Archive for January, 2015

Dietary supplements, yoga, mindfulness, are successfully sold to help weight loss–what are the facts and what is fiction? Read on as many marketing claims are myths with no scientific evidence. Worse, there are some serious safety concerns and potentially negative side effects. This is the topic in the highly regarded National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s January 2015 e-newsletter. As a society, our obsession with the body rises along with body weights and circumferences. Are we ready to believe anything for a quick fix?

Acai: No scientific evidence for weight loss or anti-aging properties.

Safety: People allergic to acai or plants in the family should not consume acai.

Bitter orange: Insufficient evidence.

Safety: Avoid taking bitter orange supplements, alone or with caffeine, if there is a heart condition or high blood pressure; or taking medications such MAO inhibitors, often used to treat depression; caffeine, other herbs/supplements used to increase rate. Pregnant women or nursing mothers should avoid products that contain bitter orange. Bitter orange oil used on the skin may increase the risk of sunburn, particularly in light-skinned people.

Ephedra: Little evidence of ephedra’s effectiveness, except for short-term weight loss.

Safety: In 2004, according to the newsletter, “the FDA banned the U.S. sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra after finding that these supplements had an unreasonable risk of injury or illness—particularly cardiovascular complications—and risk of death. Between 1995 and 1997, the FDA received more than 900 reports of possible ephedra toxicity. Serious adverse events such as stroke, heart attack, and sudden death were reported in 37 cases. Using ephedra may worsen many health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. Ephedra may cause seizures in otherwise healthy people as well as in people with seizure disorders.” And there are more negative side effects.

Green tea: Insufficient reliable data.

Safety: Drinking moderate amounts as a beverage is safe.  Some people taking concentrated green tea extracts have reported liver problems. Green tea and green tea extracts, containing caffeine, can cause insomnia, anxiety, irritability, upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, or frequent urination in some people.

Hoodia: No evidence.

Safety: Profile unknown.

Mindfulness meditation: Only a few studies on the effects of mindfulness as a component of weight-loss programs–the evidence is intriguing and research is ongoing.

Safety: There are few systematic studies, the methodology is weak, the variability across randomized trails is sufficient to limit the strength of the evidence. Meditation is considered safe for healthy people; however, there is “theoretical concern” that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems. (I think it is a legitimate concern.)

Yoga: Potentially, therapeutic yoga programs can be frequently effective in promoting weight loss and successful intervention for weight maintenance and prevention of obesity.

Safety: There is a low rate of side effects and the risk of serious injury is “quite low”; however “certain types of stroke as well as pain from nerve damage are among the rare possible side effects of practicing yoga”. Many styles of yoga are low-impact and therefore safe for people when practiced under the guidance of a well-trained instructor.

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An illness can act as a trigger to find meaning in life and the following research with an integrated approach suggests some clinical evidence. Yoga offers unique benefits, beyond fighting fatigue, for women going through radiation therapy for breast cancer. The research for these findings was done was done at the Integrative Medicine Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. It was a collaborative effort with Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru, India.

The study took 191 women in stages 0-3 of breast cancer and randomly split them into three groups–generic stretching, yoga, and a control group. The first two groups were given six weeks of specially tailored classes of 60 minutes, three times a week for six weeks, This coincided with the six weeks of radiation therapy. Yoga exercises were done with controlled breathing and the sessions included meditation and relaxation techniques.

Both groups saw improvements in fatigue versus the control group which did neither activities. However, the women in the yoga group (compared to the stretching group)  were more engaged in their daily activities, reported better general health, and there was measurably better regulation of the stress hormone cortisol. The last factor is deemed really important by the researchers because higher stress hormone levels throughout the day, known as blunted circadian cortisol, have been linked to worse outcomes in breast cancer.

In a the new approach to medical care, looking at the integrated body-mind-spirit, the women in the yoga group “were better equipped to find meaning in the illness experience”.

After the radiation therapy was over, tracking the women over one, three, and six-month intervals, the study reported better general health and better coping skills for the transition to everyday life after the treatment. Once again, the yoga group women “were more likely to find life meaning”.

Please visit a previous blog post for more: https://yogamedblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/healing-from-the-heart-with-breast-cancer/. The post has links for specific, free online audio tracks and resources.

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