This post is all about some fantastic books I recently read that I think you might like, too. And when I say recently, I mean I read them a few pages at a time, painstakingly slowly, over the course of the last 5 months. Free time? Nope. Don’t have any of that right now. But the good news is in 4 weeks this MBA will be half done. Such is the price of being overly productive, right?
So back to these books. I try to read a healthy mix of fiction and non-fiction, but today the three I want to tell you about are all non-fiction. And they were pretty fascinating, if not life-altering in some ways, for me. Now, I’m not here to specifically endorse any or all of the suggestions in these books, but rather to put them forth as thought-provoking reads that might just encourage you to think differently about life, health, disease and longevity.
You’re Biased. And Probably Don’t Know It.
Most of us try to be good people. We try not to judge others based on outward appearances, or other things that they have no control over such as gender, race, sexual orientation or country of origin. And that’s cool. That’s the way it should be.
Most of us also really abhor people that do vocally or otherwise obviously espouse biases against other people for whatever reason. But what happens when we confront the fact that we, ourselves, are also pretty biased? Think you’re not? Well, guess what. Research says you most certainly are, and you’re mostly not aware of your hidden biases until you test them.
Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald, not only discusses where these biases come from, how we develop them, but then how we subsequently try to hide them deep inside our consciousness so as to not have to uncomfortably face them when it comes time to admit that we’re all biased in some ways.
And, research also shows that it doesn’t matter what gender you are, what color your skin is, what religion you practice or any of these seemingly defining characteristics, you’re probably biased against those very attributes simply because bias is a socially constructed function that permeates our environment, virtually from birth. The book includes links to online tests you can take that have been repeatedly validated, that demonstrate that we all possess certain biases, maybe even without knowing it.
After reading this, I actually became aware of several instances where I unknowingly allowed biases of various kinds to influence my behavior, my thoughts and my words. I highly recommend this book, whether you think you’re biased or not, or whether you want to be unbiased or not. We all need to face some of these uncomfortable truths about ourselves, if your goal is to be the best version of yourself you can be.
Our Asthma, Autoimmune Disease, Allergies and Autism are Probably Related to Our Loss of Parasites and Other Microbes
I never thought I would consider imbibing hook worms, but after reading The Epidemic of Absence, by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, if I ever was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I might give it some serious thought. But before you get on the Internet and order some hook worms, its really not that simple.
This book was by far one of my favorite reads of all time, partly because this is right up my professional alley, being concerned with all things microbiome, as well as dealing almost exclusively with digestive disorders and autoimmune nutrition over the last couple of years. It really delved into some interesting science that explored the co-evolution between microbes and their human hosts.
Really, the story is about the human ‘super organism,’ which consists of us and our microbes (bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi) that we cannot live without. And, it turns out, some of which the disappearance of has caused quite the uptick in certain diseases for us, ever since we began our concerted efforts at sanitizing every aspect of our lives.
This book looks at everything from why we get autoimmune diseases, autism and allergies at higher rates (what our mom’s immune system is exposed to during pregnancy such as barnyard animals, fermented foods and microorganisms, all of which are good, by the way) to why some people get them and others don’t, even when we account for gender, race and country of origin. Living in urban areas, being exposed to fewer microbes and essentially being ‘cleaner’ has actually caused massive shifts in our microbiome that have left us less able to fight inflammatory diseases.
Immune inflammation is the actual problem with all of these, albeit manifesting in different ways, depending on the condition being discussed. And our microbes we’ve co-evolved with over the last hundreds of thousands of human history have been key influencers in modulating how our immune system reacts to various antigens, invaders and threats.
With the disappearance of some of these microbes from our collective environment, both external and internal, we’ve lost important immune training components that have previously allowed us to tolerate many of the antigens we’ve begun to react to in the last 150 years at increasing rates. The great thing is, studies in populations that have not yet been sanitized and transitioned to developed societies give us fantastic opportunities to study these microbes that are still present in these populations and the ways in which they affect inflammatory disease prevalence, after even one generation, in many cases.
Let’s Grow Old. Really Old.
Last but not least, if you’re into anti-aging, beating the biological odds of living past 80, or just want to outlive pretty much everyone else you know, The Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner is your jam. This book’s first edition was written in 2008 but has been updated with more research and added information since then.
The Blue Zones are areas of the world where there are a higher than average number of centenarians to the rest of the population. Centenarians are people who live to 100 years old, or older. But, in the case of The Blue Zones, these centenarians are living a much better quality of life than most people their age, and this expansive research project sought to examine just what it is that these people, and their respective societies are doing in common to produce so many functional elderly compared to the rest of the world.
The key Blue Zones are Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy; Okinawa, an island off the coast of Japan; Hojancha, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; and Ikaria, Greece. These locations all have some commonalities among them, but also all have unique dietary patterns, differing social customs and environmental conditions. So, Buettner and his team have compiled stories of the centenarians and the common themes found in each of these places.
I won’t spoil all the secrets, but just some of the things these locales all have in common are:
- A plant-based diet (not specifically vegetarian, but just a high ratio of plants to animals)
- Consuming fermented foods rich in a variety of micro-organisms (did this post just come full circle??)
- Caring for elders as they age, rather than placing them in ‘old folks homes’
- Placing high value on the family unit
- Regular, focused natural physical movement
- Rising daily with a sense of purpose for each person’s role in the family and community…
If you’re interested in living to a ripe old age, but living a functional existence at that, free of hospital rooms, feeding tubes and loads of medication to keep you alive, check this book out. Like the others, it dramatically changed my perspective on some things in my life and encouraged me to focus on things that lend purpose to my life. I plan to continue that journey and in about 80 years, when I’m 114, if you’re still around, look me up 😉
I hope you enjoy one or all of these books and maybe they’ll lead you to exploring new ideas, expanding your horizons or changing things you’ve always wanted to change.