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Soki Choi – Food Pharmacy

Soki Choi

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A Tribute to Nature’s Intelligence

The other day my eyes watered as the spring sun finally peaked out, still sensitive from the long dark winter. Even though I kicked off the year with a meditative health retreat by the sea, the forces of darkness have been extra hard on me this year. And though I know nature must have its course, it is with open arms that I welcome the green and life-giving spring that nature now gently shines forth.

Although my debut book Kimchi and Kombucha can and should be read in many different ways (depending on which glasses you have), the book is primarily a personal tribute to nature’s intelligence, and at the same time a serious warning bell to us humans. Because in hindsight it’s evident that homo sapiens, in our brutal advancement, have not handled nature’s intelligence particularly well. The fact that mother earth is back now in full force with everything from climate crisis to health crisis really just confirms one thing: we have insulted nature’s intrinsic intelligence long enough, which we pay a high price for, namely chronic diseases and mental ill-health of epidemic measures.

In our ferocious pursuit of ever-increasing material prosperity and artificial intelligence up in the clouds, we have only just taken note of the health status across all systems which, as of year 2019, is suffering: the earth does not feel good, society does not feel good and we humans do not feel good. Not only that: the organisms in our intestines do not feel good either. We have also been extremely successful in eradicating plants, animals and other living ecosystems outside of our bodies. As well as the eradication of vital bacteria and ecosystems inside of our bodies. A little sad considering that the rapidly growing mountain of studies coincidentally indicates that the bacteria in our intestines seem to have a crucial role for our health and how we feel.

With that said, I am delighted that both South Korea and Japan, despite modernization and financial success, succeeded in countering several unhealthy influences from the West and preserving a multi-thousand-year-old culture characterized by plant-based and fermented food. It is natural food stuffed with lots of bacteria and fiber, which seems to reward the two countries with the longest lived lives in the world. And, if anyone has not yet understood that it is time to replace McDonald’s and Coca-Cola against Kimchi and Kombucha, then I just say one thing: look at the president of the big country in the west, and perhaps you will realize that it is high time to look east for inspiration for a healthier future. Right now in fact, my fine team from my publisher is in South Korea to get inspiration for health trends from the East. Good timing since K-pop and K-beauty are also taking over the pop-culture scene right now.

Food for thought: did you know that the K-pop boy band BTS is compared to the Beatles and that their album is the first in a non-English language to top the Bill Board list? In addition, they recently set new records on YouTube with 45 million clicks in less than 24 hours? It testifies that new times are underway inspired by South Korea. It gives hope for a brighter and healthier future. So follow me and look east!

Find out what Soki Choi does when she’s not writing for us at Food Pharmacy here, follow her at www.sokichoi.com . The views in the chronicle are the writer’s own.



Soki Choi

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A colorful Year Using the Five F-Method

A brand new year always seems to bring with hopeful intentions of new starts. Almost as if the bad conscious and debt of poor choices on one’s personal health account is wiped clean. It’s perhaps not unusual then that New Year’s fireworks and celebrations are often followed by a spark of resolutions, most of them along the lines of things such as slimming down, training more, reducing stress or being more climate conscious.  

I myself am constantly trying to gain new good habits. Despite periodic setbacks, I never give up and I continue trying new methods to stay on track. Currently while writing this post I am actually on a health retreat by the sea in Sri Lanka.  Here I have the time to read books I haven’t had the time for, reflect on thoughts I haven’t had the time for and soak up some sun during my walks on the beach with my good friend who has accompanied me. Those of us who find ourselves in northern hemispheres this time of year are definitely in need of light. Even my trillions of bakteriell sidekicks are cheering for the sunlight. The phrase “practice what you preach” is exactly what I am doing, I am literally applying all the principles that combined research has shown leads to optimal intestinal flora and thus a healthier brain. Although the media’s advice regarding intestinal flora is mostly aimed towards obesity and weight loss, it’s my brain’s health not a couple of pounds here or there that I am interested in. So, what does my brain-optimizing diet look like in Sri Lanka? Well, it’s quite easy really if you just use a science backed concepts which I’ve dubbed The Five F-method:

Full of color: Our microbiome loves colorful, organic and unprocessed vegetables. Believe it or not, I eat over 30 different vegetables everyday, prepared with tasty ayurvedic herbs. Because if you recall; something that characterizes an optimal intestinal flora is, diversity. Perhaps a bit of our hunter gathering ancestry still showing up today- they ate hundreds of different plant species.

Fermented:I certainly do not get my daily fix of kimchi and kombucha here, but instead I get to try other exciting fermented vegetables. Even though kimchi is considered to be a bacterial bomb, all vegetables that have been sufficiently fermented contain useful lactic acid bacteria, which will cause both your “second brain” in the intestine and your primary brain inside the cranium to cheer.

Fiber: Water-soluble fibers feed good bacteria. Therefore, I round off each meal with a plate of fresh fruits consisting of mango, passion fruit, watermelon, oranges, carambole, papaya and other exotic fruits I can’t name. Fruit, despite its sugar content, has been shown to strengthen several beneficial bacteria. So don’t be overly afraid of fruits. Instead, eat them whole and not as juices, that way you’ll get the beneficial fiber, vitamins and antioxidants.

Fisk:Omega-3 that you find in fish has been shown to create new synapses and nerves in the brain and repair stress-related damage to the intestinal flora. However, here on the retreat I’m not actually eating fish. My New Year’s resolution is to try to eat more plant-based. Instead, I’m eating other plant-based oils that feed important bacteria. It is the bacteria that produce anti-inflammatory fatty acids, which have been shown to strengthen the brain.

Fasting: Currently I apply the most recommended form of periodic fasting, 16:8, which means that I skip breakfast, have lunch at 12.30 and dinner at 19.30. Then it can go at least 16h between dinner and the following days lunch. With this I am banking on that I gain a lot of Akkermansia bacteria, which have been shown to reduce inflammation. Periodic fasting reduces oxidative damage and oxidative damage accelerates aging when combined with inflammation. So if you want to live a long time, try to implement periodical fasting in some form into your life.

In addition to the Five F method, I care for my intestinal flora and brain with exercise. In Sri Lanka, it means beach walks and swimming in the Indian Ocean every morning. But then there is the digital stress we have in today’s society, which we know is extremely harmful to the intestinal flora and the brain. Here, this is being managed by the retreat only allowing two hours of digital connection per day. So lovely. It’s forcing me to check my mail concentrated for a while in the morning and then completely shut down. Imagine if I could introduce this rule at home (will definitely try it). In the afternoon it is time for treatment, usually two hours of deep oil massage (after all, it is a retreat). This is when all thoughts dissolve and I fly away from all the incense and aroma to another world. The day is rounded off with a stress-relieving yoga and meditation pass, which grounds all the senses in the body. No wonder my gut bacteria are cheering!

Okay, everyone understands that it is not difficult to feel damn good while at a health resort. But, the question is, how can I keep some of these habits when I am back in the concrete jungle with its everyday metropolitan stress. It will be a tough nut to crack. Because even if my impatient self wants to revolutionize my health “overnight”, a wise voice within me says that it is probably more sustainable to gradually introduce new habits. Which habits or, rather, what health investment should I start the year with? Even if I am a big proponent of exercise, diet and which types of food we eat has proven to be crucial for a healthy intestinal flora. Therefore, the focus will be on the Five F-method combined with daily meditation. Any exercise will just be a bonus. What will be your new habit and health investment this year?

Soki Choi, PhD, MD, has researched complex systems at both the Karolinska Institutet and Harvard. After working for ten years within the realm of healthcare, Soki’s mission today is to spread revolutionary knowledge that could help people to protect their crown jewel (before it’s too late): our brain. She is the writer of the book “Kimchi and Kombucha – The New Research on How the Gut Bacteria Strengthens Your Brain”.



Soki Choi

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Psychiatric Drugs or Psychobiotics?

Today we’re giving the floor to our new guest writer Soki Choi. Soki, PhD, MD, has researched complex systems at both the Karolinska Institutet and Harvard. After working for ten years within the realm of healthcare, Soki’s mission today is to spread revolutionary knowledge that could help people to protect their crown jewel (before it’s too late): our brain.

That’s why she wrote the book (currently only available in Swedish) Kimchi and Kombucha – The New Research on How the Gut Bacteria Strengthens Your Brain. The book has peaked the Swedish sales listings since it came out this fall. Soki, take it away!

How fascinating isn’t it that researchers have recently “discovered” a new super organ in our intestines? The intestinal flora weighs as much as the brain and is in combination with the intestine considered to compete with the brain in several functions. Just take the lucky molecule serotonin for example, which 90% of is produced in the intestine while only 10% in the brain. Or the reward molecule dopamine, which up to 50% is made in the intestine. The list can continue …

Did you know by the way, that you are currently walking around with almost two milk cartons (2 liters) filled with billions of non-human creatures that make everything from vitamins to hormones to the neurotransmitters in your gut. I mean, it wasn’t very long ago that all bacteria were considered evil and were to be exterminated at all costs. Perhaps not so strange considering that bacteria like Yersinia Pestis, i.e., the plague, killed nearly half of Europe’s population (200 million deaths) in the 1300’s. So bacteria have gone from being viewed as creatures that cause disease and other unpleasantries, to becoming the great superstar within our bodies – an impressive status flip!

The late discovery of microbiomics (fancy word for intestinal flora genes) crucial role for our health has created a rarely seen race among researchers. Just last year, more than 10,000 scientific articles were published, this equivalates to more than one article per hour. And this year has heated up even more!

Currently, in the ever growing multitude of studies, the headlines have focused on “The Gut-Brain-Axis”, i.e., the connection between intestinal bacteria, the intestines and the brain. Pioneering studies now show that everything from stress, anxiety, depression, alzheimer, parkinsons, autism and adhd can be related to a poorly composed intestinal flora. When I read all relevant research before writing my book, I had to read some studies over and over and over again. Though the results were exciting, even I, myself, sometimes had difficulty believing in them. Who would have thought that fibers and bacteria found in plant-based and fermented foods like Kimchi could be as effective as strong antidepressants and anxiety suppressing drugs like Prozac and Valium, not to mention no nasty side effects? Or that fecal transplantation (fancy word for poop transfering) can improve the symptoms of people with autism?

Although these studies need to be repeated, there is a mountain of animal studies pointing towards that certain fibers and bacteria de facto actually have medical treatment potential, or at the least could complement today’s psychiatric pharmaceuticals. In medical terminology they are called psychobiotics. So put that in your memory bank. The term “psychobiotics” was coined in 2013 by researchers Ted Dinan and John Cryan, as a way to distinguish the bacteria that have strong effects on the brain and our psyche. Nowadays, the fibers that stimulate bacteria’s production of serotonin, dopamine, butyric acid and other neuroactive substances are also included.

And while tempting to stop eating medication or perform a fecal transplant in the kitchen, I advise you not to do it, especially if you have a diagnosis. Even if fecal transplants are an effective way of replacing intestinal flora, it is still a research protocol only used in laboratory environments. A significantly safer and certainly tastier way is to eat your way to a stronger brain, also a good form of prevention.