27 March 2017


Many supplements contain saturated fat as a hidden filler. What a tough, crazy world we live in. One could imagine the makers of vitamin and mineral supplements would be keen to create completely healthy and especially safe products. Yet it seems most have included, or is that disguised, a common source of saturated fat in their products.

So this week, what to look out for and what are the options, along with mention of coming retreats, but first

      Thought for the day

Civility is beauty of behaviour. 

It requires for its perfection 
Patience, self-control, and an environment of leisure. 

For genuine courtesy is a creation, 
Like pictures, like music. 

It is a harmonious blending 
Of voice, gesture and movement, words and action, 
In which generosity of conduct is expressed. 

It reveals the man himself and has no ulterior purpose. 
                          Rabindranath Tagore

Stearic Acid. Maybe you do not know much about it, but read your supplement labels and you are highly likely to find it listed amongst the ingredients. Having looked reasonably widely, I can report there is very little in the literature about this, very little in the Press, yet put simply, stearic acid is simply beef fat.

Stearic acid is one of the most common saturated fatty acids found in nature following palmitic acid. Its name comes from the Greek word “stear” that means tallow and while its most common source is indeed beef fat, another source is palm oil and we know how hard that is on the environment as well as being another saturated fat.

Stearic acid is widely used in the production of detergents, soaps, cosmetics, shampoo and shaving cream.

It is also used with sugar and corn syrup to harden sweets (again – check labels).

However, stearic acid, particularly in the form of its magnesium salt, is also used widely to stop things sticking together.

This is important when making supplements as there is a need to have an easy flow and to prevent the various ingredients from sticking to equipment during mixing and compression.

So stearates make manufacturing faster, easier, and cheaper.

So apart from cost, there is no benefit to you.

In fact, the opposite may well be true. Take magnesium stearate as an example. It is not a source of effective dietary magnesium and has no known benefits, but is used in many supplements and is a saturated fat; the problems with which you will be well acquainted. Also, magnesium stearate may have a detrimental effect on your immune function as stearic acid has been linked to suppression of T cells. This filler also stimulates your gut to form a biofilm that can prevent proper absorption of nutrients from your bowel.

When I asked Prof George Jelinek what he does about this, he had this to say

These fillers are one of the many reasons I don't recommend supplements apart from vitamin D and flaxseed oil. The vitamin D I take is chosen for this reason, as it only contains vitamin D and cold pressed olive oil. It is HealthOrigins Vitamin D3 10,000IU. Just about all capsules with powder in them have these unhelpful ingredients. 

Supplements are the ultimate in processed food in my view. It is one of the possible reasons the multivitamins and other specific supplements cause such an increase in mortality in the randomised controlled trials.

It comes back to this…


Know what to look for, read all your labels and make good choices.

When it comes to food, as much as possible, start with raw, organic ingredients so you know what you are getting. Supplements will never make up for poor quality food; eat well and be well!

This week, Ruth and I will be teaching a keen bunch of meditation teachers how to present programs on contemplation and guided imagery - wonderful work. Then on 7th April, our annual pre- Easter meditation retreat commences and this year the theme is contemplation; so a delightful opportunity to once again delve into one of the most important life skills - contemplation.

April 7 – 13th     Meditation in the Forest

There is not so much written on contemplation, and very few retreats on this specific topic, yet in my experience it is one of the most useful and profound elements to add to our practice. Ruth and I love presenting this retreat, and we love observing the benefits it brings to those who attend.


April 24 – 28th Cancer and Beyond

For many people these days, living with cancer is an ongoing reality. So how to do that? How to live fully and well in the potential shadow of a major illness?

It seems to me to be virtually essential to regularly take time out, to stand back, to re-assess, to keep on track, to get back on track when necessary, to clarify the confusion that is so easy to get into with all that is in the Press and on the net, and to perhaps most importantly, to be re-inspired and re- enthused for the journey ahead.


13 March 2017


Soy rivals coconut oil as the most confusing and contentious food item amongst people I meet with. For prevention and recovery, naturopaths and doctors alike have conflicting views and often express them with some passion.

Previous blogs (see references below) have catalogued the science and shared the clinical experiences that inform my own opinions, yet still the questions seem to linger. New research has emerged to throw fresh light on what has been a long and often emotional debate, so this week, some more clarity, but first

               Thought for the day

     When one door closes another door opens; 
     But we so often look so long 
     And so regretfully upon the closed door, 
     That we do not see the ones which open for us. 

                              Alexander Graham Bell

Soy and breast cancer prevention

The evidence here is pretty clear and consistent.

One good example is the 2008 study that found women averaging one cup of soymilk or about one-half cup of tofu daily have about 30% less risk of developing breast cancer, compared with women who have little or no soy products in their diets.

Reference : Wu AH, Yu MC, Tseng CC, Pike MC. Epidemiology of soy exposures and breast cancer risk. Br J Cancer. 2008;98:9-14.

However, even more compelling was the major review published By Messina and colleagues. I consider this to be one of the very the best review articles on this topic and well worth reading if you want more detail, even though it as written before research was published that examined the link between soy consumption and breast cancer outcomes (that comes next).

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.

Reference : Messina MJ and Wood CE; Nutrition Journal 2008.

The importance of an early habit

However, there is good evidence to suggest that to be fully effective in regards to prevention, the soy consumption may have to occur early in life - as breast tissue is forming during adolescence. It seems for adolescent girls, eating soy products may be very helpful.

Reference 1 : Korde LA, Wu AH, Fears T, et al. Childhood soy intake and breast cancer risk in Asian American women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009;18:1050-1059.

Reference 2 : Shu XO, Jin F, Dai Q, et al. Soyfood intake during adolescence and subsequent risk of breast cancer among Chinese women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2001;10:483-488.

Soy and breast cancer treatment
If something reduces your risk of a cancer recurrence by 25%, that sounds like a treatment to me. In my view it is very clear - nutrition is therapeutic for people with cancer generally and for women with breast cancer specifically. There is a good deal of strong science to support this proposition.

Here is a good research example from the not too distant past

A 2012 analysis that combined the results of prior studies and included a total of 9,514 women from the United States and China, concluded that women who consumed the most soy products were 25% less likely to have their cancer return, compared with those who tended to avoid soy products.

Reference : Nechuta SJ, Caan BJ, Chen WY, et al. Soy food intake after diagnosis of breast cancer and survival: an in-depth analysis of combined evidence from cohort studies of US and Chinese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:123-132.

Now for the latest
An editorial published this month in the prestigious journal Cancer has this to say :
Recent data from Asia and North America indicate that soy foods may decrease the risk of breast cancer and improve the results of treatment in patients with breast cancer. Studying soy foods and isoflavones promises to be an exceptionally fertile area for a wide range of cancer researchers.

Reference : Cancer Journal editorial
Omer Kucuk MD, Soy foods, isoflavones, and breast cancer Cancer; 6 March 2017
DOI: 10.1002/cncr.30614

The editorial introduces findings from a new, long term study that confirms that women with breast cancer who consume soy products experience improved survival rates.

This study examined 6,235 women with breast cancer and monitored their diet records and mortality rates. Women with hormone-receptor-negative tumors who consumed the highest amounts of isoflavones from soy reduced their all-cause mortality by an average of 21% over the course of 9.4 years, compared with those who consumed the least amount.

It is significant that in this study, the lower mortality associated with higher intake was limited to women who had tumors that were negative for hormone receptors – where the reduction in risk of dying was an amazing 50%; and those who did not receive hormone therapy for their breast cancer – where the reduction was 32%.

Zhang FF, et al. Dietary isoflavone intake and all-cause mortality in breast cancer survivors: the Breast Cancer Family Registry. Cancer. Published online March 6, 2017.

Why do soy products reduce cancer risk? 

Most research has focused on the phytoestrogens found in soybeans.

Some researchers have suggested that these compounds somehow block the effects of women’s natural oestrogens and I explained this hypothesis in detail in the earlier blog posts.

However, that does not appear to be the entire explanation, as diet effects may also benefit people with oestrogen-receptor-negative cancers.

Is soy safe? - 1

Is soy safe? – 2


April 24 – 28th Cancer and Beyond

For many people these days, living with cancer is an ongoing reality. So how to do that? How to live fully and well in the potential shadow of a major illness?

It seems to me to be virtually essential to regularly take time out, to stand back, to re-assess, to keep on track, to get back on track when necessary, to clarify the confusion that is so easy to get into with all that is in the Press and on the net, and to perhaps most importantly, to be re-inspired and re- enthused for the journey ahead.


06 March 2017


As human beings, we all have some things in common. For example, we all want happiness. But what sort of happiness?

This week, we go Out on a Limb once more to investigate. Is it possible to experience lasting happiness and what has that got to do with enlightenment? And bananas? And what is enlightenment anyway? And is it possible or just a fantasy? But first

        Thought for the day

Profound and tranquil, free from complexity,
Uncompounded luminous clarity,
Beyond the mind of conceptual ideas;
This is the depth of the mind of the Victorious Ones.

In this there is not a thing to be removed,
Nor anything that needs to be added.
It is merely the immaculate
Looking naturally at itself.

                       Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche

Happiness or pleasure?
It seems that many of us have been misled and have come to believe pleasure is the source of happiness. By pleasure we usually mean that which makes us feel good and comfortable in the short term. A good meal, a good entertainment, a good…

But most sources of this type of pleasure tend to be transitory.

They come and go quite quickly.

Now this is not to say we cannot enjoy them while they are present.

There is no need to feel guilty getting off on temporary delights.

Just do not be confused.

Short-term pleasure is not the same thing as long-term happiness.

No doubt many have worked this much out; but then we think maybe happiness will come with a bit more complexity. A good job, a nice car, the right relationship; maybe that will do it? You only need to reflect a little to realise the bad news. All these things also come and go – they just usually take a little longer than a good meal to change and ultimately dissolve!

In seeking long-term happiness, we are seeking something constant and enduring. We will not find this outside of ourselves amidst people, things and events.

True happiness
Lasting happiness comes from our inner state of mind.

If that is what we are seeking, we need to turn our mind inwardly. By doing so we can begin to experience inner peace, inner contentment, inner happiness. As we do this, the true nature of our mind becomes more obvious. We come to realise an inner truth – our minds have two aspects. We all have an active thinking/ feeling mind that is intimately involved with our outer world, along with its pleasures and pains.

But then we all have a deeper aspect of mind that is more enduring, more stable and more constantly happy. When we come to experience something of these two aspects of our mind, this truth of the nature of our mind, we come to experience something of enlightenment.

Enlightenment then is the direct experience of a fundamental truth. The truth of who we really are. The truth of the nature of our mind.

Now to dispel some myths
Enlightenment for many looms as some distant and mystical goal.  Something that probably could only be found in some far away exotic land, a prize to be attained after all sorts of trials and tribulations, disciplines and sacrifices.

But what if it were simpler than this?

Closer than this?

What if we all carried the seed of enlightenment within us?

All of us?

What if your potential to become enlightened was just as good as anyone else’s?

What if enlightenment was less of an external struggle and more of an internal revelation?

And if this were so, how could we come to experience this inner realisation?

Maybe it is as if this inner truth of who we are is like a precious diamond within us. It is there all right, but it is covered by layers of dirt – by layers of ordinary thoughts and feelings that prevent us from seeing its real nature, its real beauty.

Why bananas?
Try to imagine you had never eaten a banana before and you became interested in the truth of what a banana tastes like. Then imagine some wonderful friend produced a banana and offered to share it with you.

Some of us might gratefully take a few bites and say

“Wow! So that’s it.

That’s what a banana tastes like!”

But many might say “Are you really sure this is a banana?

Even if this is a banana, are you sure there is not a tastier one, a bigger one, a different one, a better one?”

Our mind could so easily, so readily form concepts around the banana that we could get caught up in the thinking and miss the experience altogether. While thinking has many benefits, enlightenment is an experience, not a thinking.

How then do we experience our mind without thinking? Easy isn’t it – the answer is meditation. Meditation teaches us how to go beyond the thinking mind and to experience the nature of our mind.

But again, all too easily, as our meditation matures and we do begin to experience glimpses of this inner truth, the analytical mind can still come in causing us to loose clarity and confidence.

The importance of the teacher
This is where a true teacher is so valuable. A true teacher offers the banana, confirms it is a banana, and after you have eaten it, tasted it, realised it; they confirm your experience.

And how does a teacher acquire the authority to do this? By being authentic. It is just like a Professor at University. How do we know they are authentic? They need to have been authentically taught by authentic teachers following authentic teachings (eg they need the right qualifications), and then they need to teach authentically according to the teachings they received.

So when it comes to ourselves, maybe we are lucky.

Maybe we meet a teacher at a time in our lives
when we are ready.

All is right - auspicious as they say; we are introduced to this inner reality, and we get it in one go.

For many of us, however, even with a good teacher, maybe it is more like eating lots of bananas. Having little tastes, little glimpses of this inner truth and building up to the point where we can say “Yep, I have tasted lots of bananas; I reckon I know bananas”.

The trick is to be patient. Determined. And to keep your sense of humour; to avoid guilt and shame, and to be OK with your state of mind and your progress.

For most of us, our lives seem to vacillate between moments of confusion and moments of clarity. Meditation eases the confusion and strengthens the clarity. Meditation can lead to the dawning of wisdom, the experience of enlightenment.

So why wait? Maybe this is the year to really go for it. To meditate regularly. To seek a teacher. To actually follow their advice. To take your own enlightenment seriously.

Happy meditating!

MEDITATION RETREATS FOR 2017 with Ian and Ruth

March 27 – 31st  Meditation Teacher Training – Module 2 
Ruth and I regularly train people aspiring to be meditation teachers, or who are already and are seeking to extend their skills. This program is allied to Module 1, presented by Paul and Maia Bedson who teach on Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation. We teach Contemplation and Guided Imagery.

April 7 – 13th Meditation in the Forest

This is our annual Pre-Easter 7 day retreat at the Yarra Valley Living Centre. Each year we learn a little more about relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, and we practice together. Then each year there is a specific theme; this year it is contemplation. There is not so much written on contemplation, and very few retreats on this specific topic, yet in my experience it is one of the most useful and profound elements to add to our practice. Ruth and I love presenting this retreat, and we love observing the benefits it brings to those who attend.

June 5 – 9th Deepening Your Meditation
Our only 5 day meditation retreat, this program is all about taking time out, entering into a meditative environment and being supported to deepen your experience. Then, with this deeper experience, being able to take it with you so that your ongoing practice is more rewarding, more beneficial, more enjoyable.

July 1 -7th Mindfulness and Meditation in Daily Life
We have had many requests to present a meditation retreat in Queensland, so this is it. We are fortunate to be able to use the facilities of the Chenrezig Centre – a Buddhist Retreat Centre in the hills back of the Sunshine Coast. Our retreat will focus on integrating mindfulness and meditation into daily life. I know when I first started, meditation was something I did for a few minutes (or hours) every day; but at first, I then went back to my day as if nothing much had happened, The real benefit of these things is in how they inform our daily life, so this retreat will be very Practical. We will practice mindfulness and meditation together formally, and then use the rest of our time to bring the qualities of the practice into our daily experience – in a way that we can take them home and maintain them. My sense is that for many this could well be life changing.

October 9 – 13th Meditation Teacher Training – Module 2
This is a repeat of the earlier program. These training have been booking out, and like all our retreats, it is wise to register early.

October 21 – 27th Meditation Under the Long White Cloud
The annual New Zealand retreat at the wonderful Mana Centre on the Coromandel Peninsula (see the view from Mana below), this year the focus is on using Guided Imagery techniques to combine head and heart. We hear so much these days about training the mind. Very useful, but a mind with no heart is cold and empty. Guided Imagery provides the techniques in meditation that bring the mind and heart together – a wonderful new dimension to the practice and to life.