Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Big Kahuna

by Paul Rothwell, M.D.

Upon a first visit to the Hawaiian archipelago, it’s natural to gawk at the exotic beauty of the islands. While it may not be heaven on Earth, it’s likely as close as one will get on this side of life. As one spends more time on the islands, it’s easier to blend in and slow down to really listen and hear. Senses become aware of the messages of the tropical breeze and the ocean waves. The fragrance of the flowers mixes with the salt in the air. The old saying is that one has to empty the self to be truly full. Connecting with nature is an essential part of being alive. Henry David Thoreau called it the “tonic of nature.” It is crucial to our health and happiness.

Documented history of Hawaiian culture tells us that before outsiders discovered the islands, the Hawaiians were among the healthiest people on Earth. They had a long life expectancy. The main cause of death was either old age or accidental. Their diet consisted of high-fiber natural foods, fish oils from the sea, and foods low in unhealthy fats. There was virtually no infectious disease. If they sustained wounds and other maladies, those were treated by the ancient doctor, known as the kahuna.

The kahuna was highly respected. The brightest young men were chosen at an early age to train for this coveted position. The training lasted 15 to 20 years, and the kahuna had to be familiar with the healing qualities of more than 300 plants and herbs. To this day, many of the kahuna’s remedies are still logical, and many are considered good medical practice. Such is not the case with the doctors that came to the islands on the tall ships. Practically nothing that was considered good practice by the missionary doctors is accepted today.

The story of the Hawaiians has a sad ending. Modern native Hawaiians now have a very short life expectancy compared to their Western counterparts and most other Americans. They have an extremely high incidence of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. To the ancient Hawaiians, the word ola meant both life and health. They believed that a balance of the body, mind and spirit led to a state of lokahi, or harmony. A sick body meant a sick spirit. We cannot expect to abuse our bodies with poor dietary habits and lack of exercise. We cannot harbor resentment and hate in our spirits and expect to lead healthy, happy lives. The good news, and perhaps the bad news, is that the choice is ours. Mahalo – thanks.

Paul D. Rothwell, M.D., is an integrative medicine physician and owner of Wellness & Longevity, located at 7530 NW 23rd St., Bethany. For more information, call 405-787-8556 or visit