Dr. Li’s Eat to Beat Disease
A Review by Joseph E. Scherger, MD, MPH
Eat to Beat Disease is a groundbreaking book by a Cambridge, MA based physician who is an expert in angiogenesis, the making of new blood vessels. William Li, MD, is an internist and leads the Angiogenesis Foundation, funded to come up with cancer treatments designed to starve tumors by inhibiting their blood supply (anti-angiogenesis).
Dr. Li has a deep background and understanding of nutrition, and this book surveys the many foods that enhance our health through five defense systems: angiogenesis, regeneration (stem cells), the microbiome, DNA protection, and the immune system.
Dr. Li draws from scientific publications from around the world, looking at nutrients that enhance one or more of these defense systems. He comes up with more than 200 such foods and recommends that people follow his 5 x 5 x 5 framework to beat disease. The strategy is to support each of the 5 defense systems every day with at least 5 health enhancing foods daily, and eating 5 times a day (three meals and two snacks). Some foods enhance more than one defense system but a person should still choose at least 5 healthy foods daily.
The strength of this book is the vast medical literature Dr. Li harnesses to promote healthy foods. All the studies cited are part of the National Library Medicine (found on PubMed) so they are scientifically peer reviewed. I have not seen such a complete list of health enhancing foods in one place. Another strength of the book is the deep discussion of the five defense systems. All are important but I found the microbiome and immune system information the most useful and informative.
The major weakness of the book is the lack of recognition that many foods cause disease. Dr. Li does not recommend against well-known inflammatory foods such as grains and cow’s milk. Like any nutrition author, he recommends against sugars, processed foods and unhealthy fats.
At a time when 70 percent of Americans are overweight with a high blood sugar and 40 percent of Americans are obese, eating five times a day will not help those epidemics. Little mention is made of fasting and lowering blood sugar. Disease reversal is not discussed so the book is more about preventing disease by keeping these five systems healthy than strategies for truly beating diseases.
Overall, Eat to Beat Disease, is a useful book for the plethora of foods that enhance the five defense systems. Beating disease is not the focus of the book since very few actual diseases are discussed. Dr. Li is well-connected and has endorsements from Mark Hyman, Dean Ornish, Mehmet Oz, Bono and Cindy Crawford. He is a serious scientist, and I hope he builds off the wealth of nutrition data he has garnered to offer more advice in the future for actually reversing chronic diseases and cancer.
Dr. Scherger is an Eisenhower Health Primary Care 365 physician and core faculty member of the Family Medicine Residency Program.