From the late comedian George Burns, who died at the age of 100, he adopted the habit of eating less each day, or as Burns used to say, "eat half" (Secret No. 3). Stone found significant numbers of studies suggesting that reducing daily calories by as little as 25 percent could have life-lengthening effects and reduce the occurrence of chronic conditions associated with obesity and overeating, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
From Susan Rennau, 58, a nurse in Utah, he learned that Vitamin C supplements (Secret No. 24), along with good nutrition and exercise, can stave off seasonal colds and flu. Since hearing her share her story of staying healthy while hospital colleagues succumbed to the swine flu in 2009, he, too has made vitamin C a part of his preventive regimen.
Stone also has reviewed the various secrets with one of those who ended up in the book, Dr. Tony Japour, an infectious diseases specialist in Miami. Japour is a Renaissance man whose career has included stints teaching molecular virology at Harvard, developing the HIV drug Kaletra at Abbott Laboratories, starting a contemporary art gallery in Miami, running (unsuccessfully) for state representative, consulting for the cruise industry on bird flu and now teaching immunology and microbiology at Florida International University and seeing patients at the Veterans Administration medical center in Miami. Japour's health secret, which he calls his "magic potion," was a serendipitous result of his desire to boost his protein intake on gym workout days.
Japour started by filling three-quarters of a teacup with pasteurized egg whites. But because "you can only eat so many egg whites," he mixed them with a 3.3-ounce bottle of vanilla-flavored DanActive, a probiotic dairy drink that populates the gut with "good" bacteria. The combination tasted "like a little eggnog….I drank this protein supplement and what I found, by the way, was I didn't get the nasty colds that I would get on an annual basis."
In downing the probiotic concoction (Secret No. 19) most days of the week for almost four years, "I have gone from having I would say two to three colds a year to either none or possibly one mild one," Japour said. Whether his response stems from the placebo effect or from billions of L. casein immunitas cultures replenishing his gut and giving his immune system a boost, he said, "I don't care."
"I would say it's an observational effect. It's clearly anecdotal," said Japour, a graduate of medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago. "What I think could potentially be happening is turning on your immune system in a very mild way."
"We're living in a world of personalized medicine. A lot of these things are a little bit of trial and error. This is something that works for me and I'm happy with it."
He said he learned back in medical school that chicken soup has some benefit (Secret No. 4), while napping (Secret No. 15) reflects the larger phenomenon of improving health by getting rest. Even yoga (Secret No. 25), with its many body positions, helps drain the sinuses.
Finally, he and Stone recognize the wisdom of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor who in the mid 19th century linked childbed fever among women who had just delivered their babies in the hospital to the failure of the doctors delivering those babies to wash their hands after performing anatomical dissections of the dead. Semmelweis died before his theory gained support, but hand-washing remains a foundation of modern infection control.
It's an enduring truth – and no secret -- that washing your hands may be the most important way you can reduce your chances of spreading or catching infections.