Our Favorite Books on Health and Medicine

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Looking for a good read? One Medical Group providers have compiled a list of their favorite books on health and medicine. Their recommendations run the gamut from sensible advice on eating and exercise, to poignant explorations of emotional upheaval, and the fascinating science behind topics such as stress and fast-moving epidemics.

SpencerBlackman‘Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health’ by H. Gilbert Welch, Lisa M. Schwartz, and Steven Woloshin

“Overdiagnosed” is a must-read for both patients and providers in our era of health care reform. Gilbert Welch MD, a professor of medicine at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, elegantly explains a little-known but massively important concept–overdiagnosis–that forces us to challenge the age-old maxim that “early detection saves lives,” and to reevaluate many of our current approaches to screening for disease.

For example, widespread use of mammograms has led to the identification of more cases of breast cancer. That much isn’t surprising. Oddly, however, research indicates that mammograms haven’t led to more lives being saved. How can this be? The answer seems to be that the vast majority of breast cancers diagnosed by mammography are either very slow-growing tumors that would never have caused harm to the patient, or tumors that would’ve been just as curable (or incurable, depending on the case) if they had they been detected later. In other words, early diagnosis isn’t having an appreciable impact on survival.

The problem is that all this early diagnosis exposes patients to real harms, including increased stress and worry, the time and money invested in follow-up procedures, adverse outcomes from the screening itself, and unneeded treatment. Not only is the diagnosis unhelpful; it’s actually worse than the disease–hence the term “overdiagnosis.” Overdiagnosis probably applies to other cancers, as well as conditions like hypertension and diabetes. Thinking about overdiagnosis represents a sea change in our approach to preventive medicine, and Welch makes it all crystal clear and highly compelling. Don’t miss this book.

Spencer Blackman, MD, One Medical Group, San Francisco

‘In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto’ by Michael PollanKarynDuggan

This is an absolute must-read for anyone who has ever been confused about what to eat in order to be healthy. Beginning with his wonderfully pragmatic opening line–“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”–Pollan proceeds to provide one of the best retrospectives on dietary direction to date.

Pollan focuses on the need to eat real, unprocessed food, and describes the forces keeping us from doing so. He points to both the food industry and nutritional science (and its emphasis on eating specific nutrients versus actual foods) as two of the culprits.

A seasoned author and regular contributor to the New York Times, Pollan is a pleasure to read; he simultaneously informs and entertains. I wish all my patients would read this before coming to see me!

Karyn Duggan, CNC, One Medical Group, San Francisco

Kim‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping’ by Robert M. Sapolsky

For a zebra being chased by a lion in the Serengeti, a “fight or flight” response is extremely advantageous: The temporary stress-induced physiologic changes help the zebra avoid becoming dinner. However, for humans, a prolonged activation of these pathways through chronic stress (worrying about finances, struggling with relationship woes, dealing with a frustrating commute) has serious health consequences.

In “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” Sapolsky, a brilliant neurobiolgoist with a knack for making science relevant, explains how the biology of stress, while beneficial for the zebra, contributes to chronic disease in humans. From heart disease to diabetes, depression, and–you guessed it–ulcers, chronic stress affects virtually every organ system.

By combining thoughtful science with a fantastic touch of humor, Sapolsky outlines how the stresses of modern life affect our health and offers insight on what we can do about it.

Kimberly Boyd, MD, One Medical Group, Chicago

‘You Can Heal Your Life’ by Louise HaySeannaSifflet

In this moving book, motivational author Louise Hay suggests that our emotional well-being plays a key role in our health. Shifting negative thinking patterns can have a dramatic impact not only on your happiness but also on your experience of disease and wellness. To this end, Hay offers practical exercises for when you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or out of control.

Hay also incorporates her personal story in a way that is thoughtful and candid and keeps the book from sounding preachy. I recommend this empowering book to my patients often.

Seanna Sifflet, LAc, MSW, One Medical Group, New York

MalcolmThaler‘Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic’ by David Quammen

Ebola virus kills quickly and mercilessly–where did it come from and where might it be going? How did the HIV/AIDS virus virus suddenly pop into existence late in the 20th century? How can we keep our communities and families safe from future epidemics?

These are the kinds of questions David Quammen asks in his extraordinary book “Spillover,” a romp through the new, emerging diseases called zoonosis, the term used to describe infections that first arise in the animal kingdom and only later spill over into humanity. The story of how these spillovers occur, and why each is distinct in its range and pathogenicity, is an extraordinary tale of daring researchers and brilliant deductions. You will read this book to learn, but you will keep turning the pages for the excitement of how it all turns out.

The award-winning Quammen, author of previous classics in natural history such as “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin” and “The Song of the Dodo,” has once again found the key to making hard science as fascinating as any whodunit.

Malcolm Thaler, MD, One Medical Group, New York City


‘Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health’ by Jo Robinson

Most of us try to get our recommended daily dose of fruits and vegetables. But could our best-intentioned efforts be falling flat? Robinson, a science writer, argues that the way humans have cultivated crops over the last 10,000 years has dramatically decreased the nutrient value of much of what we eat. But the news isn’t all bad. Robinson outlines many ways to make the most of our modern fruits and vegetables.

I recommend this well-researched book to vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores–anyone who want to turn up the dial on his or her health.

Samantha Treyve, MS, RD, One Medical Group, San Francisco

Susan Owen‘The First 20 Minutes’ by Gretchen Reynolds

In “The First 20 Minutes,” Reynolds, who writes Phys Ed, a weekly fitness column for the New York Times, has compiled decades of scientific research on the most effective ways to exercise and train in order to live a longer, healthier life.

She offers tips and tricks that are helpful for couch potatoes and seasoned athletes alike, and demystifies theories on fitness and weight loss.

One of the most interesting points Reynolds makes is that we don’t need to engage in feats of athleticism to improve our health. We just need exercise–most Americans get startlingly little of it–and small changes can make a big difference. The bottom line of the book is that we humans need to move our bodies!

– Susan Owen, MHS, PA-C, One Medical Group Virtual Care Team


‘Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar’ by Cheryl Strayed

“Tiny Beautiful Things” is a compilation of Cheryl Strayed’s replies to an advice column she authored anonymously. Strayed, the author of the bestselling memoir “Wild,” provides advice that feels both intimate and genuine–a rare feat in an industry in which recommendations are usually too broad to apply to real-life situations.

Using graceful, albeit sometimes salty language, Strayed also interweaves her own life’s story into the advice she’s giving. This frankness allows readers to identify with the pain Strayed has experienced and feel her resilience as their own.

As a clinical psychologist, I didn’t always agree with all the advice given, but I found myself mesmerized by how vulnerable Strayed made herself in this column and how she was able to get to the truth of so many situations. I find myself re-reading certain passages because they articulate emotions and thoughts I hear in my friends and patients’ lives. For anyone feeling lost or struggling through a difficult time, or looking for inspiration, this is a wonderful read.

Christine Celio, PhD, One Medical Group, San Francisco

MarkBerman‘Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well’ by David Katz, MD, MPH

A lot of nutrition and weight loss books are focused on extreme changes that require a radical departure from one’s typical eating pattern: never consume sugar, avoid all gluten, only eat raw foods.

This book takes a different tack, highlighting lifestyle changes that don’t require superhuman strength but have a dramatic impact on our overall health. For example, Katz points out that taste buds change over time, and small, incremental changes to one’s diet can reduce cravings for overly sweet and salty foods in the long run.

Very easy to read, deeply pragmatic, and grounded in scientific evidence, “Disease-Proof” addresses not only why we should focus on healthful life choices, but also how to do so in a modern world that is architected to make us sick.

Mark Berman, MD, One Medical Group, San Francisco

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