News & Articles

News and Articles about alternative medicine

Supplement Problems: Vitamin E



Just when you think you know what supplements you should be taking, research throws a monkey wrench  into the works.


Vitamin E is probably best known as an antioxidant supplement that helps to prevent harm that can be caused by free radicals, and helps protect against viral and bacterial infection by boosting immune system strength. It also helps prevent blood clots.


Many studies exploring the use of Vitamin E found benefits, including that it helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, helps repair the plasma membrane that protects cells in body, helps protect the brain after a stroke, may reduce risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) when taken long-term. 


Most said it was safer to get vitamin E from foods than from taking supplements. There was some concern when  evidence suggested that taking long-term, high doses of vitamin E caused a slight uptick in the risk of death from all causes but, as reported, “human research is conflicting,” and their advice said, “Caution is warranted.”


Some research in 2002 reported that taking vitamin E with selenium, a mineral, could prevent prostate cancer in men. But in October 2011, further analysis showed the opposite. Instead of reducing risk of prostate cancer, vitamin E increased it. Compared to men who took a placebo, those who took 400 IU of vitamin E each day for seven years had a 17 percent increase in prostate cancer. (Taking E with selenium wasn’t beneficial either.)  “Based on these results and the results of large cardiovascular studies using vitamin E,” study co-chair and Cleveland Clinic physician Eric Klein, MD, said in a National Institutes of Health / National Cancer Institute news release, “the supplements have shown no benefit and some very real risks.”


The study, Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on October 12, 2011, and may be read online at no charge.  (JAMA. 2011;306(14):1549-1556. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.14370)


© 2012, All rights reserved

A Look at Change: Growing Blogs, Medicine, and Alternative Medicine


Prompted by the “If I started blogging today, I would…” question that is the May 23 Theme Day topic for bloggers who are participating in the WordCount 2012 Blogathon, today’s topic is a look at change.


It is always worthwhile to take time to reassess what’s working and what’s not working, whether the focus is a blog, as it is with today’s theme, or other aspects of work and life, such as adjusting expenditures as goals and income change our personal finance profiles or changing our daily habits as we reassess things we can, should, or might do to maintain and improve our health.

For me, the short answer to the blogging theme question, what I would do if I started blogging today, is keep learning, growing, thinking, acquiring new information, modifying, and evolving.

People who have followed this blog for a while may have noticed new pages have been added while a few old ones went away. Categories have changed a bit as a few new ones were added, a few old ones deleted, and a few expanded or condensed to provide a better framework and organization for the topics covered here. The blog’s overall “voice” has become more casual. And there have been a few other tweaks.

But to me, these are all part of the natural reevaluation and growth process.

And don’t we all do that, whether it’s a conscious effort or just part of living?

After all, nothing is static in life. Things change in our world. Our bodies change. Our attitudes and goals and thoughts change. We discover that things we once though were absolute fact may not be so absolute after all. Some things we “knew” or believed may turn out to have been wrong. Heroes turn out to be flawed. Villains turn out to have redeeming qualities. New information comes along that changes our perceptions and alters what we knew — or thought we knew. Our needs, our desires, our interests, our hopes, our challenges, our goals change and evolve as we go through the stages of life.

That’s how the shift toward acceptance of alternative medicine happened for many of us. Once upon a time we thought conventional medicine could cure every ill, fix every problem, make any ailment “all better.” 

All it took was pill MP900398845[1]or, worst case, an operation and we’d be fine.

I’ve heard people say their doctors tried to tell them they should change their diet, exercise more, stop smoking, curb drinking, or do other things that would improve their health and the response they gave the doctor was a brusque, “Why go to all that trouble? Just give me a pill.”


It’s not hard to see why that attitude took hold and lasted so long, even among doctors. After all, didn’t the discovery of wonder drugs cure many once-deadly diseases? Didn’t surgery MP900313990[1] make it possible for cataract-covered eyes to see again and arthritis-crippled joints to walk normally? Didn’t vaccination erase the terror of smallpox and other diseases that once wiped out huge swaths of the population?

Why bother with time-consuming and boring ancient ways when easy-to-use quick-fix new tools worked so well?

In fact, the new tools still work well – for some things. An integrative medicine doctor told me in a telephone interview recently that he still thinks conventional medicine the best choice for acute problems such as a cut, a burn, a broken leg, an infection, but for chronic problems, alternative medicine’s holistic approach offers better results and will save health care dollars, a factor that has taken on even greater importance now as health care costs continue to soar higher and higher.

The fact that the field of integrative medicine exists is a hopeful sign because it means medicine as a whole is recognizing that the conventional approach can’t cure everything so let’s put everything on the table and use whichever approach works best for the problem at hand.

And at the same time, researchers are getting the funding they need to conduct studies to find out whether alternative medicine treatments work, and how to use those treatments safely, for maximum benefit to the patient. The evidence those studies add to the body of medical literature will help in many ways. Insurance companies looking for the most cost-effective methods of treating health problems have already begun to make the shift by expanding their coverage to include evidence-based alternative therapies.

That’s why questions like the one posed for this Theme Day are useful…because assessing and reassessing can spur improvement, whether it’s for a blog like this one, or our whole system of health care.

© 2012, all rights reserved.

(Images courtesy of Microsoft Office)

New Resource for Herbal Medicine Users

If you’ve ever struggled to pronounce the name of an herb or herbal medicine, you’ll love a new resource called A Guide to Pronouncing Plant Names, by Judith Sims (2012), from the American Botanical Council (ABC). 

Why would you care? For one thing, lots of herbs have more than one common name. Black cohosh for example, is also called black snakeroot, bugbane, bugwort, rattleroot, rattletop, rattle weed, and macrotys, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. So you’ll use the Latin name, instead? Fine, but which one? Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa – and how in the world would you pronounce either if you had to ask for it at a health store?

The Pronouncing Guide is available in two forms. Both are on CD and both are priced at $30 (US).

  • The audio CD is described by the ABC as:  “A succinct and entertaining guide to the pronunciation of Latin plant binomials. Covering 230 plant names, this guide is a set of drills designed to help you learn the scientific names of plants quickly and feel comfortable pronouncing them.” Printed materials are also included.

  • The digital CD provides the same with “PDF for those who prefer a totally digital version,” according to the ABC.

In addition to the eStore where the ABC sells this Guide and other materials, you’ll find a wealth of other goodies including…

…the Herbal Library with the ABC’s quarterly journal, HerbalGram

…summaries of major herb research articles

…an interactive database of scientific research on herbals

…monographs (detailed reports, each on a single herb, that tell how it is used, what its side effects and contraindications are, what dosage is best, etc.)

…Commission E Monographs (reports from the highly regarded German government organization that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbs used as medicine)

…courses for those who want to learn more about herbs


…speakers bureau

and much more.

Want a sample?  The four links below will give you a pretty good idea of the type of information that’s available. And these are open to anyone visiting the site (no fee, no membership required).

* The ABC’s Therapeutic Monograph on an herbal cold remedy called Cold-fX®

* A guide to the meaning of herbal Terminology (words or terms used in herbal info)

* Clinical Guide to Elder Berry (an herbal flu remedy)

HerbClip: Black Tea Intake Improves Lipid Profile and Antioxidant Status

For anyone who is interested in the world of herbal medicine and wants to know more about how to use individual herbs or combinations of herbs medicinally, the ABC site is a keeper.

© 2012, all rights reserved.

Alternative Medicine Thoughts in Haiku…


Today is Haiku Theme Day for bloggers who are participating in the 2012 Blogathon


My first thought was “haiku on an alternative medicine blog?  Seriously?” I can’t recall ever seeing the art of haiku blended with the concepts of alternative medicine… but since both are about the beauty and wonder of nature, perhaps this is not as unlikely a pairing as it first seems. 


The form of haiku, when written in English, is simple enough: a first line of five syllables, a second line of seven, and a third line of five, for a total of seventeen. And the object, purpose, or goal of haiku is to capture and distill into those seventeen syllables the purest possible essence of a moment, an experience, a phenomenon, or a thought.


As a former poetry editor who judged haiku contests in times long past but has not dabbled in the poetic arts for many years, this theme day posed a unique challenge.


I look forward to seeing your comments. Thank you for stopping by today and be sure to visit again tomorrow when this blog returns to more traditional ways of exploring the world of alternative medicine. 


*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * 

(on herbal therapies)

fragile flowers soothe

jangled nerves and angry skin

gentle healing herbs …



 first to be planted

as settlers conquered the west

herbs for medicines …



*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * 

(on acupuncture)




               tiny needles rouse 

                    powerful healing genie

                                life-force energy…



*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * 

 (on nature’s vitamins)


  Assorted fruit 


bright colors wrapping

tempting fragrance and flavor

fruit-borne vitamins …




*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * 

(on medical practice)

    MP900321070[1]open western eyes

to ancient eastern healing 

health must integrate …


*  *  *




healing universe

grows when alternative is

mainstream medicine …









© 2012, all rights reserved (haiku and layout)


(Images courtesy of Microsoft

Menu Medicine: Oranges May Slash Stroke Risk in Women


You know the old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away…”  New research shows oranges can be powerful too.


Studies have shown that high vitamin C intake and high intake of fruits and vegetables was linked to lower risk of stroke. Now new research shows that flavanones, a sub-type of flavonoid antioxidants found in oranges and other citrus fruits, also plays a role.


Women who consume high amounts of flavanones were 19 percent less likely to suffer ischemic stroke (the type caused by a blood clot) than women who consumed the lowest levels of flavanones, a new study reports.


Lead author Aedin Cassidy, PhD, professor of nutrition at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School in Norwich (England, in the United Kingdom), explained in a news release that “flavonoids are thought to provide some of that protection through several mechanisms, including improved blood vessel function and an anti-inflammatory effect."


The researchers on Cassidy’s team analyzed data collected from the more than 69,000 nurses in the USA who provided their diet and health information for the Nurse’s Health Study. Oranges accounted for 82 percent of flavanone intake, and grapefruit accounted for 14 percent.


Does that mean women at risk of ischemic stroke should drink more orange juice or eat more oranges?  That’s not clear yet.


As is often the case that note a connection between a certain type of food and a health problem, more studies will have to be done before we know for sure or make recommendations or tell women at risk of ischemic stroke they should make sure their diets include oranges or orange juice, or tell them how much OJ or oranges to consume and how often.


The same applies to those who prefer grapefruit – but be sure to check with your doctor before you increase the amount of grapefruit or grapefruit juice you consume because, despite its other benefits, grapefruit can interact with some medicines. (See our explanation in a previous Q & A column.)


See American Stroke Association website for resources and more information about stroke.


Want to read the study? See: Dietary Flavonoids and Risk of Stroke in Women, published online before print February 23, 2012 in the journal Stroke.



© 2012, all rights reserved

Drink to Your Health (Part 2): BLACK TEA

In an upcoming segment of the Drink to Your Health series, we’ll take a look at the many health benefits of green tea but first, let’s take a look at what black tea can do.


As the name suggests, black teas have a darker color and heavier or richer flavor that’s more appealing in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries. According to The Tea Association of the USA, Americans drink more than 3 billion gallons of tea, about 80 percent of which is black tea.


It’s a great drink for the nutrition conscious and weight watchers because tea has no sugar (for all practical purposes, it contains zero calories), no fat, no sodium, and no carbonation. It’s a soothing yet refreshing drink whether it is served hot or cold and it can be enjoyed plain or with milk, lemon, sugar, honey or other flavorings.


New research published in the May 2012 edition of the journal Preventive Medicine reported the findings of a small (just 87 people ranging in age from 25 to 60) clinical trial to see how black tea affected heart health. People who drank just three cups a day of black tea for 12 weeks had 18.4 percent lower blood sugar (fasting glucose levels) and 36 percent lower triglycerides.  Their ratio of bad (LDL) to good (HDL) cholesterol improved.


And there are many more studies that showed how black tea helps health.

Here’s a small sample:

  • 44 percent reduction in heart attack (myocardial infarction) risk in people who drank one or more cups of tea each day, according to a 1999 Harvard study.


  • 42 percent lower risk of skin cancer in people who drank iced black tea with citrus peel, according to a 2001 study published in BioMed Central’s journal BMC Dermatology.


  • 11 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) in people who drank five cups of black tea each day while they also followed a moderately low fat diet, according to a 2003 US Department of Agriculture study.


  • Significantly lower risk of the most common type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, people who drank hot black tea, a 2000 study reported in the journal Cancer Epidemiology , Biomarkers & Prevention. 


  • Other research shows black tea aids diabetes management, helps reduce allergic response, helps curb weight gain (in animal studies), reduces risk of stroke and heart disease, combats prostate, colorectal, lung, and other types of cancer, and helps other health issues as well.


On top of all that, black tea eases stress. So, whether you prefer it iced or hot, plain or sweetened, enjoy a health-helping “cuppa” daily or oftener.




© 2012, all rights reserved

Drink to Your Health (Part 1) — COFFEE


Lately, we’ve seen lots of good news about studies that show popular beverages are as good for us as they are good tasting and pleasant to drink. In this Drink to Your Health series, we’ll take a look at what health benefits research is finding for water, green tea, black tea, red wine, and other drinks.


Today, we take a look at coffee. Not long ago, coffee was considered an unhealthy drink, a guilty  pleasure people indulge but apologized for with embarrassed remarks such as, “I know I really shouldn’t but … ”  People who truly enjoyed coffee didn’t want to give it up, no matter what the prevailing health theories said at the time.


But in the last few years, coffee has been transformed from villain to bystander to good guy.


Now research shows those java-licious cups of Joe are loaded with antioxidants that help protect against many diseases including:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • cancers (several types)
  • cardiovascular problems
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
  • liver disease


And the latest study shows people who drink coffee every day live longer than those who don’t. The project began in 1995 with approximately 400,000 people aged 50 to 71 who did not have heart disease or history of stroke at that time, and whose daily calorie intake was not too high or too low.


What the study found:

When the researchers compared people who drank just one cup of coffee each day to people who drank no coffee, the coffee drinkers turned out to be less likely to die (of all causes). For women, death risk dropped by 5 percent; in men it was 6 percent lower.


However, few drank only one cup. The study found that most people drank two to three cups of coffee each day. Compared to coffee abstainers, women in that two-to-three-cups-a-day group were 13 percent less likely to die and men were 10 percent less likely.


The greatest longevity difference was found in women who drank four to five cups of coffee daily. Their death risk was a stunning 16 percent lower than people who didn’t drink coffee.


In addition to living longer, the researchers also noted that coffee drinkers’ chances of dying from heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, infections, injuries, and accidents was lower than those who didn’t drink coffee.


Naturally, everyone wants to know why. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for more research to get an answer. Researchers say they don’t know yet.


They also don’t have enough information at this point to say whether coffee was the cause of longer lifespan or merely an associated factor. It may be easier to see the different if you picture longevity as a car speeding down the highway. They know coffee is in the car but they don’t yet know whether coffee is driving the car or merely a hitchhiker tagging along for the ride.


But even though we don’t have all the answers, coffee lovers will be happy to know they can relax and enjoy another cup of their favorite (healthy) brew.


Want to read the coffee-longevity study? See Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality, published in the May 17, 2012, New England Journal of Medicine.


For other articles about coffee’s health benefits, see:

Say it’s so, Joe: The potential health benefits – and drawbacks – of coffee, Coffee and Your Health, WebMD,

* Coffee and Health: What does the research say?

* Why coffee protects against diabetes,

* Coffee drinkers may live longer, study suggests. USA TODAY


© 2012, all rights reserved

What Makes an Alternative Medicine Source Credible (or Not)?


The wonderful thing about having access to information on the Internet is that everything you want to know or could ever want to know is “out there” somewhere. It may be easy or hard to find, depending on how obscure it is and how well you use search tools, but odds are the answer is there, somewhere.


And the not-so-wonderful thing about it is that everything is out there, whether it’s valid or false, useful or frivolous, sincere or scam. Sometimes it’s easy to brush off the baloney, weed out the wacko, and spot the scams. But not always.


That’s why it’s important to think about what signs to look for before you believe (or buy) what you find online.  Conventional health and medicine websites may display the HON (short for Health On the Net) Code  symbol, which tells you the site has gone through a fairly stringent vetting process and passed. I can’t recall seeing the HON Code on an AltMed site but if I found it on one, I’d consider that site trustworthy.


But even without such a clear cue, other signs can tip the balance toward or away from credibility. Here are a few of my “red flags.”

  • Too much hype. Enthusiasm is fine but when an email or post or website that raves too enthusiastically about how wonderful a supplement or treatment or product, it casts a big shadow of doubt. If the item – whatever it may be – is really THAT fantastic, why do you have to push it so fervently? Can’t it stand on its own merits?  If facts and evidence show it really does what the hype claims, that goes a lot further to convince me than shouting and touting it with slick sales spiels.


  • Selling. It’s disappointing to discover an otherwise promising report about a supplement, product or device, book or treatment is really just fancy packaging for a sales pitch. If the person or group that created that report weren’t selling the item, would they still praise it so highly? 


  • Secrets “they” don’t want you to know. If this really is true, how did this report manage to sneak past the mysterious “They” who don’t want us to know about it?  And how did the author of this article or email or web page get past “them” to discover this “secret” information? To me, that “secret” tag means “be skeptical.”


What are your red flags? What tells you that you can trust what you’re reading? Please share your comments and we’ll revisit this topic in the future.



© 2012, all rights reserved

Autism and Nutrition Factors


The lead article in the latest open-access issue of IMCJ Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal takes a look at the role of nutrition in the causes of and management of autism. The prevalence of autism is now double that of Down syndrome, the authors report, with at least 40 cases in every 10,000 children.


If you are interested in autism or concerned about autism and autism spectrum disorders, you may wish to read this open access article and the companion news article. Both are listed and linked below.


If you do read the articles, please share your thoughts here. Do you agree with the researchers’ conclusions? Is there a factor you think they have overlooked? What do you think might account for the increasing number of autism cases?


And if you do not read the articles, what deterred you from doing so? 


Nutritional Factors in Autism: An Overview of Nutritional Factors in the Etiology and Management of Autism, Balasubramanian Santhanam, MD; Barry Kendler, PhD, FACN. Integrative Medicine, Vol. 11, No. 1, Feb/Mar 2012, pp. 46-49.


Autism 360: The Development of an Online Database with Patient-entered Data, Sidney MacDonald Baker, MD, Integrative Medicine, vol. 11, No. 1, Feb/Mar 2012. p. 18


© 2012, all rights reserved

Benefits of New “PAP” Acupuncture Method Last 100 Times Longer

Here’s another news item from the world of acupuncture.


A new approach to this 4,000-year-old treatment for pain relief and other problems may prolong the benefits of treatment by as much as 100 times longer than traditional acupuncture, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported in the April 23 online edition of a journal called Molecular Pain.


The new element is a substance called prostatic acid phosphatase, or PAP for short. The same researchers had previously tested PAP by injecting into rodent spines and found the substances relieved chronic pan and the effects lasted as long as three days. But that procedure is usually reserved for those in excruciating pain. And, lead researcher associate professor Mark J. Zylka, PhD, said in a UNC news release, “spinal injections are invasive and must be performed in clinical setting.”


Zylka became interested in how acupuncture relieves pain. When an acupuncturist inserts a very fine acupuncture needle into a specific spot called an acupuncture point and manipulates the needle to stimulate that acupuncture point, molecules called nucleotides are released and converted into pain-reducing adenosine. The resulting pain relief usually lasts for hours after treatment.

PAP makes adenosine too and when injected in the spine, its pain relieving effects last for days. Zylka wondered if blending the two could boost pain control even more so his team tested the idea by injecting PAP into an acupuncture point behind the knee.

They learned two key things: 

1. When PAP was paired with acupuncture, pain relief lasted 100 times longer than conventional acupuncture. Researchers dubbed the combo “PAPupuncture.”

2. Choosing a different injection site (other than the spine) allowed PAP doses to be increased and as a result, one injection worked to reduce inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain symptoms.

The tests on animals worked so well that human trials are coming up next.


Those who want to read the study can click this title: PAPupuncture has localized and long-lasting antinociceptive effects in mouse models of acute and chronic pain, by Julie K. Hurt and Mark J. Zylka, Molecular Pain 2012, 8:28. doi: 10.1186/1744-8069-8-28


© 2012, all rights reserved