The Okinawa Effect

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN

Does your food talk to you? Maybe, it doesn’t audibly yell at you, or whisper sweet nothings, in your ear; but, the fruit, meats, and vegetables that we eat every day have a message to tell us. We are only now beginning to realise what birds, bees, and even other cultures have known for centuries: that help for many of our society’s most debilitating illnesses can be found right in the flora and fauna around us.

Scientists have come to realise that we share much in common with our foods. They are made of the same building blocks as we are. Plants, for instance, often contain hormone-like substances that are similar to our own. They, like us, need to protect themselves from predators and kill bacteria and fungi. They need to reproduce, just as we do.

Did you know that plants can change their nutritional content, depending on whether we’re experiencing a feast, or famine? Normally, certain plants produce many hormones that enhance the fertility of the animals that eat them. However, when food is scarce in the environment, these plants somehow know to reduce their hormone levels. Research on quail and other birds has shown that their fertility cycles are controlled by the plants they feed on, which are, again, influenced by the wetness, or dryness of the season. In this way, the vegetables we consume every day give us a message, a kind of history — of the state of our environment.

Silent, Ethereal Language

Like a silent, ethereal language that unites all forms of life, the Earth has developed a remarkable communication system that exchanges information about the state of the seasons and our surroundings — of environmental health risks and hazards. So, the crisp lettuce, tender string beans, and tangy red peppers sitting on our plate every night are actually sending us a message that’s important news about our own life cycle.

In ages past, people’s dietary needs were fulfilled by what they could harvest from the soil and hunt from surrounding animal populations. Today, we live in a global community. Because, we have altered our natural environment, and most of us now live in cities where we buy food at supermarkets, we are much less influenced by season, climate, or geography. This is not necessarily a bad thing. With our growing knowledge of the body and its intricate functioning, we can utilise plants and herbs from around the world to balance our hormones consciously.

One of the most powerful and fascinating of plant ingredients available today are isoflavones, a plant hormone in the soybean that has been found to profoundly influence our hormone cycles and health.

You may be surprised to learn just how powerful and yet gentle plant hormones are. If oestrogen has been a failed miracle pill, then phytohormones [plant hormones] are the true miracles, made in nature’s own garden. One of nature’s most important plant hormones is found in the unglamorous little soybean. Soy contains phytoestrogens, or weak plant oestrogens, such as genistein and daidzin [Some researchers even regard them as anti-oestrogens because they compete with oestrogens in the body, reducing the effects of our own powerful hormones]. These nutrients can reduce menopausal and PMS symptoms. Even more impressive, they can also lower the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and even cancer.

Sounds too good to be true? Their powers lie in their gentleness and their remarkable ability to adapt to your body’s particular needs. Phytoestrogens latch on to the same receptor sites as oestrogen from

your body and may actually help prevent hormonally linked cancers. Like a light switch, they can both turn on oestrogenic effects, and turn them off, depending on what your body needs. 

Soy Ahoy

Not only can this phytoestrogen found in soy repair both the deficiency of oestrogen involved in menopause and the excess that causes premenstrual syndrome [PMS], but exciting studies like one in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that it might be an effective treatment against breast cancer. Cultures that consume a great deal of soy suffer far less heart disease and cancer.

Consider the women of Okinawa, an idyllic oasis of subtropical islands, located southeast of Japan. These remarkably healthy females have less breast cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis than any other population in the Western world. Early menopause is almost a foreign word to them, and PMS is virtually unheard of. In contrast, currently, heart disease is the number #1 killer of American women over fifty, and it is projected that almost 65 million would suffer from a difficult menopause by 2020, one out of eight will get breast cancer in their lifetime, and one out of three women will suffer from hip fracture due to osteoporosis by the age of ninety.

What secret do Okinawan women possess that protects them from the diseases so common to Westerners? The right diet. It also turns out that Okinawans eat an incredibly varied diet, and one of the most important ingredients in that diet is soy. It has the amazing ability to work subtly, without significantly altering our body’s machine-like precision, yet powerfully adapting to almost any hormonal problem it finds.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEIN, DO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing AsthmaYour Asthma-Free ChildThe Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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