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Tai chi, an exercise that features slow martial arts-like movements and meditation, significantly improves the ability of older adults' immune systems to fight the virus -- varicella zoster -- that causes shingles, a new study says.
Shingles is a painful, blistery rash. About one-third of adults over age 60 develop shingles.
The 25-week study, conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, involved 112 people, ages 59 to 86. The researchers found that Tai chi, by itself, increased immunity against varicella zoster to a level that was comparable to having received the standard vaccine against the virus.
When a person did Tai chi and received the vaccine, the immunity against the virus reached a level normally seen in middle age, said the study, which was published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The study results confirm that a behavioral intervention such as Tai chi can trigger a positive, virus-specific immune response, said lead author Michael Irwin, professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.
"These are exciting findings, because the positive results of this study also have implications for other infectious diseases, like influenza and pneumonia. Since older adults often show blunted protective responses to vaccines, this study suggests that T'ai chi is an approach that might complement and augment the efficacy of other vaccines, such as influenza," Irwin, who is also director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, said in a prepared statement.
HealthDay News, 4/6/2007
Adults who can laugh at life's ups and downs may live longer than those who have trouble cracking a smile, concludes a Norwegian study of about 54,000 people tracked for seven years.
At the start of the study, participants filled out questionnaires on how easily they found humor in everyday life and how important they felt it was to have a humorous perspective, USA Today reported.
People who scored in the highest 25% of humor appreciation were 35% more likely to be alive at the end of seven years than those in the bottom quarter, the study found.
The survival advantage of having a humorous outlook was especially noticeable in a subgroup of 2,015 cancer patients. Those with a healthy sense of humor were about 70%less likely to die than those with a weak sense of humor, USA Today reported.
The study was presented at a meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.
By Cathy Christensen
This jade-colored treat is packed with vitamins, flavor and moisturizing benefits.
Drinking two cups of spearmint tea a day might help treat women with an unsightly condition that causes them to grow excess hair on their face, breasts and stomach, Turkish researchers report.
The tea works by lowering the levels of circulating male hormones in these women, the scientists claim in the current online issue of Phytotherapy Research.
The authors called the findings preliminary.
"There are no recommendations for patients and physicians yet," said Mehmet Numan Tamer, co-author of the study and a professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Suleyman Demirel University in Isparta, Turkey. "This is the first clinical study about the spearmint tea, but further studies are needed to give the practical recommendations to patients."
But other experts feel the findings are far-fetched.
"This is absurd," said Khursheed Navder, an associate professor of nutrition and food science at Hunter College in New York City. "I completely think it is very preliminary, and you need major randomized trials. It's nothing to get thrilled about."
Hirsutism is a condition that can occur in both men and women, but, for obvious reasons, it is more of a cosmetic concern in women. The hair growth is a result of unnaturally high levels of androgens such as testoserone.
According to Tamer, standard therapy includes oral contraceptives to suppress androgens or drugs such as spironolactone, which prevents the body responding to androgens.
Spearmint, which grows naturally near Isparta, has been widely used for indigestion, nausea and vomiting, as well as for the common cold, cough, sinusitis, fever and bronchitis.
"Spearmint has been used as an herb for a long time now," confirmed Navder. "These are all folk remedies."
The Turkish researchers thought that spearmint might be linked with reports of diminished libido in townsmen (presumably because of its effects on androgen levels). In one previous rat study, spearmint reduced testosterone levels.
"Previously, we investigated the effects of [peppermint] and [spearmint] herbal teas on testicular function in an experimental rat model and found that testosterone levels were decreased," Tamer said. "Because we found the anti-androgenic effects of spearmint, we decided to observe the effect of this herbal tea on the androgen levels in hirsute women."
For this study, 21 women with hirsutism drank two cups of herbal spearmint tea for five days at a certain time in their menstrual cycle.
All women showed a decrease in free testosterone (circulating hormone not bound to other molecules) and an increase in several different "female" hormones, including follicle-stimulating hormone and estrogen.
There was no significant decrease in total testosterone levels; it was unclear if there was any change in amount of excess hair growth.
"The next step is to show the effect of spearmint tea on hirsutism scores of the women in a treatment period," Tamer said.
Although the amounts of spearmint used in this study are not generally toxic, the herb can be harmful if taken in larger amounts
Albuquerque, N.M. moved from 13th place last year to be named American's fittest city this year in the March issue of Men's Fitness magazine.
The other top 10 in the nonscientific survey of 50 cities are: Seattle; Colorado Springs; Minneapolis; Tucson, Ariz.; Denver; San Francisco; Baltimore; Portland, Ore.; and Honolulu, the Associated Press reported.
The magazine said this year's top 10 fattest cities are: Las Vegas, Nev.; San Antonio, Texas; Miami; Mesa. Ariz.; Los Angeles; Houston; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; Detroit; and San Jose, Calif.
The survey results are based on various lifestyle factors in each city, including the availability of bikes paths or gyms, commute times, fast food restaurants per capita, amount of television watching, along with federal statistics on obesity-related illnesses and injuries.
Magazine editor Neal Boulton told the AP that the list is published each year "to motivate folks to look at the simple things in their lives they can do to be healthy."
HealthDay News, February 9, 2007
By Michelle Kleist, RD
Regular acupressure treatment helps reduce agitated behavior in dementia patients, according to a small study by Taiwanese researchers.
Acupressure involves the application of pressure to certain points of the body.
This study of 20 dementia patients found that 15-minute acupressure sessions given twice a day, five days a week, led to noticeable improvements, including reduced wandering and less verbal and physical aggression.
During the sessions, each of five key pressure points was pressed for two minutes using three to five kilograms of pressure. The sessions lasted for four weeks. After the end of that treatment period, patient agitation levels started to increase again. That suggests that dementia patients require acupressure therapy on an ongoing basis, the researchers said.
The study is published in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
The findings have "important implications for the future care of dementia patients," study co-author Professor Li-Chan Lin, of the Institute of Clinical Nursing at National Yang-Ming University, said in a prepared statement. According to Lin, the study shows that acupressure "provides an effective option that, following training, can be carried out at home or in long-term care facilities."
"Agitated behavior in people with dementia is a major concern for caregivers. It can endanger patients and others, make it necessary for them to be moved from familiar surroundings and demoralize and psychologically distress caregivers," Lin noted.
"It is very important that we find interventions that enable us to provide more effective care for (dementia patients), both in their own home and in long-term care facilities," Lin said.
HealthDay News, January 26, 2007
By Jeff Falk
Aromatherapy—a concept that is thousands of years old—gets a boost from science and inspires the development of new products.
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Aromatherapy is an affordable, accessible natural path to relief for a variety of health problems, ranging from arthritis pain to nausea to drowsiness, supporters insist.
But skeptics dismiss any claims that the use of essential oils from flowers, herbs and trees can promote health in any way.
And both sides are unlikely to relinquish their positions anytime soon.
Aromatherapy "works for so many different things, it is amazing," said Kelly Holland Azzaro, a registered aromatherapist in Banner Elk, N.C., and vice president of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an industry trade group. "You can experience aromatherapy by inhalation by putting one drop of an essential oil on a tissue and inhaling," she said.
According to the NAHA, aromatherapy is the "art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit." These essences are then distilled into "essential oils"—highly concentrated aromatic extracts—that are derived from a "variety of aromatic plant material, including grasses, leaves, flowers, needles and twigs, peels of fruit, wood and roots."
Among the most popular essential oils, which are widely sold at health-food stores and over the Internet, are eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and tea tree, and according to the NAHA.
"Uplifting scents such as citrus can keep you awake at work," Azarro said. "To help increase alertness, use rosemary and lemon." And to combat nausea, try essence of peppermint, ginger and orange, she added.
While research into aromatherapy's benefits is limited, there are some studies that suggest certain treatments can help ease some symptoms.
For instance, in a 2005 study published in the journal Chronobiology International, researchers reported that lavender aromatherapy helped all 31 men and women feel more "vigor" the next morning, compared to the night they breathed in distilled water, an exercise that served as the control setting.
A study in the March-April 2006 issue of the Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health said that aromatherapy, combined with massage, helped new mothers feel less "blue" and anxious, compared to mothers of newborns who didn't get the treatment.
And a review published in Holistic Nurse Practitioner found that patients with postoperative nausea and vomiting can be helped by aromatherapy as well as acupressure and acupuncture.
But critics find little of value with scent therapy—or even label it as therapy.
"It's not a therapy, it's a set of products with odors," said Dr. Stephen Barrett, board chairman of Quackwatch Inc., an Allentown, Pa.-based organization that says it fights health fraud and quackery.
"If people like the odors and want to pay for them, I would have no objection," Barrett said. However, he added, don't expect much. "There is no evidence that aromatherapy can alter the course of any disease. There is no logical reason to believe that any such evidence will ever be found," he said.
As for potential risks, Barrett said: "Some people find certain odors irritating. People who use aromatherapy with the hope that it will cure what ails them will waste money."
Azzaro said that, currently, aromatherapy is unregulated in the United States. "And that's part of the issue," she said. People don't understand exactly what it is, either. "People think it's potpourri or a smelly candle."
There's also no state licensing for aromatherapists in the United States. Most practitioners incorporate their training with another profession, such as licensed acupuncturist or registered nurse, according to the NAHA.
If you're interested in pursuing aromatherapy, Azzaro said it's best to ask a practitioner about his or her specific training. "And when you purchase oil, such as from a health-food store, hopefully some educational materials are with the product," she said.
Be aware, too, there can be the possibility of allergic reactions to some treatments.
By Kathleen Doheny, HealthDay Reporter, November 2, 2006