28 February 2011

Recovery from MS is possible

It is possible to recover from Multiple Sclerosis.

However, many people across the community still believe those who develop MS will face a life of increasing disability. It is vital everyone knows that this is not necessarily so.

But how do we know this and what does it mean? For me, this became fact on meeting Neil Sambell, way back in 1978 and indeed, it was Neil’s singular story that propelled my interest in MS. Now, over thirty years later it is wonderful to note recent positive research evaluating the residential MS programs at the Gawler Foundation (TGF).

Remember “it only has to be done once to show that it is possible”?

Neil first contacted me via an erratically typed paragraph masquerading as a letter. One sentence explained how his advanced MS disabilities meant it took him thirty minutes to type his few words. He then asked if anything I had done to recover from cancer might help him.

My response centred around the theoretical possibilities for Neil’s body to regenerate. MS being an autoimmune disease, my suggestion to Neil was that if he could reduce his body’s inclination to attack itself, reduce inflammation and create the inner conditions (of body, mind and spirit) for regeneration and healing, maybe something could happen. In my view this was possible through applying the very same principles and techniques that had helped me and others with cancer.

This glimmer of hope prompted Neil to take up the principles described in “You Can Conquer Cancer” and to make his own more specific investigations regarding dietary and lifestyle benefits for MS.

One year later Neil sent me his first hand written letter. Four years later he called in on his way to a 5km bushwalk and today he is very much alive and well, virtually symptom free.

Neil Sambell proved to me it was possible to recover from MS. But while once is enough to establish a possibility, could others repeat Neil’s remarkable recovery?

When I documented Neil’s case in the book “Inspiring People” (now out of print), he spoke of the approach he took, describing it as “no guarantee for success…but partly (if not largely) responsible for my continued reversal”.

Neil identified the benefits of

Creating a healing environment (as Neil put it: “a simple, peaceful, aesthetic, positive but purposeful life…at peace and guilt-free”).

Diet, exercise and rest.

Medical help (“some do not fully understand all my attitudes and activities”).

The power of the mind.

Divine Healing (“I did not aggressively fight the disease, but gave it over to God, peacefully prayed and sought prayer”).

How relevant then is Neil’s story? After all it is just one case, one anecdote.

Consider this and stay rational - if one sticks with scientific principles then either Neil had been misdiagnosed (but in my view to dismiss an anecdote like Neil’s as misdiagnosis is best described as intellectual laziness) OR he had experienced a full blown miracle OR his recovery pointed to a mechanism that was as yet to be fully researched and understood.

Good science advances when unexpected phenomena are noted and investigated.

As all this was unfolding, time was moving into the nineties, and with no specific MS program available, many people with MS actually joined TGF’s cancer programs. It was clear many came feeling pretty hopeless. The prevailing view was you get MS, little can be done; you are on a downhill spiral to misery. Sadly this was real for too many. However, Neil’s story along with my theory and optimism challenged this paradigm and many made a start.

The outcome? A clear divide. Those who made lifestyle changes and sustained them with a similar level of diligence to Neil, almost invariably seemed to do well. Over the years we saw more remarkable recoveries from MS and many found inner peace. However, for a multitude of reasons, others could either not make the changes in the first place, or were unable to sustain them long term and their illness seemed to follow the expected downward trend.

Now there is a challenging issue here that is worth giving voice to. Do these very words of mine raise the spectre of false hope or imply that if someone’s MS does progress adversely they have done something wrong, or worse, there is something wrong with them?

In my experience this raises a hugely complex range of issues, the detail and application of which have been of great concern and interest to me for many years and which I will expand upon in a future blog.

Enter Prof George Jelinek. Diagnosed with MS in 1999 and being a senior academic physician and researcher, George quickly ascertained from the existing research evidence that MS is a disease largely determined by lifestyle factors – both in cause and outcome.

Following publication of his ground breaking book “Taking Control of MS” (which based on more recent research and experience has been completely revised and renamed “Overcoming MS – an Evidence Based Guide to Recovery”), George and I began residential (and in the early days, non-residential) lifestyle-based, self-help programs for people interested in taking control and hopefully overcoming their MS.

Fortunately, we began an evaluation from day one. Then, supported by more recent collaboration with Melbourne University and with the vital appointment of TGF’s own Research Officer, the early phases of that research have been collated and published.

In simple terms, this research demonstrates a significant trend reversal. While on average, the evidence is that people with MS do steadily deteriorate over time, during the course of our study all the MS specific measures improved.

The full study is a good read for those interested and can be accessed on George's website.

Also, you can view George on the ABC's 7.30 Report.


i) For those free of MS

Be informed. If you know or support anyone with MS, urge them to read George’s book and to consider attending TGF’s MS residential program. Check with any doctors you know in case they are not already aware of this vital aspect of the comprehensive management of MS. Refer to the research, George’s MS specific website, and that of TGF.

 ii) For those with MS

Take heart. Have hope. Translate that hope into action. These days there are many people who have transformed their physical, psychological and spiritual lives through MS. We even have people whose lesions on MRI have disappeared.

It is possible to recover from MS.



Overcoming MS – an Evidence Based Guide to Recovery: George Jelinek
You Can Conquer Cancer: Ian Gawler


For Prof Jelinek


Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis – healing program for MS


It only has to be done once

Go with the flow or intervene?

21 February 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Books and your chance to make a difference.

Books are big on the agenda this week. I have completed the final reading and editing of page proofs for my new book “The Mind That Changes Everything (to be released in May) and am calling for contributions to a major rewrite of “You Can Conquer Cancer” (YCCC).

Then we have the demise of major booksellers Angus and Robertson and Borders. Reports seem to indicate this is due more to mismanagement than to the many adverse pressures on conventional book formats and sales. However, it is highly likely to affect the book trade in Australia and raises many questions.

Would you rather read a book in its conventional form, or an e book? Does the type of book make a difference? Are novels and pulp fiction best suited to the e format? Are self-help books better in hard copy so you can see them on the table, go back to them regularly and use them more practically?

And what of the environment and all those trees that go into books? Conversely, are there unforeseen and as yet undiscovered health issues related to having long and close contact with an e reader?

Next question, where would you prefer to obtain your books? Do you prefer to wander into a bookshop with atmosphere, warmth and service? Or a shop selling BBQs and cheap books with none of the above? Or is it just a matter of getting the best deal for the cheapest book possible anywhere on the net?

Here I have to confess a bias. Or is it a preference? I love bookshops and will happily pay a premium to keep them alive. And I love the library of books that crowd the walls at home. As I sit writing, my back is warmed, my head is informed and my heart inspired as I feel the accumulated experience and knowledge, insight and wisdom, humour, strength and support of all those great writers and their books.

I am conscious of how much my life is the better for what I have read and learnt through books and part of the library’s function is to stand in honour, testament and gratitude for those benefits.

Would a computer with all those books stored on it do all this for me? Well maybe, but that does seem like a bit of a stretch of the imagination.

However, people are obviously different. Perhaps you do have other experiences or ideas to share? Feel free to comment on this hot topic as this is a huge challenge for today’s authors – how best to communicate?

Invitation to contribute to the new edition of YCCC

You Can Conquer Cancer was first published in 1984. Since then it has been translated into over 12 languages and sold over 200,000 copies. It was revised in 2001 and I am currently working on a major rewrite. Can you help?

The book is not shy in suggesting people can learn lifestyle based self-help techniques that will help them to take more control over their own potential to influence their quality of life as well as their capacity to improve their chances of recovery.

YCCC aims to be inspirational, practical, relevant and soundly based advice for people intent on playing an active role in their own illness and recovery.

Currently over 100,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year in Australia. Perhaps between us we can reach out and help more of these people. If you have direct or indirect experience with cancer (and who has not these days), maybe you have something useful to contribute.

I am requesting feedback from:

People living with cancer
Partners and family members (inc. parents and children)
Friends and colleagues
Health professionals from all disciplines

What would be helpful is:

Personal experiences with the lifestyle based issues covered in the existing YCCC
Any learning, insights, knowledge or experiences you feel would benefit others in a similar position
Benefits you may have gained from YCCC or those things you found particularly helpful
Any deficiencies you found in YCCC – errors of omission, items that need better explanation, anything you tried and found problematic
Personal accounts of remarkable recovery. The plan is to include a few of these stories as experience tells how inspiring they are
The particular perspectives and input of the carers and health professionals

You can become involved by:

Using the comment section of this blog
Emailing via info@iangawler.com
Writing to me personally at PO Box 575 Yarra Junction 3797

Please be reminded

If you need direct help with a cancer situation, it will be best to contact the Gawler Foundation which has around 50 staff who are well trained, experienced, dedicated and organised to provide on-going, lifestyle based, active support drawing directly on the material in YCCC.

I will be presenting workshops over the next 6mths in Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin, Bunbury and Perth. Brisbane details are on the blogsite and the others will be added in the coming weeks.

Please do contribute to this project so we can help all those people facing the many challenges cancer presents – along with the opportunities that are all too often hidden at the start.

Related blogs

It only has to be done once
A survivor's bemusement


Book: You Can Conquer Cancer

CDs:  1. The Gawler Cancer Program
Outlines current understandings of how cancer develops and the rationale for how the body’s own potential to combat it can be enhanced.

           2.What to do when someone you love has cancer
Practical advice gathered from thousands of family members and friends over several decades. A great resource to share with family and friends of people currently managing cancer.

The Gawler Foundation

14 February 2011

Ian Gawler blog: Body weight and cancer

After last weeks recipes, lets go “Out on a Limb” again and tackle a vexed issue – body weight and cancer. What is the effect of too much or too little weight?

The context is the rising epidemic of a new form of disability called obesity. Today, around 34% of Americans are obese while a further 30% are overweight. Australia has similar statistics and along with the USA and Britain is among the countries with the fastest growing obesity rates.

Obesity means being roughly 30lbs or 13.5 kgs over a healthy weight. It is a significant risk factor for cancer, as well as heart disease, diabetes, MS and other diseases.

Treating obesity, according to mainstream medicine requires a multipronged approach including strong policy measures, lifestyle counselling and individual management. Disturbingly, lap band surgery (which shrinks the size of the stomach) is becoming one of the most common treatments for obesity.

But that is just the context. We all know about it. Lets tackle the other end of the spectrum – weight loss associated with cancer.

One of the most common questions I am asked about food is “will this diet cause me to lose weight?”

Here is the simple answer. A healthy, well balanced diet, whether intended for maintaining good health or to facilitate healing, must by definition lead to a healthy, well balanced body. As such, a good diet must support healthy weight.

I suggest that the diet put forward in “You Can Conquer Cancer” (YCCC) is a healthy, well balanced diet. After nearly 30 yrs of experience I can say that people who follow these suggestions consistently tend towards a healthy body weight, commonly a little on the lean side. It is well known being lean has huge health benefits when compared to the risks associated with being overweight or obese.

On this diet, those who are underweight tend to put it on; those overweight tend to lose it. When you consider around 60% of the population are overweight or obese, most initially do lose weight on this diet – and that is a good thing!

The recurring problem I find among people with cancer is the fear of weight loss. This fear seems to be fed (pun intended) by many doctors and other health professionals, including dieticians. Why?

Maybe it is because weight is easy to measure and is taken fairly reasonably to be a good measure of overall health. Put on a few pounds when you have cancer – that’s good. Lose a few pounds – that’s bad. And this despite the 60% who will benefit from losing some weight.

But there is another crucial issue – cachexia. Cachexia is the medical term for weight loss (specifically muscle mass) resulting from disease, in this case, the cancer itself. Cachexia is recognised as having multifactorial causality and is actually one of the most common and problematic signs of advancing cancer. However, in my experience, further difficulties often come from the way blame is assigned for it.

Over the years I have observed numerous people with advanced cancer and cachexia who were on what I considered to be a sound diet (following YCCC). They were losing weight because of their illness, yet some health professionals blame the diet for the weight loss, not the disease. Further, these same professionals often recommend patients to eat lots of high protein, high fat, high caloric foods, frequently encouraging them to consume junk food. While it can be helpful to modestly increase protein intake, care is required. High protein, high fat and high caloric intake are all risk factors for cancer. There cannot be many diseases where the risk factors are recommended for those working on recovering from that disease.

Prof Dan Nixon was a mainstream Oncologist before he researched the treatment of cachexia. In a landmark study he force fed (willing) people with advanced cancer and was shocked to find they died much quicker than those on standard diets. The rational that explains this outcome is strong if somewhat complex. It is to do with glucose metabolism and the impact of insulin on immune function and healing.
Dan Nixon went on to become a world authority on cancer nutrition.

So what to do?

1. Consider this: body weight is a function of several things including:

. Intake – what we eat.

. Digestion – which can vary amongst individuals and be diminished by old age and disease.

. Metabolic factors – some have racey, inefficient metabolisms (and lose weight easily); some slow and efficient (and gain weight easily). Cancer can affect metabolism.

2. The 3 factors above inform what to do:

. Intake – ensure adequate amounts of good quality food. If appetite is low, graze. Often when not well, a large meal can be off putting, but you can consume a lot by nibbling throughout the day. Consider adding more juices and smoothies. Make sure protein levels are adequate but not excessive.

. Digestion – consider supporting it by:

- chewing well so that all you swallow is like well mashed ripe bananas. Physical digestion starts in the mouth.

- boosting stomach acid with fresh ginger.

- aiding bowel flora with yoghurt or supplements

- if necessary, eat more easily digestible foods such as soups, juices and even white rice rather than brown.

- eat with gratitude and calm; breath, relax and smile.

. Output – paradoxically perhaps, exercise aids healthy metabolism and body weight – again, mostly through the insulin axis. Even when not so well, regular exercise (3-4 or more days per week) that is within manageable limits is highly recommended and supported by good research.

. Metabolic factors – for those with cachexia, it still makes sense to eat well. Remember that being on the lean side makes reasonable sense, but certainly if someone is really underweight it makes just as good sense, and in fact it is imperative to get good professional advice. The recommendations here are very general and intended to stimulate thought and discussion rather than being for specific advise.

But to be blunt – there is more chance of recovering on a good diet than a crappy one. As well, if I thought I actually was close to dying, I would be even more attentive to what I was eating (and I eat pretty well anyway!) as my experience is that a good, healthy diet minimises side effects and makes the process physically easier.

The fact is that when I was close to dying of cancer 35 yrs ago, I was very particular about what I ate and I was fortunate to recover. In my mind there is no doubt the diet was an important part of that recovery.

Good luck and enjoy your food.


Books: You Can Conquer Cancer: Ian Gawler
             Taking Control of MS: George Jelinek
             The Cancer Recovery Eating Plan: Dan Nixon
              Life over Cancer: Keith Block

CDs:      Eating Well, Being Well: Ian Gawler
              Eating for Recovery: Ian Gawler

Related Blogs: Good food prepared quickly
               Big Mac or a salad?
               Eating for recovery
               What food goes into your tank?

Programs: The Gawler Foundation.

07 February 2011

Ian Gawler blog – Good food prepared quickly - : - Free spirit pasta and vegetables

People often ask me how long does it take to prepare really healthy meals? The truth is that once you know how, it can be really quick.

Here then is my all time favourite quick food recipe. Ruth and I both cook this regularly. It is yummy, really healthy and takes about 20 – 30 minutes from its beginning to presentation at the table.

A. The principles:

1. There are an infinite number of variations with this recipe:

i) Use any form of healthy pasta or noodles (we eat a lot of buckwheat or soba noodles).

ii) More variety comes with using whatever vegetables are fresh from your garden or what looks good in the organic shop and is in season for your area.

iii) There are 5 basic sauces; each can be varied a good deal.

iv) There are high protein options for further variety.

2.  It is called  ‘Free Spirit” because no quantities are given.

You get to experiment. With the vegetables, use about equal volumes of each one that you do use. With the sauces, add more or less herbs, ginger etc to suit your own taste. Do not sweat on the details. Use what feels good on the day. It is very easy to produce something that tastes terrific!

B. Start with the right attitude:

It takes no longer to enjoy cooking this recipe. It always helps to be grateful for the food you prepare and do get to eat; some like to say a formal grace. Food preparation can be an excellent time to practice relaxation in daily life. Cooking can also be a great focus for mindfulness – meditation in action.

C. What you need for this recipe:

1. Two saucepans – medium sized, stainless steel (or anything else other than aluminium) with lids, and a stainless steel strainer for the pasta.

2. Seasonal vegetables – around 5 -6 varieties (more or less as you like) of whatever is ripe from the garden or fresh from the organic shop, and a good vegetable cutting knife.

3. Be aware of roughly how long each vegetable takes to cook. You add the slowest to cook first and finish with the quickest. Here is a rough guide to cooking times and the order in which to add them to your pot:

i) Long cooking times: Onions, potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, egg plant, leek.

ii) Medium cooking times: Brussel sprouts (best cut in half if big), carrot, cauliflower, broccoli.

iii) Zucchini, squashes, silver beet, cabbage (best cut fine), spinach.

Tomatoes are best added early so they break down well, especially if you are using fresh ones for a sauce.

D. The Preparation:

1. Check your attitude, relax and smile.

2. Heat two saucepans:

To one saucepan, add ¼” (1cm) water. Add the lid and begin to heat flat out. This is for the vegies and sauce.

For the other, ¾ fill it with water, add the lid and place on medium heat. This is for the pasta.

3. Prepare the vegetables:

Clean and then dice each vegetable into cubes about the dimension of your thumbnail. Start with whatever takes the longest to cook (usually onions), add it to the pot with the small amount of water and replace the lid. At this point, the water in this pot should be boiling, so now turn it down to a moderate heat. Continue to add the other vegetables in order; just as quickly as you finish cutting each one.

If you use potato or pumpkin, dice them into small cubes so they do cook quickly. Experiment with this as well as the softer vegies like broccoli and zucchini so they do all finish cooking at the same.

4. Optional high protein – one of the following can be added if you choose:

i) Tofu – cut into small cubes and add towards the end of the cooking.

ii) Beans - either fresh; dried, pre cooked in a separate pot, and added once all the vegetables are cooking; or from a can

iii) Canned tuna – add towards the end of the cooking.

iv) Fresh fish or seafood – can be made into a full marinara sauce, or you can add just fresh fish about halfway through the vegetable cooking so that it steams in time to be cooked as all else is. Then you simply and gently break the cooked fish into small pieces and stir through the vegies.

5.Prepare the sauce – there are 5 basic variations; each of which is added and gently stirred through the vegies at the time indicated:

i) Naked sauce:

Simply have the vegies as they are, eg no sauce.

ii) Tomato base sauce – there are 2 ways to do this:

a) Fresh tomatoes – the preferred version if time and fresh produce permit – add as many tomatoes as you like once the onions are cooking, or use as the first ingredient if no onions are used. With the latter method, another variation is to use minimal water in the vegetables’ saucepan, start with the tomatoes and rely on the liquid from them to help with cooking all the vegies and avoiding having them sticking to the saucepan or burning.

b) canned or bottled tomatoes – add as much as you like once all the vegetables are cooking and the pasta is under way.

iii) Herbs – add to taste using the following instructions:

a) Ginger, garlic or tumeric – add after the first 2 or 3 vegies.

b) Any other herbs – add once all the vegies are in their pot. Of course, basil goes well with tomatoes, as does oregano; but again, be free spirited and experiment.

iv) Pesto – commonly is used on its own without vegetables, but experiment – it does go surprisingly well with some vegies.

v) Miso – pre mix a tablespoon or two of miso with a little warm water and add once the vegies are cooked.

6. Preparing the pasta:

Once all the vegetables are cooking, the water in the other saucepan should be boiling. Experiment with the heat levels on your stove to get this timing roughly right.

Add your chosen pasta and cook to its particular specifications.

7. Use your free time:

While the vegies and pasta complete their cooking, tidy up and wash the gear used for preparation. Relax and smile; maybe check on the vegies, stir if you like or if it is needed!

8. Serving:

i) Once the cooking is complete, turn off both saucepans.

ii) Drain the water from the pasta. Remember to rinse them if they are soba noodles.

iii) Add the noodles to bowls. Add 1 -2 tablespoons of good oil –preferably flaxseed, alternatively olive- and gently mix it through. Add the vegies with their sauce on top and serve.

9. At the table:

If you choose to, add low salt, organic tamari to taste.

Give thanks (say grace formally or informally).

Relax, smile and chew well. Enjoy!

10. Timing:

Once you are familiar with what to do, all this usually takes less than half an hour. It is quick and easy and really healthy.

Free spirit pasta and vegetables.


Feel free to share this with a friend. Try it yourself and let me know your favourite variations.

Related Blogs:

Big Mac or a salad?  29 Nov 2010

Food 101 - What fuel goes into your tank?  18 Oct 2010