Archive for August, 2011
Recently, news of a major discovery in the field of multiple sclerosis (MS) research was presented in the journal Nature. An examination of 9,772 patients with MS and 17,376 “healthy” volunteers confirmed that 57 genes were associated with the disease. This finding should help MS specialists move closer to pinpointing a cause and eventually a cure. But, in the here and now those already living with MS need to be aware of safe treatments that are currently available. Hydrotherapy, exercises conducted in swimming pools, is a therapeutic option that rarely makes headlines. Three studies published in the 2010 and 2011 argue that this healing modality deserves more attention. The international trials, conducted in Iran, Spain and the US, report that the regular practice of aquatic exercises can improve various measures of MS symptomatology including: depression, disability, fatigue, pain and spasms. The duration of the interventions ranged from 4 to 20 weeks. Two to three weekly sessions of hydrotherapy lasting 60 minutes each were required of the participants. As promising as these initial findings are, there may be a simple way to improve upon them. Of late, numerous studies have revealed a correlation between adequate sun exposure and MS. It appears that living in sunnier climates may interfere with the chief cause of MS incidence and progression known as demyelination. Also of interest is that this protective effect may be independent of sun-related Vitamin D production. Experimental studies will be needed to determine whether combining hydrotherapy and sunlight may offer immediate hope for all those waiting on a cure.
Tags: Hydrotherapy, Multiple Sclerosis, Water
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Mental Health | 6 Comments & Updates
A few of my favorite “herbs”, Zingiber officinale (ginger) and Camellia sinesis (green tea), have recently received positive attention in the medical literature with regard to cancer. For starters, two studies published in 2011 have confirmed the efficacy of ginger root in minimizing chemotherapy-induced nausea. A third, and much more surprising trial, reports that “whole ginger extract” possesses potent prostate cancer (PC) fighting activity. This intriguing discovery is based on an in vitro and in vivo experiment conducted in an animal model of PC. Arguably, green tea has an even more impressive track record as a proposed natural chemopreventive agent. Some of the research has examined green tea as a stand alone remedy. Other inquires have tested it in combination with various natural substances such as curcumin and the trace mineral selenium. Now, a population study involving 60,567 Chinese men reveals that those who drank green tea regularly (more than 3 times/week) demonstrated a 46% lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. In fact, the researchers determined that there was a 12% decline in colorectal cancer risk for every cup of green tea consumed daily. However, it’s important to note that the observed protection only applied to non-smokers. These promising findings are part of the reason why a new, 3 year study will evaluate whether taking a concentrated green tea extract can prevent colon polyps in a large group of active seniors. To be clear, nobody is claiming that ginger and green tea present a cure for cancer, but they’re certainly a couple of herbal ingredients worth keeping an eye on.
Tags: Cancer, Ginger, Green Tea
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Food and Drink, Nutritional Supplements | 8 Comments & Updates
In the field of nutrition, concepts are often sold in black and white terms, such as: “Sugar is bad for you” and “Vegetables are good for you”. On the face of it, this may seem reasonable enough. But, upon closer inspection it becomes evident that most foods are much more complex than that. For instance, let’s consider date fruits. They’re obviously very sweet and high in naturally occurring sugar. And yet, they possess some medicinal properties that defy expectations. A new study presented in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that eating 6 dates daily for 4 weeks prior to delivery “significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable” delivery outcome. A trial published in September 2009 determined that consuming 100 grams/day of dates (about 4 fruits) over a one month period resulted in a meaningful decline in triglyceride levels and did not raise the participants body mass index or fasting blood sugar. What’s more, a measurable decline in oxidative stress (lipid peroxidation) was noted. This latter finding is in accordance with prior investigations that have determined that dates and other dried fruits possess high antioxidant capacity. Even so, I still think dates are probably best enjoyed as an occasional treat because of their caloric density. My personal preference is to add 1 or 2 chopped dates to unsweetened Greek yogurt or to stuff a few dates with raw walnuts. These combinations contribute additional nutrition to the mix and lower the overall glycemic load.
Tags: Antioxidants, Diet and Weight Loss, Pregnancy
Posted in Food and Drink, Nutrition, Women's Health | 2 Comments & Updates
Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) isn’t exactly a household name. A select group of researchers in Poland are trying to change that and with good reason. At least five studies conducted over the past decade suggest that A. melanocarpa extracts may be the medicine of the future for patients living with metabolic syndrome. Anthocyanins, a class of antioxidants found in black chokeberries, appear to counter various pre-diabetic and pre-heart disease related risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. A daily dosage of 300 mg of black chokeberry anthocyanins (100 mg / thrice daily) has been shown to: improve circulation, increase antioxidant enzyme levels and reduce numerous cardiovascular and diabetic threats including high blood pressure, fasting glucose, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. At the moment, the availability of black chokeberry extract is somewhat limited. However, the need to find effective and safe options for metabolic syndrome is growing at a fast clip. This may provide the perfect circumstance to introduce this obscure berry to a wider audience.
Tags: Antioxidants, Berries, Metabolic Syndrome
Posted in Diabetes, Heart Health, Nutritional Supplements | 3 Comments & Updates
There is much debate within alternative and conventional medical circles about the appropriate role of dietary supplements in patient care. Opinions range from absolute avoidance to daily dependence. However, there is one thing that just about everyone agrees on. A healthy diet should be the primary source of essential nutrients. But, what constitutes a wholesome diet? According to many nutritional authorities, an emphasis on low-glycemic fruits and non-starchy vegetables is an excellent starting point. If you have a hard time achieving this goal, I think it’s worth considering supplements that consist of concentrated fruit and vegetable extracts. The latest support for my position comes courtesy of a study published in the August 2011 issue of the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. It found that a 12 week course of supplementation with “an encapsulated fruit and vegetable juice concentrate” resulted in statistically relevant improvements in skin quality (dermal density, hydration and thickness) in a group of 26 middle aged women. Two other publications from earlier this year go on to report that the same supplement decreased LDL cholesterol and oxidative stress in “heavy smokers” and reduced the incidence of common cold symptoms by 20% in a relatively large sampling of healthcare professionals. These are real world results that mimic what you might expect to find by eating a fruit and vegetable rich diet. This is also precisely the sort of data needed for patients and physicians to consider the validity of dietary supplements in their personal lives and public practices.
Tags: Fruits, Skin Care, Vegetables
Posted in Heart Health, Nutrition, Nutritional Supplements | 4 Comments & Updates
“Gluten free” products are becoming a regular fixture in health food stores and super markets throughout the world. But, why are so many manufacturers going out of their way to omit this inexpensive, grain-based protein? The current scientific literature offers several compelling reasons: 1) gluten intolerance is increasingly associated with the development and progression of autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis; 2) gluten consumption is capable of causing gastrointestinal discomfort, pain and tiredness even in those not diagnosed with celiac disease; 3) avoiding refined and whole grains containing gluten can improve seemingly unrelated health conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). The good news about going gluten free is that it’s easier than ever before. An example can be found on this site’s recipe section. Every single recipe, including the cakes, cereals and muffins are devoid of gluten.
Tags: GERD, Gluten, Multiple Sclerosis
Posted in Food and Drink, Nutrition, Recipes | 8 Comments & Updates
It’s a little known fact that Korea is at the forefront of research pertaining to laughter therapy and health promotion. In the first half of 2011 alone, three Korean studies were published which evaluated the impact of structured laughter programs on parameters of mental and physical wellness. All of the trials lasted between 2 to 4 weeks and employed twice-weekly, 60 minute laughter therapy sessions. The participants of the various studies included breast cancer survivors, postpartum mothers and seniors living in retirement homes. The results indicate positive outcomes in each of the disparate populations. The cancer survivors reported an improvement in quality of life and resilience. The postpartum mothers demonstrated a decline in fatigue and stress hormone levels. Finally, the “community-dwelling elderly” volunteers exhibited “positive effects on depression, insomnia, and sleep quality”. These studies add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that laughter, whether in a controlled or informal setting, can make an important difference in objective and subjective measures of health. And perhaps best of all, laughter can be contagious.
Tags: Fatigue, Laughter, Stress
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health, Women's Health | 8 Comments & Updates
In 2010, an estimated 1.9 million people were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the United States alone. My guess is that only a very small fraction of them were advised to take up yoga. But, this is likely to change in the years to come. A new study in the August 2011 issue of the journal Diabetes Care reports that adding 3 months of yoga practice to “standard care” effectively reduced body mass index and levels of oxidative stress in a controlled trial involving 123 diabetics. A significant improvement in blood sugar control was also noted. Two previous publications from 2009 support the current findings and add that yoga is also capable of lowering anxiety, blood pressure and high triglycerides in those with adult onset diabetes. This is not to say that yoga is a replacement for appropriate dietary changes, other forms of exercise and sensible weight management. However, it illustrates the potential of such holistic therapies as part of a comprehensive diabetes regimen.
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Diabetes, Mental Health | 2 Comments & Updates
There is a grass roots way of improving the current health care system that very few patients, physicians and pundits acknowledge. It doesn’t involve increasing co-pays or taxes, dismantling Medicare or reforming health insurance. You don’t even need to organize with vast numbers of fellow citizens to make a difference. All that’s required is that you accept a basic precept and act upon it. Every single person reading this column is a unique individual with highly specialized information at their disposal. We’re exposed to different sources of anecdotal evidence, news and research. At any given point, some of this information may be of value to someone you know, be it a colleague, family member or neighbor. But how often do you make it a point to share something that you’ve heard or read when you’re not specifically asked? Taking the extra step to speak up can make a big difference in the way doctors practice medicine and those around us benefit from otherwise unknown information. Read more »
Tags: Fish Oil, Psoriasis, Sleep
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Men's Health, Nutritional Supplements | 2 Comments & Updates
One of the more appealing aspects of holistic medicine is that it affords many choices for health care consumers. For example, if you’re consistently stressed out, you can opt for natural treatments ranging from aromatherapy to visualization. If chronic pain is your issue, acupuncture or nutritional supplements may alleviate some or all of your discomfort. This is reassuring to know because it allows you to apply your own personal preferences when deciding upon a therapeutic protocol. That alone tips the balance of healing in your favor because it empowers you. Read more »
Tags: Fatigue, Massage, Stress
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health, Women's Health | 6 Comments & Updates
Vacations are a time to relax, take a much needed break from work and spend some quality time with family, friends and ourselves. But they’re more than just that to medical researchers. Scientists consider vacations fertile ground for documenting the relative merits of being away from the workplace. A new study in the journal Psychology & Health explains that there are certain key elements which help increase the likelihood that a vacation will improve physical (fatigue, “health status”, tension) and psychological (mood, “satisfaction”, tension) parameters. In this current investigation, about 60% of a sample population reported vacation related improvements in health and well being. A more specific assessment of those who didn’t have a positive experience revealed that there were three primary contributors to their reported dissatisfaction: 1) too much time spent on “passive activities”, 2) not enough time engaging in pleasurable activities, 3) the occurrence of negative incidents while on vacation. Since many people are taking time off around this time of year, myself included, I thought this might be something to consider. Not every aspect of a vacation is under our control. But mindfully seeking out activities and experiences that genuinely bring about joy can make the difference between an enriching, restorative vacation and simply time away from work. I’ll be back next Wednesday with an all new column. In the meantime, I hope you all have an active, pleasurable and positive week, whether you’re on vacation or not. (1) Read more »
Tags: Fatigue, Stress, Vacation
Posted in General Health, Mental Health | 3 Comments & Updates
When I was a kid, being served tomato soup was one of the worst forms of punishment. It wasn’t intentional, but that’s how my psyche and taste buds interpreted it. The stranger thing is that I actually enjoyed many other foods made from tomatoes, especially ketchup and marinara sauce. Perhaps my taste buds have matured, but I now enjoy tomato soup when it’s prepared to my liking, which is code for “when cream is added”. And while it’s true that most people enjoy foods with added cream, not everyone chooses to eat them. It could be that they’re sensitive to lactose, trying to lose weight or vegan. Whatever the reason, cream can be problematic for certain individuals and when entertaining a crowd. Read more »
Tags: Antioxidants, Lycopene, Tomatoes
Posted in Diet and Weight Loss, Food and Drink, Recipes | 10 Comments & Updates