News & Articles

News and Articles about alternative medicine

Low Vitamin D Linked to Mobility Limitations and Disability


Here’s news that may help older people avoid having to resort to using canes and walkers…

A new study found that people over age 70 who do not get enough vitamin D have a higher risk of developing problems with mobility that can result in disability (compared to those who do get enough D), according to researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFBMC) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Many studies have looked at how vitamin D can help health, but the new WFBMC study is one of the first to explore how vitamin D is related to “the onset of new mobility limitations or disability in older adults,” nutrition epidemiologist lead author Denise Houston, PhD, RD, lead author of the study, said in a WFBMC news release.

Since vitamin D plays an important role in muscle function, it’s plausible that low levels of vitamin D could be linked to mobility problems.


Houston’s team followed 2,099 men and women who were participating in the National Institute of Aging’s Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) study. All were between 70 and 79 years old when they were enrolled in the study between April of 1997 and June of 1998.  All were Medicare-eligible residents of two major metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Memphis, Tennessee and planned to remain in the area for at least three years.

None had a life-threatening illness when the study began, and all were able to perform basic daily living activities, including having no difficulty walking several blocks (one fourth of a mile) or climbing 10 steps without having to stop and rest because of a physical problem.

Participants’ vitamin D level was measured by blood tests at the start of the study.

Their mobility limitations and mobility disability were also tested at the start and then were and rechecked twice a year for six years during annual clinic visits and six-month phone interviews.

The study showed that the 29 percent of participants whose vitamin D blood levels were below 50 nmol/L had a 30 percent higher risk of developing mobility limitations during the time of the study and “almost a two-fold higher risk of mobility disability” compared to those whose vitamin D was measured at 75 nmol/L or higher, Houston noted.


It’s not easy for older people to get enough vitamin D from diet and sunlight. Roughly a third of seniors have low vitamin D levels. Older people may need higher amounts of vitamin D than current guidelines recommend.


In addition to the many other health benefits it provides, vitamin D helps muscle function. Could vitamin D supplements prevent – or help to prevent – age-related mobility problems?  We won’t know for sure until definitive trials have been done, but Houston says it’s biologically plausible.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea for older people to get a blood test to see if they’re getting enough vitamin D.


For more information:


About the research:  Low vitamin D levels linked to mobility difficulties for the elderly, by Stephen Daniells, 31-May-2012,

The study abstract:  Low 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Predicts the Onset of Mobility Limitations and Disability in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: The Health ABC Study

The journal in which the study was published: Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences

To learn more about the vitamin D blood test:

© 2012, All rights reserved


FDA Issues Alert and Recall of Supplement Reumofan Plus


Today we bring you an important news item from the FDA about a supplement that turns out to contain powerful drugs that could be harmful.


The FDA issued a warning and recall for Reumofan Plus, a supplement made in Mexico by a company called Riger Naturals. The product is sold in online, at flea markets and in some stores in the US as a remedy for arthritis, muscle pain, osteoporosis, bone cancer and other conditions.


Natural dietary supplements should not contain any drugs but the Mexican Ministry of Health found one lot of Reumofan Plus contained dexamethasone, a corticosteroid drug that, like other steroids, relieves inflammation, and suppresses the immune system.


The FDA labs analyzed Reumofan Plus and found it also contains diclofenac sodium, a prescription NSAID drug, and a prescription muscle relaxant drug called methocarbamol.  Diclofenac sodium, like other NSAIDS, can increase heart attack and stroke risk and cause digestive system problem, and methocarbamol can cause sedation, dizziness, low blood pressure, and impaired thinking.


“Consumers who are currently taking Reumofan Plus or who have recently stopped taking Reumofan Plus should immediately consult a health care professional,” the FDA said in a June 1, 2012, News Release about the recall. The news release includes a photo showing the label on the product bottle and box.


The FDA wants to hear from you and your doctor or other health care professional if you’ve used this supplement. Problems that have been reported to the FDA include liver injury, sudden worsening of blood sugar control, weigh gain, swelling, leg cramps, and kidney function problems. If you’ve had any of these or other "adverse events related to this supplement, report them here: MedWatch, the FDA’s  Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.


For more information:


Read the Safety Alert here: FDA Safety Alert: Reumofan Plus Recall

Read what the FDA says about other arthritis supplements:  An FDA Guide to Dietary Supplements



© 2012, All Rights Reserved

Acupuncture Appears to Aid COPD Breathing—New Study


We can add another benefit to the things acupuncture can do or may do to help our health. New research published online in Archives of Internal Medicine on May 14 found that acupuncture appears to help people who have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) breathe better on exertion. 

COPD causes dyspnea (labored breathing) because it damages the lungs and clogs them with mucus,which causes symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, a feeling of tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. Exertion makes it even harder for people with COPD to get enough airflow.MC900438748[1]

No wonder it is the third leading cause of death in the USA. More than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with this debilitating condition, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. And, NHLBI notes, many more may have it without having been diagnosed. Since we have not yet found a way to cure COPD or reverse the damage it cause, and there’s no known way to slow its progress, the next best option is to look for ways to ease breathing difficulties.

A randomized controlled trial by researchers from Japan’s Kyoto University and Meiji University of Integrative Medicine included 68 patients with COPD. The patients were divided into two groups (34 patients per group). For 12 weeks, in addition to being given medications and either acupuncture or placebo treatments. The acupuncture group received real acupuncture treatment with real acupuncture needles while the placebo group received the same treatment using blunt needles that did not actually penetrate the skin. When the 12 week series of treatments was completed, the patients were given a six-minute walk test while their breathing was assessed.



Breathing was rated using a Borg scale of zero to 10, with zero meaning “breathing very well, barely breathless” and 10 meaning “severely breathless,” according to a news release that explains the study in layman’s terms. The real acupuncture group showed notable improvement in breathing – from a poor Borg score of 5.5 at the start to 1.9 after 12 weeks – which also helped their health quality of life, the researchers said. The placebo group treated with blunt needles did not show improvement.

Larger studies and follow-ups will be needed to confirm the findings, the study authors say, and to show whether acupuncture can be a useful treatment for COPD.

Read the study here: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Acupuncture in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The COPD-Acupuncture Trial.

Read a commentary about the research here:  Reevaluating Acupuncture Research Methods

© 2012, All rights reserved

(Illustrations courtesy of Office.Microsoft.Com)

How to Talk to Your Doctor About Alternative Medicine (Part Two) – Six Questions to Ask

Continuing yesterday’s topic, let’s take a closer look at how to talk to your doctor about alternative medicine.

First, let me preface this with a few thoughts about talking with medical professionals in general.

When I schedule a “get acquainted” or first-visit appointment with a new doctor, I ask for extra time to discuss the doctor’s views on practice. I bring a list of questions – sometimes two copies, one to hand to the doctor, one to keep and jot notes on as we discuss the questions – and treat that part of the appointment as a job interview in which I’m the hiring manager.

That may seem strange to some.  After all, it wasn’t long ago that doctors were perceived as nearly godlike figures to be respected, revered, and obeyed but never questioned. Today, as medical professionals and medical schools recognize the importance of cultivating a partnership between doctors and patients, attitudes on both sides have changed.

You may not know which signs and symptoms indicate which diseases, as the doctor does. You may not know which medications have been proven most effective for which conditions, as the doctor does. But nobody knows how you feel better than you do, and nobody knows what’s normal for you and your body better than you do. You’re the CEO of your health and welfare. Medical professionals advise, but when it comes to your health, you make the decisions.

You wouldn’t hire a plumber or electrician or heating contractor or automobile repair service without asking about qualifications, areas of expertise, and attitudes that could affect the job he or she could do. Why not approach that first doctor-patient partnership interview the same way?




Ready?  Great. Now let’s look at SIX QUESTIONS to discuss with your doctor when you have The Talk. To help spur ideas, I’ll include samples of good answers that can lead to productive discussions with your doctor, and bad answers that lead to dead ends.

1. What is your opinion of alternative medicine?

Good answers:

* It depends on which treatment you’re talking about; some have proven successful in studies; others are useless or dangerous.

* I am open to treatments that are backed by scientific research.

* I haven’t given it much thought but am open to discussing it.

Bad answers:

* No.

* Alternative medicine is nothing more than a modern version of the old time snake oil scams.

* What’s that?

2. How knowledgeable would you say you are about alternative medicine?

Good answers:

* I have read several studies about it.

* I have attended a few conferences and presentations.

* I keep up with the latest research and reports on it.

Bad answers:

* Zero. I know next to nothing about it and am not interested.

* I’ve heard of it.

* I know someone who believes in that stuff who is a total nutcase.

3. Have you ever recommended an alternative medicine treatment?

Good answers:

* Often.

* A few times, when it seemed appropriate.

* It has not come up yet but I would if it seemed right for a patient and the patient wanted to try it.

Bad answers:

* Never.

* Anybody who wants that woo-woo-world medicine should go to a witch doctor, not me.

* Why do that when we have drugs and surgery?



4. Will you look into a treatment if I want to try it?

Good answers:

* Yes.

* Yes, if you tell me why you want to try it and what credible information you have about it.

* Probably. If I think it has some merit, yes, but if I know it doesn’t work or is fake, I will tell you that and won’t waste time researching further.

Bad answers:

* No.

* I have better things to do with my time.

* I wouldn’t know where to look.


5. What if I you recommend a prescription and I prefer to use a supplement, or you recommend a conventional treatment that I refuse in favor of an alternative treatment?

Good answers:

* As long as your health was not in danger and you keep me posted and come in for regular checks, I would go along with that.

* I would tell you what I think and recommend but it’s your body and your decision.

* If it is safe and it works for you, it’s fine with me.

Bad answers:

* I expect my patients to follow my recommendations or go elsewhere.

* I would tell you to take the prescription, period.

* I will mark your chart “patient is non-compliant.”

6. Would you write a referral if I needed one to have an alternative medicine treatment?

Good answers:

* Yes.

* If I know anyone to refer you to, I would.

* It may not always be possible but I would if it is possible.

Bad answers:

* No.

* I only make medical referrals.

* I don’t know any quacks and would not send my patient to one if I did.

Bottom Line:  These questions and variations have worked well for me. Fortunately, most of the doctors I’ve talked to have been very pragmatic about alternative medicine. And being open-minded and willing to discuss the topic is a good start. 

I don’t expect them to know all the answers – whether we’re talking alternative medicine or conventional medicine – but as long as they’re willing to discuss options and research what they don’t know, I think we will be able to work together as partners to find the treatment that works best for this patient.

Comments are very welcome… let us know if you would use different questions or add new ones to this list.

© 2012, All rights reserved


(Images courtesy of Microsoft Office Clip Art)







How to Talk to Your Doctor about Alternative Medicine (and why you should) – Part One


Have you ever talked to your doctor or primary care provider about alternative medicine?

Do you know what your doctor thinks about alternative medicine in general, and specific remedies in particular?

Have you ever discussed the supplements you’ve decided to take or asked your doctor what supplements he or she recommends?

Do you know if your physician would recommend that you try massage therapy or take a Tai Chi class or send you to an acupuncturist? 

If you asked for a referral for massage therapy, Tai Chi, acupuncture, or another AltMed practice, would your doctor okay it? 

Don’t know?  Now is the time to find out, and the best way to do that is to ask simple, direct, and straightforward questions.


Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  “Just Ask.”  All you have to do is just do it, right?

And yet, somehow the prospect of actually taking this step – actually asking your doctor what he or she thinks about AltMed – turns many people into stammering excuse-generators who justify inaction with comments such as:

Sure, I’d like to but he’ll be mad at me

I wouldn’t dare – he’ll think I’m stupid… or, worse, crazy…

She’ll say only quacks go in for woo-woo world stuff…

If I did that, she’d never take me seriously again… 

He wouldn’t know anything about that, I’m sure, so why bother?

 … And a gazillion or two other I-can’t-because reasons for avoiding the issue.


If that’s you, here’s a News Flash:  You may be pleasantly surprised to discover your doctor is more open-minded than you thought and DOES have a working knowledge of alternative practices such as acupuncture, vitamins, herbs, meditation, chiropractic, and recent research findings about their safety and effectiveness. Having The Talk could lead to you getting better and more well-rounded care.

Many of the tools and resources doctors use do include information about herbal therapies, vitamins and minerals, and other AltMed treatments. Devices such as smartphones, instant Internet access laptops and tablet computers, and other communication tools help keep doctors up to speed on topics they might otherwise miss, including AltMed topics.


There’s a good chance your doctor will be in the open-to-the-idea camp. After all, acceptance of alternative medicine practices is growing rapidly as research provides more and more evidence of effectiveness for many AltMed treatments.


But, suppose your worst fear comes true. Suppose your doctor does get mad. Suppose she does say anyone interested in alternative medicine is stupid or bonkers? Suppose he dismisses all alternative medicine as snake-oil and quackery? Suppose she simply doesn’t know a thing about it. Suppose…well, fill in the blank with whatever negative reaction is behind your hesitation to ask.

If that really is how your doctor would react, you have to ask yourself if you really want this person to be taking care of your health. Is this the type of person you really want to be your doctor? 

If he or she is unwilling to discuss alternative medicine with you, how can you discuss other sensitive issues that need to be discussed? 


Do you really want to put your health in the hands of someone who can’t or won’t take your questions and concerns seriously enough to discuss them with you in a fair, frank, adult manner?

Can you put your trust in a doctor who doesn’t know as much as you do about the type of care you’d like to receive?

You can easily guess what my answer would be, but what is your answer?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about what questions to ask (when you have “The Talk”). 

Questions, anyone? Comments?

© 2012, All rights reserved


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Alternative Medicine Wordle

On this Memorial Day (in the US), as we honor those who have fallen in wars and we take a day off from work to reflect on the past and honor their memories, AltMedForYou brings you a lighter topic.


Today’s theme for the WordCount 2012 Blogathon challenges bloggers to create a Wordle “word cloud” image composed of words that define the blog or that are used in the blog. Users choose the layout, colors, fonts, and other design elements that best suit the blog.


Here’s our AltMedForYou Wordle for today:





It’s interesting to see the same image presented vertically, too:



More Tips on How to Evaluate “New Study” Research


Yesterday, we looked at how to evaluate “new study” research and we focused on the gold standard type of study, the placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized multi-center trial.

The randomized controlled trial, or RCT for short, works well when the goal of the study is to find out how a new drug or new treatment stacks up when it is compared to a placebo or to an existing drug or treatment (i.e., something that is already being used to treat the same condition the new item is designed to treat).

But RCT is not the only type of study. Other types may be used at different stages of research to achieve different goals.

The starting point is an idea or finding in basic research.

Suppose, for example, there is a scientist somewhere whose lab work involves enzymes and one day he is thinking about how lactose enzyme replacement products make it possible for people who are lactose intolerant to eat cheese without suffering the bloating, gas, cramps, nausea, and diarrhea symptoms lactose intolerance can cause. And that makes him think of the guest who was sober when he arrived at the office holiday party but appeared drunk after just one beer…  Wouldn’t it be great if people like that guest whose bodies don’t metabolize alcohol normally could take an enzyme replacement like the lactose intolerant person can, the imaginary scientist thinks… If we could identify an enzyme that is different in the alcohol-challenged person’s body compared to a normal body, maybe that could lead to treatment for alcohol overdose or alcoholism…So our imaginary scientist thinks about which enzyme should be targeted for study and figures out a plan of action to test the idea by doing “test tube” research the lab.

His idea will go through several steps of research, first to see if it has enough merit to continue studying it, and then to see if it works, and then if it works – and how well it works – on real people.

There are seven primary types of study that begin with lab and animal studies and  move up through the seven levels of study that form the pyramid “hierarchy of evidence,” according to the Introduction to Evidence-Based Medicine website and similar resources.

  1. At the bottom of the pyramid are lab studies and animal research, the foundation on which other research is built.
  2. Case series and case reports come next, forming the sixth level.
  3. Level five is case control studies.
  4. The fourth level is cohort studies.
  5. On level five: randomized controlled trials.
  6. Next to the top is systematic review at level six.
  7. And the peak of the pyramid, or level seven, is meta-analysis.

Those levels are useful for scientists to understand and they’re helpful for us to know but often the key factors we need to consider when you and I look at medical studies to decide whether their findings apply to us or not are a little simpler.

Here are some of the keys I look for when I read about new studies:

  • Was it was the study done in the lab or on animals?  That level of research is interesting and is a fundamental step to build on but more research will be needed to find out whether it may apply to humans. Bottom line: It may be promising but it’s not something we can use now or soon.

  • If the study was done on people, how similar are we to the groups who were tested? For example, a study of marathon runners and people aged 18 to 30 who run at least 20 miles each week will be applicable to others in the same age group whose exercise levels are comparable but not so applicable to arthritic seniors in their 70s who can barely manage to walk 7 miles a week.

  • How big was the study?  And did it last long enough to draw the conclusions the researchers are making now? The larger the number of people tested, the better. There can be good reasons for limiting the number of participants in a study and the information small studies provide can still be useful, but as a general rule, bigger is better.

  • Was the study done at or by a qualified facility, ideally one that has expertise in doing this type of study, such as a large medical school or university hospital? 

  • Was the study funded by a company that makes the product that was tested or did the researchers disclose any affiliations with such a company? The best answer would be ‘no.’

  • Did the researchers look at the right data? For example, some reports say studies testing certain herbal remedies were doomed to show the remedy failed because the researchers tested the wrong dose, the wrong form, or the wrong method of administering the remedy instead of testing it using the form, dose, and method recommended by herbal medicine experts.

  • Was the information the study collected or examined or analyzed actually useful? Some of the comments posted on public forums responding to news of the recent study that found calcium may increase heart attack risk noted that the study did not identify what type of calcium supplement the study participants took (that one factor can make a big difference), and also didn’t have firm data on how much of the supplement people took how often for how long. The researchers did have people’s recollections of what they’d taken, but is memory reliable enough?

  • Did the study or the researchers seem to have an agenda? Does it look as though the study was done not to gain information but to confirm an expected outcome? And if it was set up that way, was that appropriate?

Do you have other questions you would add to this list? Please share them via the comment feature on this page.

To learn more about types of medical studies, take a look at these sites:

Study Design 101

Non-randomised controlled study designs

Understanding Medical Research

Tips for how patients can evaluate health research

SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s EBM Tutorial Guide to Research Methods


© 2012, All rights reserved.

Tips to Help You Evaluate “New Study” Research

How often have you read articles that report on the findings of new research “Study shows that…” “New research raises questions about… “According to the authors of a new study…” or “Study finds …” ?

Readers of this blog have seen variations on those phrases many times because one of our goals here at AltMedForYou is to report on new research that involves any aspect of alternative medicine.

Publications like to use the word “study” in headlines because it adds credibility and importance to whatever they’re reporting. But there are many different kinds of studies, and they’re not all equally useful in terms of applying the findings to you and your health concerns.

That doesn’t mean that the studies that are not directly applicable to you are no good or that they should be ignored. It just means that they don’t fit you.

What’s the best? For drug testing, that would be a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized multi-center trial, which many experts have told me (in interviews for other articles) is widely considered to be the “gold standard” of medical research. It is an excellent way to test new medicines. 

Let’s break that down to see what the name means:

* placebo-controlled tells you that some patients in this study were given a placebo, or what some call a “sugar pill” or “dummy drug,” instead of the real drug the study is testing, while others receive the real drug. Ideally the placebo looks so convincing that neither doctors nor patients can tell which is which.


* double-blind means that neither the doctors (or other staff involved in the study), nor the patients participating in the study know who is getting the real drug and who is getting the look-alike placebo. (Think of it as putting a blindfold on both the doctors and the patients, with no peeking allowed.)

* randomized means that selecting which part of the study each patient will be assigned to is done on a random basis, without influence from the people running the study, the patients participating in the study, or the doctors and other medical staff involved in treating those study participants. Participating in a randomized study is like going to a potluck supper—you get a meal but nobody can pre-select what will be on your plate.

* multi-center means, as the name suggests, that this study was done at several medical facilities which many be in multiple cities and states. That can be a good way to eliminate any regional factors that might otherwise color the test results.


There are many articles online that give concrete tips and how-to information to help you judge whether a study is valid or not. Here are two samples … more to come tomorrow.


What makes a research study valid

How to determine the research validity of a research analysis

(c) 2012, All rights reserved

Supplement Problems: Calcium

(Original article posted May 25, 2011; updated information added on May 26, 2011.)

Yesterday we told you about the concerns that have recently been raised about vitamin E supplements. Today we take a look at the latest on calcium.


A new study published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Heart reported that taking high amounts of calcium supplements may increase risk of heart attack and stroke.

Previous research showed calcium was beneficial, especially post-menopausal women and others who are at risk of osteoporosis. Calcium supplements were also to help lower the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, heart attack, and stroke. No wonder many people say their physicians advised them to take a calcium supplement every day, and others decided on their own that taking calcium would be a good idea.

But now the new study raises serious questions about calcium. 

German researchers analyzed data collected over an 11-year period from 23,980 people aged 35 to 64 who did not have cardiovascular disease when they joined the study between 1994 and 1998.

Participants were asked to take a self-administered “food frequency” test that asked about their consumption of 148 foods over the preceding 12 months. They were also asked about supplement use during a baseline interview and then in periodic follow-up questionnaires.  Analysis of that data told the researchers how much calcium the participants were consuming and in which form (dietary calcium in foods and beverages or calcium supplements such as tablets and chewables).

Next they looked at the cardiovascular disease in the participants. Information obtained by surveying participants and survivors of those who had died was verified through medical and death records. After compensating for other confounding factors that could skew the results, they concluded that dietary calcium did not have a significant impact on heart health risks but calcium supplements actually increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Why the difference? Calcium in food is consumed in smaller amounts scattered over the course of the day, which means that the calcium in food is absorbed more slowly, a press release about the research explains. Supplements, on the other hand, deliver a bigger dose of calcium all at once and that causes “calcium levels in the blood to soar above normal range.” The researchers think that spike of calcium or “flooding effect” is the key that explains why supplements can be harmful when dietary calcium is not.

The bottom line, the study authors say, is that calcium supplements should be used with caution and patients should be discouraged from taking calcium supplements.

Others who have read the study disagree, according to a report by NutraIngredients-USA. They point out the importance of calcium, especially for elderly people who are at risk of falls and fractures caused by weak bones. And, they note, this single study is not proof that calcium supplements do cause heart attacks, nor does it provide a strong enough reason to disregard the good things calcium can do. Until additional research confirms this study’s findings, it’s way too early to conclude that the possible harm calcium might cause outweighs the benefits studies have shown it provides.

If you’re not sure what to do — and heaven knows, the back-and-forth can be very confusing — ask your doctor to read this study, if he or she hasn’t already done so, and tell you what’s good or bad about it and what he or she recommends for you. Does your doctor think you should continue taking calcium supplements as you have done up to now or does he or she think you should stop taking the supplements?  And if you do stop taking them, ask about food sources of calcium. Which foods does the doctor recommend, in what amounts, and how often should they be consumed?  Be sure to ask about other calcium sources too, such as antacid tablets that contain calcium (like Tums®).

If you don’t have a health care professional to help you with this question, read’s Review of Calcium Supplements. Cautions and factors to consider if you are concerned are listed toward the end of the review. Or ask knowledgeable staff or nutritionists at your local health store.

Want to read the full text of the Heart article will find it in the June 2012 issue? See:  Calcium and cardiovascular disease. Associations of dietary calcium intake and calcium supplementation with myocardial infarction and stroke risk and overall cardiovascular mortality in the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (EPIC-Heidelberg), Heart 98:920-925 doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2011-301345

© 2012, All rights reserved