31 October 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Telomeres, meditation and length of life.

If meditation can lengthen your telomeres, does this mean it lengthens your life? A major new study from America, involving Australian Noble Laureate Prof Elizabeth Blackburn, is one of a number of recent studies that tantalisingly suggests this may well be so.

What then are telomeres? Telomeres are sequences of DNA at the end of all our chromosomes that tend to become damaged and shorten each time one of our cells divide. With time and aging, the telomere length eventually drops below a critical length and then that cell can no longer divide properly and its death follows.

Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres. Other research indicates that telomerase activity may be linked with psychological stress and physical health.

This new study, conducted by a big team at UC Davis and led by Tonya Jacobs and Clifford Saron, measured telomerase activity in the participants of a three month, intensive meditation retreat. Known as the Shamatha project, and with the retreat itself led by the renowned B Alan Wallace, participants meditated in group sessions twice daily, and in individual practice for six hours each day.

The most comprehensive scientific study of a meditation retreat yet conducted, there have been some very interesting findings. Firstly, telomerase activity was 30% higher in those on the retreat compared to their matched controls. There was a positive relationship between these telomerase changes and positive psychological changes.

Saron speaking with the due caution of a scientist says “ The take home message from this work is not that meditation directly increases telomerase activity and therefore a person’s health and longevity. Rather, meditation may improve a person’s psychological wellbeing and in turn these changes are related to telomerase activity in cells, which have the potential to promote longevity in those cells”.

Jacobs commented “this work is the first to show a relation between positive psychological change and telomerase activity.”

Having said that, some readers of this blog will be aware that Dean Ornish showed with his research into the effects of a lifestyle based approach for men with early prostate cancer, that as well as reducing PSA activity and significantly reducing the need for more major medical treatment, the lifestyle approach significantly increased the length of the men’s telomeres. It is of note that Ornish’s approach is very similar to the one set out in “You Can Conquer Cancer” and taught at the Gawler Foundation.

Also, this study may be the start to being able to scientifically understand the evidence from other observational studies that have associated meditation with increased physiological health and longevity.

Clearly there is the need for more study in this exciting field and how good it would be if some of the new research was funded and conducted here in Australia where we have such a rich tradition of the practice of therapeutic meditation.


MINDBODY MASTERY:  My new on-line 8 wk meditation based mind training program is due for release on November 24th. We are in the final stages of preparing the rather sophisticated website and system to deliver the program, along with the 6 mths of integrated support which includes email and SMS reminders etc.

A number of people have enquired re the cost. We are keen to make the program readily accessible and so the whole thing is costed at $108, although to members of my database and blog there will be a 15% discount, making the cost to you $91.80. Hopefully this is very good value for money and reasonable affordable. The program could make great Christmas presents.

The Gawler Foundation's Annual Conference Nov 19 & 20 The Hilton, Melbourne

This is a great conference that has been presented annually since 1984. There is an excellent line-up of speakers and the chance to spend a weekend amongst a diverse group of like minded people. The lunches provided are a vegetarian highlight and people seem to always leave inspired, informed and thoroughly satisfied with the event. I am presenting a Keynote  and a Workshop, so hope to see many old faces (even if they are young ones) and meet new people. It is wise to book soon as the workshops are filling.

You Can Conquer Cancer: I have Robina Courtin helping me currently to edit the almost fully rewritten new edition of my cancer book. First published in 1984, it has been revised twice in recent years, but this is its first really major rewrite and it will probably be released mid next year. Be reassured the current one remains very useful in my opinion. It is not that the basic information is being changed; it is being updated and modernised. It is 27 years old after all. Maybe its telomeres need a bit of a revamp!


RELATED BLOG  Mindbody Mastery

BOOKS Meditation – an In-depth Guide: Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson

               The Mind that Changes Everything: Ian Gawler

              You Can Conquer Cancer: Ian Gawler

CDs      The Gawler Cancer Program: Ian Gawler

PROGRAMS: The Gawler Foundation

RESEARCH:  U C Davis: Centre for Mind and Brain
                         The Shamatha Project

                         Dean Ornish and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute

10 October 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Would you eat like a dog?

Why is it that so many authorities who are really serious about nutrition, and especially nutrition for healing, recommend a vegetable based diet with little or no meat?

To understand, we need to divert a little and consider dogs, cows and digestive systems.


There are three types of animal digestive systems; carnivore, herbivore and omnivore. A classic carnivore like a dog is designed to eat a high meat diet. A classic herbivore like a cow runs on grass and us human beings; well we are omnivores trying to get the best of both worlds. Knowing about our own digestive system, and how it compares to the others, helps us to understand what we are wisest to eat, and what makes best sense when we are eating for recovery.

The Carnivore

A dog has a very specific anatomical set up to enable it to manage the food it eats. Here is the key point regarding meat. Digestion of virtually any food produces waste products. We eat a food like meat or a particular vegetable, we take what we can use from that food and we eliminate the leftovers, the waste products. With meat, the waste products are somewhat problematic; they are rich in nitrites and other potentially toxic bi-products of their digestion. Vegetables do not produce these problematic waste products.

If the metabolic waste products from meat stay in the bowel for long, they can be directly toxic to the lining of the bowel, or they can be absorbed through the bowel and become toxic to the rest of the body.

Now the dog is essentially a scavenging meat eater with a matching anatomy. It has sharp canine teeth for biting and ripping its potential meal into big pieces. Then it swallows quickly before anyone else can steal its share. Therefore it has modest chewing teeth at the back of its mouth and actually does little chewing unless on a bone or equivalent. Next it has just one, relatively compact stomach that secretes almost pure hydrochloric acid to liquefy the lumps of food it has gulped down.

Then the key point; every dog has a very short bowel, and as a result, what we call a rapid transit time. The transit time measures how long it takes food to go through the system; from front to back, or top to bottom.

Because of the potentially toxic nature of the metabolic waste products that come from the digestion of meat, the dog needs to get rid of them quickly. Hence short bowel, rapid transit time.

The Herbivore

By contrast, a classic herbivore like the cow has a very different digestive challenge. It is eating vegetable matter and with grass, needs to be able to digest cellulose. The cow therefore has a very different anatomy. Firstly, there is a need to start the digestive process by grinding the food very finely.  As a result, the cow has no serious biting teeth, but very serious grinders! Whilst the dog’s back teeth are permanent and static, in the same way that adult human teeth are, the cow’s back teeth constantly grow. Cows do so much chewing that they need to continually replace what has been ground down.

Next the cow has four stomachs! Four. The first is like a huge tank which mixes the finely ground grass with water and saliva and literally ferments it. In the process, cows produce large amounts of methane.

So these days, aware conservationists are joining the push to reduce meat consumption as the volumes of methane produced have a major impact on the atmosphere. Also, to grow an equivalent amount of beef protein compared to vegetable protein requires around 18-20 times more land area. Given the huge problems with the clearing of forests and utilisation of land, this is another major environmental rationale for less meat, more vegetable protein consumption.

Back to the cow; after the four stomachs the cow has a very long digestive tract and a much slower transit time than a dog.

The Omnivore

As humans, we are trying to manage eating just about anything, so our anatomical set up is a compromise. We have teeth that can bite and chew. We have one stomach with high acid content and an intermediate length of bowel. While the dog’s transit time is around 6-8 hours, the cow 2-4 days, the ideal human transit time is 18-24 hours.

For people, there is another relevant issue. Fibre in our diet does two important things that are relevant to this discussion. Firstly, fibre adds bulk and regulates transit times. Low fibre, longer transit time. Secondly, it acts as a sponge or a buffer. If we do eat something, or have some metabolic waste products form in our bowel that are potentially toxic, high levels of fibre act as a sponge to absorb the toxic material and usher it quickly out of our system.

Now you probably understand the average Western diet has been high in meat and low in fibre. This means more toxic waste products, less buffering or absorption from fibre and slower transit times. A great recipe for provoking all bowel diseases and some others in the body generally.

Clearly, humans can manage eating meat, but anatomically, we are better designed for vegetable proteins.


1. Had a great weekend leading a meditation teacher training and retreat for Health Professionals with Zen monks from Thich Nhat Hahn’s tradition at the Gawler Foundation’s Centre in the Yarra Valley. There is the wonderful concept of noble conversation amidst noble company, and this was certainly the case as a delightfully diverse group of practitioners gathered and we explored what is a real priviledge, the opportunity to teach another person meditation.

2. I have been in discussion with the Foundation about contributing to some of their programs next year, and next week will outline these plans.


RELATED BLOGS     Food for Life

                                 Big Mac or a salad?

                                 What fuel goes into your tank?

BOOKS    You Can Conquer Cancer  Ian Gawler – contains full dietary recommendations for those who are well, and for those who are recovering from cancer

               The China Study     T C & T M Campbell -  Excellent recent research and protein information.                

CDs   Eating Well, Being Well   Ian Gawler – Details the Wellness Diet –a sound diet for all

         Eating For Recovery   Ian Gawler -  Details the Healing Diet for those interested in using their nutrition therapeutically to assist recovering from cancer.

03 October 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Alcohol, health and wellbeing

I am often asked about the relative benefits of drinking alcohol. Is it OK for our health, or does it come at a cost? And does it make a difference if someone is dealing with major illness, particularly cancer? And what about pregnancy? Let us “Go Out On A Limb” and investigate.

The common forms of drinking alcohol are beer, wines and spirits. The accurate level of alcohol in individual drinks varies according to the source and the method of preparation. What follows are general indications only.

Approximate percentage of alcohol content in various drinks

Product                 Approximate % of alcohol

Fruit Juice                    Less than .1%
“Non alcoholic” beer      Around .5% or less
Light beer                     Around 3%
Standard beer               4-5%
Stout                            5-10%
Cider                            4-8%
Wine                            10-15%
Sparkling wines             8-12%
Port                              20%
Liquors                         15-55%
Spirits                           Around 40%
Rum                             35-50%
Whisky                         50-60%

Alcohol is widely used as a social lubricant; it relaxes users, can help to disinhibit them and to facilitate talking and interacting more easily. These facts may well explain some large population studies that have shown moderate alcohol consumption can be associated with a modest range of positive health benefits. We know healthy relationships and social interactions are good for health generally; maybe drinking alcohol facilitates people talking more openly and gaining these benefits. Also, there is some suggestion alcohol stimulates prostaglandin activity and this could explain the positive effects.

However, we can be in no doubt there can be real costs involved.

Immediate side effects of too much alcohol include dehydration and drunkenness. Importantly, alcohol also stimulates insulin production, which accelerates glucose metabolism and can lead to low blood sugar levels.

Alcohol consumption generally has been associated with a higher risk of several of the cancers of the digestive tract. This is a major issue requiring consideration with beer as chemically brewed beers have been directly linked to an increased incidence of colon cancer. Therefore drink only naturally brewed beers if you drink any. Coopers beers are all naturally brewed. As another option, there are very low alcohol, naturally brewed beers that taste good. In Australia, Coopers Birrells brand is excellent and can be purchased in Supermarkets.

Other long-term side effects, apart from a huge raft of unfortunate and often dangerous social side effects, are liver and brain damage. Cirrhosis of the liver comes about because the metabolism of alcohol puts heavy demands on the liver. Anything that causes liver damage is a real problem for anyone, but particularly for people dealing with cancer. Many people with cancer are considered by natural medicine authorities to have underactive livers. Also, for all of us, the liver is crucial to many key metabolic functions and the healing process generally.

So let us be clear about this. Any alcohol consumption places a demand on the liver. For people who are well, the liver generally recovers if it is not hammered too hard or too often, but it does need to recover. So if you want optimum health, and particularly if you are in a healing phase of life, be very judicious with your consumption. I believe that those seeking to help themselves to recover from active cancer are better off avoiding alcohol altogether.

It is worth noting that the official recommendations now say that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and that even if women are only considering becoming pregnant they are best advised to abstain.

Alcohol Recommendations

On the Wellness Diet, social drinking a few days per week is acceptable.

Ensure regular alcohol free days.

Consider using very low alcohol, naturally brewed beer.

On the Healing Diet, alcohol is not recommended, primarily because of its effect on the liver. Pregnancy and alcohol do not mix.

Overall (and General- individual needs vary) Fluid Recommendations

Drink 2 litres of fluid, combined from all sources (water, tea, juices, soups) per day.

Make healthy choices – with water, tea and coffee substitutes and alcohol.

Add juices to the Healing Diet and consider their use on the Wellness Diet.


RELATED BLOGS     What fuel goes into your tank?
                                  Big Mac or a Salad?

BOOKS    You Can Conquer Cancer  Ian Gawler – contains full dietary recommendations for those who are well, and for those who are recovering from cancer

CDs   Eating Well, Being Well   Ian Gawler – Details the Wellness Diet –a sound diet for all

          Eating For Recovery   Ian Gawler -  Details the Healing Diet for those interested in using their nutrition therapeutically to assist recovering from cancer.