As a healthcare practitioner, I feel an obligation to keep up with health-related research. Luckily, I’m a total science geek, so it isn’t a burden at all. It seems the majority of our news today is negative, medical news included, so my intention is to provide a sampling of positive health news from the past year.
- Acupuncture Wins! Research supporting the value of acupuncture continues to mount. A recent study demonstrated improvement of pain and range of motion in over 90% of cases of shoulder pain. Another study showed that acupuncture can help restore one’s sense of smell after olfactory loss from a viral infection. Other studies demonstrated improved sexual desire and function in pre-menopausal women , pain relief in Gulf War illness, breast cancer-related lymphedema, and more.
- Sleepy Students Win! Some schools are finally beginning to pay attention to the research indicating that kids simply don’t function well early in the morning, and they’re starting the school day (a little bit) later. Even though a lot of teachers and administrators push back, there’s also research indicating that adults probably go to work too early also!
- “One-Hour Contact with the Earth’s Surface (Grounding) Improves Inflammation and Blood Flow.” The earthing movement – claiming health benefits from spending time in contact with the earth – gained some traction thanks to an interesting study last year. A second study demonstrated improvement in mood from earthing. Another study in 2013 was “Earthing (Grounding) the Human Body Reduces Blood Viscosity—a Major Factor in Cardiovascular Disease.” Getting people to spend more time in nature is one of my main agendas, so these provocative studies add some hard evidence to my nagging.
- Opossums: Man’s New Best Friend? Lots of people think of opossums as dirty rat-like creatures, but they don’t chew holes in our property, they don’t spread disease, they’re surprisingly clean, and they may help curb the spread of Lyme disease. This report may change your mind about these shy creatures. As the number of diseases spread by ticks grows, and cases of Lyme disease soar, opossums provide a valuable service. A single opossum eats about 5000 ticks per week!
- Foodies Win! A great article in the Washington Post cites a handful of recent studies that explain how several of our favorite food combinations possess a special synergy that enhances their nutritional value and/or makes them safer to eat. Tomatoes + olive oil. Yogurt + fruit. Meat + spice rubs.
- Cannabis Wins! In states with legalized medical marijuana, prescription painkiller deaths have dropped by almost 25 percent in recent years. Also, in clinical trials, a marijuana extract called cannabidiol (CBD) reduced monthly seizures by 39% in patients with a particular form of seizure disorder.
- People Who Practice Tai Chi Win! There have been several positive studies on the effects of tai chi practice. I recommend it all the time for people who want a combination of improved physical fitness, better energy, increased mental focus, and relaxation. This study showed improvements in cardiovascular risk factors in women who did tai chi.
- Neem Extract for Pancreatic Cancer. Over the past couple decades, the world has been discovering a host of valuable properties in the Ayurvedic herb neem, including pesticide, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anthelmintic (parasitic worm-killing) effects. New research on mice shows that a neem extract called nimbolide is a potent killer of pancreatic cancer cells. There’s more work needed to turn this into a viable therapy, but there aren’t currently any good treatments for pancreatic cancer, so we’ll take whatever we can get.
- Homeopathy Wins! A study last year showed that individualized treatment with homeopathy worked significantly better for moderate to severe depression than Prozac or a placebo. Meanwhile, Switzerland recognized it on equal standing with biomedicine
- Chamomile Oil for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. A study showed that topical application of German chamomile oil improved inflammation in carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). I’d probably recommend combining it with some of the other non-surgical treatments that can benefit CTS, such as stretches, massage, acupuncture, and B-vitamin supplementation.
- People Who Had Chicken Pox Win! A new study seems to indicate that people with a history of chicken pox have a lower risk of developing brain cancer (glioma form) later in life.
- Sea Sponges May Offer Help for Leukemia. A compound isolated from sea sponges can halt the growth of cancer cells in acute myeloid leukemia, and seems to be very selective – leaving healthy cells unharmed. The drug developed from sponges (cortistatin-A) will be used in human trials soon.
- Hope for People With Alzheimer’s. Some recent research on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) has given us a lot to think about. A panel of scientists claims that a virus and two types of bacteria are a major cause of AD – which may lead to effective anti-viral or anti-bacterial treatment. A study last year in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease demonstrated that coconut oil reduces the damaging effects of amyloid plaque on brain cells. Another study presented a personalized nutrition approach for improving AD. Finally, in perhaps the most interesting study, ultrasound waves were applied to the heads of mice with memory loss due to AD, and 75 percent of them regained their lost memories. Meanwhile, a large German study showed that people using a proton pump inhibitor (a form of acid-blocker) over a long period had a higher risk of developing dementia, so, unless you have severe reflux with esophagus damage, it’s worth looking for a better treatment. We’re not exactly close to an AD cure, but at least we have a lot of good leads.
- Physical and Mental Exercise Helps Depression. We already knew about the connection between physical exercise and improved mood, but this interesting study at Rutgers University demonstrated improvements in mood through a special mental and physical training program. In my opinion, non-drug approaches to depression usually offer more lasting results, partly because they empower the patient.
I hope I’ve left you feeling encouraged by human ingenuity and the future of our health . . . or, at least, better equipped to start some interesting conversations!
Dr. Peter Borten