The New Alternative Medicine: Natural Cures for Women
5 Therapies That Really Work
5 therapies that really work -- research shows it:
Studies have found that acupuncture, a traditional Chinese procedure in which ultrafine, sterile needles are inserted into specific points of the body to redirect energy (chi) and improve symptoms, can quell nausea and reduce some types of pain. But doctors say its effectiveness may not come just from energy flow. "Acupuncture could just as plausibly stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, chemicals in the brain that can act as natural painkillers," says Dr. Bauer. Acupuncture needling sites can sometimes bleed or bruise, so acupuncture isn't generally recommended for anyone who has a bleeding disorder or who takes blood thinners.
Beyond the "mmms," studies show that massage eases anxiety and pain -- even for patients who have serious, chronic conditions like cancer or who are recovering from heart surgery. Preliminary research at the University of Miami School of Medicine suggests that massage boosts the immune system in women with breast cancer and young people with HIV, and helps ease withdrawal symptoms for smokers trying to quit.
3. Imagery and Meditation
Both techniques calm the mind by focusing on breathing, for example, or a mental picture of a peaceful setting, which helps the body relax and relieves stress. They also engage the brain in ways that can have other beneficial effects. One recent study found that people who watched their own brain activity while undergoing a brain scan could use a technique like imagery to consciously control their perception of pain.
4. Herbal Medicine
Herbs that seem to work and have a good safety profile include peppermint for digestive problems, valerian for insomnia, butterbur for hay fever, ginger for motion sickness, and ginseng for enhanced mental performance, such as improved concentration. Research suggests that green tea may lower the risk of several types of cancer, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of stroke. Be sure to tell your doctors about all the herbs you take, to make sure they don't interact with any other medical treatment. For example, ginseng can raise blood pressure and cause you to bleed more easily. "Make dosage decisions with the help of your physician," says Dr. Bauer.
5. Spinal Manipulation
This treatment (usually done by a chiropractor or osteopath) is helpful mainly for relieving chronic low back pain, headache, and neck pain. One review of 43 studies concluded that spinal-manipulation therapy may relieve back pain as effectively as prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs do. Avoid it if you have symptoms of nerve damage or any cardiovascular problems involving arteries in your neck. And ask upfront how many sessions you'll need, so that you won't be told to come back indefinitely for "adjustments."
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July 2007.
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