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Managing Stress with Meditation

Meditation is nothing other than focused attention, directed inward or outward on the breath, for instance, which is probably the most natural object of meditation, or on an external visual focus or a silently spoken word or phrase. Meditation need not have any association with religious practices, Western or Eastern, and can be done by oneself or with others. You can learn basic meditation technique from books or attend groups or retreats for more intensive training.

Here are some more of my healthy massage tips.


Dietary Supplements for Pets: Be Aware

Not only do some arthritis medications intended for pets short-change our four-legged friends on glucosamine and chondroitin, but some contain large amounts of lead. In independent tests, four out of six arthritis supplements marketed for pets didn't contain the amounts of glucosamine or chondroitin claimed on their labels or had other flaws. And a trade group found that of 87 brands tested more than one-quarter didn't deliver the goods. While dietary supplements for pets are now a $1 billion a year business, these products are less well regulated than supplements for humans, and few have been tested for effectiveness. If you're shopping for a supplement for your companion animal, look for a seal of approval from an independent lab or organization - that, plus a brand recommendation from your vet are the best way to determine that you'll get what you're paying for. To see if it really helps, keep notes on your pet's behavior before and after they begin taking the supplement.


High Glycemic Index Eating May Raise Breast Cancer Risk

The glycemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrate foods on the basis of how rapidly they affect blood sugar (glucose). Those that raise glucose levels fastest are known as high GI foods and include potatoes, refined white and wheat bread and dried fruits. The breast cancer connection was made by researchers at Sweden's famed Karolinska Institute who collected dietary information from more than 61,000 women in the 1980's. The investigators found that over the course of 17 years, 2,952 of the women developed breast cancer. Those whose diets were highest on the glycemic index had a 44 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to women whose diets were lowest on the glycemic index. Women whose diets were highest in glycemic load (a measure based both on GI and on how many grams of carbohydrate a normal serving actually contains) had an 81 percent increased risk of breast cancer; women with the highest carbohydrate intake had a 34 percent increased risk, compared to those whose carb intake was lowest. The researchers suggested that high glycemic load diets may increase breast cancer risk by boosting concentrations of insulin and sex hormones, which may contribute to breast cancer development. The study was published in the July 2009 issue of the International Journal of Cancer.


Sugar Making a Comeback

Sugar is now healthy and natural? Once reviled as the bane of teeth and waistlines, cane and beet sugar are now enjoying something of a renaissance in processed foods, and are being touted as natural and healthful. A recent story in the New York Times (March, 2009) pointed out that sugar is replacing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in products such as the tomato sauce on a Pizza Hut pizza called "The Natural," and in a new soda called "Pepsi Natural."

My take: Cane or beet sugar is, I believe, somewhat better for you than is HFCS. There is evidence that the latter sweetener is more likely to promote weight gain, and it may also disturb liver function. So replacing HFCS with cane or beet sugars in processed foods is indeed a modest improvement.

But "real" sugar is just the lesser of two evils here, and it is definitely possible to consume too much, leading to weight gain, type 2 diabetes and a host of other ills. One of the best moves you can make for your health is to get away from concentrated, processed sweeteners of all kinds and learn to appreciate the natural sweetness of fruits and other whole foods. In the meantime, perhaps the best aspect of this "real sugar" renaissance is the fact that the stuff is more expensive to manufacture than is HFCS from subsidized corn, which means perhaps we'll see less sweetening of any kind used in foods.


Try Licorice and Melatonin Before Surgery

The licorice is to help prevent the sore throat that often follows surgery. A small study from India suggests that gargling with licorice before general anesthesia reduces the risk of sore throat when you wake up. The researchers divided 40 patients undergoing spinal operations into two groups. Patients in one group gargled with a licorice solution five minutes before their anesthesia; patients in the other group gargled with plain water. After surgery, only four patients in the licorice group complained of sore throat compared to 15 from the water group. After 24 hours, only two patients from the licorice group still had a sore throat compared to nine from the water group. The study was published in the July 2009 issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia.

In California, researchers found that melatonin given before their operations was helpful for children's recovery from surgery. It didn't do much to ease their anxiety beforehand, but it did reduce the incidence of post-op delirium that occurs in up to 20 percent of children who undergo surgery. The immediate symptoms seen in the recovery room include crying, thrashing and the need for restraint. Later, behavioral changes including nightmares, bed wetting and separation anxiety can occur. The study was published in the July 2009 issue of Anesthesiology.


Chinese Herbal Medicine for Endometriosis

Traditional Chinese herbal medicines can help relieve the pain of endometriosis as well as the prescription drugs normally used, and they also cause fewer side effects. British researchers who reviewed two trials that included a total of 158 women found that a preparation of Chinese herbs provided relief comparable to the drug gestrinone with fewer side effects. They also reported that another Chinese herbal formula was more effective than the hormonal drug danazol and also caused fewer side effects.

In both cases the combination of Chinese herbs were given after the women had undergone laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis. Standard drug treatments for this gynecological disorder can cause hot flashes, acne and weight gain. The investigators concluded that these particular combinations of Chinese herbs appear to be as effective as conventional drug treatments for women with endometriosis, although the lead researcher said that additional evidence from other studies is needed to confirm the findings of the two they reviewed.

Endometriosis affects as many as one in six women of reproductive age. It can cause pelvic pain, irregular and painful periods and infertility. Current conventional treatments - both drugs and surgery - don't always help long-term. The review of the two studies was published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and published online this past July, 2009.


Go Play Outside, Really!

Lost your focus? Do what Mom advised: Go play outside!

Specifically, go walk in nature, rather than a city. An experiment published in the journal Psychological Science gave volunteers memory and attention tests, then sent them out on a walk. Sometimes there were told to ambulate in the university’s urban home of Ann Arbor. Other times, they were instructed to walk through a nearby arboretum.

When participants returned from the nature walk, they showed a 20 percent improvement in the tests, but they showed no improvement when they returned from the urban walks.

This makes perfect sense. Our brains evolved in natural, low-noise, low-visual-contrast wilderness settings; not the relentless high-stimulation environments of our offices, technology-stuffed homes, or urban cityscapes. It is only natural that we shut down our ability to focus and take in stimuli in assaultive environments, and, conversely, replenish our ability to "open up" and focus in nature. So tell your boss - if he or she wants you to be more productive, you need to take a walk. Better yet, invite the boss to come along!


Earth-Friendly Tips

Millions of people around the world are making small but significant changes to help sustain our ecosystem every day. Want to join them, and help make the earth a healthier place to live? It's simple - try these tips, courtesy of  

  1. Replace regular light bulbs with energy efficient ones - they use less electricity, resulting in lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
  2. Drive less, get regular tune-ups and consider a hybrid car - all can reduce CO2 levels and improve fuel efficiency
  3. Eat locally farmed foods that are grown organically. It takes less energy to get them to market and organic farming uses no pesticides
  4. Buy recycled products - and recycle your trash. In addition, steer clear of products that use excessive packaging

Small steps and individual responsibility can make a huge difference all over the world - get started today, and encourage others to do the same!