From the seminal self-help tome “The Power of Positive Thinking” to “The Complete Book of Running,” which launched a nationwide fitness boom, books have long influenced American thinking on health.
The best ones often challenge the status quo or widespread assumptions. In that vein, here are five provocative publications that came out within the past year.
“The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time,” (Arianna Huffington, 2016, Harmony Books, 392 pages)
Are you tired? Join the club.
As the bestselling author and founder of the Huffington Post website notes, more than 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. Huffington knows a thing or two about being sleep-deprived, having suffered a breakdown due to exhaustion in 2007.
In this book starts by exploring the history of cultural attitudes toward sleep — how eminent thinkers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison disparaged it as a lazy person’s refuge — and how modern-day pressures prevent us from getting proper rest.
One particularly interesting chapter discusses the meaning of dreams and provides examples of several that changed the course of peoples’ lives.
Huffington also delves into current innovations, like the nap room in the University of Michigan’s library, and wades into the ongoing parental debate about whether to allow young children to sleep in mommy’s and daddy’s bed (she favors it).
“We’re only now beginning to come out of a phase that started with the industrial revolution, in which sleep became just another obstacle to work,” Huffington writes. “Sleep is in fact connected to every aspect of our physical and mental health.”
“The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online” (Mary Aiken, PhD, 2016, Spiegel & Grau, 386 pages)
The cover picture says it all: A rabbit leaping down a hole.
The modern world’s rabbit hole, of course, is the internet — a bottomless pit of crude and sometimes devastating behavior. Aiken tackles the web’s pitfalls from all angles, including the depersonalization of society and the addiction of online shopping, but she’s at her best when outlining the perils for children.
“The internet is clearly, unmistakably and emphatically an adult environment,” she writes. “It wasn’t designed for children. So why are they there?”
Aiken argues strenuously, and convincingly, for rigid standardized safeguards that block troublesome content on kids’ devices.
“From my perspective, this is an emergency,” she writes.
One fascinating chapter tackles “cyberchondria,” which Aiken defines as “an anxiety induced by escalation during a health-related search online.” A concerned patient can (and often does) drive themselves to despair trying to self-diagnose by typing their symptoms into a web browser, only to encounter an array of worst-case scenarios.
An anecdote about a friend who became convinced, erroneously, that she had Lyme disease drives home the point.
Generally speaking, Aiken advises everyone to unplug a little.
“No one ever remarked on their deathbed, Gee I wish I had spent more time with my computer,” she writes. “Technology does not always mean progress. We desperately need some balance.”
“Kale and Coffee: A Renegade’s Guide to Health, Happiness and Longevity,” (Kevin Gianni, 2015, Hay House, 227 pages)
What would happen if you had a bunch of foods in your home tested for heavy metal contamination?
Gianni, a health blogger with a huge following on YouTube, did just that. The results form a fascinating chapter in this journal-style account of one guy’s attempt to probe the limits of conventional wisdom about food’s impact on health.
For the record, the green tea and cat food (he doesn’t name the brands) in his cupboard registered high levels of lead.
In other chapters, Gianni details his various binge diets (vegetarian, vegan, raw foods) and their ultimately negative results. A 90-day obsession with coffee left his hands hurting and unable to type.
One noteworthy chapter debates the health benefits of alcohol. Gianni — who had given up drinking for nine years prior to researching the book — believes drinking helps improve one’s health. That is, of course, given that it’s undertaken in moderation and preferably with a quality product (predictably, the cheap stuff is not so good for you).
In the end, all the fads and binges fail to improve his vital health data, and he’s left proving his opening premise: “I know, deep down, that great health does not need to be complicated.”
“Unlatched: The Evolution of Breast Feeding and the Making of a Controversy,” (Jennifer Grayson, 2016, Harper Paperbacks, 336 pages)
For the most part, moms and doctors agree that breastfeeding newborns is best. Freelance writer and mom Jennifer Grayson takes that argument one step further, promoting breastfeeding not just for newborns, but into the toddler years.
Her account of how she arrived at that position, and the effect it had on her children, husband and even her own mother, provides a fascinating read about a touchy place where family, science and culture meet.
As Grayson notes: 79 percent of new American mothers breastfeed at birth, but just 19 percent receive the recommended six months of exclusive breastfeeding.
“Why was it that mothers around the globe clamored for formula rather than rely on the life-giving nourishment that flowed so naturally from their breasts?” she asks.
This book attempts to provide an answer.
“Medical Medium:The Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal,” (Anthony William, Hay House 2015, 360 pages)
“This book is unlike anything you’ve read,” William proclaims.
The New York Times bestseller documents William’s full range of thoughts as a wellness guru and healer who specializes in identifying mystery illnesses that have eluded the medical establishment.
The chapters provide a mix of advice, protocol and anecdotes about folks who sought and received help from William, who credits his insights to communications with a “high-level spirit.”
To cure one sufferer of migraines, he prescribes “potassium rich foods, cilantro, straight celery juice.” For inflammation, lemon balm.
Of particular note are his thoughts on Lyme disease. William asserts that the condition has all kinds of triggers beyond ticks — from mold to bee stings to a death in the family.
Like he said, this book is different.”
Jerry Carino/Asbury Park Press/USA TODAY Network