The ancient practice of yoga in its many incarnations is more popular than ever before. But, based on my informal assessment, it appears that there is a widespread perception that yoga is primarily useful for issues pertaining to mental health. And, while it’s true that yoga often promotes a more positive psychological outlook and clearer cognitive functioning, there’s much more to it. Lately, a series of well designed, clinical studies have illustrated the emerging role of yoga in addressing physical ailments and complaints as well.
Who are the healers of our day and time? In many countries, an image of physicians wearing white lab coats comes to mind. But, I’m here to tell you that if you’re exclusively counting on medical doctors and pharmacists to maintain your good health, you’re at a very big disadvantage. Optimally, healing and the promotion of wellness requires a much broader approach. From my vantage point, the person you see every time you look in the mirror is by far the most important contributor to your health status. But, eating right, exercising and managing stress is far from enough. While important, there’s more that you can and should be doing for yourself and those around you in the healing arena.
In the healthcare field, there is a myth known as the “magic bullet”. Essentially, it is the holy grail of all therapies, one that heals a disease or relieves symptoms without producing any adverse reactions. Both alternative and conventional therapies have been assigned this designation throughout the years. In the mid-1990′s, an extract from the root of the kava plant (Piper methysticum) was widely considered a magic bullet for mild-to-moderate anxiety. However, as the popularity of kava increased, so did the occasional reports of serious, liver related side effects. And, while these incidents appeared to be very rare, and were often disputed, the perceived threat was great enough for certain countries (Canada, England, Germany, etc.) to call for the removal dietary supplements containing kava from the market. Interestingly enough, the United States did not require that kava be removed from store shelves. However, the FDA demanded that all kava extracts sold in the US carry a warning about the possible liver risk associated with regular kava use. To this day, these very same warnings are carried on the labels of kava products currently available in the United States.
Over the last few years, coconut sugar has become a serious contender in the natural sweetener market. According to proponents, it’s an environmentally sustainable sweetener with several advantages over common “table” sugar. For starters, it’s a rich source of the essential mineral potassium. Beyond that, coconut sugar also prominently features inulin, a prebiotic carbohydrate with a very low glycemic index that may support digestive and immunological health.
If you’ve been following the news this past week, you probably came across the latest warning issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Apparently, there’s a new strain of the norovirus (or Norwalk virus) that has recently been causing digestive havoc in Australia, Japan and Western Europe. And, now, this so-called GII 4 Sydney strain of the norovirus is making a new home in the United States. Given this, you might be wondering if there’s anything in the natural health sector that can help protect you and yours from this highly contagious viral offender.
In recent years, scientists from esteemed institutes of learning have identified an apparent link between an optimistic mindset and physical wellness. The latest entry into this topic comes from the Harvard School of Public Health. An analysis of nearly 1,000 middle-aged men and women determined that higher levels of self-reported optimism were associated with greater concentrations of serum antioxidants (carotenoids). The reason is likely due to a bidirectional effect in which “optimists are likely to engage in health behaviors associated with more serum antioxidants, and more serum antioxidants are likely associated with better physical health that enhances optimism”. This newly observed antioxidant effect may also, in part, explain why greater optimism has been continually linked to a lower risk of cardiac events and strokes.
As a stalwart proponent of integrative medicine, I strive to integrate natural remedies into the conventional medical system. However, I don’t do so indiscriminately. Many years ago, I came to the realization that I must use an evidence-based model to separate truly effective, safe remedies from those that may do harm and/or result in a waste of money and time. This approach to evaluating alternative and complementary therapies doesn’t always make me popular in the natural health community. Still, it’s a necessary step in order ensure long lasting trust between natural health proponents, the medical establishment and, most importantly, the consumers who decide to consider all possible options.
Flu season is in full swing once again. This past week, the nightly news has been inundated with stories warning of a particularly troublesome flu pattern that’s currently in effect and expected to continue in the days, weeks and months to come. The advice from many conventional doctors is to get vaccinated immediately and to seek medical assistance at the first sign of the flu. The latter suggestion typically involves the use of antiviral medications such as Relenza and Tamiflu. Alternative and complementary physicians often take a more holistic approach advocating such practices as supplementing with immune boosting herbs, mushrooms and nutrients. Dietary changes, including a reduction in refined carbohydrates and daily consumption of green tea, are frequently recommended by alt-med practitioners as well.
There are countless supplements that claim to enhance cognitive performance. Some even hint at providing protection against age-related cognitive decline. But, what if you’re just looking for a little extra “brain nutrition”? Perhaps you simply want to improve your attention, reaction speed or short-term memory. Or maybe you’re thinking down the line about natural ways to optimally nourish your brain before any signs of decline appear. The following recipe is valuable for virtually all brain stages. I suggest this very formula to many of my clients who are looking for everything from greater mental sharpness to strides in academic performance.
Today’s column is a response to the first health related question that was posed to me in 2013. During a recent consultation, a client inquired about the relative merits of an antioxidant compound commonly known as alpha lipoic acid. She noted that it’s frequently cited as one of the more potent antioxidants because it supposedly works in concert with other free radical scavengers such as glutathione and vitamins C and E. A recent review in Frontiers in Ethnopharmacology, a prestigious medical journal, supports this claim and details various others functions of a-lipoic acid including its ability to: a) chelate heavy metals; b) lower systemic inflammation; c) regulate gene expression; d) repair damaged proteins in the body.
The start of winter may not seem like the ideal time to recommend eating cold soup. But, in the case of gazpacho, a traditional Spanish soup, I simply can’t wait for the warmer days of spring or summer to sing its praises. My urgency is, in part, due to a recently published study appearing in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, the prestigious medical journal. A secondary reason is that current and prior research on gazpacho helps to prove a theory that I’ve long held: Drinking raw, blended vegetables is a wonderfully healthful practice, especially if you add some good fat to the mix.
I’m starting a new holiday tradition this year. Instead of only buying material gifts for family and friends, I’m also going to give myself the gift of better mental (and physical) health. In my case, this will involve more consistent exercise, daily meditation and positive affirmations. The best thing about this gift to myself is that it will likely benefit many of those around me. I’ll be calmer, yet more energetic and mindful in my actions and reactions. I believe that’s the best kind of gift – one that extends beyond oneself.
As a general rule, I avoid writing columns solely inspired by anecdotal evidence. After all, one of the objectives of my work on this site is to present information that is supported by verifiable, scientific evidence. So, when a client of mine reported success using sauerkraut for his heartburn symptoms, I acknowledged it with interest, but had no plan to write about it. On that same day, while updating my database on probiotics, I happened upon some intriguing research on … You guessed it – sauerkraut. Whether a coincidence or not, I took it as an opportunity to look into fermented cabbage aka sauerkraut, an important and underutilized “super food”.
Thought Field Therapy (TFT) is an inexpensive and rapid treatment used to address psychological challenges such as anxiety, phobias and post traumatic stress. The practice of TFT involves tapping oneself with your fingers, on select acupuncture points, while recalling traumatic experiences. According to TFT proponents, doing so releases negative emotions or perturbations in the bioenergic or thought field, thereby decreasing or resolving psychological symptoms.
When considering an integrative approach to cancer treatment, oncologists and patients must take into account potential interactions between chemotherapy and dietary supplements. Unlike “mind-body” practices, supplements can directly affect how medications are processed by the body. In some instances, they potentiate the activity of a drug. Other times, they speed the clearance of a given medication, thereby making it less effective. And, finally, there are certain circumstances in which supplements may actually work alongside chemotherapy in such a way as to diminish side effects and improve treatment outcomes.
The topic of conventional chemotherapy is quite controversial in the natural health community. And, there’s certainly a time and place for people of goodwill to debate the pros and cons of this prevalent form of cancer treatment. However, once the decision has been made to utilize chemotherapy, the goal should then shift to finding safe ways of improving the efficacy and tolerability of this widely used procedure.