23 October 2014

Is soy safe? – part 2

As you tuck into a delightful tofu and veggie stir-fry, or maybe even some tofu ice-cream, is there a lingering doubt? Is this really doing me good? Am I contributing to the prevention of breast and prostate cancer, or am I, as some would have us believe, contributing to their increased likelihood?

If so, you need the answer to this question: Do the phyto-oestrogens in soybeans act like oestrogen or Tamoxifen? Need a full explanation? Let us go Out on a Limb again, follow on from the earlier post this week where we explored the soybean itself, and using the evidence-base available, explore how cancer and soy beans interact, but first

Thought for the day

The doctor of the future will give no medicine,
But will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame,
In diet and in the cause and prevention of disease

                    Thomas Edison, 1902

1. There are historically low breast cancer incidence rates in Asia, where traditional soyfoods are a staple.

2. Research demonstrates isoflavones in soy may exert anti-oestrogenic effects.

3. Some epidemiologic data shows a higher soy intake results in a lower breast cancer risk.

4. Rodent studies demonstrate soy protects against carcinogen-induced mammary cancer.

In broad terms, there are 2 types of breast cancer; oestrogen positive and oestrogen negative. Our discussion relates to oestrogen positive cancers in particular and these make up about 70% of all breast cancers.

Oestrogen positive cancers are aggravated by oestrogen (the main female sex hormone). How this happens is that on the surface of oestrogen positive cancer cells there are receptors for oestrogen. When an oestrogen molecule comes into proximity with such a receptor, it attaches (but does not go into the cell) and creates a cascade of reactions within the cell that speeds up the cancer’s progression.

In earlier times, removal of the ovaries was attempted as a way to reduce oestrogen levels in women with breast cancer. But oestrogen is made in other parts of the body, so only in exceptional circumstances has this proven useful.

Many people will have heard of tamoxifen. This was heralded as a breakthrough drug as, while it does attach to the oestrogen receptors, it does not cause the internal reaction. Therefore, tamoxifen blocks natural oestrogen from having its adverse affects.

Unfortunately, tamoxifen does aggravate uterine tissue and is associated with increased uterine cancer, but on balance it remains a widely used anti-cancer drug. Simply put, tamoxifen is an oestrogen antagonist.


There are 3 main oestrogen-like chemicals in soybeans; genistein, daidzein, and glycitein.

They are present in their beta glycoside forms: genistin, daidzin, and glycitin, hence you may see them written differently.

Genistin/genistein, daidzin/daidzein, and glycitin/glycitein account for approximately 50–55%, 40–45%, and 5–10% of total isoflavone content, respectively in soybeans.

Older adults in Japan and Shanghai, China, typically consume between 25 and 50 mg/day of isoflavones and probably no more than 5% of these populations consume more than 100 mg/day. In contrast, people in the United States and Europe consume an average of less than 3 mg/day.

Isoflavones have a chemical structure similar to human oestrogen but bind to estrogen receptors more weakly. Significantly, it has been suggested that genistein, which is the best-studied isoflavone, along with the other isoflavones may act like tamoxifen as estrogen receptor blockers.

What has also drawn attention in recent years are conflicting concerns that isoflavones may stimulate the growth of existing estrogen-sensitive breast tumors. These concerns are based on evidence gathered from studies involving tissue cultures and rodents. However, they do contrast with the human epidemiological evidence that shows among Asian women higher soy intake is associated with a nearly one-third reduction in breast cancer risk and that Japanese breast cancer patients, in comparison to Western women, exhibit better survival rates even after controlling for stage of diagnosis.


In Asia, isoflavones are consumed as traditional soy foods and not in pure or processed forms. Epidemiological data associates lifetime, and particularly pre-adolescent consumption of traditional soy with a decreased risk of breast cancer development in humans.

An Asian-American study on soy found that women, pre- and postmenopausal, who consumed tofu, had a 15% reduced risk of breast cancer with each additional serving per week.

Wu AH, Ziegler, et al. Tofu and risk of breast cancer in Asian- Americans. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1996;5(11):901-906.

Another trial reported that women in the highest tertile intake of tofu had a 51% decrease risk of premenopausal breast cancer when compared with women in the lowest tertile. In this study, no statistical significant association was observed between soy intake and breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women.

Hirose K, Imaeda N, Tokudome Y, Goto C, Wakai K, Matsuo K, et al. Soybean products and reduction of breast cancer risk: a case-control study in Japan. Br J Cancer 2005;93(1):15-22.

Messina and colleagues published a major review on this subject in 2008 and I consider it to be one of the very the best review articles on this topic. To quote:

The conclusion drawn from this extensive review of the available literature is that currently there is little evidence to suggest that any potential weak estrogenic effects of dietary isoflavones have a clinically relevant impact on breast tissue in healthy women. Limited data suggest this is also the case for breast cancer survivors.

This evidence includes multiple trials showing no effects on breast proliferation or mammographic density and considerable epidemiologic data showing either no effect or a modest protective role of soy/isoflavone intake on breast cancer risk.

Based on this evidence it seems unlikely that isoflavone consumption at dietary levels (i.e. <100 mg/day) elicits adverse breast cancer-promoting effects in healthy women or breast cancer survivors not undergoing active treatment.

Messina MJ and Wood CE; Nutrition Journal 2008.  To read in full, CLICK HERE http://www.nutritionj.com/content/7/1/17

When this article was first posted in 2008, there was no data to support the notion that soyfoods or isoflavone supplements could improve the survival of breast cancer patients.

Several earlier studies suggested that whole soy foods appeared to have no negative or positive effect on breast cancer. For example the following two studies found soy foods had no negative impact on breast cancer survival.

Boyapati SM, et al. Soyfood intake and breast cancer survival: a followup of the Shanghai Breast Cancer Study. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2005;92(1):11-17.

Nishio K, et al. Consumption of soy foods and the risk of breast cancer: findings from the Japan Collaborative Cohort (JACC) Study. Cancer Causes Control. 2007;18(8):801-808.
This, and other evidence, prompted Messina and colleagues in their 2008 review quoted above to state:

Available data on breast cancer recurrence and mortality provide some assurance for breast cancer patients that soyfoods/isoflavone supplements, when taken at dietary levels, do not contribute to recurrence rates although more data are clearly needed to better address this issue.

However, in 2009, following more analysis of the Shanghai study, strong new evidence was published showing significant benefits of consuming soy for women with breast cancer in terms of better survival and less cancer recurrence, making Messina’s claim outdated.

Women consuming soy in the highest quartile had a 29% lower death rate over the 4 year follow up, and 32% reduced risk of recurrence. The protective effect was present regardless of oestrogen receptor status of the cancer, or whether tamoxifen was used or not.

This study provided the most compelling evidence to date of a benefit for soy consumption by women with breast cancer (as opposed to no harm). It is important because it shows a benefit for increased soy consumption irrespective of oestrogen receptor status or tamoxifen use.

Shu XO et al. Soy food intake and breast cancer survival; JAMA. 2009 Dec 9; 302(22):2437-43.

The trend of this study was confirmed in 2013 when another study demonstrated soy food intake is associated with longer survival and low recurrence among breast cancer patients.

Zhang, Y.F., et al., Positive effects of soy isoflavone food on survival of breast cancer patients in China. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 2012. 13(2): p. 479-482.

More recently still, a major review from the World Cancer Research Fund International’s Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Breast Cancer Survivors has examined a total of 85 studies involving 164,416 women. Included has been analysis of specific evidence related to soy and its interaction with breast cancer.

This major study makes modest conclusions The evidence was sparse and generally consistent, and is suggestive of an inverse relationship between consumption of foods containing soy and all cause mortality. 

Translation? From what solid evidence there is so far, it seems that soy is likely to be helpful; the evidence for it being unhelpful is not there. Conclusion? It is coming after a few more pieces of the puzzle are put into place!

It may be that the non-traditional soy foods do create problems. Significantly, soy protein isolates do not contain many of the bioactive components present in whole soy. As we clarified in Part 1, refined products include soy flour and its processed derivatives.

Research has demonstrated that soy protein isolates (85–90% soy protein) do stimulate the growth of

estrogen-dependent tumors. Another study evaluated the relative effects of different degrees of soy processing on the growth of pre-existing tumors and demonstrated that consumption of isoflavones in increasingly purer or more highly enriched forms may have a proportionally worse effect on estrogen-dependent tumor growth.

Allred CD,et al. Soy processing influences growth of estrogen-dependent breast cancer tumors. Carcinogenesis 2004;25:1649-1657.

Some research has shown that soy processing increases breast cancer growth in mice. This may be related to isoflavone metabolism and bioavailability, but more research is needed.

Allred CD, et al. Soy processing influences growth of estrogen-dependent breast cancer tumors. Carcinogenesis 2004;25:1649-1657.

There has also been some concern expressed that soy products may actually interfere with the action of tamoxifen itself. However, recent studies examining the interaction between soy and tamoxifen have yielded neutral or beneficial findings.

In one study, soy intake had no effect on levels of tamoxifen or its metabolites.

Wu AH, et al. Tamoxifen, soy, and lifestyle factors in Asian American women with breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2007;25(21):3024-3030.

In another, the combination of tamoxifen and genistein inhibited the growth of human breast cancer cells in a synergistic manner in vitro.

Mai Z, et al. Genistein sensitizes inhibitory effect of tamoxifen on the growth of estrogen receptor- positive and HER2-overexpressing human breast cancer cells. Mol Carcinog. 2007;46(7):534-542.

One study reported that soy’s main phyto-oestrogen genistein, enhanced the cytotoxic effect of the chemotherapeutic agent adriamycin at low doses against the human breast cancer cell. This enhancing effect was mainly attributed to the increase of necrotic-like, rather than apoptotic, cell death.

Satoh H, Nishikawa K, Suzuki K, et al. Genistein, a soy isoflavone, enhances necrotic-like cell death in a breast cancer cell treated with a chemotherapeutic agent. Res Commun Mol Pathol Pharmacol.2003;113–114:149–158.

Of great interest is research that demonstrates eating soy foods during childhood and adolescence in women, and before puberty onset in animals, appears to significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer later in life.

Research evidence indicates a possible synergistic relationship between soy and green tea consumption.

The American Cancer Society in 2006 concluded that breast cancer patients can safely consume up to three servings of traditional soyfoods per day, although the group advised against the use of more concentrated sources of isoflavones such as powders and supplements.

The United States Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) conducted a review of the available studies and found little evidence of substantial health improvements and no adverse effects, but also noted that there was no long-term safety data on estrogenic effects from soy consumption.

The AHRQ report notes that future studies of the health effects of soy need to better address the complex relationship between health and food components, including how variations in the diets, lifestyles, and health of participants might affect the results.

Also, studies that substitute practical amounts of soy products into people's diets would better address the question of whether people should make the effort to include more soy in their diet.

The Cancer Council of New South Wales released a statement saying scientific research suggests that overall the moderate consumption of soy products does not appear to present a risk to women with breast cancer, and there is equivocal evidence that consuming large amounts of soy products may have a protective effect against developing breast and prostate cancer. However, the Council does not recommend taking soy dietary supplements as there is no evidence they are either effective or safe at preventing or treating cancers.

We regularly eat organic tofu and soy yoghurt (which Ruth makes from Bonsoy). Ruth drinks small amounts of soymilk (mostly Bonsoy in teas), but I do not – I do not like it and have teas and dandelion coffee black). We eat some tempeh but only have silken tofu by mistake when eating out!

We avoid processed soy products and read labels to avoid the myriad of foods with these products added to them.

In answer to the key question, I conclude the phyto-oestrogens in soy act like tamoxifen, not like oestrogen. I also conclude:
1. Traditional soy foods are almost certainly safe and warrant being a part of a healthy diet for healthy people. I recommend them. I particularly recommend regular soy consumption for young and adolescent girls; but then lifetime consumption seems ideal.

2. Processed or refined or concentrated soy products run the real risk of being problematic for everyone. I do not recommend them.

3. For women with breast cancer, the best evidence currently available suggests traditional soy foods, eaten in traditional amounts are likely to be safe and may well be helpful in reducing recurrences and extending survival. I recommend them.

Coconut oil – are you nuts?

Food for life – what to eat when

You Can Conquer Cancer – the revised edition has many other explanations like this one on soy. What type of protein and how much? Which are the best fats to eat and to avoid, and so on. This book is about prevention and long-term good health, as well as cancer recovery.

Ruth and I leave this week to present our final meditation retreat for the year, Meditation Under the Long White Cloud at Mana retreat centre amidst the peace and beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand.

Then we travel down south to the exquisite landscape at Wanaka to present the 5 day cancer residential program, Mind, Meditation and Healing from November 10 - 14. It will be a delight to be back in New Zealand once more.

20 October 2014

Is soy safe?

Major new research has been published regarding soy. Posting this new evidence on my Facebook page has led to a great discussion and revealed that soy still polarizes people. What is the truth?

Will soy give you breast cancer or protect you? Will soy produce breasts in young boys? Protect girls from ever increasingly early onset of puberty? Does it speed up breast cancer, or make a useful contribution to both preventing and recovering from it? Does it really protect from difficulties during menopause?

It seems some people would have us believe soy is full on toxic. Others point to the low rates of breast cancer and menopausal difficulties in Asian women, link this to their regular soy consumption and suggest soy is something we would all benefit from.

So this is to revisit an earlier post on these matters that was evidence-based. To re-examine the science behind soy and breast cancer so we can bring some logic and clarity to this often steamy debate. Then I will tell you what Ruth and I actually do, and not shirk from drawing 3 compelling conclusions and making recommendations, but first

Thought for the day 
Meditation (reflection) first purifies its own source, ie, the soul, from which it arises.
Then it regulates the inclinations, directs activity, moderates excess, shapes morals, 
Makes life honest and regulated, 
And mediates knowledge of divine as well as human things.

It is this which replaces confusion with order, 
Checks the inclination to lose oneself in uncertainty, 
Gathers together that which is dispersed, 
Penetrates into that which is hidden, 
Discovers that which is true and distinguishes it from that which merely appears as such, 
And brings to light fiction and lie.
                    St Bernard of Clairvaux

Soy products have gained widespread popularity in the West over the last 50 years. But whether they are really safe, and especially what to recommend in regard to breast cancer has been an issue of great contention this last decade. It is an area I have taken a great deal of interest in. I have read widely, spoken to many authorities and fielded many questions.

What follows then is a major piece that is evidence-based and comes in two parts, much of which first appeared on this blog in July and August of 2013, and now seems to warrant a re-run. This is the first blog I have repeated, albeit with some important research updates since one year ago.

The aim is firstly to bring further understanding to the soy bean itself. Particularly when it comes to nutrition, I am of the view that if we can understand the principles, then the details follow fairly simply and we will have the confidence to make good choices.

And then in Part 2, how does soy interact with breast cancer? Does it cause or prevent breast cancer? And what of its role for those who have developed breast cancer – does it help or hinder?

As it seems the answers to these questions may well vary depending upon what type of soy foods we eat, let us begin by understanding the range of options available.

THE SOY BEAN (Glycine max)  

3 Forms – raw, traditional, processed

1. The raw soybean (or soya bean as it is called in the UK) is a legume that originated in East Asia but is now classified as an oilseed rather than a pulse by the FAO. There are 2 main types, those used for eating (which make up about 15% of world production), and those for oil (85%).

Raw soybeans contain trypsin inhibitors that make them toxic to humans and all other monogastric (single stomached) animals.

Happily, cooking with "wet" heat destroys the enzyme and solves this problem, so all edible forms of soy have been, or need to be cooked.

2. The traditional use of soybeans falls into 2 categories:
i) Non-fermented foods including tofu, tofu skin and soy milk.

ii) Fermented foods including soy sauce, miso (fermented soybean paste), and tempeh.

Fermentation does lower the phytoestrogen content found in the raw beans. People have claimed that historically soybeans were only used after fermentation, and we shall investigate whether or not this would seem to be a relevant issue.

3. Processed soy products are a more modern phenomena and usually stem from soy flour (made by roasting and grinding the beans) and its products.

One of the most common is TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein – a similar form of which can be
made from wheat, oats and cotton seeds). TVP is a de-fatted soy flour product that is a by-product of extracting soy oil. It has a protein content equal to that of meat and is often used as a meat substitute or extender.

Fat-free (defatted) soybean meal is a significant and cheap source of protein for animal feeds and many prepackaged meals.

Processed soy may be found in many things from vegetable sausages to Mars bars.

In 1997, about 8% of all soybeans cultivated for the commercial market in the United States were genetically modified. In 2010, the figure was 93%. Unless a soy product stipulates that it is GMO free, or organically grown, it is almost certain to contain at least some genetically modified beans.

Soy oil 
Soy beans have a high oil content; around 20% and soy oil accounts for about 65% of all oil used in commercial and home cooking. However, soy oil is low in Omega 3 fatty acids and high in Omega 6s. The ratio of Omega 3 to 6 in soy oil is only .13 : 1, whereas in flaxseed oil it is 3.45 : 1; so for all the nutritional reasons why flaxseed oil is good for regular use, soy oil is not.

Tofu usually contains under 10% fat, so the oil type is not a major issue when eating it – unless you have very particular needs.

Soy protein
Soy beans are high in protein: around 38 - 45%.

Soybeans are an excellent source of complete protein. A complete protein contains in the one food all the essential amino acids in a good balance necessary for human health. Meat is well known as a complete protein and concerns have been raised (probably in a way that is highly over rated) that vegetarians may miss out on some amino acids.

So, as confirmed by the US Food and Drug Administration, soy is a good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Soy protein has the nutritional equivalent of meat, eggs, and casein for human growth and health.

Tofu – how it is made 
Soaked soybeans are ground; water is added and boiled.  The pulp is then removed leaving soymilk. Next, a natural mineral coagulant such as calcium sulphate, magnesium chloride, or a mixture of both is added, leading to the soymilk curdling. The curds are removed, placed in cloth-lined forming boxes and varying amounts of pressure applied to form soft, regular, firm or extra firm tofu.

The firmer the tofu, the higher the protein and fat levels.

Silken tofu is made when either calcium sulphate or glucono-delta-lactone is added to a thick, rich soymilk. The mixture is put into a package that is then heated to activate the coagulation and produce the tofu in the package. 

Typically, tofu contains between 10 and 15% protein and 5 to 9% fat.  It is relatively low in carbohydrates and in fiber (as the pulp was removed), making it easy to digest.

Soy production and the environment

Soybeans produce
1. At least twice as much protein per acre compared to most other major vegetables or grains.

2. Five to 10 times more protein per acre than land set aside for grazing animals to make milk.

3. Up to 15 times more protein per acre than land set aside for meat production.
Environmental groups have reported increased soybean cultivation in Brazil has destroyed huge areas of Amazon rainforest. However, most of the soybeans produced in this area are actually grown for livestock fodder and oil production.

Conclusion?  There is great environmental merit in eating less meat and more soybeans.

The burning question – what impact does soy have on breast cancer? How is breast cancer actually affected by oestrogen? Do the phyto-oestrogens (natural, oestrogen-like substances) in soybeans cause breast cancer, or do they protect from it? Does soy help or hinder in recovering from breast cancer?

Part 2 will be posted Thursday

Eating Well, Being Well

You Can Conquer Cancer – the revised edition has many other explanations like this one on soy. What type of protein and how much? Which are the best fats to eat and to avoid, and so on. This book is about prevention and long-term good health, as well as cancer recovery.

Ruth and I leave this week to present our final meditation retreat for the year, Meditation Under the Long White Cloud at Mana retreat centre amidst the peace and beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand.

Then we travel down south to the exquisite landscape at Wanaka to present the 5 day cancer residential program, Mind, Meditation and Healing from November 10 - 14. It will be a delight to be back in New Zealand once more.

13 October 2014

What are you part of ???

A couple of big milestones. This blog has been running for just on 4 years and has had over half a million pageviews. Ever wonder who else is reading it? This week, interesting details and feedback, one great personal story and then news of the upcoming retreats in New Zealand, Meditation Under the Long White Cloud and Mind, Meditation and Healing, but first

Thought for the day

Helping, fixing, and serving 
Represent three different ways of seeing life. 

When you help, you see life as weak. 
When you fix, you see life as broken. 

When you serve, you see life as whole. 

Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, 
And service the work of the soul. 

Rachel Naomi Remen

The older I become, the more service seems to be what gives life meaning. How fortunate am I then to be able to work in a field of service.

It has often seemed to me that some people have really tough jobs where it is almost as if they need to compromise their ethics and life values at the door on their way in to work; and pick up what is left on the way out.

My work has always demanded the best of me. It is a blessing.

So writing the blog is a regular delight – even when the need to write the one for next Monday comes late on Sunday night. Also, it is a discipline – a writing discipline that has me writing regularly and exercising one of the arts I am passionate about – writing!

Anyway, much gratitude to all of you who made the time and effort to reply to the recent survey. Hundreds of people provided feedback and the general comments were very gratifying. It seems worth persisting to pen something regularly :)

It also seems that of those who responded, over 70% have been reading the blog for more than 6 mths, over half read it weekly, over half would like to receive it weekly in future, but 40% would be happy with fortnightly – so when I am on a personal retreat I may spread it out a little!

Guest bloggers are welcome equally monthly and occasionally, 20% of you share posts regularly, but over 50% have only shared once or twice.

All the current topics on the blog record a good level of interest, with meditation, nutrition, healing and mind training scoring highest. As for age – the older we get the more people who are reading – the 50+ group being the largest, while most have good health and a significant number face major health challenges. Well over half are in full or part time work and about a third are retired – quite a diverse bunch really, but all interested in their own health and wellbeing, and what they can do for others.

The range of suggestions for new blogs was very interesting and great food for thought. Finding peace amidst diversity, simplifying life, why some recover, others not, dealing with legal addictions, mind training, remission as a limiting word, how do you know when your meditation is “working” … and on …

A few of the nice comments
I love the quotes. Sometimes it's great when you are busy to glance at something that can help keep you anchored, it can be like a herb that adds a lot to the soup.

Your Monday blog is always very welcome - solid ground to start the week off and it re-connects me with the world within.

I really appreciate the fact that you take the time to write a weekly blog which is interesting and informative. You bring things to the fore which I otherwise might not notice and you are not afraid to address tricky issues. I also enjoy reading people's comments. There is a community of people who support these ideas and it's good to be able to share that.

It is always a pleasure to open up your blog and have a quick look at the topics. Then I can decide do I have time now to read it all or allow time in the near future to study the information in more detail.

Always of interest and pertinent but the best thing is - it is my reminder.
I am a 6 year cancer survivor with still a primary brain. Your weekly blog is a great source of inspiration and informative material.

They have often prompted me to research a topic in greater depth and this can lead to knowledge which may be helpful to others - as well as to me.

I never feel isolated when I read your blog and see so many of the worthwhile events you hold.

It has taken cancer to teach me to live the life I have always wanted to live. xx

I don't get on my computer very often so I save them for reading later if can't at time. I find them very grounding and refreshes my priority needs in amongst the pressure and bustle of todays life.

Feels like an old friend coming to visit - really nice.

And finally, one very inspiring story from my old profession
Your work Ian remains of immense significance. I have had the very good fortune to attend 4 of the old Inward Bound retreats years ago, and to be taught meditation by you. This came after a nervous breakdown at age 38, while running a vet practice. 

My life has progressively become rather more delightful since then. I remain in fulltime vet practice at age 62, and thanks in part to the broad range of topics which you present, I am able to retain a very wide range of interests, including that of brain plasticity. I am starting to do some mentoring of final year Sydney Vet students, and we take 10-12 students for a month each in the practice. 

I bought Craig Hassed's new book "Mindful Learning" yesterday. One of the benefits of your blog is that it draws my attention to a topic, and I can say to my children .. "I read something interesting the other day ...".

Hell, this has taken longer than doing the survey!

Seriously though, I hope that you retain the energy to keep up your output for a long time yet. Stay well yourself!! 

Very sincerely,

John Dooley BVSc, Wingham NSW


1. Meditation Under the Long White Cloud  -  SOON  -  October 25 - 31
Last meditation retreat Ruth and I will present in 2014 - the first in 2015 is Meditation in the Forest in the Yarra Valley Pre-Easter.

This one is on the glorious Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand and the special focus will be on deepening the experience of meditation and guided imagery.

VENUE: Mana Retreat Centre

BOOKINGS and ENQUIRIES:  Tel +64 7 866 8972

Register with Mana Retreat at the online secure manaretreat.com/users/register.php

Five days for people affected by cancer led by Drs Ian and Ruth Gawler and where the focus will be on accelerated healing

DATES: Arrive 12noon, program commences with lunch together at 1pm Monday 10th Nov.; until 2pm Friday 14th (after lunch) Nov. 2014

VENUE: The Snow Farm Lodge, Cardrona Valley Rd, Wanaka.

BOOKINGS and ENQUIRIEScanlive.org or call Stew Burt 03 443 4168 OR +64 3 443 6234 New Zealand

06 October 2014

Ian Gawler Blog: Accelerated healing 101 – Part 2

In the last blog - Accelerated Healing – Part 1, we covered the first 2 principles that assist with accelerated healing:

1. Use the power of the mind

2. Have a solid base for healing

Now we pick it up again at the third point, with the specifics of how to Use Mind-Body Medicine. Also, details of the last cancer healing residential program Ruth and I will present this year, and our last meditation retreat for 2014, but first

    Thought for the day

The revolution that will save the world 
Is ultimately a personal one

             Marianne Williamson

The principle
The body has a vast array of healing mechanisms and they are all regulated by the mind – mostly by the unconscious mind. This regulation involves two-way communication – from the mind to the body AND from the body to the mind.

To use the mind to accelerate healing we need to be able to send positive messages from the mind to the body and receive the body’s feedback.

Here, there are 5 core principles to consider attending to:

i) Relaxation is the key – profound relaxation
The principle
When injured or in pain, instinctively the body tenses up. Doing so, blood flow is limited, muscle tension actually aggravates pain and the potential for healing is reduced. The antidote is to over-ride this instinct with deep relaxation.

What I did
I lay down and spent hours deeply relaxing my body generally and the affected area specifically.

This process involved putting the centre of my awareness into the area being relaxed, particularly the area needing healing and it was guided by the pain – see part iii) to come.

This is another technique where having pre-existing skills is so helpful. How nice it would be if everyone knew how to do this by teenage years. However, it is never to late to learn.

Start with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation, focusing upon the feeling of the body relaxing. Learn to take that feeling of relaxation into the affected areas. This does take time. It does take practice. It does bring rapid relief and it does definitely accelerate healing.

ii) Meditation and imagery are the mainstays
The principle
Meditation is highly therapeutic. It leads to a state of deep physiological rest; a state of deep natural balance in which the ideal conditions for natural healing exist.

Imagery provides the means to connect our conscious intention to heal with our mind’s unconscious healing control centre that knows how to do it.

Together, the two techniques are synergistic.

What I did
I meditated in my usual way 3 times daily for 40 – 60 minutes each time. This was done with the gentle but clear conscious intention that this meditation would help to accelerate healing but it was done without “trying” to make healing happen.

By contrast, I also imagined the injured area healing using semi-literal healing that highlighted the end result of a fully functional, healthy, strong muscle and shoulder, with me being able to move and use it through its full range of movement.

Again, ideally these are pre-existing skills. Good to learn and practice when you are well, but it is certainly realistic to learn and apply these techniques when the need is immediate – see the Resource list later.

iii) Pain is the guide
The principle
Perhaps paradoxically, pain is a great asset to accelerated healing. Obviously pain lets us know something needs attention, but more specifically, we can use it to focus our Mind-Body techniques; and to get feedback.

What I did
With the deep relaxation, I focused upon the painful areas (which did relate directly to the injured tissue), put my full awareness (free of judgement or reaction) into them, and worked on relaxing those areas until they felt the same as the healthy areas of my body.

This took some doing. It required some resolve, some capacity to feel the pain purely as it was, and some persistence. It was often only partially successful in any given session, but then I took heart from any progress made towards a more relaxed, less painful state (rather than bemoaning what was left to do). Occasionally there was complete relief from the pain and a deep sense of healing flowing.

My sense is that this technique is a key principle in accelerated healing. Quite simply it takes practice and while what to do is essentialised above, the details of how to do it more thoroughly are in Meditation – an In-depth Guide and on the CD (or Download) Effective Pain Management.

iv) Sleep is an ally
The principle
While we sleep, the body and the mind are at rest. Sleep provides a refuge, a relief from pain if we need it; and while we sleep there is plenty of energy available for healing.

What I did
Before going to sleep I reminded my body, programmed it really, to continue healing.

This one is simple. In a kind, friendly way, just before going to sleep, remind your body it will be free to heal unhindered, undistracted while it is asleep and maybe even imagine it doing so.

v) Talk to yourself kindly
The principle
Self talk can be very destructive or very self-affirming, very healing.

What I did
I was pleased to notice that after all my years of conscious experience with this principle, the fact was this was easy for me.

For many I have known, destructive self talk can provide a major challenge and can require a concerted effort to transform. What to do?

Firstly, be gentle with yourself. Do aim to remember to notice the conversation/ the thoughts that flow through your mind. Recognise they are but thoughts. They are just thoughts. So even if they are potentially destructive thoughts, unless you take them seriously they are just thoughts – they come and go and no harm is done.

Where the problems arise is when we take our thoughts (especially potentially unhelpful ones) too seriously and allow them to dictate how we function, how we are.

So the ideal is just to recognize thoughts for what they are – just thoughts; to follow through on constructive thoughts and to let go of any unconstructive ones.

Maybe it as an interim measure that is helpful while we work towards this somewhat idealistic goal, it can be helpful to gently correct or to actively dismiss unhelpful inner chatter and to give more weight to positive self talk.

If this area is a major issue for you, affirmations may well be useful.

4. FOLLOW A NATURAL HIERARCHY OF HEALING – use medication sparingly
The principle
In my view, there is a very clear hierarchy of healing. It starts with being so well that sickness and injury are simply no problem, and leads all the way to major external interventions.

My approach is always to focus on what works and aim to do what is easiest, most natural and has the least side effects. So in healing, my personal approach is to start with the most natural thing that is likely to work, to give that some time and be open to noticing the response and moving down the hierarchy until something or some combination of things actually works. Surgery often makes really good sense.

Being really well involves consistently living a healthy lifestyle. The emphasis is on recognizing how precious life is – and how fragile. It is a delight to be alive and it makes sense to celebrate life by following a healthy lifestyle.

With a healthy lifestyle, prevention flows naturally, good health flows naturally, wellbeing flows naturally.

Here there is a more conscious attention given to the prevention of illness.

In my experience, while prevention makes all the sense in the world, people in general are completely under-whelmed by it as a motivator to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Illness is a great driving force, wellness can do it, but not so many are motivated long-term by the notion of prevention. Sad? Maybe. Fact? Absolutely!

The principle
There are two big areas to consider – first what you can do for yourself, and then what can be done for you.

a) What you can do for yourself
This is the vital first arena to consider in response to any illness. This approach to healing and wellbeing is best described as Lifestyle Medicine; not Complementary Medicine (athough it does complement just about everything), definitely not Alternative Medicine or even Integrative Medicine, no, this is Lifestyle Medicine - what you can do for yourself

Maybe you can completely resolve the injury/illness yourself – the body does have an amazing capacity for regeneration and healing. But if you do need any external help, how you respond, what you do, all of that will have a profound impact on the experience you have during the healing process and upon the final outcome.

Break a leg, disregard the healing, eat badly, use it excessively – bad outcome!

Break a leg, work with the healing, eat well, exercise judiciously etc, etc – good outcome!

A healthy lifestyle, Lifestyle Medicine, creates the ideal conditions in which the body can best contribute to its own healing, and in which the body can work powerfully to gain the best result from any treatment, and to minimize the risk and impact of any side effects.

b) What can be done for you – external interventions
Of course it can make sense to seek external help for healing, and this help can come in many forms. Each culture has its own Traditional Medicine. In the West we call this Conventional Medicine, but there is Traditional Chinese Medicine, Traditional Aboriginal bush medicine, Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine and so on.

There is also Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Palliative Care. The point is that all these modalities involve something being done to, or for you.

The Australasian Integrative Medical Association (AIMA) has recently published a major policy statement on the range of healing modalities on offer and I will blog on that soon.

Again, my personal preference is to use the most natural modality that is likely to work and that has the least side effects. What this is will vary from situation to situation and ideally we can be helped/advised by someone with a broad view that has our own best interests at heart.

This is where it is valuable to have a key health practitioner and in my view the ideal person for this role is a General Practitioner who is trained and experienced in Integrative Medicine. AIMA is the peak body for this group and their website features contact details for accredited practitioners.

What I did
I do like to have a sound medical diagnosis, so I did visit an orthopaedic surgeon, had X Rays and an MRI. (I was also curious to see how my lower spine looked on X Ray after all these years - crap basically, but it works well ).

This proved to be a bit of a waste of time because once it was all organized, the arm was pain free and fully functional again. However, the tear was confirmed by the physical exam and on MRI.

I have become pretty good with pain management over the years (have had root canal dentistry without anaesthetic) but this injury was excruciating. I needed to travel and I had commitments to lecture. I took two Nurofen three times and plain Panadol going to bed twice.

Hard to give specific advice here – probably not appropriate either. Situations can be so different. Best to reflect on the principles, discuss your own situation with your family, health practitioners and any other confidants you trust and then decide what works best for you. Taking time to get to a point of confidence, including making time to formally contemplate the possibilities are two things that seem to help most people.

These principles are usually discussed during the specific cancer residential programs Ruth and I present, and in the doing, people are assisted to sort out their priorities and options. Many of the actual Mind-Body techniques are practiced and developed in all our retreats.

The principle
When unwell, constructive support is vital; support from family, friends and health professionals.

What I did
Ruth looked after me extremely well. She also managed her own natural concern for how we would manage if the injury persisted and embarked on the trip expecting the best. It is fair to say that after working initially as a conventional doctor she has needed time, training and experience to be confident of accelerated healing, but having accomplished this, we were united in the possibilities.

I am also fortunate to have a senior orthopaedic surgeon as a friend so I was able to call upon him for early phone advise and then to see him personally when we arrived in Sydney. The injury healed too quickly to call upon any other services.

Seek out the best health professionals in every area of need that you have, ask for help, ask lots of questions, take your time, reflect upon and contemplate the answers and the options, then make deliberate (as in conscious) choices. Then seek help to follow through.

This may be the longest blog to date. If you are still reading, maybe it has been helpful.

Obviously there is a great deal of detail to fully explain what to do to develop each point.

The material presented in this and last week’s blog will be at the heart of the material to be covered in the next specific cancer programs Ruth and I will present – the first, Mind, Meditation and Healing at Wanaka, New Zealand in November 2014, the second, Cancer and Beyond in the Yarra Valley, Australia in May 2015.

(Nutrition will be given thorough coverage as well, while there will be ample time with myself and Ruth for questions and discussion, along with good conversations amongst like-minded people).

To be clear, there is a lot that can be done to accelerate healing. However, in my experience, to do this well it takes some commitment to learning and practice. Both are required. So I have added a resource list below featuring where more details are available via my own books, CDs etc, and I am working on an expanded reading list that I will add to my website soon – suggestions for inclusions are welcome via the comment section below.

In conclusion maybe you know someone else in need and could forward this two-part blog. Maybe together we could help someone else to experience accelerated healing.

Accelerated healing - Part 1

Radical Remission

1. Meditation Under the Long White Cloud 
Five day residential retreat in New Zealand with Drs Ian and Ruth Gawler.

It is not too late to end the year with deep natural peace. Profound insight. With over 50 years of leading meditation retreats and a wide variety of groups between us, Ruth and I invite you to join us for a 7 day meditation retreat amidst the beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula.

DATES: Saturday October 25 to Friday October 31

Details, bookings and a flier to download can be accessed by CLICKING HERE

2. Mind, Meditation and Healing
Five days for people affected by cancer led by Drs Ian and Ruth Gawler and where the focus will be on accelerated healing. More details and a flier to download can be accessed by CLICKING HERE

DATES: Arrive 12noon, program commences with lunch together at 1pm Monday 10th Nov.; until 2pm Friday 14th (after lunch) Nov. 2014

VENUE: The Snow Farm Lodge, Cardrona Valley Rd, Wanaka.

BOOKINGS and ENQUIRIES:   canlive.org or call Stew Burt 03 443 4168 OR +64 3 443 6234 New Zealand


The Mind that Changes Everything – for details on how to connect the conscious thought “I want to heal”, with the unconscious part of the mind that actually regulates healing.

You Can Conquer Cancer – the complete manual for healing.

Meditation – a Complete Path – the ideal starting point for meditation and the 2 key guided meditation practices.

Relaxation for Everyone – how to deepen your relaxation – good to use for the purposes described above with the techniques explained and guided on:

Effective Pain Management – how to transform the experience of pain and use it to accelerate healing.

Mind Training – 2CD set that describes how the conscious and the unconscious mind works  and how we can use both intelligently to support healing

Emotional Health – how to recognize and let go of destructive emotions, while enhancing healthy emotions.

A Good Life – ABC Compass program outlining something of my life and work.

Link via my website – CLICK HERE 


As part of the Mindbody Mastery on-line meditation program I helped to set up, we feature a regular blog series of masters of mind & body..
The aim is to keep going back to that question – Ever wondered what real-life masters of mind & body look like? Who they are? What do they do with their lives? How do they think, speak and act? 
And the answer – Would it surprise you to learn that by and large, they look very much like you and me, and that they mostly live in our own communities? Though some do choose to be renunciate monks and nuns and live in splendid isolation at some of the most spectacular places on earth (like the Himalayas) while yet others choose to live nomadic lives, spreading goodness and inspiration through the world (like the famed Sadhus and Fakirs of India). Invariably each has a keen sense of how they can help make our world a better place, and go about their work in their own unique ways – sometimes in the glare of public limelight, but most often just quietly, and with great dignity.
Liz scheimer April 2014Having show-cased some who have spectacularly renunciated the world and their identities in their quest for mind-body mastery in our previous two blogs, this time we venture closer to home, with Liz Schiemer of Pt Stephens, NSW, Australia, a Master of Positive Thinking. Her untiring work in improving mental health in her community is an inspiring story as you will see.

24 September 2014

Ian Gawler blog: Accelerated healing 101

The 5 principles you can learn and apply to accelerate the healing of any condition.

Do you sometimes wonder if people who heal quickly are just lucky? Or did a miracle (an unexplained event) occur? Or is the notion of accelerated healing through using the power of the mind actually real, and if so, how best to take advantage of it?

What follows is very personal. It describes my own recent encounter with a major need for healing. And it provides direct advice based on nearly 40 years in this field. It is also a long article as the attempt has been made to make it fairly complete, almost like a healing manifesto, so it will come in 2 parts, but first

Thought for the day

             Without the heart 
             The eyes cannot see 
             And the ears cannot hear

                     Japanese saying

Recently I had the opportunity to put what I teach into practice. Two days before leaving on the recently completed 3 month road trip/speaking tour, I tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder.

There was the car to pack, the prospect of many miles to travel, many talks to present. And an arm that was completely immobile and excruciatingly painful! Would it heal? How long would it take? How would Ruth and I manage?

Apparently, rotator cuff tears commonly take 2 – 3 months to heal. Some require surgery and some are very slow. Recently a friend was severely debilitated by this injury for 2 years. My rotator cuff tear was diagnosed on clinical examination by an orthopaedic surgeon and confirmed by X Ray and MRI. It was completely healed in 5 days. I decided to delay writing of it until returning home, just to ensure there was no relapse - it remains as strong and reliable as ever.

Just lucky? Maybe, but here then is “Accelerated Healing 101”. The 5 key principles are explained, how I actually applied them to healing a rotator cuff tear is described, and details of how you can develop these principles are provided for whenever you may need healing.

ACCELERATED HEALING 101 – the five key principles

The potential for the mind to limit healing or to accelerate it is vast. This is not about some simplistic “wishful thinking” – hoping for the best with very little action to back it up. No, this is about realizing the potential of our mind, training it and using it intelligently.

i) Have a clear, positive intention
The Principle
Intention is the starting point. Clearly, when it comes to using the power of the mind, the more certainty the better. Dare to aim high. Do expect the extra-ordinary!

What I did
I told my body that it was completely unacceptable to go on a 3 month road trip with an excruciatingly painful, immobile arm. I expected it to heal quickly and fully and I was committed to doing whatever was necessary to bring that about. Healing became my number one priority.

Maybe we are starting with one of the trickiest principles. I have worked with so many people who, when it came to healing, started with doubts, confusion, uncertainty. However, clearly there is hope. This is a skill that can be learnt like all the others we will be discussing; it simply requires some clarity (about what you are really aiming for) and some courage (to dare to commit to that goal and to follow through on it).

ii) Trust in the cause
The principle
A rotator cuff tear is not “an accident”. Like other things in our lives, it follows on from a string of causes and conditions; some of which we will be aware of, some of which will remain somewhat mysterious.

Have confidence that the cause is clearly to do with our life and that it has the potential to be destructive or constructive depending upon how we respond to it.

What I did
Before leaving on this trip, there had been a lot to do. Heaps of organizing for the tour. Heaps of preparation before leaving the farm for 3 months. Heaps of overhead pruning with the chainsaw in the orchard while balancing on one leg.

No obvious specific trigger, but the injury made sense! And while it did provide an excellent and compelling opportunity to revisit and re-examine what  teach, on the surface, it still seemed extremely inconvenient!

The aim is to recognize cause and effect. To let go of any “victim mentality thinking”, the disempowering “poor me” stuff and to recognize that if something has a cause it also has a solution. Logical analysis will get you to this if common sense does not do it even more directly.

It is wise to reflect on all this, to contemplate it and to clarify your own thinking, your own beliefs around healing.

iii) Let go of the past – along with destructive states of mind
The principle
This means letting go of blame, shame (that feeling of not being good enough), guilt and despair. Tough work for some.

What I did
I need to be honest here and at the risk of sounding immodest or deluded, say that fortunately I attended to these destructive states rather thoroughly some years back and they were simply not an issue in this instance. However, I observe that for many people they can provide a major impediment to accelerated healing.

The simple first step here is to work out what you want. If it is to be angry and resentful then healing will suffer. If accelerated healing is what you want, then you have an imperative: work on transforming any destructive mind states you are aware of. For example, forgiveness is possible when you are committed to it and it transforms resentment.

However, there is an important proviso. Sometimes transforming difficult emotions can of itself take a lot of energy and time. Sometimes it can be expedient to focus on getting well in the first instance, then attending to these difficulties later. Timing can be a major issue and the key is to be comfortable with where you are at.

Some people just know they need to work on forgiveness as a major, immediate priority. Others sense that now is not the time; that there is a knowing that these personal issues will need to be attended to, but that healing will be better served by shelving the issues for now and coming back to them later.

The secret is to aim to develop a comfort with where you are at, to avoid beating yourself up and to develop the intuitive skills that give you confidence to know what to do when (this can be reliably accomplished through the practice of contemplation).

iv) Expect healing
The principle
Be confident. The body’s capacity to accelerate healing is truly amazing. There are so many amazing stories to draw upon; to be inspired by. (In the cancer field, read Surviving Cancer and Radical Remission).

What I did
I knew I could heal quickly.

Take inspiring stories to heart. Be comforted by the fact that even if just one person has accomplished remarkable healing before, it can be done again. Draw strength from the growing body of research that documents and analyses many remarkable recoveries.

Avoid negative people. Or better still, use their doubts to constructively challenge and build your own resolve. Remind yourself regularly of the amazing potential for healing you have. Whenever possible, hang out with people who have done it. Attending a well run, like-minded self help/support group can be very useful.

v) Talk to your self kindly and positively
The principle
The messages we give to ourselves directly impact upon our potential for accelerated healing, and on our wellbeing.

What I did
The pain I experienced with my rotator cuff injury was extreme – for a few days. Over the years I have developed some pain management skills (have had root canal dentistry without anaesthetic) but a couple of times I just felt the need to yell! But then I smiled. It was a release. No need to beat myself up, make judgements or feel guilty in some misguided way. Just let it out and move on the freer for having done so. Move on expecting to heal and thanking the body as the positive signs of recovery began to emerge.

Watch your self talk. Learn to actively participate in your own thinking. Rather than allowing your thoughts to dictate how you feel, take control. Notice when you stray into negative or destructive self talk, recognize it, do not take it seriously, do not beat yourself up and instead, give your energy to creative, constructive thoughts.

The principle
Accelerated healing is based upon the regenerative powers of the body. Inflammation can be important in the early stages of healing, but chronic inflammation and meta-inflammation are both decidedly “anti-healing”.

What we need for accelerated healing is a solid baseline that is anti-inflammatory and regenerative. This is achieved by living a healthy lifestyle.

So good to be doing this before an injury or illness, but again, it is never too late to begin. Two key points:

i) Nutrition
The principle
High levels of meat, dairy, saturated fats and processed foods are all confirmed to promote inflammation and degenerative processes in the body.

Plant based whole foods, good oils, exercise, high fluid intake – all the things you know about – are confirmed to be highly anti-inflammatory, highly regenerative.

What I did
Thoroughly attended to all this

Simple choice really!

ii) Stress management
The principle
Stress also leads to inflammation and aggravates degenerative disease.

What I did
I knew I was under pressure, so I meditated more. Prior to the injury, I had been doing all possible to minimise the load and making time to exercise more.

Especially when healing, do all possible to minimize stressors and make time for relaxation, exercise and meditation. Make meditation a priority and use CDs to help keep focused if you are distracted or have trouble concentrating.

The principle
The body has a vast array of healing mechanisms and they are all regulated by the mind – mostly by the unconscious mind. This regulation involves two-way communication – from the mind to the body AND from the body to the mind.     To be continued….

NEXT WEEK – Accelerated Healing Part 2
How to use the mind to accelerate healing directly using Mind-Body Medicine techniques.

The hierarchy of healing modalities

Activating your support team

FOLLOW UP – specific cancer residential programs with a focus upon accelerated healing

The material presented in this and next week’s blog will be at the heart of the material to be covered in the next specifically cancer related programs Ruth and I will present – the first, Mind, Meditation and Healing at Wanaka, New Zealand in November 2014,  the second, Cancer and Beyond in the Yarra Valley, Australia in May 2015.

(Nutrition will be given thorough coverage as well, while there will be ample time with myself and Ruth for questions and discussion, along with good conversations amongst like-minded people).

Cancer survivors? Cancer thrivers!

Radical Remission

BOOKS You Can Conquer Cancer,   Radical Remission,   Surviving Cancer

Mind Training,   Emotional Health

A Good Life – ABC Compass program outlining something of my life and work.

Link via my website – CLICK HERE