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Book Review of: Life Over Cancer

The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment

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Review of Life Over Cancer, by Dr. Keith I. Block, M.D. (Hardcover, 2010)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book is a mixed blessing. Consequently, I have to categorize it as helpful but not authoritative. In fact, some of the recommendations, based on factual errors, should not be followed. I will identify those, in a moment.

On the positive side, the author explains the why and how of going past the allopathic paradigm of mainstream American cancer treatment. The mainstream focus is on reducing the tumor size and then "getting the cancer" through radiation or chemo. This part is more like the tripod of a stool, and Dr. Block explains why.

In many cases, mainstream cancer treatment is essentially assisted suicide (my words, not Dr. Block's). Dr. Block provides some examples proving this, but there are thousands of such examples in the medical literature as well. Dr. Block's approach is to actually engage in health care, not something most medical care providers are willing or able to do. Unfortunately, his formal training is in medical care and he has some errors in his understanding of health care.

Before I explain his errors, let me put things in the proper perspective. I am appalled by what I see in shopping carts at the grocery store. It's as if people are obsessed with getting sick. Only in rare cases do I see a cart (other than my own) that doesn't contain contaminated "food" not fit for human consumption. And here I am talking only about such major contaminants as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil.

Give this background, even if you accept the dietary recommendations Dr. Block, even with their flaws, it is nearly certain that your diet will improve dramatically and health benefits will flow from that single decision. His advice is mostly very, very good. But it does have some errors. If you can correct those errors, you can get the full benefits he intends for you to get. I hope in a future revision of this book, the errors are corrected. From reading this, I have the impression that Dr. Block truly cares about people with cancer and thus will make the needed corrections.

Another impression I got is the book is somewhat of an advertorial for the treatment center Dr. Block is part of. Only somewhat, though. Of course, there's the subtitle giving this impression. But, the tone isn't advertorial and the book really isn't about the Block Center. It's about what the Block Center is doing and why it works.

I think, given the complexity of the topic, Dr. Block is trying to speak from experience. As he doesn't work at other centers, that leaves using this one as the basis. He may also feel that it's not his place to tell other cancer care providers how to do their jobs. So, his position is, "Here's what we are doing and you can see it works measurably better than non-integrated approaches. Please consider this."

The errors I can identify are related to either nutrition or exercise. I'm providing a complete list, so you can print out this review and use it as an erratum to the book.

Errors: Nutrition

Nutrition is a subject that most doctors know very poorly and in which what little they do know is often incorrect. I point that out so the reader understands Dr. Block has actually done a pretty decent job here. Lots of good advice, but some errors.

Fish. He repeatedly recommends eating fish and taking fish oil. Aside from the moral imperative to reduce the demand for human consumption of fish (read about fish depletion, some time), there is the fact that fish flesh contains high concentrations of various toxins. If you're sick, you should avoid fish rather than eat more of it.

Egg yolk. He is under the impression that egg yolks are bad. The opposite is true. Eating the whole egg is much healthier than tossing away half of the egg. Yolks contain some great nutrients, including vitamin D. Read about vitamin D, and you see it reaches into just about every bodily system. It's arguably the most important of the vitamins. Why throw it away?

Dr. Block recommends eggs that come from chickens that have Omega 3 added to their feed. This is also wrong. What you want are eggs that come from chickens that aren't on chicken feed (regardless of what's added). In CAFOs (read about those), chickens are routinely fed pig poop, ground chicken, and chicken poop in addition to the non-natural grains. That is what commercial chicken feed is, and adding Omega 3 to it doesn't make for healthy, good-tasting eggs.

Free range chickens or those raised on smaller farms (e.g., Amish) naturally produce eggs high in Omega 3. To test if you have good eggs, check the shell. A good egg has a tough shell that you must whack hard to crack open. The cheap, mass-produced eggs have thin, fragile shells (the chickens that lay them also have fragile skeletons).

Whey protein. This is a short molecule protein that the gut absorbs rapidly. Bodybuilders consume it right after very hard workouts, and the muscles uptake it quickly. But consume it outside that "depleted muscle window" and most of it just turns to fat. This is why there are protein blends. There are alternative proteins also, such as buckwheat and hemp, that do not come from dairy products. Dr. Block rails against dairy constantly in this book, yet a cornerstone of his dietary advice is whey--a dairy product.

Fruit juice. He actually recommends this, so my recommendation to him is to ask an endocrinologist to explain why fruit juice is not fit for human consumption. Yes, there is some upside to fruit juice consumption. But the downside is comparatively so immense that the question of whether to drink it isn't open for debate. The effects include insulin spiking, and Dr. Block devotes considerable space in this book to the subject of moderating insulin (which he says cancers require for metastasizing). You can't moderate insulin and spike it; these are mutually exclusive.

Kale. If you grow this in soil enriched with crumbled eggshells and coffee grounds, you get a dark, calcium-rich plant that contains all of the nutrients you need for absorbing calcium. The calcium chart Dr. Block includes in the book does not account for bioavailability or other factors that determine how much of the calcium you can use from a given source. On the one hand, Dr. Block advises to reduce calcium intake and on the other he advises to eat more kale. I'm not sure how to resolve this conflict, but I would lean toward the latter.

On page 84, he rates eggplant as "OK for Daily Use" but not "OK for Every Meal." I think he's referring to breaded/fried eggplant. I grow eggplant in rich soil and cut it up into cubes that I add, raw, to my veggies and soups. Eggplant is an anti-oxidant powerhouse, particularly in relation to colon cancer. Eggplant is OK for Every Meal.

Also on page 84, he recommends eating corn. No, no, and no. On page 85, he calls corn a vegetable. It is not. Corn is a grain, and it is the one grain that has been cultivated for over 5,000 years to be high in sugar and less nutrient-dense. Consequently, the typical corn product is not fit for animals (including humans) to eat. That includes sweet corn. Canned corn adds more toxicity to the mix.

The exception with corn is popcorn. Popcorn has a very hard kernel and is low in sugar. You must heat it and burst the kernel to eat it. Popcorn with garlic and cayenne pepper on it is healthy and a good fat loss food (I'm at 6.3% body fat as I write this, and have been eating this almost daily for the past month and a half), provided you have a moderate amount, pop it in olive oil (or some other safe oil, not the microwave stuff), and eat it with beans to get a nearly complete protein profile.

Highly glycemic grains. Millet is highly glycemic. It will spike your insulin. This, and some other grain recommendations from Dr. Block, are to be avoided.

On page 86, Dr. Block advises eating crackers. These are typically made with multiple toxins, including hydrogenated oil, refined wheat flour (which is highly glycemic), and corn syrup. If you choose to buy anything that comes in a box or can, read the label very carefully before putting it in your shopping cart. If you are eating out, just assume the crackers are toxic and don't eat them.

On page 94, he recommends raisins. In other places, he recommends other dried fruits. These are all highly glycemic. You can eat these in tiny amounts with a fat or protein.

On page 94, he recommends pineapple. This particular fruit has been bred to be high in sugar. It's sweet. It's highly glycemic. Canned pineapple adds extra toxicity over fresh. Fresh pineapple may be OK if eaten in small amounts along with something to blunt the glycemic effect, but why take the risk? There are plenty of other fruits to choose from.

On page 99, he recommends decaf coffee and doesn't elaborate on what this means. Typically, decaf coffee can also be called "formaldehyde enriched." Formaldehyde is a potent carcinogen. If you put decaf grounds on garden plants, they usually will die. That said, there is a caffeine-reduction process that doesn't use formaldehyde. The actual plant has been bred to produce less caffeine. As caffeine is normally harmless unless taken in huge quantities and formaldehyde is toxic even in low amounts, I think I'd stick with regular coffee.

On page 354, he recommends canola oil but says to avoid safflower oil. I disagree with this. Canola oil isn't a natural oil, and it has some significant downsides. I use safflower oil regularly.

He disses peanut butter and in one spot mentions commercial peanut butter. Peanut butter is very healthy, but look on the label to ensure it's not commercial peanut butter. That will be true if the ingredients are listed as "Peanuts" or "Peanuts and salt." If there is anything else on that label, don't buy the peanut butter. Also remember that peanut butter is farily calorie dense. A little goes a long way.

Errors: Exercise

On page 169, Dr. Block correctly identifies the need for good posture. Yet, few people have anything remotely close. Bodybuilders, gymnasts, and serious martial artists are among the few who are conscious of their posture all the time. The solution for most people is a chiropractor. Yet, Dr. Block mentions chiropractic only once in passing as a "you might want to" thing. Actually, chiropractic should be a core aspect of your physical fitness program.

Dr. Block discusses working your core. This is correct. The typical gym rat never does this. Properly done front squats work the core very well, which is why they are so exhausting. The core goes beyond what Dr. Block describes. It's not just the abs, but the whole abdominal cavity, including the pelvic floor. There's a whole body of literature about this.

Dr. Block gives a reason that situps are not a good exercise. He's correct that they aren't but the reason is they work mostly the hip flexors and actually work against good posture. A great ab exercise is the properly done front squat. Hanging leg raises are also good. These are my ab exercises, and I have very striking abs (my photo is at supplecity.com).

Dr. Block provides a great tip at the bottom of page 180. He talks about interval training, and he is spot on. So, not an error here. The error is he doesn't carry this through the rest of the book. Interval training is high intensity exercise, and most of his recommendations are for moderate or low intensity exercise--the kind that produces minimal results. There is extensive literature on why high intensity exercise has profound effects and other kinds of exercise have, at best, moderate benefits.

On page 207, he recommends endurance training to "lose weight" (by which he means lose fat). Wrong. This kind of training depresses testosterone (which signals the body to burn fat) and raises cortisol (which signals the body to store fat). There is extensive literature on this. You can also look at sprinters and notice their lean, strong physiques and compare them to marathoners whose layer of body fat deprives them of good muscle definition.

Also, go back to Dr. Block's own discussion of interval training. Endurance training is the opposite. While it will burn calories during the exercise, calorie burning stops shortly after and also the hormonal environment that it leaves is conducive to fat storage rather than fat burning.

On page 211, he says to get a trainer so you learn how to exercise without injuring your muscles. Very few people injure their muscles in weight training, as they don't train with intensity. The real problem is they don't have a good program in place and end up creating muscle imbalances. For example, they will do leg presses and not hamstring curls. This creates a muscle imbalance that eventually causes back pain and other problems. I don't do leg presses. Front squats done properly will work the entire leg and eliminate muscle imbalances. A qualified trainer can coach you on how to do this exercise properly. It's not intuitive.

Conclusion

With all of the above errors, is the book one to avoid? No. It's a great book. Even if you follow it to the tee and accept the errors as sound advice, you will be far better off than the typical American who has a bad diet, bad posture, and poorly planned fitness program (if any). Further, the book goes beyond these areas to provide what I presume to be excellent advice. But consult an endocrinologist and a fitness trainer who personally does front squats and looks very fit, so you can use what's good in here without using what's bad. Or, just print out this review as an erratum and you're good to go.

What's inside

This book consists of 556 pages. It has 29 chapters and an epilogue. It also has an index and three pages about the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment. Notice, that is only three pages. This is one reason why I say this book really isn't an advertorial for the Block Center.

Unfortunately, this book does not list sources or have a bibliography. There are some references in the text, and the author uses a large number of anecdotes.

 


 

About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

The reviews I do will, contrary to emerging trends, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or not substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably another 6,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree undergrad and an MBA. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read to begin with.

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