“Natural Causes” by Barbara Ehrenreich
c.2018, Twelve
$27.00 / $35.00 Canada
256 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer.

We all gotta go sometime.

For most of us, that time is later: eight, nine decades of wringing out every last drop of life, if we’re lucky. A few tucks here, a little dye there, hours at the gym, smaller meals, and we might manage to get a year or two more – although, as Barbara Ehrenreich reminds in her new book “Natural Causes,” you can run from your own mortality, but you can’t hide.

Some time ago, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to forego most recommended medical tests.

It wasn’t because she was feeling rebellious; instead, she thought that such tests seemed to be looking for problems that didn’t exist, with “overdiagnosis” as an end result. And besides, Ehrenreich decided, she was “old enough to die.”

The fact of the matter is, we all are. The freedom to acknowledge that, and to reject panicked unnecessaries concerning our health, “is worth celebrating.”

It all begins before we’re even born, in what Ehrenreich calls “rituals.” Until the 1970s, for example, women gave birth in positions more convenient to their doctors, and they did it without question; before that, laboring mothers were often rendered unconscious to have their babies. The tide turned, in part, because women were empowered enough to start demanding change.

Yes, Ehrenreich admits, there are many good reasons to have vaccines, tests, screenings, and exams – but there are many good reasons not to. Some cancers, especially those that hit elder patients hardest, are slow-growing enough that it’s safer not to treat them. Going for a full head-to-toe physical may make you feel better, but that doesn’t guarantee that a problem won’t crop up a week after you’ve had one. Some treatments, she says, can even backfire, and make things worse.

Okay, so you’ll just self-monitor, try to eat right, and stay active, then.

 Sure. But remember one thing….

Says Ehrenreich “Many of the people who got caught up in the health ‘craze’… –  people who exercised, watched what they ate, abstained from smoking and heavy drinking – have nevertheless died.”

And there you have it: author Barbara Ehrenreich’s book is not so much an anti-medical-establishment treatise. Though not always complimentary about medicine in general, she’s balanced. She’s not against healthy lifestyles at all. Instead, “Natural Causes” is more of a reminder that you can rant, wail, avoid “junk food,” and exercise until your muscles scream, and you’re still not getting out alive.

Even so, reading this book will make you see your body in a different light. Ehrenreich writes about cutting-edge science and in doing so, makes the human body seem like a cellular-level Ninja Warrior. That total badness can work quietly, unseen, against us, as researchers recently discovered to their horror, which proves the whole premise of this book: when it comes to our health, we only think we can control it.

Yeeks, that’s a sobering idea but it’s softened by wry humor and fascinating, eyebrow-raising info that’s irresistible. For science geeks, the health conscious, and anyone who dreams of immortality, “Natural Causes” is a book you gotta go get.