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Cupping Therapy – an ancient technique still relevant today

Cupping therapy has been used for over 2000-3000 years, with it’s beginnings in Chinese medicine.  There a few variations of this technique (fire cupping, wet cupping, dry cupping, massage cupping) that uses suction within glass jars in order to relieve a variety of bodily ailments.

 

ImageCupping Procedure – Wikimedia Commons

 

Recently, I was able to have this technique performed on my back for muscle tension and back pain – in this case, fire cupping was used to create a vacuum within the jars.  I wasn’t aware of what I was in for when I told my friend she could perform cupping therapy on me.  While I laid on my stomach, she lit cotton balls soaked in alcohol on fire, placed them inside the cups to create a vacuum and then suctioned them to my back.  The experience was extremely painful – she left some jars in place on my upper back while she moved others around on my lower back as a massage technique.  She left the stationary ones on for about 20 minutes while using the ones on lower back as a massage procedure.   While this was happening I was questioning what I had gotten myself into and wondering if I made a bad decision!   However, after the procedure was finishing and she removed the cups from my back, I felt amazing.   There was no pain after the procedure even though my back looked like it was attacked by a large octopus.  The tension in my muscles was released and my lower back pain was completely gone.   For me, this technique relieved my muscle pain better than deep tissue massage therapy.

 

Wikimedia commonsCupping therapy – Wikimedia Commons

Not until after the therapy did I actually look more into cupping.   I was amazed to find many articles about the benefits of the procedure and the ailments that can be treated with cupping (cough, herpes, Bells Palsy, muscle pain, acne, and herniated disks).

Personally, I would rather treat a condition using holistic methods as opposed to surgery or medication.  If this technique is still in use from 3000 years ago and still effective, I would recommend others to try it at least once or twice before considering other more invasive options. The pain is only temporary and worth it for the benefits gained from the therapy.

References:

1. An updated review of the efficacy of cupping therapy.  Huijuan Cao, Xun Li, and Jianping Liu.  PLoS One 2012.

 

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Do you feel like a hibernating bear by this time of year??

SONY DSC

Photo by Peter Lee

Well here it is, almost winter again with our days getting dark around 4:30pm (before most of us even leave work).  Sunlight is extremely important for setting our daily rhythms such as sleep, eating, productivity, and energy – by suppressing the neurotransmitter/hormone melatonin (a chemical that causes sleepiness).    Melatonin is secreted in the brain by the pineal gland.  Melatonin levels increase with darkness and decrease in the morning with sunlight.  For that reason, every year at this time I find myself tired all the time and sleeping a lot.   Not only that, but I feel like I have less motivation to actually go out and be social.   My office lacks windows so I don’t even get to absorb what little daylight there is during work hours.   So, I feel like that big guy in the picture, a hibernating bear 🙂

I’ve never been officially diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD – how appropriate), but I have all the symptoms.   Symptoms of SAD include hypersomnia (excessive sleeping), daytime sleepiness, increased negative mood in fall and winter months, lack of energy, and 80% of cases are in women during childbearing years.

 photo by Moyan_Brenn

photo by Moyan_Brenn

There are a few options available for improvement of SAD symptoms, but none of them were shown to completely abolish the negative impacts.   The first is light therapy by using a light box although some prefer tanning (which I do not recommend!) even though reports of this technique has conflicting results.  The time of day the person is exposed to  bright light seems to have significant impact.   It is helpful to try to get outside a few times a day to take a walk just for some natural sunlight exposure (probably the most effective therapy in SAD treatment).   A second option is exercise (in my opinion probably the second most helpful therapy) – multiple studies have shown the importance of exercise for improved mood and energy.  The third option is anti-depressant medications such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, norepinephrine/dopamine reuptake inhibitors and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.  However, finding the right medication and dose could take weeks to months (it could be spring by that time!).    I’ve also written about food and mood before, so eating more healthy foods during the winter months could lower negative impacts of SAD – this includes reducing the amount of sugary starchy carb loaded food (put down that Christmas cookie!) so that insulin levels don’t spike and drop quickly.  Lastly, from personal experience I have found that just getting out and socializing (even when you don’t feel like it) increases mood significantly – if you can incorporate it with activity it is even better (think about joining a sports league with some friends).

If you can combine all of the above suggested treatments I think that is the best option for minimizing SAD symptoms, increasing mood, and increasing energy levels.  I would love to hear some comments from others about their methods for treating SAD.

 

Reference:
Kaplan, K. and Harvey, A.  Hypersomnia across mood disorders: A review and synthesis.   Sleep Medicine Reviews.  2009.  13: 275-285.

The poisonous soup that is our environment….

Photo by Irit Batsry

 

I met a woman over the weekend who told me that she had been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease (PD) after she learned that I studied the effects of pesticides on brain development.  I felt sympathetic towards her because she is only 39 years old and is on several medications and recently went through surgery for deep brain stimulation (DBS) to try to minimize the effects of the disorder.  She told me that before people are aware she has PD she had been called “mumbles” because she has a hard time enunciating her words.  She also told me the meds that she is on for the disorder cause her to act differently than she used to.  Despite all she has been through, she remains positive and upbeat about her situation which really impressed me.

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder in which areas of the brain involved in dopamine release start to degenerate.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter needed for motor control.   Over time, this loss causes movement problems, tremors, and difficulty walking and talking.  While there are medications given to patients with this disorder, they can only treat it and slow down its progress.   Deep brain stimulation is an effective treatment for PD, yet is highly invasive with a pacemaker inserted into the brain so the patient can use a remote to inactivate or stimulate areas of the brain depending on the symptoms of the patient.

Currently, the causes of Parkinson’s disease are unknown, albeit much attention is on the role of environmental toxicants.  Roughly 5% of PD cases are solely from genetic mutations.  Even though there is no specific cause of PD, individuals that are ‘genetically predisposed’ are at a higher risk for the disorder, especially in conjuction with environmental toxicant exposure.  Earlier studies reported that certain pesticides disrupt locomotor activity and alter dopaminergic neurons and dopamine release from those neurons.  Just this month, scientists from University of California San Diego published a study indicating that the herbicide Paraquat and the fungicide Maneb affect the growth of new neurons in the adult brain and the expression of genes involved in the formation of new neurons (using mice).    Both Paraquat and Maneb have been found in a large number of non-organic foods.  Maneb was banned since 2010, but was in use since the mid-1900s.   Paraquat is one of the most used pesticides, since 1955,  even though it is extremely toxic.  Farm workers exposed to  these pesticides have an extremely high risk of getting Parkinson’s disease.

I’ve written about pesticides before, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate to make you aware of what you are putting in your body.   Even though you probably aren’t a farmer exposed to high levels of pesticides, studies show that eating organic foods drastically lowers the levels of pesticide metabolites in the body.   We all know that eating organic is more expensive, but it might be worth giving up some other non essentials to invest in our health.  With the abundance of research on the harmful effects of pesticides, we can’t ignore the facts that they are poisoning our bodies and our environment.   At the very least, take a look at the ” The dirty dozen ” foods with the highest amount of pesticide residues and try to incorporate those into your diet.  I think it’s time that being pro-organic shouldn’t be the minority anymore!

References:

Desplats, PA. et al.  Combined exposure to Maneb and Paraquat alters transcriptional regulation of neurogenesis-related genes in mice models of Parkinson’s disease. Mol Neurodegener.  Sep 2012 28;7(1):49.

https://www.michaeljfox.org/

Arkury TA et al. “Pesticide Urinary Metabolite Levels of Children in Eastern North Carolina Farmworker Households.” Environ Health Perspect Aug 2007;115(8).