Archive for the ‘health information’ Category

Have you ever wondered  why the sun must go down at the end of the day ? Have you ever wondered why when a day is finished darkness must follow?


One of the  reasons we are able to survive  is because we sleep every night. When we sleep, the body  enters the phase of repair, restoration, regeneration and rejuvenation. During sleep, cells repair and clear out metabolic waste products, tissues regenerate, endocrine organs realign and reconnect again, memory circuits consolidate, hormones re balance, ….

And the grand switch to sleep is the substance called melatonin. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin switches on the sleep cycle. As we enter dusk, natural light diminishes and the light sensitive receptors in the retina of the eyes send signals to the pineal gland to active the production of meletonin, which helps to initiate sleep. When morning comes, natural light enters the eyes and activates the retinal light receptors which send signals to the pineal gland to switch off melatonin production, so that we could exit the sleep cycle. This is one of the many aspects of the famous ” circadian rhythm”.

The invention of electricity and artificial lighting means our retina is exposed to light for a much longer period each day than nature intended. Hence the term “light pollution” is derived. To combat the rising rate of insomnia and sleep deprivation in our society, restriction to light exposure at night and setting good bed time hygiene practices  is paramount. This is especially important for young children in terms of their development as growth hormone is secreted during sleep.

Try some of the bed time hygiene practices listed below, and observe the positive changes in the body.

  1. Setting a routine bed time, preferably before 11pm (earlier the better, before 9pm for children)
  2. Dimming light or wearing sunglasses one hour before going to bed
  3. Restriction on using electronic devices before bed
  4. Natural light exposure in the morning




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They say, common sense is not common anymore.

It seems the more knowledge we have,  the more confused we become.

This is particularly true when it comes to health.  As we are bombarded daily by new researched information, miracle drugs development, advancing medical technology, we lose the big picture, the basics, the common sense.

It is the routine obstetric advice that a pregnant woman should eat exactly the same way as when she is not pregnant, apart from taking some extra folate, calcium and iron. Common sense would ask why. As common sense knows when we have  increased demand, we have to increase supply. A fetus could not grow out of just combining folate, calcium and iron.  It turns out that pregnant women have many folds increase in need for protein, zinc, magnesium, iodine, essential fatty acids, to name a few. Pregnant women do not just need to eat, they need to have a special eating plan catered for the special need.

It was such a marketing success when Coke zero was invented. I had countless people coming up to me and said proudly:” At least now when I drink Coke, I drink Coke zero.” When something is advertised  to contain absolutely no sugar and yet tastes sweet, common sense would ask why.  Common sense would look for the substance that brings the taste and find out if that substance is better than sugar. It turns out that substance is aspartame. The adverse effect of aspartame on health is another topic for another day. All I would say simply is that if you have to drink Coke, drink the proper one.

And then we have the cholesterol super fear. Advice is often given to patient to bring the cholesterol down as low as possible. Common sense would ask why. Why on earth we have cholesterol in our body  in the first place?  I have never seen a patient with a zero cholesterol reading before. Because they would be dead. It turns out that all hormones are produced from cholesterol. ( see post”So you think you know cholesterol”)

And what about our appendix?  We are often told it is useless. So much so that some surgeons remove them “prophylactically”. Common sense would ask why. Why everyone is born without fail with an appendix? Are we satisfied  that it is merely a side product of evolution?  It turns out that the appendix contains lymphoid tissues in the highest density compared with other parts of the gut and it acts as the “point of entry or border control” for food allergens. Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix) indicates  fighting with unwanted food particles is occurring.


Medical care is not rocket science. Common sense  is often priceless. Keep it if you can.


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This, I believe would haunt us, our next generation, and the generations to come, if we are not determined to make a change.

Adrenal glands, are the two grape size organs situated on top of the kidneys. One of the  functions of the adrenals is to produce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to help the body deal with stress.

Stress hormones (cortisol in particular) production is most active during the day to help us to stay alert, to provide the necessary drive for our daily activities and provide energy to cope with occasional (hopefully) crises. The levels of stress hormones will go down to a background low during the night so we could have a good night sleep (who wants to have high levels of stress hormones running around in our blood stream while we sleep?). More precisely, cortisol production is at a peak in the morning and gradually declines during the course of the day. The level would drop to the  lowest from around 6pm and onwards, getting us ready to go to bed.  During sleep, the adrenal glands only produce minimal amount of hormones and are rejuvenated and restored, happy to restart the next day. And the body has a peculiar habit to repair the adrenal glands before 12 midnight . It is other organs’ turn to repair themselves after midnight– This is our natural body rhythm.

For thousands of years, our ancestors subconsciously followed the nature’s biological clock, going to bed after sunset, being limited in visibility.

Then we invented electricity. We realize we could do so much more at night. We stay up. We go to bed past midnight.

And come computers and internet. We are now able to connect with the world 24/7.  We sleep even less.  Or we stop sleeping completely (some of us).

This is what happen when we stay up past the resting time for the adrenals: they restart the engines and start producing higher level of cortisol to keep us awake. If we do that frequent enough, the adrenals miss out on repair and rejuvenation while chronically over work. The consequence is the gradual loss of  adrenal function and loss of the fine balance between the adrenals and many organs in the entire endocrine system including the thyroid, the brain, the ovaries, the testes, the liver, the pancreas, to name a few.

These are some  common symptoms of adrenal dysfunction:

1. Insomnia and restless sleep, due to an over production of cortisol at night

2. Excessive daytime fatigue, due to an  inability of the adrenals to produce adequate cortisol during the day

3. Post exertion “crashes” and slow recovery time, due to a reduced ability of the adrenals to cope with increased demand

4. Weight gain around the waist, due to a disrupted balance of related hormones

5. Hypoglycaemia with excessive hunger and food craving, due to a compromised function of the adrenals to regulate blood sugar level

6. Chronic fatigue, indicating the adrenal reserve has dropped to a critical level

7. Hormonal disturbances in females, manifested as abnormal periods, premature menopause, infertility and so on

People with adrenal issue struggle to achieve their potential in life. They have symptoms that are often unexplainable by conventional medical tests and therefore the condition is  not readily recognized by the medical profession. Treatment is available, recovery is possible but slow and challenging.

We used to see people with adrenal dysfunction in the middle age or older age group, due to accumulated life stresses over the years, especially major trauma like divorce, death in the family and so on.  However, we are observing an alarming trend of increase in younger patients (in their teens) with adrenal issues in recent years, confirmed by lab testing.  One could not help but wonder, among many things, if our electronic advances are contributing to the crisis.

Adrenal’s number one enemy is chronic stress and/or late nights.  We are increasingly doing both.  Our adrenal reserve is of course  varied from one person to another, but one thing is certain: as a society, we collectively push our adrenals much more than we would a few decades ago and at times we push it beyond its limits.

Chinese medicine believes the adrenal gland is the Fountain of  Youth. Modern medicine has confirmed that.  As besides stress hormones, adrenal glands also produce an anti-aging hormone  called DehydroEpiandrosterone (DHEA). If we are serious about staying youthful and healthy, do the right thing  by starting nurturing our adrenals today.

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Kitchen Talk

Let’s do an exercise. Take ourselves now to the kitchen and have an examination of all the items there. Take notice of how many items are made from the traditional materials  like ceramics, clay, glass, wood, or bamboo, and isolate the  items that are made from modern materials like plastic, nylon (a form of plastic) and coated with on-stick coating. Are you surprised? Take another look at those items that are made from synthetic materials, how many of them are chipped , scratched, melted? Have you ever wondered where those missing bits have gone? Not to mention the chemical molecules released from those synthetic materials when they are heated, stressed and soaked without being detected by our naked eye. Maybe that bowl of delicious pasta you made last night was laced with plastic from your melted nylon turner? Or that piece of tender steak was seasoned with polytetrafluoroethelyne molecules scratched from the non-stick coating of your fry pan?

If we truly believe in “we are what we eat”, then our kitchen is the most  sacred place that we must fiercely protect.

Consider this: food is not merely food as we eat it unless the food preparation process is contamination free. And I am not concerning about kitchen hygiene or bacteria. At least bacteria is biodegradable  and most people recover well from food poisoning. I am talking about toxin that is not of natural origin, toxin that is not biodegradable, toxin that creeps in our food when we least expect it. Modern toxicology is increasingly focusing on chronic exposure of multiple toxins in low doses rather than acute poisoning from an individual toxin at a highly toxic level because of the ever presence of numerous chemicals in their dilute forms now in our environment. Research has  indicated that multiple chemicals in low doses have the ability to work together to create toxic effects that are not seen in individual toxin at a similar level. Modern day living has become a balancing art of minimizing toxin exposure while still enjoying what life has to offer.

Kitchen is one of those few places left where we still have some control over the toxins we may be subjected to.

During food preparation, food comes in contact with food containers and kitchen utensils constantly. Bear in mind that heat is an unavoidable  element in the kitchen and the temperature in the kitchen could go considerably high during cooking. Wear and tear are the other constant elements in the kitchen. So  kitchen wares must be made of materials that are natural, inert, heat-resistant, acid resistant, salt resistant, and light resistant to preserve freshness of food. Our ancestors knew too well of this principle. Kitchen wares many decades ago were made from stone, glass, ceramic, wood, bamboo, etc, all of which are naturally occurring substances, biodegradable,  and extremely stable. You can be reassured that food remains food after preparation and if any molecules that accidentally come away from the pot and get into our food, they are safe to be ingested.

As time went by, other modern materials were introduced to kitchen ware manufacturing. Among the many new materials in the kitchen , plastic and non-stick coating represent the most revolutionary changes in kitchen ware products, in that both of them contain synthetic (non-naturally occurring) molecules.

Since the invention of plastic, there has been a phenomenal increase of plastic food wares creeping in our kitchens. Plastic drinking bottles, plastic food containers, foam cups, cooking oil and sauce bottles, plastic ladles, plastic spoons, plastic turners, plastic liners for tin food containers, plastic storage bags, plastic food wrap… Every time you turn, you would find something made from plastic.

Plastic is synthetic materials derived from petroleum.  As plastic ages or is exposed to heat or stress, it releases traces of its molecules to the content that happens to come in contact with it. With the extensive  usage of plastic wares in food industry and  in domestic kitchens, there have been so far very little human studies that I know of conducted to evaluate the possible  impact of plastic on health. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducts ongoing yearly assessment of the levels of environmental chemicals in the US population(each sample size representing about 2400 individuals). A recent report has indicated the ongoing presence in more than 90% of the population of Bisphenol-A (an ingredient in plastic bottles) and phthalates (substance added to soften plastic,eg in plastic bags) in human blood samples and urine samples. Bisphenol-A is associated with breast tumor development in animals and is a potent mitochondrial toxin (mitochondria are the power houses of your cells); Phthalates are estrogen like molecules in animal studies that have the potential to disrupt human endocrine system. These are the only two molecules that are being tested and have come to our attention, I believe many other  plastic molecules are waiting to be  found circulating in the human blood as time goes by.

Non-stick frying pans and non-stick bakery products are loved by many. They have helped to reduce cooking time and improved the appearances of the end products significantly in the kitchen. It requires an enormous amount of will power to stop using one. I hope I could persuade you to do so. The primary component of non-stick coatings on cook wear is a group of chemicals called perflorocarbons. These chemicals form toxic fumes when they are being heated. There is debate about at what temperature these gas fumes would form, but it is likely that during cooking temperature could go up to as high as 300-400 degree Celsius which exceeds the manufacturer’s safety limit for gas emission. And there is the wear and tear of your non-stick cookware where small piece of coating gets scratched off and mixed into food. Studies show 98% of the population has perflorocarbons in their blood or urine. The health effect? No one knows so far, except that perflorocarbon is carcinogenic (cancer causing) in animals. While scientific research is lacking at present about the negative effect of perflorocarbons, I am a great fan of common sense and believe that what goes in our mouth (and lungs) must be non-toxic!

Choose carefully your kitchen wares would go a long way in protecting your family. Some simple changes in the way of handling of our food  maybe life saving.

1. Use glass or ceramic food containers where you can for food storage. Consider taking your own food container or cup to take away outlets.

2. Use ceramic coated cookware, corningware, cast iron cookware or stainless steel cookware for cooking

3. Use ceramic, wooden  or stainless steel  cutlery

4. Chose glass bottled sauces, oil, dressings when you shop

5. Never heat up food in plastic containers in microwave ovens

6. Never leave any plastic bottles or plastic wears near the stove.

7. Use glass or stainless steel drinking bottles

And spread the message!

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We hate cholesterol.

We track it down and kill it at all cost.

We spend a fortune in developing new drugs to keep it down.

We look for “low cholesterol”  labels when we buy food products.

We are overjoyed when our annual body check shows low cholesterol level.

We simply do not want to have anything to do with it.  A cardiologist once announced at a conference,” we do not need cholesterol to function, so keep it as low as possible!”

Well, maybe we should be reminded that nature never makes mistakes. We ought to be asking ourselves  why on earth we have cholesterol present in our body in the first place. While it is true that there is a link (a link has never meant to be equal to a cause) observed between high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, the physiological function and benefit of cholesterol have been largely ignored.

Let’s look at some basic human physiological facts.

1. All human steroid hormones are made from cholesterol

Steroids are organic compounds that have a typical chemical structure. For those who are interested, this structure contains a special arrangement of four rings joining together. Every time when you see this structure, you are looking at a steroid. In the body,  steroid hormones include sex hormones, stress hormones, and mineral regulating hormones. The drug Prednisone is a steroid too.

Most people are familiar with sex hormones. Some of the names we commonly hear are estrogens, testosterone and progesterone. Estrogens are a group of hormones that define female characteristics. Males make them too but in a much lower level. Testosterone defines male characteristics in humans but females also make it.  Both male and female make progesterone but again in different levels. There are many more sex hormones that the general public is not  aware of  but nonetheless are absolutely critical to our wellbeing. For example, we have the DeHydroEpiAndrosterone, commonly known as DHEA, made in the adrenal glands and has the ability to slow cellular aging and maintain one’s stamina. Or we have  the pregnenolone, the product made directly from cholesterol and serves as the mother of all steroid hormones.

Stress hormones are derived from cholesterol. Cortisol is one of these. Cortisol is made from the adrenal glands. Apart from helping the body to cope in view of a dangerous situation, it is the hormone that makes us feel refreshed upon waking in the morning. Chronic fatigue patients typically make very little cortisol.

Aldosterone represents the mineral regulating hormones. It is again made from cholesterol in the adrenal glands. It regulates the keeping and releasing of minerals from and to the urine and has an influence on our blood pressure. To little aldosterone may cause hypotension and too much may lead to hypertension.

2. Vitamin D is made from cholesterol.

Vitamin D has attracted a lot of attention recently because of the realization of  endemic vitamin D deficiency in our population due to years of sun avoidance policy. Vitamin D, strictly speaking , is not a vitamin but a hormone. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease and osteoporosis. The body makes vitamin D by allowing uv light from the sun to convert  cholesterol molecules in our skin into vitamin D.

3. Cholesterol is an important component of our nervous system including the brain.

Cholesterol helps to form myelin sheath. Nerve cells (neurons) have long fingers like projections (axons or dendrites) on them to connect themselves to the next neuron, a bit like the electrical wires connecting one light bulb to another. Myelin sheath is the insulation coating outside the wires to prevent  any possible losses of information during signal transmission. Cholesterol is one of the critical components of the myelin sheath. Poor myelin sheath formation leads to poor signal transmission in the  nerves, and one extreme example is Multiple Sclerosis (in this case due to autoimmune activation and self-attack against the myelin sheath rather than cholesterol deficiency).

Cholesterol is also an important nutrient to help learning and memory. Recent research indicated that cholesterol is released by the brain cells to switch on connections between nerve cells. The better the connection is, the better the memory and learning. It is observed that many autistic children have cholesterol deficiency. By supplementing these children with cholesterol tablets, improved language skill is noticed. It is no wonder that some patients developed poor memory from taking lipid lowering agents.

4. Cholesterol is an important component of cell membrane

Molecule by molecule, cholesterol makes up nearly half of the cell membrane. Proper amount of cholesterol in the cell membrane helps to maintain the integrity of the membrane and prevent it to go too soft or too rigid. The correct consistency of the cell membrane is essential for the cell to function properly.

5. Cholesterol is essential in making bile  in the liver

Bile acids/bile salts are made in the liver and stored in the gall bladder. When we eat a meal that contains fat (therefore fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, K, E), the  gall bladder contracts and squirts out the stored bile which then mixes with the meal and makes the fat water-soluble for effective digestion and absorption.

If one is on low-fat diet for a prolong period of time, the gall bladder becomes lazy and the bile in the gall bladder becomes stagnant. That is when the bile salt precipitates into solid lumps–one of the many reasons people get gall stones. Mind you if those solid lumps are not calcified then will not be picked up by a gall bladder ultrasound.

So in summary, a healthy body makes an adequate amount of cholesterol in the liver, allocates some for hormone production, some for nervous system function, some to form healthy cell membrane, and some in the liver to make bile to aid digestion. So cholesterol is constantly being made and constantly being utilized to achieve a perfect equilibrium, reflected by a normal cholesterol level.  High cholesterol level results when any of  these flows is interrupted. Using medications to block cholesterol synthesis is at time necessary but aiming at restoring the body’s cholesterol metabolism is  a much more rewarding exercise.

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I had a huge “fix” with a dose of fresh food recently during a family trip to Shanghai, China.

In Australia, we go to shopping centers and supermarkets to get our daily supply of food. In China, people still maintain the habit of going to a wet market to buy their grocery and meat. A small version of the Paddy’s, there is one of these markets in almost every neighborhood. Every morning before dawn, local farmers would bring their produce into the city and set up stores in these wet markets.

Make sure you got your own shopping bag/s ready when you went to wet markets (as no trolley or large plastic bags available) and prepared for a crazy ride! A pair of gumboots would be perfect as the floor was wet everywhere!  And by the way you must get there very early in the morning if you wanted to buy the freshest food.

The vegetable and fruit section was usually in the centre of the market with tightly packed stores full of drop dead gorgeous green stuff: vegetable leaves were standing up right, crisp, drew dripping and only hours after being cut from their roots; cucumbers still had the tiny little spikes on them so sharp that you might be stung if not careful (if by now you had no idea what I was talking about then you had not seen fresh cucumbers before – the spikes on a cucumber softened and disappeared very quickly usually hours after being removed from its stem); many roots brought soil with them. So within minutes my shopping bag was full of goodies that I dreamt of for years.

The seafood section was the wettest part of the market as almost all spices were still alive in huge containers splashing and splattering. I wanted to buy a piece of fish head (from a big fish of course) to make soup. The fish lady picked a piece from the wooden chopping board (no plastic chopping board thanks) that was already cleaned and put it under my nose for me to see if I was happy with it. Right at that moment the fish head opened its mouth and took a breath! I screamed and nearly dropped everything. I mumbled to the fish lady “yes, this piece will do, very fresh…” while subconsciously removing myself from the table.

The last section would be the meat and poultry section. Live chickens could be picked and slaughtered right at the spot (not to worry I meant to say in a place behind the store, not visible to the public as the whole market was PG rated). Whole carcasses of pig were hung above the wooden chopping table and you need to know what part or cut of the meat you wanted to buy. For me it was like “sorry, I want to make a stir fry dish, which cut should I get?” But that risked being sold the most expensive part!

We cooked a huge feast using all the ingredients brought from the market and they did taste very differently from the chilled or frozen counterparts. Taste aside, food hygiene aside, I wondered how much more welcoming and healing it was for the body to receive the live nutrients that came in their original states?

We now know for a fact that fresh food,  apart from the presence of  solid molecules of nutrients, also contains that less known, mysterious component called “life energy”, or  to be more precise, the “biophoton emission” . Dr Fritz-Albert Popp, a German biophysicist first discovered that every living thing emits tiny currents of light in 1974. These light currents are composed of biophotons (photons are light molecules without mass). Cells and living systems communicate with each other through these photons that act as information carrying vehicles. Biophoton emission forms the “Biofield” (biological energy field) that is critical for life.  Photosynthesis is the nature’s way to gather solar energy into biophoton energy.  Human beings need to maintain their photon energy by eating photon rich food. But biophoton emission dissipates rapidly after food leaves its original living system, it is no wonder that in processed food, frozen food, or food that has been stored for a long time, biophoton emission is greatly reduced.

“Food milage” is a word used to measure how long food has traveled from the  field to the table to determine its carbon footprint. I think the word can also be used to determine  how fresh the food is when we buy it. The aim is to buy food that has a food milage as short as possible to maximize our photon intake.

These are some practical ways to choose food with better vitality.

1. To avoid buying processed food.

2. To buy food from local farmers. Avoid food that has traveled from another country.

3. To buy food that is in season, eg banana is a summer fruit and should not be available in winter.

4. Best of all, to grow your own. Start off with herbs as they take up very little space and herbs tend to have higher concentration of photon energy than other food.

May the life force be with you!

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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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