Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Reversing Disease with Food

A Review of "How not to Die"

Michael Greger, M. D. was inspired to become a doctor because of his grandmother. At age sixty-five his grandmother had end-stage heart disease. Her doctors sent her home in a wheelchair to die.

Fortunately, after watching a segment on 60 Minutes featuring Nathan Pritikin’s method of reversing heart disease with diet and lifestyle changes, his grandmother found her way to Pritikin’s center in California. Within three weeks of checking into the live-in center, she was walking ten miles a day. Changing to a plant-based diet and making other lifestyle changes, his grandmother lived for thirty-one more years.

Inspired by his grandmother’s story, Dr. Greger decided to be a doctor. He chose the medical school that offered the most classes in nutrition—Tufts University in Boston. Since then he has devoted his medical career to researching how foods can be used to reverse diseases. His book: How not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease contains hundreds of references to controlled studies published in respected peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.

How not to Die is based on solid scientific research. However, the table of contents reads like a playbook of miracles. Here are a few of the chapters:

How not to die from heart disease

How not to die from lung diseases

How not to die from kidney disease

How not to die from blood cancers

How not to die from prostate cancer

How not to die from suicidal depression

How not to die from diabetes

And even, interestingly: How not to die from iatrogenic causes (or, How not to die from doctors)

Greger agrees that doctors excel at treating acute conditions like mending broken bones and curing infections. However, for chronic diseases which are the main causes of death Gregar believes that diet surpasses the drugs offered by modern medicine. Even the salicylic acid found in baby aspirin, widely prescribed by doctors as a heart-disease preventative, is widely found in fruits and vegetables.

In the impressive 600 pages of How not to Die, Greger makes a powerful argument that a plant-based diet, along with regular exercise, is the gateway to a longer and healthier life and can reverse chronic diseases even after they have progressed. The book’s wisdom is impossible to summarize in a short article, but his “daily dozen” provides a taste (so to speak). Here’s the list: beans, berries, other fruits, cruciferous vegetables, greens, other vegetables, flax seeds, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, whole grains, beverages, exercise.

As a vegetarian (mostly vegan) for forty years, I find Greger’s book affirming of my own personal research and beliefs about health. My one point of disagreement with him is about gluten and the benefits of a gluten-free diet for autoimmune diseases. Greger argues that based on research, “for the 98 percent of people who don’t have wheat issues, there is no evidence that following a gluten-free diet has any benefits.” He cites a study that finds no benefits of a gluten-free diet for the general population.

But Greger does not consider the curative effects of a gluten-free diet for people afflicted with a multitude of autoimmune disorders that are not celiac disease, ranging from lupus to Graves’ disease. His book does not touch upon the findings of functional medicine doctors and some endocrinologists that a gluten-free diet, along with eliminating sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and other substances from the diet, can go a long way toward managing and even reversing autoimmune conditions.

This is an important oversight, since autoimmune conditions are on the rise, afflicting more than 24 million Americans. Greger points out that medical education is lacking in courses on nutrition. But, medical education also provides minimal information on autoimmune disorders and for the most part, they remain a mystery to doctors.

Still, it’s impossible for even a groundbreaking book like Greger’s to cover all the bases on reversing chronic diseases through diet and exercise. What he has done is impressive and undoubtedly will enrich the lives of many people suffering from severe illnesses and those want to prevent these illnesses.


Greger, M.D. M. How not to die: Discover the foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. London, 2015.

More from Marilyn Wedge Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today