Posts Tagged ‘wellness’

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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Vegetable Feast

Christmas greetings!

Much eating, drinking, and partying after,  I hope your digestion is still sound and well.

It feels right to do a vegetable dish today.

This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’ s cook book.  It requires a little bit of patience but it is well worth it, as it captures the beautiful flavors of fresh vegetable and would surely make you feel spoiled eating it.


1.  One large egg-plant (aubergine)

2.  Two zucchini (courgettes)

3.  One red capsicum (pepper)

4.  One bunch of asparagus

5.  A few  fresh basil leaves

6.  Two cloves of garlic, minced

7.  Olive oil  3 to 4 tablespoons

8 .  Red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons

9.   Salt and pepper


1.  Slice eggplant and zucchini lengthways into long strips ( about 1/2 cm thick)

2.  Remove the wood end of asparagus and cut them in half

3.  Heat up a flat bottom pan (preferably a cast iron one) to high heat without any oil

4.  Put the whole capsicum into the pan and leave to slowly grill

5.  At the same time arrange some vegetable slices to cover the rest of the pan

6.  Dry grill the vegetable slowly adjusting the heat, turning them occasionally until charred and soft

7.  Remove the cooked vegetable to a plate and add another batch of  uncooked vegetable to the pan, while leaving the whole capsicum continue to cook

8. When all the vegetables are cooked , the capsicum should be thoroughly cooked by now with charred skin separating from the flesh

9.  Remove carefully the black skin on the capsicum as much as possible and open it up to scrape away the seeds. Tear the capsicum up into strips and add them to the other vegetables

10.  Dress the vegetables with olive oil, red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss it gently together

11.  Fold in basil leaves and garlic

Serve with a piece of grilled fish, you might think you are in heaven…

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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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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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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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