Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich review – against health sages and fitness gurus

A great iconoclast has written a polemic about ageing that sends up New Age platitudes and is full of scepticism of the wellness industry

Ten years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich read an article in Scientific American that shook her to the core. Its argument was that the body’s immune system, far from protecting us, can enable the growth and spread of tumours, “which is like saying that the fire department is indeed staffed by arsonists”. In the 1960s, Ehrenreich had worked on immune cells as a PhD student, specifically on those known as “macrophages”, and had come to think of them as friends – frontline defenders against microbial invaders. Now that they stood exposed as traitors, one of her basic beliefs was shattered. If our body can attack itself, why bother trying to look after it? What’s the point in striving to stay healthy, when longevity is beyond our control?

“Old ...