An Interview with Acupuncturist Steve Liu: On the Relationship Between Our Health and the Earth’s Health
Steve Liu, a licensed acupuncturist from Northern California, came to Tucson in 2001. Along with his acupuncturist wife, Wen, they opened HanLing Acupuncture Healing Center, two months after arriving in town. These days, Liu is making waves in the healthy living community with his integrative approach to Parkinson’s disease treatment, PLANtoMOVE and upcoming new Alzheimer’s disease prevention and treatment program, PLANforLIFE. We asked him about his personal health journey and perspective of the relationship between our own health and our planet’s health.
April 22 is Earth Day. Tell me, as a former electrical engineer in Silicon Valley and now an acupuncturist in Tucson, what do you know about this special day and what do you do to help our planet?
Honestly speaking, I really do not know much about Earth Day except I know it has something to do with conservation, pollution reduction and planting more trees. Through Natural Awakenings, I learned more about green living, electrical vehicles and recycling. But as a health practitioner, I really want to bring up the awareness of healthy body and healthy planet connection. What do I mean? Eight years ago, I turned to eating plant-based foods only. During these years I learned if I just practice this one lifestyle, not only is my body able to help prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and reverse chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, but I am also doing my share to help this planet’s future sustainability. The “two-birds-one-stone” effect results from one thing I do consistently: watch what I put in my mouth.
Can you elaborate more on how you discovered this ‘healthy-body-healthy-planet’ link awareness?
I started my own health journey eight years ago when my sister passed with stage four lung cancer. Surprisingly, she never smoked and she was only 60 years old. In the quest of trying to find out why, I discovered her mid-western, high-fat, high-protein, animal-based diet had everything to do with the development of her cancer. In the next five years after her passing, I read many books written by nutrition researchers and medical doctors who did extensive studies on the relationship between foods and diseases. I was influenced most by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D.; Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD; John McDougall, MD; Neal Barnard, MD; Garth Davis, MD; and Dean Ornish, MD. What surprised me later was the fact that I started my quest totally based on the relationship between foods and health, but their books raised other very urgent issues we are facing daily—environment, water, energy, world hunger, the suffering of animals and Earth’s future sustainability.
Can you be specific about the relationship between our health and the planet’s health?
Close to 1.4 million Americans die every year from two chronic diseases alone: heart disease and cancer. I always wonder, with trillions of dollars the medical system spent every year to treat these two diseases, why haven’t we found the “magic drugs” that can cure them? One answer I tell my patients often is: I can guarantee you that these many people don’t die every year from eating too many vegetables, fruits, beans and grains.
As Dr. Garth Davis, a bariatric surgeon from Texas, pointed out is his book Proteinaholic, our deep belief in the goodness of animal protein and obsession with meat is killing Americans. As a Chinese-American, I experienced this belief and obsession firsthand. Of course, I ate meats when I grew up in Taiwan, but I had not seen any cheese until I came to America in 1975, since there was no dairy in the Chinese diet for 5,000 years until in the last 30 years, with the introduction of western fast foods.
So what happened to Chinese health in the last 50 years? Dr. T. Colin Campbell reported in his best-selling book, The China Study, that when he visited China in the 1960s, heart disease, cancer and diabetes were almost unheard of. Now? The Chinese have had a huge rise in their rate of diabetes, from 2.6 to 9.7 percent in just a decade—and close to 5 million die from cancer every year. During that time they have had a considerable rise in the amount of pork, chicken, milk and oil consumed. The Japanese have likewise seen a huge rise in diabetes, leading their ministry of health to release a report that this is due to the increase in meat consumption and decreased fruit consumption.
But not only is the animal-based diet killing them, the conversion of more traditional plant-based to more meat-based diet is also causing huge environmental challenges like water conservation. For every hamburger consumed, 660 gallons of water is needed to produce the meat in that quarter-pound burger—that’s equal to showering for two months. How many gallons of water does it take to make animal by-products? It takes 477 gallons to make 1 carton of eggs, 900 gallons for 1 block of cheese, and a whopping 1,000 gallons for 1 gallon of milk. The average American now eats 209 pounds of meat a year. The well-known Markegard model estimated it will take 3.7 billion acres of grazing land to feed the U.S. their annual meat consumption.
It looks like we do need to rethink our diet to transform the world and help save the planet. What do you recommend to start the change to a more plant-based diet?
Recently I read two very important books on the goodness of the plant-based diet. In The Alzheimer’s Solution, two neurologists from Loma Linda University Medical Center’s Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program pointed out the diet is scientifically proved to help prevent and reverse cognitive decline. The other book, The Telomere Effect, explains the plant-based diet can help lengthen the telomeres at the end of chromosomes, which in turn helps one live younger, healthier and longer.
For those people who wish to change the eating habit, first, eat a lot more whole plants in their natural forms. Plan every meal around these health-promoting foods. Shoot for more than 80 percent of all calories in every meal from whole plants. Second, keep fat calories from both plants and animals below 20 percent of total calories consumed.
In this month, while we are celebrating the Earth Day, please also pause and think about how much water you could save when you decide to eat that bean-based veggie burger, vegetable soup without chicken, salads without cheese, or cereal with almond milk. You may begin to view these animals from another angle, not as the food source, but as fellow animals that share the space on this planet. But, the greatest reward is the much-needed sustainability for current and future generations of fellow humans and animals.
Steve Liu will be holding a workshop on April 28. Connect with Steve Liu at 520-878-8116 or HLAHC.com. See ad, page 7.