Health News Digest

complementary medicine

August 28, 2017

A Review Of Some Topics In Complementary Medicine

By Michael D. Shaw

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (part of NIH) offers the best definitions of the terms “complementary” and “alternative,” as they refer to healthcare: If a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it’s considered “complementary.” If a non-mainstream practice is used in place of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative.”

As they further explain, true alternative medicine is uncommon. Most people who apply non-mainstream approaches use them along with conventional treatments. “Integrative” healthcare involves bringing conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way.

That being said, we now look at some current topics…

The injury rate from yoga is up to ten times higher than has previously been reported, which is comparable to the injury rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population. This according to a June, 2017 article published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. Worse, yoga is said to exacerbate 21 per cent of existing injuries. The work is being touted as the first prospective study to investigate injuries caused from recreational participation in yoga.

On the other hand, 74 per cent of participants in the study reported that existing pain was improved by yoga, suggesting that as in virtually all issues related to health, things are almost never simple. As co-author Evangelos Pappas notes:

“Yoga participants are encouraged to discuss the risks of injury and any pre-existing pain, especially in the upper limbs, with yoga teachers and physiotherapists to explore posture modifications that may results in safer practice.”

For those over 50, a combination of aerobic and resistance exercises can significantly boost brain power. So says a review article, published in April, 2017, appearing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors examined 39 studies published through 2016 to assess the potential impact of varying types, intensities, and durations of exercise on brain health for that age group. “Brain health” was divided into parameters of global cognition; attention (sustained alertness, including the ability to process information rapidly); executive function (processes responsible for goal oriented behaviors); memory (storage and retrieval); and working memory (short term application of found information).

Among the findings: Aerobic exercise significantly enhanced cognitive abilities, while resistance training had a pronounced effect on executive function, memory, and working memory.

The authors conclude: “The findings suggest that an exercise programme with components of both aerobic and resistance type training, of at least moderate intensity and at least 45 minutes per session, on as many days of the week as possible, is beneficial to cognitive function in adults aged over 50.”

What does the NCCIH say about Type 2 Diabetes and Dietary Supplements? The agency analyzed clinical trial data for Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA), Chromium, Cinnamon, Magnesium, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

1.     Two studies are cited for ALA, one looking at macular edema, and the other focusing on cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity. In both cases, ALA did not show any particular effect.

2.     Three studies are cited for chromium, giving contradictory results. Interestingly, the review article comprising the greatest number of clinical trials and patients did show a favorable effect for chromium on both the fasting blood glucose (FBG) reading and the HbA1C. Yet, NCCIH is mostly dismissive on chromium.

3.     Two systematic reviews are cited for cinnamon, with contradictory results. The positive review showed that cinnamon can lower FBG, but does not affect HbA1C. This could imply that supplementation throughout the day (or time-release) might lower both parameters. FBG allows the body several hours to “clear” the glucose, while an elevated HbA1C reflects feeding patterns during waking hours, and is generally more indicative of the condition.

4.     Two studies are cited for magnesium, with reasonably positive results, However, NCCIH’s commentary is again a bit dismissive. After all, their observation that “Clinical trial results on efficacy of magnesium supplementation for type 2 diabetes is limited” could apply to essentially every drug that has ever been approved by the FDA.

5.     Three studies are cited for Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and they all agree that supplementation has little effect on diabetes or coronary heart disease parameters. It is noted that in one of the studies, a reasonably high dose—similar to that recommended on supplement labels—was given.

Minor criticisms notwithstanding, I commend the NCCIH for staying true to its mission of “Exploring complementary health products and practices in the context of rigorous science, training complementary health researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals.”