Dr. K. Srinath Reddy’s Planet Earth, published by Harper Collins, describes the extent to which the environment affects health and how certain human activities can cause damage to health. This thought-provoking book is aimed at young readers with the imprint of top cardiologists and public health experts who, as the authors say, “are the only ones who can reverse the deterioration of human life around the world.”
plea from professionals
Most health-related conditions are helpfully categorized in chronological, medical and contemporary context. While the narrative is gentle and refined, the author brutally denounces the greed, indifference, and power games that define political issues such as tobacco, harmful food, drink, and air and water pollution. It’s not a radical rant that exposes how governments and regulators around the world allow hapless citizens to bear the brunt of untold danger. This is a call to action from professionals calling people to action. But the warning did not name the key individuals responsible for ignoring the violations.
Although the book claims to be written for young readers, it occasionally contains medical and scientific expositions that may challenge even adults. Fortunately, ignoring these items will not affect the overall understanding of this book. The highlight is the author’s commitment and sincerity. There are also some valuable takeaways.
One example is the relatively new emphasis on the importance of the gut microbiota, which, as the authors explain, may have a greater influence than genes or heredity. Examples of disease triggers (such as food eaten, exposure to environmental hazards, bad habits, and stress) are explained in an easy-to-read fashion, with everyday examples that resonate.
The main reading material is only 189 pages. Refreshingly, it lacks the statistics, cumbersome tables, or lamentations of a lack of money that fill most health books. Instead, the book simply helps the general reader (from any age group) understand the trajectory of the disease and its causative factors, backed up by research findings.
For example, the genome was once considered the panacea for identifying the genetic factors that lead to diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, mental illness or high blood pressure. Obviously, its importance is relatively low compared with factors such as adverse environmental exposures and harmful behaviors.
A description of the role of the “trillions of microbes in our skin, gut, mouth, airways, genitourinary tract, and secretions such as breast milk” will be a revelation to most non-medical readers. All mothers-to-be need to understand the role of the vaginal microbiome and how babies born by C-section may not get the protections they deserve. In addition, breast milk is a baby’s genetic defense against infection that goes far beyond nutrition.
Likewise, the book reveals how the “happiness hormone” dopamine induces the brain to crave sugar, fatty foods, and extra salt, while ignoring signs of fullness; and how this craving can lead people to become obese, diabetic, or otherwise unhealthy condition.
But thankfully, instead of pestering consumers with wrong diets, he castigates manufacturers and marketers who exploit “the gaps in the rational armor of the human brain” to produce unhealthy products. It is sobering that harmful products are being subtly targeted at the less educated, especially those just joining the aspiring lower-middle class.
stress and other burdens
The part on stress is compelling because he reveals how the human body has built-in defenses that once armed and protected hunter-gatherers; but in modern times, these defenses are of little use. However, those mechanisms that once helped to cope with life-threatening situations are now turned up during sudden outbursts of anger, fear or anxiety—a powerful reflex that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
While explaining the role of body mass index (BMI) and the propensity of Asians to develop diabetes, the book reminds readers that the World Health Organization has lowered the bar for South Asians—a wake-up call for the Indian population.
The author shrugs off nutritionists’ obsession with molecules and single foods, and explains what actually constitutes a prudent diet. While praising the “energy-rich” properties of fruits and vegetables, the authors are staunch supporters of plant-based diets and are critical of the high water consumption and antibiotic content of animal-based foods.
The unintended consequences of technology and research can also be traced back – for example, he takes us back to the famous Green Revolution which, for decades, inadvertently led to the depletion of groundwater and the reduction of beans and millet etc. The cultivation of nutritious crops has promoted the development of agriculture. Residue burns, causing hazardous pollution.
The book is full of references to the devious tactics employed by producers of tobacco, ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks — things not just young people, but all consumers must know to make good choices. And how governments can be slow and soft when it comes to regulating polluting or harmful products.
Planet Earth is a valuable read for anyone concerned with the impact of environmental factors on health. More importantly, what is most important when it comes to interpreting everything that is going on around us.
Shailaja Chandra was Secretary and Chief Secretary, Ministry of Health, Delhi. Her website is: over2shailaja.wordpress.com
Check out the book on Amazon here.
about this book
title: The Pulse of the Earth: The Long Lifeline of Human Health
author: Dr. Srinath Reddy
Publisher: HarperCollins India
price: 599 rupees
Pages: 264 (paperback)