Salads, exercise and sex-when East and West clash

What is good and healthy for us? What to do, what not to do? What to eat, what not to eat? There is so much advice available out there and much of it is contradictive. Personally, I tend to stick with Chinese Medicine wisdom. After all, it has been tried and tested for many hundreds of years. However, there are three areas where the difference of opinions regarding what is healthy and what is not is stark: exercise, salads (raw vegs) and sex. In today’s post we are going to analyse these differences of opinion between Traditional Chinese Medicine and modern medicine. I think in many ways it demonstrates the general difference of approach between the two, but even more it demonstrates the difference between olden and modern living. We’ll try and understand the reasoning behind these opinions and , of course, how it is right and how it is wrong.

So, for those who at this stage are asking themselves “what the hell is he talking about?”, here is an overview: generally speaking, modern Western medicine sees exercising, eating raw vegetables and salads, and having sex as activities that will make us healthier and therefore should be done the more the better. TCM, however, is not so sure about it, and will actually recommend that less is better. Let’s try and pick them up one by one.

Salads, (I am referring to raw vegetable salads), according to modern medicine we should have as many as possible. The reason for this is that raw vegs contain vitamins and antioxidants and are very low in fats and calories. All is true and correct! Why then does TCM have a problem with raw veg and actually recommend to boil, steam or stirfry before eating? The reason is that Chinese medicine has a much better understanding of the digestive system function then WM. Raw Vegetables are much harder to digest than cooked ones. The body needs to invest a lot of energy in warming and breaking them down. People with robust digestive systems will have no problems with dealing with the regular intake of raw salads. However, people who constitutionally have weaker digestion will start to have problems at a certain stage-symptoms may include bloating, abdominal pain, loose bowels and fatigue.

The digestive system is of a major importance in Chinese Medicine. It is considered to be in the centre of our physical existence. Through the digestive process we create the building blocks for our body as well as the energy that makes everything work(the Qi). The blood and the energy for our immune system is also produced in the Gut. You can see, therefore, why it is so important. The idea therefore in Chinese medicine dietary advice is to make life as easy as possible for the digestion to prevent any problems developing. Following this logic the TCM recommendation is to boil, steam or cook. On the face of it, this makes perfect sense, however, there is another consideration here. The general diet in modern times is very different to hundreds of years ago when the TCM rules were made. The modern days’ diet is much richer, food is very available and people tend to eat more in general and more meaty and fatty food in particular. Because of this, raw veg has an additional importance in detoxifying and cooling the system as well as simply taking the place of more rich food and therefore balancing our diet. In the olden days people ate mainly vegetables anyway. Meat and other rich food  (fatty, oily, sugary and high protein) was much less available! Another concern regarding the TCM advice is the claim that a lot of the goodness (vitamins etc) in the vegetables is washed away when you boil it. I am not sure if this true or not but, in any case, we can steam, stirfry or have as a soup if you want to make sure. To sum up the raw veg question: In the contest of modern day diet, raw veg have a part to play -mainly as a balance for a high protein and rich food diet. However, we should not have too much on a regular basis since it can have a bad effect on our digestive system. Cooked veg can be consumed more freely. How much is too much? That very much depends on the individual constitution; knowing your own constitution is very important. Those of us blessed with a strong digestive system will be able to cope with larger amounts and a more frequent consumption of raw vegetables. 

Exercise. According to modern medicine we should all exercise at least 3 times a week, or more if possible. TCM not so sure. Originally the Chinese medicine advice was don’t waste your energy. An ancient Chinese saying declares: A farmer should live near his field. The idea here is energy conservation. If the farmer’s house is far away from his field he needs to wake earlier in the morning, then walk all the way to the field and then all the way back., after a full day of hard work, spending more energy than needed in the process! Why then does one need to voluntarily go to the Gym and spend precious energy? The answer is similar to the raw vegetable conundrum: times have changed. In the ancient days people were naturally very active-every job had to be done by hand and every journey by foot. People had to use quite a lot of energy just to get through the day. In addition to that, food was low on availability and on calories. Preserving energy was important and extra exercise was out of the question. As we all know, things have changed. Lack of activity is one of the main reasons for health problems in modern Western societies. Our bodies have been designed through thousands of years of evolution to be active. These days we sit in the office or in the car. We hardly ever make our bodies work. As a result many systems in our body become lazy and sluggish with many possible health consequences ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes to cancer. So surely exercise is a good thing-or is it? While generally speaking I agree with modern advice that exercises are recommended to keep us healthy, I don’t think we should completely ignore the traditional view regarding energy conservation.

As I mentioned (probably a hundred times) in the past: healthy living is all about balance. Over the years I saw many people who suffered from fatigue as a result of trying so hard to be healthy. Overdoing it is very common. People think that the energy available to their body is endless. They think they can do anything as long as they want it hard enough. This is a common mistake. It comes from the complete lack of understanding by modern science of the body energies. Our energy is definitely not limitless. Some of you, as we mentioned earlier, have been blessed with stronger constitutions and may get away with more extreme stuff without damaging your health. Most of us, however, need to be a bit careful. Exercise yes, but it has to be moderate and sensible.

Sex, we got there at last. This one is more controversial. According to Western medicine Sex is healthy for you. The more the better. Modern studies say that people having sex regularly are generally healthier than those who don’t. A possible explanation, according to Western

wisdom, is that it’s another form of exercise. Before I present the Chinese medicine view lets look at those claims. It seems to me like a classic abuse of statistics (very common these days). Is it possible that people who are healthier and feel better are having more regular sex rather than that people who are having regular sex are more healthy? Makes more sense to me. As to the possible explanation (form of exercise)-really?.

According to Chinese medicine, having a lot of sex is unhealthy. It’s rarely mentioned by local practitioners (don’t want to be unpopular no doubt) but has been talked about in every major TCM textbook. According to TCM we lose a small amount of our kidney energy (this is the part of our energy that we have been born with rather than the part we get from food and breathing). As a result, overdoing it on that front will eventually lead to weakness of the kidneys with possible symptoms of: low back pain, weakness in the legs, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, problems with bladder control, premature graying or loss of hair and premature death. Sounds quite ominous indeed. To support this claim we can look at the case of the Eunuchs. The Eunuchs were servants in the palaces of the ancient Royals. They had their sexual bits removed in order to guarantee no funny business with the Palace inhabitees. These humble servants used to live ten to fifteen years longer on average than the rest of the population. This is not exactly a complete proof to the TCM theory regarding sex but it surely makes you think. In any case, as you know, Chinese medicine theories are all based on hundreds of years of careful observation. We can never dismiss it lightly. It is therefore, unfortunately, probably true-too much sex is not good for your health! However, there are more aspects to this issue. How do you define Health? Whilst sex may not be contributing to your physical health, it is probably good for your mental and emotional health. These in turn will have a good effect on your physical health. Another issue is: how much is too much? Here, we have to take into account the individual constitution. Traditional sources recommend not to exceed once every two weeks (sorry). However, those whose constitutions have strong kidneys can get away with more than this. Age is also a factor. Our kidney energy gradually weakens as we grow older and therefore will be more negatively affected by sex. So, similar to the other issues we have discussed today, it is all about balance. Sex is good for you, too much sex isn’t!

To sum up: during the writing of this post I was quite surprised to see how often I was siding with the modern medicine views. Naturally I more often tend to side with the traditional medicine view. However, particularly in the cases of exercise and salads, it is clear that times have changed and with it our lifestyle. It has changed to such an extent that we also have to adjust our ideas regarding what is healthy and what is not. At the bottom line I find myself going back to two important factors a) balance and b) know and respect your own body constitution. So, salads are good for you but probably not too many, particularly if your digestion is not very strong. Exercise is good for you but don’t overdo it, particularly if your energy is naturally not very strong. And good old sex is ok, but less is probably more!

Great Health Everyone

Dr Ilan Shahor