27 January 2014

Prevention of dementia through diet

New research links poor diets with dementia and Alzheimer’s

Worried about losing your mind? Me too! So here is some good news. It seems that a plant based diet may be one of your best hopes for remembering who you are, and having a clear, active mind in old age. So this week we look at the growing rates of dementia and the top 8 food related things we can do about it.

Recent research shows that dementia may well be another of the lifestyle based, chronic degenerative diseases - just like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, MS and cancer; and as such, can be prevented by eating well and having a healthy lifestyle.

This is important information, not so well known by many, so maybe this is a post to share with those you care about, but first

Thought for the day

Adopt the pace of nature
Her secret is patience
         Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most of us these days know someone whose mind is not what it used to be. Those of us into our 50s, 60s and on, may well be noticing the memory slips, the “senior moments” and find ourselves wondering what the future holds. Those of us who are younger may well be noticing the same issues in their parents or other elders we value and find ourselves wondering, “is this the beginning of something really scary”.

The fact is that dementia and Alzheimer’s are tough conditions. They can seemingly rob people of their maturity whilst creating large care loads for families, friends and the community.

So what to do? Many of us will know that recent developments in neuroplasticity have established that the “use it or loose it principle” is real. Yet many of us will know people who had active minds that still descended into dementia in one form or another.

So here is the next link. There is a rapidly growing body of evidence linking lifestyle and dementia; specifically that what we eat can accelerate cognitive and memory loss, while the right food choices can protect us and maybe they can even foster ongoing mental development through old age.

Here is the scale of the problem. According to a recent report, the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple worldwide to 135 million by 2050. At the same time, a group of leading doctors is calling on the global health community to refocus the battle against dementia away from "dubious" drugs and to the benefits of a Mediterranean diet instead.

Addressing the UK's Health Secretary, some of that country's leading doctors - including the former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Professor Clare Gerada – have said that persuading people to eat a diet based mostly on fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil is "possibly the best strategy currently available".

They expressed concern that this information was largely being ignored because of the "low awareness and prestige given to diet by many in the medical profession".

They said that a healthier diet could have a "far greater impact in the fight to reduce the dramatic increasing rates of the disease than pharmaceutical and medical interventions", citing the "dubious benefit of most drugs" for this condition.

"The evidence base for the Mediterranean diet, in preventing all of the chronic diseases that are plaguing the western world is overwhelming," added Dr Aseem Malhotra, a London cardiologist. "This includes cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer”.

By contrast, increased animal fat consumption is associated with more Alzheimer’s disease. Dietary data analyzed from people 65 years and older in Japan and in eight developing countries including India, China, and Brazil have shown that as animal fat and calorie consumption increased, so did obesity (not surprising) and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease (not so well known).

According to this research author, mechanisms for dementia risk include being overweight and an increased intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, and iron.

Reference: Grant WB. Trends in diet and Alzheimer’s disease during the nutrition transition in Japan and developing countries.  J Alzheimers Dis. 2014;38(3):611-20. doi: 10.3233/JAD-130719.

What to do? 

Seven revolutionary tips to improve your brain health – plus a bonus 8th!

New Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention developed by
the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
and an international panel of brain researchers
were released recently at
the International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain and are quoted here:

             Me and veggies from our garden. 
             Me looking happy that I am preventing dementia!

These 7 dietary principles promote brain health and can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

1. Minimize your intake of saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fat is found primarily in dairy products, meats, and certain oils (coconut and palm oils). Trans fats are found in many snack pastries and fried foods and are listed on labels as “partially hydrogenated oils.”

2. Vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), fruits, and whole grains should be the primary staples of the diet.

3. One ounce of nuts or seeds (one small handful) daily provides a healthful source of vitamin E. Make sure they are fresh, not rancid.

4. A reliable source of vitamin B12, such as fortified foods or a supplement providing at least the recommended daily allowance (2.4 mcg per day for adults) should be part of your daily diet.

5. When selecting multiple vitamins, choose those without iron and copper, and consume iron supplements only when directed by your physician.

6. While aluminium’s role in Alzheimer’s disease remains a matter of investigation, it is prudent to avoid the use of cookware, antacids, baking powder, or other products that contribute dietary aluminium.

7. Include aerobic exercise in your routine, equivalent to 40 minutes of brisk walking three times per week.

And for a bonus – Number 8 – Reduce, or better still eliminate white sugar from your diet.
Why? Because high blood sugar levels are linked to the risk of developing dementia. In a study last year, and after nearly 7 years of follow-up, those with 15 % higher blood sugar levels (an average blood glucose value of 100 mg/dl, compared with 115 mg/dl) recorded a 15% increase risk in dementia.

Prior studies show that diabetes is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, but this one showed an increased risk of dementia even in people without diabetes.

Reference: Crane PK, Walker R, Hubbard RA, et al. Glucose levels and risk of dementia. N Engl J Med. 2013; 369:540-548.

Eating well, Being well - this post listed 15 top nutrition research articles from recent times.

Meditation in the Forest

Thanks for your patience with no new blog post last week. Ruth and I had a marvelous retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche at Myall Lakes. This annual event is a combination of “Summer School” type learning – to do with the mind science and philosophy that comes directly from authentic Buddhist teachings and has so much practical application in everyday life – and the more experiential aspects of a meditation retreat.

Great location, great atmosphere, many people we know well and greet as old friends, and many more new people to meet; really like a meaningful holiday with the added delight of clarification, new learning and the occasional deep insight (for example, see my recent Facebook post- and please note I now have a public Facebook page that you can like and follow what I am up to).

This annual retreat is an important time for me. I have the opportunity to deepen my own practice, to reflect, to clarify what seems most important to share with others and to plan for the year ahead.

Meditation in the Forest : April 11 – 17, 2014.
This is the regular Pre-Easter retreat Ruth and I present in the Yarra Valley each year. In 2014, as well as providing the opportunity for some meaningful time out - including the space in your life to regain balance and to be revitalized - you will be gently guided to learn more about relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, and to deepen your experience of these wonderful techniques.

Each year we have a particular focus or theme for this meditation retreat and in 2004 we will be giving particular attention to the theory and practise of that invaluable (and in my view, seriously undervalued) skill of contemplation.

This retreat is designed to meet the needs of a broad range of meditators. It is well suited to beginners as well as the more experienced, those who are interested in teaching meditation (we hold specific sessions through the retreat for these people), those on the healing path and anyone keen to rest, reflect and deepen their meditation.

Ruth and I love meeting again with past participants, as well as welcoming new people.

For full details CLICK HERE 

13 January 2014

Meditation in the Forest

Ever wondered why people make the effort to go on a meditation retreat? Well there is the outcome and then there is the experience!

A meditation retreat provides the environment, the leadership, the like-minded company, and most importantly, the time and space to take time out, to unwind, to regain balance, to heal, to refresh, to re-evaluate, and so on. But then there is the experience; the opportunity, the ideal circumstances in which to deepen your experience of meditation.

So this week let us investigate what these deeper experiences of meditation are like (do not miss reading this wonderful, personal account), and how a meditation retreat like Meditation in the Forest that Ruth and I will present again Pre-Easter in the Yarra Valley can help us to actual “get it”.

The reason for writing of this is that at the last meditation retreat Ruth and I ran, Meditation Under the Long White Cloud in New Zealand, so many who came did have particularly good experiences and as a result went home really keen to keep meditating.

It seems these meditation retreats are a wonderful way in which we can directly help other people, so to be blunt, I would like to enthuse everyone who can to consider doing at least one retreat a year – either with us, or with someone else.

But first,

Thought for the day
Meditation provides a direct and reliable means 
to go beyond the activity of the ordinary thinking mind
enter into the deeper stillness of our mind
and to directly experience the truth of who we really are; 
what is in our heart’s essence.

Think about this. Are you meditating for the outcome or for the experience? 

The outcomes of meditation are well known: Resilience, relaxation, clarity of mind, increased vitality, performance, engagement, all the proven health and healing benefits. All very useful. All very reliable.

But then there is the experience of meditation: Deep, natural peace. The bliss and the inner contentment. What a relief! What a joy!

Again, a meditation retreat provides a unique opportunity to breakthrough into a deeper, more profound experience. Just the effort required to temporarily leave the busyness of daily life, to leave our home, our work, our friends, maybe even our family; all this preparation sets us up for something special to happen.

Traditionally, deserts, mountains and remote forests were the preferred locations for a meditation retreat.
A beautiful landscape can inspire us. A remote location reduces the distractions and helps to focus the mind.

Then there is the company. A good teacher and what traditionally is referred to as “Noble Company” – like-minded people who are also committed to the path of meditation, all add to the atmosphere that makes a deeper experience during a meditation retreat more likely.

Then there is what we bring to a retreat. Maybe the most important thing of all – ourselves! We bring our own good intentions and our own pure nature.

Sure we may have health issues – physically or psychologically; and sure, there is good reason to go on a meditation retreat for all the obvious health benefits. But to gain those benefits we need to practise, and the more we practise, the more the benefits.

However, I hear from so many people who find their practice of meditation to be somewhat difficult or disappointing. So they make the effort to meditate in the hope that their health, their life will get better. And often it does. But then when things are better, or when they start to feel as if the outcome seems unattainable, the meditation stops.

Now clearly, the best meditation practice is a life-long meditation practice! Meditation helps in so many ways, yet if we do not enjoy doing it, we are highly likely to lapse.

Hence the value of attending a meditation retreat. Take time out, make the time, create the

circumstances, go to a suitable place with suitable people and away you go. Relax, Let go. Allow the dust to settle. Allow daily concerns to drop by the way. Allow yourself to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind and enter into the deeper experiences of meditation.

“I felt as if a hood had been taken off my head and I saw, really saw for the first time in my life.

“As all this began, I could feel the anticipation that something extraordinary was unfolding, yet at the same time there was quite an apprehension. It was like being on the edge of a cliff, a cliff with a huge drop and an almost fathomless dark emptiness below it. 

"The apprehension moved into what was almost like a mortal dread; I felt as if I really could die if I was to go over the edge. But perhaps because I have been quite diligent with my meditation practice for so long, perhaps because so often it has been difficult, perhaps because I did persevere these last few years because I really wanted the outcomes - I was almost desperate for the benefits I knew meditation could bring for my health; perhaps because of all this, now I was determined to stay with the fear, to stay with the experience.

“As I did so, my fear intensified, but I remembered the instructions. "Let go". "Jump!" 

"It was very visual, very sensory. It was like I was really doing this. I jumped. My heart was in my mouth. I felt as if I was falling. Tumbling. Spinning. And then everything dissolved into light. At first it was an intense ball of light, then it grew and grew until it was just all-consuming light. It was as if the light was all through me. I was the light and the light was me.

“ It is almost impossible to describe the feeling adequately. It was rapturous. More; I was ecstatic, and the feeling lasted for days. Actually, it is still with me. I see things differently now. Life seems so unbelievably precious, I see the good in everybody and all fear of death has gone. I smile and laugh at just about everything these days, and in every way my health has never been better. I know I will never be the same again”.

The fact is that these experiences are real. They can come in different forms. The account above, from a couple of years back, followed a particular pattern. For others it can unfold in different ways. Yet the secret is to focus on the process, not the outcome. If the experience becomes another outcome to seek, then it may prove very elusive. The wise thing to do is to enter into an environment where one can have the confidence, support and guidance to let go. Completely. Then the experience comes. Then the experience can be ever with you. Then the experience will be something you can come back to. Then you will be keen to meditate for the sake of the meditation itself; for the experience, not just the outcome.

Meditation in the Forest : April 11 – 17, 2014

The regular Pre-Easter meditation retreat Ruth and I present is on in the Yarra Valley again in 2014. This retreat is specifically designed to assist you into the deeper experience of meditation so that you can go home confident of what meditation is really like and enthused to enjoy your own regular, on-going meditation practice.

This meditation retreat is usually fully booked, so it  may be wise to register soon.

This year there will also be a particular focus on the theory, practise and experience of contemplation. For details CLICK HERE

Learning contemplation

Retreat and go forwards

Meditation in the Desert

Being on retreat myself, there will be no new blog for 2 weeks.

06 January 2014

Less body - same person

On January 8th it will be 39 years since my right leg was amputated through the hip. For many years I noted the anniversary with a day of fasting and reflection but more recently just go about life as it unfolds.

However, this year it may be useful to go Out on a Limb in a more literal sense and share a profound insight that came courtesy of the surgery.

This is a personal experience I have not recounted so often, but it came into a conversation exploring the theme “Who am I really” during the recent meditation retreat Meditation Under the Long White Cloud in New Zealand. It seemed helpful at the time, so here it is, but first

Thought for the Day
Wherever a pain is, that is where the cure goes;
Wherever poverty is that is where provision goes.
Wherever a difficult question is that is where the answer goes;

Do not seek the water but increase your thirst,
So water may gush forth from above and below. 

Every story has a prelude. This one begins in a room that had the unmistakable feeling of a basement. No windows. Dark. A sense of confinement. A difficult place to escape from.

It slowly became apparent that this room was the Intensive Care Unit of St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Melbourne. Amidst the wires and dials and flashing lights and the sounds of the machinery of survival; all simultaneously reassuring and disconcerting, there rose and fell the gentle sounds of life ebbing away from the man in the bed next to my own.

Severe pain does funny things to one’s thinking. As the sounds from the adjacent bed softened and ceased, the best I could do at the time was use it as motivation to survive myself. I never did find out what he died from.

But then amidst all this, the insight. It was so clear, so self evident. An insight born of an unmistakably direct, personal and undeniable experience.

I was coming back into consciousness in the ICU after being treated for an osteogenic sarcoma, a bone cancer in my mid thigh.

I had gone into the surgery being a 24 year-old veterinarian who loved working with horses and doing surgery on any animal that needed it.

I had gone into the surgery a very fit, active young man. In all probability I would have represented my State of Victoria again that year in my chosen athletic event of the decathlon.

As enough of the anaesthetic wore off from my surgery to enable me to recognise where I was and what had happened, I tentatively reached down with my right hand and felt.

Nothing. Just bandages. And pain.

But then, so quickly, the insight. It was as if in that first moment I knew how much my life had changed. No more horse work. No more decathlon. No more ease of movement as I had known it. Everything was different. Physically.

But not in its essence.

The insight?

I still felt like the same person.

Less body – same person.

It was transparently clear. I was not just my body. Sure I had identified with my body very strongly in the past. And already I sensed how I would need to come to identify with it in a different way in the days and weeks and years ahead. But unmistakably there was a part of me, the essence of who I really was and continued to be, that remained the same.

Less body – same person.

This insight helped me in so many ways as I began to construct a new life in a new body. It was clear the life I was leading was intricately tied with my body, just as everyone else’s is. But for me, it was now obvious that life had more to do with the bit that had stayed the same, rather than the bit that had changed.

It was the dawning of awareness.

Why the Dalai Lama thinks you are so special

Meditation in the Forest : April 11 – 17, 2014
The regular Pre-Easter retreat Ruth and I present is on in the Yarra Valley again. This year as well as providing the opportunity to learn more about relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, and to deepen your experience of same, the particular focus of the retreat will be on contemplation.
For details CLICK HERE


Janette Murray-Wakelin and Alan Murray have completed 366 consecutive marathons!

Ruth and I were there amidst the crowd that welcomed them back into Melbourne’s Federation Square.

One of the all time great endurance feats – a world record for consecutive marathons and all on a raw food, vegan diet. Wow!

They were also raising money for 4 charities including the Gawler Foundation.

View Channel 10’s news report: CLICK HERE

Link to the Running Raw Facebook page: CLICK HERE