Bring Your Questions for End of Illness Author David Agus

Here’s an obvious but sobering thought: every one of us will someday get sick and die. And here’s a happier thought: with ever-advancing medical technology and research, we can now avoid many kinds of illnesses and add more years to our lifespan.

The oncologist David Agus lives halfway between those two thoughts. He is a professor at USC, the founder of Oncology.com, a co-founder of Navigenics, and now the author of The End of Illness. Most impressively, perhaps, he was recently a guest on The Daily Show

The End of Illness is Agus’s take on how the body works and why it fails. Along the way, he challenges a lot of conventional wisdom about health with academic studies and his own medical experience. Arguments in the book include: that taking vitamins may increase the risk of cancer; that sitting at a desk all day may be as damaging as smoking; and that you can tell something about a patient’s health based on whether she wears high-heel shoes. One review of the book reads: “A ‘rock star’ doctor says throw away the vitamins, load up on baby aspirin, and keep moving.”

Agus has agreed to field questions from Freakonomics readers, so please fire away in the comments section below, and as always we’ll post his answers in due course. To get you started, here’s the book’s table of contents:

Part I: The Science and Art of Defining Your Health

Chapter 1: What Is Health?
Chapter 2: A Pound of Cure
Chapter 3: Go Back to the Future
Chapter 4: Rotten Eggs and Cute Chicks
Chapter 5: Two French Restaurants, One without Butter

Part II: The Elements of Healthy Style

Chapter 6: Proceed with Caution
Chapter 7: The Truth about Synthetic Shortcuts
Chapter 8: The Fallacy of “Fresh”
Chapter 9: Hot and Heavy
Chapter 10: Running to Sit Still
Chapter 11: Timing Is Everything

Part III: The Future You

Chapter 12: High-Tech Health
Chapter 13: The Give-and-Take
Chapter 14: The Art of Doing Nothing
Conclusion: Of Mice and Men and the Search for the Master Switch

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  1. Douglas says:

    Many occupations require one to sit for long periods behind a desk. What can people do to minimize the damaging effects of this occupational hazard?

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  2. Henry jarmuszewski says:

    It’s natural that we should try to prolong our lives but how do we become reconciled to our mortality?Isn’t the search for “the end of illness” just a denial of the inevitable?

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  3. Jim Steele says:

    Other than taking aspirin what are the best things a person can do to lower their risk of cancer? As someone with Crohn’s Disease I’ve been advised not to take aspirin, which is why I’m curious. (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/crohns-disease/DS00104/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs).

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  4. health aspirant says:

    I guess the question is whom do we trust in a profit driven medical market place. AFter learning this week that I may be diabetic and experiencing a bit of memory loss as the result of taking 10 mg’s of a statin, I am taking myself off that stuff and going on a heavy duty exercise and diet program- no cheating. My doc likes to be ahead of the curve- the problem is which one- take x, get y. don’t take x, get z.

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  5. Ben D says:

    What are the top 10 actions I can take to reduce my cancer risk?

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  6. Allison says:

    I always tried to get all my vitamins through my diet until I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. My doctor suggested a daily multi-vitamin to supplement my diet since my body wasn’t absorbing nutrients as well. Would you say there are certain people with health problems, such as myself, that can benefit from taking vitamins?

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  7. Evan says:

    I am a first year medical student and have seen several of your interviews on TV, have read several other descriptions of your work, and generally agree with your point of view of treating the human body as a complex emergent system. You make mention of several studies indicating, for example an increased or decreased risk of cancer when consuming certain products, and likewise for other diseases. Isn’t that the same basic argument that studies have been making for a while? Shouldn’t you instead be concerned with the overall mortality rate when taking a medication compared to not taking it? Ultimately, shouldn’t not dying (i.e. living longer) be more important than just not getting cancer considering you might die of some other cause sooner instead because the same item that reduced your risk of cancer increased your risk of fatality otherwise?

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  8. Xavier Sala-i-Martin says:

    I met David in Davos and I was really impressed. I had dinner with him one night and I followed his recommendation; statins and baby aspirin. I also read the end of illness in one weekend! Loved it! But two days ago I read that statins will get a warning label because of danger of diabetes. I am a professor of Economics at Columbia… and I am confused with so much contradictory advise. Unless you say otherwise I will continue with statins and baby aspirin (as you suggested at the Davos dinner)… but it is hard for the non experts to keep up with the news… My strategy for now is “do what Agos says”. For some reason and even though I met him twice in a week, there is something in his eyes that make me trust him. Problem is that he also recommends to work with my doctor and I do not trust the degree of preparation of this doctor when he gives me advise that contradicts “the end of illness”. Hemce, I am in a state of profound confusion: about to turn 50, completely healthy, taking statins and baby aspirin and ready to do a DNA and proteomics test. Any advise, doctor? P.S. Lookimg good at the Oscars. My wife (the professional triathlete that sat at our table in Davos and I were happy to see you at the Oscars)

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    • crquack says:

      So you trust a celebrity doctor who is trying to sell his book “because of something in his eyes” but you do not trust * your* doctor who, while presumably familiar with your specific condition, contradicts the former individual’s advice?

      Have you looked at the actual evidence for ASA use in primary prevention of anything in general population? Surely to an Economics professor this should be more important than a gut feeling.

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