You're almost bound to encounter cold and flu bugs over the holidays. They're in the chip dip, thanks to your coughing, double-dipping cousin. They're in the recirculated air aboard your flight home to visit the family. They're transferred with a kiss from your little nephew with the stuffed up-sinuses.
Yet we all know at least one person who claims to be immune to such perils, and kisses and hugs friends with alacrity, holds runny-nosed babies without hesitation, and dips into the bowl without a second thought. While the rest of us succumb to sore throats and sniffles, they're the people who never seem to fall ill - and New York health writer Gene Stone set out to discover why.
In his new book The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, Mr. Stone examines the habits of highly healthy individuals, from the conventional, like exercise and chicken soup, to the weird, such as cold showers and dunking your head in hydrogen peroxide. He shares some of his findings with The Globe and Mail:
Are some of the health secrets more effective than others?
I think some health secrets are more effective for some people. In other words, what I'm trying to get people to do with this book is to get them pro-active about their health and try different things.
When was the last time you were sick?
I haven't been sick for about three years. I've had maybe a tickle in the throat now and then, but that's when I do the secret that I think works the best for me: I chew on raw garlic. But I'm also doing caloric reduction, I'm taking brewer's yeast, I'm taking naps, I'm doing aerobic exercise, I'm doing anaerobic exercise, I check my pH balance, I try to have a positive attitude, I'm running, I try to be spiritual. I'm trying to do everything.
As you point out in the book, some of today's health wisdom, like the idea that doctors should wash their hands before surgery, was once considered ridiculous. Were there any health secrets you came across that just seemed totally bananas?
Yeah, there certainly were. But even if I thought something was wacky, what if it turned out in 20 years it was right? I wanted to take the secrets I learned from other people that were verifiable scientifically or medically today, but I didn't want to make fun of the ones that weren't.
We often hear conflicting health advice, so how can we determine what works and what doesn't?
Unfortunately, that's true. What you discover is if you want to, you can prove or disprove anything - except on yourself. So try stuff. ... You never know. You don't want to fall for snake oil, but you also want to keep an open mind.
You talk to one man who dunks his head in hydrogen peroxide every day. How does that work?
That's certainly the oddest one in the book. Some of the secrets you'll never find any research on because there's no money to be made from pharmaceutical companies or health companies in them. Hydrogen peroxide costs $1.99 a quart, so you're not going to see any great studies.
What he does is, by dipping his head in a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide, he creates an invisible force field because - just as with a cut - it kills any bacteria.
Nose picking: harmful or helpful?
There's people on both sides of the spectrum. ... But for people who say it's bad for you, you don't want to put your fingers directly in your nose because germs can go right into your head. On the other hand, there's this one study that says if you pick your nose you're actually clearing out some bad stuff you couldn't blow out with a tissue. And if you actually eat what you've picked, you're actually engaging in the hygiene hypothesis, which is this idea that if you eat a little dirt and you expose your immune system to invaders, it learns more about it, so it's a good thing.
Considering everyone in the book has a different approach, is the placebo effect ultimately the most powerful?
I'm not saying the placebo effect is the most powerful. But studies certainly show that if you can manage to believe in your own good health, if you can maintain a positive attitude, there's no question that you're more likely to stay healthy.
This interview has been edited and condensed.