The Yin and Yang of Risk Management

This week, we moved into the Chinese Year of the Earth Pig.  Traditionally, it is meant to bring ease and affluence (..we’ll see).

One fundamental concept of Chinese philosophy, going back 2,500 years, is the principle of Yin and Yang.  The idea is that for everything, there is an equal and opposite thing, such as male-female, dark-light, good-evil, young-old.  Thus for every disease, there is a cure (you just have to find it); for every poison, an antidote; for every risk, a control.

Obviously the yin for your yang may not be easy to find.  But sometimes, it can be something quite simple.  It is just not realised or known.  Here are a few examples:

Quinine – In 1623, Pope Urban VIII was elected by a conclave of cardinals.  He contracted malaria almost immediately and was unable to exercise his duties for several months. Eight of the cardinals who elected him died of the disease.  This was a time of missionaries going out to the newly established European colonies, and the pope charged them with finding medicines.  The Jesuits in South America noticed that the Quechua people used an infusion of the bark of a certain tree (the cinchona tree) to treat chills.  The bark contained quinine which is still the main cure for malaria.  In 1658, Oliver Cromwell – Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland – died of malaria.  It is not clear (there are rival versions of this bit of history) whether he, a puritan, refused quinine because it was a Jesuit product, or whether the Jesuits refused to let him have it.

Flaxseed – A study by the Gates Foundation covering 50 countries and 100,000 data sources found the highest risk-of-death factor in the world to be high blood pressure.  A double blind trial (one where neither the subject nor the person administering it know whether they are giving the placebo or the test product), documented in the journal Hypertension, found that 25g of ground flaxseed a day reduced the risk of stroke by 46%.  In tests on prostate cancer patients, three tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day stopped the proliferation of cancer cells.  These results are reported in Michael Greger’s book “How Not to Die”.

Mint – It is becoming more common for people to have waste food composters in their gardens.  Yet some people do not get them on the grounds that they attract rats.  According to the Royal Horticultural Society, the easiest way to avoid rats (other than not having a composter), is to grow mint around the composter as rats do not like the smell of mint.

So in searching for a control, firstly consider whether there is a simple control that could be implemented… don’t over-complicate.

Sources: “How Not to Die – Michael Greger, MD; Royal Horticultural Society website; Wikipedia


















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