20 February 2012

Linking lifestyle, sustainability, the environment and health

Concerned about the environment? Concerned about sustainability? Worried about what sort of future our children will have? Good news! Pretty much anything that is good for our own sustainability, our own long-term health, is good for the environment.

This week let’s go “Out on a Limb” and examine how this works, how you can look after yourself, and in the process look after the planet. There are many simple solutions that follow.

These days the most prevalent causes of physical ill health are the lifestyle related, chronic degenerative diseases. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, MS are the obvious ones, but not far behind in what causes suffering are obesity, arthritis and bowel disease.

All are directly related to lifestyle; what we eat and drink, how much we exercise and smoke, our emotional health, state of mind and our spiritual life.

The causes of the chronic degenerative diseases are directly linked to profound issues of sustainability and the environment. So here are just a couple of key issues that are easy to remedy:

1. Saturated fats 

Consuming large amounts of saturated fats is one of the biggest health risks. Saturated fats come from animal fats and palm oil.

The environmental issue relates to land clearing – a total disaster with palm oil. With cattle, it takes around 20 times more cleared land to grow a kilo of protein when compared to that required to produce a kilo of vegetable protein.

Solution: Simple: A vegetarian diet. For the benefit of your health and the environment, do not eat animals and do not eat palm oil or use any products with palm oil in them. This means read labels as palm oil crops up everywhere.

2. Food production, processing and adulteration.

The way commercial forces are adulterating food production these days causes me deep distress. Go into a chicken or pig farm, witness the multiple spraying going on in orchards or commercial vegetable gardens, pick up an icy-pole with 10 added chemicals (some known to aggravate asthma in children, some banned overseas), read the labels on the supermarket shelves.

It amazes me some people seem puzzled by the fact so many suffer ill-health these days. 

Then there is the issue of food being transported across great distances. Oranges from South America, even just vegetables coming thousand of miles across country; this is a major issue.

Solution: Simple: Eat locally produced (preferably from around the corner, at worst 500Ks away), organic produce wherever possible. Ideally grow as much for yourself as you can. Home veggie gardens must be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your own health and the environment. Grow organically, grow sustainably – it is easy once you learn the basics.

Read labels, avoid chemical additives as much as possible, be selective. If you are just starting with this, it does take time on the first shopping expedition or two, but once you are familiar with the products and brands that are OK, it is easy.

3.  Meat, poultry and fish production

In my experience as a veterinarian, the intensive commercial production of chicken and pigs is an ethically embarrassment. The conditions are just unacceptable.
But there is more. A naturally reared, back-yard chicken can take 9 months (270 days) to be ready to eat (if a chicken is ever ready to be eaten). The chicken sold in places like KFC takes about 37 -39 days to grow from the egg to slaughter. The larger chickens in the supermarket freezer are around 45 days old.

A good deal of this shorter production time relates to genetic selection, but to sustain it relies on the regular feeding of low dose antibiotics (that are euphemistically called “growth promoters” rather than what they really are, antibiotics). The regular use of antibiotics in large populations of animals leads to resistance. This builds up in the animals and can be passed on to the people who eat the affected birds or animals. Most heavyduty antibiotic resistant bacteria stem from this source and once carried into places like hospitals, cause real havoc.

Good news is that the EU banned the use of these antibiotics about a year ago, but it is a disgrace they are still used in Australia.

Pigs have similar problems, and the same issues are beginning to surface amongst farmed fish.

Also, not many people seem to know farmed salmon is commonly genetically engineered. Atlantic salmon is modified by adding a growth hormone regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter from another fish, the ocean pout. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows, and the result is a fish that grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than the three years the naturally, selectively breed fish take.

On a more positive environmental note, farmed prawns have little problem in their production, while commercial prawn fishing can be very hard on the marine environment, so with prawns, locally farmed varieties are preferable.

Back to cattle. A great deal of the cattle consumed in Australia spends its last 2 months in a feedlot being fattened up for slaughter. On entry to the feedlot, it is common practice to inject a “growth promoter” that is actually a hormone that has a growth promoting effect (HGP). It is claimed about 40% of all beef consumed in Australia has been treated with HGP and the most common hormone used is oestrogen, the female sex hormone. Adds another twist to “give the man meat”. Coles created quite a controversy recently by advertising they would only supply HGP free meat. HGP treated meat is totally banned in the EU.

Solution: Simple: Be very aware of sustainable fish issues. If you do eat meat, only eat the naturally farmed variety. This too is easy as all beef for is tagged in Australia so its history can be followed; meaning butchers can be confident of where their animals came from. Totally reject intensively farmed chickens, pigs and fish. Farmed prawns are preferable if you eat them, and they come from Australia.

4. Sugar and salt

Sugar production has been linked to major reef destruction following run off of fertilizers and pesticides. The health issue is that both sugar and salt often lead to such strong cravings as to be effectively addictive; but then both can mask the body’s natural ability to discriminate regarding what is good for it and what is not.

To explain, most of us have the notion that animals in the wild have a good sense of what to eat when. I have always contended people have this same potential, but that most of us lost it due to poor eating habits. If you eat junk food regularly, your body accommodates to it and basically puts up with it even if you have a strong chance of developing one of the major degenerative diseases as you grow older. It is like the body and the mind loses the ability to discriminate.

When we eat a better diet, gradually we start to notice that when we eat healthy foods, we feel good; when we eat rubbish, we feel crappy. If we respond to these observations, we can arrive at a more personalized and individually appropriate way of eating.

My experience gained from helping many people to do this is that sugar and salt mask the taste buds and significantly reduce our capacity to notice what foods are ideal.

Solution: Simple: Remove sugar and salt from your diet; and with sugar, again you help the environment. It usually takes a week or two to get over the cravings, but then you will notice heightened taste sensations that more than compensate.

5. Country of origin

There are plenty of issues with this. For details, refer to my recent blog: click here.

Solution: Simple: Read the barcodes.

6. Marketing

It fascinates me how much effort the meat and dairy industry (I have not addressed the dairy concerns in this blog) put into marketing, while the fruit and vegetable mob do so little. But be aware of the efforts that go into swaying your opinion. One of the worst examples is how the CSIRO produced its book “The Total Wellbeing Diet” that advocated a very large intake of meat – way above the recommended allowances. Who funded the project? You guessed it, the meat industry (check the book Perfidy if you are interested). Scandalous!

Solution: Simple: Be aware of your own way of thinking, the impact of the media, practice mindfulness, train your mind, think for yourself, choose wisely and eat consciously.

And do what you can to bring about positive change. Consider relaying this blog to family or friends (if you do not know how to do this yet, ask a teenager!) Lobby politicians. Make the link. What is good for our health, is good for our environment. What truly sustains us, sustains our planet.


1. This week’s blog follows the talk I gave at Melbourne’s Sustainable Living festival, along with Paul Bedson. It was a pleasure to be asked to talk on the link between health, environment and sustainability.

2. Two weeks before the Happiness and its Causes conference in Sydney. For those who read this blog and do attend, come and say hello.

3. Day workshop near MELBOURNE coming up on Saturday, 24th March at the beautiful Duneira estate in Mt. Macedon.

4. Still a few places available for the meditation retreat Ruth and I will lead in the Yarra Valley at the Gawler Foundation, Meditation in the Forest: March 30 – April 5.


Will you have chemicals with that?

Would you eat like a dog?  Examines digestion and how humans are better suited to a vegetarian diet.

What fuel goes into your tank?

Eating for recovery


Mindbody Mastery: the online, downloadable meditation program with 6 months of support built in.

Sustainable seafood guide

Sustainable food 

CDs  Eating well, being well: Ian Gawler: wellness or maintenance diet

Eating for recovery: Ian Gawler: specifics for cancer


Perfidy: Geoff Russell: exposing the CSIRO wellness diet, its high meat content and funding by the meat industry.

Global Cooling: Strategies for Climate Protection: Hans-Josef Fell

13 February 2012

Ian Gawler Blog: More on the Inquisition and ground breaking news for MS

This week, coinciding with publication news concerning impressive research from the MS groups I have been involved with, it is clear there is a concerted push being mounted against Integrative Medicine, along with Complementary Medicine and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The lobby group calling themselves “Friends of Science in Medicine” has been active in the press and is targeting University leaders to ban the teaching of CAM in medical schools.

To quote from a recent press release from the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA): “Recent statements made by the lobby group calling themselves “Friends of Science in Medicine” are reprehensible for their lack of scientific rigor as they choose to ignore tens of thousands of peer reviewed or referenced publications supporting the efficacy of numerous natural and nutritional therapies.  This is a blatant mis-representation of information to the public and to the university vice chancellors they are lobbying.

AIMA gives our full and ongoing support for the teaching of university based courses which incorporate the study of complementary and alternative therapies which are evidence-based.  We also strongly support any university based research currently being undertaken or proposed in the field of complementary and alternative medicine.

It would seem all of this corresponds with the attack by Haines and Lowenthal questioning my diagnosis of secondary cancer. The MS research news is timely, as it demonstrates the efficacy of the lifestyle program in MS; the program that is so similar to the cancer program; the program that we know works for cardiac disease and for diabetes.

So this week a guest blog from Paul Bedson – senior therapist at the Gawler Foundation. Paul had a heavily edited version of his letter to the editor published in the Age; here it is reproduced in its entirety.

To the Editor,
I have been working as a senior therapist at the Gawler Foundation (TGF) for 10 years now.
I know the work, the clients and I know the founder, Ian Gawler. I feel compelled to respond to some of the inaccuracies in the front page story Dec. 31, 2011 entitled “Cancer experts challenge Gawler’s ‘cure’.

The first inaccuracy: quoting your article, “the 61year-old doctor’s books on curing cancer without conventional medicine are bestsellers.”  Ian never discourages cancer patients from mainstream medical interventions. In You Can Conquer Cancer he says “diet, meditation and positive thinking can be added as supportive measures to any medical therapy.”

The Gawler Foundation openly advocates an integrative approach to dealing with cancer. This integrative approach may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, complementary therapies e.g. Traditional Chinese Medicine, psychosocial support, meditation, relaxation, nutritional and lifestyle changes. TGF informs patients of the whole range of treatment interventions that are available to them and supports their informed choices. Informed and empowered patients have been shown to have better outcomes.

The second inaccuracy: quoting your article, “His foundation’s residential program  …  have treated more than 15,000 sufferers”. TGF is not a treatment facility We do not offer medical interventions of a mainstream or complementary nature. We offer information, psychosocial support, inspiration, hope and peace of mind.

We inform patients about the emerging field called ‘lifestyle medicine’ and the possibility of improving their prognosis through dietary changes, moderate exercise, relaxation, meditation, counselling, group support, journaling, creativity, laughter, healthy relationships and accepting one’s mortality. This “lifestyle medicine” is grounded in current, worldwide research not just based on Ian’s personal story. We do not give any guarantees or make any claims of “a cure”, but we are passionate and committed to helping cancer patients improve their prognosis and quality of life.

The third inaccuracy: quoting your article, “Professor Haines said he was distressed at seeing terminal cancer patients who had chosen alternative therapies over conventional medicine after diagnosis.”

Although I can appreciate Prof. Haines distress, fortunately we live in a free society which respects the patient’s right to choose whatever course of treatment they trust. TGF respects that right and gives patients a broader range of information from which they can make their informed choices; not choices made from desperation, fear or lack of knowledge.
TGF does not recommend one treatment/approach over another, but does fill in the vacuum or lack of information presented by conventional medicine.

The fourth inaccuracy: quoting your article, Professor Haines says, “I’ve seen beautiful young girls with their whole lives ahead of them and they go into these holistic therapies and spend hundred of thousands of dollars and then in the end we have to look after them…..”

The implication here is that TGF is one of these holistic therapies that charges hundred of thousands of dollars. This implication is misleading, wrong and irresponsible. The main program TGF offers cancer patients (and their family support person) is a ten-day residential program in the Yarra Valley. The cost of the program including accommodation, all meals, lectures and workshops is under $3000 per person.

TGF is a registered not-for-profit organisation and the income from running our programs has to be supplement by fund-raising activities.

Overall your article casts dispersions on the integrity of Gawler Foundation and its founder, Ian Gawler based on a so-called “medical report” which is really just an unsubstantiated hypothesis. Far from deserving front-page status, the story smells distinctly of a “tall poppy” vendetta against a man who many know to be honourable and forthright and whose life’s work which has helped thousands of cancer patients.

To rectify the damage which this type of reporting can do to the good name of the man and the credibility of his work, and in the name of balanced journalism, I invite you to interview myself or any number of the cancer patients which have benefited so greatly by the work of TGF.

Yours Sincerely,

Paul Bedson (BA,BAcup,BCouns)                                                                                
Senior Therapist, the Gawler Foundation


1. MS research accepted for publication

Great news, the research evaluating the 5 year follow-up on people attending the lifestyle-based program for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that Prof George Jelinek and I established and that has been presented for years now at the Gawler Foundation has been accepted for publication in the journal Neurological Sciences.

Happily MS is easier to research than the cancer work I have been involved in, and this 5 year follow-up study reports on 165 people. The data demonstrates an improvement of around 20% on each of overall quality of life, physical health composite and mental health composite. By contrast, the average expectation across the board for the many thousands of people with MS who have been tracked is for around 10% declines in these figures over a 5 year period.  The people who attended the program have recorded a nett 30% gain! To my knowledge no drug has been demonstrated to come close to this level of benefit.

The full title of the paper is "Health-related quality of life outcomes at one and five years after a residential retreat promoting lifestyle modification for people with multiple sclerosis", and it is likely to appear in the journal in about 3 months, at which time we can talk about it more fully.

2. Talk on Sustainability.

As part of the Sustainability Festival, Paul Bedson and I will combine to present an hour on the topic of “A Sustainable Self”. I get to talk about food and other lifestyle delights; Paul will focus on the mind and meditation. Click here for details.

3. Jacqui Dodds is a psychotherapist of some insight and manages a great website called East/West Wisdom. On her latest blog she has a compelling article that is well worth a read titled Narcissism as defence or delusion?


1. On the diagnosis controversy

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition
And another thing
A survivor’s bemusement

2. On evidence in medicine

It only has to be done once
Just give me the facts
Recovery from MS is possible
Recovery from cancer is possible



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 at the Gawler Foundation

06 February 2012

Ian Gawler Blog: Is prayer scientific?

Thought for the Day

If you stand for nothing
You will fall for anything

Many people believe in prayer. Many people have a positive personal experience of prayer and say it has significantly transformed some aspect of their own life or that of someone close to them. Many people even say prayer saved their life.

But what do the scientists say? What research is there to support the power of prayer?

Let us start with a definition. Prayer is defined in the Oxford dictionary as "a solemn request to God or an object of worship; a supplication, thanksgiving, or other mental act addressed to God" and as " a formula or form of words used in praying"  - so in the literal English sense, God figures prominently in prayer. Of course, prayer features prominently in all the great religious traditions.

To be clear, prayer in relation to healing falls into one of two categories: intercessory prayer, which involves praying for the benefit of another person; or personal prayer, which involves praying for oneself.

Intercessory Prayer

When it comes to scientifically validating the healing potential of prayer, nearly all the published research focuses upon intercessory prayer (IP).

Much excitement was created in the research and wider communities in 1988 when the cardiologist and committed Christian, Randolph Byrd published a landmark paper demonstrating the benefits of IP for people recovering in a coronary care unit (CCU).

Working in the San Francisco General Hospital, Dr Byrd used a prospective, randomised, double blind protocol making the study quite sound from a scientific point of view. Practising "born again" Christians from a range of faiths were assigned to pray for people they never met, and who did not know if they were being prayed for or not. They were instructed to pray daily for the rapid recovery of those assigned to them; and for the prevention of any complications and death, in addition to other areas of prayer they believed to be beneficial to the patient.

The results demonstrated that those prayed for had significantly fewer complications and required less medication. Mortality was the same for those prayed for and the controls.

Byrd's much quoted study attracted a good deal of support and criticism.  The Harris study in 1999, was another similarly well designed and well conducted study that showed positive benefits in reducing complications in a CCU.

However, the most recent Cochrane Review (Roberts 2011) on IP sits on the fence. The Cochrane Reviews, which are given a good deal of weight in medical circles, aim to provide the evidence base on a particular subject and commonly use a process that selects for high quality research while filtering out observational and population based studies.

Roberts concluded that at present there was no good quality scientific evidence IP led to positive or negative outcomes and that further research would be required to settle the matter scientifically. This enthusiasm for more research is shared by many other researchers, clinicians and members of the wider public for whom the topic of IP remains of great interest.

Personal Prayer

Personal prayer involves a spectrum of inner practices which range from prayer in the traditional sense, through to the repetition of a particular prayer or the use of a mantra, and on into the use of contemplation and sitting quietly in silence. Techniques in this spectrum include praying for oneself by appealing for divine intervention or praying that the best outcome possible will flow from the present circumstances and trusting in that outcome.

However, this type of prayer can also cover a range of inner practices which may produce significant cognitive shifts such as from despair to acceptance, and can include the use of visualisations and contemplation that leads to insight, clarity and the development of particular traits such as compassion and happiness. It even may be that simply sitting quietly in silence is the most powerful healing practice of all.

There has been very little specific research published on the benefits of personal prayer. However, this form of inner practice overlaps with that of contemplation and meditation which have attracted a great deal of recent study. It is relatively easy to make the theoretical connections between the practices of personal prayer, contemplation and meditation. As such, it is reasonable to conject that many of the positive health benefits associated with the practice of meditation are likely to be reproduced via personal prayer. Here it is worth noting that there are currently over 7000 studies in the medical literature around the world attesting to the positive benefits of meditation in a wide range of physical and psychological conditions.

In summary 

The existing research on the healing benefits of prayer are scant and include both positive and negative findings. Research in this field is challenging but due to the huge public interest in it, warrants more attention. There may be particular benefits in examining the linkages between the practices of personal prayer, visualisation, contemplation and meditation and the wealth of research available and continuing in the latter fields.

Speaking personally

Pray regularly. It could transform your life. It could save your life.

And if anyone offers to pray for you, thank them kindly, accept  and ask them if they have any friends who will join in!


1  Dr Craig Hassed's excellent review of prayer and spirituality in his 2006  paper on Mind-body medicine, listed on the Gawler Foundation's website.

2, The Cochrane Reviews:  Mainstream evidence based medical research reviews

3.www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/corehtml/query/static/clinical.shtml. This may be the longest address known to man, but it gives you free access to Pubmed database.
 A search of this database has not been done for this article.

4. Good positive books: Both by Larry Dossey: Healing Words(1993) and Prayer is Good Medicine (1996)

5. Wikipedia: the section on prayer is pretty good and has a lot in common with that above. The link is to prayer, then go to efficacy of prayer healing.