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Doctor, no

May 27, 2007

No, this is not a post about the James Bond movie.

Doctor, no is the title of an article in the June 2007 issue of Men’s Health magazine about yours truly — about how and why I have not seen a doctor for the past 22 years. I thought it was a nice title 😉

Now Men’s Health is not the sort of magazine that I normally identify with. I just don’t fit into the image of the cover photo, which usually shows a muscled, macho guy.

But because I had been making some noise recently about trans fats and other health issues, I caught the editor’s attention and he asked if I would write some articles for the magazine. I agreed.

The article is quite long, so here are just brief excerpts:

I was born half dead. According to my mother, I was a “blue baby” – not breathing and blue all over. And a doctor massaged me to life, using brandy! At five, I developed tuberculosis, along with two of my older sisters. Once again, my life was saved by a doctor.

But while doctors gave me life, they did not give me health. I grew up weak and sickly. At one stage, I was visiting the doctors and taking their medicines every two or three weeks. Thus, it was only natural that I started to look for ways to improve my health.

I had not deliberately sought to stop seeing doctors. Like most people, I took for granted that doctors and the drugs they prescribed were absolutely necessary.

A few things had changed, however. First, I’ve learnt how to take care of myself such that, for minor ailments, all I now need to do is rest and, perhaps, take some simple home remedies.

Second, I’ve discovered that complementary and alternative healthcare often work better – faster, more effectively and without unpleasant side-effects – than chemical-based medicine.

Third, as I read and researched more about health, I also discovered that doctors often do not truly understand what is going on. For example, I once read medical literature that said: “The third leading cause of end stage kidney disease in the US is glomerulonephritis, a disease that damages the kidneys’ filtering units. In many cases, the cause of this disease is not known.”

Essentially, this tells me that kidney disease is caused by a disease that damages the kidneys! I have lost faith in people who consider such statements enlightening…..

The article goes on to talk about how plenty of carrot juice, plus a diet of mainly salads and raw fruits, helped solve the severe sinus problem that plagued me since childhood — but brought on other problems instead.

First, I developed a skin rash that would not go away for months, until my open-minded doctor recommended me to consult a Chinese sinseh. That was my introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine and I began to respect it a lot.

Then, one cold rainy night, after having a salad for dinner, I woke up with a mild asthma attack. I switched back to eating mainly cooked food after learning macrobiotics and yin and yang.

Meanwhile, I discovered the power of natural remedies… Once, I had a high fever. By that time, I no longer had any Panadol at home. I flipped through my book of natural remedies but I had none of the various herbs and other remedies recommended – except for a cold, wet towel. I applied the towel over my head and the fever subsided in half an hour.

Of course, it is not always that simple. When I fell badly ill in 2003 (it turned out I had chicken pox) no amount of home remedies, not even my trusted Chinese sinseh’s herbal brews, could provide quick relief. I had to let the illness run its course and just do my best to control the symptoms.

In such cases, perhaps a strong dose of antibiotics and other chemical medicines might have been more efficient. But by then, I also knew that such a course of action, while possibly beneficial in the short term, would weaken me in the long term.

I learnt recently that the intestines of a normal, healthy person has about 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) “friendly” bacteria in the intestines. They enhance immunity, help digestion and bring many other benefits. Even when a person falls ill, the good bacteria still far out number the bad.

No way am I going to destroy all of that goodness with antibiotics – and create an environment for harmful bacteria to reproduce more easily. Not when doctors are scientists are themselves finally acknowledging that antibiotics had been over-used and abused, resulting in more and more strains of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. For example, tuberculosis used to be easily treated with antibiotics, but is now more difficult to treat than ever.

The article ends off with an emphasis on the importance of research and self study, and some food for thought about the safety of modern, chemical-based medicine:

I had been gradually restoring my health since 1985 and learnt much during the process. This learning is absolutely necessary for anyone wishing to reduce his or her dependance on the medical system. It is serious learning, not from hearsay or, worse still, from the promotional literature of multi-level marketing companies touting health products.

Today, much of that learning can be done via the Internet. It’s a place of much information but, unfortunately, also misinformation, some intended, some simply misguided. You need discernment, which comes from experience as well as from making mistakes.

Fortunately, any mistakes associated with natural health and alternative medicine are usually mild. Yes, once in a very long while, someone might die from alternative medical treatment or from taking some natural food products like royal jelly. Because such incidents are exceedingly rare (like “man bites dog”), they make sensational news.

In contrast, medical treament kill hundreds of thousands of people each year. It is routine (like “dog bites man”), not news, so you seldom read about it in the newspapers.

But there is even a medical term for this – iatrogenic illness, meaning illness caused by medical treatment. These may be due to errors such as misdiagnosis, wrong treatment and wrong prescription or overdose of drugs. They may also be due to legitimate reasons such as acceptable side effects of drugs, or “normal” complications arising from surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other routine medical treatment.

In the US, medical studies have found iatrogenic illness to be the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer. One 1994 study found a death rate from iarogenic illness of “only” 0.56 percent. This seemed a low and acceptable figure. But it translated to 180,000 people dying in the US each year, equivalent to three jumbo jet crashes every two days!

Comparing with other industry standards, the author of the study, Dr Lucian Leape, pointed out that a mere 0.1 percent error rate would produce:

• in aviation, two unsafe planes landing at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport every day;

• in postal services, 16,000 pieces of lost mail every hour;

• in banking, 32,000 cheques deducted from the wrong bank account every hour!

When I read reports such as this, I become more determined than ever to keep myself drug-free and doctor-free.

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The Chendol piles remedy

May 24, 2007

Some friends in a discussion group were recently talking about piles or haemorrhoids. And one of them wrote that piles is normally a problem faced by older people.

This was not true in my case and I shared my experiences with piles with the group. Since I am back to blogging, thought I share them with you too. I may have discovered a delicious piles remedy…

 Piles. I grew up with them, had them ever since young. Everybody else in my family seemed to have it and to me it was “normal” to have piles.

 During national service, one day after training, I sat on the bed, got up and found a big patch of blood on my bedsheet. Next day went to see army doc, got scolded like hell for not reporting piles, said “Can die if not treated”.

How was I to know? To me it was normal. And I thought I would be scolded or charged for trying to skive by reporting a “normal” condition.

Thus I had my first operation, for piles, around age 18, shortly after entering NS. BTW my operation was bloody painful. No GA, I was awake throughout, just local anaesthetic. It was not the pain of the cut but I felt as if my intestines were being pushed and pulled, feeling was one of tremendous stomach ache. And recovery took long time.

Most others I know had relatively painless piles operation. To this day I wonder if it was because my op was done in a government hospital by “ordinary” doctors rather than by specialists?

__________

Few years after the op, piles returned. Bleeding again.

Then in my 30s I started path of natural health and began to eat healthy diet with little meat, more fibre (from brown rice, more veggies, etc) and generally the bleeding stopped.

__________

More recently, started bleeding again and it was quite bad, a lot more blood than ever before. I was worried for a while.

I asked my nutritionist friend, amd he said the bleeding was probably due to infection / inflammation. He recommended PROBIOTICS ie friendly bacteria.

He gave me some very high potency probiotics, 250 billion live bacteria per gram. The recommended dosage is just a fraction of a gram. I use the back of Chinese porcelain spoon to scoop a little, maybe about 100 billion bacteria, 2 times a day, early morning and late night.

In contrast, most probiotics sold in health stores has only 2 to 5 billion live bacteria. Yakult etc has about 2 billion, plus plenty sugar, coloring etc.

 It seems a lot, but our guts have 100 trillion of them. That’s 100,000,000,000,000 or 1 followed by 14 zeros. So taking 2 to 5 billion actually has negligible effects. And there are no problems with overdose. Probiotics have no known side or harmful effects.

My nutritionist friend said to check back with him after two weeks.

Almost to the day, in 2 weeks, bleeding stopped. I thought it was too good to be true. Then the bleeding came back again, then stopped again.

But I got lazy and stopped taking the probiotics. Bleeding returned. Whenever I took probiotics again, the bleeding would stop again after 3 or 4 days.

____________

Then in past 3 months or so, suddenly I had no more bleeding even though I stopped taking probiotics — because I not in the habit of taking supplements, only taken when in trouble.

I was wondering how come?!?

Then I realised, the one major change in my food intake these past few months is that I discovered this wonderful chendol at Tekka market and had been taking it several times a week. Just had another two cups tonight.

(This is the stall that, as you enter the hawker centre from Serangoon Road, it is on the LEFT side of the block of stalls, about 6 or 7 stalls from the end. It is more or less directly back-to-back with the famous brayani and chapati stalls.)

I remember coconut oil being helpful for many conditions, including problems in the intestines. Among other things, coconut oil contains lauric acid, which is a potent destroyer of virus, bacteria, yeast and parasites. Click here to read more about benefits of coconut oil.

Is it really the chendol that solved the problem? I don’t really know and I don’t really care.

The chendol is delicious anyway 😉

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Cardboard or corn flakes?

May 24, 2007

I am back… It has been two months since I last posted. Times flies. I had been busy and so quickly got out of the habit. Hope to be a bit more regular again.

 A friend was asking about corn flakes and cereals, as he remembered hearing something that they are not all that great for health.

Well, I remembered reading about it and it did not take me long to find the article. Here’s an excerpt:

Researchers at Ann Arbor University were given 18 laboratory rats. They were divided into three groups: one group received corn flakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the corn flakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water.

The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. But the rats receiving the corn flakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box! (The last corn flake rat died the day the first box rat died.)

But before death, the corn flake rats developed schizophrenic behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. The startling conclusion of this study is that there was more nourishment in the box than there was in the corn flakes.

Read full report at the Weston Price Foundation, by clicking here.

So if you are hungry and offered a choice of card board or corn flakes, you know which to choose.

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More confusion with fractionated margarine

March 22, 2007

I wrote the other day about local margarine being relatively healthy because they are made by a difference process called fractionation, which does not produce trans fats.

But while this is reassuring, it also means that it is actually even more difficult and confusing to identify trans fats in processed food. If you find margarine / shortening on the ingredients list, it may or may nor indicate the presence of trans fats – depending on how the margarine / shortening was made.

It even means that fractionated hard margarine might still be healthier than hydrogenated soft margarine. Confusion, confusion… and we end up not knowing what we are consuming.

Below is my letter to the ST Forum on this, published today in ST Online:

____________

Consumers like me, who are concerned about the harm of trans fats, have always assumed that margarine and vegetable shortening are made by hydrogenation, a process that creates trans fats.

But this is not always the case. At the trans fat forum on March 17, I learnt that Singapore and Malaysia do not have any hydrogenation plant and that local margarine / shortening are made by a different process called fractionation.

Fractionation is a simple mechanical process that involves chilling the oil (usually palm oil) until its content of saturated fats hardens. This portion, or fraction, is then filtered out and blended with liquid oils to achieve the desired consistency.

Unlike hydrogenation, fractionation does not require high heat, high pressure nor the use of toxic chemical catalysts. It does not create trans fats.

This means that local (and Malaysian) margarine, as well as biscuits, cookies and other products made with local shortening, generally do not contain trans fats except maybe trace amounts.

But this also raises questions and creates confusion.

We have been told that soft margarine has less trans fat than hard margarine. But it now seems that what truly matters is how the margarine is made – hydrogenated or fractionated – rather than whether it is soft or hard.

Identifying trans fats is thus much harder than we thought. If we read the ingredients’ list and find margarine, shortening or even vague terms like “hardened vegetable oil”, there is no way to tell whether the product contains trans fats.

For example, Thailand-made Oreo cookies use “shortening”. Do they contain trans fat? What about the frying oils used by McDonalds and KFC? Are they hydrogenated, fractionated or regular oils?

The only way to know is to have compulsory – and strict – trans fat labelling laws, without provisions for food manufacturers to hide by declaring amounts less than 0.5 gram per serving as “zero”, or by designating ridiculously small serving sizes.

The other way is to ban trans fat. Then, as long as it is legal, it does not contain trans fat.

As food processing technology becomes more complex, consumers are increasingly placed in situations where they don’t know what they are eating. Consumers deserve the right to know, more so than food producers deserve any right to hide poisons in our food.

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Biodynamic wine!

March 20, 2007

I am no lover of wine and about the only difference I know about them is between red and white.

But I was just doing a Google search on biodynamics – to see whether my recent article on the subject shows up – when I came across an article in STOMP! about biodynamic wine.

The article was written by Koh Boon Pin whom, I believe (despite my ignorance about wines), is quite a wine expert? It’s about Cullen wines from a vineyard in Margaret River in South-western Australia.

Koh writes that Vanya Cullen, youngest child of the wine producing family, in 2003 steered the family estate into new territory after attending a seminar by the Biodynamic Association of Australia.

Biodynamics was developed by German visionary Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s in response to farmers who were not able to improve the declining health of their farms with new fertilisers.

‘Everyone says it differently, but biodynamics is about working with Nature, not trying to control it,’ says Vanya.

‘It’s about keeping living systems,’ she adds. ‘If you put chemicals on soil, you’re killing it, so what we do is to find alternative solutions by keeping everything alive.’

Despite having an ‘unbelievable’ number of weevils, she adds, the Cullen vines are dark green and very healthy, unlike some other vineyards in Margaret River, which she declines to name.

Another aspect of biodynamics is linking plant growth with the rhythms of the cosmos. So at the Cullen estate, the grapes are hand harvested on a full moon when there is a lot of water in the atmosphere because of the bigger tides.

Though it is early days where its biodynamic approach is concerned, Vanya points to the vineyard’s brighter fruit flavours, better tannins and cleaner wild yeast fermentations.

Having tasted the wines, I believe she’s on to a good thing.

While I don’t know about wines, I can vouch that biodynamic foods in general are great stuffs. So if you are into wine drinking, do check it out.

Cullen biodynamic wines are available from Hai Choo Wines & Spirits, tel: 6273-8933.

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O! The organic price difference

March 20, 2007

A short while back, I wrote about Naturally Marketplace and mentioned that they sell O Organic coffee, at $24+. I was at Carrefour just now and I saw the same brand of organic coffee selling for only $15.80!

Now that’s a huge price difference. It is one reason why Carrefour is my favourite supermarket. They have good quality stuffs, mostly at very reasonable prices.

Here’s another reason… I found out today that Carrefour at Plaza Singapura — which I prefer to the outlet at Suntec City which I find to be too huge and out of the way — has reduced the price of its house brand organic dark chocolate.

That used to sell at $3.20 at Plaza Singapura and $2.85 at Suntec. Now it’s $2.85 at Plaza Singapura. Even if it now costs less at Suntec, I am not complaining.

$2.85 for a 100 gram bar of organic dark chocolate, with 74 percent cocoa, is a steal! Even Cadbury’s non-organic and not-so-dark chocolate costs nearly as much ($4+ for 200 grams).

Go give yourself a treat.

 

 

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(Relatively) healthy, trans-fat free margarine!

March 19, 2007

Last weekend’s forum on trans fat, as it turned out, was a lot more enlightening than I originally realised. I now say it was revolutionary. And I am not being sarcastic here. I am serious. Because it has completely transformed my view of margarine.

Well, not the entire forum, but just one small remark that came out of it.

If you recall, I had reported that, according to Mr Wong Mong Hong from the Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association, there are no hydrogenation plants in Singapore and Malaysia and he said that local margarines / vegetable shortenings are mostly made by a process called fractionation.

It took me a while to find out what this is. Originally, I remembered the word as “factorisation” and, when I did a Google search, all I found was mathematics! And saltwetfish made the same mistake too 😉

Later, when I got the word correct, I found an article in Wikipedia and it was not very re-assuring. It said:

Fractionation is a separation process in which a certain quantity of a mixture (solid, liquid, solute or suspension) is divided up in a large number of smaller quantities (fractions)… Mixtures of liquids and gases are separated by fractional distillation by difference in boiling point.

I was thinking… What? They boil the oil? What sort of crazy high temperatures do they use? Surely that would make the oil super rancid — and far more harmful than trans fats!

How wrong I was! It is actually the exact opposite. They chill the oil!

When I searched further, I was led to an excellent website called Hydrogenated News and there, I found an interview with Edgar Hernandez, consultant with the American Palm Oil Council, and there, he explains what it is all about:

Fractionation is basically a process by which you can separate the oil into two main fractions – one solid, one liquid. It’s a physical process; there are no chemicals involved in that.

Basically, what they do is chill the oil, so when the temperature goes down, the solid fraction starts to crystallize. Then, you remove that solid fraction by filtration, so that’s why you come out with the fractions – one solid, one liquid.

There are no trans; you won’t get any trans fat unless you do hydrogenation. So, the benefit of those fractions is that you can formulate them in specific ratios and final quality to get the functional properties that you’ll need for different applications – for cooking or for cake or bread. There are different specifications for each, so you obtain those specifications by blending those fractions with the liquid or to come out with the final product.

Reading this was like Eureka! A new enlightenment.

It finally answers a lot of questions that I – and, I am sure, others who had been following the trans fats issue – always had.

Questions like why…

  • Some brands of margarine claim zero or very negligible amounts of trans fats?
  • Some brands of margarine don’t mention partially hydrogenated oils in their ingredients list? (I’ve since discovered, they list “palm oil fraction”!)
  • Some brands of bread, biscuits, cookies, etc claim to have zero trans fat even though the ingredients’ lists say they contain vegetable shortening?

I had also heard it mentioned that there are “trans fat free” shortening, but simply assumed that they, in fact, contained small amounts of trans fats – ie, less than 0.5 grams per serving as allowed under US trans fat labelling laws.

Worse, I suspected that they contained interesterified fats, made from fully hydrogenated oils, which appear to be even more harmful than trans fats.

Finally, I reaslised how mistaken and ignorant I had been all along.

I hereby repent. (This is an excuse for me to explain that the original meaning of “repent”, from the Greek word “metanoia” is to change one’s way of thinking, not to beat the heart in regret!”)

And so, I have to stop declaring that margarines are all deadly poisons. Some of them still are, depending how they are manufactured – by hydrogenation or fractionation.

I won’t say they are absolutely healthy either, because they still have some of the other problems associated with margarine – possibly made with poor quality, rancid oils; containing far too much omega-6 relative to omega 3, and so on.

Plus, they are artificially coloured and flavoured. I had read, I forgot where, that food laws do not allow margarine to be artificially coloured, meaning they must use natural colouring. But it seems those laws don’t apply here. The label on most margarines I saw said “artificial colouring”.

So I will not start eating margarine. They still taste awful anyway.

And butter still has lots more goodness, especially if it is organic butter from grass-fed cows. More on that later. For now, you might want to refer to my website article about butter vs margarine.

Even if you disregard the parts about margarine being partially hydrogenated and containing trans fats, butter is still better 🙂