Of course I’ll be updating the pre-Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina news today –Donald Trump had an enormous rally in Massachusetts last night for example– but I also want to take the first week of the new year to introduce you to two books –one for the body and one for the soul.
Dr. David B. Agus, M.D. is one of the country’s best-known oncologists and authors, and his new book, The Lucky Years: How Top Thrive In The Brave New World of Health, was probably under a lot of Christmas Trees or should have been. If you didn’t get it, listen to today’s interview in the third hour and order the book for yourself…then follow its advice, especially on movement.
HH: Special hour of this second broadcast year day, because Dr. David Agus at USC has written an extraordinary book called The Lucky Years: How To Thrive In The Brave New World Of Health, which I want to bring to your attention. There’s a lot of news today – the President’s press conference on guns, the press conference on the FBI and the San Bernardino killers. Nevertheless, I’m going to try and save your life today by talking to Dr. Agus. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The End Of Illness, and a Short Guide To A Long Life. I am breaking my USC rule. I actually have a USC professor on today, so that’s a new for me. Dr. Agus, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
DA: Thank you, Hugh, privileged to be here.
HH: I want to start by asking you, you know, you’re a Princeton guy. You come out of Princeton, and you decide to go to medical school. When you go to medical school, do you ever imagine this career you’ve carved out for yourself, not as an oncologist, and one of the world’s leading oncologists, but as a kind of public health guru?
DA: Not even close. Not even close. I was in my lab, actually, at Sloan Kettering in New York, and an old CEO from Silicon Valley named Andy Grove came by. And he said, David, you know, you’re doing good science, but you’re not great about speaking about it. And he actually pushed me to learn to speak better. And so part of my role is education, and I’ve got to push in that regard. And I thought he was crazy, but it turned out he was right.
HH: Yeah, well, you really should listen to Andy Grove.
DA: You’re telling me. Well, he used to come by video to some of our lab meetings, and literally, every time, made somebody in the lab cry. He is tough, tell it like it is, you know, a remarkable guy.
HH: Yeah, well, success is success. I’ve got to begin with a story that was sent to me today from People Magazine about Downton Abbey. I don’t know if you’re a Downton Abbey guy, Doc. Michelle Dockery plays the heiress there. Her beloved fiancé, John Dineen died at 34 from a rare form of cancer. He went to Germany for exotic treatment, but he died very, very suddenly. When you get news, and that’s a bit People Magazine story this week. When you get news like that about a big star, does it weary you, because you’re just, you’re trying to make people optimists about the years ahead, and then all of a sudden, this guy, who obviously had every resource at his fingertips, dies of a rare cancer.
DA: You know, unfortunately, we’re losing the war. There’s no question about it. For the first time, I think, in a long time, there’s hope, and there’s some new treatments that are just remarkable, like what’s happening with President Carter and others. At the same time, we lose people, I lose patients every week. And it’s hard, and it’s a failure on our part, and we have to get better.
HH: There are a number of things I want to cover with you, and I’m not going to bury my lede. But I want to start with the fact that what I appreciate greatly about The Lucky Years is you are hell on wheels on fraud. You do not like medical frauds. You don’t like anti-aging hoaxes. You don’t like trust me, I’ve got a miracle cure. You’re cutting edge science, but you are hell on wheels on fraudsters and con artists.
DA: You know, people put their life into other people’s hands. And when people push in that regard, and prey on their ignorance to try and make a buck, it’s just the wrong thing. When you tell me somebody went to Germany to get something that wasn’t available in the U.S. or the U.K., I know something’s wrong there. There just isn’t something hidden in a small clinic where you have to pay $200,000 dollars in Germany. That’s the problem.
HH: You see, this is a very touchy subject on the show. My longtime producer, for 15 years, and dear friend who’s not here today because he’s up getting treatment, goes back and forth to Germany to try and fight cancer. And we have this running debate here that this is a crazy way to go about it. But your book, I’m going to give it to him, but you must run into this every single day.
DA: Because of who we take care of and who we’re involved with, and obviously, it’s because we’re out there, yes. I get every person with a cure trying to sell it to me and pitch me on it. And then the patients I take care have the resources to go anywhere in the world. You know, they’re smart, too, though, so when you start to show them the data, or the lack of data in this regard, they come, too. It ain’t rocket science. You know, there is no cure hidden in someone’s basement.
HH: Well, let me talk about the cure hidden in Chapter 7. As I said, I don’t want to bury the lede. Chapter 7, A Body In Motion Tends To Stay Lucky.
HH: There is, and this is the most obvious stuff, but you write it beautifully, Page 185, “An extraordinary relationship between physical fitness and total health. Our genetic makeup requires and expects our bodies to be physically challenged via regular exercise. And yet, 80% of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of exercise.
DA: The data are clear. If you walk for an extra hour a week, you add about a year and a half to life expectancy. It’s staggering.
HH: It is.
DA: We were designed to move. You know, our bodies, as such, so if the rhythmic contracts, or the muscles in your legs when you walk that actually make your lymphatics work. Your body doesn’t work unless it moves. Yet what doctor when you go in there says well, how many hours a day do you move?
HH: Yeah, by the way, you’ve already changed my life, because I used to want to park close to the stairs to my radio studio. Now, I want to park farther away from my stairs, and I’m already a runner, right? I’ve done a dozen marathons. I ran, and I stored away all the good exercise years. I feel good about your book. But that was an obvious thing that had never occurred to me until I read The Lucky Years. Don’t park close, park far away.
DA: It’s very simple. You know, I mean, the richer you are, the more bathrooms in your house, so you don’t have to walk room to room to go to the bathroom. It’s kind of crazy. We designed our life to be sedentary.
HH: And sedentary kills. That’s one of the key leads here. You also, though, are very clear, you’ve got to start early. And I love this fact that you’ve got a storehouse of exercise between 30 and 50, and you’ve got to fill it up. Those are the years in which you’ve got to be moving around. And you know, it’s the years, figure your 5k’s and your 10k’s, and your triathlons, I think maybe the culture’s heard that already, Dr. Agus. Do you believe that’s correct?
DA: Yeah, but it’s very hard. How do you get a 20 or a 30 year old to do something today that’s going to help them, you know, three or four decades from now? There’s no way. So it’s very hard to do. If I want to say do a behavior today that’s going to help you later on, you roll your eyes at me.
HH: Unless you tell them it will prevent cancer, right?
DA: Even if you do that, they’re not going to do something today that will work 30 years from now. It’s just very hard to get that kind of behavior without a metric. You know, the reason I love all these smart watches is all of a sudden, you have a metric for how much you’re moving. And so you start to say hey, I did 1,100 today, I’m going to do 1,200 tomorrow. You have a metric. But you don’t have a metric for other aspects of health, and that, we’re sorely lacking.
HH: Oh, that’s fascinating. That’s fascinating. The other thing that is fascinating, Page 199, I went to brunch with one of my closest friends on Sunday morning, my wife and his girlfriend, and I pointed out on Page 199, I was just finishing up The Lucky Years, it turns out, you write, that if you can get yourself up from the floor using just one hand, or even better, without the help of any hand, then you are not only in the top 25% of muscular skeletal fitness, but your survival prognosis is probably better than those unable to do so. What a remarkably easy metric.
DA: It’s very simple. I did it on the Morning Show with Charlie Rose, actually, is I sat on the floor with the legs crossed, and can you stand up with just one hand or no hand? And something similar to that tells you your core strength, which is a remarkable predictor of what’s going to happen. So you know, I think doctors should be doing that in the room. You should be doing that on yourself. And if you can’t, you’ve got to start doing those core exercises right away.
HH: Now I’ve got a buddy, Tony Saliba, very successful investor, he’s got that super slow walker at his desk, Dr. Do you believe in those? You know, he stands up all day long, and he walks super slow. I can do my show sitting, I’m sitting right now, but I can stand up as I just did. What do you recommend about for people like that?
DA: First of all, it’s not do I believe. It’s not a religion. But the data are real. He’s doing the right thing, no question about it. Our bodies were designed to move. And so I have a treadmill desk.
HH: You do?
DA: Two hours a day when I do email, I do it on that desk at a very slow pace. By the way, it takes about a week or two to get used to it. You could be hurt that first week. It takes some practice.
HH: I could be hurt a lot. I’m not very coordinated.
DA: And I’ve got one of those phones, when I talk on the phone, I can walk around the office instead of sitting in one place.
HH: Yeah, did you ever read the book, Born To Run, by Chris McDougall on the evolutionary biology of running?
DA: Yes. Yup.
HH: It meshes so well with The Lucky Years.
DA: Yup. Fantastic, yes.
HH: The other thing you say, and I’ve got a lot of friends, because I’m 59, so I have a lot of friends who are 10, 15, 20 years older than me, and they’re going through their cancer treatments, which are sometimes inevitable. Exercise and chemotherapy, I didn’t want to bury this lead, either. Anyone who’s out there on chemo, they need to exercise, and Dr. Agus will tell you why.
DA: It changes your physiology. So the blood flow to the cancers differently. You actually deliver the chemotherapy better, and you get better responses. So we think well, I’m going through chemotherapy, I’m just going to watch TV and treat my body to a movie, etc. It should be the opposite. When you get sick with the cold, you don’t want to stay in bed. You want to walk around the house and move. That’s how we get over things quicker and better.
HH: Do people believe you about that? I mean, you have, how many patients do you have, Doctor, by the way, in your oncology practice, because you’re so busy?
DA: We have thousands.
HH: Okay, so do you tell them all?
DA: Oh, yeah.
HH: You’ve got to get physically active when we’re treating you with chemo?
DA: They hear everything I say. I mean, when I, and you know, all the speeches you see in the book and on TV, I mean, they get it in person. And yes, I have practiced what I preach, and I push them, and I get pissed at them if they don’t. But you have to. It’s my obligation to push them to do different things.
HH: How are you dividing up your life now? As a medical celebrity, and there are maybe a half dozen of you, you could easily spend all of your time doing Ted Talks and Davos and interviews with me, or you could practice. How do you divide your labor?
DA: Well, I have two days a week when I see patients in clinic, and I have other doctors who cover the other days. I have a lab of about 50 people that develops new treatments and drugs. And then I do the CBS Morning Show, but it’s at 4AM, because it’s live in New York.
DA: So it doesn’t interfere with the day, and I travel as little as possible, and I try to be home every night for dinner with the kids.
HH: You know what the most disturbing part of your book for me is, the sleep part, because I don’t sleep. I don’t have any time for sleep. Who’s got time for sleep? And then I read this book, and if you haven’t got time for sleep, you’re screwing yourself.
DA: There’s no question about it. It’s the regularity of sleep that’s key. Our body needs to recharge itself. And by the way, it also needs to be quiet time when you sleep. There’s an amazing study where they did circles around an airport. And the closer in you were, the quicker the nerve cognitive decline was. So you need quiet when you sleep. You know, I’ve got a 150 pound dog that snores, and I wear those orange, you know, foam ear plugs, so I don’t hear her at night, and I can sleep in the quiet, because my brain needs that to restore itself.
HH: I’ll be right back with Dr. David Agus.
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HH: Now Dr., you give it away. You’re a Democrat. You’re a lefty. You’re a big government guy. And I don’t even know if you know how you telegraphed that in this book. So I want to cut to the hard part. You trust the government a lot to get stuff right, don’t you?
DA: I don’t think we have a choice. I honestly don’t think we have a choice. In today’s world, we need to start to use big data, we need to start to learn from it. In today’s world, we all have to use the same data standards in order to make medicine advance, and we’re not going to get there unless the government gets involved. At the same time, parts of the government, you know, scare the hell out of me. And there has to be something in between, but there is no other group that’s taken a leadership role. Health and food represent about a third of the U.S. economy, yet there’s no leadership. When the mayor of New York City is the greatest health care leader, the former mayor over the last decade, you know there’s something wrong with our field.
HH: But you know, right now, you’re talking on a conservative talk show host coast to coast, north to south, hundreds of stations.
DA: I know.
HH: And they hate Mike Bloomberg, and they call him the nanny state. And at the same time, you earn my trust in this book. So you tell me on Page 52 look at ClinicalTrial.gov, or go to, on Page 127, go to https://familyhistory.hhs.gov. And I said well, Agus isn’t a dummy. He knows the problem here about big government. So how do you balance that worry, because you’re losing the very people you need to gain, because the government screws up so much stuff.
DA: Listen, there’s no question they screw up stuff. But at the same time, we need the leadership. You know, we have a right in our country to do whatever we want. You can smoke, you can be obese, you can sit all day. And then the question is does society have the obligation to pay for the health care ramifications of our behavior? That’s the key question, and that’s something we don’t talk about enough, is that the non-smokers are subsidizing the smokers in a dramatic fashion.
HH: Yeah, that’s very true. It’s very true, but we have that liberty, but we don’t have the willingness to cut off the smoker from free medical care when they have lung cancer at the age of 80, right?
DA: But one of the things that is in the current Obamacare, which I know you love…
DA: …is that you can differentially charge health insurance in our country in every state for the first time.
DA: If you’re an employer, you can charge the smokers three times as much as the non-smokers.
HH: I’m all in favor of that, but you also know we don’t have one market in insurance, which if we did, a lot of things would change immediately. Let’s stick to the book as opposed to that, because I’ve got all my lefty buddies. I want to stick to the good news.
HH: Stuff like in 2015, a clinical trial in California began the first to start testing the benefits of young plasma in older people with dementia. Having had a father-in-law succumb to Alzheimer’s, I wish this was around about 15 years ago. What’s this stand for in your world?
DA: You know, this trial is an amazing one, and it goes from Wanda Lunsford, the scientist in the 1950s, did it, her only experiment, and she was actually kicked out of science. She took an old rat and a young rat, and she tied their skin together so the blood supplies joined. And three weeks later, she looked. There were new neurons growing in the brain, the heartbeat’s stronger of the old rat, and the muscles were bigger. She claims she reversed aging. They called her Dracula and all kinds of crazy names, but six months ago, separately, a group at Stanford, University of California at San Francisco and at Harvard repeated the experiment, and it worked. And what they found is that at age 25, stem cells in us go to sleep. And proteins in the blood of young individuals actually turn them back on. And so there are clinical trials now for broken bones in the elderly, in advance forms of dementia. I’m doing it in cancer, because cancer in kids is over 90% curable. Once you turn into an adult at age 25, that same cancer becomes incurable.
DA: So if I can convince the body it’s young, maybe we can have an impact on cancer.
HH: Now at the same time that you raised that, you raise immediately, and I appreciate this, the ethical risk that that poses. And the fictional character who stays alive for 300 years has been around for the last 25 years in spy fiction where you know, they go and they buy body parts, and it’s the six million dollar man sort of thing. But you raise there will be a black market in plasma if this stuff works.
DA: There will be a black market in plasma, and there will be a black market like everything there is. But you know, in the future, you can identify the proteins, and you don’t need the plasma, just inject the proteins. You know, when I talk about prevention, and preventing diseases that some of these places like the World Economic Forum in Davos, et cetera, you know, some people come up to me all the time at say, David, our pensions plan need lung cancer to happen. Our pensions plan need early heart attacks to happen, or we’re screwing our pensions. But you’re right. As we get these newer treatments, that can and probably will affect aging, and affect your probability for disease and bring it down. We’re going to live longer. It’s going to radically affect our economy. It’s going to radically affect how corporations are structured. You know, I think, you know, a decade ago, companies for the first time developed what are called chief technology officers, CTO’s, because technology was booming and going crazy. I think in today’s era, the big companies, the good companies, have to have a chief health officer.
HH: Of course, they do. That was so obvious, and don’t you think it’s mandatory that you make people get up from their desks and walk every day? Isn’t that…
DA: Redesign buildings. We’re designing buildings for the environment. Who designed a building around health? You know, it’s a whole new way of thinking in design, in how our companies are structure, and in what we do.
HH: All right, let me talk to you about a couple of the creepy things. On the one hand, all these great trials are going on. On the other, you write late in the book that drug dependency in America, seven out of ten Americans, take at least one prescription. Half take two, and one out of five Americans are taking five or more drugs. Now that, actually, to me is a neutral fact. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Nor do I know if I can predict whether that will be good or bad. But you seem to treat that as an absolute bad.
DA: You know, most patients that have come in to see me, I say what drugs are you on, and they go through a list of five, ten or whatever the number is. And I say why are you on this one? Most of them have no idea. Most of them start something and just continue on it. And so I’m a believer is that you’ve got to reassess every six months should I be on this? Do I still need to be on it? Is it the right dose? Is there a better way of doing it? Maybe I don’t need it anymore. And I think there’s a lot of that over-prescription going on. When you go to a doctor’s office, and they don’t write a prescription, you don’t perceive that you had value by going. So it’s almost like you feel better when they write one, and the doctor feels like they gave you value, too, when they do that. We have to change that metric. You know, doctors are incentivized to do things, right? When they operate, they get paid. When they try to prevent a disease, they get paid nothing.
HH: Oh, do you know what I, I wrote at one point in my book in capital letters, what! It’s on Page 94. 70% of appendectomies could have been treated with antibiotics? I just wrote down what? That can’t be true.
DA: This is the wildest, you know, wildest story, is that we’ve been doing this for a hundred years. And you know, there’s actually, there’s an amazing story of this Russian who was in the North Pole and actually operated on himself and took his appendix out. Now when there were soldiers in submarines, they actually, they couldn’t do surgery, so they went antibiotics, and none of them had any complications. So in Europe, they decided to do a study, several thousand people, and they said people who have, are ready for their appendix out, let’s give them antibiotics first. 70% never needed surgery at all. The other 30% that eventually needed surgery, zero complications.
HH: You see, that causes…
DA: We’re doing, you know, 200,000 of these a year in the United States at staggering costs, morbidity, et cetera, and nobody thought to say is it necessary.
HH: It’s amazing. Dr. David Agus is my guest.
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HH: I will tell you that after reading The Lucky Years, instead of running every other day, I started doing it every morning this year, because I thought to myself, okay, he persuaded me, because while the optimum amount of that exercise, or the recommended amount is 20 minutes a day, the optimum is 65 minutes a day if I read you correctly, Dr.
HH: And you write, “I am confident,” this is David Agus writing, the Dr. says, “I am confident that within five to ten years, each one of us can be living a life of prevention that is so attuned to our individual context that diseases of today will be virtually eradicated. But this requires that we get started now.” Now that is one of the more wildly optimistic statements I’ve ever read.
DA: And I think, I believe that’s true. I mean, what’s happening now is literally at a pace like we’ve never seen, discovery after discovery after discovery. In December, I did a thing with CBS about, that antibiotic drug resistance was taking over, was going to cause millions of deaths over the next couple of years. And the World Health Organization estimated the number at 50 million over the next 20 years. Well, four weeks later, a very clever scientist actually grew different bacteria from dirt that had never been isolated, and bacteria make antibiotics to kill other bacteria. And they isolated a new kind of antibiotic that gets rid of all of the drug resistant bacteria.
HH: Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. It’s in The Lucky Years.
DA: So all of a sudden, we’ve added 20 years.
HH: Yeah, that was a pretty amazing story you told when I read that. But that is, at that speed of development, it assumes, then, that we will all be living, and I bring up this point, my grandfather, A.T., last man in America named Adolf, because he was born before the War, lived to be 101 on his own wheels alone until after the age of 100 drinking bourbon and having cigars in Ashtabula, Ohio. He had a great life. But do we all want to go that long, Dr.?
DA: You know, it’s a personal decision, but certainly if you can prevent disease, you probably want to play with your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Most of us do. And the key is that prevention. You know, as you know, you can have a horrible quality, last 10, 20 years, or you can have a great quality like your grandfather. And that’s the key. It’s focusing on things early so it doesn’t cause a problem later on.
HH: Now he was also a fireman, and I was thinking as I read through your book that active life that you’re talking about, that cold climate, that just being physically fit and out there is probably what explains that. But let’s get to the stem cell discussion. You have a chapter, Will Stem Cells Save The Day. Now let’s stay away from the bioethical issue. And I don’t want to engage the pro-life/pro-choice debate right now. I just want to talk about non-fetus stem cells, stem cells in our body. What do you think is the bottom line on the possibilities of these cells?
DA: You know, I think there’s tremendous possibility. And I think it really is a whole new chapter in medicine that will rewrite what’s going on in the heart, the brain and other organs. And I think we’re just at the beginning of it, and it’s very exciting. I don’t think stem cells are going to come from outside sources like you’re alluding to. I think they’re going to come from within.
DA: The data show now is that all of us have stem cells in our bodies. They’re just asleep. And so the challenge is making them do their thing, and that’s where science is going now. So I think the ethical debate will go away.
HH: All right, I hope you’re right. Now let’s go to the creepy part, Page 90. “Your phone will be able to turn into a virtual person therapist, and tell you, you seem gloomy by measuring vocal tone, tracking how much you text, and using facial recognition technology to gauge levels of stress. It will even be able to give you a pep talk to calm your anxiety. Other apps in production promise to detect signs of other mental disorders including forms of dementia. This is also possible by evaluating speech patterns and spotting vocal differences between adults aging normally and those with signs of degenerative brain conditions.” That’s brave, new world, Doc.
DA: It’s a brave, new world, but it’s here today, is that when you think about it, when you get tired and depressed, your muscles, you know, aren’t as tense, and you sound in your voice, so the cell phone, we call it a coarse-grained element in physics, the cell phone can tell that change in the voice, and can alert a family member if you tell it to, or even tell you, hey, you better watch out, you’re entering a zone that you don’t act well in. And it’s biofeedback. So if you know you’re a little bit stressed, it’s very easy to get rid of the stress. If you’re very stressed, it’s almost impossible to go back down. And so by monitoring yourself, you’re going to get the best outcome. Athletes do it with something called heart rate variability. When you’re relaxed, your heart rate is exactly even – bang, bang, bang. When you’re a little distressed, yellow is off. When you’re very stressed, it’s off by multiple milliseconds. And by monitoring that, you get the best athletic performance, the best academic performance. So kids can do it before they go to school and learn how, it’s like mood rings in the old days.
HH: Oh, I wrote that down. it’s the mood ring iPhone.
DA: It is.
HH: That’s, you’re not old enough to know about mood rings. How do you know about…
DA: Oh, I know about those mood rings. They’re awesome.
HH: Do you, you know, the…
DA: They went away, though. I can’t find them anywhere.
HH: There’s a reason for that. I’m sure they’re illegal.
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HH: I guess you sort of write as though you were talking to a patient, Dr.
DA: Yeah, I mean, it’s a conversation. And you know, I can’t lecture you on what to do, because I really believe there’s no right decision in health. It’s the right decision for you based on your value system.
HH: All right, now you do write about the value of optimism. And I have believed in this for a very long period of time, just you know, I’ve probably done 25,000 interviews over the course of 30 years in this business. Upbeat people are much easier to be with, and so I assume they’re much easier to be with themselves as well. But you have clinical proof of this.
DA: Oh, no question. I mean, they do about 20% better across the board in clinical trials by either having a belief system or an optimism, and they normally go hand in hand together.
HH: So how do you, if you haven’t got that, how do you, you know, there’s that famous line in Chariots of Fire, I can’t put in what God left out when the sprinter asks the coach to make him fast. How do you put optimism into Eeyore?
DA: You know, optimism isn’t something that you don’t have to be born with. I think we can all acquire it. And we have to approach problems differently. There’s a positive to every issue going on as well as a negative. And you choose yourself what to focus on. And we all see it. Some people look at the glass half empty, and others half full. And we have to be that half full guy, or half full gal, because that’s how we’re going to have a better impact on our health. Clear and simple, you want to live long and well? This is one of the ways you have to figure out a way to do it. And it’s just smiling. I mean, if you smile, I mean, try it now. You smile, your body feels differently. You know, it takes many more muscles, by the way, to frown than to smile, but you smile, you get a release of neuro hormones in your body.
HH: Oh, Dennis Prager wants you tomorrow for his happiness hour, I’m pretty sure of that. All right, now let me talk to you about the distrust of science that bothers you. You write as a scientist and you’re worried about the fact that like journalists and lawyers, scientists have plummeted in the public’s credibility. I personally believe this is because of the global warming debate, the hokum that went on with the science in England, the absolutism with which people, and I’m not a climate denier. I’m not a climate alarmist. I’m a climate help me out here guy. What is, what do you think to do to reverse that, because you’re absolutely right, nobody trusts anyone on anything anymore.
DA: It’s no longer a career people as kids want to go into. They aspire to work at Google. They don’t aspire to be a scientist, and I think there’s a problem here, and that they’re no longer leaders. You know, most scientists don’t speak publicly. They speak to their peers. And I think there’s a distrust that when someone doesn’t speak directly to you, you don’t trust them anymore. And so we have to start to get scientists more in the mainstream so they can have a conversation. And the conversation is then mediated by our politicians.
HH: Is not mediated, right?
DA: It is not mediated, right, because right now, the politicians are telling us the science. That’s not right.
HH: Oh, that, and this goes back to our Obamacare reference earlier. There was a whole lot of politicians practicing medicine illegally at the time of the Obamacare debate, but I digress. Let’s go to Malcolm Gladwell on which we can agree. There’s a great deal of intuitive knowledge in everyone about their own health. Do you think we all intuit whether or not it makes sense for us to pursue remedies of the sort that you know, based on the opportunities that life genuinely has in front of us? In other words, are we smart enough not to exercise because we know deep down it won’t help us?
DA: No, I think, you know, everybody, we’re all lazy, myself included, and I think we always want that quick fix. When we eat at the fast food restaurant three or four days in a row, the reflex is well, I’m going to take a vitamin, so I’m healthy. You want that quick fix around it, and I think wow, I want to play football on the weekend and do nothing during the week. It’s just a pain in the butt. And I think we have to push each other, and I think cross-generational influence is one way to do it. When kids say to their parents I want you to be around to play with your grandchildren, that has an impact. So I think we all have to start to push and be vocal about it. You know, Andy Grove, who is one of the first people to go on the cover of a magazine and said I have cancer, that transparency was powerful. And we all have to be heroes in that sense and talk about it. We all have to share our data, which we haven’t done. And it’s a major issue.
HH: Yeah, you’re, again, my audience in particular, people are recoiling because of their fear of the government.
DA: Well, first of all, the fear is right. You know, you saw it. Blue Cross got broken into and tens of millions of records looked at. Well, the next generation will be you go to the emergency room, and they say Hugh, you have an infection, I’m going to give you an antibiotic, an hour later, you’re dead, because someone’s going to not just break into your records, they’re going to change your records.
DA: That will be the next thing of what happens here. So yes, we need…
HH: You didn’t talk about that in The Lucky Years.
DA: Well, that’s going to be the next level here, and that’s what we have to start to talk about in having a discourse, because with discourse comes understanding. So I don’t want people to be afraid of scientist using their information to make it better. When you search on Google, your search today is better than your search yesterday. It looked at where other people searched, and it iterates or makes its search better. We have to be able to do the same thing in health.
HH: And I also read from out of your book to my wife, though, that the average Wikipedia entry has, what, 10% misinformation in it?
DA: Right, but an amazing study came out just a few months ago that women with ovarian cancer, when they looked at big data, they found that the women who were on a particular blood pressure medicine called a beta blocker lived a year and a half longer. We would have never found that observation from science, but big data allowed us to do that. It’s inexpensive, simple medicine that’s going to make people live longer.
HH: You know, Tim Cook talked about the iWatch has already enabled more data collection in its first year of operation than all previous years combined, something like that. Do you see the effective ability to harness that, though? I mean, do we have the brain power available to use that stuff?
DA: You know, we’re going to start to put data into context, and yes, we will use this data, we will learn from this data. And at the same time, you’re right. We have to watch out so we have our privacy concerns, it doesn’t infringe on our civil liberties, and we opt in to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. If I say to any patient of mine can I use your data, it may help you, but it will definitely help your children, I have not had one, ever, who said no.
HH: Interesting. Dr. David Agus is my guest. He is the author of The Lucky Years. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com. I’ve got to ask you, Dr., you write that The Lucky Years don’t discriminate based on money. There are privilege of the prepared and knowledgeable. I wrote down, hmm, not sure about that. I seem to see a lot of people with more money getting better care, and I’ll start with one of your famous patients, Steven Jobs.
DA: Yeah, I mean, Steven Jobs got most of his care was relatively routine. Back then, you know, we didn’t routinely sequence cancer, their DNA. Now, we do. And so now, insurance pays for having your cancer DNA looked at.
HH: Oh, interesting, so it’s true. I’ll be right back. One last segment with Dr. Agus.
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HH: Dr. Agus writes about confirmation bias and the dangers of it, but I want to proclaim a little bit of confirmation bias success story here. I was, I often preach about the dangers of over the counter anti-inflammatories, Dr., and about the danger of letting inflammation go untreated, because I’ve read a lot about this stuff. I’ve got clients and products that I use that are all natural, et cetera. But lo and behold, inflammation has an oncological link?
DA: Oh, no question is that people who have inflammation in the colon have much higher colon cancer. When you smoke, you get inflammation of the lung, much higher rates of lung cancer. There’s a direct link. And anti-inflammatories, you know, there’s a pill a day that if you take it, it reduces not the incidents, but the death rate of cancer by 37%. And by the way, this pill is 2,400 years old. It’s called a baby aspirin.
HH: And so why do they have to put out there, it’s because of the government, you know, consult your doctor before taking a baby aspirin a day? Everyone should be taking a baby aspirin a day, right?
DA: Everybody should have that conversation, because there are some little conditions like you have bleeding or other things where you don’t want to, but most people certainly should be. Why? Because of liability in this country. You get sued when anything goes wrong. People want to sue somebody. It’s a major issue in medicine, and it pushes doctors to be much more conservative than they should be.
HH: Well, let’s close out on this, then. You started writing for the public audience, what, ten years ago?
DA: Yeah, something like that.
HH: What is the level of education of the public vis-à-vis their health choices and opportunities over the course of those ten years?
DA: I think it’s improved, and I think you know, what’s exciting to me is that it’s worldwide. You know, the books have sold well in almost every country in the world, and people get it. Still, it’s a fraction of where we need to be. We need to create more discourse on health. We need people like you, like you are, talking about these issues, because with discourse comes understanding. And so my job is to educate. I believe in it. I’m passionate about it. I care about it. And two to three times a week, I look at someone in the eye and say I have no more drugs to treat your disease. I don’t want to do that.
HH: Well, I have a suggestion for your next book.
HH: I want you to write a book on trust, because I think the biggest problem going forward is who do you trust…
HH: Not only on these questions of medicine, but on government, on science, and like I said earlier, on climate change. I don’t know. Who am I? I’m a journalist and a lawyer. I haven’t got a clue. But I don’t know who to trust anymore. I trust you, because you know, we have friends in common, and you’re a bestselling author and you’ve got all these degrees. But how do we learn to trust people?
DA: In order to get normative behavior change, you need leadership. And so we need to trust our leadership to get rid of the noise on health, because there’s a hell of a lot of noise.
HH: Yeah, very well said. Congratulations, Dr., terrific book. The Lucky Years is everywhere, How To Thrive In A Brave New World Of Health. It’s over at Hughhewitt.com, and go get his earlier book as well, you’ll appreciate his style and his approach. Doc, I’m sorry you’re a USC person. We’ve got to get you to move to a different school and then come back early and often.
End of interview.