How Not To Die – Dr. Greger’s Anatomy Lesson, Part 1

You’ve heard it before. Perhaps from Grandma. But it bears hearing again: “Food is medicine”. How Not To Die is Dr. Michael Greger’s forthcoming book which reveals specific foods that can prevent and heal chronic diseases, and thus expand our healthspan. Read and watch.

Dr. Greger's "How Not To Die"SURELY YOU’LL want to wait till you’re done reading this article, but after that run on over to Dr. Micheal Greger’s entertaining, fact-filled site, and wade into whatever health topic moves you.

But don’t go yet!

Because right here, I want to share with you Dr. Greger’s “anatomy” of how not to die, the title of his forthcoming book, by the way, which you’ll soon learn about.

(Update: It’s now published and right here.)

There’s an illustration lurking below. It shows which specific foods support specific organs and biological functions and/or degrade common illnesses that beset them.

Like aging.

Though it may seem odd to refer to aging as an illness or disease, consider that certain chronic conditions set in a decade or so past “middle age” and gradually get worse. Eventually, one of them basically kills us, or severely disrupts our “healthspan” until the ticker ticks not.

Dr. Greger knows from the many thousands of health studies he’s reviewed and disseminated that food is medicine, and it’s an extremely important variable in the fight to live a long and strong life.

I use the word “fight” purposely.

It is a fight. And, as mentioned, there are variables.

The fight is against all the pressures and temptations presented by modern life that do a fantastically insidious job of pushing and pulling us away from sensible, life-affirming eating, such as:

  1. A Starbucks on every corner serving syrupy-sweet coffee concoctions
  2. Fast food everywhere.
  3. More manufactured food in the cupboards and fridge than real food.
  4. A hectic and stressful life that leads to 1, 2 and 3.

Of course, I could have listed many more variables, but the point is that living life in the modern world often compromises our health, not to mention our waistlines.

Maria Lamagna, a reporter at MarketWatch, recently wrote a review of new data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that said nearly 40% of American adults and 17% of youth are now obese, up eight points for adults (flat for youth) compared to ten years ago.

Add that obesity stat to those who are merely overweight, and you get a population of American adults that are more than 2/3rds overweight or obese – that’s more than 6 of 10.

Interpretation of the data indicate that the reason isn’t just a function of more calories in than out, but include some other things which touch on the “variables” I mentioned.

These other things that contribute to excess body weight are:

  • Exercise
  • Income
  • Stress
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Illness

How are you doing with these variables?

I just wanted to list them and then shuttle them to the sideline, because the rest of this article is going to focus on how you can make foods and supplements your best medicine to support your greatest healthspan possible.

Please examine Dr. Greger’s Anatomy of How Not To Die illustration, and then meet me below it where I’m going to expand on things a bit. For a larger depiction, open this pdf file.

Anatomy of How Not To Die

We’re going to examine each of Dr. Greger’s suggestions, which you’re going to be able to read in all their fine glory and detail in his forthcoming book, How Not To Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease which you can pre-order now for a discount. (I just did.)

(Update: It’s now published and right here.)

Like the coiled serpent of the Kundalini, let’s begin at the first Chakra (or Seal) and work our way up. In Dr. Greger’s illustration. First up is the Prostrate.


Reduce Your Chances of Prostrate Cancer with Seeds

The good news about prostrate cancer is that it grows slowly, and therefore many men who have it die of other causes before this cancer gets them. The bad news about prostrate cancer is that it can mess with your sex life, not to mention your equanimity.

Men who consume three heaping tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily to their diet may experience more slowly-dividing tumor cells and a greater rate of tumor cell death. But you need to be careful if you have high blood sugar, which incidentally, most overweight people do. (1)

An added benefit derived from flax seed powder is the fiber, and of course, the omega-three fatty acids that are so beneficial for helping with triglyceride levels, inflammation/arthritis, depression, and more. (2)


Suggestion: Grind other seeds along with your flaxseeds, such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds. Sprinkle the combination on oatmeal, salads or into your smoothie. Don’t use already-made seed oils, as they can be rancid.

Supplements to check out: Garden of Life Super Seed mix will save you some time grinding up various seeds, but ensure that you use it up by the expiration date so that the oils within the powder doesn’t become rancid.

Say “Goodbye” to Colon Polyps with Curcumin/Tumeric

Next up is the colon. Do you get a colonoscopy every ten years? It’s a pretty smart thing to do starting from 40 years of age onward. In the meantime, eat turmeric!

Research on turmeric and its sidekick, curcumin, indicate that they can:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Increase antioxidant capacity
  • Slow down degenerative process in the brain
  • Lower heart disease risk
  • Inhibit cancer cell growth

(Curcumin is a potent phytochemical found in turmeric. Read the specifics about the above-listed benefits here.)

Specific to colon health, what you should know is that polyps on the colon are a risk factor for colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America.

A study in human subjects published in 2006 in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology showed that curcumin, along with quercetin, reduced both the number and size of colon polyps. (Quercetin enhances bioavailability.) The study was quite small, but similar studies w/ rodents underscore the benefits of curcumin. (3)


Suggestion: Get yourself bottles of turmeric and curcumin (found at many grocery stores), and add it liberally to your meals. I also add a heaping teaspoon to my morning smoothie.  If you’d like to learn more about this amazing herb, read 15 Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin According to Science at Jen Reviews.

Supplements to check out: Unless you live on the Indian subcontinent, you’re unlikely to consume enough turmeric/curcumin to make a big difference, so I suggest you take a supplemental form of the herb that is concentrated. I use Optimized Curcumin Longvida. It contains a proprietary absorption-promoting capability that helps it move pass the GI tract. You can also take quercetin to help absorption.



Broccoli May Double Bladder Cancer Survival

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for bladder cancer in the United States for 2015 are (4):

  • About 74,000 new cases of bladder cancer diagnosed (about 56,320 in men and 17,680 in women).
  • About 16,000 deaths from bladder cancer (about 11,510 in men and 4,490 in women).

About nine out of ten people with this cancer are over the age of 55, and men are three to four times more likely to get bladder cancer during their lifetime than women.

There’s sufficient evidence to proclaim that broccoli may help prevent and/or improve bladder cancer survival, because it – along with other cruciferous vegetables – are a rich source of dietary isothiocyanates.

Isothiocyanates are biologically active products of glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds. They’re in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, turnips, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, rutabaga, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, horseradish, radish, and watercress.

Isothiocyanates can disrupt the carcinogenic chemicals in cancer in three different ways:

  • They don’t allow carcinogens to be activated;
  • They counteract the poisonous effects of carcinogens that have been activated; and
  • They speed up their removal from the body. (5)


Suggestion: Eat plenty of sulphur-rich, isothiocyanate-containing cruciferous vegetables. Better yet, get broccoli and other cruciferous vegetable seeds and sprout them. Either way, sprinkle curcumin and flax seed powder on them to make them even healthier.

Supplements to check out: If you don’t want to sprout your own, or aren’t a fan of broccoli et al, grab a bottle of broccoli sprout extract. These freshly germinated broccoli sprouts contain from 30 to 50 times the concentration of isothiocyanates as mature broccoli.

Lose Weight and Reduce Diabetes Risk with Beans and Legumes

Not to split hairs but, a legume is a plant with a fruit that grows in the form of a pod, though not all plants with pods are legumes.  Classic legumes include peas, beans, or peanuts.  Typically the pods are not eaten, green beans being an exception.

A bean is just a seed of a certain variety of plant species, but these days we refer to the whole plant as “beans”.  Classic beans include green beans, lima beans, soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, or black-eyed peas.

I sidestep the confusion by thinking of them as basically the same thing.

(Thanks to Daily Health Lesson for the lesson.)

Paleo diet advocates may tell you to beware beans and legumes because of the lectins and phytic acid that they say destroy any nutritional value. If that’s a concern, simply soak them overnight before cooking. This will “extract” much of the lectins and phytic acid, though I would argue that even with lectins and phytic acid intact, both legumes and beans do a body good.

(Read my article, Make Your Paleo Diet More Vegan Like It Used To Be.)

The consumption of beans and legumes is the one consistently common dietary factor shared by all the inhabitants of the “Blue Zones”, those few pockets around the world where a much greater proportion of the population enjoy a healthspan of 100 years or greater.

Not to mention (though we will) weight loss and diabetes curtailment.

Nutritionist and medical doctor, Joel Fuhrman says that since the fiber and resistant starch in beans and other legumes keep their glycemic load low, they are great foods for preventing or reversing adult-onset diabetes, and cites a study on 64,000 women followed for 4 years which found that a liberal consumption of legumes were associated with a 38% decreased risk of diabetes.

Further, the type 2 (adult-onset) diabetics who followed a legume-rich diet had enhanced improvements in fasting glucose, HbA1c, body weight, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure compared to a whole grain-rich diet. (6)

Since beans are high nutrient, high-fiber, and low-calorie, you can eat them in large quantities without the danger of weight gain. The high fiber and resistant starch content of beans makes them very satiating, allowing you to feel full longer and stave off food cravings. Those who regularly eat beans have greater intakes of minerals and fiber, have lower blood pressure, and are less likely to be overweight than those that don’t consume beans. (7)


Suggestion: Get more creative with your beans and legumes and move past black and pinto beans. Try lima beans, garbanzos, kidney beans and the many different types of lentils, which offer the added benefit of being high in protein.

Supplements to check out: Beano, because if you don’t have sufficient hydrochloric acid in your stomach (and/or soak the beans beforehand), you’re going to want to keep peace in the household.


Reduce Liver Inflammation with Coffee

This is one of those situations where a little goes a long way. Red wine comes to mind. One glass per day confers health benefits. By the time you get to three, the alcohol and sugars overwhelm the benefits.

So it goes with coffee – too much and the acids and caffeine can be damaging, particularly as it relates to elevating cortisol, called the “death hormone” because of how chronically high cortisol can lead to an assortment of chronic diseases and even shorten telomeres.

That said, when it comes to liver disease, according to the Harvard Health Letter, drinking coffee in moderation may:

  • Lower levels of certain enzymes associated with liver damage and inflammation.
  • Protect against liver cancer.
  • Be responsible for various liver benefits due to cafestol and kahweol, substances found in unfiltered coffee.
  • Improve response to some treatments for hepatitis C.


Suggestion: Forget Starbucks and the like. Buy organic coffee beans grown at high elevation and shade dried. Drink one or two cups in the morning and then turn to green tea.

Supplements to check out: No supplement here, rather mighty fine coffee beans, Guatemalan Organic Finca Ceylan SHG RFA SMBC Coffee Beans.


Eat Fruit to Reduce Pulmonary Disease Risk

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the most common lung diseases, particularly for smokers, although up to a third of COPD sufferers never smoked. (8)

Symptoms are mucus, coughing and shortness of breath.

Just like a lot of health issues, your chances of getting COPD are reduced if you use food as medicine.

Enter Dr. Greger, who says:

In 2002 we learned that every extra serving of fruit we add to our daily diet may reduce our risk of getting and then eventually dying from COPD. In 2006 we could add tea drinking to fruits and vegetables for COPD prevention. In 2007 a twin pair of studies emerged, one from Columbia and another from Harvard, implicating cured meats such as bacon, bologna, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and salami as a risk factor for developing COPD. They thought the nitrite preservatives in the meat might be mimicking the damage incurred by the nitrites from cigarette smoke (see my 2-min. video When Nitrites Go Bad for more). In 2008 Harvard decided to study women as well and came to the same conclusions. We know now what to go out of our way to eat and what to try to avoid.


Suggestion: Listen to the good doctor and eat more fruits and vegetables. By the way, “fruit” doesn’t mean “fruit juice”, as the juice has none of the fiber to slow down the sugar absorption into the blood, and thereby the tax on insulin produced by the pancreas.

Supplements to check out: Green Superfood contains a number of organic alkalizing greens, antioxidant-rich fruits and herbs in a concentrated form. If you have neither the time nor taste buds to prepare and eat a bunch of fruits and veggies each day, consider using this product.


Reduce Breast Cancer Risk with Green Tea

Green tea is everywhere, and everywhere it’s drunk in copious amounts. Given that the incidence of breast cancer among women living in Asia is less than half of those in the U.S. and Western Europe (9), you could suggest inverse causality between green tea consumption and breast cancer, but that’s not proven; after all, just because the Sun shines when the sky is blue doesn’t mean one causes the other.

What we do know is that the list of health benefits conferred by drinking green tea is long, because of the catechins it contains, the most powerful being EGCG, or “epigallocatechin gallate”, a potent polyphenol.

As it relates to reducing breast cancer risk, various studies indicate that women receiving green tea extract had significantly lower levels of breast tumor growth factors within two months into the treatment. I might add, similar results have been observed in studies evaluating the impact of green tea on prostrate cancer. (10)


This is all well and fine, but in my view, any discussion of reducing breast cancer risk – or even fighting breast cancer once it’s established – should include Turkey Tail mushroom.

Yeah, there really is a mushroom called “Turkey Tail”.

This was first brought to my attention by the famous mycologist, Dr. Paul Stamet’s Ted Talk, where he spoke about how his extract of this mushroom beat his 80+ year-old mother’s breast cancer into submission.

In my article, Your 8 Ingredient Ebola Protection Recipe, I wrote:

“I first heard of Turkey Tail mushroom from one the most preeminent mycologist in America, Paul Stamets. At a TEDmd conference, he was telling the story of how it saved his eighty-something mother from dying of breast cancer. He turned, looked down and smiled at someone, and up leaped his mother, who strode onto the stage, hale and smiling. Mr. Stamets then penned an article for the Huffington Post about how Turkey Tail Mushrooms defeats cancer and other degenerative diseases because it increases those killer cells (T-cells) above mentioned. The quality of Turkey Tail mushrooms varies, so buy it from the most righteous mushroom guy around, Paul Stamets, on his site, Fungi Perfecti.”

Turkey Tail mushrooms have been used in Asia for of years, and it turns out to be a really potent immune therapy, so much so that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a clinical trial for Turkey Tail extract, allowing patients with advanced prostate cancer to take it in combination with conventional chemotherapy. (11)

Yes, like green tea, it appears Turkey Tail mushrooms can benefit the two cancers particular to each gender: breast cancer for women and prostrate for men.

(Read the Turkey tail section of the article, How to Beat the Cold Flu In Just One Day.)

Suggestion: Drink the highest quality green tea you can find and afford. Drink it all day long.

Supplements to check out: I heartily recommend the one I use on a daily basis, Organic Matcha DNA, which offers over ten times the health benefits than brewed green tea, and Turkey Tail mushroom extract for the reasons cited above. You may also want to quercetin to help absorption, as I suggested above. editors say this about quercetin as it relates to green tea:

“Green tea seems Godly in vitro, but it has high variability in people because not 100% of the catechins get to the cell to exert effects. Any supplementation with green tea catechins, in my opinion, should have thought given to increasing bioavailability through Quercetin, Fish Oil, or consuming green tea with a meal that has these two.” (12)

The Benefits of Green Tea


Your Takeaway for Part 1

Here in Part 1 of How Not To Die – Dr. Greger’s Anatomy Lesson, we’ve examined how food is medicine, and how supplements enhance the right foods that improve our health and ward off various chronic illness such as, bladder cancer, breast cancer prostrate cancer, colon polyps and weight gain.

These are the foods that will do the job:

  • Ground seeds, such as flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds
  • Tumeric and curcumin
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and broccoli sprouts
  • Beans and legumes
  • Coffee
  • Fruit and veggies
  • Green tea

These are the supplements you can add to the foods that will do the job:

Subscribers, you’ll receive Part 2 in your email boxes next week.

Everyone else, check back in seven days for the next part where we’ll dig into the foods and supplements that can effectively deal with:

  • Depression
  • Parkinson’s
  • Stroke
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Immunity
  • Upper Respiratory Infection
  • Cholesterol
  • Blood Pressure

Yes, there will be something for everyone!

In the meantime, if you know someone dealing with one or more of the health issues touched upon here, send them this article.

Continue with Part 2


Last Updated on February 7, 2024 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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