I recently wrote a foreword for a book with the possibly controversial title Eat to Beat Disease.
In it, the author, William Li, takes the reader through the body’s five dominant systems for self-healing and explains which foods contain substances with the potential to slow down or stimulate processes. Essentially it is about regulating regeneration of blood vessels (interesting in regards to the development of cancer) but also the immune system, the protection of our DNA, the function of our stem cells and the role of the gut flora.
Here, for example, we learn what unites cherries, kale, squid ink, coffee, walnuts and dark chocolate. They all belong to the rather limited family of raw materials that promote our self-healing across all systems simultaneously. But we are also told that beer, in addition to well-known disadvantages, can bring something good for health as well.
The effect of bioactive substances found in food, or those which are formed in the body after having eaten, attracts great interest in the research world right now. The area has already got its own name: postbiotics. William Li’s book is not a complete manual but it provides an interesting insight into a young but rapidly growing field of research.
But for me, it is also somewhat thought provoking that an American researcher writes a book that in a Swedish debate, with a Swedish author, would most likely have been aggressively questioned. I believe this due to its discussions around subjects where there is relatively strong support in the research but where decisive, major studies remain to be completed. So let’s dive into this a little.
Who is William Li? Some may remember last year’s Nobel festivities where things got shaken up a bit when the guitarist in the rock group U2 – The Edge – broke the norms by wearing the hat that has become his signature. He was invited due to his support for Texas researcher Jim Allison, who in 2018 was rewarded for discovery of cancer immunotherapy. Few understood that the U2 guitarist participated as a representative of The Angiogenesis foundation where he is on the board.
The chairman of, and founder, of The Angiogenesis foundation is William Li. In that role, he can follow the development of the next generation of drugs, which is largely based on stimulating and utilizing the body’s own healing system.
William Li emphasizes that even today there are currently no treatment methods that make it possible for diet to be used in place of drugs in the case of an illness. But he also sees the dilemma in which many of the drugs being developed become enormously expensive and will never be accessible to all people.
At the same time, he notes, the drugs are based on substances found in common raw materials, easily accessible to most people. Already today it is possible to choose food that strengthens their own chances.
However, another emphasis of his is that no one should experiment on their own during medical treatment. Substances in food can both reduce and increase the effect of drugs, and there is a need for expert expertise from doctors and dieticians in each individual case.
What would likely go wrong in a Swedish debate of this book is that William Li, when writing his book, not only writes as a researcher. He also dares to take a step out of that role and make an analysis based on benefit vs. risk. Benefit and risk are like yin and yang, two sides of the same coin. Even though a valuation of the scientific evidence is crucial, it is still only one part of a whole where the other part is the risk: the risk of doing something though there is incomplete knowledge or the risk of not and leaving it be.
The scientifically reported benefits he sees in the food are strong enough for pharmaceutical companies to dare to invest large sums in trying to convert them into patented drugs. One could then presume that the benefits of eating food that is completely harmless and where there is only an upside, is probably also great enough for you and I to do so.
Henrik Ennart, together with Niklas Ekstedt, is the author of the recently published book Happy Food 2.0 (currently only available in Swedish, however your can find their first book Happy Food in English here.). The views in the chronicle are the writer’s own.