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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.
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
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.
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.
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
Acupuncture and an extract of turmeric—the spice that gives curry its kick—may both offer significant pain relief to some arthritis patients, two new studies suggest.
Reporting in the November issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, a German team says a combination of acupuncture and conventional medicine can boost quality of life for patients suffering from osteoarthritis.
And in a second study in the same issue, American researchers say the ingestion of a special turmeric extract could help prevent or curb both acute and chronic rheumatoid arthritis.
The findings should be heartening to the roughly 40 percent of arthritis patients in the United States who say they've turned to some form of alternative medicine.
"If I had arthritis, I would be very excited about this," said Dr. Janet L. Funk, the lead author of the turmeric study and an assistant professor of physiological sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly one in five Americans (46 million) suffers from one of the more than 100 various joint diseases that constitute arthritis. An additional 23 million have chronic joint pain that has yet to be formally diagnosed.
Osteoarthritis is caused by a progressive degeneration of bone cartilage and is the most common type of arthritis in the United States. Rheumatoid arthritis is an immunological disorder characterized by a painful inflammation of the lining of the joints.
In her study, Funk built on earlier research she had conducted with rats. Those efforts suggested that turmeric might prevent joint inflammation.
In her current work, she first broke down the specific contents of commonly sold turmeric dietary supplements.
In the lab, she and her colleagues then isolated a turmeric extract that was free of essential oils and structurally similar to that found in commercial varieties. The extract was based largely on curcuminoids—a compound they believed to be most protective against arthritic inflammation.
Funk's group administered the extract to female rats both before and after the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. They then tracked changes in the rodents' bone density and integrity.
The turmeric extract appeared to block inflammatory pathways associated with rheumatoid arthritis in rats at a particularly early point in the development of the disease. The extract had a beneficial impact if given three days after arthritis set in, but not if given eight days after disease onset.
Investigations in the laboratory revealed that turmeric stops a particular protein from launching an inflammatory "chain reaction" linked to swelling and pain. The expression of hundreds of genes normally involved in instigating bone destruction and swelling was also altered by the turmeric.
Funk stressed, however, that the findings are preliminary, and the extract needs to be tested in people.
"I feel an obligation to make clear that people should not run out to buy and consume turmeric powder," she cautioned. "First of all, a very small percent of the ground-up root that we buy in the grocery store is the protective part of the root, so it's not going to get you anywhere." In fact, the compound used in the study probably makes up only about 3 percent of the weight of current store-bought turmeric supplements, Funk said.
"That means that if this pans out in further studies, patients will be taking a purified extract, and this is all really exciting," she said. "But we still need conclusive proof that this extract is safe and efficacious."
In the second study, researchers led by Dr. Claudia M. Witt of Charite University Medical Center in Berlin spent three years tracking the treatment results of 3,500 male and female osteoarthritis patients suffering from either knee or hip pain.
For six months, all the participants were permitted to continue whatever conventional western medical treatments they had been undergoing prior to the onset of the treatment trials.
However, in addition, over 3,200 of the patients also received up to 15 sessions of needle-stimulation acupuncture during the first three months of the study. The remaining 310 patients received no acupuncture in the first three months. They were offered such treatment in the final three months of the study period, however.
All acupuncture sessions were administered by physicians who had received a minimum of 140 hours of certified training.
Symptom and pain questionnaires were completed at the onset of the study and at three months and six months of therapy.
Patients with chronic osteoarthritis pain who underwent a combination of routine medical care plus acupuncture demonstrated significant quality of life improvements, the researchers found. This included increased mobility and pain reduction above and beyond that experienced by patients who did not receive acupuncture.
For those who began their acupuncture treatments immediately, osteoarthritis improvement held steady three months after cessation of the sessions. For those patients who had begun acupuncture three months into the study period, comparable improvements occurred by the time they ended their sessions at the six-month mark.
The authors said acupuncture appeared to be a safe medical intervention with minor side effects observed in just over 5 percent of patients.
The study, one of the largest of its kind, demonstrated that acupuncture was a viable therapeutic option for people suffering from osteoarthritis, the German team said.
"I'm not surprised that people can be treated with acupuncture and get better," said Marshall H. Sager, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based doctor of osteopathic medicine, acupuncturist, and past president of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.
"Using acupuncture adjunctively with western medicine is very common, because if you can do both approaches, you're way ahead of the game," he said. "Some people are not amenable to medication, either because of allergenic effects or because they just don't want to consume artificial things. And so, this is a way to start the healing process by engaging and stimulating the body's own inherent ability to heal itself."
However, Sager cautioned that American patients who consider this alternative route should choose carefully when they seek out acupuncture care.
"'Medical acupuncture' is acupuncture as practiced by a physician, which is much different than acupuncture as practiced by non-physicians in the east, such as in China," he noted. "And I would most definitely recommend that patients in the west deal with a physician that's properly trained and a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture," Sager said.
By Alan Mozes, HealthDay Reporter, October 30, 2006
By Judi Bailey
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