Stress Can Lead to Weight Gain

When we are under a lot of stress, we are not only more likely to overeat but we are also more likely to eat foods that are high in sugar and fat. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have discovered a link between chronic stress and obesity; people who have high-stress levels produce higher levels of the hormone called cortisol, which often leads to increased eating of high-caloric foods, including sugar and candy.

To complicate matters, high levels of cortisol circulating in the blood result in an increase in the mobilization of protein breakdown from muscle tissue, a process known as gluconeogenesis. This protein is converted to glucose for energy. Also, if the increased blood sugar is not used immediately for energy use, it is stored as abdominal fat. This is why chronic sustained stress leads to muscle loss as well as fat deposition. Loss of muscle mass is a serious problem as muscle is metabolically very active and helps to increase metabolism, which is essential for weight loss.

Furthermore, as cortisol is increased, it continues to raise the blood sugar level and lead to the increase of its opposing hormone, insulin. Insulin lowers glucose when it is too high. If insulin production remains higher than normal for sustained periods, this can lead to a pre-diabetic condition known as metabolic syndrome.

New Scientist [1] reported a study by Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, which showed that stress may trigger binge eating by changing how we value a reward. They showed that stress may increase our desire for pleasurable experiences while not actually increasing our sense of enjoyment. In a series of rat experiments, they demonstrated that stress magnified the desire for sugar, particularly when accompanied by a cue or tone that advertised the reward of the sugar treat: “It is a bit like seeing an advert for ice cream which makes you desire it,” he says. “If you are not stressed, you can resist, but together, the stress and the advert make it irresistible.”

Berridge’s team injected a corticotropin-releasing factor stress hormone into the nucleus accumbens of rats’ brains, which is part of the dopamine reward circuitry responsible for desire. These rats had been trained to press a lever to receive a dose of sugar and to associate hearing a certain tone with getting the sugar. The stressed rats worked harder at pressing the lever when they heard the tone than rats with low-stress hormones did.[2]

When amphetamines, which are known to increase desire, were injected into the rats, the effect was exactly the same. These findings may explain why some stressful pursuits can be rewarding and also how the presence of drug paraphernalia and stress make drug relapse almost inevitable.

Cortisol also interferes with a protein known as tyrosine, which is essential for thyroid hormone production. Excess cortisol leads to decreased thyroid function and a lowered metabolic rate, a further problem in weight gain. On an average day, most people experience eight to ten major triggers to their stress response. It has been estimated that our autonomic nervous systems are designed to respond to a major stressor only every three months. Each time our stress response is activated and our cortisol levels go up, we sometimes experience an urge to eat something soothing or stimulating. Our stress responses, also known as fight-or-flight responses, can be triggered by many everyday occurrences, such as being involved in an upsetting conversation or interaction, being cut off in traffic, realizing that we have left an important document at home, or not being able to find our keys.

Not only can stress make unhealthy foods more tempting, but it can also impair our bodies’ processes of digesting our food and absorbing nutrients. The best time to eat is when you are feeling safe and relaxed because that is when your body can digest food most efficiently and thereby enhance your metabolism, which leads to fat loss.

Action Plan for Stress-Free Eating: Dos and Don’ts


  • Eat while sitting down in a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Eat at a comfortable pace; stay conscious of the process.
  • Chew every bite many times before swallowing.
  • Set your fork or spoon down on your plate between bites.
  • Take a moment to feel grateful for the food and the person or people who prepared it for you.
  • Pay attention to the internal signals that tell you when you are full
  • Eat in silence for one meal each week, savouring the flavour of each mouthful of food
  • Remember that food is for nutrition. Continuing to eat after you are satisfied overloads the digestive system, resulting in a build-up of toxicity in your body
  • Learn to include a variety of the six tastes in your meals: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Each taste has a subtle yet distinct effect on our physiology.
  • Kindle your appetite by eating a few pieces of freshly sliced ginger sprinkled with lemon juice fifteen minutes before your meal.
  • Eat freshly prepared foods. Lightly cooked foods are preferable to raw or over-cooked foods.
  • Sit quietly for a few minutes after finishing your meal. Focus your attention on your bodily sensations.


  • Don’t watch TV, drive, or have upsetting conversations while eating.
  • Don’t eat out of boxes or bags. Put your food on a plate or in a bowl.
  • Don’t eat while highly emotional.
  • Don’t eat while driving
  • Don’t eat unless you feel hungry. Think of your capacity for food as an “appetite gauge,” whereby 1 on the dial means that you are famished and 10 means that you are completely full. Eat when your appetite drops to around 2 or 3.
  • Don’t eat any more when you’re satisfied or when your “appetite gauge” is 6 or 7.
  • Don’t eat or drink too many ice-cold foods and beverages, as these can significantly reduce the absorption of specific foods by diluting the acid produced by your stomach, which is essential for protein breakdown.
  • Don’t eat erratically when your life is hectic and you are suffering from high levels of stress. This will lead to inefficient energy production, weight gain, and obesity.

Use Your Breath to Lower Your Stress

  • Before you begin your meal, sit quietly and close your eyes. Then do the following:
  • Breathe in slowly to the count of four.
  • Hold your breath to the count of four.
  • Breathe out to the count of four.
  • Hold the exhale to the count of four.
  • Repeat the cycle three times

This exercise will reset your autonomic nervous system, shifting it from a fight-flight-activated stress response (which shuts down digestion and gut motility) to a rest, relaxed, and digestive healing response (which optimizes motility and the absorption of nutrients), lowering the stress hormone cortisol in the process.

*1. Berridge K, New Scientist April 2016
*2. BMC Biology, DOI: 10.1186/1741-7007-4-8

Male Menopause is No One-Man Band

If all the hormones in the body work together like musical instruments in an orchestra, it means that male menopause is not only about low testosterone. The other players are also out of tune. If you’ve read about “male menopause”, you probably know about testosterone. In fact, in the first edition of Health Intelligence, a lot was explained about this hormone in the article “A moody man with no libido”. Dropping levels of testosterone cause many of the complaints of the typical grumpy man in the grips of a mid-life crisis. Indeed, if the hormones in the body work together like the instruments in an orchestra, testosterone is the strings, while estrogen is the brass section. If the testosterone level fades, estrogen begins to overpower and, before long, the whole orchestra plays out of tune.

So a better overall balance of hormones is required as a man grows older. The thing is, this involves not only testosterone and estrogen, but also all the other hormones. The challenge is noticing the discord when it starts, because the first few bad notes may be subtle and are often blamed on stress or simply getting older.

Sound Check

Men don’t usually come to the doctor’s once complaining about male menopause, also called andropause. The more common scenario is a fifty-something executive, slightly overweight, appearing exhausted and irritable, reluctantly showing up for a check-up. It was his wife, enquiring into her menopausal status the week before, who had mentioned to the doctor, “You know, I think my husband should come and see you. He hasn’t been himself lately. He’s grumpy. He lies down on the couch any chance he can get. He complains of vague aches and pains, and I can’t remember the last time we had sex!”

By asking a few probing questions, the doctor finds out that his symptoms were slower and more insidious in onset than his wife’s but, just as dramatic in their eventual outcome. Men traditionally tend to have a more stoic and fatalistic approach to encroaching signs and symptoms, but as an imbalance in hormone levels typically affects a man’s sexual performance first, this is often what propels him to seek medical attention.

The danger of ignoring all the other signs of declining hormone levels – those – offkey notes of the orchestra getting rusty – is that andropause is not necessarily a harmless, “natural” process. It often comes with major physical and mental changes that, over the long term, can have a dramatic effect on slowly developing diseases. But exactly what do these changes involve and when do they start?

Highs and Lows

Male menopause is a gradual shift in hormonal, physiological and chemical balances that occur in all men between the ages of 40 and 55, although it can occur as early as 35 and as late as 65 (1)

Incidentally, the term “hormone” is derived from the Greek word hormo, which means to set in motion. This is precisely what hormones do. Hormones are involved in almost every biological process, including sexual reproduction, growth, metabolism and your body’s immune response. It’s no wonder that the symptoms of andropause are so varied and widespread. Hormones stimulate, regulate and control the function of various tissues and organs and are manufactured by specialised groups of cells in your glands. These glands, which include the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries and testes, release the hormones into the body as and when they’re needed. But as men grow older, a slow change begins to set in.

The Slow fall

Hormone levels that decline as a man ages are:

  • Testosterone
  • Growth hormone
  • Melatonin
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
  • Progesterone
  • Pregnenolone
  • Oxytocin

The Gradual Rise

Hormone levels that go up with andropause are:

  • Estrogen
  • Insulin
  • Cortisol

As mentioned before, testosterone is the strings in the ageing man’s orchestra of hormones – when it begins to fade, estrogen takes over. The detrimental effects of this drop in testosterone is summarised below.

Why Low Levels of Testosterone Are Dangerous

Studies have shown that too little testosterone in the ageing man’s blood is linked to:

  • Heart disease (2)
  • Declining memory (3)
  • Anxiety (4)
  • Depression (5)
  • Alzheimer’s disease (6)
  • Diabetes and metabolic syndrome (7)
  • Loss of muscle mass and strength (8)
  • Loss of bone thickness and strength (9)
  • A greater chance of dying from any cause (10)

The fears around testosterone replacement therapy and whether it may cause prostate cancer have also been laid to rest by definitive studies. (11)(12) But what about the effects of all the other fading players in the hormone orchestra?


DHEA is a hormone made by the adrenal glands, gonads (testicles and ovaries), brain and skin in both men and women. It also declines with advancing age. By the time we are 70-80 years of age, peak levels of DHEA are only 10-20% of those in young adults (13)

As DHEA is the most important and abundant steroid hormone and the precursor of all other sex hormones, it serves extremely well to help restore many functions in the body. Low levels of DHEA are associated with ageing and most diseases of ageing.

Studies have shown that the dramatic age-related drop in DHEA levels is accompanied by an equally dramatic rise in heart disease.(14) It seems DHEA is incorporated into both HDL “good” cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol and helps to protect both from becoming oxidised – a process that spells trouble for the heart and arteries. As our DHEA levels drop with age, less of this hormone is available to protect our cholesterol and the more at risk we are of developing heart problems.

It’s well known that cortisol, the stress hormone, harms the brain. But DHEA, due to its action in keeping cortisol in check, appears to protect the brain from these damaging effects (15)
Many of the diseases of ageing, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis, are all linked in one way or another to inflammation. Studies have shown that DHEA is an effective anti-inflammatory and maintaining youthful levels of this hormone as we age may play a key role in protecting us from these in inflammatory diseases (16)

DHEA is also a mood modulator (17) One study showed that supplementing with 50mg of DHEA every night for six months in both men and women, aged 40-70, improved energy levels, quality of sleep, mood and the ability to handle stress (18)

How to Boost your DHEA Levels Naturally:

  • Eat a low-calorie diet containing less than 40g of carbohydrates per day
  • Exercise and meditate
  • Take part in creative, physical activities that reduce stress.

Growth Hormone

A drop in growth hormone (GH) as you grow older can also have a dramatic effect on your sense of well-being. GH has multiple protective roles and is responsible for our major growth spurt during puberty.(19) In adulthood, GH maintains skin, muscle and bone health. With a deficiency of this hormone, signs of ageing are quickly accelerated. Skin wrinkles and sags; fat soon replaces muscle. GH also helps maintain and repair the health of various organs, including the heart, lungs, liver kidneys joints, nerves as well as the brain. As growth hormone activates the calming, regenerative parasympathetic nervous system, a deficiency may result in increased tension, anxiety, depression and a decreasing ability to cope with stress.

From the age of 30 onwards, GH levels decline fairly rapidly, about 1-3% per year. This loss is quickly accelerated if you’re obese. The most efficient way to replace GH is through daily injection, similar to a diabetic insulin injection. Most anti-aging doctors will not treat GH in the first year of restoring optimal hormone levels, as a protein rich diet, adequate sleep and exercise programme, and the replacement of testosterone, progesterone, melatonin and thyroid levels, may increase GH levels by as much as 20-30%. Treatment with GH begins only when all the other hormone levels in the body have been brought back to normal.

How to Boost your GH Levels Naturally:

  • Supplement your diet with amino acids
  • Exercise daily
  • Make sure all the other hormones are at youthful levels
  • Eat a diet rich in proteins
  • Avoid alcohol, sugar, sweets, breads and pasta
  • Lose weight
  • Avoid milk products
  • Avoid sleep deprivation
  • Avoid prolonged stress.


In the third edition of Health Intelligence, we wrote in depth about progesterone replacement therapy for men, who typically produce between 1,5-3mg of this hormone per day. But as men age, progesterone levels fall exponentially. Progesterone is used in the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. So, if a man leads a particularly stressful life, it’s very likely he will have low levels of progesterone. This hormone is vital in keeping the higher levels of estrogen in aging men in check and thus minimising the risk of heart attacks, prostate enlargement and prostate cancer. If a typical dose of progesterone may lower estradiol levels – a cancer-causing form of estrogen – by up to 30%.(20) Progesterone also lowers the hormone responsible for causing hair loss and baldness in men, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), while reducing water retention and possibly high blood pressure. (21)

How to Boost your Progesterone Levels naturally

  • Eat a diet rich in protein
  • Manage stress daily with stress reduction techniques
  • Supplement with herbs and nutraceuticals, such as Rhodiola rosea, siberian ginseng, liquorice root extract, ashwagandha and vitamins B5 and C.


Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is another hormone on which to keep an eye with advancing age. Signs that you may be deficient include light, restless sleep with many anxious thoughts, easy waking during the night, difficulty falling asleep and falling back asleep once you’re awake, bad dreams or poor dream recall, anxiety at night, depression (especially the winter blues) excessive emotionality and irritability, and restless leg syndrome with increased muscle spasms. You may also have intestinal spasms or cramps. Melatonin has a positive effect on the part of our nervous system involved in rest and relaxation. In particular, melatonin plays a part in slowing the release of adrenalin, so, without enough of it, the body reacts with a fight-or-flight response.(22) Melatonin may also improve your sexual performance, particularly enhancing serenity and relaxation after sex.(23)

Studies have linked a melatonin deficiency to hypertension, artery disease, heartbeat irregularity, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, lowered immunity with recurrent infections, breast and prostate cancer, and brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Melatonin supplements should be taken at bedtime, either under the tongue or in pill form. It works best when you combine it with vitamin B6 and tryptophan or 5-hydroxytryptophan, which convert to melatonin with the help of vitamin B6. Interestingly, some asthmatics may react negatively to melatonin, so use with care if you‘re an asthma sufferer.(24)

How to Boost your Melatonin Levels Naturally

  • Increase your exposure to morning daylight (use a sunlamp)
  • Make the room pitch black at night, use an eye mask
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks
  • Avoid stressful activities
  • Avoid electromagnetic exposures at night such as to cell phones or electrical clocks and radios
  • Wear turquoise coloured glasses 30 minutes before bed.


Pregnenolone is made from cholesterol and is the mother of many hormones, including DHEA, testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, cortisol and aldosterone.(25) In addition to functioning as a hormone, it also serves as a brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, in specific areas of the brain responsible for memory. Pregnenolone regulates the flow of calcium through the cell membrane, and this process determines how memory is encoded by our nerve cells. In addition, pregnenolone increases the levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the brain chemical responsible for creating memories, as well as assisting the main part of the brain that stores memory. (26) The most common complaints of men with pregnenolone deficiency include memory loss and joint pain, as well as dry skin and fatigue. Replacement doses are typically 30mg twice a day for memory loss.

You may choose to use other brain boosting nutraceuticals such as:

  • Acetyl-L -carnitine
  • Vinpocetine
  • Phosphatidylserine, combined with omega-3 fatty acids
  • Phosphatidylcholine
  • DMAE
  • G6PC
  • Huperizine
  • Vitamin D
  • Blueberries.


Oxytocin, a hormone known to improve social bonding, is made by the pituitary gland in the brain. It helps us fall in love, spurs parenting instincts and intensifies orgasms. Studies have found that similar to women, men report an improved sexual response in all respects when using an oxytocin nasal spray, including stronger feelings of tenderness and closeness with the sexual partner before, during and after sex.(27)

Armed with information about the importance of youthful hormone levels at hand, there is no reason why men of a certain age couldn’t stay completely tuned into the music of life, no matter what their age.

The following Aspects Boosts Oxytocin levels Naturally

  • Romantic love
  • Hugging
  • Soft touching
  • Massage
  • Orgasm
  • Partner support
  • Singing
  • Physical exercise
  • Warm climate
  • Positive environment
  • Reading
  • Positive social contacts
  • Viewing pictures of loved ones
  • Living with others (cohabitation).


  1. Jed Diamond. Male Menopause Sourcebook INC. Naperville, IL 1998, 1v
  2. English K, et al. Men with coronary artery disease have lower levels of androgens than men with normal coronary angiograms. Eur Heart J. Jun 2000;21(11):890-4
  3. Moffat SD, et al. Longitudinal assessment of free testosterone concentration predicts memory performance and cognitive status in elderly men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Nov 2002;87(11):5001-7
  4. Cooper MA. Testosterone Replacement Therapy for Anxiety Am J Psychiatry. November 2000;157:1884
  5. Margolese HC, et al. The male menopause and mood: testosterone decline and depression in the aging male–is there a link? J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. Summer 2000;13(2):93-101
  6. Gouras GK et al. Testosterone reduces neuronal secretion of Alzheimer’s beta- amyloid peptides. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Feb 2000;97(3):1202-5
  7. Laaksonen DE, et al. Testosterone and sex hormone – binding globulin predict the metabolic syndrome and diabetes in middle-aged men. Diabetes Care. May 2004;27(5):1036-41
  8. Bhasin S. The dose-dependent effects of testosterone on sexual function and on muscle mass and function. Mayo Clin Proc. Jan 2000;75 Suppl: 70-5
  9. Van Den Beld AW, et al. Measures of bioavailable serum testosterone and estradiol and their relationships with muscle strength, bone density and body composition in elderly men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Sep 2000; 85(9):3276-82
  10. Gail A. Low serum testosterone and mortality in older men. J of Clin Endocrin and Metab. Jan 2008;93(1):68-75
  11. Morley JE. Testosterone replacement and the physiologic aspects of aging in men. Mayo Clin Proc. Jan 2000; 75 Suppl: S83-7
  12. Roddam Aw et al. Endogenous sex hormones and prostate cancer: a collaborative analysis of 18 prospective studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. Feb 2008;100(3):170-83
  13. Genazzani Ad, et al. Might DHEA be considered a benefcial replacement therapy in the elderly? Drugs Aging. 2007;24(3):173-85
  14. O’ Donnell AB, et al. The health of normally aging men: The Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Exp Gerontol. Jul 2004;39(7):975-84
  15. Canning MO, et al. Opposing effects of DHEA and dexamethasone on the generation of monocyte-derived dendritic cells. Eur J Endocrinol 2000;143:685-95
  16. Straub RH, et al. Serum Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA Sulfate Are Negatively Correlated with Serum Interleukin-6 (IL-6), and DHEA Inhibits IL-6 Secretion from Mononuclear Cells in Man in Vitro: Possible Link between Endocrinosenescence and Immunosenescence. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 1998;83(6):2012-17
  17. Cameron Dr, Braunstein GD. The use of dehydroepiandrosterone therapy in clinical practice. Treat Endocrinol. 2005;4(2):95-114
  18. Morales AJ, et al. Effects of replacement doses of DHEA in men and women of advanced age. J Clin Endo Metab. Jan 1994;78(6):1360-67
  19. Hertoghe T. The Hormone Handbook. International Medical Publications, UK. p54
  20. See reference 13, p247 
  21. See reference 13, p246 
  22. See reference 13, p47
  23. Drago F, Busa L. Acute low doses of melatonin restore full sexual activity in impotent male rats. Brain Res. 2000;878 (1-2):98-104
  24. Sutherland E, et al Elevated serum melatonin is associated with the nocturnal worsening of asthma. Jour Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003;112:513-17
  25. See reference 13, p144
  26. Schumacher M. Neurosteroids in the Hippocampus: Neuronal Plasticity and memory. Stress. Oct 1997;2(1):65-78
  27. Burri A, et al. The acute effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on edocrine and sexual function in males. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Jun 2008;33(5):591-600
  28. Herthoge T. Passion, sex and Long Life: The Incredible Oxytocin Adventure. International Medical Books, Luxemburg. 2009:103

Anti-inflammatory Food Principles

It is now well established that food is far more than just the sum total of calories, macronutrients, micronutrients and phytonutrients. Food provides the key signalling switch for our genetic code. We ignore its extreme value and significance at our peril.

The food you eat and the diet you follow is the key healing factor in your journey to wellness. Do not take this information lightly or skip over it.

Do not delegate the task of eating well and making food choices to other individuals in your family or workplace. You will need to educate yourself about food choices, recipes, and healthy choices when shopping. You will need to throw out many foods in your kitchen and spend hours looking over recipes and food choices.

In most cases, patients who do not take this stage of healing seriously and make radical changes will not succeed in their journey to optimal health. If you believe that you can continue to eat inflammatory, nutrient-poor, high-glycemic, non-organic, genetically-modified junk food while still achieving an optimal weight for your size, you are deluding yourself and probably wasting your time and money in the process.

Good food choices involve more than just calories, macronutrients (i.e., protein, fats, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols/phytonutrients; food is converted into energy and information in the body. The mitochondria transform food to energy—ATP—which directs DNA to produce RNA, the machinery of life.

Supplements and further remedies are useless unless they are supported by a foundational healthy eating plan. They simply will have no effect if the underlying nutrient support is missing or inadequate.

"We can no longer view different disease states as distinct biochemical entities. Nearly all degenerative diseases have the same underlying biochemical etiology; that is a diet-induced pro-inflammatory state. Although specific diseases may require specific treatments such as beta blockers for hypertension, chemotherapy for cancer, the treatment program must also include nutritional protocols to reduce the proinflammatory state.[1]"

Principles of Healthy Eating

Phytonutrient density. Focus on the diversity of food and colour. Eat 8–12 servings of whole, colourful, unprocessed vegetables, and fruits, with a focus on vegetables; bitter foods such as watercress, arugula, or cruciferous vegetables are the most beneficial. The polyphenols contained in these foods decrease inflammation, decrease vulnerability to oxidative stress in aging, enhance neuronal communication, and may help to increase life span.

Low glycemic impact. Stabilize blood sugar with low-glycemic foods. Maintaining a consistent and stable insulin level is the key to mitochondrial health (higher energy/higher ATP). Minimize grains and use vegetables and fruits as the main source of carbohydrates. Sucrose, grains, high-glycemic foods, and dairy products promote the overgrowth of abnormal bacteria in the small bowel and are proinflammatory.

Anti-inflammatory foods and antioxidants. A low-calorie, high-phytonutrient density diet is considered to be anti-inflammatory. All spices have antioxidant qualities. While gold-coloured spices are beneficial, it is important to use a variety of colourful spices to experience new tastes; turmeric is cited as having the highest qualities. Use spices and phytonutrients to enhance the production of glutathione and other antioxidants critical for cells’ protection from free radicals. Glutathione production is dependent on cysteine, which is supplied by cruciferous vegetables.

Fats and oils. Consume adequate amounts of omega‐3 fats (as well as some omega-6 fats) and phosphatidylcholine to support the mitochondrial membrane. Use coconut oil or ghee for medium‐heat cooking, as they incur less oxidation; coconut oil improves mitochondrial function. Use phytonutrient‐dense, unfiltered, extra-virgin olive oil to dress salads and veggies. Avocado, nuts, and seeds such as flax, hemp, and chia are healthy fat sources. DHA, which is necessary for brain health, is found in cold-water fish, especially salmon and seaweed.

Cooking impact. The browning of foods causes the Maillard reaction, which encourages the formation of advanced‐glycation end products (AGEs). To reduce the formation of inflammatory AGEs, avoid high‐heat cooking, especially with meats, and always include greens when consuming meats cooked over high heat. Using additional spices when cooking over high heat may reduce the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic hydrocarbons. The chlorophyll in greens binds with HCAs.

Fasting, calorie, or carbohydrate restriction. Reduce calories when possible, consuming around 20%–30% less than the basal metabolic rate requires. Eat every five to six hours. Do not snack. When possible, fast for 12 hours from dinner until breakfast the next morning. Consider limiting carbohydrates to less than 100 grams per day; stricter parameters are 60 g–80 g or less per day. A mild ketotic state offers the best fuel for the brain. Test your urine in the morning with Ketostix strips to check ketone levels. The greatest fat loss occurs when the body is in mild ketosis.

Eating consciously. Food’s transformation to energy and information requires the cooperation of the vagus nerve, the main parasympathetic nerve in the body. Parasympathetic dominance enhances rest, relaxation, healing, and digestion. Follow these guidelines whenever possible:

  • Eat in a quiet, settled, comfortable environment.
  • Never eat when you’re upset.
  • Always sit down to eat.
  • Eat only when you feel hungry.
  • Minimize ice and cold foods or beverages.
  • Finish chewing and swallowing what is in your mouth before taking another bite.
  • Eat at a comfortable pace, and stay conscious of the process.
  • Listen to your appetite; digest the previous meal before starting the next one.
  • Don’t overeat—leave one-third of your stomach empty to aid digestion.
  • Eat freshly prepared foods. Lightly cooked foods are preferable to raw or overcooked food.
  • Sit quietly for a few minutes after finishing your meal. Focus your attention on the sensations in your body.
  • Go for a short walk to aid in digestion after your meals.

Avoid allergens, food sensitivities, or food intolerances. These foods increase leaky gut, increase abnormal gut flora and associated conditions, and form immune complexes leading to increased inflammation.

Article to follow: How to assess, test, and treat food allergies and sensitivities.

[1] Seaman D. The diet-induced pro-inflammatory state. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2002; 25:168–179
[2] Energy Food Plan for Healthy Mitochondria – A Companion Guide for Clinicians. Barb Schiltz, RN, MS, CN and Kristi Hughes, ND

Limitations of Traditional Medicine: Observation One – Separates Cause and Effect

traditional medicine

Mahatma Gandhi said, “One of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine is that it’s just way too effective.” Put quite simply, traditional medicine works. Dr David Simon gives the following example: Let’s say that before you go to bed at night, you drink a half a quart of vodka with a cheeseburger and wake up at 3 a.m. with heartburn and pain. If you reach over for your Rolaids and within ten minutes, your heartburn is gone, what does that teach you? The lesson learned is to take your Rolaids before you go to bed at night! By taking the drug and suppressing the symptom, it completely separates you from that experience. It provides a short-term solution, but it does very little to link cause and effect in the creation of illness. And it does practically nothing to encourage personal responsibility in the process.

This attitude perpetuates the paradox of immediate sensual gratification versus that of eternal youth. Individuals do not want to feel symptoms they are experiencing; hence they suppress them, yet they also wish to live a healthy life in the absence of disease. Very little thought goes into the link between the two—how each act one performs has the potential to either assist the body in its healing process or hasten its trajectory to entropic disease states.

In an integral model, we are most concerned about how the patients have lived their lives up until this point in time. We want to investigate how the choices they have made, in all facets over the full span of their lifetime—from their food choices to their exercise regimes, to their familial and social relationships, to their work environment, to their spiritual practices—have influenced their symptom manifestation. It is also essential that people be familiar with the content of their thought processes and their internal dialogue, and how their perceptions of reality in the world are affecting them. We will see that all of these factors play a determining role in the kind of health or disease they will experience.

In modern allopathic medicine, individuals have been completely identified by their tissue diagnosis and the stage of disease, which leads to complete objectification of the individual and an absolutely material definition of health. It’s either this diagnosis or that diagnosis; that’s it. The patient is entirely divorced from the rest of their contextual interrelationships and stripped from a cause and effect relationship. Mark Wolynn, author of “It Didn’t Start With You” says: “diagnosis shuts down self-enquiry.” People are instantly transformed into cancer or a diabetes patient and deprived of their multiple interconnecting experiences. This contributes to the unconscious collusion between doctor and patient, based as it is on a faulty assumption that the disease process is entirely physically or biologically based.

Daemon Unfolding: The World Finding Me

I once owned a magnificent home in the Noordhoek Valley, outside of Cape Town, South Africa. It was a large, sprawling home on one and a half acres of land, perched on the hillside overlooking miles and miles of white sandy beaches and excellent surf, riding waves being a huge part of my lifestyle. After impulsively selling it, I was left with a deep regret and sense of futility, shame, loss, and self reproach that no amount of cognitive rationalizing could shift. Until, I saw it differently. This is my story of the illusion of gain and loss that exists in the relative world and how a simple shift from a local to a cosmological point of view, changed everything.

I went to medical school at the University of Cape Town from the years 1977 – 1981. For most of those years I lived up in the mountains around the Noordhoek valley- on the outskirts of Cape Town. I used to hitch hike into medical school and when not studying, I would surf on the beach breaks surrounding the idyllic valley. I lived in an abandoned church with a cross embedded on the main wall. I looked after my dogs, my chickens and my pet goat, Big Lil. My one dog Zana was not quite trainable: He fought with all the other dogs and ran away on a regular basis. He often came down with tick bite fever, lying on the floor with a white tongue and panting in the search for more air. I would take him to the vet, he received injections and recovered within a few days. I loved his presence and would take him to the university with me. He would sit in my car, I would roll down the window and he would jump in and out as he needed. At lunch, I would come down and sit with him and we would look out over the hospital graveyard and just be together.

I loved being in Noordhoek with my chickens, my dog and the shower at the bottom of the garden. I would stay up late at night, and huddled over my gas lantern, would read and write long poetic pieces emulating my heroes Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. I wanted to pull down the curtain on my daily life and sing in exaltation to the life of poetry I was not living. I would drink wine and in a half-altered state, write to women I had met who eluded me and taunted me with their beauty and unattainability, sirens beckoning from the gloom. I would also reluctantly study for my medical school exams, wishing all the while to answer only to the ecstatic poetic voices I heard in my head.

The Noordhoek valley held us all together in its big mystery. Hippies, artists, farmers, schizophrenics, cows, surfers, dogs and medical students – we all circled each other and looked to each other for support during our more vulnerable moments.

My view from my small cottage swept over the Noordhoek beach and valley. To the right and perched on the cliff, right above the surf, was a long sprawling ranch type home belonging to a reclusive gay misanthrope. As a student, I visited his home once. A friend of mine rented a room in his home. It was spectacular with its incredible view of a seven-mile beach, and the Slangkop Lighthouse in the distance. In the evening the sun dropped past the horizon and the whole valley lit up in smoky splendour. I could not imagine living in such a spectacular home. It was beyond my student dreams.

Events being what they were, I graduated from medical school, left the Noordhoek valley and moved to Canada. I adjusted to life on the Canadian prairies with vast plains of wheat fields and grain silos. I learned the art and craft of family medicine, taking it all quite seriously. I accumulated a little money and uneasily adjusted to the father and husband archetypes. I dreamt of the sea every night and longed for the day when I could move back to South Africa

One winter, a number of years after leaving the Noordhoek valley for Canada, I visited Cape Town and went surfing off the Noordhoek beach. I passed the driveway to the ranch type home and noticed a cardboard sign hammered into a tree with one nail. It said “Auction- tomorrow morning 9.00am.” I had nothing to lose and thought it worthwhile to show up. The auction took about three minutes. I found myself bidding at a ridiculously low figure of R 80,000 rand (an equivalent of $ 20,000). I expected the price to reach R300,000. Another person bid R90,000 and I went to R100, 000. I heard the auctioneer announce: “The home is sold to the surfer gentleman over there.” I signed the papers and went into the back garden to contemplate my unexpected fate. This was quite surreal. I had not planned this at all.

The home was large and sprawling over one and a half acres, perched on a hillside overlooking this vast expanse of clean white sand. My favourite surf spot was visible from every room in the house. I would wake up in the morning and scan the swells, tuned into the wind directions and the nuances of the changing seasons. Behind the house were these huge obelisk- like granite rocks. I would sit on these rocks for hours on end, listening to the noises, dog barks, and children’s voices from the valley below. In the dusk and dawn moments of the changing light, I would vibrate at this slow harmonic, still not believing my luck. I wanted to be buried on this land. I wanted generations of my family to know this ground.

In the first five years, I never lived in the house. My good friend Bobby took up residence, and my family and I would visit once a year to host these large Christmas gathering of the blood lines. We would celebrate life and each other. Every morning I would wake up and walk around the property, pulling out wayward weeds and watering its endless gardens. When it was hot at night, I would cool off in the swimming pool and delight in the comforts of the still night. I could not believe my luck and how good it made me feel.

Well, one thing led to another and back in Canada, I went through a divorce and my family split up. I attempted to put my life together as a single person but the anxiety and stress got the better of me. My wife was a divorce lawyer and I was no match for her. I fell apart. My psychiatrist said, either we admit you to hospital or you go back to SA for a break. One day, after a year of trying to start again, I put my pen down on my desk at work (I was running the most successful integrative medical clinic in the city at the time and had a long waiting list of people wanting to move beyond the drug and surgery solution to their issues). My resolve was final. I booked a flight and flew back to my Noordhoek home the next day.

Walking up the driveway to my home, I felt the burden of the divorce lift. I sat for days in the lounge with the vast windows looking over the endless beach and waves, and I knew this is where I could put my life back together again. It was an incredible experience, allowing the sea and the waves to enter into my motionless life. Instead of returning to Calgary after three weeks, as I was supposed to, I let my staff, ex-wife and children know that I was never coming back. I walked away from it all. It was a reckless, irresponsible thing to do, but I couldn’t bare the thought of facing all of the stress again. My physiology had given in, my mind had followed. I was home with the earth, the sea and the sky. My ego was crushed but my sense of soul was returning. I walked away from my practice, my loyal and devoted staff, my incredible patients, my kids, my debts, and my life as I knew it. Within weeks the healing power of the view from the front lounge over the vast expanse of beach, had moved me past my shrunken self.

I need the sea because it teaches me
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness
If it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining one,
a suggestion of fishes and ships.
The fact is that until I fall asleep,
In some magnetic way I move in
The university of the waves. (Pablo Neruda, “Absence and Presence”)

I don’t know what it was, but my bones seemed to rearrange themselves and my mind woke up to itself. I sensed a self returning.

Within weeks I had recovered sufficiently to be open to a new love. She walked up the same driveway, I had walked years ago, to interview for a house-sitting job I had advertised. I was smitten. It was love at first sight. But she was twenty years younger than me, and I felt out of my depth. Nonetheless, we became engaged and lived out our destiny within the colourful walls of the house. We spoke of past loves, talked over wine, shared pasta in garlic sauce and planned our fate. At times, friends would visit. We would stand on the porch and hold each other lightly, not quite sure of how best to reckon with the fragile night air, always the sea wind on our faces and the moon on the roof.

After two years, at her insistence, we moved back to Canada. I wanted to sort out the mess I had left behind and see my children; she wanted to travel and see the world. After two years of being surrounded by this magnificent home and sparing in love with this mystery being, we packed up and left the home, securing renters for the time being.

Back in Canada, she became homesick and longed for her youthful lifestyle. I struggled to meet her needs but it was no use. After one year, I drove her to the airport and we said our goodbyes. I had never felt so inconsolable. But it was done and we slipped away from each other, for good. There is no greater despondent feeling knowing that you are revisiting old behaviors and old circumstances, just in a recycled form. I struggled to find a way to be in the world again.

By then I was having trouble with the renters who never paid their bills. The garden was overrun with weeds; the wood was rotting on the window frames; and, the rental agency was unreliable. I could not find anyone to help me get through this tough patch. Trying to manage the problems from Canada without an intermediary was proving insurmountable.

It was at this time that a Shaman trickster came to live in my basement. I met him at a country fair, sitting surrounded by his tarot cards. He convinced me of his ability to help me heal my broken heart. It was decided one night that I could not realize my destiny if I held onto the past and I needed to release my attachments to South Africa and the home. That meant selling. It seemed like a good idea especially since I was so stressed from trying to manage the affairs from a long distance. The house went on sale and received R1.4 million for sale, a profit of more than ten times what I paid for it. I took the money and in the year 2000, invested in the tech boom. It only lasted a further two weeks. I bought Intel, Microsoft, Cisco – the whole disastrous package. Within six months my home and the money received had disappeared. My fiancé and I had split, my home sold, and I had lost the money. I had no idea what to do with my life. I just knew that I did not feel very well.

I revisited that dark place that was becoming familiar. There seemed no way I could reinvent myself and recreate some of the joy and meaning that the home and the relationship had given me. I was deeply depressed and feeling hopeless.

There is no space wider than that of grief
There is no universe like that which bleeds (Pablo Neruda, “Absence and Presence”)

I plunged into therapy, visited as many healers as I could, went on a trip to Mexico with Deepak Chopra and his group, visited gurus in India, sat in Ramana Maharishi’s cave on Mt. Arunachala and felt the aloneness and silence, consulted with psychics and clairvoyants, and sat quietly in the suburbs, where I collapsed in on myself with no sense of recovery. I could not contemplate a life without love. I rationalized that associating with the famous and visiting with Saints who knew, that I would see past the folly of the emotional self and glimpse the unseeing seer beyond. It was not to be. I remained distraught and empty.

One day, I came across a seminar flyer on my desk. I attended and was slowly exposed to the work of John Demartini. I went to Houston, met him and studied further. His work follows one central principle from which many other insights arise. There is a divine, hidden order, and everything that occurs in your life serves a purpose. This is a Platonic concept, discussed and written about by Emerson, and Leibniz, and recently resurrected by James Hillman, John Demartini and others. Your biography is dictated by your Daemon, your Soul, so to speak, and you are called from above, by your Daemon, to live the life you are destined to fulfill. Every event in your biography serves that intent if you train your mind to integrate the law. The other insight that I gained was that nothing was missing from your life. Whatever you think you have lost is present in a new form that you just have not seen or appreciated. The significance of Demartini’s work is that he is the only cognitively applicable system that integrates the shadow without going through a long analysis. It is also the most direct method of seeing the Buddha Mind, your original face.

Demartini himself had systematically set out to examine many different branches of knowledge and in so doing, discover some of the universal laws underlying the commonality of them all. I studied psychology, biology, astronomy, finances, health and healing under him and received a vast education in many different branches of knowledge. In so doing, I relaxed my attachment to my ex-fiancé and my ex-wife and moved on with my life. I placed myself with the impermanence of a changing universe, contemplated my insignificance against the drama of black holes and supernovas, and discovered the evidence for the insignificance of my ego self, against the backdrop of the infinite – somewhat overwhelming. What a relief!

I began a successful practice and found renewed vigor and a sense of purpose in integrative medical practice. I felt resurrected and enlivened and connected once again to something other than my misery. I finally came to live in the world, without shame or despair. And my loves were present in so many new forms, companions, patients, cats, and the waitress at the bistro on the corner. I was missing nothing.

Except, one issue kept nagging at me. I could not see the benefits and movement of selling my home. I still regretted the decision and longed to return and undo what appeared to be a most foolish and rash decision. No matter how hard I tried, I kept coming up with the ongoing thought as to what a ridiculous, impulsive decision to have made. It was a terrible heaviness that I carried around on this issue. My heart had rested in the indigenous gardens, and the bedrooms, where I had laid, haunted me with their views of the beaches and the beckoning sea.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
The seas lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
And gather it up in a perpetual cup
So that, wherever those in prison may be,
Wherever they suffer the sentence of autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of windows,
And hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
Asking “How can I reach the sea?”
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
The starry echoes of the wave,
A breaking up of foam and quicksand,
A rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
The gray cry of seabirds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
Will call in answer to the shrouded heart (Pablo Neruda, “Absence and Presence”)

I needed to resolve my longing. I attended a seminar and worked on the issue. I was asked: “What is it about the home that you miss so much?” I thought about if for some time and then proceeded to describe the view from the living room with the lighthouse in the distance, the waves, the solitariness and the fragrance of the wide, open, oceanic spaces. I was then asked: “What is the form of your new view?” I thought for a moment and then fell into a deep, transcendent expanse of awareness. I knew that I had replaced a geographical view with a cosmological one. I needed to leave behind the physical place so I could be exposed to the cosmology that had become my life’s work. The entire integration of my medical training, my eastern religious and Ayurvedic exposure, my study of integrative medicine and psychological principles, my immersion in depth psychology and discovery of the basic laws of the universe, would not have been possible if I had stayed in my home, looking out over the pristine Noordhoek beaches. In that moment of realization, my yearning stopped and my mind, as I had known it, fell apart. This moment has often been described as a satori, or non-local reality, or Buddha Mind.

At that moment, all clinging, all sense of loss, all doubt about my actions entirely disappeared and was replaced by a deep sense of ecstatic awareness at the perfect unfolding of my life’s journey. When I was asked about the drawbacks of the old view and the benefits of the new view, I instantly realized the hidden order in my perceived sense of loss. At that moment, all striving disappeared and all need to influence the outcome of any further experience disappeared. I saw the order and was graced.

The prison of the forests
Opened a green door,
Letting in the wave in all its thunder,
And, with the shock of the sea, my life widened out into space (Pablo Neruda, “The First Sea”)

Optimal Health – It’s Not What You Think or Do, It’s Who You Become

When a patient is considering a return to full health and wellness, I, as an integrated medical practitioner, and you, as an informed, self-actualizing person, can no longer use only the antiquated Newtonian method of diagnosing and treating conditions. Although this is still taught at both medical schools and naturopathic colleges around the world, we’re now working in an expanded, systems-based paradigm.

Medical school prepared me for the linear process that identification of symptoms is followed by identification of the disease then the determination of the drugs or surgical procedures that are required. This process may apply if a patient has symptoms suggestive of acute meningitis requiring immediate intravenous antibiotics, but it will do nothing to address the myriad of antecedents, triggers, and mediators of complex, chronic, multisystem symptom processes. Patients suffering from a multitude of complaints that defy traditional diagnosis, a situation that is only too common today, require a much more complex method of assessment and treatment.

This new model of integrative medicine must ground itself in the more comprehensive models of environmental and ecological medicine, functional medicine, energy medicine, early developmental trauma, sociology, traditional and depth psychology, family systems, and models of consciousness as proposed by neuroscience and spirituality research. In complex cases of healing, we need to expand the lens of inquiry to help identify the multilayered factors that are hindering our wellness and self-fulfillment and determine what aspects of ourselves are affected. Furthermore, we must listen to our symptoms and our bodies for any clues that will help us to integrate the neglected parts of ourselves that are hidden from our conscious, rational points of view and may be hindering the realization of our full potential.

For integrated practitioners, an education in an array of disciplines is imperative to a successful outcome. A new curriculum must be written for these new healers and a different method of selection employed. I don’t propose training traditional medical personnel to embrace this task. We need them to continue practicing disease-based medicine with the latest technological advances. However, for those that wish to embrace the expanded paradigm, a new wellness curriculum is imperative, a curriculum that will be highly dependent on a healer’s personal experience and level of education. This is complicated territory to imagine and traverse. A highly educated healer lacking the necessary life experience to have developed compassion and empathic understanding cannot embody the knowledge and the compassion represented by the twin snakes entwined around the caduceus, the ancient Asclepian symbol of medicine and medical practice.

In addition, if all we do when patients present is to tell them what they could read in a book or online, there’s probably no reason for them to see us again. It’s essential, in the new paradigm, that healers strike a chord that resonates in the core of the patients’ being and creates a shift in energy or information, forming a new image that will allow them to perceive themselves and their issues very differently. This will usually entail a radical shift in their value systems whereby health issues become their top priority and other values, such as work, family, or recreation, take a temporary back seat. Under the old model, this is seldom the case unless a patient presents with a life-threatening illness.

To assist in the diagnostic and therapeutic processes required in the new paradigm, I’ve developed the 7 Stages to Health and Transformation™ model (for a detailed explanation, click here). Each stage looks at a different aspect of the individual so that diagnostic and healing methods can be focused on the true causes of illness. 

First Stage – Environmental Body

We must first examine the influences of the external environment and the effects of infections, pollutants, heavy metals, and dental materials on our physiology. We must also optimize the body’s detoxification mechanisms.

Second Stage – Physical Body

This is the biochemical and structural stage. We must optimize the biochemistry and homeostatic mechanisms of the body’s regulatory systems. These include diet, gut ecology, hormones, neurotransmitters, the immune system, and brain function. Any structural defects and injuries must also be attended to.

Third Stage – Energy Body

At the electrophysiological, any disturbances to the body’s energy systems must be addressed. The effects of man-made electrical fields on the autonomic nervous system and the balance between stress and relaxation responses need to be taken into consideration. The status of the brain’s electrical circuits, as determined by QEEG analysis, must also be addressed.

Fourth Stage – Emotional Body

Early developmental trauma and emotional wounds need to be examined, brought to conscious awareness, and processed accordingly.

Fifth Stage – Mind/Ego Body

An individual’s sense of an authentic, separate psychological self, his value systems, his internal dialogue, and his general orientation to and defenses against the world at large need to be examined and assessed. Just how balanced and stable are his mental/cognitive processes and how well equipped is he to handle the slings and arrows of a typical stress-filled life? It’s been estimated that our nervous systems are designed to handle one or two challenges every three months. Yet in the modern era the number is more likely to feature six or seven challenges on a daily basis.

Sixth Stage – Soul Body

At this stage one has to turn to the personal unconscious, the more hidden aspects of ourselves and the lessons we’ve learned from Jungian and depth psychology, to ascertain what the deepest part of the individual wishes to express. The question at this stage is not what the ego still strives for but what the soul wants. At this level, we also turn to the influences of the family soul and, through Family Constellation therapy, begin to unravel the entanglements and family secrets that lie hidden in the patient’s intergenerational field. These entanglements and secrets often present as symptoms or as an illness in the patient, who is usually entirely unaware of the connection. 

Seventh Stage – Spirit Body/Unified Field

About a hundred years ago, there was an infusion of ancient souls into Western science, great beings like Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Albert Einstein who began to wake us up by mathematically deducing that the objects of our perception aren’t physical. Beyond the masks of molecules, beyond the façade of material matter, beyond the limits of space and time, there’s a vast mystical domain of energy and information. Human beings are composed of these same networks of energy and information and are thus locked in a dynamic exchange with the energy and information of our extended body, which we call the universe. We’re part of the ‘unified field’ proposed by particle physics. At this level, an individual deepens a relationship with a witnessing self, observing the world of phenomenology rise and fall but with little or no attachment to its outcomes or a personal self. In the seventh stage, all personal agendas are surrendered to intelligence greater than ourselves. This intelligence that causes our hearts to beat and organizes both the migration of birds and the movement of the intergalactic cosmos achieves a greater significance than our own personal, mortal agendas. It is to this intelligence that we can turn for help and guidance. At this stage, we’re not identified with our physical, emotional, or mental bodies but with that which is timeless within us. When patients present with complex symptoms or well-entrenched disease processes, how well equipped they are to proceed with the healing process varies widely from case to case. There are also many possible combinations of the seven stages that they may seek to address. Some may simply want to cure their irritable bowel symptoms, while others want to heal across all levels. Consequently, it’s important, at the outset, for the practitioner to establish what exactly the patient wants or expects to be healed and to narrow or widen the diagnostic and therapeutic lens accordingly.

The standard Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary defines healing as ‘a restoration of wounded parts’, but the Oxford English Dictionary definition is ‘to make whole or sound.’ These definitions are profoundly different from each other. The first refers to the treatment of a symptom or the setting of a broken bone, the fixing that which is broken. The Oxford definition is more congruent with the true etymology of the word health, which is to make whole or holy. In truth, healing is an extraordinary miracle about which, despite our 2,000-year effort to understand it, we know very little. It’s a profound, courageous, and spiritual act of coming to wholeness, where the body is relatively healthy, the emotions are stable, the mind is clear and focused, one’s destiny is clear, and yet one remains humbled to a greater intelligence from which one derives daily guidance and sustenance and to which thanks are given. Alternatively, healing can mean that the deepest essence of the individual is in an integrated or individuated, whole place, one where he knows and inhabits his authentic self, in spite of the body’s experiencing symptoms or a disease process. We identify with that which is timeless within us. We’re aware that we aren’t physical machines that have learned how to think. As Deepak Chopra likes to say, we are not ‘skin-encapsulated egos squeezed into the volume of a body in the span of a lifetime.’ We’re not the constricted, isolated individual entities that Western medicine would have us believe. At our core, we identify with that which is defined as an unbounded, infinite, eternal, ever-present witnessing awareness. We’re consciously aware of being a network of energy and intelligence that’s inextricably interwoven with the web of life.

However, given that definitions vary, healing is dependent on where the individual or the healer places the emphasis or the location of the patient’s concerns, whether this is mind, body, soul, or spirit. When a patient presents, part of the intake process is to ask what his intention is in seeking out the doctor/healer’s advice and on what stages, such as environmental, physical, energetic, emotional, mental, spiritual, he wishes to address his concerns. Many people aren’t interested in pursuing higher levels of health, so one of a physician’s first responsibilities is to determine and clarify each patient’s intentions and respond accordingly. There are four possible intentions.

In the first instance, many if not most patients will view their symptomatology, whether this is physical or emotional, as a nuisance that has to be removed as soon as possible. They’ll turn to healers, whether allopathic or alternative, to provide the most powerful external treatment that can be found to treat worrisome symptoms at the level of the physical body, which is at stage two of the model. They subscribe to the consensual reality of our culture, which entails identifying the cluster of symptoms, naming the disease then finding a drug or surgical procedure to treat it. . At medical schools and naturopathic colleges today, students are still taught that human beings are collections of molecules encapsulated by skin and bones, physical machines devoid of any influential states of consciousness. If you’re feeling a little depressed, it’s because there’s a problem with your serotonin molecules, the implication being that if you take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac or Effexor, or a herb like St. John’s wort, it will prevent reuptake of your serotonin molecules and you’ll no longer be depressed. Likewise, if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, it’s not because you’re worrying about your marriage or your kids. Instead it’s because you have a deficiency of gamma-aminobutyric acid molecules, which Ambien, Xanax, or a GABA supplement will fix. Increasing your concentration of gamma-aminobutyric acid molecules will allow you to sleep soundly and the symptom will be eradicated.

The problem with this model is that it works too well in the short run. Mahatma Gandhi lamented that the problem with Western medicine is that it’s too effective. If a patient mentions to his doctor that he’s regularly woken at 3 a.m. by heartburn, he’s prescribed Tums or Nexium and the symptom disappears. In the standard six-minute doctor visit, very few inquiries are made into the fact that, before bed, the patient always eats cookies and has a whiskey nightcap. As a result, if you pop a couple of tablets and ten minutes later the symptoms are gone, what you’ve learned at this level of healing is that you should have taken your heartburn medicine before going to bed. Instead of fixing the problem, this mode of treatment perpetuates the ongoing cycle of symptom, diagnosis, and remedy. This is symptom treatment and has nothing to do with healing. At this level, patients see the source and the solution of their problem as being outside of themselves. In turn, their healing becomes dependent on changes in situations and on circumstances outside themselves.

It’s interesting that the original definition of a ‘quack’ was someone that treats symptoms. This approach has little chance of activating any inner process within the patient or resulting in healing on a deeper level. All too often, patients with significant diseases such as cancer sit in front of me and demand to be cured. The prospect of a deeper healing experience is extremely remote in these cases.

The second possible intention involves some patients arriving in the consultation room willing to go a little further. They look at physical symptoms as entry points into a larger inquiry. They ask much deeper questions and use their symptoms as allies in their quest for meaning, well-being, and integration. They might inquire about what emotional patterns may underlie their disease and recognize the role of unresolved emotional issues, anxiety, stress, and other mental factors in the development, perpetuation, and recurrence of illness. They may learn about their individual Meyers-Briggs typologies, their defense mechanisms and complexes, and their Ayurvedic doshas. This deeper understanding of themselves allows them to respond to the stresses of life in a less reactive manner, one that won’t cripple their growth, individuation, or consciousness. They begin to use a more conscious, mind-body approach to healing, making use of stages one through five in the 7 Stages model™.

As these factors are explored, it becomes possible to tailor a series of mind-body approaches such as integrated body psychotherapies, relaxation techniques, yoga, neurofeedback, and biofeedback. These patients recognize their personal role in suffering and disease, they link cause and effect and, to an extent, they substitute internal remedies for external ones. They’re beginning to move from the more limited definition of healing, namely fixing a broken part, to the more expanded definition of restoring wholeness.

As psychologist Alastair Cunningham has said, the qualities that best predict spontaneous remission among cancer survivors are an openness to change, a commitment to daily practices, a deep sense of self-worth, and a degree of autonomy and inner authority.

The third possible intention has patients seeking a state of health because they aspire to something more than an absence of symptoms and desire an overall state of wellbeing. They’re fully engaged in a deeper relationship with self-healing and are seeking a sense of wholeness, either for themselves, their loved ones, or the planet as a whole. They’ve learned about the signs and symptoms of disease and are now learning about the signs and symptoms of health. These include a deep sense of inner vitality, integration and self-knowing, healthy relationships, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

A patient I’ll call Jane was primarily interested in eliminating or at least managing her symptoms. This is true for many new patients until I teach them the 7 Stages of Health and Transformation™. Once Jane increased her understanding of optimal health, she said she wanted more than to simply get rid of her symptoms. She wanted to find meaning in her life and enjoy herself and her family. She wanted to achieve overall well-being. Her three-year inquiry into her symptoms had produced a lot of information about the signs and symptoms of a disease, but now she was open to learning about the signs and symptoms of health. With that goal in mind, she became fully engaged in deeper relationships with herself, her loved ones, self-healing, and with the planet.

This desire to be whole is a profound evolutionary urge that prompts many of us to seek out a vast array of healing techniques, from physical to spiritual. In the East, such seekers, upon a certain attainment, are referred to as enlightened. Carl Jung called them individuated and Abraham Maslow’s term was self-actualized. “As far as we can discern,” Jung said, “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” To me, this means leading a life of inspired, self-actualized creativity rather than an existence of mere tolerance set against a backdrop of the mundane.

For many people, this desire to shine with their true essence emerges around the midpoint of their lives. Until that point, what our deepest, instinctual self, or our soul, wants is often hidden from our conscious view, clouded by the innumerable and overwhelming demands of the first half of life and by vague value systems that we have yet to develop fully. Often, what brings these individuals into the office is a conflict with a midlife transition. Their symptoms often arise as a result of a discrepancy between what their egos want, such as endeavors in the first half of their lives, and what their deepest, unconscious selves desire, namely the aspirations related to the second half of life. What drives us to achieve our life goals in the first half isn’t what serves us in the second half. What drives us in the first half of life are often the wishes and wants of outer authority figures, including parents, society, or our culture at large, as well as the innate, Darwinian selfish gene that wishes to perpetuate the species by mating with the most suitable partner from whatever gene pool is available. Thus, with the help of a hormone-drenched physiology, we develop a strong sense of an ego-driven self. We strive to achieve the highest standards that our gene pool is capable of. We educate ourselves, fall in love, marry, create financial security, and buy the most suitable home to provide safety for our offspring. We feel accomplished on achieving some modicum of success in these areas.

It’s usually in the second half of life, which begins between ages 35 and 55, that the first whisperings of our hidden potentials and possibilities emerge. We may be plagued by lingering doubts: “Is this all there is?” “Is this what I really want?” “Am I fulfilling my true potential?” “Is this partner really aligned with my values?” “Does my partner really see who I am?” “Should I be doing something else with my life?” We may also start to develop symptoms or signs of an illness or disease process. It’s at this exact interface between what the ego has striven to achieve and what the soul really wants that symptom may appear, as if to draw us into a deeper inquiry with ourselves. It’s been my observation that symptoms at this level serve as feedback mechanisms of our core selves, drawing our attention to that which is most neglected within us and which most needs our attention. Perceived in this way, symptoms may be said to have teleological intent, drawing us into a deeper, unimagined unfolding of our life’s journey, previously hidden from our conscious view.

In such cases, the task of a healer is to help patients identify the factors that are preventing them from achieving what their souls are seeking and what their ego-based minds are incapable of determining. When patients are in this position, no amount of ‘goal setting’ or ‘life-purpose’ strategizing will fulfill their deeper motivations. Often, the continued pursuit of the goals and life-purpose strategies of the ego-based first half of life is the very reason for a lingering sense of malaise and can even make patients sicker, driving them further from the very aspects of themselves that are calling for attention.

Somewhat problematically, the therapist/healer’s success is highly dependent on his own level of differentiation, autonomy, and stage of life individuation. If any healing is to take place at all, the healer must be highly aware and conscious of his own stage of life preparedness, his own ‘woundedness’, and must refrain from projecting his own agenda too heavily. Similarly, but in an opposite direction, the client must become aware of the inner healer/healed part of himself, the part that needs to be activated and made conscious. Tragically, this is rarely the case in most current healing exchanges, where mutual cause and effect inquiry is ignored. This practice limits the patient’s involvement in their own care and projects the power to heal onto some outer authority. The doctor is seen as all-healthy, while the patient is often seen as all-sick. The patient frequently identifies with their diagnosis in order to derive some form of identity and meaning from this one-sided relationship. It’s a means of barter and exchange within the allopathic system. The implication is that when this transaction occurs, the patient’s inner physician, the healthy part of themselves, completely shuts down. 

This atrophy is particularly tragic, since it’s been my observation that it’s the physician within the patient that needs to be activated if a true transformation is to occur. The inner physician’s healing action is as vital as that of the physical doctor appearing on the scene. Similarly, if the inner healer isn’t mobilized by the conscious act of intention by the patient, the possibility of a true healing experience is somewhat dissipated. If nothing shifts in the internal dialogue and mental field of the patient, if they aren’t fully engaged in cause and effect enquiry and totally committed to changing previous behaviors and decisions that had led to the symptom presentation, then the possibility of something shifting at the physiology level is somewhat muted and no true or lasting transformation takes place.

Furthermore, it’s at this third possible intentional level of healing that the answer to the patient’s malaise will surface only after a deep inquiry and a deep surrender are made, a surrender to their own unconscious and to a larger wisdom than their own ego-based minds. At this level of healing, one has to listen to the many ways the psyche expresses itself in its desire to make conscious its hidden intentions.

Actively listening to our bodies, our symptoms, and for messages from our unconscious are some of the profound tools we can use to seek information outside of our rational ego-based mind-set. Dreams are spontaneous messages from the unconscious, suggesting symbolic ways of seeing issues that we cannot see or understand with our conscious minds. Synchronicities, when an event in the outer world coincides meaningfully with a psychological state of mind, may also provide us with clues to the directions our souls may want to take.

Symptoms or illness can also arise from an issue within a family system, perhaps some entanglement or hidden secret that’s never been consciously exposed. In this way, symptoms provide a voice to the silence in the family system. They help shine a flashlight into the system, revealing what normally cannot be seen. We know from recent research on the epigenetic transfer of life experience that the unresolved emotions and traumas of our ancestors can affect family members for multiple generations. Family Constellation therapy can cover the unconscious bonds and loyalties that underlie many physical and emotional symptoms. It’s been my observation that very often the inner healing process cannot be accessed if the patient is not fully aligned with his birth mother or father. 

When my patient Jane told me that she despised her mother, it was a very clear indication that she didn’t have access to her full life force and inner healer. It’s vital to keep in mind that we inherit half our gene pool and the epigenetic transfer of their life experiences from our mothers and her ancestors and half from our fathers and his ancestors. We’re literally half our mother and half our father. If we disown or otherwise remove a parent from our lives, we’re literally disowning half of ourselves and all that this parent represents to us. I’ve never seen  a patient fully recover without first realigning themselves in the correct way with the parents that birthed them, no matter what the story they tell themselves consciously regarding why this may not be possible. 

Jane had symptoms of crippling fatigue, anxiety, depression, and body pain that had been present for three years. She said that the symptoms had started when she was 44 and that she’d seen many medical doctors and naturopaths, been to the Mayo Clinic, and undergone numerous blood tests and special investigations. The diagnosis was atypical depression. This is the catchall of the medical profession when no discernible causative factor or factors can be ascertained.

Although further tests did reveal significant biochemical imbalances, what was most revealing to me was her obvious dissatisfaction with her life, her anger toward her mother, and a generalized sense of boredom. 

“I am my father’s daughter,” she said, through clenched teeth. “I despise my mother.”

She later elaborated about her father.

“I’m an engineer like my dad, but I haven’t worked for 12 years because I wanted to stay home and bring up my daughter.”

After a long dialogue investigating her family dynamics, it was clear that her rejection of her mother and her overidentification with her father had led to an imbalance in her psyche between the masculine and feminine lineages. It’s been observed in family system dynamics that the energy we take from our mothers provides us with our day-to-day relational energy, nurtures us, and gives us life. A father’s energy organizes and provides a context for the unfolding of our life force. It’s possibly not ironic that the mitochondria, the organelles within our cells that transform food into life-giving ATP or energy, our life force for healing and repair of all bodily functions, are obtained entirely from our mothers. For a very long time, Jane had been under the influence of her father’s desires, negated her mother’s character and positive influence, and subjugated her own deeper, soul-based desires to the point of total silence. It’s common that people experiencing fatigue are living not according to their own inner value systems but according to those of outer authority figures that have been unconsciously adopted as one’s own, in this case those of Jane’s father. She’d also silenced and rejected her mother’s voice, hence abandoning half of herself, creating a perfect, dual causation scenario in which life-crippling fatigue could arise.

It took many months of listening intently to the symptoms of her body, paying attention to her dreams, asking her body for guidance, and turning inward to the inner healer within for her to see the path of her true, creative self more clearly. She realized that being only a wife and a mother was not her true vocation. Her symptoms had escalated until she could no longer ignore the issue. Although much work was done to optimize her adrenal function, treat her Epstein-Barr virus infection, balance her glutathione levels and tweak her hormones, involving treatment at the outer, physical level, it wasn’t until she turned inward that the healing occurred. When she saw her symptoms not as some curse to be eradicated but as harbingers, whisperings of the need for a deeper inquiry, she did what it took to begin her healing journey to return to wholeness.

She saw that what she’d proudly worn as a badge of honor as Daddy’s little girl was a trap from which she had to escape. She realized that she wasn’t living her life based on her own authentic values but on those of her father. As she softened her stance toward her mother, accepting and seeing her through a more compassionate lens for the first time, she felt a certain lightness return to her mood.

As she turned inward, Jane’s inner healer was activated. She learned to trust her body and her instincts for the first time. She’d resisted this progress for years and seen countless excellent physicians/healers to get the latest outer remedies, all to no avail. But once she recognized her symptoms as messages from her soul and learned how to pay attention, her healing was dramatic.

If successive generations of a family have struggled with parenting problems, the patient will often be unconsciously entangled in an unresolved, energy depleting, family system issue. The only way to resolve this is to uncover the hidden dynamics of the ancestral family. No amount of personal nutrition, bodywork, or herbs could heal Jane. She had to uncover the entanglements in her ancestral lineage that were hidden from her conscious view and she had to learn to listen to the messages of her own soul.

The following visualization exercise, entitled Creative Imagery: Listening to Your Cells, will help you to listen to your body for clues regarding what your soul is seeking and how your conscious mind may be obscuring from its view.

Come into contact with yourself and taste your own presence. Welcome and cherish your own presence in this world.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Let go of any physical tensions and relax any mental tensions. Focus your attention on your heart and your soul.

Allow your attention to go to the place within you that has a lot of pain or symptoms. It can be a mental place or a physical place, a muscle or an organ.

Approach this area with respect, tenderness, and care. Talk to this area. You’re talking to these cells in a time of difficulty. Memories may arise.

Say, “I am here now to listen to you.” Let whatever comes from that place speak to you.

Allow the messages of the cells to come to you. These cells represent the strength of life trying to talk to you and connect with you. This attitude of listening and respect, without discussion, is already healing you.

Now that your cells or your symptoms finally have your attention, and you’ve heard their message, say to them, “You don’t need to keep showing up in this way. You now have my attention.”

With the same care and respect, begin to transform. Imagine your stem cells coming from your shoulder blade or hipbone, where your bone marrow is active, and flooding the tissue that’s in need of healing. 

Imagine your stem cells flowing through to the place where you’re suffering. Imagine them dancing and producing color and light.

Let this dance take part in all your cells and in your entire psyche, producing an experience of healing. Soon your entire body is light and warm. Rejoice in the health that these stem cells bring. Imagine yourself becoming luminous from this sensation, nourishing yourself and everyone around you.

Imagine what you will do with yourself once your health is restored. Where will you go to nourish your health and what creative choices will you make? Imagine yourself doing things you like, things that give you an intensified love of life.

When you’re ready, open your eyes and make a note of what you experienced, what you saw, and what new image or images have arisen for you.

Finally, the fourth possible intention involves individuals aspiring to a level of health that’s fundamentally and radically different from those described above and can only arise following a leap in consciousness. They don’t seek simply self-regulation or self-improvement, but self-transformation.

Such people usually achieve this only after traversing each of the preliminary stages. For them, healing’s center of gravity progressively shifts from the physical to the psychological to the soul to the spiritual. They’re defined by their attention to a spiritual inner process rather than an outer remedy, herb, or potion. They become witnessing selves rather than active ‘doers’ in an external life. The internal reference point shifts from ego to spirit.

Chopra Center co-founder David Simon said this process occurs when “we stop thinking of ourselves as this skin-encapsulated ego that’s been compressed into this physical body for the span of a lifetime and we remember on a daily moment-to-moment basis that our essential nature is unbounded, infinite, eternal, unlimited, unborn, and undying.” Buddhist M.D. and author Elliott Dacher states that this occurs when we’re fully engaged in the broadest and deepest vision of health and healing and define what’s possible rather than what is considered to be customary.

At this level of healing, we suspend our rational left brains and personal agendas and ask for guidance and help from the intelligence greater than ourselves, namely G.O.D. or grand organized design, or the unified field. We surrender and we listen. We trust that at our deepest core we’re part of and connected to the unified field. We discipline ourselves, through daily practice, to surrender, tune in, and trust. Since we’re no longer identified with the mortal body, our fear of death disappears.

This is the deepest possibility for a transformed, healed individual. In achieving this, we’ve moved from the relative purpose of medicine to the absolute purpose and possibilities of a healing experience.

The Quest: From Relative to Absolute Health

Relieving symptoms and curing disease, fixing people, eradicating tumors, normalizing blood tests, alleviating pain, creating clear CT scans, and prolonging life are the culturally sanctioned notions of what physicians are supposed to do. This is the quest for relative health and relative health should be realized with the least amount of effort, expense, and sense of personal responsibility. This mindset also dictates that all illness is negative, to be eradicated. As a result, illness is not used as information to bring about self-transformation.

Yet some people choose to seek a level of health that is even beyond wholeness, a level that might be called absolute health. They want to heal their physical bodies so they can live out their lives in a state of maximum potential and in the fulfillment of love and purpose, feeling the joy, wisdom, and compassion in their lives more fully.

We achieve this not by medicating symptoms but by using them as feedback mechanisms to show us where we need to become more conscious. We learn to “lean into the sharp points of our lives,” as Pema Chodron has said. With this knowledge, we don’t retreat from the world. Rather we consciously engage with the world as we start to wake up to the wonder of our existence.

We start to address the questions raised by the poet Mary Oliver, such as what are we going to do with this one wild precious life? This is indeed a precious life, a fragile treasure. Recognizing this is the second most essential step on the path to integrated health and life. The first is to recognize that our true nature is more than our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and our possessions and that there’s an intelligence guiding us that we can turn to and trust. When we do this, we start to celebrate the miracle and sacredness of our human existence.

Einstein said there are only two ways to live your life. One is to live as if nothing is a miracle, the other to live as if everything is a miracle. The word miracle comes from the Spanish mirari, which means to wonder, to smile, to break into joy, and to release. If you have feet to walk with, that’s a miracle. And isn’t the fact that our bodies are subatomic particles of frozen light also a miracle? Isn’t water a miracle? Isn’t breath a miracle? Isn’t the human brain a miracle? Isn’t the eye a miracle?

We make a mistake if we wait until we’re on our deathbed to say thank you, to show our gratitude for having been given this one precious life. Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that will suffice.” If we don’t recognize the preciousness of life, we will neither care enough about it nor feel the urgency to let go of the thoughts, idea, values, and concepts that no longer serve our expanding sense of self and the world in which we live.

Once we hold the preciousness of life near and dear, its importance no longer fades with the busy nature of daily life. And when we die of physical diseases, it isn’t a tragedy. We die fully healed, with an open heart and the realization that our true self is nonlocal, outside of space and time and incapable of death.


  1. Alastair J. Cunningham. Can the Mind Heal Cancer? (2005)
  2. Elliott Dacher. Integral Health. (Basic Health Publications, 2006)
  3. Carl Jung. Memories, Dreams and Reflections, revised edition. (New York: Vintage, 1989)
  4. Ken Wilber. The Integral Vision of Healing. (Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone, 2005)
  5. David Simon. Keynote address at Ayurvedic conference, University of California, Berkeley, 2002.
  6. Pema Chodron. When Things Fall Apart. (Boston: Shambhala, 2002)
  7. Guy Corneau. Lecture at Jung Society, Calgary, Alberta, 2012.
  8. James Hollis. The Middle Passage. (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1993)
  9. Dietrich Klinghardt. Five Levels of Healing Model.
  10. John Demartini. The Breakthrough Experience. (Hay House, Inc. 2002)