The healthiest diet in the world?

(Apologies if you’ve received notification of this post already but something is not working in the depths of WordPress) Something strange has happened in the fevered world of dietary debate over the last few years. Cereal grains, which we rely on for around 50% of our calories wordwide, have been deemed harmful – and even poisonous – by advocates of diets such as the fashionable Paleolithic diet. They argue that the advent of farming (and therefore cereal cultivation) around ten thousand years ago marked a low point in human development and that the many tens of thousands of years before
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Emotions and heart disease

Chinese medicine has taught for over two thousand years that excessive or prolonged emotions can cause real and lasting harm to the mind and body. One of the most challenging to understand is the emotion they called ‘joy’. For example, the 2000-year old Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine warned that, “Joy harms the heart”. It is clear from other passages in this book (commonly considered the ‘bible’ of early Chinese medicine) that what is being referred to is not joy in the sense of quiet contentment, but rather joy in the sense of excitement or over-excitement. The renowned Dr John Shen in London once told
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MODERN HUMANS WITH AGE-OLD PHYSIOLOGIES

We are modern humans. We can work and play throughout the night in 24-hour cities, travel between time zones, and behave as though the great yinyang cycles of day and night, summer and winter, barely impact on us. Yet the evidence grows that our physiology is ancient and that this apparent modernity is just a thin skin over our long evolutionary past. The latest finding is that a change as simple as putting the clocks forward by one hour (daylight saving time) contributes to significantly higher miscarriage rates among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The article (published in Chronobiology
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Reducing calories increases health and longevity – but what’s up with the monkeys?

A well-known Chinese saying goes, “When eating, stop when you are seven tenths full”, while the great 7th century physician and all-round wise guy Sun Simiao said, “This is the special method of lengthening the years and eating for old age.” These radical ideas have been confirmed over the past few decades by extensive research into calorie restriction (CR). Small creatures such as mice, rats, fruit flies, worms and so on (with generally short and therefore more easily studied lifespans) all live longer and suffer fewer diseases of old age when their diet is restricted in total calories yet nutritionally
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Mushroom magic

Mushrooms are a mysterious and magical food and medicine – prized in most traditional cultures for their healing, nourishing and transformational qualities. In the oldest Chinese medicine pharmacopoeia, Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic (300 BCE and 200 CE), herbal medicines were divided into three classes – superior, middle and inferior. The superior class was made up of precious substances which, though mild in effect, if taken over long periods of time (months and years) could heal the body and extend the lifespan with no harmful side effects. Six different varieties of the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (Ling Zhi in Chinese, Reishi in
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In challenging times it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness

We live in challenging times. An unpredictable and possible dangerous new President looms in the United States, one who threatens to rip up agreements that realistically represent the last chance for us to spare the world from catastrophic climate change. And of course the usual horrors of war, oppression and cruelty continue as ever –now brought to us in graphic detail by 24 hour rolling news and often vicious and untruthful social media. It is easy to become demoralised. Individually, we have little power over international agreements and governmental decisions and giant corporations (though that should never stop us speaking
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Keep on moving

I’ve got a few seminars and talks coming up over the next few months – based around my new book Live Well Live Long – and I’ve decided to focus them all on the benefits of movement/exercise. I have been a dedicated practitioner of qigong for around 25 years and I can honestly say that year on year my understanding of and gratitude for the Chinese internal exercise tradition grows. A million words can be written about many different ways it benefits the body-mind, but here I’d like to focus on the vital importance of free flow – of qi
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Obesity in pregnancy and its effect on a child’s future health

[This is my last blog for a couple of weeks as I’m off to wander the hills and temples around Kyoto] What is known in the Chinese tradition as taijiao – foetal education – was discussed as long ago as the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (around 2000 years ago). It taught that a mother’s extreme emotions, diet and general lifestyle during pregnancy were likely to have an impact – even a lifelong one – on her child. It’s clear this was also recognised in most traditional cultures throughout history. In Shakespeare’s Henry 4th, for example, the pregnant queen fears that
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Anger, exercise and the heart

The idea that excessive emotions can cause disease has been part of Chinese medicine theory for at least two millennia. Nearly a thousand years ago, when the causes of disease were first classified into three distinct types, excess of the ‘seven emotions’ formed one whole category. The most harmful of these was always considered to be anger – both acute and long-standing. For example, it was observed in the 100 BCE Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine that a fit of anger causes blood (and qi) to rush up to the head. Recent research into the triggers of stroke confirmed
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Longevity – rediscovering the past

It gets a bit tiring to keep saying “well the Chinese tradition knew this tens of centuries ago” but it just keeps happening (in the same way that I try the patience of my friends during discussions of health and lifestyle by saying “it’s all in my book”). The latest ‘discovery’ is that some of us age faster and die sooner than others, regardless of lifestyle – due to a ‘ticking internal clock’. Wolf Reik, a professor of epigenetics at Cambridge University, said ” It now looks like you get a clock given to you when you’re young. It gets
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