Tag Archives: alternative medicine

Cold, Happy Half Bath

“Traditionally, cold sitzbaths — also called happy half baths — have been recommended against hemorrhoids, varicose veins and infertility (of both sexes),” says board-certified internist and expert in European Natural Medicine Alexa Fleckenstein, MD. “Taken in the evening, they work against insomnia. Done regularly, they promote immune health and disease resistance, similar to cold showers. I take mine because I want to emulate the wonderful feeling I have when I swim in the cold waters of Maine in the summer; my cold sitzbath in the morning leaves me with the same elation and freshness, geared for another strenuous day.”

The name “sitzbath” is a halfway translation from German into English: The original word is “Sitzbad”. “Sitz” means “to sit” and “bad” is “bath”. Dr. Fleckenstein advises that a cold sitzbath should not be done for more than a few seconds. You should not feel cold afterward – just energized and really warm within a few minutes. And never do any cold water treatment on a cold body – Rule Number One in all hydrotherapy. “Let cold water run into a clean bathtub – two to three inches is enough,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “Sit. Don’t forget to splash – it’s fun! Get out and towel off. That’s all. Some hardy people recommend skipping the toweling in the evening and going into bed wet, promoting sleepiness.”

While sitzbaths have a long tradition in European Natural Medicine, there is not much sound research evidence. “However,” says Dr. Fleckenstein, “my patients have benefited. As is the case with many natural therapies, studies have not been done because there’s no money to be made. Nobody can make a buck if I sit for a few seconds in cold water in my tub!”

Contraindications from Dr. Fleckenstein: “Don’t do a cold sitzbath during an acute urinary tract infection, acute back pain and any acute disease. And always check with your doctor first.”

For more information on cold, warm and hot baths, see her book, Health20.

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Herbs for Health

Here are some herbs that will help you have stay healthy, especially during winter. My expert is Alexa Fleckenstein, MD, author of Health2 0 and Healthy to 100. Here is what she told me:

“Herbs have been with us throughout evolution. They fit into our ancient physiology like a key into a lock. In prehistoric times, we always ate herbs from the wild. In modern life, a bitter green or strong root might just be what your body needs to find its way back to balance.”

Unlike the new “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics, bacteria and viruses do not easily develop resistance against herbs, says Dr. Fleckenstein. That is because a single herb contains hundreds or more of compounds, and many of these compounds work on killing off the germs. Since point mutations in bacteria can only develop one by one, it is highly unlikely that an herb becomes ineffective against a pathogen, because there will always be plenty of compounds to destroy the microbes first.

“The word for these compounds working together is synergy,” she explains. “Synergy is the reason why I recommend whole herbs (tinctures or so-called phytocaps with extracts of the whole plant) instead of ‘taking the best’ from several pants, and making a patented medicine. Patent medicines exist because natural plants can’t be patented, and so firms try to make money by taking single compounds from a plant, combining it with other single compound, thus producing a ‘new’ medicine which allegedly is better. The truth is that in many cases it is not better because you cannot improve on nature.”

So what does Dr. Fleckenstein recommend that you have on hand this winter in case illness strikes?

For colds and flu: echinacea, osha, pau d’arco, olive leaf, elderberry
For simple urinary tract infection: Uva ursi, usnea, cranberry. (Drink lots of warm water, too.)
For indigestion: dandelion, peppermint, milk thistle. (And think of cleaning up your diet!)
For cough: horehound, echinacea, linden flowers
For insomnia: valerian, hops, passionflower

Important caution: Always check with your doctor before taking any herb, since there could be dangerous interactions with other medicines you are taking!

For more information, check out her books (which include not only advice about herbs, but also about cold water, nutrition, movement and life balance). Another great resource is The Green Pharmacy, by ethnobotanist James Duke.

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Restoring the Rhythm of the Body

If your health problems include chronic pain in your joints or back, headaches, or ear infections, you might benefit from a craniosacral therapy — after consultation with your doctor, of course. During a session of craniosacral therapy, you lie on your back, fully clothed, on a cushioned table. As the practitioner places her hands under your back on the connection between your head and neck, there is no sensation of “forcing” a movement. “I try to detect and focus on the deepest reservoir of the body, below the ‘radar’ of the conscious mind and even of the muscle,” says Dr. Eurydice Hirsey in Own Your Health—Pain: back pain, arthritis, migraines, joint pain and more, by Adam Perlman, MD, MPH. “I often just follow the body’s own impulse, gently helping it to undo the resistance in its own way, without pushing on the muscles or joints,” says Dr. Hirsey, a chiropractor who is also trained in craniosacral therapy. “This is how craniosacral work differs from chiropractic or even massage, where the practitioner might force or create a change in the body. It is the patient’s own response to the practitioner’s gentle touch that provides the release.”

When the muscle resistance does finally relax, the sensation is one of deep release from a tension you might not have been aware of. “For some people this can be an enormous, sometimes volcanic release,” said Dr. Hirsey. “They may cry, laugh or feel anger, often depending on whether the physical restriction in the body came from an emotional trauma.”

Craniosacral therapy, which can be performed by other practitioners, such as chiropractors, massage therapists, nurses and physical therapists, grew out of the system of osteopathy and treats the central nervous system and its relationship to the spinal cord in a similar way. Practitioners say that craniosacral “rhythm” within the body comes from the regular pulsing of the liquid — called cerebrospinal fluid — that bathes, nourishes and protects the spinal cord. It is through the regular pulses of the cerebrospinal fluid that the brain transmits nerve messages to keep the body alive and functioning.

Blockages or restrictions in the craniosacral fluid can result from tension in the muscles or “fascia,” the tissue just under the skin that overlies muscle and some organs, like a kind of inner “sleeve,” says Dr. Hirsey. “As I place my hands on the spine and head of my patient, I can often feel enormous resistance to the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, caused by blockages in the tissue,” she explains. “Any injury or trauma that alters or minimizes the flow of this fluid can cause pain and have a negative effect on our well-being and health.”

No matter who the practitioner is, the most important component in effective treatment is that the practitioner take into account the condition of the entire body, and that the technique is never used to replace necessary conventional treatment.

What’s the Evidence?
No controlled trials of craniosacral therapy seem to exist, according to one author, Dr. Edzard Ernst, who surveyed the literature, pointing out that Dr. Upledger himself, an osteopathic physician who developed the technique, does not cite them in his own writing. “Even though small movements between cranial bones are possible, there is no good evidence to suggest that restrictions of these movements have any health related relevance,” writes Ernst. -Ernst, Edzard, ed. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An evidence-based approach. Harcourt Publishers Limited 2001. P. 48.

However, practitioners, patients and parents claim that the technique is beneficial for problems such as birth trauma, chronic pain, cerebral dysfunction, cerebral palsy, colic, depression, dyslexia, ear infections, headaches, learning disabilities, Méniere’s disease, musculoskeletal problems, migraine, sinusitis and stroke. Young children are believed to respond particularly well. Personally, I have found regular craniosacral treatments helpful in dealing with the chronic musculoskeletal pain of Marfan Syndrome.

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Filed under children's health, Chronic Pain, cold shower health benefits, ear infections, Headache, Healing, Health, Marfan Syndrome

Using the Mind to Free the Body

A lesson in the Alexander Technique is one of effortless ease — almost as if you were floating without the pull of gravity. You want to package up that floating feeling, carry it off with you, and release it the next time you need to trudge up a flight of stairs. If you have the patience to stick with the lessons, you eventually learn to do just that.
I used the Alexander technique as part of my recovery from a stroke, and also as a way to deal with the muscle and joint discomfort of Marfan syndrome, an inherited disorder of the connective tissue.
Developed by a Shakespearean actor named Frederick M. Alexander at the turn of the 20th century, the Alexander Technique has become a way to promote effortless movement in all activities.

The Alexander Technique is based on three main principles:

-Function is affected by use;
-The organism functions as a whole;
-The relationship of the head, neck and spine is vital to the organism’s ability to function optimally;

What is it used for?
Conditions most frequently treated include chronic pain, osteoarthritis, stress and headaches. While there is limited research, it has been found to be effective for these conditions, as well as Parkinson’s disease, breathing problems and anxiety. It is also common for musicians, dancers, singers and actors to use the technique to improve their performances onstage.(See Own Your Health for research citations.)

For more information: http://www.ati-net.com/

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A Mystery With Many Names

Do you believe that you are only the total of your physical parts: the bones, muscles and internal organs, and the cells and molecules that make them up? Some people — and I am one of them —argue that there is something more, something invisible — which might be called the soul or spirit — that exists within us as well. This question is important in any discussion of complementary and alternative health practices because most, if not all, of these treatments are based on the second premise: the belief that there is, in fact, some non-material “life force” within us that is the essence of our personalities and that may also play an important role in the health of our bodies.

This hard-to-define and mysterious quality has many names in different cultures. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine — a system that is thousands of years old — call this energy Qi (pronounced “chi”). It is believed that Qi — which is also thought to pervade everything in the universe — pulses through our bodies, much like the blood, through invisible but well-mapped pathways called “meridians.” Blockages in the flow of Qi lead to disease or pain, and much of Chinese medicine is directed to removing these blockages, freeing the flow of energy so that the body can heal itself.

The belief in a “universal life force” has been present throughout recorded human history. More than five thousand years ago, Ayruvedic healers and yogis in India referred to Prana as energy that, like the Chinese concept of Qi, is not only within us, but also in the world around us. The Japanese word for life force is “Ki.” The ancient Egyptians called it ‘Ka,’ and the Hawaiians ‘Mana,’ In these cultures, people believe that healers can direct and restore these healing forces to cure disease and relieve pain.

Something to think about.

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Got Milk? For Some Children, the Answer Should Be “No!”

“For some children, the possible adverse health effects of cow’s milk outweigh the benefits, despite what the dairy industry would have us believe,” asserts Stanford University pediatrician John D. Mark, MD.

In his new book, Your Sick Child, part of the Own Your Health series about combining alternative and conventional medicine, Dr. Mark refers to research showing that cow’s milk and dairy products, due to their saturated fat content, can increase inflammation in the airways and other parts of the body. “This inflammation may exacerbate asthma, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and colds,” explains Dr. Mark, an expert on the lung diseases of children. “I regularly try an elimination diet of cow’s milk, cheese and butter from my patients’ diets, and often there is a dramatic improvements in their respiratory problems.”

What about calcium and strong bones? “There are other and often more nutritional ways to get calcium, vitamins and protein, including green leafy vegetables, nuts, calcium-fortified juices, cereals, beans, sesame seeds, almonds, figs, seaweeds, and fortified soymilks,” says Dr. Mark. “We are the only species that drinks milk from another species, and the only species to drink milk at all after infancy. Many children – and adults as well – have trouble digesting cow’s milk. Many children are simply not biologically meant to drink it.”

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Take a Cold Shower to Protect Against Colds and Flu This Winter

At first, it sounds crazy – can a cold shower really prevent colds and flu? But Dr. Alexa Fleckenstein, author of HEALTH 2 0: TAP INTO THE HEALING POWERS OF WATER TO FIGHT DISEASE, LOOK YOUNGER, AND FEEL YOUR BEST (McGraw-Hill 2007) says that a few seconds of cold water after your hot shower is scientifically proven to make you healthy – even if you’re in the cold water for less than 30 seconds a day.

Here are 6 ways that a short cold shower protects you from colds and flu:

1. A brief cold water shower will decrease your body’s “reaction time” to cold. The cold shower “teaches” the blood vessels in your skin to clamp down faster, so you are losing less warmth in draft or cold exposure. Especially, during the winter months while it’s cold outside, you’ll stay warmer, longer.

2. Gamma interferon and interleukin-4 are two important virus-fighting cytokines (immune system proteins) A new German study has shown that cold water exposure helps these two disease-fighters work better together, resulting in fewer viral colds.

3. A cold shower increases lymphocytes in the blood. Lymphocytes produce antibodies, which help fight germs.

4. A cold shower makes you breathe deeply. (A big gasp when the cold water hits the skin!) A deep breath opens closed or clogged alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs) which are then less prone to bronchitis and pneumonia. And deeper breathing means more oxygen for the whole body.

5. A cold shower increases blood flow in all organs, especially skin, heart and lungs. The pharynx/larynx ( organs of the throat) also benefit from the increased blood flow, and are better able to kill viruses.

6. And a cold shower lifts your mood. Depressed people get more colds – probably because depression lowers immunity. A brisk cold shower has been proven to lift the mood and lower stress, both of which jumpstart the immune response – which kills flu and cold germs!

Remember that cold water therapy works only if done regularly, and also needs a few weeks (about six) to work. Start with just your feet and hands in the cold water, and gradually work your way up to your whole body. It feels great!

IMPORTANT: Check with your doctor first. Contraindication include uncontrolled high blood pressure, and narrowing of the arteries.

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Filed under children's health, cold shower health benefits, colds and flu, Health, Water