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Acupuncture For Hot Flashes

Some drug treatments for breast cancer are designed to keep estrogen levels low, causing a change in hormone balance that can trigger symptoms of menopause in women, including hot flashes. Because female hormones can foster the growth of cancer cells, these patients can’t take estrogen, even if symptoms become severe. Fortunately, new research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that acupuncture may help relieve the hot flashes. The study, which included 120 breast cancer survivors who reported multiple hot flashes daily, examined the effects of four different treatments to assess the effectiveness of electroacupuncture, a therapy where the acupuncture needles deliver weak electrical currents. The women were divided into four groups. One group was treated with 900 mg of gabapentin daily, an epilepsy drug that has been shown to help reduce hot flashes. Another group received a gabapentin placebo. A third received two electroacupuncture treatments a week for two weeks, then one treatment weekly. The fourth group underwent sham electroacupuncture treatment. After eight weeks, the women who received electroacupuncture reported fewer and less severe hot flashes than women in any of the other groups. Those who received the sham acupuncture also had measurable relief followed by those who took gabapentin. The women who took the gabapentin placebo improved least. The investigators found that 16 weeks later, the women who underwent real or sham electroacupuncture were still experiencing fewer hot flashes – some were even more improved than at the end of the eight-week study. Compared to the sham group, the women who received the real electroacupuncture had a 25 percent reduction in hot flashes, but the researchers said the modest size of the study precluded a statistically definitive conclusion.


Naps For Better Blood Pressure?

If you’re searching for lifestyle changes to help lower your blood pressure, one effective strategy may be an old-fashioned siesta. New research from Greece found that systolic blood pressure (the top number) in people who took a midday nap averaged 5 percent lower than that of patients who didn’t nap. The researchers enrolled 200 men and 186 women with hypertension to assess the effect of a daily nap on blood pressure readings. The average age of the patients was 61.4 years. The researchers tested the patients’ blood pressure in the office and by utilizing 24-hour ambulatory measurements and assessed their cardiovascular health. They also recorded the amount of napping time the patients reported. After adjusting for other factors that could affect blood pressure – among them age, gender, body mass index, smoking status, salt, alcohol and coffee consumption and exercise – they found that blood pressure was lower among those who took a daytime nap, and that these patients needed fewer drugs to control their blood pressure than those who didn’t nap. Study leader Manolis Kallistratos, a cardiologist, noted that although the blood pressure reductions seen in the study do not seem dramatic, decreases as small as 2 millimeters of mercury in systolic blood pressure can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 10 percent.

My take: I’m a big fan of napping. I used to worry about the time it took to nap, and I would fight off the impulse when I had work to do, but I've since learned that people who nap generally enjoy better mental health and mental efficiency than people who don't nap. They may also sleep better at night. Now, if I feel the need to nap and have the opportunity, I just take one, and usually wake up after 10 or 20 minutes feeling refreshed. The National Sleep Foundation reports that dozing off for 20 to 30 minutes is the ideal amount of time to sharpen your alertness. Other sleep experts have suggested that an hour-long nap can help your memory for facts, places and faces, and a 90-minute nap has been found to boost creativity. If the newly reported effects of napping on blood pressure are confirmed in future studies, there will be even more reason to take a daily nap. 


Loss of Muscle Strength Can Happen Quickly

Even when you're young and healthy, not using your legs for as little as two weeks can sap a third of your muscle strength. New research from the University of Copenhagen reveals that immobility lasting for just two weeks would reduce the leg muscle strength of a young man to that of someone 40 to 50 years older. The Danish researchers looked into the question of how inactivity affects leg muscle strength by immobilizing young and older male volunteers with a leg pad for two weeks. They report that while the young men lost up to a third of their muscle strength, the older ones lost about one-fourth. That loss is more significant than it may seem since the older men presumably already had reduced muscle strength due to age and would end up with much less physical capability than the younger group, the researchers reported. They found that biking three or four times a week for six weeks after the period of immobility didn't completely restore muscle strength even in the younger group. Cycling brought back muscle mass but to get to their original levels of strength, the men had to include weight training in their workouts.

My take? This study presents a rather dramatic "use it or lose it" scenario. With luck, few of us will be completely immobilized for two weeks (or more), but accidents do happen, as do illnesses that can lay you low and keep you there from time to time. It's worth heeding this study's message - that to restore your fitness you have to do more than just return to your usual workout, you'll also have to include strength training (something I regard as an essential part of any exercise program along with aerobic exercise for cardiovascular fitness and stretching for flexibility).


Working Too Much?

If you're putting in significant time at work - 55 hours or more per week - you may be bumping up your risk of stroke. New research from the UK suggests that stroke risk rises by 33 percent among people in Europe, the U.S. and Australia who work much more than the usual 35-40 hours per week. It also found that the risk of coronary heart disease was 13 percent higher among those whose workweeks exceeded 55 hours. The findings were based on data from about 600,000 workers after researchers controlled for other risks including smoking, physical activity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. However, study leader Mika Kivimaki, of University College London, said his team found "no differences between men and women, or between older people and younger ones, or those with higher or lower socioeconomic status." Although the findings were statistically significant, a 55 percent increased risk isn't as scary as it may seem. Here's why: if the normal risk of stroke is one person in 100, a 55 percent increase means that 1.55 people of 100 are at risk. With a 13 percent increase, if 1 person in 100 normally has a heart attack, the risk rises to 1.13 per 100.


Music For Surgery

Listening to music before, during and after surgery could help ease your recovery. An investigation from the UK shows that the positive effects of music on surgical patients include less pain and anxiety. Researchers from London's Brunel University reviewed data from 73 randomly controlled trials and found that compared to patients who didn't listen to music, those who did had 20 percent less post-surgical pain and a 10 percent reduction in anxiety. The music listening patients also used significantly less pain medication. The researchers reported that post-surgical pain was reduced most when music was played before surgery, a bit less when played during the operation and least when played afterward, but the differences were not judged clinically significant. And incidentally, if you're having plastic surgery, you might consider letting the surgeon choose the tunes. A study from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that when plastic surgeons listen to music they prefer, their surgical technique and efficiency when closing incisions is improved.

My take? The findings on reduced pain and anxiety in surgical patients who listen to music don't surprise me at all. Music can have a powerful effect on mind and body. In fact, hospitals have long used music therapy to ease pain, boost patients' moods and counteract depression, as well as help them sleep and reduce muscle tension so that they can relax. Music therapy is also used to stimulate nursing home residents and improve the moods of psychiatric patients and help them to gain more control over their lives. Music can also lessen anxiety, reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and, reportedly, may offer benefits of both movement and speech in patients with Parkinson's disease.


Do You Know Why Mint Is So Healthy? Find Out!

Curious about using mint in your recipes? Mint (Mentha) is a perennial herb indigenous to Europe, with over 25 different species across the globe. One of the most common varieties is peppermint (Mentha aquatic), which is more potent and typically associated with culinary and medicinal use. 

Menthol, the active ingredient in mint that gives it its characteristic flavor, is more concentrated in peppermint (Mentha piperata) than in spearmint (Menthe spicata), and is considered an aid in digestion and a stomach-calmer. Oil of peppermint has also been used to stop the growth of bacterial, viral and fungal infections, and to address asthma, sinusitis, allergy-related colds and other respiratory issues. Nutritionally, peppermint is a good source of vitamins A and C, along with manganese, and copper.

Opt for fresh mint as it provides more flavor and look for leaves that are brightly colored. Wrap the mint leaves in a damp paper towel that loosely holds the leaves and place them in a sealed plastic bag. They should keep for several days in the fridge.

Here are some great recipes that incorporate mint: 
Minted Guacamole & Pomegranate
Honey Ginger Lemonade


Counting Bites For Weight Loss 

Can you lose weight without counting calories? Researchers at Brigham Young University think so. Participants in a month-long study lost about four pounds each simply by counting the number of bites they took per day. The investigators recruited 61 individuals and began the investigation by asking them to count the number of bites of food and gulps of drinks they took for a day. They then asked the participants to cut those totals by 20 to 30 percent, while recording every bite and gulp. The researchers maintain that to lose weight you have to first focus on the amount you eat, and then about the kind of food you're eating - in other words, think about quantity before quality. The study participants counted their bites and their liquid intake and emailed or texted their totals to the researchers at the end of each day. Along the way, 20 of the participants dropped out because they had a hard time keeping count, but the other 41 completed the study. Next the researchers want to see if those 41 individuals manage to keep their weight off - or better yet, continue counting.


Exercise in Dr. Weil's Life (video)

Throughout his life, Dr. Weil has practiced various types of exercises. From running and hiking to biking and swimming, see which ones he enjoyed in his youth and middle age - and which he chooses now.

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