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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.
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
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
Despite more health benefit options available to them than at any time in history, America's Baby Boomers may not be even so healthy as their parents.
The Washington Post reports that as the first wave of Baby Boomers -- a generation of Americans born between 1948 and 1964 -- heads toward retirement, surveys indicate they describe their own health as less than ideal.
As a matter of fact, the Post reports, a major study indicates that Boomers say they have more problems with cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure and physical exertion than the previous generation born between 1936 and 1941.
"We're seeing some very powerful evidence all pointing to parallel findings," the newspaper quotes Mark Hayward, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, as saying. "The trend seems to be that people are not as healthy as they approach retirement as they were in older generations. It's very disturbing."
One of the primary reasons for the decline in good health, researchers speculate, is that previous generations were much more physically active in their daily routines, the Post reports. The number of Baby Boomers who said they were overweight might be a key to the decline in good health, the newspaper said.
HealthDay News, April 22, 2007
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