Go for complete diets not cherry picked ‘superfoods’, and whole foods rather than supplements.
As I mentioned before, when I used to ask the redoubtable Phillip Chu about various supplements he would reply, ‘Why? Trust your food!”
Chinese medicine prefers balanced diets with a range of healthy foods to over-emphasis on ‘superfoods’ and obsessive consumption of them, and it’s not particularly fond of extracted supplements.
But what about all those ginseng, royal jelly, and reishi mushroom pills in the Chinese pharmacy?’ you ask. While, just because someone wants to sell it to you doesn’t mean taking it is a good idea. The confusing and complicated story of soy and konbu supplements could be illuminating here.
You could write scientific papers about this but let’s try to keep it simple.
People noticed that the Japanese tend to be healthier than a lot of Westerners, and had a lower incidence of certain cancers such as breast cancer, but that the incidences of these in Japanese living in the West were higher. This made people think that diet could be a factor, and the higher consumption of soy products by Japanese was obvious. This led to recognition that soy products contain compounds called phytoestrogens that bind to cells in the same way that oestrogen does.The next thing you know there are pills and supplements containing these phytoestrogens with a number of claimed health benefits.
This is where it gets complicated: it is not clear whether the pytoestrogens stimulate the same responses as oestrogen does, or whether they reduce or regulate the effects of oestrogen in the body; and that this differs in various parts of the body, in people of different ages, and even between people with different lifelong or even intergenerational consumption of soy products.This is important because some cancers are affected by oestrogen, so would be encouraged if phytoestrogens acted like oestrogen, but weakened or prevented if they blocked the action of oestrogen.It is also possible that because they act like a hormone, but but are different from oestrogen, phytoestrogens could change the behaviour of cells in the body in unknown ways that oestrogen doesn’t. A further possible complication is that while soy products contain a number of phytoestrogens that could have slightly different actions and moderate or regulate the effects of each individual phytoestrogen, supplements generally contain one or two.
Even though Japanese women are less likely to get breast cancer than Westerners, it is was discovered that Western women who took soy supplements had increased levels of a hormone, IGF-1, that is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. It turns out that consuming seaweed, as Japanese people also do, moderates the effect of soy on IGF-1 levels. 
Others have suggested that consuming soy may affect thyroid function, but this is unlikely if the dietary intake of iodine is sufficient, and seaweed which is an excellent source of iodine is recommended for those who consume soy products. 
It’s a mutually balancing relationship. Which is fortunate because konbu supplements with a range of claimed health benefits are popular – konbu is the Japanese word for kelp, a seaweed. Consuming too much seaweed can increase iodine levels so much that the thyroid becomes overactive and affects health. That this can happen has even been covered by the media. But in Japan where people consume a lot of seaweed, they do not tend to have excessive iodine levels, and it’s because of the soy consumption. It seems that consuming soy can moderate the uptake of iodine from seaweed. Just as some possible adverse effects of eating too much soy are balanced by seaweed, the effects of eating to much seaweed are balanced by soy.
The Japanese have a variety of ways of using seaweed. Dried flakes of seaweed are sprinkled on rice, or made into a seasoning mix with sesame seed, dried tuna flakes, and salt as in furikake, or chopped and dressed as a seaweed salad. Sushi is wrapped in sheets of dried seaweed called nori, and this can also be shredded and added to rice. Then there’s the seaweed stock usually made from konbu, dashi, which is the base of miso soup and can be used to add savoury yumminess or umami to just about anything.
Some people prefer to use Japanese grown seaweeds as they think Chinese seaweeds are grown in more polluted waters.
Dashi is usually made with bonito flakes or katsuobushi, and these add a wonderful smokiness to the stock, but headless dried anchovies that are available from Chinese grocers are an easy and cheap alternative. I once made a dashi using the anchovies in oil that were in the fridge.
750ml room temperature water
15g konbu – about 12cm square
2 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked for 10 minutes
9g katsuobushi – a handful or so
Wipe the konbu with a damp cloth. Put it and the shitake mushrooms in water and heat until it is just starting to steam. Take it off the heat and rest for 1 hour, then take out the konbu. Heat again until it just starts bubbling, turn off the heat and drop the katsuobushi in and steep it for 5 minutes. Strain off the stock.
This can be make without the rest but the umami flavour will not be as developed. If using headless anchovies use a big handful and they can be simmered for a few minutes after the konbu is taken out.
You can off course, make miso soup from your dashi stock, and put some tofu in it.
- Rietjens I, Louisse J, and Beekmann K. The potential health effects of dietary phytoestrogens British Journal of Pharmacology 2017;174 1263-1280.
- Teas J, Irhimeh MR, Druker S, Hurley TG, Hébert JR, Savarese TM, Kurzer MS. Serum IGF-1 concentrations change with soy and seaweed supplements in healthy postmenopausal American women. Nutr Cancer. 2011;63(5):743-8.
- Messina M, Redmond G. Effects of soy protein and soybean isoflavones on thyroid function in healthy adults and hypothyroid patients: a review of the relevant literature.Thyroid. 2006 Mar;16(3):249-58.
- Munehiro Yoshida, Ayumi Mukama, Ryota Hosomi, Kenji Fukunaga. Soybean Meal Reduces Tissue Iodine Concentration in Rats Administered Kombu Biomedical Research on Trace Elements 2017;28(1) 28-34
There’s an albizzia tree in my neighbourhood. We use the flowers and bark to loosen up mental and emotional blockage, and the physical conditions that can occur with them. The flowers work more on the emotions and lift mood, the bark acts more on the physical conditions that come from getting hung up about things.
The flowers are gorgeous on the tree, but they go an earthy brown colour when they dry.
Hung up. Does anyone say that these days?
This one is superconcentrated and brewed longer.
While it’s very strong I’m bit disappointed at how little Goo I got, and will not make it this way again. Get it while it lasts.
The blurb: ‘Relieves pain, reduces swelling, and aids recovery. For muscle and tendon pain and fatigue, chronic aching joints, and recalcitrant injuries.’
For the inner city audience, the font is ‘Seven Monkey Fury’. Funny huh.
Sometimes ‘old-fashioned remedies’ make more sense, like using a topical treatment for localised infection.
Recently I went to a GP because I had a blind cyst in my ear lobe. Naively I expected that he would lance it, but he said they didn’t do that kind of thing anymore and gave me a prescription for an antibiotic. Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics are an indispensable weapon in the fight against potentially fatal disease, but most people are now aware of both the personal and population wide consequences of unnecessary antibiotic use. And it seems like the nuclear option to use a systemic anti-bacterial to treat a small local area of infection.
I applied a poultice of ground herbs called San Huang Xi Ji and after three days the cyst was gone.
The next time I went to a GP it was because I thought I had an ingrown toenail, and expected to get a referral to a podiatrist. But because the tissue next to the toenail was inflamed an antibiotic was again prescribed. San Huang Xi Ji was not the ideal poultice to use, but I had some ground up so that’s what I went with. Four days of application overnight relieved the inflammation.
The picture isn’t of my ear, and nobody wants to see my toenail.
As if to order, The Guardian is running an article on anti-biotic resistance this weekend, it seems to be a major concern of England’s chief medical officer.
You can learn cupping and scraping. Join me at the CERES Van Raay Centre to find out how to use these methods to keep yourself, your friends, and family well. We Chinese Medicine practitioners are experts at treating a range of conditions with these methods, but historically they are folk medicine practices used by regular folk. So this workshop is intended to teach people who are not health professionals how to treat pain, stiffness, common colds, and fevers.
Come dressed so that you can expose your shoulders and upper back.
Short notice for this one but I have to hone my presentation skills before I jet off to teach the idle rich at luxury resorts.
- When: Saturday October 21, 9am til 12pm.
- Where: CERES Environment Park, Van Raay Meeting Room 3.
- Price: $50
A journalist recently asked me for some explanations of people’s expectations of Chinese Medicine. She had been commissioned to write an article for the LUX* Resort group, and she probably hope for some pithy quotes that she could tie together in a brief wrapup. If only explaining Chinese Medicine were that easy.
The journalist asked me because I’m going there, I’m on their page.
The Moxa Punk will often show people how they can keep themselves well. Here’s a video showing how to do Japanese rice grain moxibustion. Thanks to Michael Warren.
Join me in the cosy, ecologically friendly warmth of the Van Raay Centre at CERES to learn how to cup and scrape. We Chinese Medicine practitioners use these methods to treat a range of conditions, but historically they are folk medicine practices used by regular folk. So this workshop is intended to teach people who are not health professionals how to use these methods to keep themselves, their friends, and family well.
Come dressed so that you can expose your shoulders and upper back.
Just 16 places for this one, get in quick.
- When: Saturday July 1, 10am til 1pm.
- Where: CERES Environment Park, Van Raay Meeting Room 2.
- Price: $50
Germs don’t cause colds and flu, low immunity does.
How’s that for a controversial opening? A recent study has shown that only 23% of people infected by a flu virus display symptoms.* So while infection with a virus is necessary for viral illness, it isn’t sufficient alone to cause it. This means that the immune response to the infection is more important in determining whether someone gets sick or not, and makes low immunity more of a cause of illness than infection.
Anyone who travels by public transport, works in an office, or has kids will recognise that it is impossible to avoid exposure to cold and flu viruses, so it makes sense to boost your immunity to prevent illness rather than trying to avoid germs. This can be done by getting enough rest, eating healthy meals regularly, dressing to avoid cold exposure, and exercising sensibly. There’s more on how to do this here: How to stay healthy in winter.
Still more can be done by seeing a Chinese medicine practitioner for acupuncture, moxibustion, and herbal therapy, particularly if you’re feeling a bit run down already or if you tend to catch colds easily. We can use these therapies to improve your immunity and wellbeing – there’s even a 450 year old combination of herbs called Yu Ping Feng San 玉屏風散 or Jade Windscreen Powder designed to stop people catching colds and flus.
You could also try using moxibustion yourself to boost your immunity. Warming a point called Zu San Li with moxa can improve immunity, digestion and endurance, and relieve fatigue. There’s a video on how to do it here: How to do moxibustion.
* Reference: Dr Hayward, AC and 20 others on behalf of the Flu Watch Group. Comparative community burden and severity of seasonal and pandemic influenza: results of the Flu Watch cohort study. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. 2014; 2: 445-454