Sunday, 13 June 2010


Ayurveda: when body and mind make friends

OM TAT SAT (Sanskrit Ayurvedic quote)
= Goodness is with you

As western medical doctor, I appreciate the current sense of malcontent towards traditional medicine which has failed mass expectations at many levels. Having said that, there are many reasons for which I am truly grateful to it. Emergency and critical care (which are some of my fields of specialization), for example. For having offered hygienic solutions to the world. For having introduced the concept of germs and infections. And for having developed bone care and various types of surgery, to name a few.

Unfortunately, though western medicine may beunparalleled in some areas, when faced with issues such as chronic disease and illnessprevention, it has some big holes. Why? Western doctors and scientific research have focused their efforts on developing symptomatic treatments. In some specific cases they are invaluable (try to have surgery without aneasthesia or post operative pain care drugs and tell me if you don’t just thank God for the pharmaceutical companies ..), but in other cases medical drugs could and should be avoided. Sometimes, (in fact, even more often then previously believed), drugs are not the answer at all, but rather lifestyle and diet patterns,quality rest, and happier relationships, among others.

Well, as I have come to believe, the truth seems to always lie somewhere in the middle. Sometimes western medicine is the number one choice, but other times it is not.

Almost a direct opposite approach is Ayurveda Medicine, which offers solutions and treatments that Western Medicine cannot. I could see the two Medicines becomingpartners, each helping the other in its shortcomings.

Ayurveda is an ancient science, born more than 7000 years ago. Firstly transmitted through generations thanks to the patient oral teachings of the masters to their disciples, it was later transcripted in textbooks, some of which are still alive and in use today.

Ayurveda is where the body and mind can finally make friends. The Ayurvedic doctors and practitioners have observed, studied and reported human behaviors, conditions and reactions for thousands of years, learning about relationships between the mind and the body, the beings and their environments. The human being is seen as a complex unity of mind, body and soul, where all are equally important and strictly interdependent. It is anintegral part of the Universe, a microcosm in a macrocosm. If the Universe is modified,the changes are reflected in human beings. Man can not escape its relationship with nature. Therefore, the environment where one lives, i.e., the food that is eaten, thechanging seasons, air pollution, water, etc., all play all a crucial role in making the difference between health and disease. This is the wonderful approach that Ayurvedic science and its philosophy can offer us.

According to Ayurveda, each individual’s state is dominated by the three so-called "doshas”, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They are the representatives of the body’s functions. Every individual has one (or more) predominant doshas which will affect things liketastes, tendencies to certain diseases, likes and dis-likes, and even certain personality traits. Just as the three doshas act as the functional components of an individual, the seven ‘dhatus’ are the structural parts. Those are blood, plasma, adipose tissue, muscles, cartilage, bone marrow, and reproductive fluids.

If the doshas become unbalanced, one or more dhatus will suffer, resulting in signs and symptoms of a disease. The Ayurvedic doctor, through a detailed analysis and consultation, evaluates the underlying dosha’s vitiation and offers effective solutions correct the imbalance. Unlike western medicine’s symptomatic approach, Ayurveda goes deep down to the real cause of a disease.

The three doshas can fluctuate depending on things like age, the different seasons, andeven the time of day. Doshas are present in all individuals as body constitution (Pakriti) which is unchangeable, determined at the time of fecundation of the egg by the semen.

The doshas each have different qualities:


dry, cold, light, rough, subtle, movable


slightly oily, sharp, hot, light, bad smell, liquid


oily, cold, heavy, dull, smooth, shiny, stable.

During a person’s lifetime, certain doshas can get aggravated, leading the person tovarious diseases (Vikriti). The vitiation of doshas is understood by the analysis of signs and symptoms. The doshas fluctuation also is affected by the environment and weather conditions. For example, windy and dry landscapes will increase Vata, while the jungles or other very humid places will aggravate Kapha.

Vata, Pitta and Kapha are present all over the body but manifest predominantly in a specific anatomic region in each of us, controlling specific body functions. Vata is located below the navel, Pitta in the mid-region (duodenum and lower GI), and Kapha in the chest and head. Likewise, Vata, Pitta and Kapha manifest differently during last, middle and early periods of life, the night, the morning and the evening and also the three phases of the digestive process.


Time (day/night)




2 to 6

Above 35

First digestive phase


10 to 2

16 to 35

Mid digestive phase


6 to 10

Up to 16

Post digestive phase

I am truly fascinated by the attention that Ayurveda doctors offer to their patients. Nothing is missed, nothing is irrelevant. Ayurveda takes into account every detail of a person’s life. Seemingly irrelevant aspects such as the time a person wakes up in the morning, the order of his daily routine, his mental state, emotional satisfaction, and the environment and quality of his relationships are all taken into account, just as important asdietary and drinking habits.

The word Ayurveda comes from the two parts Ayu = life, as time from birth to death, and Veda = Knowledge or learning. This perfectly sums up its approach to studying and learning "all”. Ayurveda it is not just the science of diseases, but it is the knowledge oflife itself. Only when everything is known-- the good and the bad, the healthy and the sick, the happy and the miserable, the dark and the light, only then can the doctor truly help the patient fight the diseases.

Health is not just lack of sickness, but it has an active meaning as well. Health is that state of physical, emotional, and mental balance. According to these noble principles, treatment is a system of action for preventing and completely curing diseases. The list of treatments includes massage therapy, oils and herbs, drugs, food and lifestyle regimes, and other various procedures such as purgation.

Based on fundamental principles, treatments mainly fall into two categories: eliminative (Sodhanam) and curative (Samanam). Elimination is a system through which the vitiation of the dosha, responsible for the disease, is completely eliminated through normal openings (Panchakarma is the most common system of purification). In the curative treatments, the vitiated. dosha is balanced without elimination of it. Curative treatments include fasting, exercises, exposure to sun and wind, use of digestive or carminative drugs.

I spent a month at the Nagarajuna Ayurvedic Centre in Kalady ( India) for treatments and an intense crash course on Ayurvedic basic principles, diagnostic tools, treatments, pharmacology. The centre is located in the heart of the Kerala region in Southern India, on the bank of a long river, close to a small and traditional Indian village (Kalady). The staff is amazingly helpful and the medical team is very attentive to each individual’s needs. Vegetarian cuisine is the rule, though ghee and cow’s milk are used. I never saw any cheese. I did enquire about the possibility of vegan meals and I have been reassured it is possible.

Personally I only ate fruits, so I can not express opinion about cooked food, but I overheard enthusiastic comments. My mornings were spent between incredible and long massages with medicated oils and lectures. Usually in the afternoon I would have a second treatment, either a local application of oils to my joints or a 45 minutes of pouring oils over my forehead to relax and de-stress.

Ayurveda, I found, is not just a science but also a philosophy. Prior to any treatment, the therapies chant a prayer to the god of Ayurveda. The room is immediately filled with a magical sense of ancient times.

I had truly a wonderful time, felt and looked very good and I am confident that all this new knowledge will be of great value and help also for my every day practice as Western Doctor in Europe. I would recommend Ayurveda to everybody, especially for chronic ailments.

Photo information: Oil massage: Abhyanga

Abhyanga is usually performed by two therapists that work in synchronism. It lasts 45 minutes. The type of oil used depends on the individual dosha vitiation.

The massage is firm and has many benefits, such as improved circulation, metabolism, elimination of toxins, and aid in rejuvenation. The massage is done in a special wooden table called a "Droni”, traditionally made of Neem tree or Nuxvomica.

Damage of grains

Bread: A Shocking Truth

Warning: reading the following article may lead you to give up bread.

Are you up for the challenge?

You know that you are on a serious raw food diet when you constantly hear these two questions: 1. Where do you get your protein? and 2. What is the cooked food that you miss most?

Well, I get my protein from what I eat.

And I miss grains.

Yes I do. I miss everything about them. I miss the smell, the taste, the sense of fullness. My memories from childhood take me to large dinners with family and friends where pizza and pasta were served in such an abundance that to the eyes of a little kid, I was practically swimming between spaghetti, dancing on the pizza plates, and surrounded by hot and smoky mozzarella. I remember well those evenings of eating out at pizzerias with my mom and dad. The sweet anticipation while waiting to be served; the waiter walking proudly towards us holding a smoking plate just out of the oven (during my childhood, especially in Italy, the concept of already prepared and frozen pizza was to be avoided as much as illegal drugs), smiling to us and smiling. Me and my brother would jump out of our chair, and attack the 15-17 inch pizza and have the best time. Of course the smell of pizza still brings back all the pleasant memories, despite the brain dictating the new rules (grains are bad!!! Bad!!!!) the mouth will still scream: “pizza is good! Good!”

Frankly, there is only one way to go: knowledge (with a few learning challenges along the way).

Note: try to be raw for a couple of year and then have a pizza or a sandwich, you will see.

I hope the following information about grains will help strengthen the will to overpower the palate. With profound understanding, sooner or later the best choices are made with ease.

Let’s point out a crucial concept: what is edible food? When we look around it seems that the average person makes food choices based on taste. How many times have we heard that “it tastes so good, that’s why I am eating it”. Given that taste is very important and anthropologically, an excellent tool to help living creatures choose food, we have to introduce a new term: to be edible, food needs to be both tasty and nutritious. I don’t accept the nutritious without the tasty and likewise, I don’t accept the tasty without the nutritious (empty calories).

Unfortunately, most of today’s mass produced foods are seriously depleted of nutrients and are packed with chemical additives. One such food is bread. Today’s bread is a mass produced product that is reliant on various biochemical processes, with an increase use of genetically modified compounds.

The grain used in industry bakery is specially milled to smash apart the carbohydrates it contains, reducing the nutritional quality of the grain but increasing the capacity of the flour to absorb water and be processed faster by the yeast and enzymes. At least 90% of the nutritional value is lost during due to a depleted soil and modern processing. (Proper growing and milling methods are necessary to preserve nutrients and prevent rancidity.) Also, as many of these chemicals and enzymes are classed as “baking aids”, not ingredients so they don’t have to be declared on the labelling of the bread products.

10 things WRONG with modern Industrial Bread.

1. Additives

  • Bleach: Freshly milled flour has a yellowish tint and a poor baking quality. Chlorine dioxide and benzoyl peroxide are used to bleach flour. Chlorine dioxide also matures the flour and forms compounds such dichlorostearic acid that remain in the flour. Chlorine dioxide destroys Vitamin E and reacts with certain proteins to form methionine sulfoxide, which is known to cause central nervous system damage in humans.
  • Doug conditioners: also called maturing agents. They improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of bread. Most common: sodium stearoyl 2 lactylate, calcium stearoyl lactate, barley malt, ethoxylated and succinylated monoglycerides and polysorbate 60
  • Emulsifiers: enable the dough to hold more gas and therefore grow bigger, make the crumb softer, and reduce the rate at which the bread goes stale.
  • Reducing agent: for example L-cysteine hydrochloride (E920). Cysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid used in baking to create a stretchier dough. It may be derived from animal hair and feathers or human hair (cheapest source). Keratinous protein from human hair is extracted using hydrochloric acid and water. After several days, the keratin becomes L-cysteine.
  • Preservatives: used to prolong shelf life (eg calcium propionate and vinegar).

2. Too much salt. This results in increased risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases. Also salt is considered an ageing agent for the human body.

3. Hidden trans fats
. Hydrogenated fats are hard fats and when added to bread, they work with the gluten to create a stiff dough that will rise very quickly and retain its structure during the baking and cooling processes.

4. Overuse of yeasts
. Industrial bread uses 2-3 times the usual amount of yeast compared to traditional bakers. This creates more gas, and therefore a spongy leaf. The overuse of yeast is linked with the increased yeast intolerance seen in the current population (irritable bowels, rashes, candidiasis). Another concern is the genetic modification of yeast, which makes bread rise more quickly.

Dubious enzymes: Enzymes are proteins that speed up metabolic reactions and can be extracted from plant, animal, fungal and bacterial sources. Loads of enzymes are used in baking. Since they are called “processing aids”, they don’t need to be declared on product labels. Many bakery enzymes can be allergenic. Moreover, genetically modified enzymes can be added to bread to help to keep the moisture longer (which is why bread becomes hard after few days). Genetically modified enzymes are not declared on the label.

6. Pesticides residues
: Contemporary farming uses pesticides, many of which act as xeno-oestrogens. Xeno-oestrogens have been speculated to be one of the reasons why now a days girls and boys enter puberty earlier than in the past. They have also been linked to increased infertility and hormone-related cancers. The most common pesticides detected in bread are chlormequat ( a plant growth regulator used on various crops), glyphosate (used as a desiccant), malathion (insecticide), and pirimiphos-methyl (insecticide).

7. Grains are highly addictive
, due to some opioid-like substances and their impact on Insulin may lead to Insulin resistance and relates diseases such as Obesity and Diabetes.

8. Grains are digested with great difficulty
and only after many hours following ingestion; their impact on Insulin may lead to Insulin resistance and related diseases such as Obesity and Diabetes. Other diseases associated with grain consumption are arthritis, allergies, intestinal disorders, and celiac disorder.

9. Environmental damage
: Production of crops destroys vast landscapes.
Doug Graham, renowned author and foremost expert of raw food and fitness says: “Monocultures are devastating to the environment. Essentially the grain farmer creates a dead zone wherein all the forms of life are denied access, other than the grain crop itself. Without trees and wetlands, the land becomes prone to dust storms, erosion and nutrient depletion”.

10. Is it vegan?
Doug Graham offers this shocking data: “Close to 90% of all grain grown world-wide is used to feed livestock. People purchase 10% of the grains grown, and use it for food, however they provide farmers with more than 90% of their income. Farmers pay roughly $2/lb of grain, whereas people pay an average of $4/lb of grain. This means that the 10% people buy for consumption is paying for the 90%fed to livestock.” “Therefore, even if you are vegan, each time you purchase grains you are supporting the livestock industry, and all the related industries such as dairy, veal, poultry, etc.”

So next time you buy a sandwich or you go for pizza, take a second to meditate on the information I have just shared with you. Look at the piece of bread or cake you are about to eat, I challenge you: what do you really see in it? Is it the taste worth your health?

If so I cherish you. If not, I congratulate on you for choosing your health interest over a moment of pleasure.

Health is the ultimate pleasure.

Lets go for a piece of fruit instead, shall we?

Dr Stefania Licari

Medical Doctor

Adventure ultra- Runner

Special Thanks to Doug Graham (author of “80-10-10 Diet”) for his precious contribution for points 10,11.

I can not recommend enough his valuable book “The grain Damage”.

Also highly recommended “Improving on Pritikin” by Ross Horne

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Mt Everest

Another contribution to organic athletes website

Let the Mountains Touch Your Heart
Submitted by StefaniaLicari on June 8, 2009 - 13:45.

….A trek up to Everest on a mangoes mono-diet
I had never thought about Mt Everest before but I had been dreaming of Tibet for years. For some reason, Tibet represented the ultimate spiritual journey. So here we are, I book my trip to Lhasa and I include Mt Everest- and why not if I have to go all the way to base camp, I might as well go further. I find out that the highest point you can go without being a serious climber (rock, ice climbing) is Camp 3, and my climbing experience are limited to rope climbing a very few times below 4000m.
Camp 3 is an area where advanced Base Camp is located and the altitude of the area is between 6340m and 7100m. What I didn’t know was that I would have found extreme weather conditions (warm days but freezing -20 C nights), very challenging terrain and painfully uncomfortable camping. Toss that in with dry air, frequent headaches, occasional dizziness and one major episode of sickness in the middle of the night.
Also what I didn’t know was that I would have had the chance to be in one of the most scenic and stunning places of the world. And it really touched my heart.
Tom (a Swedish guy) and I made our way to Camp 3 6370m over a period of 9 days starting from Base Camp (5020m). Our Tibetan support team included: a guide, a cook, a yak man and 3 strong yaks who kindly carried our rack-sacs, tents, food supplies up to camp 2. As almost a fruitarian (my diet consists mainly of fruits, plus veggies and nuts) I had to ask the tour company to provide fresh fruits for me. The kind yaks carried for me 50 kg of mangoes (for purpose of understanding I have to make the point that mango is truly my favourite food and also I thought it would be the best to tolerate altitude stress) and I had 5 kg of mangoes a day for the entire trip up to final destination. In the evening I would also have some vegetables.
Only at the very end my team came out of the shock of seeing somebody eating so many mangoes, and actually be happy! To me that was paradise, can you imagine a better reward after an intense trekking day than your favourite food over and over again?
The trekking was a serious struggle, and we really found the terrain quite challenging. To understand the reason of such a shortness of breath while trekking or running in Mt Everest, we need to go back to our physiology books and have a look at what happens when we go so high.
Not only there are major kinds of environmental stress, such as the extreme weather conditions and the dry air that can result in rapid dehydration, but the most significant factor is that the air pressure is much lower at the higher altitude due to the fact that the atmosphere is less dense, that means that air molecules are farther apart. At 5500m (Camp 1 Everest) for instance the atmospheric pressure is less than half of that at sea level! While at sea level oxygen can easily pass through the lung membranes into the blood stream, at high altitudes, the lower air pressure makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter our vascular system, which results in hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). Symptoms of high altitude include loss of appetite, distorted vision, difficulty in memorizing and thinking clearly, headache, dizziness, vomiting, nightmares, restless sleep etc. In serious cases, pulmonary edema and cerebral edema might occur due to an abnormal accumulation of fluid respectively in the lungs and around the brain. These can be quickly fatal and the only real treatment is descending to lower altitude as soon as possible.
The current scientific thinking is that generic inheritance is responsible for altitude sickness. Those who have low expression levels of the PDP2 gene generally have more severe symptoms. This gene codes for protein that assists in the conversion of food into fuel and seems linked with response to altitude.
When going up, our clever body responds with some physiological and anatomical changes (acclimatisation) that occur over a matter of days or weeks and let crazy people like me to go up and still be good enough to take pictures or test a bit of running. Fundamentally there is an increase on the respiratory rate and the pulse rate due to the decreased oxygen pressure. In more detailed terms this can be explained by looking at the alveolar gas equation (PA02= Pi02- PAC02/R)* that helps to understand the gas exchanges at the level of the lungs membranes. The hyperventilation will result in decreased C02 which will help to maintain the ratio close to normal level.
Are there any good points to extreme altitude? Why do some athletes choose to go and train at high altitudes? Despite an initial drop in fitness when exposed to altitude, physiological changes including the production of more red cells to facilitate the transport of oxygen and an increase in the lungs capability, cause athletes and non athletes happily experience an improvement in their performances when they go back to sea level.
So the struggle is worth for the views, the spiritual experience, and the increased fitness when back home.
Did I get fitter? I am sure I did, if it was not that on my flight back I stopped in Delhi and I caught the “Delhi belly” so no running for a bit.
There is an advert of a snack bar that says “nothing can weigh you down, when you are at the top of the world.” I went to Mt Everest with the idea that it would have been a great achievement, that I would have felt stronger and bigger when at the top - a bit of an ego trip. But we never get from our travelling what we “plan” or expect to, especially when we go into them with an open heart and an open mind- open to understanding, and perhaps to big changes. I went to Mt Everest with a clear intent, and came down with a totally different result - something much more rewarding, something I was not even aware I was capable of.
I went up to 6370 m with the idea to get all pampered up about how good I was, and what I found at the top instead, was that the only big favour I could do to myself was opening my eyes and my heart and drop my expectations and my big ego trips and embrace the humbleness that Tibetan people so genuinely express in every single act.
I had the realisation that compassion is the key to a better world, that achievements (such as climbing, running…etc…) don’t make you a better person per se, don’t give you any merit when they are ego based. We need to learn how to live in symbiosis with humans and other creatures, we need to speak words of wisdom, we need to nourish and express true compassion. The world if full of ego centred super-achievers, by going up to Mt Everest I wanted to give myself something new: its not about achievement this time, I am here as a learner, a listener, a disciple. What a real empowering experience.
* PAO2= Pio2 –PaCO2/R R= coefficient factorPiO2= Fi02 (Pb-47mmHg) at sea level
PAO2= alveolar P02 calculated using R 0.8 except at the very summit of Everest (over 8000m) where R is 0.84Pi02 pressure of inspired oxygen in the tracheaFi02 is fraction of inspired oxygen 0.21 at any altitudePAC02 is arterial PC02 assumed =alveolar C02


Friday, 3 April 2009

Diet drinks

Today topic is Diet Drinks.

Zero Calories drinks: serial killers.

One of my ex flatmates used to drink more than a litre of Diet Coke a day.
He would wake up and rush to the fridge to swallow down a quarter of a diet drink as first thing in the morning. And, he is a very moody guy.
Any thing I said to him were words to the wind- so I would just observe.
Its very hard to talk to people who are addicted to substances, I learnt. And I am afraid those substances include diet drinks or diet foods.
What was it in that Diet Coke that would make him drink it like water?
One day he came to me and said proudly “look at this” as he showed to me this can of Coke. The writing said “Zero Calories”. Great, I thought, so now that he is not having even those 50 Kcal per bottle, he will be drinking countless litres a day.
So he did indeed. He bought the product on the market together with its promise: drink it as much as you want, there are no calories here: Zero! Zero!
But is health and nutrition all about Calories? What is inside those drinks? We are saving the sugar, but are we taking any other risks? And most of all, are we aware of them?
Are those drinks really addictive? What kind of addiction? Psychological, physical?
Does Our Government protect us? What about the well-known American FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) that is supposed to look after the safety of what we buy?
Are we save? Are our children safe? Or in order to spare some Calories, are we simply drinking to our own death?
Diet drinks and foods contain artificial sweeteners, which have been on the market since 1983 when aspartame- the first one- was launched. In a matter of few years, aspartame would be found in more than 9,000 products.
The introduction of aspartame cleverly responded to the increase in the average body size, especially in the US and to the panicking desire to cut off calories from the diet.
Shrink yourself – no matter what.
The introduction of artificial sweeteners did not lead to a decrease in the obesity, but instead, it has been followed by a worrying increase in the rate of brain tumours and neurological disorders. Yes, you understood well: tumours and neurological diseases, such as paralysis and multiple sclerosis. And just to mention few more: eyes bleeding, seizures, loss of short-term memory, fatigue, headache, and mood swings.
Here the wonder: was my flatmate naturally moody or was that 1-2 Litres of Diet Coke a day that was making him so up and down and occasionally aggressive in his behaviour?
So I investigated.
Aspartame is made of aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%) and methyl esther (10%).
Aspartic acid is an excito-toxin, similar in its effects to the well-known MSG (which causes mental retardation); phenylalanine is an amino acid (normally in food amino acids are present maximum as 40%, in the aspartame composition the normal ratio is dangerously changed) and methyl esther gets converted into methanol, which is highly toxic for the body.
On over all, aspartame acts at the level of synaptic transmission (= transmission between neurons, nerves, organs), the synthesis of DNA and proteins. Or in other words, you save the sugar and the Calories, but you get the toxic effects on your organs, in particular your brain and your nervous system.
Highly recommended is the video Sweet Misery edited in 2006: a lady from Arizona, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, came across an article mentioning the damage caused by aspartame, so she made her research around the country, interviewing doctors and investigating on the FDA.
Because at the end of the day the question is: how can we be safe? Is the government protecting us? In this truly shocking video you will be presented a very unpleasant truth about the corruption around the approval of aspartame.
Check it out, you will be hit painfully. And I guarantee that you won’t reach for that diet drink this time, while watching this video.
I reckon, we stay away from any thing that we can’t pronounce, let alone understand.

Choose a healthy fruit juice next time, get some nice natural sugar to fuel your cells, and balance your daily Calories account with some serious physical activity, not the illusion sold with poisoning diet beverages.

Happy health to all,
Dr Stefania Licari, MD