Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cholesterol - A Necessary Evil?

Cholesterol is a necessary substance for the body. It is produced by the liver to insulate nerves and is used in the production of certain hormones. Unfortunately, when there is more that the body can use, it builds up along the walls of arteries, which can limit blood flow to the heart, brain, and other organs.

Fortunately, the liver also makes a "good" cholesterol, the high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL has the ability to attract "bad" cholesterol and return it to the liver for reprocessing. For this reason, an optimal cholesterol profile includes not just low "bad" cholesterol levels, but also high "good" cholesterol levels.

Most people can promote healthy cholesterol levels naturally. There is a small percentage of people that have a genetic disorder that keeps cholesterol high regardless of what they do. Although following healthy guidelines may help, they will need to stay on cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Natural Ways to a Healthy Cholesterol Profile

Reduce your intake of saturated fat. Saturated fat stimulates the liver to produce LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Cut back on animal foods such as meats, unskinned poultry, whole milk and whole milk products, and butter. Use of monounsaturated fats may help lower LDL cholesterol, so cook with olive oil. Choose a non-hydrogenated spread made with olive or canola oil. (Note: A recent study has found that dietary cholesterol (such as egg yolks and other animal products) is not as important as watching your intake of saturated fats.

Recent developments have shown that two new margarines, using plant sterols, can lower cholesterol with regular use.

Watch for trans-fatty acids. These fats act much like saturated fats in your body, but they also lower HDL ("good") cholesterol. Avoid deep fried foods (fast food), vegetable shortening, margarine, and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils (commercial snack foods).

Stop smoking. Smoking increase total cholesterol and decreases HDL cholesterol. Kids exposed to passive smoke lowered their HDL cholesterol by 10 percent.

Exercise. Regular aerobic exercise can raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. A brisk walk of 45 minutes a day, five days a week, should do it.

Watch your weight. Losing extra weight around the middle can improve cholesterol levels.
Natural Supplements Substituting soy products for animal protein can reduce total and LDL cholesterol by 10 percent in nine weeks. Adding at least 7 grams of soluble fiber per day can lower both total and LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber can be found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Good sources are apples, lentils, dried beans, peas, barley, flaxseed, citrus fruits, carrots, and oats. Supplements containing chitosan has also been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol.

Antioxidants and Cholesterol

Drinking three or more cups of green tea a day prevents oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the first step in the formation of arterial plaque) better than vitamin C. Green tea contains polyphenols that act as powerful antioxidants. Add one to two raw or lightly cooked garlic cloves a day to lower total cholesterol and triglycerides.

Shitake mushrooms contain eritadenine, which lowers cholesterol in animal studies. Drinking 12 to 14 ounces of purple grape juice per day for two weeks appears to delay the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (as reported at the Annual American College of Cardiology meeting). Both red wine and purple grape juice contain flavonoids, which is being studied for their healthy properties. One drawback is that drinking either may provide more alcohol or sugar than you want to add to your diet, especially if you are watching your weight. Other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, also delay oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Make sure your vitamin supplements supply your daily antioxidant needs.

Excess stress keeps more LDL cholesterol in circulation, leading to greater chances of plaque formation. Learning to relax through breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga may reduce your risk.

Still Out of Control?

If you have made all of the above changes and you still have a total cholesterol level between 200 and 240, you may want to add Red Yeast Rice to your diet. Tufts University researchers reported that Red Yeast Rice lowered total cholesterol and average of 16.4 percent, a decrease in LDL of 21 percent, and an increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol of 14.6 percent, with no significant side effects.

Important Red Yeast Rice Update

If all else fails, ask your doctor about cholesterol lowering drugs. People that cannot get their cholesterol levels down any other way may need to add a prescription drug. (If you do take these drugs, you may want to add Coenzyme Q10, as some of these drugs may block the production of this enzyme.

Position Statement

The statements on these web pages have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products listed on these pages are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

As always, before utilizing any Alternative or Complementary Medicine therapies, individuals should be evaluated by a licensed physician (M.D. or D.O.) to obtain a proper diagnosis. Alternative or Complementary Medicine is meant to complement traditional therapy. Individual treatment should be a balance of alternative and traditional, integrating the two together, to provide the best possible care. When choosing a health care practitioner, check to make sure they are licensed to practice (whenever possible).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Right Multivitamin

Women, men, those over 50, those with chronic illness, and vegetarians have special needs to consider when choosing a multivitamin. Review your special needs below.

Why Everyone should Take a Multivitamin

There's nothing like a sound, low-fat diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to supply the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy. Unfortunately, we don't always eat well. Add to that the possible harmful effects of stress, aging, lack of exercise, pollution, and illness, and supplements become even more important. That's why so many experts now recommend that everyone take a daily multivitamin.

The Right Choice: See Our Multivitamin Chart

This chart outlines the key vitamins and minerals your multivitamin should supply and the main benefits of each nutrient. It also gives what's called the daily value (DV) - a new government standard that generally corresponds to the RDA. The DV satisfies minimum daily requirements and helps prevent a deficiency disease, such as scurvy (lack of vitamin C). The higher levels of vitamins and minerals found in many multivitamins may actually help prevent disease, delay its onset, or lessen the severity of certain ailments.

Good Reason to Take an extra-strength Formula

If you eat an optimal diet of low-fat foods, at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and chicken, lean meat, or fish several times a week, you can probably get away with a once-daily formula. But even those who consume a fairly well-rounded diet and yield to junk-food lapses only occasionally can benefit from an extra-strength formula. If your idea of lunch is a slice of pizza and a diet soda, look for a multivitamin in the upper ranges of our chart.
  • Read the label carefully to see what you're getting. Many "high-potency" formulas provide only one
  • Don't pay more for "timed-released" or "related" products. They're not worth the extra cost.
  • Check the serving size. You may need to swallow up to six extra-strength pills a day to get the amounts listed on the label.
  • Don't double up on one-a-days. You'll be getting too much of certain nutrients, and not enough of others. If you want an extra-strength formula, buy one.
  • Avoid megadoses that greatly exceed the upper doses listed in our chart, especially with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K; the minerals iron and selenium; or when taking any supplements long term. Be sure to account for any vitamins and minerals you may also be taking as individual supplements or as part of an herbal formula.

Finding the Right Multivitamin for You

VitaminsMain BenefitsDVOne-A-DayExtra-Strength
Vitamin AFights infections; maintains eye and skin health. May be supplied in part as beta-carotene, which may lower the risk of cancer and heart disease and boost immunity. Pregnant women should not take more than 5,000 IU of vitamin A daily, but higher doses of beta-carotene are safe.5,000 IU5,000 IU5,000-10,000 IU (up to 25,000 IU as beta- caratene
Vitamin CFights colds; may help prevent cancer, heart disease, cataracts. If your formula doesn't supply at least 500 mg, consider taking an extra supplement.60 mg60-100 mg100-1,000 mg (up to 25,000 IU as beta- caratene
Vitamin DPromotes healthy bones and teeth; may protect against cancer. Those over 50 should get at least 400 IU and those over 70 need at least 600 IU. Avoid daily doses exceeding 1,000 IU, which may be toxic.400 IU200-400 IU400-600 IU
Vitamin EMay help prevent cancer, heart disease, cataracts. Everyone should get at least 200 IU daily. Avoid doses above 1,200 IU, which can cause headaches.30 IU30-100 IU100-400 IU
Thiamin (B1)Aids energy production; promotes nerve and heart health.1.5 mg1.5-25 mg25-100 mg
Riboflavin (B2)May prevent cataracts and migraines; helps heal rosacea.1.7 mg1.7-25 mg25-100
Niacin (B2)Helps lower cholesterol and improve circulation; fosters healthy nerve cells.20 mg20-25 mg25-100 mg
Vitamin (B6)May prevent heart disease and stroke; maintains nervous system health. Avoid taking more than 200 mg on a daily basis.2 mg2-25 mg25-100 mg
Folic acidPrevents birth defects, heart disease, possibly some cancers. Pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant should get at least 600 mcg daily.400 mcg400 mcg400-800 mcg
Vitamin (B12)Promotes nerve health; prevents heart disease. People over 50 and vegetarians should look for formulas that supply at least 100 mcg.400 mcg400 mcg50-400 mcg
Vitamin KPromotes blood clotting; helps strengthen bones.80 mcg0-80 mcg60-300 mcg
BiotinPromotes healthy nails, hair, and nerves.300 mcg0-100 mcg100-300 mcg
Pantothenic acid B(5)Strengthens nerves; promotes energy metabolism.300 mcg0-100 mcg25-100 mcg
BoronBuilds strong bones, teeth, and nails.*0-50 mcg50 mcg-2 mg
CalciumPrevents or slows osteoporosis. Women of all ages and men over 50 need at least 1,200 mg daily. A separate supplement is probably necessary. Avoid daily doses of 2,500 mg or higher.1,000 mg0-25 mg25-400 mg
ChromiumMaintains healthy bolld sugar levels;helps break down fats.120 mcg0-100 mcg100-200 mcg
CopperPrevents cardiovascular disease; maintains bones, tendons, and nerves.2 mg1-2 mg1-2 mg
IronPrevents anemia in younger women. Men and postmenopausal women should opt for iron-free formulas. Vegetarians who avoid all animal products and women with heavy periods should get at least 18 mg a day. Don't exceed 65 mg daily.18 mg0-18 mg0 -18 mg
MagnesiumProtects against heart disease; may ease asthma and diabetes.400 mg100-200 mg200-400 mg
ManganesStrengthens bones; may be good for the heart and prevent seizures.2 mg2-5 mg5-10 mg
MolybdenumHelps the body use iron and burn fats.75 mcg25-65 mcg65-100 mcg
PotasssiumMay help prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.3,500 mg5-100 mg5-100 mg
SeleniumHelps prevent cancer, heart disease, cataracts, and macular degeneration; fights cold sores and shingles. Get at least 100 mcg a day, but avoid daily doses above 900 mcg, which can be dangerous.70 mcg0-100 mcg100-200 mcg
VanadiumBuilds bones; may aid people with diabetes.*0-25 mcg25-50 mcg
ZincMay cure colds, relieve prostrate complaints, slow macular degeneration. Vegetarians who avoid all animal products, including dairy and eggs,should aim to get 30 mg. Don't exceed 60 mg daily, shich can be harmful.15 mg15 mg15-30 mg

Special Needs

of all ages need at least 1,200 mg of calcium daily, through supplements or diet, to slow bone loss. Most multivitamins don't supply this much: A separate calcium supplement is probably your best bet. Younger women, especially those with heavy menstrual periods , need plenty of iron (18 mg a day ). Those considering pregnancy should get extra folic acid and avoid high-dose vitamin A. Special "women's formulas" may contain expensive herbs you may not need.

should avoid multivitamins containing iron: Iron build-up has been linked to heart disease. Be wary of "men's formulas that tout ingredients like saw palmetto for prostate complaints : Many of these high-profile "extras" are present in such small amounts that they provide little or no therapeutic benefit.

Over 50,
opt for iron-free formulas: Too much of the minerals can cause heart problems. Look for vitamins B6 and B12 in the higher ranges, because as people age, they often have trouble absorbing these nutrients. Older women and men can benefit from the bone-strengthening effects of extra calcium (1,200 mg a day) and vitamin D (400 to 600 IU a day).

Chronic Illness
can lead to poor eating habits or deplete nutrient stores. Extra-strength formulas are especially important if you suffer from a long-term digestive ailment or have liver or gallbladder problems. Consult your doctor before taking supplements.

who avoid all animal foods, including dairy and egg products, need at least 100 mcg daily of vitamin B12. Zinc, iron, and calcium are also very important minerals for strict vegetarians.

Aromatherapy: Health Benefits and How Does It Work

Has the scent of lavender ever made you sleepy? Does the aroma of warm apple pie bring back sweet memories of autumn afternoons in your grandmother's kitchen? If so, then you instinctively understand the basic principle of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, extracted from plants, trees, and herbs, for therapeutic purposes. Although aromatic plant oils have been used to treat various conditions for thousands of years, the term aromatherapy wasn't coined until 1928, when Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist first used it. Gattefosse had earlier witnessed the curative capabilities of essential oils when he used them to treat wounds during World War I. After the war, he continued to experiment with various oils, and eventually classified them according to their "healing" properties: antitoxic, antiseptic, tonifying, stimulating, calming, and so on. In 1937, he published Aromatherapie, which remains a classic book on the subject (it is available in English).

Marguerite Maury, who built on Gattefosse's work in the 1950s, is credited with developing aromatherapy as a holistic therapy. She was also the first to tailor specific oils to an individual's health needs.

Today aromatherapy utilizes approximately 40 different essential oils, singly and in combination. Generally, they are helpful for treating stress and stress-related ailments, for invigorating the body, and for promoting general well-being. The oils are used in a variety of ways: They can be mixed with a bland carrier oil (such as a vegetable oil) and applied to the skin during a massage; they may be inhaled; or they can be added to your bathwater. You can do aromatherapy at home by buying the individual oils (they're commonly found at health-food stores and pharmacies) or you can visit a trained aromatherapist, who will probably mix up a blend of oils customized especially for you and your condition.

How Does It Work?

A considerable body of research shows that smell, the most acute of our senses, has a powerful influence on our bodies and minds. The scents from essential oils are believed to activate olfactory nerve cells in the nasal cavity, which then send impulses to the limbic system, the area of the brain associated with emotions and memory.

Proponents of aromatherapy believe that the aromatic oils work both emotionally and physically. Emotionally, they may make you feel better by evoking a pleasant memory (the smell of lemons might remind you of a cake a favorite aunt once made, for example). Physically, they may help to relieve certain conditions by stimulating the immune, circulatory, or nervous systems.

Aromatherapists stress that only pure, natural, unadulterated essential oils have true medicinal properties. Perfumes, shampoos, and bath oils scented with herbs may smell wonderful, but they are not intended to be therapeutic.

What You Can Expect

Aromatherapy can be a very useful addition to many treatment plans, but it is seldom the primary mode of therapy. Therefore, a consultation with an aromatherapist will usually take place in the context of other medical treatment. The practitioner may also be a massage therapist, an herbalist, or a homeopath. Aromatherapy is also often practiced at home, because the essential oils are easy and pleasant to use.

If you do seek out a professional, the therapist will want to know your general medical history, the level of stress in your life, and the reasons you are seeking treatment. Then the two of you will work together to choose the oil or oils that will most effectively address your complaint.

Be sure to tell the aromatherapist if you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, because there are certain oils that you should avoid (see "Cautions," below). The therapist also needs to know if you are using any homeopathic remedies, because the oils' strong smells can offset the effects of some homeopathic treatments.

Because reactions to smells can be idiosyncratic, it's important to let the aromatherapist know if you can't stand the smell of oranges or if the scent of pine brings back harrowing memories of summer camp.

Whether your treatment takes place in a practitioner's office or in your own home, the benefits of aromatherapy can be obtained in a number of ways:

  • By direct application of the oils to the skin. Massage with aromatherapy oils allows the substances to be readily absorbed into the skin. To make an aromatherapy massage oil, simply add a few drops of an essential oil to a small amount of an unscented carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil or safflower oil. Certain oils, such as rosemary, are also used topically to help soothe joint and muscle pain. Always avoid the eyes when applying essential oils to the skin.

  • By inhaling the scents. Breathing in the intense aromas of essential oils is often recommended for easing congestion due to colds, flu, or chronic sinusitis or bronchitis. For this purpose, an aromatherapist might suggest that you fill a basin with steaming water, add a few drops of eucalyptus or pine oil, and breathe in the fragrant fumes. You can also inhale essential oils by sprinkling a few drops on a handkerchief and breathing in the fumes (keep your eyes closed), or by simply removing the cap from the bottle and taking in the scent. For a less intense but still pleasant effect, some people like to use a special electrical device called a diffuser to disperse microparticles of an essential oil throughout a room.

  • By adding the oils to a bath. Adding eight to 15 drops of an essential oil to your bath after the water has finished running creates a relaxing atmosphere and allows the oil to seep into your skin. It's best not to use soap in an aromatherapy bath, because it may interfere with the absorption of the oil.

Health Benefits

There is no evidence in the medical literature that aromatherapy on its own can prevent or heal disease. However, several studies have shown its ability to promote recovery in certain conditions and to reduce stress. Researchers at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center recently found that the vanilla-like smell of heliotropin helped patients relax while they were undergoing MRI scans. And a study of patients who had undergone heart surgery found that those who received a foot massage with neroli (orange) oil were less anxious than those who received the same massage with just plain oil.

In a controlled trial in Scotland, researchers reported that a few dabs of diluted thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedar oils, rubbed daily into the scalp for seven months, proved highly effective, and safe, in treating alopecia areata, a stress-related form of hair loss.

Despite the lack of scientific research, European physicians and aromatherapists frequently prescribe certain oils for a variety of complaints, including sinusitis, colds and flu, digestive problems, insomnia, migraine, and muscle aches and pains. Among the more common aromatherapy recommendations are:

  • Eucalyptus and wintergreen oils for relieving congestion.

  • Jasmine oil for easing depression.

  • Lavender oil for reducing anxiety and improving sleep.

  • Lemon, orange, and other citrus oils for improving mood and increasing mental alertness.

  • Peppermint oil for relieving nausea and aiding digestion.

  • Rosemary oil for pain relief and muscle relaxation.

While aromatherapy is generally quite safe, it is important to keep in mind that it is a complementary therapy and not a substitute for conventional medical care.

How To Choose a Practitioner

Although aromatherapy is simple and safe enough to be done at home, seeing a trained practitioner may help you choose the right essential oils for the effects you want.

There is no licensing of aromatherapists in the United States, although Great Britain and other European countries do require it. In the U.S. it is possible for aromatherapy practitioners to receive "certification" for simply having completed course work in a few weekend seminars or by mail. Therefore certification should not necessarily be considered a reflection of clinical experience or competence.

To be sure you are seeing a qualified aromatherapist, consider working with (or getting a referral from) a massage therapist, chiropractor, or other practitioner who has had some clinical training.


  • Essential oils should never be taken internally.

  • To prevent allergic reactions, first test any essential oil on a small patch of clean skin. Mix a drop of the essential oil with a few drops of an unscented carrier oil, such as safflower oil. Place a bandage over the area and wait 24 hours. If no irritation occurs, you can use the oil. If you develop a rash, try another essential oil.

  • If you become sensitive to an oil after using it for a while, stop using it.

  • If you have asthma, consult your doctor before doing aromatherapy, because certain aromatherapy oils can trigger bronchial spasms.

  • Unless you're very familiar with aromatherapy, it's best to avoid using it during pregnancy. The essential oils of basil, thyme, clary sage, calamus, mugwort, pennyroyal, sage, rosemary, juniper, and wintergreen can all harm the fetus or induce miscarriage if taken internally, or even possibly if applied externally.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fish Oil Capsules: More Than Brain Food

There is growing evidence increased consumption of fish may be beneficial to health. Recent studies have found an association between consumption of fish oil and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as improvements in other health conditions, such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Most current research on the benefits of consuming more fish is directed at the effects derived from omega-3 fatty acids in many fish species. However, studies of human dietary preferences reveal up to one-half of the population may not like to eat fish. Of those who do eat fish, many prefer fish only when it is deep-fried, or consume non-fatty fish species, which are poorer sources of fish oil. This is one reason fish oil capsules have become popular as an alternative source of fish oil.

Support for the use of fish oil capsules primarily comes from three well-known epidemiological studies, two of which were carried on outside of the United States. One study, conducted in the Netherlands, suggested ingestion of as little as 35 grams of fish per day (a single one-half pound meal of fish per week) might help prevent coronary heart disease, possibly significantly reducing mortality due to cardiovascular disease in a 20 year follow up. Further, it has been suggested a regular diet of fish may decrease levels of plasma triglycerides, plasma cholesterol, low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LOL) , and very low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (VLDL)

Conversely, two other epidemiological studies have shown no relationship between fish consumption and cardiovascular mortality. Yet it is important to note there is some conflicting evidence regarding the benefits of fish oil consumption on blood pressure and its relationship to the development of some types of cancer.

In general, fish oil capsules supply concentrations of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DNA) . The EPA-DNA rich fish oil is generally sold in soft gelatin capsules. The gelatin provides an oxygen barrier which prevents the development of toxic lipid peroxides (e.g. malondialdehyde) . Liquid, non-encapsulated formulations generally do not have this protection, and therefore may contain some toxic lipid peroxides.

In most cases the fish oils come from cold water ocean fish. Encapsulated products contain fish oil, not fish liver oil. This distinction is important since fish liver oil contains fat-soluble vitamin A and vitamin D, which if taken excessively have the remote potential of being toxic. The literature contains reports of vitamin A and vitamin D toxicity when levels above 50,000 lU/day are consumed.

Fish Oil Capsules - Method Of Action

In general, dietary unsaturated fatty acids play an important role in reducing atherogenesis and thrombosis. Fish oils appear to reduce hyperlipidemia, while decreasing the production of the prothrombotic substance, thromboxane, by enhancing the production of the platelet antiaggregatory substance, pros tacyclin.

Through the combined vasodilatory effects of prostacyclin (Pgl-2 and Pgl-3), fish oils may improve peripheral circulation and thereby facilitate the reduction of very low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (VLDL) removal. This may be due to a specific alteration of cell membrane fluidity, while also altering the activities of membrane-bound enzymes. This can result in change in receptor activity, specificity and signal transduction.

Fish oils also depress the synthesis of hepatic fatty acids and triglycerides and secretion of very low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (VLDL) . One further benefit is fish oils displace arachidonic acid from tissue phospholipids, resulting in omega-3 essential fatty acid levels inhibiting thromboxane synthesis.

The effects of fish oils are very selective. Sicosapenteenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DRA) components not only displace arachidonic acid and inhibit cyclo-oxygenase, but EPA becomes a substrate for cyclo-oxygenase when the peroxide tone is high and is converted to the potent antiaggregatory Pgl-3. It has been suggested these findings may explain the increased bleeding time and the decreased incidence of coronary artery disease which has been reported in Japanese with high fish consumption and in some Eskimos.

EPA- and DRA-rich fish oil has also been found to suppress production of inflammatory agents found in rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. The anti-inflammatory effect of the omega-3 fatty acids might be mediated in part by their inhibitory effect on production of interleukin-l and tumor necrosis factor, both principal mediators of inflammation. In cases of psoriasis vulgaris, fish oils produce symptomatic improvement by effecting changes in levels of the inflammatory Leukotriene compounds especially Leukotriene B4. This Leukotriene is a lipoxygenation product of the fatty acid arachidonic acid. The EPA in fish oil 'replaces' the arachidonic acid in phospholipids, leading to the formation of Leukotriene BS, rather than B4. Leukotriene B5 causes a much weaker inflammatory response. Neutrophils were isolated from the peripheral blood of patients given fish oil to treat their psoriasis. Patients whose symptoms improved with fish oil therapy had higher levels of Leukotriene BS than did those patients who showed no improvement.

Fish Oil Capsules - Therapeutic Approaches

Most fish oil capsules contain 300 or 500 milligrams of omega-3 fish oil per one gram capsule. Thus, patients therapeutically using fish oil at the levels discussed in this section, may require between 15 to 30 capsules to get the derived benefits described herein. This amount adds up to substantial calories in the total daily diet. Further, unless supplemented with vitamin E, there is a possibility of vitamin E deficiency developing from prolonged intake of high doses.

In a recent review of fish oil supplementation and coronary disease, it was concluded 10 capsules or 25 milliliters (1/2 teaspoon) of cod liver oil a day (providing 1.8 grams of EPA) appears 'to be safe over a long term.'

Caution should be taken when recommending fish oil supplementation to pregnant women, to individuals with known or suspected bleeding disorders or to persons taking aspirin therapeutically. These individuals should consult with their physician before beginning such supplementation.


Eleven preliminary animal studies have reported favorable anticancer activity by fish oil. These studies were reviewed in 1987. Considerably more research is going on at this time. However, it remains premature to recommend fish oil as an anticancer substance until additional studies are completed in humans.

In 1989, researchers studying the effects of fish oil on human mammary carcinoma growth discovered an important role for fish oil in altering tumor sensitivity to anticancer drugs. In that study, tumor growth in mice fed fish oil and inoculated with human mammary cancer was reduced.

As had been shown in prior research, measurements of mice mitochondrial enzymes involved in lipid metabolism showed the fish oil consumption caused increased oxidation of the polyunsaturated fatty acids. This would result in inhibition of tumor growth due to increased oxidation of fatty acids in tumor tissue. The result of such changes is increased lipid peroxidation causing increased susceptibility of the tumor to any pro-oxidant antitumor drug. So when the mice in this study were given two anticancer drugs, doxorubicin or mitomycin C, tumor growth was significantly inhibited.

Additional evidence of fish oil?s potential inhibition of cancer growth comes from in vivo and in vitro work reported in 1989 examining the effect of EPA on metastasis of tumor cells. Researchers cultured malignant murine melanoma and human fibrosarcoma cells in a media supplemented with EPA. Production of collagenase IV by the tumor cells was significantly decreased. Collagenase IV is a critical substance found in cancer cells leading to metastatic activity. The same procedure was attempted with arachidonic acid metabolites without comparable results. These findings add further support to growing evidence indicating EPA may reduce the spontaneous metastases associated with some cancers, while also altering the progression of the cancer itself.

Cardiovascular disease

In general, dietary unsaturated fatty acids appear to reduce undesirable circulating fats (e.g. in hyperlipidemia) while decreasing the production of the prothrombotic substance thromboxane. In studies involving fish oil as an unsaturated fatty acid, data from clinical trials show a significant reduction of levels of very low density lipoprotein?cholesterol (VLDL) , plasma triglycerides, plasma cholesterol, and low density lipoprotein-cholesterol

These findings are important because they may explain the significant difference in mortality rate due to cardiovascular disease between certain Alaskan natives and mainland Americans. In an autopsy series of 339 Alaskan natives, Authaud found cardiovascular disease was a cause of death in only 35 (or 10.3%) of the cases, whereas it accounts for 50% for all deaths in the United States.

Recent evidence also suggests fish oil may prevent atherosclerosis in Rhesus monkeys and hyperlipidemic pigs, despite lack of improvement in serum cholesterol levels. These findings warrant consideration given the high mortality and morbidity associated with atherosclerosis.

For therapeutic dosages, intakes of 5 grams of fish oil a day may be advisable. However, there is sufficient evidence to consider fish oil supplementation, in the range of from 2 to 10 grams per day, for patients with elevated cholesterol (7.75 mmol/liter) or triglycerides (5.64 mmol/liter)

Kinsella has suggested for both prophylactic and therapeutic applications, the most benefit is derived from fish oil when total fat intake is lowered to least 30% of calories, saturated fatty acids to no more than 30% of total fat, and omega-S fatty acids (vegetable oils) to a maximum of 10%.

Fish oil seems to have hypotensive effects ranging from small (with 5 grams per day) to substantial (6 grams per day) . Yetiv has speculated fish oil depresses vascular reactivity to hormones involved in hypertension. Yetiv suggested fish oil acted by increasing vasodilatory prostaglandin?s Pgl-2 and Pgl-3, and this increase accounted for the observed reduction in blood pressure.

To test this hypothesis, a study was conducted to examined the ability of fish oil to lower blood pressure in men with mild essential hypertension. One group received 10 ml. of fish oil (3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids) , a second group 50 ml. of fish oil (15 grams) , a third group 50 ml. safflower oil (39 grams of omega-S fatty acids) and a fourth group 50 ml. of a mixture of coconut, olive and safflower oils. The latter group represented the approximate amount of fatty acids consumed in the average American diet (39% saturated fat, 46% monounsaturated fat, and 15% polyunsaturated fat) . Males who received the highest dose of fish oil (50 ml. equal to 9 grams of EPA and 6 grams of OHA) had an average reduction of 6.5mm Hg in systolic pressure and a 4.4mm Hg in diastolic pressure. Hone of the other three groups, including the 10 ml. fish oil group, saw this kind of reduction. The study did not find the expected association between the formation of Pgl-2 and Pgl-3 and a sustained reduction in blood pressure.
This indicates vasodilatory prostaglandin?s are not the primary mediators of blood pressure reduction by fish oil. What those mediators are remains unknown to date.

Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)

SLE is a generalized connective tissue disorder tending to affect middle-aged females. It is characterized by skin eruptions, neurological manifestations, lymphadenopathy, fever and other symptoms, in addition, to a range of abnormal immunological phenomena, including hypocomplementemia and hypergammaglobulinemia.

In 1989, the first controlled study of fish oil?s effects on SLE was reported. Prior to then a number of anecdotal reports suggested improvement of some patients following fish oil supplementation. The early clinical attempts were based on animal studies using inbred mice strains, which were criticized because of questionable generalization to human SLE patients.

The 1989 study tested 6 grams of EPA or 6 grams of OHA daily for five weeks in 12 patients having SLE. Thereafter, patients were taken off supplementation and continued without supplementation for a five week washout period. Then patients were returned to supplementation for another five weeks, but this time given 18 grams of EPA or DHA per day. At the higher EPA/DHA levels (18 grams a day) there was a 38% decrease in triglycerides, a 39% decrease in very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) cholesterol, and a 28% increase in high density lipoproteins (HDL)

Overall this resulted in significant improvements in inflammatory and artherosclerotic processes typically seen in SLE patients. These findings suggest some beneficial effects from fish oil supplementation. However, possible long-term benefits from fish oil supplementation in SLE patients have still not been studied. The first clinical trial of the benefits of fish oil?s EPA in the alleviation of the symptoms of osteoarthritis was reported in 1989. Patients were given ibuprofen, an aspirin-like analgesic, with either 10 milliliters of EPA a day or placebo for six months. Patients assessed the level of pain and interference they experienced in everyday activity. The average scores for these indexes ?were strikingly lower in the EPA (group) than the placebo group.? However, the differences were not as statistically significant as the researchers had hoped, meaning additional studies are suggested. This is the first report of fish oil being of benefit to patients with osteoarthritis.

Fish Oil Capsules - Toxicity Factors

Of particular concern has been the reports of prolonged bleeding time in populations having a proportionately high intake of fish. Several studies have shown this effect appears to be dose-dependent, although collagen-induced platelet aggregation is not inhibited. Many studies have shown fish oil supplements prolong bleeding time, inhibit platelet aggregation, and decrease Thromboxane 2 production. However, the concept of prolonged bleeding time is significant or potentially life-threatening is under review.

Foran has pointed out there are some associated risks, in general, from increased consumption of fish. Some fish may be contaminated from industrial effluents and toxins. Many of these toxins are known to increase the risk of cancer. Animal experiments have demonstrated eating such contaminated fish as infrequently as once a week may increase the risk of developing cancer, in addition, to its risk to pregnant mothers and infants.

The potential adverse effects of long?term fish oil supplementation are unknown. However this is also true of all other oils, such as vegetable oils and most hypolipidemic drugs currently prescribed.

Fish Oil Capsules - Research Briefs

-Atherosclerosis ?This randomized clinical trial tested whether fish oil supplements can improve human coronary atherosclerosis.

Epidemiological studies of populations whose intake of oily fish is high, as well as laboratory studies of the effects of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil, support the hypothesis that fish oil is antiatherogenic.

Mean minimal diameter of artherosclerotic coronary arteries decreased by 0.104 and 0.138 mm in the fish oil and control groups, respectively (p = 0.6 between groups), and percent stenosis increased by 2.4% and 2.6%, respectively (p = 0.8). Confidence intervals exclude improvement by fish oil treatment of > 0.17 mm, or > 2.6%.

Fish oil treatment for 2 years does not promote major favorable changes in the diameter of artherosclerotic coronary arteries.

Controlled trial of fish oil for regression of human coronary atherosclerosis. HARP Research Group. Sacks-FM; Stone-PH; Gibson-CM; Silverman-DI; Rosner-B; Pasternak-RC. J-Am-Coll-Cardiol 1995 Jun; 25(7) 1492-8.

-Myocardial infarction-

Evaluated whether increased intake of fish oils (Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic acids) might reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Observational and clinical studies have suggested that increased intake of fish oils, as reflected in plasma levels of fish oils, may reduce the risk of myocardial infarction.

14,916 participants in the Physicians? Health Study with a sample of plasma before randomization. Each participant with myocardial infarction occurring during the first 5 years of follow-up was matched by smoking status and age with a randomly chosen control participant who had not developed coronary heart disease.

There was a lack of association between fish oil levels and the incidence of myocardial infarction.

Results indicated no beneficial effect of increased fish oil consumption on the incidence of a first myocardial infarction.

A prospective study of plasma fish oil levels and incidence of myocardial infarction in U.S. male physicians. Guallar-E; Hennekens-CH; Sacks-FM; Willett-WC; Stampfer-MJ. J-Am-Coll-Cardiol. 1995 Feb; 25(2); 387-94.


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How Much Calcium Is Enough? Are Current Recommendations Too High?

Scientists from the National Institutes of Science and renowned universities debated the merits of the current recommendations for calcium intake. Are these levels prudent or excessive?

Calcium is the nutrient most important for attaining peak bone mass and for preventing and treating osteoporosis; although vitamin D, which helps the body absorb the calcium is also important. The attention regarding the prevention of osteoporosis seems to be directed at older women, but it is even more important for children and adolescents to get adequate calcium. It is during these early years that bone mass is significantly accumulated. In fact, 90% of your bone mass is built before age 20, and thereafter, slowly declines with age.

The controversy revolves around the current scientific database. In 1997 the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine issued new, higher intake recommendations for calcium and vitamin D, especially in adults over the age of 50. Currently those recommendations are 1300 mg/day if you are between 9 and 18 years old, 1000 mg/day between 19 and 50 years old, and 1200 mg/day for those 51 and older. In 2001 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed a consensus that randomized clinical trials had demonstrated that adequate calcium intake from diet or supplements increased bone mineral density, and that combined treatment with vitamin D and calcium reduced the incidence of hip and other fractures.

Recent large, well-done studies have questioned the ability of calcium intake to prevent hip fractures or falls. These studies did not achieve statistical significance among groups, primarily because the population did not take their calcium regularly over the many years of the study. The ultimate lession from the study should not be to question the benefits of calcium, but to highlight the need to take the product regularly.

We know from a massive government study on dietary intake that less than 10 percent of teenage girls get the amount of calcium they need to build optimal bone mass. Less than 10 percent of adults over 50 consume the amount of calcium they need to slow bone loss during aging. Although more than 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, almost half of American women over 50 have undiagnosed low bone mineral density.

It seems that the prudent thing to do is not to debate the theoretical 'optimal' levels of calcium and vitamin D intake, but to ardently work to get people to take the supplemental calcium they need. Almost all of the studies in adults showed that increasing calcium intake reduced or stopped age-related bone loss, reduced the rate of bone fractures, or both. Our job should be to encourage the daily intake of those vitamins and minerals that can easily help to prevent the serious public health crisis we are facing.

How Much Vitamin D Is Enough?

New review focuses on the many benefits of vitamin D and inadequate levels in the US.

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings has just published a review of the benefits of vitamin D. The author of this review, Dr Michael Holick, PhD, MD, not only describes the many benefits vitamin D provides, but reviews the current vitamin D status of the average American and examines the health implications of the high prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy in this country.

Vitamin D prevents rickets in children. Rickets is characterized by skeletal deformities caused by overproduction of bone and inadequate calcification of that bone. The mechanism by which this occurs was worked out through scientific experimentation and an RDI for vitamin D was established. Fortification programs were subsequently introduced in the US, essentially eliminating this vitamin deficiency disease.

Dr Holick reviews the vast body of scientific evidence that indicates that inadequate vitamin D, in addition to causing rickets, prevents children from attaining their genetically programmed peak bone mass, contributes to osteoporosis in adults and causes the painful bone disease osteomalacia.

We now know that vitamin D is involved in many other systems and diseases. Vitamin D is intimately involved in regulating gene expression for many fundamental cell functions, such as production, growth, and death. It is necessary for proper muscle function, and may help prevent diabetes, hypertension and many common cancers.

He reports that approximately 36% of otherwise healthy young adults have inadequate vitamin D levels. This percentage increases to 57% of the general medicine inpatients in the United States. There is also a high prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy in elderly patients and people with osteoporosis.

He suggests that this vitamin inadequacy is caused by infrequent exposure to sunlight, the use of sunscreens, age-related decreases in vitamin D production in the skin, and diets low in vitamin D. He concludes that supplemental doses of vitamin D and sensible sun exposure could prevent vitamin D deficiency in most of the general population.

With this knowledge, we should seriously reconsider the recommended daily intake of vitamin D. Virtually the entire population has vitamin D levels that are substantially lower than the levels that would have been present in our equatorial ancestors. We know only a small portion of the benefits of vitamin D - but we do know that supplementing vitamin D intake will provide these many benefits. Why not add more vitamin D to your wellness regimen today?

Holick, MF, High Prevalence of Vitamin D Inadequacy and Implications for Health. Mayo Clin Proc. 2006

Herbs for Relieving Stress

Stress, anxiety, and tension seem to be common characteristics of our lives today. For many of us it seems as if our lives are constantly changing-painlessly at times and painfully at others. The skills demanded by our jobs are shifting, as are the goals and expectations of society itself. Sometimes nothing seems to have a solid foundation, whether it be family relationships, the workplace, the national economy, or international politics. It's almost as if society is going through its adolescence! It's a time of chaos and crisis, great stress, and yet, great opportunity.

Defining Stress There are several ways to define stress. Perhaps the most encompassing is: "Stress is the response of the body to any demand." Just staying alive creates demands on the body for life-maintaining energy; even while we sleep our bodies continue to function. So by this definition, stress is a fundamental part of being alive and shouldn't be avoided! The trick is to ensure that the degree of stress we experience is such that life is a joy, not a struggle.

However, when stress becomes distress it can result in health problems. Stressful events physically trigger the release of stress hormones (like adrenaline) which provide a quick supply of oxygen and energy. But if these hormone surges are sparked again and again, they can deplete our body's resources and result in health problems such as high blood pressure.

Ongoing stress can increase the risk of developing migraine headaches, depression, chronic fatigue, and digestive ailments. If stress is chronic it can lead to feelings of hopelessness and severe depression which can adversely affect our immune system, potentially increasing our vulnerability to disease.

Healthy lifestyle habits, relaxation practices, and other stress management techniques can help us cope with stress. Vigorous aerobic exercise can reduce the level of stress hormones and release endorphins that bring a sense of well-being. Eating a healthy low-fat diet and avoiding stimulating foods such as those containing caffeine can help your body cope. Learning relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, stretching exercises, or meditation, can also help.

Nature also has provided us with several safe and effective natural herbal remedies that can help us relax and deal with the symptoms associated with stress. These herbs are easy to use and have been used for centuries as effective stress-reducers.

Herbs and Their Proper Use in Stress Management

Herbs can play a fundamental role in any stress management program. When used within the context of a program that addresses a range of factors associated with the individual's stress problem, herbs can facilitate a dramatic change in the quality of life. A holistic and preventive approach should be used when treating an individual under stress. Simply using an herb, as one would use a synthetic drug, to treat the symptoms associated with stress does not address the cause of the problem. A well-balanced stress management program will address all the various aspects that contribute to stress. Herbal remedies will only fulfill some aspects, but not all. Herbs are best and most safely used in helping to treat daily mild stress and short term severe stress. Long standing or chronic stress can lead to very serious health conditions such as chronic insomnia, severe depression, immune related diseases, heart disease, and other conditions that may require medical attention or psychotherapy. It's then important to seek the help of a qualified health care practitioner.

The most important way to control stress is to practice preventive medicine. Find out what may be causing the stress in your life and make changes where changes can be made. Set reasonable goals for yourself and be forthright with others as to what you can and can't do. Get regular exercise. Eat a healthy plant-based diet. Learn effective relaxation techniques. Practice meditation. Spend time outdoors in nature. Take a true vacation. Pay attention to your spiritual well-being. Learn to turn your stress into strength. And use herbs when they can help.

There's Nothing Fishy about Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is mother nature's richest source of essential fatty acids, containing an impressive 57% alphalinolenic acid and 17% linoleic acid. This profile provides an optimal balance of the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, well suited for human bio-chemistry.

The essential fats, as found in flaxseed oil and fatty acids found in marine animals, have proven effective in the treatment, prevention, and alleviation of many health maladies as validated by numerous scientific studies. Areas of interest include:

  • High cholesterol levels,
  • Prevention of strokes and heart attacks,
  • Angina,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Arthritis,
  • Multiple sclerosis,
  • Psoriasis and eczema,
  • Cancer prevention and treatment.

Despite potential hazards associated with fish oil supplementation, these products are frequently recommended for the above conditions.

Many leading health and nutrition authorities believe flaxseed oil holds numerous advantages over traditional fish oil therapy. Potency, purity, reliability and price are reasons cited for their sentiments.

Fish oils have been highly touted for their high percentage of Omega-3 fatty acids and their active component, eicosapantaonic acid (EPA). Yet organic flaxseed oil contains two times the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids as do fish oils. EPA, in human and animal studies, has been found to be reliably metabolically converted from the alpha linolenic acid found in flaxseed oil. In addition, fish oils are completely devoid of the complementary Omega-6 fatty acids. Fish oils do contain, however, arachidonic acid, a precursor to a hormone-like substance that is known to worsen symptoms of ailments associated with pain, inflammation and swelling.

Equally as important as potency is purity. Practically all sources of fish are now known to contain chemical contaminants. The cancer causing pesticide, DDT, has been reported in deep water fishes in areas as remote as the Arctic. These dangerous compounds are fat soluble and stored in concentrated amounts in lipids found in fish. While farm bred fish may seem a solution, they contain still lower percentages of the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids and may be raised on pesticide laden meal. In comparison, organic flax crops are meticulously cared for, according to strict, third party, organic farming standards. The care and consideration invested in high quality flaxseed oil does not stop here. Reputable brands should be contained in light resistant (opaque) containers and mechanically expeller pressed without the destructive effects of light, heat and oxygen at temperatures below 98 degrees F (body temperature). In contrast, the manufacturing methods employed by the majority of fats and oils producers, including those of fish oils, permanently damage the delicate polyunsaturated bonds fatty acids contain. The resultant "trans-fatty acids" wreak havoc on the human body.

Further, fish oils are typically contained in light permeable bottles and maintained at room temperature for prolonged periods until sold - an interesting concept, considering that the more highly polyunsaturated nature of fish oils causes them to be much more reactive to the ravages of heat, light and oxygen. The harsh processing, handling and packaging methods as well as the higher number of polyunsaturated bonds has proven to result in very high levels of lipid peroxides (a measure of rancidity) in these products.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the possibility of Vitamin A or D toxicity associated with excessive fish oil supplementation. Unlike fish oils, flaxseed oil contains naturally occurring beta carotene which the body may convert to Vitamin A as needed. Thus, needless to say, no risk of Vitamin A or D toxicity exists. Nutritionally, all of the fatty acids necessary for correct metabolic function and optimal health can be metabolized from the essential fatty acids found in flaxseed oil, while this would be physiologically impossible with fish oils.

Perhaps most telling is the cost of fish oils as compared to flaxseed oil to achieve the same therapeutic result. You could expect to pay $70.00 for fish oils versus $12.00 for organic flaxseed oil for a month's supply.

Best of all, no longer does meeting these important dietary needs have to be associated with initiating a gag reflex from taking countless capsules or swallowing a tablespoon of cod liver oil. The fantastic tasting, delicate, nutty flavor of high quality, organic flaxseed oil facilitates a culinary delight when added to your favorite salad dressing or your favorite foods. (Do not heat or cook with flaxseed oil.)

As is true with all polyunsaturated fats and oils products, flaxseed oil is sensitive to harsh manufacturing, packaging and storage methods. As a result, there are only a few brands available that could truly be considered healthful. Use the summary below to facilitate your efforts in obtaining high quality flaxseed oil.

  • Products certified third party organic (indicated on label and promotional materials).
  • Products extracted by mechanical expeller presses only, below 96 degrees F.
  • Products contained in opaque (light resistant) containers.
  • Products recommended by reputable health and nutrition authorities.
  • Products delivered manufacturer direct to retail health food stores.
  • Products found in the refrigerated section of health food stores.
  • Products supported with educationally based supportive materials.
  • Products extracted without the damaging effects of heat, light and oxygen.

The brand most often recommended by leading health authorities is Barlean's Organic Oils of Ferndale, Washington. Renown author and naturopathic physician, Dr. Michael Murray; Dr. Johanna Budwig, considered the world's expert on fats and oils; and the best selling author of Beyond Pritikin, foremost nutritionist, Ann Louise Gittleman, all recommend Barlean's.

References: 1. The Essential Fatty Acids. Saedesai, V.M. (Nutrition in Clinical Practice, August 1992) 2. High Alpha-Linolenic Acid Flaxseed, Some Nutritional Properties In Humans. Cunnane, S.C.;Gangulis. (British Journal of Nutrition, March 1993) 3. Infant Abnormalities Linked to PCB Contaminated Fish. (Vegetarian Times, Nov. 1984) 4. The Presence Of Oxidative Polymeric Materials In Encapsulated Fish Oils. Vijai, K.S., Perkins, E.G. (Lipids, Vol. 26 #1, 1991) 5. Genetic Toxicology Of The Diet. Liss, Alan R. (New York) 6. Health Effects Of Fish And Fish Oils. Ratnayake, W.M.N., Ackman, R.B. (ARTS Biomedical Publishers) 7. Standard Methods For The Analysis Of Oils, Fats And Derivatives. Paquot, C., Hautfenne, A. (Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1987) 8. Nutritional Impact Of Food Processing. Somogyl, J.C., Muller, H.R. (American Oil Chemical Society #4, 1 987) 9. Purchasing High Quality Flaxseed Oil And Other Essential Fatty Acid Products. Beutler, J.D. (Barlean's Organic Oils, 1993) 10. Potential Use Of Flax In Human Nutrition. Cunnane, S.C., Thomas, M.S. (Dept. of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty Of Medicine, University of Toronto)

The Need for Needles ... What Is Acupuncture all About?

While acupuncture is considered an "alternative" treatment in the United States, it has been used in mainstream medicine in China for thousands of years. The treatment is based on the philosophy that there is a life force or energy called qi (pronounced "chee") that flows through channels in our bodies. Each channel connects to one or several organs that govern bodily functions. It is believed that illness results when the normal flow of qi is disturbed. In acupuncture, thin stainless steel needles are inserted at various points in the body in order to unblock or rebalance the flow of qi.

Qi is clearly not a concept rooted in Western science; however, acupuncture has been clinically shown to be effective for pain relief and for easing the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy or post-surgery. It has also shown potential benefits as part of a treatment plan for a variety of other conditions, including:

  • gastrointestinal disturbances, such as constipation, diarrhea, and spastic colon
  • muscular ailments, such as facial tics and tennis elbow
  • nerve ailments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica
  • bone and joint ailments, such as osteoarthritis and tendinitis
  • respiratory ailments, such as asthma and bronchitis
  • female reproductive system ailments, such as irregular periods, menstrual cramps, and menopausal symptoms
  • other conditions, such as addiction, headaches, sinusitis, stroke rehabilitation, and urinary problems

A typical visit to an acupuncturist involves answering questions about your health. The acupuncturist will also want to check your pulse (possibly at several points) and have a close look at your tongue. He or she may note your skin's color and texture, your posture, and other physical characteristics that offer clues to your health. You will then be asked to lie still on a padded examining table while the acupuncturist inserts needles into various points of your body. You may not feel anything—at most you will feel a twitch or a twinge of pain that will quickly subside. Once the needles are in place, the acupuncturist may gently manipulate the needles or will leave you to rest for 30 to 60 minutes. You will probably feel very relaxed, and may even nod off for a bit (this is fine as long as you don't roll over). At the end of the session, the practitioner will quickly and painlessly remove the needles.

To treat certain health conditions, acupuncture may be more effective if the needles are warm. The acupuncturist achieves this by lighting a small bunch of dried mugwort herb and holding it above the needles (the burning herb never touches the body). This technique is called moxibustion. Another way to heat the needles involves attaching electrical wires to the needles and running a weak current through them. You may feel a mild tingling sensation with this method.

The number of acupuncture treatments recommended by your acupuncturist will depend on the nature of your illness and your overall health. For example, you may need just one treatment for a sprained ankle but weekly or bi-weekly treatments over several months for a chronic illness. The first visit usually costs between $60 and $110; follow-up visits run $30 to $80. An increasing number of insurance companies now cover some level of acupuncture treatment.

Acupuncture can be safely combined with prescription drugs and other conventional treatments. It's important, however, for your primary healthcare provider to know about the acupuncture you are receiving in order to monitor the treatment. Some acupuncturists may decline to treat women who are pregnant.

For a list of certified acupuncture practitioners, look on the Web at (or send $3 check or money order to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, 11 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 300, Alexandria, VA 22314). You can also get a list of physicians in your area who perform acupuncture by calling the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture at 1-800-521-2262.

Calming Herbs: Therapeutic Uses

While in the process of examining underlying issues which trigger symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, etc., there are many herbal remedies that can provide relief from these symptoms, and, unlike many prescription drugs, allow us to function at our everyday tasks.

The following are brief descriptions of some calming herbs, their uses, and side effects (if any). They each can offer us symptomatic relief in our times of distress.

Kava - is a central nervous system depressant. It acts in the limbic system (the seat of emotion). Occasional use for symptoms of anxiety and/or sleeplessness is an appropriate use for Kava. High dosages over prolonged periods can be irritating to the liver.

Passionflower - is more sedative than Kava. One of Nature's best tranquilizers, its uses include anxiety, insomnia, and as an anti-spasmodic, it can be used to treat symptoms of asthma. Passionflower is not appropriate for use during pregnancy.

Valerian - is used as a gentle, safe, sleep aid. It is the herbal treatment of choice for nervous tension and panic attacks. Although it may cause headaches with prolonged use, there are few side effects other than its disagreeable smell and taste.

Skullcap - was originally used as a remedy for the symptoms of rabies. Although there is little scientific research available, it is popularly used to relieve nervous tension and menstrual cramps. Its relaxing effect makes it useful in the treatment of seizures, hysteria, and epilepsy.

St. Johnswort - is a mild tranquilizer that is safe for short term use. It increases dopamine levels in the brain (which affects emotional stability). Its uses include relief of emotional stress, anxiety, and irritability. Prolonged use may produce toxicity and may also make the skin light-sensitive. Current studies are ongoing to examine the possible anti-viral activity of St. Johnswort.

Chamomile - is a mild sedative. Its calming effect on smooth muscle tissue has made it a traditional remedy for nervous stomach and colic. It interacts well with passionflower. Chamomile is from the same family of plants (daisy) as ragweed, so people with ragweed allergies must be careful to avoid chamomile products.

Wild Oats - is a natural relaxant. It is used to treat chronic and acute anxiety. As it strengthens the entire nervous system, it is an appropriate remedy for exhaustion, when accompanied with depression and stress.

Catnip - is a member of the mint family used mainly as a children's remedy. It is a mild sedative and is commonly used for children's nervousness and insomnia. Its anti-spasmodic activity can prove effective against cramps, upset stomach, and colic.

When your next period of distress arises, you might find it helpful to look into using one of the calming herbs. They are available in tea, capsule, tincture, or extract form. Talk to a knowledgeable person at any health food store to determine which herb in what form is appropriate for you. Then, relax, and sleep well.

Homeopathy: Treating Cause, Not Symptoms

Research Grounds Hypotheses

The word "homeopathy" comes from the Greek words homeo and pathos, meaning "similar" and "suffering", respectively. From the time that Dr. Hahnemann coined the word 200 years ago, homeopathy has been maligned and vilified, and homeopaths have been charged as liars and frauds. All this occurred in spite of 200 years of therapeutic successes. What is it about homeopathy that arouses these passions? What are the doctrines and therapies that, even today, defy comprehension? What secrets of nature did Dr. Hahnemann tamper with?

Dr. Hahnemann was a careful investigator. His years of study of the ancient texts reaped a generous reward. He found his answer in the writings of Hippocrates: Through the like, disease is produced, and through the application of the like, it is cured.

Over the next 5 years, with the help of medical students and friends, Dr. Hahnemann tested his remedies and developed the principles that remain intact today. In 1810, when he published his Organon of Medicine he presented to the world a new and audacious notion of healing called homeopathy.

Homeopathy is based on the existence of an innate healing energy that promotes and protects our health. This energy initiates our defense mechanisms in response to adverse conditions and then controls and guides the natural healing process. Because of this energy, the body has the ability to heal itself. Dr. Hahnemann called this energy the "vital force". This vital force is the agent of cure.

What homeopathy does is to treat the individual according to his or her own discomforts by pushing the organism in the same direction the vital force is trying to go. Conventional medicines tend not to be healing, curative agents. In fact, many modern medicines can actually retard healing and alter the nature of the disease to make it more difficult to treat. What the body needs are the favorable conditions to affirm its restorative powers that through negligence or indifference created an environment for disease to flourish. Homeopathic remedies assist the attenuated vital force to promote any self-healing.

Modern Medicines Do Fail

Three to five percent (depending on what study one reads) of all hospital admissions are the result of some adverse drug reaction (ADR) or an iatrogenic (physician-induced) disease. From more than 30 million annual admissions, more than 1 million are caused by some physician-prescribed medication.

Treating Cause -- Not Symptom

No person, ever, has died from a homeopathic remedy, but many have been cured. Where the weakened organ needs assistance, it is the homeopathic remedy that initiates recovery. Paracelsus said: "The remedy restores the health, thus the illness departs."

Homeopathy does not actually concern itself with a germ or a bacterium or the names of diseases because homeopathy does not treat a disease. Disease is, after all, a combination of disordered functions that overcome an individual when the internal energy is disturbed and the vital force is compromised. What homeopathy does is to treat the individual according to his or her discomfort. For example, homeopaths treated cholera successfully, long before it was known that the actual cause was a bacterium. During the 19th century, there were seven severe epidemics in America, the most serious in 1832. The death rates in the regular hospitals were five times those of the homeopathic hospitals. The same results were found overseas. In London, in 1854, following an outbreak of cholera, Parliament authorized a commission to see which treatments were more effective. What they found was that whereas the regular hospitals had a death rate of 59 percent, the homeopathic hospitals had a rate of only 16 percent.

What homeopathy treated was not cholera but headache, malaise, diarrhea, anorexia, icy coldness of the body, convulsions, staring eyes, sunken face, and so on. These symptoms pointed to a homeopathic remedy, which was most often camphora or Veratrum album. These are remedies that often give healthy people headaches, diarrhea, and other symptoms typical of cholera when ingested during homeopathic "provings", the so-called Hahnemann clinical trials. These provings were designed to ascertain the symptoms caused by the remedies so those symptoms could be sought in the patient's history and assure that the correct remedy was chosen.

Even earlier, in 1812, while in Paris, Dr. Hahnemann treated scarlet fever using only belladonna. With no knowledge of streptococci, he treated only the red hot skin and the feverish, yet thirstless, state. Realizing that belladonna caused the same symptoms, it was, following his theory, the obvious remedy.

To Dr. Hahnemann, it was quite clear that to find the appropriate remedy, one must get the total picture of the patient. To find the cure, find the remedy; to find the remedy, find the symptoms. All symptoms, even the most trivial, are important, and sometimes it is the most trivial that become the most important. This is because the body can exhibit disease and sickness in an infinite number of ways, each representing an effort to heal. These symptoms are a direct effect of the cause, sometimes appearing as a non-beneficial side effect and sometimes beneficial, as in fever. For example, Hippocrates wrote: "Fever is a beneficial phenomenon and it is not to be suppressed; instead, it is intensified by the application of hot water and hot baths."

In today's health arena, it is the symptoms that are treated as the disease, but in homeopathy, they only accompany the disease. The dermatologist will treat skin eruptions and dermatitis with steroids without pausing to consider that such eruptions are, in fact, guideposts to treating and curing a condition that is still submerged. Our skin cannot speak, but it tells us, nonetheless, that there is an internal problem waiting to be solved.

No matter what part of the body is affected, it is ultimately the patient who must provide the critical clues. The homeopath might ask the most arcane questions to get a picture that the ordinary physician would ignore. He might ask, are you thirsty or not? Do you prefer cold or hot drinks? Do you desire company, or would you rather be left alone? Does noise or music bother you? Depending on the answers, different remedies are required.

For generalized muscular pain, the frequent choice of physicians is either Tylenol 3 (McNeil, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania) (with 30 mg of codeine) or Darvocet-N 100 (Eli Lilly, Indianapolis, Indiana). In homeopathy, before any remedy is suggested, one must first ask, "Are you better still or moving about," for if the pain is less when still, the remedy might be bryonia, and if the pain is less on motion, the remedy might be Rhus toxicodendron.

Treatment cannot be a one-size-fits-all rationale because different things are going on in the body. Because our eyes cannot penetrate the skin, we cannot know why people respond differently, but it is the difference in response that leads to the remedy.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Homeopathy recognizes several categories of symptoms. The common symptom gives the patient the most discomfort at the moment. It is whatever distress brought that person to see a physician, whether it be actual physical pain or emotional stress. The general symptom relates to the general sense of well-being. Does the patient feel weak, exhausted, sleepless, emotionally drained? The homeopath asks, "how do you feel?" and then listens closely to the response. It is here that the mental symptoms are the most important.

There are particular symptoms that reveal what happens to the patient that is different at a given place or time. "Does the condition exist only at a particular time of day? Is it only when you sleep on the right side? How do you react to thunderstorms?"

Finally, there are modalities. Here the questions are: "What makes your condition better or worse? Are you better with cold drinks or hot drinks? Are you better with the windows open or closed? Are you better or worse eating, drinking, walking, standing, sitting?"

Dr. Hahnemann believed that of all symptoms, the mental symptoms were the most critical. He looked for the hatreds, the fantasies, the fears, the dreams, the patterns of sociability or withdrawal, of domination or timidity, of irritability or patience, of arrogance or compassion, of serenity or internal anguish. The homeopath looks for the ability to concentrate, for signs of forgetfulness, delusions, dissatisfaction, sadness, apathy, depression, and suicide. He or she must then find a remedy that parallels the physical and mental signs.

Homeopathy does not label individuals by a disease. Because each individual patient is matched by a set of physical and emotional patterns to a remedy, the patients are termed "pulsatilla" or "chamomilla" patients after the remedies they seem to need.

Hands-On Healing: The Metamorphic Technique

Within the last decade Medical science has become increasingly aware that both experiences in the womb and at birth can affect us for all of our life. During the nine months of gestation, our potentials are established. Unfortunately, as we move through these formative stages, the blocks to these potentials are also established. We will function with these blocks in place until they are brought into our awareness and released. In the 1960s, an English naturopath, Robert St. John, developed from reflexology what he first called "prenatal therapy," then later the Metamorphic Technique or Metamorphosis.

He came to realize there are different "maps" on the feet--physical (as in reflexology), psychological, and a "time" map that includes our prenatal experiences, even before conception. Metamorphosis is a way of reeducating the subconscious mind. The practitioner acts solely as a catalyst much in the same way as the earth is a catalyst for the growth of a seed. There are no impositons or expectations. The practitioner trusts that the person's own Life Force will do the healing on all levels: spiritual, physical, emotional, behavioral and environmental--whatever is needed at the time. In the Metamorphic Technique, contact is established through the practitioner who lightly touches the spinal reflexes on the feet, hands and head. The feet represent the moving center of the body and how it moves through life and change. They indicate how we are supported, if we are grounded, and what direction we choose. The hands represent how we handle life and its changes, how we give and receive. The head which is the creative, thinking center, represents how we think about life, change, and how we create. By working on these areas, primary patterns and attitudes, present since conception, are contacted and loosened so that the healing Life Force may flow freely. Channels blocked by genetic or karmic influences are opened. In this way a true transformation of unwanted life patterns is facilitated. Robert St. John formulated his own "maps" of the feet, tracing relationships between areas of the foot, other parts of the body, and even topics of conversation! He noted that many people would begin to talk about mothering, nurturing, and birth when he worked about the heel area.

Upon further meditation, he realized that "mother" implied the presence of "father" and surmised that the masculine principle would be at the opposite end of the foot in the big toe. He realized that between these two areas the stresses formed at conception could be pinpointed. St. John maintained that predispositions, established at the moment of conception would color the gestation period and influence a person's whole life. The moment of conception, according to St. John, is when everything if fused together: the genetic material and karmic patterns, all the "unfinished business" that we have decided to work through in this lifetime. If stress is heavy during the gestation period, the developing child can get "stuck in time," and the Life Force within them can be blocked. During a one-hour, weekly session, 40 minutes is usually devoted to the feet. The rest of the time is given to the hands, head and spine, though this may vary upon the recipient's needs. Sessions are extremely relaxing. People often feel energized and integrated after a single session. Some people go into a deep meditation-like state where there is total quiet and peace. It is in these moments that the deepest parts of ourselves can be accessed in total freedom. As we move into the 21st century, it is beneficial to resolve past patterns that we no longer need in order to heal ourselves. The Metamorphic Technique allows this healing to take place in a gentle way. Once healed we can be free to create a new humanity and a new planet Earth.

Homeopathy: Answers to Some Basic Questions

Homeopathy is system of therapy which gently stimulates healing. In homeopathy, everyone is seen as a complete and whole person. Symptoms are recognized as that person 's best effort at healing. The pattern of these symptoms is what determines the homeopathic remedy needed to stimulate healing.

Homeopathic treatment reaches all spheres of the person, including the mental, emotional, and physical levels of being. We define health and "dis-ease" as any limitation of freedom in a person's life. Any symptom, whether mental, emotional, or physical, which limits a person from being freely creative in his or her life, is viewed as significant in homeopathy.

What is a Homeopathic Remedy and How Does It Work?
About 200 years ago, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, was working to discover how medicines work. At that time, Chinchona bark was used to treat malaria. Although he did not have malaria, Hahnemann decided to take some Chinchona bark himself. H e found that while he was taking it he got malaria-like symptoms. When he stopped taking it, the symptoms went away. He then found that if he diluted the bark to remove any toxic effects and "energized" of "potentized" it by shaking, it would still caus e temporary symptoms if he took it for awhile.
Further testing showed that these very dilute doses would stimulate healing in a person with the same pattern of symptoms. This principle held true for every remedy Hahnemann tested. After testing the remedy in healthy people to discover its symptom pat tern, he was able to stimulate healing in an ill person with these same symptoms. He called this discovery the "Law of Similars." There now are nearly 2,000 remedies derived from mineral, plant, and animal sources.
The remedies act to stimulate the natural healing processes within the person. They do not merely suppress or control symptoms. There is no "drug" effect: therefore, there are no real side effects. The remedies are powerful but nontoxic and cannot caus e any actual damage. No one knows exactly how a homeopathic remedy works, only that it does work. Of course, no one knows exactly how an aspirin works, either.

How is a Remedy Selected?
Each person is carefully assessed according to his/her unique pattern of symptoms at the mental, emotional, and physical levels. This totality of symptoms gives an overall "picture" of the "disease" in the person. A remedy is selected which best matches the overall pattern or totality of the symptoms. For a chronic illness, the initial evaluation may take 1 1/2 hours. If the remedy "picture" is not clear, the homeopath may need further study or even another visit to find the best remedy.

What Can be Expected to Happen After the Remedy is Given?
The remedy is usually given as a single dose dissolved under the tongue. Because it stimulates the "vital force" of the body towards healing, the changes are usually gentle and subtle. When the healing forces are stimulated, about 40% of people will not ice a temporary increase in some symptoms. This is a sign of strong healing action. Another good sign of the healing process is a temporary return of some old symptoms.

How Long Does Treatment Take?
The length and speed of the healing process depends on many factors, including heredity, severity and length of illness, current and previous medications, level of ongoing life stresses, etc. In general, the treatment is usually at least a few months and can last up to a few years.
Follow-up is critical. For chronic illnesses, follow-up intervals vary from four to six weeks early on to several months later on. Acute illnesses may require follow-up even every few hours until healing is well established.

What is the Patient's Role in Homeopathy?
Homeopathy demands a great deal from the patient. Each illness is unique to the individual. Diagnostic labels (such as diabetes, colitis, etc.) have little use in recommending a remedy. The patient must be aware of and relate to the homeopath all sens actions and feelings, even those which may seem peculiar or unimportant, at all three levels (mental, emotional, and physical) in order to help arrive at the one best remedy for that particular time.
Homeopathy demands patience, perseverance, and commitment. It is not a quick-fix therapy, although it may result in dramatic improvements. The progress of healing in chronic illness can be slow with ups and downs. The long-term results are usually very gratifying, with an elevation in a person's over-all level of health and well-being.

What Are the Chances of Being Helped and What Are the Risks?
As in any therapy, there can be no guarantees. Homeopathy can potentially help any problem at any level (mental, emotional, or physical) except for physical mechanical obstructions and irreversibly damaged tissues. Experience has shown that more than 80 % of people can be helped by homeopathy.
Because healing can be slow and gentle, another "risk" is giving up too soon. A small percentage of people must wait up to six months to see positive results. There are also people whose vitality is so low that the remedy may not be able to stimulat e complete healing. However, even these people can usually benefit from treatment.

What Can Interfere With Treatment?
Treatment may be interfered with or be unsuccessful if a person stays in an environment which is very stressful or "toxic". This may include certain substances known to cause severe reactions to the system, such as chemicals or even certain foods. Ongoi ng emotionally stressful situations may also interfere. Many homeopathic remedies are available in health food stores. These are intended for use in acute illnesses and will work very well if given correctly. Some words of caution: Because these remedies powerfully affect the "defense mechanism" of the body , they should be used only sparingly and after considerable study as to their proper use. Overuse can make it almost impossible to stimulate healing in a chronic disorder. "Acute" remedies shouldn't be taken when a person is under homeopathic care for a chronic disorder unless recommended by the homeopath since some remedies complement each other and some don't work well together.