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Archive for July, 2010

Mindful of introducing new and life-nurturing elements into our diet is a positive way to wellbeing.

Natto is a Japanese delicacy. It is made by fermenting soy beans using beneficial bacteria, Bacillis Natto.  It has been in Japanese diet for over one  thousand years and now has become known to the western world due to its powerful health enhancing properties. The health benefits of natto seem to be very unique and unseen in our typical western food.

Natto contains an enzyme called “nattokinase”. It is produced when the bacteria Bacillis Natto act on soy bean protein. Nattokinase has the ability to dissolve clots that are inappropriately formed in our blood vessels. Clotting is a normal and protective process of the body. It stops bleeding when body tissues are injured and it gets dissolved quickly when its job is done. As we age, clots are formed more easily and the body’s ability to dissolve them is reduced. if a clot happens to be big enough to occlude a small blood vessel, stroke or heart attack would result. Nattokinase is found to be  as effective as the body’s natural clot-dissolving enzyme, plasmin, and it is therefore now extracted and added to some cardio-protective supplements.

Natto also contains high concentration of vitamin K. Vitamin K is an essential fat soluble vitamin that is normally produced by the friendly bacteria in the gut. Vitamin K has the ability to help bones to produce the “glue” (osteocalcin) that holds onto calcium and make it strong. It is more effective than calcium to restore bone density. People with a history of frequent antibiotic or contraceptive pill usage tend to have an imbalance in their gut flora and vitamin K production is often adversely affected. Dietary intake of vitamin K is minimal if you are on a typical western diet. Studies have indicated that eating 1 serve of natto (30-40g) per day four times a week reduces bone loss by 60-80%!

Regular consumption of natto seems to have a positive effect on high cholesterol, a group of Japanese researchers recently announced at the International Conference on Nutrigenomics & Gut Health in New Zealand (April 30-May 3, 2006).  They found that eating one serve of natto every morning without interruption for four weeks reduces cholesterol by 8%, and reduces triglycerides by 13%.

Having said that, eating natto is a challenge, but a very worthwhile challenge. Natto has a slimy and stringy texture with a pungent, bitter taste that most people may not be  familiar to.  The strings are where the nettokinase enzyme is. Some compare its flavor to  Roquefort cheese but I am not sure. The trick to make it palatable is to eat it with plenty of condiments. Once you get the balance right, you might find yourself looking forward to it! Natto can be bought easily now at Asian grocery stores, in the fridge section.

This is how you prepare a truly hearty and super powerful breakfast:

Put 2-3 tablespoons of steaming hot brown rice in a bowel. Add 1 serve of natto to the rice. Pour in 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 2 teaspoons of mustard. Sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons of white sesame seeds and  2 sheets of roasted seaweed, torn. Stir everything well together and top it up with two fried eggs.

おいしい (Oishii)! (yum)

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Emotional wellbeing is about feeling grounded, present, and at peace. It is about responding to the environment (internal and external) with appropriate amount of emotional energy at the right time and for the right duration, and being able to recover and become whole again.

There are two most common situations that jeopardize our emotional wellness.

One is past emotional trauma that has not been resolved or properly processed. This leads to abnormal “short circuiting” and exaggeration (or suppression) in our emotional response to future stressors as part of our survival behavior. Emotional psychotherapy or breath work is one of the useful ways to undo the damage.

The second situation is less well-known and is becoming more and more important as our society gets increasingly stress driven. It is to do with biochemical imbalances  in the brain that are determined by our genetic makeups. It is often a huge relief for patients to realize that there is a biological reason for them to feel lousy. They just simply can not make neurotransmitters as well as other people under stressful situations.

Medical research has now discovered a few genetic polymorphisms (variation in the same gene) that affect neurotransmitter (brain chemicals that controls our moods, among other functions) synthesis. I am now going to introduce to you some of them.

1. Undermethylation

Methylation is a vitally important biochemical pathway that is operating in our cells. Its function is to add a methyl group (CH3-) to a substance to make it become active or complete. Our mood chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline etc need to be “methylated” to become functional.  Some people have a slower than normal methylation cycle, meaning that they make neurotransmitters very slowly. We call this condition undermethylation. When in a stressful environment where the body copes by increasing serotonin level, people with undermethylation tends to struggle and feel overwhelmed. At times major depression may result. Tendency towards perfectionism, obsessiveness, allergy like hay fever or asthma, insomnia or depression are some typical symptoms in a undermethylating person. Diagnosis can be made by measuring specific biological markers. A combination of nutrients in the appropriate dosage are then formulated and prescribed to facilitate the methylation cycle. Depression and other mood disorders have been successfully treated by this approach.

2. Kryptopyrroluria

This condition is described as a situation where the body excretes abnormally high amount of  a substance in the urine called hydroxyhemopyrrolin-2-one (HPL), commonly known as kryptopyrrole. The biological origin of this HPL is unknown, and it may be a product associated with abnormal hemoglobin synthesis. This condition is genetically determined. High HPL level is strongly associated with zinc and Vitamin B6 deficiency, with these two nutrients being essential for neurotransmitter production. In addition to that, HPL is a highly neurotoxic. As a result, a person with this condition may exhibit some of the following symptoms:  anxiety disorder and panic attacks, explosive temper,mood swing, stress intolerance or avoidance, ADD tendency, poor memory, poor dream recall, poor tanning, hypersensitive skin (irritated by labels of clothes or woolen materials), stretch marks, sensitivity to light or sounds, etc.  Diagnosis can be made by measuring the HPL level in the urine and treatment is usually simple and effective by supplementing adequate doses of Zinc and Vitamin B6.

3. Copper excess (not to be confused with an other genetic condition called Wilson’s disease)

Copper is an essential nutrient for blood vessel formation and red blood cell synthesis. But too much copper (only 2 to 6 units higher than upper normal value commonly) disturbs hormone balance, increases oxidative stress, and is potentially associated with higher risk of developing breast cancer. Typically high copper patients have a tendency to be highly hormonal,  very symptomatic during their periods or menopause, prone to gynecological conditions like endometriosis or fibroid, highly anxious, sensitive to hormone replacement therapy, and tendency to develop post natal depression. Serum level can be measured to identify the condition. Treatment is centered in providing the necessary nutrients including zinc to restore the intrinsic copper balancing mechanism.

This approach to mood disorders, behavioral disorders and learning difficulties  is known in Australia as the “Pfeiffer treatment” or the “Advance Nutrient Therapy”. Medical practitioners are qualified to test and prescribe treatment after receiving special training by the US Walsh Research Institute outreach team. A list of qualified doctors if you are interested can be found at

http://www.biobalance.org.au/patients/find-practitioners

Good luck in searching the way to mental wellness.

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My son showed me this clip from Youtube recently:

A brilliant way to illustrate “awareness”.

Everybody has his/her own  “moon walking bear” . Ten years ago when I was still in conventional medical practice, I came to notice the biggest “bear” in my life: many years after graduating from medical school, I was still letting more powerful people, authorities, pharmaceutical companies, medical experts and specialists to think for me. I was to busy following the books to believe I could think and seek truth myself. That blew my mind away. Coming to realize that changed my life and my career.

What is your “black bear”?  It might be the inability to say “no” or set boundaries  so you let others to invade your space. It might be the unjustified guilt that you carry for years. It might be fear that was stemmed for your childhood. It might be that you let others’ behaviour control your happiness. It might be the suppressed anger that quietly eats you away. It might be the additive behaviour that leads you nowhere. Or it might be the talent or creativity that you have not noticed, the unique ability that you have not put into use.  Whatever it might be, the chance is that because you are so involved in surviving the daily routines, it has blended into the background and become an unrecognizable part of your life. Not aware of its existence does not reduce or alter the fact that it is there. Not knowing it is there takes away the opportunity to leap forward, to evaluate its impact on your life and to finally stop losing more energy to block it away. Sometimes it is not so much about not knowing, it is about unwillingness to acknowledge. The outcomes are the same.

“Awareness” is about discovering yourself, discovering life. “Awareness” is enlightening and life changing. “Awareness” is the beginning of breakthroughs.

Start taking notice. Take notice of life and take notice of yourself. Awareness will come when you are ready.

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This topic is both highly emotional and political for many reasons.

A young woman recently reported to me proudly that she had commenced on an intense bike riding program and managed to lose 15 kg of weight. She was escalated. I checked her body composition and discovered 10 of the 15 kg of weight loss was her lean muscle bulk. To me the significant lean weight loss indicated a profound protein deficiency state that would adversely affect cellular functions. I told her my worries. She was not keen to listen. Three months later she returned with massive depression, and serotonin (a brain neurotransmitter that maintains mood) happens to be made from a protein unit called tryptophan…

Of course that is an extreme example.

For years, exercise has been hailed as the cure-all miracle. Have diabetes? Go and exercise. Have hypertension? Go and exercise. Have depression? Go and exercise. Feeling tired? Go and exercise. Have vague and complex symptoms that the doctor can not explain? Go and exercise…

And then we have exercise junkies. They crave for the magical “high”  from exercising intensely. Any negative suggestion about exercise would almost certainly bring on  defense so fierce that you regret immensely saying anything at the first place.

Do you get the picture?  We are a pro-exercise society. If you can’t exercise regularly, that is because you are lazy or your are some kind of a jerk.

Having said that, I’d better quickly make a point that I am not at all against exercise for I might risk being stoned. Exercise does have an enormous potential to improve health. However, I do want to get the message across that Exercise Is Not Suitable For Everyone And Not All Exercises Are The Same.

Before we go any further, perhaps we should look at some physiological facts about exercise.

FACT 1: Exercise increases one’s daily protein requirement. During exercise protein degradation dramatically increases to release energy stored in its chemical bonds as the muscles cells are in action. New protein needs to be synthesized to maintain muscle bulk and prevent muscle injuries. Studies show for a sedentary person the daily protein requirement to maintain normal body function is about 0.9 g per kg of body weight (providing the person does not have a protein deficiency to start off). For a person who exercise regularly, the requirement increases to 1.2 to 1.7g per kg of body weight. In an other word, a person exercises regularly has an almost 2 fold increase in need for protein than someone who is sitting in the office all day (and doing nothing, as intense mental activity also dramatically increases protein requirement, but that is entirely another topic).  The problem is many people have already an issue of  not having enough protein in their diet or an issue of digestive dysfunction to begin with and adding exercise to the equation easily tips the fine balance. Regular intense exercise under a protein deficient state results in loss of muscle bulks, loss of organ mass (remember they are made from protein too), loss of tissue repair and renewal, and loss of cellular function (many functional substances in the cells are made from protein, like the serotonin I mentioned before).

Fact 2. Exercise increases antioxidant demand drastically. Exercise requires a large amount of oxygen. Oxygen creates free radicals during oxidation. The more intense the exercise is and the longer the exercise lasts, the more free radicals are created. Free radicals damage cell membranes. Antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, lipoec acid, to name a few, protect cell membranes by neutralizing free radicals. Free radicals generation that exceeds the existing antioxidant capacity results in oxidative damage in all the parts of our body. For example, oxidative damage in the capillaries results in “spider veins” or varicose veins; oxidative damage in collagen results in wrinkles; oxidative damage in the fatty tissues under the skin results in brown “aging spots” etc. And I am only telling you the effect of oxidative damage on the outside of your body so far. The list goes on as you could imagine.

Fact 3: Strenuous exercise creates a huge amount of stress in various joints and tendons mechanically. If prompt repair is absent, joint and tendon injuries are inevitable. This happens frequently in competitive sports.

Fact 4: Not all exercise are the same. There are three major types: aerobic, anaerobic and stretching.

1. Anaerobic exercise is one that lasts a short bout of time and utilizes glucose for energy fuel. Examples are splinting and weight lifting (not to be confused with weight resistance exercise). For general health maintenance, anaerobic exercise is not recommended due to the intense stress on the heart and other organs.

2. Aerobic exercise can be further divided in to high impact/high intensity and low impact/low intensity. High intensity aerobic exercise includes jogging, bike riding, tennis, soccer, swimming and working on aerobic gym equipments. They tend to create higher level of mechanical stress to body parts, larger amount of free radicals and more demand on protein intake. In my opinion, high intensity aerobic exercise is generally not the ideal type for the purpose of longevity and healing as they have a “withdrawal nature” (see post “Balance”). Low impact/low intensity aerobic exercise includes walking, gardening, walking upstairs, Tai Chi and others. These types of exercise generate low to moderate level of free radicals and minimal impact to joint and tendons while still able to create health benefits. It is worth mentioning that Tai Chi has been confirmed by research to be a superior form of exercise in terms of restoring balance in breathing, energy flow, muscle and tendon strength, coordination and circulation.

3. Regular stretching of muscles and tendons helps to increase anti-aging hormones production including the famous Human Growth Hormone. It also prevents subtle contraction and shortening of muscle fibers that comes with aging which causes stagnation of blood, nutrients and energy flow. This is an exercise that everyone should incorporate in their exercise regime.

Having said that, some people are so weak and deficient in various  nutrients it is best for them to restrain from exercising at all until resources are restored. A rule of thumb for these people to stop exercise is a prolong recovery time after exercise from fatigue and/or muscle pain.

Exercise is great when it is done in the right form, at the right time and by the right person.

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This is the ultimate coconut therapy! Those who are serious about introducing coconut in their diet must give this a go. It is also a good time to make some magical broth!

Whole chicken will be used because we not only need the chicken meat but also the bones, skin and tendons. (see post “Broth, Magical Broth). We also need 1 mature coconut.

It requires some patience and determination but the end result is worth all the troubles, because nothing comes from jars or tins could compare with the fresh coconut fruit cracked open by you!

The biggest challenge of this recipe is to open the coconut and obtain the coconut meat from the shell. After wrestling with a few coconuts and lots of research,  not to mention the bruises and cuts I endured on my hands, I can now share with you the most painless way to open a coconut and obtain the meat.

STEP 1: Roughly wash  the whole coconut. Find the three eyes on the husk. Push the pointy bit of a corkscrew into one of the eyes and screw down as you would with a cork in the wine bottle (you might need to aim the pointy bit at different angles to get in). Do it until you are right inside the coconut (you should feel a give). Wiggle a bit to make the hole bigger. Do the same to another eye. You need two eyes open to drain the coconut water (to equalize pressure inside and outside the coconut). Now find one chopstick and stick it into one of the eyes you have worked on and push it right in to make a proper hole. Pop the coconut upside down on top of a jar and let it drain all the coconut water out.

STEP 2: Once the water is all drained, you are ready to crack open the coconut. Hold a mature coconut in one hand over the sink.  Imagine the three “eyes” on the coconut being the north pole. Move down to the equator round the middle. You will not see any line there to indicate the equator but  there is a seam or a line of weakness along the equator in the coconut husk. Use the back of a meat cleaver and whack along the equator with solid force. Rotate the coconut as you are hitting it. Be patient because it would feel like nothing is going to happen for a long time and suddenly you feel something gives and you are there!

STEP 3: Put the open coconut in the fridge for a few hours. I usually leave it overnight. The chilling makes the coconut meat separate a little from the shell.  Without the chilling process, to get the meat from the shell is a practical nightmare! Remove the coconut from the fridge and break it into small pieces again using the back of a meat cleaver. Use a thin blade knife to get between the coconut meat and the husk to separate the meat.

Making coconut chicken broth from here on is a breeze.

Ingredients:

Whole chicken x1

Mature coconut x1

Dried Shiitake mushroom x1 handful, soaked (optional)

Method:

1. Wash chicken thoroughly and cut into 4-6 pieces.

2. Put chicken pieces, coconut water, coconut meat and mushroom in 5-6 liters of water.

3. Bring it to just about to boil (small bubbles appearing) and then turn the heat down to keep the broth merely boiling for 5-6 hours. Remember over- boiling destroys protein.

4. Season generously with salt to serve.

This broth can also be used to make soup noodles by adding noodles and vegetables of your choice, but I prefer to drink it as it is. Holding a warm cup of coconut chicken broth in hand, I am in heaven!

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The “Char Siu” Dilemma

DAY 1

Today  when I was preparing the “char siu” sauce in the kitchen, my Chinese national pride hit all time low. You see, “char siu” (Chinese BBQ pork) is a well known Chinese delicacy with very unique flavours. But Chinese normally do not make “char siu” at home as the recipe is considered a trade secret.  I always wanted to make my own “char siu” because that way I know exactly what have been put in. I am finally making the “char siu” sauce now from scratch but the recipe belongs to  “Masterchef” judge Gary Mehigan, a BRITISH chef (even though he was using the sauce to marinate salmon instead of pork)! Sigh… Anyway, thanks for sharing Gary!

Ingredients:

Pork fillet 500g (to achieve better result, cut fillets longitudinally into 2-3 strips)

Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine, brown in colour) 4 tablespoon

Honey 4 tablespoons

Brown sugar (fine) 2 tablespoons

Light soy sauce 2 tablespoons

Hoi Sin sauce (Asian food store) 2 tablespoons

Garlic powder 2 tablespoons

Five spice powder 1 teaspoons

Red bean paste (Asian food store) 2 tablespoons

Black Chinese vinegar (Asian food store) 4 teaspoons

Food colouring (omitted)

Method:

1. Mix all ingredients together till smooth. Put pork fillets in marinade. Leave in fridge for overnight.

2. Remove fillets from marinade and put into a baking tray.

3. Grill for 20 to 40 minutes (depending on the size of the strips) in moderate heat until cooked. Turn the fillet a few times and spoon the marinade onto the pork from time to time to keep it moist.

4. Slice into thin pieces and serve with stir fry vegetables.

DAY 2

I would like to report the end result of that recipe. The “char siu” turned out OK. Of course it did not look like anything I buy from the shops but that is expected as I omitted the food colouring.  But I prefer the natural colour anyway and overall the flavours are rich and satisfying. But did I have an authentic piece of “char siu” in my mouth? I am not sure. I would definately add a bit more soy sauce and even salt next time.  And you know what?  I am secretly relieved that British “char siu” is after all different to Chinese “char siu”. Phew! 

 Of course if you have coeliac disease or an anaphylactic shock reaction to wheat or corn, stay away from this recipe.

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