Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, here we go. The main topics are:

* greedy, ruthless pharmaceutical company
* savage, profit-drivien big multinational corporation
* gutless, power-hungry government bureaucrats (both British and Kenyan)
* brave, do-gooder, whistle-blowers

It was a very well-crafted story. I especially appreciated the immaculate sentences - almost all spoken by Justin. An artful who-done-it right up to the last 50 pages, I never thought about putting it down, although I grew weary of the sheer number of characters. It was fun to have so many tangential dramas for the first half of the book. I suffered from sub-plot-fatigue in the second half of the book.

It made me want to see Kenya, though. The descriptions were pastoral, poetic and perverse and at some point I think I actually tasted the heat from the dry, cracked earth.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline

The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale Bredesen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before summarizing Dr. Bredesen’s matchless research on treatment protocols for aggressive cognitive decline, I need to recap where we stand as a country in the face of this disease, which threatens the stability of our medical systems, our communities, and our family units.

We all know someone who has survived cancer, but no one knows a single person who has survived Alzheimer’s. There is no treatment for it. After a diagnosis, there is a clear message conveyed – You are not going to get better. This is the beginning of the end. It will probably be awful.

In America, only two medications are currently prescribed to “slow the decline of neural degeneration”. (Everything else offered is a knock-out pill of one kind or another.) If you know someone in the throes of neural degeneration, you also know that slowing things down and prolonging the exquisite decimation of this human being’s neural real estate, is no blessing.

No new Alzheimer’s drug has been approved since 2003. That’s 15 years of nothing. We are making great strides in cancer and in molecular biology, generally. Meanwhile, death by dementia is rapidly increasing. It robs victims of their humanity – sometimes over decades – it terrorizes and bankrupts their families, and we have no effective treatment. What? While the technology industry makes startling advances in Artificial Intelligence almost weekly, we have stood by and watched the human intelligence of our seniors wither away appallingly. This situation seems ghoulish to me.

You have likely heard neuro-specialists parroting the amyloid plaque hypothesis. In fact, only those toeing the amyloid line can get funding for their research. Meanwhile, amyloid plaque is also found in the brains of perfectly healthy individuals. Amyloid is only one piece of a very complicated puzzle. Scientists and doctors investigating the root causes of cognitive decline and braving the icy waters of non-amyloid based research are mostly ignored.

In this book, Dr. Bredesen addresses the other pieces of the dementia puzzle and lays out his protocol, which has helped many hundreds of people reverse their cognitive decline.

This book is 70% understandable to the average reader (like me) and 30% rather technical and sciencey. There were two chapters I had to read twice and, yes, I took notes. His protocol is rooted in lots of common sense but there are many supplements he recommends, after the patient has had extensive blood work done so that there is a detailed, personalized blueprint of the patient’s overall metabolic flexibility (or lack thereof). He connects his reader with support groups (which I have visited) where extensive help is offered in determining your cognitive health – his calls this a “cognoscopy”.

My best take-aways:

1. Exercise almost every day. Sweat. Make it count. 30 to 45 minutes. This stimulates BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which supports new neuron growth.
2. Stop eating sugar. It is poison for neurons.
3. Protect your sleep. 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep is imperative.
4. Vitamin D3!!! Take it. (Or, be outside in the sun without sunblock every day, if possible. No, not for hours. No, don’t let yourself fry.)
5. Fresh, organic vegetables with every single meal, and lots of them.
6. Lots of good fat – coconut oil, avocados, fatty fish (like salmon), nuts, and grass fed beef or chicken, but in small servings
7. Eliminate gluten.
8. Get your BMI in a good range.
9. Exercise your brain by challenging yourself, move around throughout the day, and get out and socialize.

The supplementation he recommends is rather extensive and it is keyed to your health blueprint. You need to follow through on extensive bloodwork in order to know exactly how much inflammation your body (hence your brain) is dealing with and where you stand with insulin sensitivity. These two things – inflammation and insulin senstitivity – are dire enemies of cognitive health. And environmental toxins….he spends plenty of time talking about this, too.

He urges those with cognitive decline to try to maintain a mild state of ketosis by eating lots of fat, some protein, but very little carbs. This makes the brain use fat as its main source of energy, which optimizes cognitive health. This is a widely-accepted practice and many people without any cognitive decline at all eat a ketogenic diet for better performance in life.

Dr. Bredesen’s entire program is called ReCODE (Reversing Cognitive Decline). His results, which he details in the book, have been astounding. I have personally joined some of the online groups using his protocol – it is the real deal. It does not look easy. It looks like a big commitment. It looks like work.

In chatting with one of my kids about this, he said: “Well, easy choices – hard life. Hard choices – easy life. Right?” Right….

If someone you love is battling cognitive decline, read this book. Do not wait for a new drug because anything new is going to be targeting only ONE of the many things which cause cognitive decline. You want a solution with addresses the whole mess.   Acting early has changed the outcome for many.

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was thoughtfully suggested to me by the pattern-seeking gremlins who live in my computer and who seem to know me better than I know myself. Uhhh…read a book about checklists? Could anything be more banal? Although apprehensive, I decided to trust the algorithmic gremlins.

I bought it. I read it. I loved it.

The author, Atul Gawande, is a surgeon and a writer. He got hooked on the idea of improving outcomes for patients by getting the professionals in the operating theater to use checklists. He starts out with some harrowing tales of failures and near-failures caused by simple human error – the kind of human error that many of us think is unavoidable – the kind of human error we don’t like but we seem to accept.

Gawande does not seek perfection. However, he is deeply committed to eliminating as much ineptitude as possible by getting decision makers to submit themselves to the most pedestrian of life’s tasks – using a checklist. He is particularly focused on life/death situations, where the most trivial slipup will kill one or many people. Using examples from hospital operating rooms, pilot cabins of commercial airplanes, and skyscraper construction sites, Gawande shows how taking less than a minute to consult a thorough “read-then-do” checklist saves lives and also many millions of dollars.

Creating good checklists and using them does not require a professional to learn a new skill. There are no special classes or certifications to chase down and no hard effort to add to an already hard job. Nothing is required at all, except a very brief subjugation of self .… to the list. All that is needed is an admission that our complicated, busy and important tasks can be reduced to a checklist, and errors, especially errors which take lives, can be minimized.

It is a tough sell, apparently. People want improvement and solutions, he learned, but prefer them to be more convoluted or complex. Getting people to use checklists, as easy as it sounds, is anything but. Yet, he persists and with extraordinary outcomes. In his multi-hospital study, where a 9 item checklist was used in the operating rooms, post-surgical complications were reduced by 36%....without spending one dollar.

Technology continues to add speed and distance between us and the things we do and produce. As this trend continues, taking 30 human seconds to look at a list sounds like a very good idea to me.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain

The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain by Steven R. Gundry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author is exceptionally accomplished in his field - heavy on the practice side (heart transplants) and heavy on the research side. The claim he makes sounds first. I'm glad I hung in there and kept reading.

Essentially, he has discovered how lectins (the large proteins found in plants) make people ill. Not all vegetables, mind you, but a boatload of them are toxic and interrupt messaging between cells creating serious inflammatory reactions (think: celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, acid reflux, lupus, IBS, and much more). Actually, since there really is nothing new under the sun, I'm sure someone in the past has noticed this, but until Gundry devoted himself to deep research on this, it hasn't been given much air time.

His discussion on the systems which plants have devised to NOT be eaten is fascinating. It turns out they know when they are being assaulted - picked or eaten - and they immediately produce more toxins in response to this, and it has been measured! This is one of the many surprising things I learned while reading this.

He is neither anti-vegetarian, nor pro-carnivore. The book does list everything you should and should not eat, and fish is most prominently featured along with healthy fats and cruciferous vegetables, but he recommends eating poultry and meat daily in moderation, as well.

The book is very well researched and accessible to the non-scientist. The data he presents -
unassailable. Lectins are now on my radar....permanently.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this book made me feel better about my own stress, so I've only good things to say about it. The Upside of Stress summarizes the studies done on how we interpret our stress and then how this interpretation gives the stress a positive or negative expression in our lives. Whether you have been through a traumatic event, are emerging from a loss of employment, or have an iPhone malfunction .... what should you think about your misery and how might these thoughts mitigate your sadness or your disquietude? There are so many nuggets of wisdom in these pages. Moreover, the research is current, so if you read a lot of books like this (I do), I promise you that you will definitely learn something new.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Virgil was right. “They are able who think they are able.” Amy Cuddy would agree 100%.
She would add that in order to “think you are able”, start by standing up straight.

It isn’t hard to understand how the food we eat every day influences our health and the clarity of our thinking, among other things. It is not, however, immediately obvious that something as simple as our posture can impact our self-efficacy and the ideas that others may hold about our self-efficacy. Whether we are alone or in a group, whether we are on a stage or vacuuming our family room, our body language is always instructing us, sending information to our very core beliefs about our presence in this world. Wow. The studies detailed throughout are cheerfully offered up and I have to say, her predisposition for positivity comes through on every page. This book is informative - it is filled with simple advice, all of which is cost-free to implement, and all of which has an immediate positive impact on your state of being.

If you read it, you are going to love Amy Cuddy’s style and you will be blown away by the content of her research.

So, tap in to your inner-Wonder Woman or Superman. Strike a powerful, heroic pose for a few minutes each day. You might feel a little foolish and the dog might tilt his head at your odd behavior, but you will feel the difference immediately!

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got the audio version of this book a year ago. Every time I thought to dive in, I felt a mild quaking in my soul. Gah, this is gonna be so hard, I worried. As a mere mortal without any background in computer science, advanced mathematics, logic, or statistics and risk, I feared my reach exceeded my ability to grasp.

Well, I wasn’t 100% wrong. It was hard. However, I understood and I learned. Yes, I hit replay dozens of times, but I got it. (Of course, after I ran through the audio version twice, I ordered the book because I just had to have it in my library.)

I did not expect the multidisciplinary palette from which the authors created this work. While teaching me about optimization problems in computer science, I came better to understand mean-variance portfolio optimization, game theory, equilibrium strategies, and caching, just to name a very few. This book has great depth. Remarkably, it has even greater range.

When examining the algorithmic dances that computers do nanosecond by nanosecond, we are also examining how we make decisions every day. Should I stay on this jammed expressway? How long should I wait for a table at my favorite eatery? Is it better to do three small laundry loads per week or have one big laundry day? How should I best arrange all of these books on my shelves? If you are like me, you have experienced that frustrating little circle, spinning and spinning, as your computer tries to wrest a result from the digital universe or just from your hard drive. When you are waiting for a taxi or a train, you are experiencing a life-size version of that little spinning circle. When do you chalk it and look for Plan B?

This book describes how computers solve their problems and at the same time it shows us how the problems computers solve are just like the ones we deal with and solve, day in and day out. This isn’t too shocking, since humans set up the computer decision-making trees in the first place. Still, when I am synthesizing many possibilities, or struggling with family schedule optimization problems, I really can’t wait to apply terms like “simulated annealing” and “the price of anarchy”.

At the end of the day, when my family members are all doing the equivalent of sticking a thumb drive in my ear and starting their respective downloads, instead of objecting with: “Wait a minute, one at a time, I have to think!”, it will bring me joy to say, “Don’t trigger a Bufferbloat, guys, no one wants a Tail Drop.”

Most fun fact I learned:

“In contrast to the widely held view that less processing reduces accuracy, the study of heuristics shows that less information, computation, and time can in fact improve accuracy.” My translation? Don’t forget to ask grandma what she thinks, it’s likely to be spot on.

I really loved this book. It is one I will return to often.

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