How to use EFT to aid weight loss

By naturopath Robyn Chuter

As discussed in my article How to make an ‘obese brain’; just add saturated fat, researchers believe that a diet high in saturated fat may cause permanent changes in the brain, driving cravings for high-kilojoule foods that sabotage the efforts of overweight people to lose weight and keep it off for good.

That’s a depressing thought, but given the burgeoning research into neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to change its structure and function depending on what we habitually think and feel, and what tasks we assign it, we may have cause for optimism after all.

My own experience in working with people who’ve battled with their weight over many years, suggests that cravings for unhealthy foods can definitely be abolished, and a preference for health-promoting foods firmly established, by using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

You can learn the basic EFT (‘tapping’) routine in this video.

How I use EFT to aid weight loss

1) Tap on cravings for unhealthy foods. When doing cravings tapping, I encourage clients to really get into the nitty gritty about the foods they desire: their appearance, smell, taste, texture and mouthfeel; how they feel when they contemplate eating that food; and how they would feel if they were prevented from eating that food (murderous impulses surface at times, at this point :)).

2) Tap on memories associated with the unhealthy food you crave. I often find that the foods people crave, were given to them when they were children by adults with whom they had a special, loving connection. No wonder they crave those foods when they are feeling down now – the memory of receiving love, affection and approval from their favourite uncle, granny or babysitter is strongly associated with the memory of the chocolates, cakes or sweets that loved one gave them!

3) Tap on negative associations with dieting, food deprivation and poor body image. I have lost count of the number of female clients I’ve seen, who were ‘put on a diet’ when they were pre-teen or even younger, by well-meaning but somewhat insensitive parents!

The shame, isolation, self-judgment and sense of deprivation felt by a child whose access to food is restricted in this way, is truly devastating. It often triggers an urge to rebel which results in a pattern of self-sabotage that persists into adult life.

Many of my female clients also report witnessing their mothers criticising their own bodies, and following extreme weight loss diets. These negative experiences leave a deep imprint on impressionable young brains, which fortunately is highly correctable with EFT.

4) Tap on aversions to healthy food. Dislike of health-promoting foods often has its roots in early-life experiences – and these too are amenable to tapping. Many of my clients have memories of being forced to eat everything on their plate even when they were full, or were repulsed by the food.

Others recall being made to eat their Brussels sprouts, while another family member (usually Dad) left them on his plate and still got ice cream for dessert! A rankling sense of injustice and the desire to rebel often lingers after experiences like these, creating a deep psychological aversion to eating healthy foods such as vegetables and salads.

5) Create a vision of your future self and tap on your resistance to realising that vision. A funny thing often happens when you imagine your future self – healthy, vibrant, at your ideal weight, finding it easy to consistently make good choices with food, not even tempted to eat junk – along with the excitement about achieving your goal, often comes some trepidation.

In EFT circles, we call these ‘yes-buts’:

‘Yes, I could lose weight, but then my overweight friends might get jealous and reject me.’

‘Yes, I’d love to choose healthy foods, but might I not feel deprived if I give up my ice cream?’

‘Yes, I’d love to get into exercise, slim down and tone up, but how will I handle it if I start getting more attention from the opposite sex?’

These ‘yes-buts’ are highly tappable issues, and once we collapse them with EFT, weight loss often proceeds at a truly startling rate.


Baba Ganoush

Pair perfectly with falafels in a wrap, through pasta or enjoy with crackers and veggie sticks. This dip freezes well and is very versatile for an easy entertaining idea.

By Cassie Heneghan

2 x large eggplants, washed, halved
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp flaked salt
1 head of Australian garlic
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp white pepper

1. Preheat a fan forced oven to 160C.
2. In a bowl, toss the eggplants in the oil and salt. Place them cut side down on a large baking tray. It is okay if they are touching. Bake for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 20 minutes.
3. At the same time, wrap up the head of garlic in aluminium foil and place onto the racks in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes.
4. Using a spoon, scoop the eggplant flesh out of the eggplant and into a bowl. Do the same with half of the garlic. You should be able to squeeze the base of each clove and the creamy garlic will burst from the top.
5. Add the tahini, lemon juice, paprika and pepper. Place all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until it is soon and consistent. If it isn’t coming together, add a teaspoon of boiling water at a time until it becomes smooth and creamy.


How to make an ‘obese brain’; just add saturated fat

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter

  • Saturated fat is derived primarily from animal products, but also occurs in high amounts in coconut and palm oils.
  • Saturated fat may damage a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and learning.
  • The type of damage inflicted also affects the ability to self-regulate food intake, leading to a downward spiral of food cravings and weight gain.
  • EFT is a form of therapy that has been found to be highly successful at overcoming these cravings.
The latest diet craze, the Paleo Diet, urges its followers to load up on saturated fat, found in animal flesh, eggs and dairy products, and a handful of plant products such as coconut oil.Paleo writers extol the virtues of saturated fat, claiming that its consumption is absolutely necessary for good health and weight loss.But if you’re tempted to jump on the Paleo diet bandwagon, think twice: all that saturated fat can cause a phenomenon dubbed ‘the obese brain’, destroying your ability to regulate the amount you eat, and sabotaging your weight loss goals.

First, a little background on 2 aspects of the anatomy of your brain:

1) The blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is comprised of specially modified blood vessel cells that act like a filter, keeping potentially harmful substances circulating in the blood away from brain cells, while facilitating the passage of glucose, hormones, oxygen and other substances vital to the brain’s function.

2) The hippocampus. This seahorse-shaped part of the brain is crucially involved in memory and learning, and also in our response to stress. It forms a component of the limbic system, the brain’s emotion centre.

Now for the really scary part: Recently-published research (1) on the impact of saturated fat consumption on the brain indicates that this type of fat damages the blood-brain barrier, allowing toxins into the brain which impair the function of the hippocampus. The result of this damage is impaired learning and memory – and a vicious circle of overeating and weight gain.

The research was conducted on rats, whose blood-brain barrier and hippocampal function is essentially the same ways as humans’. The rats were initially fed on standard low-fat ‘lab chow’, while receiving training in several learning and memory tasks, some of which involved the hippocampus.

After the training phase, the rats were divided into 2 groups. One group was fed low-fat lab chow ad libitum (i.e. as much as they wanted), while the other group was offered food high in saturated fat, again ad libitum.

Some of the rats in the high saturated fat-fed group became obese while some did not; lead researcher, Terry Davidson, points out that just like humans, some rats have a preference for high-fat food and will gorge on it when it’s offered to them, while other rats (and humans) don’t.

When the researchers presented the rats with the learning and memory problems again, they found that the rats who became obese on the high saturated fat diet, performed much more poorly than the non-obese rats did on the hippocampal-dependent learning problem. Their performance on the learning task that did not involve the hippocampus was unaffected.

This decline in memory and learning ability was attributed to damage inflicted on the hippocampus by impaired blood-brain barrier function in the rats who had become obese on the high saturated fat diet. Davidson commented,

“We have compelling evidence that overconsumption of a high fat diet damages or alters the blood-brain barrier. Now we are interested in the fact that substances that are not supposed to get to the brain are getting to it because of this breakdown. You start throwing things into the brain that don’t belong there, and it makes sense that brain function would be affected” (2).


What this means for overweight humansIn a nutshell, what the research indicates is that diets high in saturated fat are not only obesigenic (obesity-causing) in susceptible individuals; they also cause changes to the brains of obese people that in turn may fuel overconsumption of high-fat foods, making weight loss nigh on impossible.Lead researcher Terry Davidson, who is the director of American University’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, summarises the implications of his study for humans:
“What I think is happening is a vicious cycle of obesity and cognitive decline… you eat the high fat/high calorie diet and it causes you to overeat because this inhibitory system [i.e. the ability to inhibit overeating by recognising when you’ve had enough] is progressively getting fouled up. And unfortunately, this inhibitory system is also for remembering things and suppressing other kinds of thought interference [i.e. thoughts of high-calorie food that pop unbidden into your mind – generally as soon as you commit to your new weight-loss plan!].” (2).
There is strong evidence that the results of this animal study probably do apply to humans: people who are obese in mid-life are a whopping 74% more likely to develop dementia as they age (3), and shrinkage of the hippocampus is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (4).

Davidson suggests that the difficulty formerly obese people have in maintaining weight loss, could be partly due to permanent changes in the brain as a result of eating a saturated fat-rich, obesigenic diet for many years.

Now, if you’ve been overweight for years and you’re starting to feel just a little depressed about your prospects of permanent weight loss, I have some good news for you: there is an effective therapy that can literally rewire the brain, dramatically reduce levels of the hormone cortisol, which in excess causes the hippocampus to shrink, and completely transform your emotional response to the unhealthy foods you crave. Read all about it in my article Rewiring the ‘Obese Brain‘.


5 reasons to think twice before taking blood pressure drugs

By Robyn Chuter

  • High blood pressure dramatically increases the risk of stroke, kidney damage, eye disease and dementia.
  • Various classes of blood pressure medications have side effects including an increased risk of diabetes, cardiac arrhythmias, and lung cancer.
  • Even if antihypertensives successfully lower blood pressure, they aren’t very effective at preventing strokes and heart attacks in most people.
  • Aggressive lowering of blood pressure in people who have coronary artery disease dramtically increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and dying from it.

High blood pressure (hypertension) kills. It is the most significant risk factor for stroke and congestive heart failure; in fact, people with high blood pressure have 4 times the risk of stroke compared to people with normal blood pressure.

In addition, it accelerates the build-up of atherosclerosis, a fatty plaque lining the artery walls, and increases the likelihood that one of these plaques will rupture, triggering a heart attack or embolic (clotting) stroke.

High blood pressure also damages the kidneys, and since the kidneys play a huge role in regulating blood pressure, this damage generates a vicious circle of escalating blood pressure and organ destruction, which may eventually result in kidney failure and the need for dialysis.

The tiny arteries feeding the eyes can rupture due to the effects of constant high blood pressure, causing blurred vision and even blindness.

And high blood pressure accelerates dementia.

So high blood pressure obviously requires urgent treatment. But are prescription drugs the answer?

All classes of antihypertensive (blood pressure-lowering) drugs present serious hazards, including these:

#1. Diuretics (commonly used as first-line therapy in hypertension) increase the risk of developing diabetes and arrhythmias.

An analysis of 22 clinical trials including 143 153 participants who were free of diabetes at enrolment, found that those who were prescribed a diuretic (such as Moduretic, Chlotride or Lasix) had a significantly higher likelihood of developing diabetes (1). Having diabetes dramatically increases your risk of both stroke and heart disease – the very conditions that antihypertensive medications are intended to reduce!

Diuretics can also cause abnormal heart rhythms (known as arrhythmias) which increase the risk of sudden cardiac death (2).

#2. Beta blockers (also commonly used as first-line therapy in hypertension) also increase diabetes risk, increase the risk of stroke and death in newly-diagnosed diabetics, and DO NOT lower the risk of either complications or death in simple hypertension.

Beta blockers (such as Inderal, Visken and Betaloc) raise the risk of developing diabetes by around 30%, with the risk rising the longer you stay on them (3). Since patients are usually told they will have to take antihypertensives for the rest of their lives, this should give serious pause for thought.

Beta blockers are commonly prescribed to lower heart rate in patients at high risk of heart attack, but a metanalysis of over 70 000 such patients found that those heart rate was lowered the most by beta blockers, had the greatest risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and death (4).

Beta blockers DO NOT prevent heart failure in people with high blood pressure, and compared to other classes of antihypertensives, they raise the risk of stroke by 19% in elderly patients (3).

The authors of a major review on beta blockers concluded that

“despite the blood pressure lowering effect, beta-blockers have little, if any, efficacy in reducing stroke and MI [heart attack] in hypertensive patients as was shown in a variety of prospective, randomized trials and meta-analyses” (3).

#3. Calcium channel blockers dramatically increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, especially when combined with diuretics.

The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study tracked over 30 000 women with hypertension but no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and compared the outcomes of women on a variety of different antihypertensive medications.

Women treated with calcium channel blockers (such as Norvasc, Adalat and Isoptin) alone had a 55% greater chance of dying from CVD than women treated with diuretics alone; while those on a combination of a calcium channel blocker plus a diuretic had a massive 85% greater risk of CVD death compared to those treated with a diuretic plus a ß-blocker. Even worse, when women with diabetes were excluded from the analysis, the risk rose to 116% greater! (5).

#4. Angiotensin receptor blockers increase cancer risk.

Angiotensin receptor blockers (such as Neosartan, Micardis and Pritor) affect hormone receptors involved in several factors relating to cancer growth: regulation of cell proliferation, angiogenesis (the development of a new blood supply, allowing a tumour to grow), and tumour progression. Researchers found an 11% increased risk of cancer in patients who had been on an angiotensin receptor blocker for at least 1 year, while lung cancer risk was 25% higher (6).

Old fashioned drug bottle with label, isolated, clipping path.
#5. Over-aggressive treatment of high blood pressure by any drug increases the risk of death in people with coronary artery disease (which is virtually everyone over the age of 60 who has eaten the typical Australian diet).

An analysis of 22 576 patients with hypertension and coronary artery disease found that the patients whose diastolic blood pressure was lowered to 60-70 mm Hg had almost double the risk of death or nonfatal heart attack or stroke compared to those with a diastolic pressure of 80-90 mm Hg, while those diastolic BP was pushed down to 60 mm Hg or less had triple the risk! (7).

Given these extremely worrying findings, what is a person with high blood pressure supposed to do? If you have recently discovered you have high blood pressure but are not yet on medication, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of adopting a comprehensive blood pressure lowering program, incorporating dietary change, regular exercise and stress management.

Many of my clients have achieved phenomenal results after just a couple of weeks on my program, lowering their blood pressure to the point where their GP told them they no longer needed medication.

Obviously, if you are already on blood pressure medication, you cannot simply stop taking it abruptly. I advise clients who are taking antihypertensives to buy a home blood pressure monitor when they commence my blood pressure-lowering program. They take their BP regularly, present the results to their GP, and as their blood pressure drops (which it invariably does), the GP can gradually reduce their antihypertensive medication.

Several of my clients have experienced such dramatic drops in blood pressure that they had to halve their medication in the first week of following the program, because their blood pressure dropped uncomfortably low!

The bottom line: if you have high blood pressure, you need to be on an integrated program that addresses all the factors that cause blood pressure to rise in the first place, and therefore lowers your risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke – not a drug that simply forces your blood pressure down, while increasing your risk of dying!



Vegan Coconut Spiced Lentils

With just a hint of chilli, this is the perfect winter warmer. It’s easy on the wallet and the waist line and even reheats well for tomorrow’s lunch

By Cassie Heneghan


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2cm piece ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, ground
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, ground
  • 1 tsp flaked salt
  • 1 birds eye chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1 x kaffir lime leaf
  • 3/4 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp moist shredded coconut
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp coconut cream
  • 1 x bunch coriander, roughly chopped, to serve
  • juice of 1 lime, to serve

1. Using a 2 litre saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat and then add the onion, garlic and ginger and saute for 5 minutes or until golden. Add the spices and lime leaf and stir through, constantly for 2 minutes.

2. Add the lentils, coconut and stock and allow to simmer over low, stirring every 3 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the lentils are cooked. Approximately 20 minutes.

3. Stir through the coconut milk and serve into bowls. Top with coriander and lime juice.


Fish: The Untold Story

By Robyn Chuter

  • Fish consumption has been linked in epidemiological research to a higher risk of breast cancer and heart disease.
  • Fish is the major dietary source of exposure to persistent organic pollutants which are linked to diverse health issues including impaired immune function, liver damage and Parkinson’s disease.
  • In most people, fish consumption is the major source of mercury exposure. Mercury is a neurotoxin linked with anxiety, attention deficit, and dementia.
  • Antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are found in farmed fish, as they are in other intensively-reared animals.

When I counsel clients seeking weight loss, disease prevention or reversal, improved mood – and anything else they want to fix – to cut down on or entirely eliminate their animal product consumption, most can accept pretty easily that the great weight of scientific evidence supports this advice.

But then the question always comes up: “What about fish? Isn’t fish good for me?”

In the past I used to recommend moderate fish and seafood consumption for those who still wanted to include some animal foods in their diet, figuring it was safer than chicken or meat.

I no longer give that advice, and here’s why:

Over the years, numerous large, well-designed studies have indicated that fish consumption poses significant risks to health. But none of these studies have received widespread coverage in the popular media, which constantly pushes the line that fish is heart-healthy, an excellent source of omega 3 fats, and a good source of lean protein.

What risks were found? Well, how about a roughly 50% higher risk of breast cancer in women who eat the most fish, compared to women who eat little or no fish (1)?

Or a 2-fold higher risk of heart attack and a 2.9-fold higher risk of cardiovascular death in men with a high intake of nonfatty freshwater fish (2)?

Or a 30% higher risk of coronary death in Finnish male smokers with the highest intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish (3)?

What’s in fish that makes it a health risk?

1) Persistent organic pollutants (POPs):

The world’s oceans are now brimming with toxic chemicals such as PCBs, dioxins and dieldrin. Some of these are no longer in use (such as PCBs and dieldrin, whose prodution was banned in 2001 because of their adverse health effects), yet they remain in our environment because they strongly resist biodegradation.

They get into the ocean either through direct discharge from factories, or by contaminating ground water or river water that eventually ends up in the ocean. There they are absorbed by phytoplankton, which are eaten by zooplankton, which are eaten by tiny fish, which are eaten by bigger fish, and so on and on, up the food chain.

These contaminants are fat-soluble, so they concentrate in the fatty tissues of the animals that eat them, and biomagnify (reach higher and higher concentrations in animals) at every step up the food chain.

Humans are at the top of the food chain, so every time we eat fish, we’re copping the full load of contaminants that that fish has accumulated over its lifetime.

So what’s the problem with that?

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are endocrine (hormone) disrupters that cause liver damage; interfere with normal sexual development within the womb, impair immune function, motor skills and short-term memory in babies whose mothers ate fish high in PCBs; and increase the risk of liver, biliary tract and breast cancer (4).

Dioxins also cause liver damage, are endocrine disrupters and probable carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). They adversely affect metabolism of haem (the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells), serum lipid levels, sperm count and motility, and the function of the thyroid gland and immune system, and may cause diabetes (5).

European researchers concluded that

“… if the recommended LC n-3 PUFAs [long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid – i.e. DHA and EPA] intake would be based on fish consumption as the only extra source, the majority of the study population would exceed the proposed health based guidance values for dioxins and dioxin-like substances.” (6)

Dieldrin is linked with the development of Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, and immune, reproductive, and nervous system damage. Male babies born to women who were exposed to dieldrin during pregnancy have a higher risk of undescended testes (7).


Farmed_vs_wild_salmon_contaminantsThe chart at left shows levels of some POP contaminants found in wild-caught (green bars) and farmed (red bars) salmon (8). As you can see, farmed salmon has higher levels of all of these contaminants than wild salmon.

However, exposure to any amount of these contaminants is risky, particularly as there is no research on the combined effects of these chemicals. Toxicology tests only investigate the effects of one chemical at a time, but many toxic substances have a synergistic effect – that is, exposure to very small amounts of multiple chemicals may cause just as much harm as a large exposure to just one chemical, especially if those small exposures are repeated on a regular basis… such as eating a can of salmon several times per week.

As the researchers who produced the chart concluded,

“Risk analysis indicates that consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption” (8).

2) Mercury:

All fish and seafood contain methylmercury, and most of the mercury load in most people’s bodies comes from fish consumption, not amalgam fillings or thiomersal, the mercury-containing preservative used in many vaccines (9, 10).

Mercury is linked with infertility, neurological and mental disorders (including anxiety, attention deficit, and dementia), high blood pressure and endocrine disorders; and mercury levels are also strongly correlated with the risk of heart attack (11, 12, 13, 14, 15).

Mercury levels vary from one fish species to another, with large fish such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel being the most polluted.

But as with the POPs, persistent low-level exposure is just as dangerous as occasional high exposure, because mercury takes months to eliminate from the human body, and if more is ingested before previous doses are eliminated, then it starts to accumulate – particularly in the brain and kidneys.

3) Antibiotic residues and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria:

Like other factory-farmed animals, farmed fish are routinely given antibiotics to prevent infectious diseases from spreading like wildfire through the densely-stocked pens. Residues of these antibiotics contaminate not only the flesh of the farmed fish, but also wild fish and shellfish living in or travelling through the vicinity of the fish farm (16).

Use of antibiotics has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer (17) and prostate cancer (18); chronic low-level intake of antibiotics through the food supply may also be a risk factor for cancer.

Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria including E. coli, Salmonella, and Serratia species bacteria cause food poisoning, respiratory diseases and urinary tract infections.

Furthermore, antibiotic-resistant bacteria can transfer the genes that confer their antibiotic resistance to other bacteria – including ones living in your body, making these formerly harmless bacteria capable of causing serious disease for which there may be no effective treatment (16).

The bottom line is, it is simply not worth exposing yourself to the serious, even life-threatening hazards posed by POPs, mercury and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, when every nutrient that fish contains, can be obtained from other, safer food sources that offer a range of beneficial nutrients.

The short-chain omega 3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) occurs in abundance in flaxseeds (also known as linseeds), chia, hemp seed, walnuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and green leafy vegetables. ALA can be converted into the long-chain omega 3s EPA and DHA, which occur in fish, although the efficiency of this conversion varies from person to person. The good fats in these foods come packaged up with cancer-fighting lignans, fibre, and powerful antioxidants, none of which occur in fish.

If you want to safely boost your intake of ready-formed DHA and EPA, you can take a supplement derived from algae. As a matter of fact, that’s where fish get their long chain omega 3 fats. The algae are grown in controlled conditions, ensuring they are free of mercury, POPs and other contaminants. There are many vegan-friendly algal DHA and EPA supplements available, including Opti3, Nuique Omega 3 and Source Naturals Vegan Omega 3s.


Vegan White Chocolate Pistachio Bark

This white chocolate treat is so versatile that you can add almost anything to it. Wrap it in a cellophane bag for a beautiful handmade gift

By Cassie Heneghan

Makes 1 slab


300g vegan white chocolate

1 cup pistachios, roasted, roughly chopped

2 tbsp pink confetti sprinkles

1. Line a baking tray with canola oil spray and baking paper and set aside.

2. Place the chocolate into a heat proof bowl and into the microwave for 1 minute. Stir and place back into the microwave for a further 30 seconds and stir again. Repeat at 30 second intervals if chocolate isn’t melted.

3. Pour the chocolate onto the prepared tray and spread out evenly using a pallet knife. Sprinkle with pistachios and sprinkles and allow to set, approximately 30 minutes.

4. Break into pieces and place into cellophane bags or air tight containers.


Should you get a flu vaccine this winter?

By Robyn Chuter

  • The Cochrane Collaboration is an international, independent, not-for-profit organisation which assesses the published literature (and unpublished trials, when available) to establish a reliable evidence base for the practice of medicine.
  • Separate Cochrane Reviews on flu vaccination for children, healthy adults, the elderly, and health care workers caring for institutionalised elderly people, have concluded that they offer little protection against the flu, and don’t reduce the rate of complications, hospitalisation or worker or student absenteeism.
  • Furthermore, getting the flu vaccine doesn’t prevent the transmission of the influenza virus to other people, so it’s of no benefit for ‘herd immunity’.
  • The researchers found an alarming absence of safety studies in children under two.
  • The researchers were disturbed by the amount of misrepresentation, manipulation of data and outright fraud that they found in drug industry-sponsored trials of flu vaccines.

Winter is finally upon us here in the southern hemisphere, and many of my clients have been asking me about flu vaccination. Fortunately, I don’t have to sift through the scientific literature all by myself to come up with advice on this matter; I can simply quote the findings of the Cochrane Collaboration on influenza vaccination.

For those of you not familiar with the Cochrane Collaboration, it is an international, not-for-profit organisation comprised of independent researchers – that is, they do not receive any funding from commercial sources, instead relying on international government agencies and charitable donations (commercial organisations such as pharmaceutical companies are specifically prohibited from making donations, under the Cochrane Collaboration’s Policy Manual).

The role of the Cochrane Collaboration is to establish an evidence base for health and medical care, by assessing the published literature (and unpublished trials, when available) to determine whether interventions such as surgery, medical drugs and nutritional supplements are effective at treating particular conditions. The work of the Cochrane Collaboration, which is published in Cochrane Reviews, is “internationally recognised as the benchmark for high quality information about the effectiveness of health care.”

So what is the Cochrane Collaboration’s verdict on flu vaccination? Separate Cochrane Reviews have been published on influenza vaccination in:

  • Children,
  • Healthy adults,
  • The elderly, and
  • Health care workers caring for institutionalised elderly people.

In every case, the reviewers concluded that the task of accurately assessing the effectiveness of flu vaccination was made next to impossible by the fact that the studies published by pharmaceutical companies were marred by poor methodological quality, multiple types of bias and in some cases, outright deceit:

“This review includes trials funded by industry. An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry-funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favourable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies.”

Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children

Here is a summary of the key points in each Cochrane Review (quotation marks indicate a direct quote from the review; points without quotation marks are my paraphrases):

  • “Inactivated vaccines in children aged two years or younger are not significantly more efficacious than placebo” – in other words, injecting your child with saline solution would protect them from the flu about as well as a flu vaccine [N.B. all seasonal flu vaccines used in Australia – Fluarix, Fluvax and Vaxigrip/Vaxigrip Junior – are inactivated].
  • “Twenty-eight children over the age of six need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of influenza (infection and symptoms).”
  • Flu vaccination does not prevent the transmission of influenza to others.
  • There is no reliable evidence that giving kids flu shots reduces their number of sickness-related school absences.
  • Flu vaccination does not reduce the rate of lower respiratory tract disease (e.g. pneumonia), drug prescriptions, or middle ear infections (or their consequences or socioeconomic impact).
  • 47% of children given a placebo instead of a vaccine developed an upper respiratory tract infection during the follow-up period, compared to 53-70% of vaccinated children.
  • “One specific brand of monovalent pandemic vaccine is associated with cataplexy [a sudden and transient episode of muscle weakness accompanied by full conscious awareness] and narcolepsy [a chronic neurological disorder inhibiting the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles] in children and there is sparse evidence of serious harms (such as febrile convulsions) in specific situations.”
  • “The main problem we encountered in interpreting studies… was that of high risk of bias: all included studies were poorly reported and contained either contradictions between data in figures, tables and text, or reported implausible events or showed evidence of reporting bias of one sort or another” – in other words, the authors of studies conducted by drug companies fudged data, left out important data, or just made stuff up to make the vaccine look good.
  • Studies reporting that flu vaccination was effective are far more likely to be published than those reporting that it wasn’t; and studies finding that flu vaccines harmed children are far less likely to be published (and therefore don’t come to the attention of doctors or vaccine policy makers).
  • Flu vaccines are not adequately tested for safety before being released onto the market: “This is the case of the 2010 TIV by CSL Ltd used mainly in Australia. One child in every 110, aged below five, vaccinated with the CSL vaccine had a febrile seizure. Australia suspended its use. These episodes highlight the insufficient regulatory attention to potential harms from influenza vaccines in children, as the registration trials for the CSL vaccine had been carried out on 162 children aged up to three years (Collignon 2010).”
  • “It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given current recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months of age in the USA, Canada, parts of Europe and Australia. If immunisation in children is to be recommended as a public health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes, and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required.”
  • That single safety study of inactivated flu vaccine on children under 2 was conducted over 30 years ago (which means the test was done using a different vaccine than those used currently, since seasonal flu vaccines change annually depending on which flu strains are circulating) and in only 35 children! So much for governments’ and doctors’ reassurances that vaccines are safe – how can you possibly know if you haven’t tested them?
  • The report’s authors were clearly concerned that vaccine manufacturers are not disclosing adverse reactions to flu vaccines that occur during clinical trials, as they stated: “Further safety data should also be collected or made available of the safety of vaccines in children, particularly inactivated vaccine in younger children. There is an immediate need to standardise safety outcome data… Honest and full disclosure of all safety data to researchers is also a priority.”
  • And in summary: “National policies for the vaccination of healthy young children are based on very little reliable evidence… Decision makers’ attention to the vaccination of very young children is not supported by the evidence summarised in our review. Although there is a growing body of evidence showing the impact of influenza on hospitalisations and deaths of children, at present we could find no convincing evidence that vaccines can reduce mortality [death], hospital admissions, serious complications or community transmission of influenza.”

(Summarised from the Cochrane Review ‘Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children’.)


Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults

  • “In the relatively uncommon circumstance of vaccine matching the viral circulating strain and high circulation, 4% of unvaccinated people versus 1% of vaccinated people developed influenza symptoms … The corresponding figures for poor vaccine matching [the more common situation] were 2% and 1%.”
  • “… under ideal conditions (vaccine completely matching circulating viral configuration) 33 healthy adults need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms. In average conditions (partially matching vaccine) 100 people need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms.”
  • Flu vaccines reduce the risk of total “clinical” seasonal influenza (i.e. influenza-like illness) symptoms by “around 1%… the effect appears minimal. This is remarkable as healthy adults are the population in which inactivated vaccines perform best.”
  • There was no difference in working days lost to the flu, hospital admissions or flu complication rates – including the risk of pneumonia – between those who received flu shots and those who didn’t.
  • 1.6 additional cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a major neurological condition leading to paralysis) occur for every million flu vaccines administered.
  • The harms inflicted by flu vaccines are poorly understood because of inadequate research and documentation of adverse effects.
  • The situation may be even worse than this report indicates, since “Fifteen of the 36 trials were funded by vaccine companies and four had no funding declaration. Our results may be an optimistic estimate because company-sponsored influenza vaccines trials tend to produce results favorable to their products and some of the evidence comes from trials carried out in ideal viral circulation and matching conditions and because the harms evidence base is limited.”
  • “No RCTs [randomised controlled trials] assessing vaccination in pregnant women were found. The only evidence available comes from observational studies with modest methodological quality. On this basis, vaccination shows very limited effects: NNV [number needed to vaccinate in order to prevent one case] 92 (95% CI 63 to 201) against ILI [influenza-like illness] in pregnant women and NNV 27 (95% CI 18 to 185) against laboratory-confirmed influenza in newborns from vaccinated women.
  • In summary: “The results of this review seem to discourage the utilisation of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure. As healthy adults have a low risk of complications due to respiratory disease, the use of the vaccine may be only advised as an individual protection measure against symptoms in specific cases.”

(Summarised from the Cochrane Reviews ‘Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults’ and the 2014 update to that review.)


Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly

  • “Due to the poor quality of the available evidence, any conclusions regarding the effects of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older cannot be drawn.”
  • “Our findings show that according to reliable evidence, the effectiveness of trivalent inactivated influenza vaccines in elderly individuals is modest, irrespective of setting, outcome, population and study design. Our estimates are consistently below those usually quoted for economic modelling or decision making” – that is, the benefits of flu vaccination in this age group are not sufficient to justify the cost of a vaccination program.

(Summarised from the Cochrane Review ‘Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly‘.)


Influenza vaccination for healthcare workers who work with the elderly

  • “No effect was shown for specific outcomes: laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia and death from pneumonia. An effect was shown for the non-specific outcomes of ILI [influenza-like illness], GP consultations for ILI and all-cause mortality in individuals ≥ 60. These non-specific outcomes are difficult to interpret because ILI includes many pathogens, and winter influenza contributes < 10% to all-cause mortality [dying from any cause] in individuals ≥ 60. The key interest is preventing laboratory-proven influenza in individuals ≥ 60, pneumonia and deaths from pneumonia, and we cannot draw such conclusions.”
  • The studies analysed for this review “are at high risk of bias” because most of them were funded by pharmaceutical companies.
  • And in summary: “We conclude that there is no evidence that vaccinating healthcare workers prevents laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia, and death from pneumonia in elderly residents in long-term care facilities. Other interventions such as hand washing, masks, early detection of influenza with nasal swabs, anti-virals, quarantine, restricting visitors and asking healthcare workers with an influenza-like illness not to attend work might protect individuals over 60 in long-term care facilities and high quality randomised controlled trials testing combinations of these interventions are needed.”

(Summarised from the Cochrane Review ‘Influenza vaccination for healthcare workers who work with the elderly’.)

Let me reiterate here that the Cochrane Collaboration is not a bunch of dope-smoking, hemp sandal-wearing ‘alternative medicine’ types; it is the most authoritative institution in the world when it comes to providing an evidence base for medical care.

So when multiple Cochrane reviews point out that manufacturer-sponsored flu vaccine trials are biased and of poor methodological quality and even taking this into account, they still don’t show any advantage for getting a flu vaccine, you can take that to the bank!

If your doctor is keen for you to have a flu vaccine this year, ask if he or she has read the Cochrane reviews on the subject, and if so, what special circumstances apply in your case that might override the Cochrane recommendations.

If there are none, and yet your doctor is still insistent that you should have the vaccine, you’re well within your rights to ask why.

Better yet, find another doctor.

Read my article on how to minimise your risk of flu.


Caloric density – the key to weight-loss success!

By Robyn Chuter

  • Caloric density expresses the energy (i.e. kilojoules/calories) per gram of foods.
  • Most whole, unrefined plant foods have low caloric density.
  • People tend to eat the same weight of food each day, regardless of its energy density.
  • Stacking your diet with low caloric density foods allows you to lose weight without counting calories or reducing portion size.


One of the most magical things about a diet based on unrefined plant foods is that it facilitates almost effortless weight loss. The scientific principle behind this magic trick is caloric density.

So what’s caloric density? It’s simply a measurement of the calories/kilojoules per gram of a particular food.

Foods with a high water and fibre content, but a low fat content, have low caloric density. They provide fewer calories per serving, meaning that you can have bigger servings, or more servings, without taking in excessive calories. Giving foods with low caloric density centre stage on your plate is the most effective long-term weight management strategy there is.

Interestingly, researchers have found that people tend to eat the same weight of food each day regardless of the composition of the diet, so choosing foods that have fewer calories per gram is obviously going to lead to lower calorie intake, and therefore weight loss.

Here is the caloric density of some representative foods:


Get the picture? Vegetables, fruits and legumes have very low caloric density, so you can eat as much of them as you like without fear of exceeding your calorie needs. Fortunately, these foods are also high in nutrient per calorie density… but that’s a post for another day.


Chocolate Pecan and Smoked Salt Vegan Cookies

These cookies are the perfect treat for yourself or when you have unexpected guests. Keep them in an air tight container and you can enjoy them for up to two weeks – if they last! Make extra dough and keep in the refrigerator for instant cookies for up to 2 months.

By Cassie Heneghan

1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal
2 tbsp water
125g nuttelex
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup caster sugar
1 tsp maple syrup
1 ¼ cup self raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
250g dark chocolate chips
85g pecans, roughly chopped
smoked sea salt for topping

1. Preheat a fan forced oven to 160C and line a two baking trays with canola oil spray and baking paper.

2. In a bowl, combine flaxseed meal and water and allow to stand for 5 minutes.

3. Using an electric mixer, cream the nuttelex, sugars and maple syrup for 60 seconds on a medium speed.

4. Add the flaxseed and whisk for a further 30 seconds on a medium speed.

5. Add the flour, baking powder, chocolate and pecans and stir until combined. Measure out 2 teaspoon sized balls and sprinkle with a small pinch of smoked sea salt. Place onto the baking tray, 6cm apart and then into the oven to bake for approximately 10 minutes or until golden brown.