Category Archives: Health

Eating traditional foods for good health

Image: The artwork is of a girl with a high black ponytail and fringe. She wears a pink sleeveless dress with a red lace pattern and polka dots and black and white striped stockings. Her eyes are light blue with smoky eye shadow and a little blush on the cheeks. She has tiny lips tinted black. Some dark grungy texture surrounds her on a light blue background. Black, bold text in the middle of the image says, ‘Eating traditional foods for good health’ and text beneath this says, ‘www.asphyxia.com.au’.

I believe you are what you eat. Every time I have changed my diet in a significant way, it has affected my physical health. My health journey has led me to try many different ways of eating, and each diet has made a difference to the way I feel every time.

After lots of experiments with raw food and vegetarian whole foods, I finally managed to pull my health together when a friend placed a copy of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon in my hands. So many ailments I’d had for years fell away. I wish I could have stayed on that forever, but unfortunately a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) led me to manage it for three years with a starch and lactose free diet (difficult – and I didn’t thrive on this). Finally I found a way to manage my AS with vinegar instead of diet, but I was so fatigued from eating such a strict regimen, I needed to just eat whatever, for a while.

Slowly, though, I have veered back towards the traditional food guidelines offered up in Nourishing Traditions, and tthis really does seem to be the way of eating that makes my body the happiest. I don’t believe there is any one diet that is right for everyone, but if you are struggling with health issues or craving junk foods, this way of eating might sort it out.

Read my notes from the book here.

How to put up local food for winter

Image: A picture of shelves full of glass jars with metal lids, filled with preserved natural food such as cherries, apricots, olives and tomatoes.

One of the best ways we can reduce our resource footprint is to cut down on food miles. By learning how to preserve local food ready to eat in winter, we can end up with a pantry full of cheap food that is tasty beyond anything you can buy in the supermarket. You also avoid producing heaps of waste, another plus for our planet.

It’s actually not that hard nor time consuming. I can fill these shelves with a few hours a month from November to February, and then in March I spend a few days on the tomatoes. The hardest bit is doing it for the first time – collecting your jars and preserving equipment, and figuring out where and when to get the best local surplus food.

Although it may seem strange to think about winter when the weather is just warming up, now is the time to get organised to make sure you can eat local food all next year. Start with cherries and apricots in November and December, and finish with tomatoes in March or olives in June.

I’ve written about how to do this in more detail here.

Ever thought of raising your own meat on a city block?

Image: A group of chicks in a metal cage with a pink wall background. One chick is on a natural tree branch.

I was vegetarian for 20 years. I’ve never had anything against people eating meat, though I’ve always thought it would be most ethical to raise the animals yourself, and probably kill them too. When I started to eat meat again for health reasons, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and raise and kill my own meat. I felt that way I would truly understand and appreciate the animal I was eating.

There are other reasons why I believe it’s good to raise our own meat. The meat industry can be pretty cruel. I only eat meat from local farms where I’m pretty satisfied that they raise their animals well and kill them humanely. But even so, surely I could give them a better life in a suburban backyard than when they are raised on a commercial scale. After all, our home-produced eggs were so much better than the most expensive organic free range eggs we could buy. Like the eggs, I expected the meat to be more nutritious. Also I am concerned about the amount of wastage that occurs commercially. Despite repeated requests, I’ve never been able to obtain chicken heads or feet for soup. What happens to them all? Are they chucked out? We are in the habit of eating the muscle meat but not the organs (though they are very good for us), and in our society it’s rare to make stock from bones these days. By processing my own meat I could ensure minimal waste.

I also want to really understand how much food I could produce in my backyard. I already produced 80% of my family’s fruit and vegies. Could I produce a good portion of our meat onsite too? I wanted to find out.

I’ve blogged about my journey raising chicken.

Breast cancer

When my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, I offered up my services to do some reading / cross-referencing for her, and look into the various natural options she had to augment the conventional medicine path she took (mastectomy and chemotherapy).

You can read here about how she managed chemotherapy using ice packs, in order to avoid losing her hair.  She still has a gorgeous head of hair and even though she’s in her sixties, she’s not grey at all.

Since then, I’ve been asked a few times to forward all I know/read about breast cancer to other people who have been diagnosed, so I thought I’d put it on my blog for all of you to access.  I need to say here, that I was following my mum’s path, so this reading is not the same as I would have done if it was for myself.  I’m not a doctor, and I can’t guarantee this will help at all, but I’m still sharing in case it does.

Books to read

These are some books you might like to read if you have been diagnosed with cancer:

Ian Gawler’s books – Ian Gawler turned around his cancer naturally after he was given three weeks left to live.  He now runs retreats and has written several books.
Terry Wahls’ books – Terry Wahls cured herself from MS through a diet she devised based on animal studies. The interesting thing about her book is that it talks about how to eat so that you can get your cells to do the right thing.. and cancer is all about cells doing the wrong thing.
Sandor Elix’s book Wild Fermentation – about eating fermented food.. apparently all cancer patients have incorrect flora in their gut and fermented foods can fix this.

 

Stress management

In his books, Ian Gawler talks about the importance of stress management, and recommends meditation as a valuable tool.  He says that a high percentage of people with cancer have it primarily because of stress.  He outlines a classic cancer profile which shows a person having a series of stressful events, managing them ineffectively, and then finally THE stress-event which occurs some time before the cancer is diagnosed.  My mum said she recognised herself immediately in that profile.  If you suspect that stress has played a role in development of your cancer, it’s worth getting on top of the situation, looking at how you handle stressors and what you can do differently so that you aren’t carrying the tension within you.  This may be the most important step you can take towards prevening a recurrence.

 

Minerals

In Australia, our soil is known to be deficient in minerals, as after the last ice age, when melting run-off deposited minerals over the soils of most of the world, Australia missed out.  In particular, our soils are deficient in magnesium.  This means that we Australians cannot get all our minerals from eating regular food.  Terry Wahls talks about the importance of eating seaweed regularly for trace minerals.

Pat Coleby, a farmer who specialises in animal health through soil health, discovered that when she arrived in Australia after years of farming in England, her animals were sickly.  Once she remineralised the soil, the health of her animals improved dramatically, and she is now sought after by farmers across Australia to help them sort out their soil and livestock health.  It seems sensible to assume that if animals are so affected by the mineral balance in soil, it is likely we humans are too.

In her book, Take Control Of Your Health Elaine Hollingsworth draws a strong connection between the correct intake of minerals, and your body’s ability to detox chemicals.  Given that cancer is known to be strongly related to an overexposure to toxic chemicals, this is relevant to people with cancer.  Hollingsworth gives as an example that areas with high selenium in the soil have much lower rates of cancer generally.

Hollingsworth advises taking magnesium and iodine – taking these two together are supposed to be particularly effective at helping your body to detox chemicals.  Selenium is often deficient in people with cancer, she says.

 

Detoxing from chemical exposure

Knowing the connection between chemicals exposure and cancer, it may be worth supporting your body to detox as effectively as possible.  A first step is to consider taking minerals, as outlined above.  Terry Wahls advises clay baths (she soaks her feet daily in water with magnetic clay) and says the effect is profound.  The clay is supposed to work like a magnet, drawing out minerals.  I can’t vouch for its effectiveness but I do have a lot of respect for Terry Wahls.

Another way to detoxify is through sweat.  Exercise that makes you sweat, and/or regular sessions in a sauna or steam room can do this.  I do this weekly and I believe I feel better for it.

One of the things I remember reading, though I’ve absolutely no idea where and so can’t vouch for any evidence to back this up: “If you are caring for a cancer patient, do them a favour and wash their dishes by hand for them.”  The implication was that dishwasher chemicals are particularly toxic and that they may leave a slight residue on the plates (I know I’ve seen traces of white stuff on our dishes occasionally)… and that that when you have cancer, this kind of extra chemical load can be too much.  If you have a dishwasher, maybe you want to run your dishes under hot water before eating from them, and think about what other chemical loads you have in day to day life.

 

Some thoughts about diet

My mum bought Ian Gawler’s recipe book.  Since I’ve done a lot of research into nutrition, I was interested to see how the ideas in his book cross-referenced with my other knowledge on the topic.  I admit I have some reservations about the diet advised by Ian Gawler.  Which is not to say I don’t think he’s a fabulous man doing very important work.  I just think the diet he suggests may not actually be the optimal one to cure cancer.  But we don’t, yet, have a better guide, so anyone diverging from the path he has set out will be taking an experimental road.  If it was me, I would definitely experiment.  Here’s a few of my thoughts in response to his recipe book:

In the 28 day diet, I notice one of the meals includes sauerkraut.  As you’ll know from the Wild Fermentation book, sauerkraut is an amazingly healthy food.  Both scientifically and culturally, it’s understood that the health-giving benefits of sauerkraut come from the fermentation of cabbage.  Through the fermentation process, the cabbage provides more vitamin C and other vitamins, making it particularly nutrient-dense and rich in pro-biotics.  However, in the book, Gawler suggests you make your own sauerkraut by cooking some cabbage with apple cider vinegar.  While this might taste like sauerkraut, it seems a wasted opportunity to eat a truly valuable and nutritious food.

The book suggests that you make your own yeast-risen bread, while my understanding is that from a nutritional point, yeast-risen bread is not good for you at all, and sourdough is essential to properly ferment the anti-nutrients (such as phytates) from the grains.

The book advises against all fat, while my understanding is that more recent research into fats by Dr Mary Enig has shown that while “bad” fats are extremely bad for us, good fats are not only harmless but are essential for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.  The Gawler book seems to blanket all fats as bad, despite mentioning somewhere in there that Omega-3s are important.  Yet the presence of Omega-3s in the diet is not addressed.

The book talks about avoiding fruit in vegetable juices, citing the reason that fruit takes longer to digest and so ferments in the stomach (or something like that).  That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  All fruit contains some lactobacilli, the bacteria responsible for the fermentation of sauerkraut.  Surely if the fruit does “ferment” that would be a good thing rather than a bad thing.  But I think digestive process actually works differently to that.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I do wonder how they measured transit time for fruit versus vegetables and made the distinction that they are best consumed separately.

Frankly the whole diet seems a bit made up to me.  Which is not to say it doesn’t work. But I’m left wondering if it works because it eliminates all processed food, and for people who have cancer in part because of consumption of a lot of refined/processed food, this may be key to their recovery.  Anyway, I’m not totally knocking the Gawler diet approach. Maybe the book is just not well written or doesn’t explain the principles well. Or maybe it works for reasons other than those cited.  But if it was me, I would make some changes to the diet he advises before embarking on it.

 

More info

I’m afraid this is as far as I went on behalf of my mum and her breast cancer.  If you have more info to share about managing breast cancer specifically or cancer in general, do leave a comment on this post.  May good health be with you…

 

You don’t have to lose your hair with chemotherapy

You don’t have to lose your hair with chemotherapy

Meet my mum, Jan.  I gave her this painting for Christmas.  It’s not meant to be a perfect likeness but it is a very lovely representation of her.  And her hair really IS like that, even though she’s 62!  Happily for me, I think I’ve inherited her hair genes.  Her mum (my grandmother) didn’t go grey until she was about 70, and if nothing ruins my mum’s hair, that will probably be her story too.

A couple of months ago, Jan was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She went straight in for a mastectomy and was frightfully brave about it.  She started anti-hormone treatment, which reduces the chance of a recurrence of her kind of breast cancer significantly. Then for the very difficult decision about whether she should have chemotherapy or not.  Chemo does reduce her chance of a recurrence by few more percent, and eventually she decided she’d have to do it.

Jan is not a vain person.  It’s probably her influence that I’ve no interest in shaving my body hair, wearing make up or perfume, or restocking my wardrobe every season with the latest fashion.  But Jan does love her hair, and for good reason.  It’s gorgeous, naturally gold, silky, shiny and it always smells good too.  She doesn’t mind “feeling shit for six months”, as she said about the chemo, but she does mind about losing her hair.  However, she figured it’d be better to be alive and sans hair than dead in a few more years from a recurrence, so she took a gulp and signed up for the chemo.  And she bought a wig.

But the day before her first chemo treatment, someone mentioned on the phone, “Did you know if you put ice on your head during the chemo treatment, your hair won’t fall out?”  Well it sounds like just another lot of spin, but my mum was definitely interested enough to give my dad a poke.  He jumped online to try and work out whether there was any truth to this.  He ended up staying home from work, and spent the whole day on the net.  What do you know – it’s for real!  Some hospitals overseas actually use this method.  You have to apply ice packs for about half an hour before treatment begins, and replace them every half an hour with a fresh pack, until four hours after the treatment is finished.  Most people can’t stand it and give up after the first or second time – you have to do it every time you go in for chemo therapy.  But if you can hack it, there’s an 80% chance of keeping your hair!

You need special ice packs though.  You can’t just whack some freezer blocks on.  You have to cover every single part of your scalp completely, evenly, for the entire time.  Luckily, special head-gear has been manufactured for this purpose.  My dad jumped on the phone to work out where he could buy some, but unfortunately the only company selling them in Australia was in Perth, and we are based in Melbourne.  (To give you perspective, if we were to drive to Perth it would probably take us nine days.  Others would manage it quicker, but that gives you an idea, in case you don’t know Australian geography.)

My dad got a quote from a courier – $1800 to ship them overnight, to get them in time for the first chemo treatment.  Ouch.  But my brother had a better idea.  He put an ad on Gumtree: Free return flight to Melbourne from Perth, plus expenses, for someone who will deliver the icepacks.  He got a call within ten minutes, and several hours later a girl walked in the door of my parents’ place, carrying a large box of head-shaped ice packs.  My mum sat up late, chatting with her, and ended up inviting her to stay the night.  Next morning, as my mum left for chemo, the girl was poking around in the kitchen, helping herself to breakfast.  You got to love my family and their problem-solving skills.

Luckily my dad is the ultimate problem solver, because when he rocked up at the hospital with his chest of icepacks and a huge box of dry ice, ready to administer to my mum during her treatment, the hospital wouldn’t let them in.  Health and safety: someone could burn themselves on the dry ice.  Too dangerous.  Two and a half hours of arguing later (my dad is not one to give up – he always sounds perfectly reasonable and respectable, and I would hate to be his adversary.. he probably just wore them down) they finally conceded that my dad could keep his dry ice in the car, and he’d have to go out every half an hour to fetch the replacement ice pack.

When I visited later in the day, it was as if my mum was giving birth, and my dad was timing her contractions.  He was watching the clock, fiddling with his thermometer to make sure each ice pack was exactly the right temperature at the time he applied it, flexing the packs to make sure they weren’t too rigid.  As I walked in the door, my mum said, “I can’t talk for the first five minutes – it hurts too much.  After that I’ll say hello.”  I made myself scarce and my dad fitted the fresh icepack.

Two weeks later, her hair was scheduled to fall out.  But it didn’t.  She’s still got it.  She’ll have four chemo treatments all up, and each time she’ll have to do the icepack rigamarole, and each time she’ll have a 20% chance that two weeks later her hair will fall out.  But I’m crossing my fingers, for her sake, that it holds.

So.. the moral of the story is this: if you are having chemo and you really and truly and deeply don’t want your hair to fall out, there’s something you can try.  The hospitals and doctors here should be telling us about this option, but they won’t because they don’t want the hassle of icepacks and dry ice cluttering up their chemo rooms in the hospital.  If you want it though, you can make it happen.  But I’d say it gives a new meaning to the term “icecream headache”.

How to ditch your reading glasses

I’ve been looking into presbyopia recently.  That’s the condition which requires most people over 40 or so to start needing reading glasses.  According to popular wisdom, as you age, the flexibility within your eye deteriorates, and it’s inevitable that as a result, focusing on items very close to you becomes difficult and then impossible.  I’m a big subscriber to the idea of use it or lose it, and I’ve been wondering whether eye exercises might maintain that flexibility for longer.

My brother, who is only eighteen months older than me, now uses reading glasses.  And I’ve noticed that when I indulge in my habit of writing my journal while lying on my stomach, my page only inches from my nose, I now see in double.  So… I got researching.

It turns out that there are eye exercises you can do to reduce presbyopia, but mostly they come in a reasonably expensive package and are purchased via those web pages that make me feel very suspicious because they are full of testimonials about how amazingly your life will change when you purchase their product.  And then there are reviews that say it’s crap and doesn’t work, and other reviews that say sure, do eye exercises but you don’t need any expensive package to do them.  I couldn’t find a free package so I started out with an exercise I learnt as a kid:

Hold your pointer finger up in front of your face, and slowly bring it in towards your nose, doing your best to keep the focus clear.  Go in and out. slowly, maybe ten times.

I’ve been doing it for a few months but if there is improvement I haven’t noticed much.

Then I finally found a FREE package of exercises! You can find instructions and eye chart here and here.  I printed the chart, laminated it and got to work.  I just do the exercises for about five minutes most days – not very long.  And at the start I found it kind of hard but after a couple of weeks I could do the exercises easily.  And now, interestingly, when I write my journal up close on my stomach, the words are no longer double.  There’s a slight, slight blur to them which I hope will disappear as I continue my eye exercises.

I can’t guarantee this will work for you, but if reading glasses annoy you and you want to get rid of them, apparently the exercises help most people even if they’ve been using glasses for years.  And if, like me, you never want to need them to begin with, well, maybe it’s worth a try.

Happy reading.. (without glasses!)

PS if you try this, let me know how you go.  I’m curious to know others’ experiences.