fatter, which may be in part due to the fact that the emphasis (sometimes misguided and sometimes on point) has been primarily on food and exercise. The role of sleep and stress is mentioned but almost as an aside. Yet books like this suggest that the latter as important, maybe even more important, and the telomere effect may be one explanation why.
In a nutshell, telomeres are a noncoding form of DNA that protects our chromosomes (the DNA/genes in our cells). Over time, the telomeres shorten to a point where they can no longer do their job. The result is cellular death and ultimately aging and disease. Research has identified various factors that impact telomere length. A large part of the discussion focuses on stress.
In the end, the research on telomeres only further strengthens what we already know: exercise, whole foods, sleep and stress management are all good for us. Surprise, surprise. But more importantly, it deepens our understanding of why those recommendations are valid and important.
Shaun Taylor Bevins