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Practiced by millions of individuals to reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration, and even lower blood pressure, meditation is among the most commonly used alternative therapies in the world. Earlier today, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C., results from a University of Pennsylvania study were unveiled confirming for the first time that daily practice of meditation can improve cognitive function among individuals with memory complaints.
Researchers began their investigation by conducting a series of neurological and memory tests on each subject, who ranged in age from 52-70, with either a history of memory complaints or a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment. Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scans, a brain imaging technique which measures cerebral blood flow, were also conducted on each subject. Following the initial tests, subjects were taught the techniques of Kirtan Kriya, the most widely practiced meditation in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, and instructed to practice a 12-minute meditation each day for eight weeks.
While follow up testing confirmed statistically significant improvements in memory among all of the study's subjects, the most significant outcome of the study was the stark contrast between the pre and post-training SPECT scans. Follow up scans showed dramatic increases in blood flow to the posterior cingulate gyrus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory. It is the first region of the brain to decline in individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which helps to explain why the blood flow-producing meditation has such a profound impact on cognitive functioning.
“This exciting study confirms what we have been observing in clinical practice for many years, that meditation is one of the most effective tools to address memory loss,” said Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, the non-profit organization which sponsored the study. “While we are planning additional research in this area, we can say today with confidence that daily meditation is recommended as part of an integrated brain longevity strategy to delay, even prevent, cognitive decline,” he continued.
Andrew Newberg, M.D., assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the study’s principal investigator, concurred. “For the first time, we are seeing scientific evidence that meditation enables the brain to actually strengthen itself, and battle the processes working to weaken it,” said Newberg. “If this kind of meditation is helping patients with memory loss,” he continued, “we are encouraged by the prospects that daily practice may even prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
For more information, please visit the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation at www.alzheimersprevention.org.
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Yoga's postures, controlled breathing and meditation may work together to help ease brains plagued by anxiety or depression, a new study shows.
Brain scans of yoga practitioners showed a healthy boost in levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) immediately after a one-hour yoga session. Low brain levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and depression, the researchers said.
"I am quite sure that this is the first study that's shown that there's a real, measurable change in a major neurotransmitter with a behavioral intervention such as yoga," said lead researcher Dr. Chris Streeter, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine.
She believes yoga could prove a useful tool to help people battling depression and anxiety disorders. "We're not advocating that they chuck their medication, but I would advise that they could use it as an adjunct and see how they are doing," Streeter said.
Her team published its findings in the May issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
In the study, the Boston researchers used high-tech magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging to gauge levels of GABA in the brains of eight long-time yoga practitioners and 11 non-practitioners. The participants were healthy, and none was diagnosed with a major psychiatric condition.
Brain scans were taken before the beginning of the experiment. Then, the yoga group was asked to engage in the meditative practice for 60 minutes, while the non-yoga group simply read. The researchers then re-scanned each participant's brain, looking specifically at GABA levels.
"We showed a 27 percent increase in the brain GABA levels of those doing yoga -- a really significant increase," Streeter said. No such change was noted in the non-practitioners who had just read.
She said the style or school of yoga practiced didn't seem to matter. "We had hatha, ashtanga, bikram, vinyasa, and kripalu" practitioners included in the yoga group, Streeter said, "and many had been trained in several different schools."
According to Streeter, "this all gives us one of the mechanisms by which yoga may be having a beneficial effect. There could be other mechanisms."
But another expert pointed to what he considered flaws in the research.
Zindel Segal, chairman of psychotherapy and a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto, has for years studied the use of behavioral interventions to alleviate psychological woes.
He said the Boston researchers were to be commended for using brain scan imaging technologies to investigate the effectiveness of these techniques. But he questioned why the yoga group was simply compared to a sedentary reading group and not to another movement-based group.
"Exercise itself may have some effects on GABA, so I think in this study, you'd really want that comparison," he said. Including such a control group would make it clear that it was yoga and not just an hour of physical exertion that was responsible for the brain changes.
He also pointed out that all of the people in the study were mentally healthy, and clinical depression and anxiety disorders involve more than the "daily fluctuations in stress and tension" that healthy individuals are prone to.
"We know that yoga can have a profound effect" on smoothing out life's daily ups and downs, Segal said. "But so does working out on a Stairmaster for an hour."
Segal also questioned the role of GABA in depression. While it may play a role in anxiety disorders, "GABA is not one of the main neurotransmitters that seems to be a part of the depression story," he said. Other neurochemicals -- most notably serotonin -- play much bigger roles in the disorder, he said.
None of this means that the study's findings are without merit, Segal said. "In fact," he said, "we have a program called 'mindfulness-based cognitive therapy,' where we do use yoga, as well as mindfulness meditation," as therapeutic tools. Streeter's findings "suggest the need for more study of these practices," he said.
Streeter agreed that her study is probably just a beginning.
"I think what's important about this study is that it shows that by using really cutting-edge neuroimaging technology, we can measure real changes in the brain with behavioral interventions -- changes that are similar to those that we see with pharmacologic treatments," she said.
Would other mind-body practices -- Tai Chi, for example -- produce similar effects?
"I think that's very possible," Streeter said. "I suspect that all roads lead up the mountain."
HealthDay News, Thursday, June 7, 2007 By E. J. Mundell
The percentage of American adults who got sunburned increased from 31.8 percent to 33.7 percent from 1999 and 2004, a sign that many people aren't using proper sun protection, a new study found.
The study also found that significant portions of most racial and ethnic groups reported getting sunburned in the three years -- 1999, 2003, and 2004 -- when the data was collected through surveys.
The study authors noted that sunburn increases the risk of developing melanoma and basal cell carcinoma skin cancers.
Sunburn rates in 2004 were 46.9 percent for non-Hispanic white men; 39.6 percent for non-Hispanic white women; 12.4 percent for Hispanic black men; 9.5 percent for Hispanic black women; 16.2 percent for male Asians/Pacific Islanders; 16.1 percent for female Asians/Pacific Islanders; 30.4 percent for male American Indians/Alaska Natives; 21.5 percent for female American Indians/Alaska Natives; and 5.8 percent for male and female non-Hispanic blacks.
Overall, men were more likely to get sunburned (35.8 percent in 1999, 37 percent in both 2003 and 2004) than women (28 percent, 30.2 percent and 30.3 percent, respectively).
The highest rate of sunburn prevalence among whites in any of the three years was in Utah (51.3 percent in 2003), while the lowest was in Arizona (25.7 percent in 1999). Twenty states reported a statistically significant increase in sunburn rates among whites, while four states -- Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Louisiana -- reported a significant decrease.
The study findings are published in Friday's edition of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Sunburn can be prevented by following such sun-protection measures as wearing a hat; covering up while in the sun; avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; and using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
HealthDay News, May 31, 2007
By Alphonse Wiebelt
Makeup tips and application methods to make a bride beautiful on her big day.
By Diana L. Howard, PhD
Teach your clients about the three biochemical reactions that cause aging skin.
By Tracy Sherwood
Wrinkle reducers aren’t the only thing consumers are looking for in skin care products anymore.
A therapy called naprapathy -- which involves massage, stretching and manipulation of the spine and other joints -- is more effective at treating neck and back pain than some conventional methods, according to a Swedish study of 409 patients.
The patients were divided into two groups. One group received naprapathy while the other group received support and advice from doctors, which included the common approach of encouraging patients to move and live normally despite their back and neck pain, Agence France-Presse reported.
After 12 weeks, 57 percent of the patients who received naprapathy said they felt much better, compared with 13 percent of patients in the other group. The study also found that 69 percent of those in the naprapathy group said they had noticeably less pain, compared with 42 percent in the control group.
By the end of the study, 19 percent of naprapathy patients had totally recovered from their back and neck pain, compared with seven percent of those in the control group, AFP reported.
The findings were published in the Clinical Journal of Pain.
HealthDay News, May 22, 2007
People who unwind with a cup of tea every night may have a lower risk of two common forms of skin cancer, new research suggests.
In a study of nearly 2,200 adults, researchers found that tea drinkers had a lower risk of developing squamous cell or basal cell carcinoma, the two most common forms of skin cancer.
Men and women who had ever been regular tea drinkers -- having one or more cups a day -- were 20 percent to 30 percent less likely to develop the cancers than those who didn't drink tea.
The effect was even stronger among study participants who'd been tea fans for decades, as well as those who regularly had at least two cups a day, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
However, the findings do not mean it's okay to bake in the sun as long as you have a cup of tea afterward. The researchers found no evidence that tea drinking lowered skin cancer risk in people who'd accumulated painful sunburns in the past.
Nor did the study look at the relationship between tea drinking and malignant melanoma, the least common but most deadly form of skin cancer.
Still, the findings support the theory that tea antioxidants may limit the damage UV radiation inflicts on the skin, according to the study authors, led by Dr. Judy R. Rees of Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
In particular, a tea antioxidant known as EGCG has been shown to reduce burning on UV-exposed skin.
The current findings are based on interviews with 770 New Hampshire residents with basal cell carcinoma, 696 with squamous cell carcinoma, and 715 cancer-free men and women the same age.
Tea consumption was linked to a lower skin cancer risk, even with factors such as age, skin type and history of severe burns considered. However, tea drinkers who'd suffered multiple painful burns in the past did not have a lower risk of skin cancer.
It's possible, the researchers explain, that the antioxidants in tea are enough to limit skin damage caused by moderate sun exposure, but not the "more extreme" effects of sun exposure, such as cancer-promoting damage to the DNA in skin cells.
SOURCE: Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, May 2007.
HealthDay News, May 4, 2007
Sun worshippers won't want to hear it, but a new study says the best way to protect against cancer-causing ultraviolet rays is to avoid direct sunlight and wear protective clothing to keep exposure to a minimum.
Sunscreens are a poor second choice, but they're better than nothing, said the Swiss dermatologists who did the study.
The findings take on added urgency for residents of the northern hemisphere, where summer is approaching with its promise of long, lazy days spent at the beach or other outdoor play spots.
"Wearing sun-protective clothes and a hat and reducing sun exposure to a minimum should be preferred to sunscreens," Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager, of the Outpatient Clinic of Dermatology at Triemli Hospital in Zurich, wrote in the May 3 online edition of The Lancet.
But, this advice is felt to be "unacceptable in our global, outdoor society and sunscreens could become the predominant mode of sun protection for various societal reasons, for example healthiness of a tan, relaxation in the sun," the study authors added. "Nevertheless, sunscreens should not be abused in an attempt to increase time in the sun to a maximum."
One expert agrees with the recommendation.
"I am a proponent of the approach advocated by the [American] Cancer Society," said Dr. Martin Weinstock, a professor of dermatology at Brown University and chairman of the American Cancer Society's skin cancer advisory group. "It's called Slip-Slop-Slap. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat. That's the way to be safe during outdoor activities."
According to Lautenschlager's group, the type of clothing you wear can make a big difference in sun protection factor (SPF). For example, tightly woven, thick garments made of denim, wool or polyester offer the best protection, while cotton, linen and acetate are much less effective, they noted.
In terms of sunscreens, there are two kinds -- inorganic and organic. Inorganic sunscreens work by scattering UV light using zinc or titanium oxides. This type of sunscreen is well tolerated by the skin and produces few allergic effects. It is recommended for children, the study authors said.
Organic sunscreens absorb the UV rays, and are made up of complex organic molecules that are "photoprotective." Organic screens should be put on 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun.
And waterproof or water-resistant sunscreens should be used to reduce the need for reapplication after swimming followed by toweling, friction with clothing or sand, and sweating, Lautenschlager's group noted.
Weinstock thinks that SPF factor is the most important consideration when choosing a sunscreen. "I recommend SPF 30 or greater," he said.
Lautenschlager's group warned that while studies have found that sunscreens protect against acute UV skin damage and nonmelanoma skin cancers, it's not clear whether they help protect against melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
"The population has to be advised how to best make use of sunscreens," the authors wrote. "The application of a liberal quantity of sunscreen is, by far, the most important factor for effectiveness of the sunscreen, followed by the uniformity of application and the specific absorption spectrum of the agent used."
Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, offers another safety rule to minimize your exposure to UV rays.
"There is a nice rule -- called the shadow rule -- that is very useful," Day said in a statement. "The shorter your shadow, the more dangerous the rays of the sun. So, for example, at noon when the sun is highest, you have little to no shadow, and that is the best time to try to stay indoors or in the shade."
Skin cancer -- including melanoma and nonmelanoma malignancies -- is the most common of all cancers, accounting for about half of all cancers. An estimated one million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancers are diagnosed annually in the United States. Most are basal cell -- about 800,000 to 900,000. Squamous cell cancer occurs less often -- perhaps 200,000 to 300,000 cases annually. People do not often die of these cancers. About 1,000 to 2,000 people die of nonmelanoma skin cancer each year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
Melanoma, on the other hand, causes most skin cancer deaths, even though it accounts for just 3 percent of all skin cancer cases. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 59,940 new cases of melanoma in the United States this year, and about 8,110 people will die of the disease.
HealthDay News, May 3, 2006.