The Cure For Everything – Or Not?

This weekend I read “The Cure For Everything“, a book by Timothy Caulfield, professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and research director of the Health Law and Science Policy Group. (He is also a rather cool dude and someone who is quite a bit of fun to hang out with.)

In this book, which can perhaps best be described as a romp through the science and business of health, Caulfield describes his interactions with a range of experts and coaches in his pursuit of toned muscles , losing fat, and generally trying to get healthier. On the way, he debunks some of the many myths around fitness, weight loss, and personalized medicine and takes a hefty stab at so-called ‘complementary’ medicine, while not shying away from also pointing to some of the problems with the pharma establishment.

Without wanting to give away too much about, what I found to be a most light-hearted and easy read, I do wish to give a few pointers to prospective readers.

While Caulfield, as a lifelong athlete, appears rather ‘obsessed’ with his body composition, it is not exactly clear to me why he would attempt to reduce his perfectly lower-end-of normal 18% body fat down to what I would consider a most unhealthy and rather concern-evoking 10%. It appears that Caulfield, like so many, tends to equate body fat with health, something regular readers of these pages are probably well aware is rather nonsensical and counterproductive.

Rather than show some respect for what is a most useful and highly evolved tissue, Caulfield’s disdain for his poor old body fat certainly does not hark of a healthy body image or health ideal. I do know that athletes tend to easily buy into the culture of ‘fatlessness’ – but nowhere does Caulfield pause to reflect on why fat would be such an unhealthy tissue to have – a tissue only there to be searched out and destroyed.

Of course, I get that much of what Caulfield pursues is simply in the spirit of a ‘self-experiment’ – an experiment where he provides some most interesting and revealing insights into the cult-like fitness conglomerate – one that generally tends to get off far lighter than the evil food industry, although some might argue that it is as ruthless, cynical and single-minded when it comes to wealth generation for its owners as any other industry.

Much in the book, including his take on the hype surrounding personalized medicine based on genetic testing (Caulfield had his genome decoded to learn surprisingly little about himself), the magical thinking that constitutes the fundamental basis for ‘alternative’ medicines (wrongly referred to by its practitioners as a science), and the rather unfortunate practices of big pharma (who will not hesitate to buy favours with free cups of coffee and ball point pens), is not too far from what I think about these matters. Seeing them discussed with a healthy dose of humour, is most entertaining, if not radically new.

On the other hand, I am certain that many readers will likely find their beliefs challenged and probably grapple with some of the more audacious remarks including the fact that it is physiologically impossible to tone muscle, stretching is a waste of time, Yoga is essentially a marketing front for Lulu Lemon, core strength is more about wishful thinking than health, exercise is remarkably useless for losing weight, most of us need a surprisingly minute number of calories to maintain weight, and little-known truths about colon cleansing and fighting nausea with acupuncture.

Two rather minor errors did grab my attention: scopolamine is not an anti-histamine (it is an anticholinergic drug) and the ‘y’ follows the ‘r’ in my first name (a surprisingly common mistake).

Thanks Tim for an interesting read – nicely done – hope you make the bestseller lists!

Edmonton, Alberta