Monday, September 3, 2012

Daniel Suelo, the man who quit money, seems remarkably healthy

Daniel James Shellabarger (better known as Daniel Suelo) is portrayed in the bestselling 2012 nonfiction book by Mark Sundeen titled “The Man Who Quit Money” ().

Apparently Suelo stopped using money in 2000, and lives in a cave near the city of Moab in Utah. His diet comprises primarily wild vegetables and fruits, insects, and road kill; as well as discarded or donated food he gets from others when he visits the city. The photo below is from a recent BBC documentary. An interesting 2006 YouTube clip on Suelo is titled “Moneyless in Moab” ().

Suelo is listed as having been born in 1961 (), and the photo above appears to have been taken in 2012. If these dates are correct, he is 51 in the photo above. I cannot help but think that he looks remarkably healthy. The 40-50 age period is one that often sets the stage for many diseases of civilization in urban societies.

Suelo’s decision seems like a radical one, at least to me. There are always complex motivations behind radical decisions. In the case of Suelo, some of these motivations are captured in the comment below, which is part of a review of the book “The Man Who Quit Money” posted on by a reader.

[…] a picture of Suelo not as an untarnished hero, but a man who has wrestled with heartbreak, depression, disillusionment with his family's faith, and his repugnance to working for the pure sake of making money and buying things. Whether or not you are inspired to follow Suelo's example, this book will make you think.

Many people have been inspired by Suelo’s story, to some extent because they see that adopting a radical form of “simple living” () may not only be possible but also liberating. Obviously Suelo’s lifestyle, as it is now, would not be possible without the help of others who adopt a more “traditional” lifestyle. Below is a critical review by a reader of the book, posted on, which harshly reflects this perspective.

Any infantile mentality charmed by this inane story should simply generalize the message - visualize a world in which all of us live like the parasitic protagonist. How fortunate for Suelo that there are still people who engage in productive work and indirectly and unknowingly keep the human sponge alive […] Suelo never quit money he simply quit contributing anything and continues to survive simply as a parasite.

Still, Suelo’s story is interesting, including from a human health perspective. An article on by Christopher Ketcham provides a glimpse at what a day in Suelo’s life looks like (). It seems that on most days he has one main meal per day.

It is hard to get a sense of the nutrient composition of his diet. It looks like his diet is limited in but not devoid of industrial foods, and one in which food consumption is sporadic, opportunistic, and driven primarily by hunger and availability – not by stress or set meal times, for example.

He probably walks a lot; his cave is one hour away from Moab by foot, and it looks like he goes to Moab often. Apparently he almost never gets sick.

Suelo also writes a blog (), which has many followers, and also maintains other websites, from the Public Library in Moab. His first blog post has over 1,000 comments under it ().


Anonymous said...

Interesting, no money, yet he maintains a blog?

dianaedd said...

Regarding a comment about his being a "parasite," I find that ridiculous. He is contributing to the conversation as to what it means to be human...Also, think we could debate what is more parasitic, destroying the earth with guns and oil and money or living a quiet life?

Unsustainable? Probably true now, but mankind lived this style successfully for at least tens of thousands to millions of years, depending on when you want to start counting. Will we modern humans do as well?

gallier2 said...

Anonymous said...

Interesting, no money, yet he maintains a blog?

It's said in the article, he goes to public libraries and setting up a blogger account is free.

js290 said...

Parasites are the people who can magically create principal out out of thin air, loan it to us, and expect to be paid back with interest.

David Isaak said...

The second reviewer really got his panties in a bunch. It was hard for me to understand why he found this so threatening...until I checked out his other reviews and found this:

'I can't add much to the many 5-star reviews already posted without being redundant but I will point out that if your reading time is tight the heart of this fine book is to be found in chapters 6 thru 9. Read it all if possible but in those chapters you will discover when and how, for the first time in history, the soul of the Left emerged in all its ugly fury. Disturbing to read about and contemplate what was done to people in the name of "hope and change" but the blood flow began then and continues unabated today. Coulter presents a riveting if necessarily brief history lesson seasoned with her caustic wit and razor-sharp sarcasm. If you can find time to read only one book this summer this is one you should seriously consider; Ann Coulter at her illuminating and fearless best!'

So I suppose bringing up our hunter-gatherer ancestors with him won't help, as he probably also denies evolution.

Tom Hall said...

Hey Ned,

What do you think of this study:

Is all this fear of LDL reasonable?

Ned Kock said...

Hi Tom. Making assertions about variance explained based on a meta-analysis is problematic. Still, raising HDL naturally seems like a better idea than via drugs. There are credible studies suggesting that a high HDL is protective, but not one achieved through drug interventions – with one exception, mega-doses of instant-release formulations of the vitamin niacin. Almost nobody does this, however, because of the flush.

Ned Kock said...

Related to my comment above in response to Tom’s, here are a couple of quotes from the study:

“Clinical trials of the high density lipoprotein raising agent niacin have shown a reduction in coronary events …”

“… we classified trials according to the following classes of intervention … niacin combinations with a statin, fibrate, or resin …”

Apparently instant-release niacin only interventions were not considered in the analysis. Again, probably because few people are willing to subject themselves to the “flush” resulting from taking instant-release niacin.

Ned Kock said...

I’d bet that the “Suelo approach” would improve health markers in most people, including CVD markers. It may well be more effective than instant-release niacin at that :-)

David Isaak said...

"... There are credible studies suggesting that a high HDL is protective, but not one achieved through drug interventions..."

I am dubious about drug-based modification of most health markers. That includes markers such as blood pressure, which are widely accepted as being health outcomes rather than markers.

For example, see:

In this study, a group of diabetics with elevated blood pressure had their blood pressure reduced to recommended levels through drugs, while another was an untreated control group.

After nearly 5 years, the cardiovascular outcomes between the two groups were the same, but the treatment group suffered many drug side effects.

Not surprising to me, since hypertension is usually of unknown origin. There is some recent speculation that high CRP is a cause. In that case, it ia marker rather than a primary outcome, and lowering blood pressure without treating the underlying cause does no good.

It's like painting your lawn green instead of watering it.

Tom Hall said...

Thanks Ned. Were you able to look at this HDL study from a few months ago which claime to cast doubt on high HDL being protective?

Ned Kock said...

Hi Tom. Yes, I think that the article you linked is one of the best I’ve seen recently on lipids. It highlights the fact that the lipids story is complex and full of puzzles. Here are some interesting quotes from that article:

“The study’s authors emphasize that they are not questioning the well-documented finding that higher HDL levels are associated with lower heart disease risk.”

“Now it seems that instead of directly reducing heart disease risk, high HDL levels may be a sign that something else is going on that makes heart disease less likely.”

I find these statements to be fairly reasonable. Instant release niacin may play indirect roles, such as boosting growth hormone release, that have cardio-protective effects.

Here is another interesting quote from the article, related to LDL: “… gene variations that raise LDL increase risk and those that lower LDL decrease risk. The gene effects often were tiny …”

Talking about complex associations that are part of the big puzzle, here is another one – in men, free testosterone is strongly and negatively associated with intima-media thickness:

Also, there are many people who suffer from familial hypercholesteromia, and who have high HDL and also large LDL particles, and still develop CVD markers relatively early in life.

Life is not simple!

Lasik specialist said...

Never thought someone can live a lifestlye like that for so long.
I'm checking his blog right now, not bad!

LeonRover said...

The HDL story an example of medical wishful thinking.

I became interested in this as
i) my own level is 3 mmol/L
ii) my MD encouraged me to statinise
iii) I read the Gaziano paper
iv) found the Framingham graph relating CAD risk to values of HDL & LDL (joint distribution)

I concluded there was no reason to take statins, as reducing LDL by some points made little difference to my "Framingham Risk".

I was also found out that values of >= 3 mmol/L HDL occur in about 2% of the population, so in this respect I am an outlier.

I never accepted the notion of HDL being protective, as none of my MDs did - they preferred to focus on LDL levels being risky.

NO Doc (in my experience)who wishes to prescribe a statin accepts the implications of the data represented in the Framingham joint distribution histogram above.

High HDL is a MARKER of low risk, it is not in itself "protective".

(As far as seeing myself as being at immediate risk of Heart Death, my TAG is 0.7 mmol/L and HsCRP is 0.7 mg/l.)


Yan Katsnelson said...

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Yan Katsnelson

Ned Kock said...

Thanks Yan. If you are referring to the topic of cholesterol, that’s the topic of my next post. It should come out tomorrow.