Tai Chi and Yoga Pass Mainstream Health Test

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has authoritative research on which non-mainstream therapies work and which don't. From Evening Primrose for PMS to hypnosis for anxiety, here's a quick run down.

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Some can be harmful. NZU, marketed for morning sickness, should be avoided, especially by pregnant or nursing women. Ingredients are implicated in bladder cancers and fetal risks.

Briggs recommended that patients who use complementary and alternative practices discuss them with a health care provider.

Other findings from her agency's research:

  • Echinacea is not effective in treating or preventing colds.

  • Black cohosh and red clover are not effective for menopausal hot flashes.

  • Saw palmetto doesn't help with prostate problems.

  • Shark cartilage is not effective against cancer.

  • Cranberry juice doesn't prevent recurrent urinary tract infection.

But the official research center also highlights remedies that do seem to be working.

With more than 10 years of scientific research to back her up, Briggs told her audience that, "Tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, meditation, massage and hypnosis can be effective in managing pain, anxiety and fatigue."

 Some of the therapies may work, she said, but not always in ways that were expected. Scientists found, for instance, that acupuncture has a positive effect whether the needles were placed on the correct meridians or merely nearby. How could this be?

"Acupuncture and hypnosis both involve a ritual that changes expectations, and in the process, they do dramatic things to brain chemistry," Briggs said, adding, "Expectation really will change how your body experiences pain."

She went on to say that for at least one-third of the population, hypnosis can be predicted to help substantially with pain.  "It's underutilized," she pointed out, "partly because there aren't a lot of people who have become doctors who also want to become hypnotists."

Briggs said that successful alternative therapies have a way of winning acceptance. "Breast feeding was not recommended in the 1950s, and even in the 1960s," she said, "Lamaze was considered an alternative medicine. Today these are mainstream."

Mitzi Perdue is a Maryland-based writer and former syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. She is the founder of Healthy U of Delmarva, an organization that works to encourage community-wide healthy lifestyles.


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I really get that Dr Briggs is reporting accurately about the various herbs mentioned. However there is a major problem with the majority of research that is done. Herbs are (like any food) very picky about how they are prepared. For instance if the herb preparation is subjected to too much heat, the enzymes die and often the active fraction is denatured. As for Chondroitin, the original research was on the cartilage of cows. Most of the new research is being done on an extract of ground hide - which also produces chondroitin but in the wrong proportions so it does not work. Again with chondroitin, if the preparation is exposed to too much heat - as happens when the capsule is compressed too hard (to increase shelf life), the material is degraded.

Another example that was recently discussed in the media was that Vitamin E did not help to prevent prostate cancer. The study used a form of Vitamin E that is never given, and the subjects already had prostate cancer. That particular study shows how careful you have to be when reading a study. Just looking at the summary is not enough. And though Dr Briggs is probably quite ethical, I do not think she has looked at how the studies were conducted with enough care.

Oh yes, and remember most of the studies published in the media or in sites such as MedScape are funded by Big Pharm who limits what can be done and how to do it. The herbs, vitamins and minerals, in these instances always come off worst.