Excerpts

Dr. Oz breaks down the health basics in 'You: The Owner's Manual'

Dec. 16, 2013 at 8:15 AM ET

Video: Dr. Mehmet Oz takes time from his daytime medical show to visit TODAY with some tips on how to stay healthy this holiday season, suggesting foods that will help your body stave off such threats as cancer and heart disease.

In "You: The Owner's Manual," Michael F. Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. abandon complicated medical lingo and serve up a concise, accessible guide to fine-tuning your health and maximizing your body's true potential. Here's an excerpt.

Your Body, Your Home: Super Health

Beautiful bodies sell magazines.

Tattooed bodies attract gawkers. Well-trained bodies win championships (and lucrative endorsement contracts). Celebrity bodies get stalked by paparazzi, chronicled by tabloids, and lampooned by late-night talk-show hosts. Infomercials promise better bodies (Lose 700 pounds with this revolutionarybelly button cream!). And now, even so-called flawed bodies star as the protagonists in one form of pop culture: plastic-surgery reality shows.

There’s no doubt that corporate America has capitalized on the fact that a beautiful body stimulates the economy as well as the hormones. We’re all for admiring the body for its curves, angles, and ability to make Nielsen ratings soar. But maybe our obsession with skin belies the importance of everything that chugs, churns, and pounds underneath it. Because many people have developed a view of the human body that’s more superficial than a paper cut, we want to step back and look deeper—into places where only surgeons, MRI machines, and the occasional tapeworm can see:

Inside your body.

Why? Because what goes on inside of your body is what gives you the ability to see, run, smell, have wild sex on the beach, feed babies, create dinosaurs out of Legos, surf, solve algebra problems, tie shoelaces, hum “Margaritaville,” and do the thousands of different things you do every day. Your body gives you life. Your body is life.

But even if you understand your body’s many functions, you may not really know how it functions—and, more important, how you can make it stronger, healthier, and younger.

'You: The Owner's Manual'
William Morrow

Maybe that’s because complex medical issues and scientific jargon race through our brains like cars on an interstate—reports, data, and recommendations stream by so fast that you barely have time to notice them, let alone figure out what they all mean. The result of this information inundation is that spotting important health news is about as easy as finding a kernel of corn in a landfill. Then, to figure out which kernel of information you can apply to your own life, it takes digging, persistence, and time, not to mention some waders to protect yourself from all the junk that’s out there. But it’s vital for your health—and your life—that you own a pair of informational waders. With this book, we’ve strapped on our waders and have pulled out the kernels for you.

So you can live a healthier life.

So you can become the world expert on your body.

To do that, we want you to think of your body as a home—as your home. When we started thinking about the similarities between bodies and homes, we realized that the two have a more striking resemblance than the Kardashians. Your house and body are both important investments. They both provide shelter to invaluable personal property. And they’re both places you want to protect with all your power. That’s the big picture. But if we explore the comparison even more—and we will throughout this book—you’ll understand the relationship even better. Your bones are the two-by-fours that support and protect the inner structure of your home; your eyes are the windows; your lungs are the ventilation ducts; your brain is the fuse box; your intestines are the plumbing system; your mouth is the food processor; your heart is the water main; your hair is the lawn (some of us have more grass than others); and your fat is all the unnecessary junk you’ve stored in the attic that your spouse has been nagging you to get rid of. If you can get past the fact that your forehead doesn’t have a street number and that a two-story brick Colonial doesn’t look all that good in a bathing suit, the similarities are remarkable—so remarkable, in fact, that we believe you can learn about how your body works by thinking about how your house does.

And that’s really the, uh, foundation for this book: Knowing your body gives you the power to change it, maintain it, decorate it, and strengthen it. In each chapter, we’ll start by explaining the anatomy of your body’s major organs. To do that, we’ll take you inside—and show you how your body’s organs operate and interact with each other. We won’t do it in doctor-speak, but we also won’t treat you like you’re a fourthgrader. We’re not going to make the science simplistic; we’re going to make it simple. From there, we’re going to tell you how to make your organs function better—so you can prevent disease and live a younger, healthier life. We’ll show you how disease starts, how it affects your body, and how you can learn to fend off and beat problems and conditions that can threaten not only your life but also your quality of life.

To return to the house analogy, we want you to take the same approach to basic body maintenance and repairs as you do in your home. You don’t call the plumber if you have a little backup in your pipes. You try a plunger, lift the back off the toilet and fiddle with the floating ball, and try to remedy the problem yourself. You don’t call the exterminator when you spot a fly in the kitchen. You don’t call the electrician if a lightbulb burns out. You rely on yourself for maintaining control over how your house ages—because you know that it’s less expensive to prevent problems and treat minor ones than let everything deteriorate to the point where your house needs a major overhaul to continue functioning properly.

Ultimately, we want you to get comfortable enough with your own body so that you’ll feel confident with basic body maintenance, so that you’ll avoid the things that cause the most wear and tear and do the things that best maintain the long-term value of your body.

To do that, we’ll show you such things as how your arteries clog, why you can’t remember where you put your keys, how to have a more satisfying sex life, how to exercise your heart and bones, why your immune cells fight some diseases and not others, how to turn on good genes and turn off ones that age you or cause you disease, and what you can see on a tour inside your intestines (we told you we had waders). We’ll explore your whole body so you can see how it works, as well as how to make it work better.

As you read this book, we hope that you learn a lot, laugh a little, and find the things in your life that you can change to take complete control of your health. Before we start, we think it’s important to know a little bit more about the major principles and goals of YOU: The Owner’s Manual. Here, we want to outline the most important things about health—about super health—that we want to pass along to you in this journey through the body.

YOU Control Your Health Destiny

If this world didn’t have doctors, there’d probably be no such thing as quadruple bypasses, laser eye surgery, or illegible handwriting. But for all the wonderful things that organized medicine provides—from amazingly advanced treatments to cutting-edge research that will someday cure incurable diseases—this book isn’t about organized medicine. It’s not a guide to treatments, and it’s not a textbook or encyclopedia. Think of it as a manual for prevention. Your manual for preventing the effects of aging—by keeping you feeling, looking, and being younger than your calendar age. Doctors will be the first ones to tell you that they can’t keep you from getting heart disease, or put sunblock on your nose before a noontime run, or snatch the third Twinkie out of your paw before you torpedo it down your throat.

But you can.

You can control your health destiny. While you can’t always control what happens to you (no matter how fit you are), there are some things you can control: your attitude, your determination, and—what serves as the crux of this book—your willingness to take your health into your own hands and know as much about your body as possible.

Now, in no way are we endorsing that you order a box of scalpels and remove suspect-looking moles from your arm or schedule a self-performed colonoscopy after the kids go to bed. (Even we don’t do that.) We all need doctors. The point is that the power you have to control your health destiny is real—and it’s in your hands, not someone else’s.

In this book, we’re going to give you dozens of recommendations that you can use to make yourself healthier; but to prove a point, we want to boil down the issue of personal control to one fact: If you make five—just five—adjustments to your life, you can have a dramatic effect on your life expectancy and the quality of your life. The five things are: controlling your blood pressure; avoiding cigarettes; exercising thirty minutes a day; controlling stress; and following an easy-to-love, healthy diet. (That last one is the basis of a major part of this book—The Owner’s Manual Diet, which we’ll discuss later in this chapter and in Chapter 13.) But if you can do those five things, in the next ten years you will have just a 10 percent chance of dying or having to suffer disability compared to a typical person your age. We’ll take that bet.

YOU Can Choose Your Age

Whether you look at clocks, calendars, or hourglasses, time doesn’t stop. It ticks and tocks at the same pace day after day, minute after minute, second after second. Everyone ages at the same rate with birthdays every year—that’s your calendar age. But you have the power to turn your clock faster or slower with the lifestyle choices you make regarding what you do with your body and what you put into it. For example, a fifty-year-old who douses her lungs with nicotine and builds her food pyramid with chopped liver and sausage actually may have the body of a sixty-five-year-old because of the destruction she’s doing, while a fifty-year-old who eats well, stays away from toxins, and takes care of her body with moderate physical activity could have the body and health of a thirty-six-year-old. Throughout the book, we’ll refer to the RealAge effect that certain lifestyle choices have on your health. This is the basis of the RealAge concept. While some of you may be familiar with it, for those who aren’t, it’s the system that shows you how large an effect the choices you make can have on making yourself younger or accelerating your aging.

To show you the power you have, consider this: You control more than 70 percent of how well and how long you live. By the time you reach fifty, your lifestyle dictates 80 percent of how you age; the rest is controlled by inherited genetics. But you can even change which of your genes is on or off.

Of course, we can’t stop aging. That’s because our bodies are continually aged by the environment through oxidation or other processes within your body. Oxidation, which is a lot like the rusting of your house’s foundation or pillars, is a natural, important process that’s a by-product of the proper functioning of your body. But when too much oxidation occurs, it puts you at a higher risk of aging—or rusting—of your body. It’s why so many foods that are good for us are antioxidants—foods that slow the oxidation process. We do not know that the antioxidant property of these foods is responsible for the health benefits you get from them. But what we do know is that there are three main factors in age-related disease that you can control—and by controlling them, you slow the aging process. From a purely scientific perspective, we don’t really know what causes aging, but we do know what makes us feel old before age one hundred, and that’s age-related disease. So we can tell you 80 percent of how to stop these three factors in age-related disease. They are:

  • aging of your heart and blood vessels (responsible for things like strokes, heart attacks, memory loss, and impotence, when arteries cut off nutrient rich blood to important organs)
  • aging of your immune system (which leads to autoimmune diseases, infection, and cancer)
  • aging caused by environmental or social issues (accidents and social factors like stress are very powerful factors that contribute to aging)

Of course, we’re going to show you how all of these systems work and what you can do to keep everything young, but the important concept to remember is that the RealAge effects you’ll see in the book help put a value on all of these factors. It’s almost like longevity currency.

One way to make the body come alive is to show real anatomy, so we have fun illustrations with our mascot elf helping you understand the subtle elements of your organs. The pictures are medically accurate, even though subtle humor slips into the drawings. The devil is in the details, so spend some time with the anatomy.

And as a bonus, we even give you crib sheets (Table 1.1, page 30) to make it easy to manage your own health.

YOU Are on Your Way to Living with More Vitality

Flipping through the newspaper, you can read about all kinds of news—whether it’s about international conflicts or another celebrity breakup. But sometimes, at least to us, it seems that the only health news that gets attention is the bad news.

Every time you turn the page, you read a stat or a story that is depressing: There’s another famous case of Alzheimer’s. Diabetes rates are skyrocketing. Americans are fatter than an A-lister’s wallet. The effect? Eventually, it seems so depressing that you avoid health news and information the way polar bears avoid Fiji. Yes, we have some serious health problems to address, but they are only one side of the story.

For starters, look at the average life expectancy: forty-seven in 1900, and nearly eighty in 2000. A lot of credit for these extra thirty-three years goes to public health and organized medicine. So statistics show that we’re going to live long. Maybe the most impressive statistics are these: While the rest of the world thinks we have the corner on obesity, there may be signs we’re changing. From 1966 to 1996, the number of Americans who engaged in regular physical activity decreased by 1 percent every year. But from 1996 to 2006, the amount of physical activity grew by 1 percent every year. Smoking prevalence decreased from 50 percent of the adult population in 1970 to 20 percent in 2013. And the people with high blood pressure who went untreated fell from 80 percent in 1970 to 33 percent in 2010.

Even corporate America is catching on: General Mills stopped selling cereal that isn’t whole grain, and Wal-Mart no longer distributes foods with evil trans fats or sells fish with toxins—important signals to food manufacturers that we can demand healthier products.

What does this all mean? Although we’re not perfect, we are making progress—by increasing activity, squashing cigarettes, managing stress, and changing our diets. And that points to the fact that the person who has the most say over how well you age isn’t us or even your regular doctors. It’s the one who has five fingers on either side of this book.

YOU GET A DO-OVER (because you control your genes). The most important scientific publication since 2002 was the Encode study.

We learned from the human genome project in the early 2000s that more than 80 percent of your DNA was not in your genes. You have only 22,000 genes versus the 300,000 that were expected before the human genome project started. So the Encode international study group sought to find out what the remaining “junk DNA” was. Turns out that it was no more “junk” than the light switches in your house—the other 90 percent of your DNA consists of switches that control whether your genes are on or off. After all, all your genes do is watch other genes or produce proteins; these proteins have major effects such as delivering oxygen to your tissues (for the protein hemoglobin).

While science was looking for a safe way to change your genes, these Encode scientists came up with something that may be much more usable in the next ten years or so. Imagine being able to turn off the genes that cause you to produce waste proteins in your brain that stimulate inflammation that leads to memory loss. Voilà, much better brains and memories.

Or what if you could turn off the genes that promote fat accumulation around your middle? Voilà, less heart disease and less breast cancer. Yes, it may take ten years or so for us to learn how to turn on specific good genes and turn off the bad ones, but you may be able to live a lot healthier for those ten years and set a foundation for living healthier forever by turning the right genes on right now.

That is why you get a do-over. It isn’t just that exercise makes you look more like Brad Pitt, or that you become fitter than Beyonce; it’s that exercise changes which of your genes are on or off, so that by eating healthfully or managing stress or avoiding secondhand smoke you can turn off the genes that promote inflammation and turn on the genes that promote a healthier immune system or cause cancers to commit suicide. Most important, it appears you can turn on the genes that produce a bigger brain, and thus increase the size of the one organ where size matters: your brain.


Reprinted from You: The Owner's Manual by Michael F. Rozen, MD, and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. Copyright (c) 2005, 2008 and 20012 by Michael F. Rozen, MD, and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.. By permission of William Morrow. Available wherever books are sold.  

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