Nature’s Brilliance — Food as Medicine

How 6 Natural Foods Have Impacted Modern Medicine

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is attributed to Hippocrates and although he did not see food and medicine as the same, it’s indicated from his writings that diet and lifestyle are central to health. 

But ancient cultures have used food as medicine for centuries, dating all the way back to the Egyptians who used various plants to treat everything from animal bites to mental health issues. Similarly, Chinese Herbalism and Indian Ayurvedic medicine are rooted in eating different foods to manage or cure different illnesses.

Pharmaceutical companies took notes from these ancient cultures and developed new drugs from the active compounds found on land and sea. My PhD thesis was on the synthesis of an anti-cancer compound that was extracted from natural plants – how cool is that?

This blog will highlight the wonders of nature – I’ll cover six foods and how they have impacted modern-day drugs.

 

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Whether it’s a green Granny Smith or a shiny Honeycrisp, apples have been integral to the research on drugs to balance blood sugar levels.

Apples have always been known to be great for managing blood sugar due to their fiber content, but a newly discovered compound in apples has actually led to the development of a new diabetes drug.

Discovered in the 2010s, the active compound in apples is phlorizin. The compound is found in unripe apples as well as apple tree bark, and it’s now used in drugs to help balance blood glucose levels in people living with diabetes.

 

Yam’s Medicinal Qualities

Yams are known for being sweet potato’s less popular cousin who gets to shine on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But did you know a compound in yams, specifically Mexican yams, has provided a multitude of medicinal benefits?

In the 1930s, researchers found the compound diosgenin in Mexican yams. Diosgenin was first used in the advent of birth control pills in the 1960s. In the years to follow, developers found that the compound was also effective to decrease inflammation for people with arthritis and dermatitis.

The Mexican yam derivative, diosgenin, is still used in drugs today, though it is more likely to be made in a laboratory than extracted from yams themselves. The holidays remain a yam’s time to shine!

 

Willow Bark’s Medicinal Qualities

Willow bark may be less commonly seen in day-to-day life, but if you have a willow tree in your yard, you may encounter it regularly!

In the 1820s, salicin was discovered in the bark of several varieties of willow trees. Since then, its uses have blossomed, providing anti-inflammatory as well as pain relieving effects. Its derivative, salicylic acid, is commonly used in the treatment of acne.

Salicin was also the original source of aspirin, one of the most commonly used pain relieving agents today.

 

Barley’s Medicinal Qualities

Barley is a grain that serves as a base to many foods: cereals, bread, beer, whiskey and more. Barley is a good source of carbohydrates and energy (and a buzz when in alcohol form), and has also opened doors for researchers to develop new drugs to assist with dental surgery.

Within Barley is a compound called gramine, which scientists found in the 1930s. Research on gramine led to the discovery of isogramine, which was then used to design lidocaine.

If you’ve ever gotten a tooth pulled, the dentist likely used lidocaine. We have barley to thank that a trip to the dentist can be (relatively) painless!

 

Peppermint’s Medicinal Qualities

Anyone have any gum? Well, a stick of gum likely doesn’t include peppermint’s active compound, though it takes on the minty flavor.

Peppermint is one of the longest used herbs for its medicinal qualities. Ancient cultures and today’s pharmaceutical companies alike have used peppermint to decrease joint pain, soothe itching on the skin, and manage hives (specifically hives connected to a condition called urticaria).

The compound in peppermint resulting in all of these health benefits is menthol, which is more of a household name as far as drug compounds go. Menthol directly sourced from peppermint is still in use today! BenGay is a commonly used topical pain reliever that uses menthol for pain relief.

 

Chili Pepper’s Medicinal Qualities

Chili peppers add more than a little (or a lot) of spice to your food. They’ve also made leaps and bounds in various pain relief medicines!

In the 1870s, scientists discovered the compound capsaicin in chili peppers. This is actually the same compound that makes your mouth burn when you eat something spicy!

In the medicinal context, however, capsaicin has been used in topical creams to relieve pain, especially for people suffering from osteo-arthritis and nerve pain from the shingles.

“Nature is so smart it put the medicine inside the food”  

Nature has created a plethora of fruits, herbs, and veggies that have been used to support health for centuries, in ways beyond providing basic nutrition. The best part? This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Researchers are currently exploring how herbal remedies, traditional medicines, and other compounds in everyday foods can open the doors to life-changing medicines. If you want to dive deeper into how food is used as medicine, check out the BBC article linked here for more information!Please note: this information is shared out of interest and not as a replacement for current medical treatment or as any medical advice. If you have any of the conditions mentioned in this article, please consult your doctor for medical advice.

Exercising to Prevent Osteoporosis

Did you know that osteoporosis and osteopenia (low bone mass) affects more than 50 million Americans and causes bones to become weak and brittle? For older women, it is a major cause of disability. So, if you are concerned about your bone health and tested low on the bone density scan (Dexa scan), read on to find out what types of exercise you need to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis and minimize the negative effects.

A complete exercise program consists of the following:

  • Strength/resistance training
  • Weight-bearing aerobic activities
  • Stretching and flexibility exercises
  • Stability and balance exercises

 

Strength/resistance training

Strength training involves the use of free weights, machines, resistance bands or even your own body weight to generate muscle tension on the bones and strengthen all the major muscle groups. You only need to do these exercises about 2-3 times a week (not daily) to get the benefits. Remember that proper form and technique are important to prevent injury so if you are new to strength training, you may want to consult with a trainer to help get you started. You don’t need a lot of heavy weights either – when not at the gym, I use the 5-15 pound dumbbells or resistance bands at home to get a great workout.

Here are some to try at home:

I like this 20-minute full body workout because it has no repeats – if you are not a fan of weight training like me, this one is for you:

If you have resistance bands, try this 30 minute full body workout:

Here’s one that requires no equipment so very travel friendly:

Weight-bearing aerobic activities

Weight-bearing exercises like walking, running, climbing, and dancing are activities where the weight of your body is working against gravity. These exercises work directly on the bones of your legs, hips and lower spine to slow mineral loss. They also boost circulation and heart health. These exercises should be done 5-7 days a week for at least 30 minutes daily. They also provide cardiovascular benefits, which boost heart and circulatory system health. Aerobics like swimming and biking offer many benefits but they don’t offer the weight-bearing load to strengthen bones. So, if you are a swimmer and biker, make sure to include other aerobic activities to mix it up.

 

Stretching and flexibility exercises

Stretching and postural exercises help move your joints through their full range of motion and decrease harmful stress on the back. These exercises can be performed throughout the day to reinforce good posture and should be done gently and without bouncing.

Here are some exercises to incorporate:

(to improve posture and balance)

Stability and balance exercises

Stability and balance exercises help reduce the risk of falling and these should be performed daily. Did you know that more than one in four people over the age of 65 fall each year? Balanced movement exercises like tai chi or standing on one leg improve core strength and equilibrium.  Here are some easy options to try:

A 10 minute tai chi with relaxing music to try:

How about a Qi Gong morning routine? Qi Gong is a mind-body-spirit practice that integrates posture, movement, breathing and focused intent:

A word of caution – If you already have osteoporosis, you should talk with your doctor about what exercises are best for you. You should avoid high-impact exercises like running and jumping which can lead to fractures in weakened bones. Also, jerky movements and excess bending and twisting (like golf, tennis, bowling, some yoga poses) can lead to compression fractures so when in doubt, be the turtle, not the hare.

Weekend Warrior Injury Prevention and Management: Part 2

As we age, our mind may say ‘yes’ but our body says ‘no’. If you love sports and activities but mostly enjoy them at the weekend, you may be a Weekend Warrior. In this blog, I will highlight some nutritional and supplement tips for injury prevention and management. You don’t have to stop doing what you love if you take stock of what your body is telling you and give it the TLC it needs to regenerate and repair.

Bromelain

Did you know that this enzyme that comes from pineapples is used as a meat tenderizer to break down the connective tissues that makes meat tough? If you want to tenderize a cut of meat fast, make a marinade with some pineapple – it will make the chewy cuts of meat more enjoyable. Bromelain’s enzyme action has been touted and widely used as a natural remedy for improving digestion and reducing inflammation. There’s a lot of scientific evidence (more than 70 studies) evaluating the benefits of bromelain on a variety of conditions including connective tissues injuries, ACL tears, sprained ankles, tendonitis, joint pain and arthritis. In this study, oral bromelain supplementation was as effective as a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug in reducing pain, swelling and quality of life. 

Bromelain is safe for most people but if you are on blood-thinning medication or supplements, it may increase the risk of bleeding so get the ‘ok’ from your doctor before supplementing. Here’s one to try:

Collagen

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and vital to our health as it gives strength and elasticity to our bones, muscles, tendons and skin. As we age, our body naturally loses collagen which leads to sagging skin and achy joints. Your body needs collagen to heal and repair damaged tissue. In this study, daily supplementation with collagen peptides improved skin elasticity while improving joint function and general wellbeing. To get collagen from food, try adding beef or chicken bone broth to your diet. I use it as a cooking base in the winter for soups and stews. I prefer to make my own and store in freezable containers. Here’s a simple recipe:

https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/food-cooking/recipes/a83002/how-to-make-beef-broth/

If you decide to supplement, opt for the multi-collagen variety. Our body has over 15 types of collagen in the body so you want the most comprehensive collagen available in supplemental form. Here’s my favorite:

Magnesium

This essential mineral is involved in over 300 chemical processes in our body to support bone health and aid in the healing of connective tissues and muscles. Magnesium also impacts your muscles’ ability to contract and relax so it’s great for relieving cramps and pain. In this study, even one week of magnesium supplementation showed improvements in muscle soreness and pro-inflammatory responses after strenuous exercise.

 Some magnesium rich foods include spinach, avocado, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate. If you need a supplement, opt for a type which has multiple forms. I use this one as it contains all seven forms of magnesium.

MSM, Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Most often sold in a combination, these three are natural components of connective tissues and support and restore cartilage tissue and joints. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a great source of sulfur which is critical to the proteins of muscle tissues, bones and joints. Glucosamine is a simple carbohydrate that is used to synthesize cartilage tissue and chondroitin is formed from glucosamine.  Chondroitin is responsible for structuring the connective tissue and providing strength to cartilage, ligaments and bones. These three compounds are produced in sufficient quantities in young and healthy bodies but slow down as we age which result in loss of strength and elasticity.

It is recommended that the compounds are taken together as they reinforce each other’s actions. This controlled trial shows the clinical benefit that the combination of MSM, glucosamine-chondroitin has on osteoarthritis patients.

Here are two to try:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Often called essential fatty acids (EFAs) as our body is not capable of producing its own so we need to consume it in food or supplement form. There is plenty of well-established evidence on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for supporting cardiovascular, skin and mental health, but did you know that EFAs are as effective as NSAIDS in reducing arthritis pain?  

The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are from cold water fatty fish like salmon, sardines and anchovies which can be consumed twice a week for optimal health benefits. If you are not a fan of fish or prefer to supplement, here are two high-dosage products that have been tested for freshness and purity.

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Turmeric

Known as a super spice and widely used as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, the active compounds in turmeric, curcuminoids, have also been frequently studied for their impact on joint pain. Turmeric helps heal and repair damaged tissues so the spice should be an integral part of your diet. If you’re like me and don’t cook with turmeric often, you can opt for the supplement form – look for ones that contain bioperine (ingredient in black pepper) to optimize bioavailability. Here’s one to try:

Vitamin C

An essential micronutrient, vitamin C aids in healing and is a potent antioxidant that reduces inflammation and provides immunity by supporting cellular function. There are numerous studies on the role of vitamin C to support immunity. In this randomized clinical trial, high-dose vitamin C (2,000mg/daily) and E (1,400mg/daily) reduced muscle damage and inflammatory responses in athletes.

There are so many ways to get vitamin C into the diet but if you need more than 1,500mg, you can supplement with pure ascorbic acid powder. It is inexpensive but as it can give you disaster pants on too high of a dosage, take it slow until your body can tolerate it (bowel tolerance = until you get the runs). Or if you don’t want the hassle, take the liposomal vitamin C which is more expensive but coated to prevent intestinal discomfort with good bioavailability. I take the more economical powder form at home and add it to my shake but have the liposomal capsules on hand for travel. Here are a couple to try:

Pure ascorbic powder:

Liposomal Vitamin C:

Injury Prevention Tips for Weekend Warriors

If you enjoy the great outdoors, yardwork, gardening, sports but like many of us, have sedentary jobs, you may be labeled a ‘Weekend Warrior’. These folks typically sit in the office all week and then physically exert themselves on weekends to ‘catch up’ on all the activities they love. Unfortunately, this can be a shock to our bodies particularly as we age, and can often result in a whole list of ailments including shin splints, pulled/strained muscles, plantar fasciitis (heal pain), tennis elbow, knee pain, back pain, neck pain, tendonitis, rotator cuff injuries, ankle sprains – and more! Many of us are no longer 20-somethings but continue to dive into activities forgetting how much more pliable, fit and well-trained we were as youngsters. If you are not frequently training to improve your core strength, flexibility and endurance, you are almost certainly putting yourself at risk for Weekend Warrior injuries. 

So, in this first blog of a series, I’ll cover tips on how to enjoy your activities without getting hurt.

Gradually increase your activity level and do it often!
  • Increase your workouts 10-20% a week to give your body time to build and include enough rest days to ensure adequate repair. The older you are, it’s likely you will need more time to recover so don’t try to keep up with the teenagers but go at your body’s comfortable pace. Keep in mind that even young, competitive athletes train to gradually build strength and endurance over time. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I would push myself to do 5-6 intense workouts a week but was constantly catching a bug/cold. If only I knew then what I know now…
  • If you are active most days of the week with exercise and resistance workouts, you are ‘conditioning’ your body for the weekend ahead and preventing injuries. So don’t be a couch potato during the week – aim for at least 20-30 minutes of exercise daily. If weather is not cooperating, you can do resistance training at home or a short Tabata workout (intense 20-40 sec movement with 10-20 sec break) which requires no equipment. Here are several to try:
Wear the right gear!
  • In addition to safety gear (helmets, knee and elbow pads) and comfortable/supportive clothing, you need proper footwear. If you like to run, buy running shoes that support your shins and feet. You can have the right ones measured for your sport and foot form at stores like Fleet Feet. And make sure you replace the shoes after 350-500 miles. Click to find a Fleet Feet store near you: https://www.fleetfeet.com  
  • To protect your bones and muscles, you can try compression socks and wraps to help reduce inflammation and swelling. I wear compression socks for long plane rides so my shoes will still fit by the end of the journey! They are widely available in different lengths and styles. This one got high marks but make sure you hand wash them so you can wear them for a long time.
Stretching and posture
  • You should incorporate a stretch routine daily even if you are not working out. Stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion while reducing muscle tension. If you’re like me and have little patience for stretching, here’s a 5-minute full body one to try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2L2lnxIcNmo
  • Have you heard of the Egoscue technique? It was designed to build proper posture and body alignment to prevent injuries and pain. When you are in alignment, the spine and muscles  work in sync with optimal function instead of trying to compensate for each other’s weakness. Try out this 5-minute Egoscue exercise to start your day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdNS95hpL-o
Keep hydrated!

It’s important to keep yourself hydrated especially during the summer heat to avoid cramps, muscle pains and other injuries. Your body sweats out water, electrolytes and even toxins so you should replenish all of it minus the junk. These are good tablets to have around to add to your water. They taste good and have calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium:

To take a comprehensive approach to hydration, you should also add the trace minerals that your body needs. Trace minerals are essential but only needed in small amounts. Your body depletes them through activity and sweating so it needs to be replenished in small quantities. I like the fulvic and humic trace minerals because they are plant-based, 100% bioavailable and work in concert to support hydration, optimize nutrient uptake and assist in removing cellular waste. As a fan of fulvic/humic mineral complexes, I take it daily even if I’m not doing any physically exerting activities. There are many on the market but this one is pure, odorless and tasteless so mixes in nicely with whatever drink you are having:

3 Natural Pain Therapies

In my previous blogs on pain, I covered some natural interventions for managing arthritis and back pain. With the current opioid crisis and prescribing guidelines tightened for pain medications, consumers are increasingly seeking alternative options for pain relief. This Journal of the American Medical Association editorial outlined the CDC guidelines recommending nonpharmacological interventions before any pharmacologic ones. So in this blog, I’ll cover some non-traditional evidence-based modalities for managing pain.

Mindfulness Meditation

Did you know that the mind can provide a pain-relief effect without engaging the opioid receptors in the brain? This study showed that similar brain areas are activated during both mindfulness meditation and use of pain-modulators like opioids. These findings also demonstrated that mindfulness meditation reduces pain independently of opioid neurotransmitter mechanisms. Although more rigorous research is recommended, this systematic review of 38 randomized clinical trials also shows that mindfulness meditation improves pain, depression symptoms and quality of life.

Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)

Have you heard of Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field therapy? It’s a form of energy wave therapy that penetrates into the body, particularly around damaged areas to stimulate repair. The PEMF energy amplifies the cellular energy in your body to stimulate healing and cell function – it increases blood flow and proper circulation to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Before you decide to dismiss PEMF because it has EMF and therefore must be harmful, it’s important to distinguish that PEMF energy waves are carefully designed to support health and healing in the body.

Does PEMF therapy work? This randomized control study showed that adding pulsed electromagnetic field to conventional physical therapy yielded superior clinical improvement in pain and functional ability in low back pain patients. PEMF is a safe therapy for most people with little to no negative side effects but is NOT recommended for those with pacemakers or other electrical implants.

This review showed that PEMF therapy is useful for the management of post-surgical pain and swelling in patients having plastic surgery without the harmful side effects. Any type of surgery is hard on the body so a non-invasive technique like PEMF therapy is a great option for natural, chemical-free pain relief and healing.

There are a myriad of PEMF devices in the market ranging from full-body mats and rings to smaller devices for specific areas. I own a small hand-held unit which I use when my carpal-tunnel wrist pain or localized back pain from over-exertion becomes annoying. Your naturopath or chiropractor’s office may also offer some full-body units but if you want to have your own, you can invest in a small device to start.  This is the unit I have – it’s portable so I also travel with it.

Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO)

Do you know what DMSO is? It’s a chemical that is actually a by-product of the paper making process. It has been used as an industrial solvent for almost 200 years and was discovered accidentally to also be an analgesic. DMSO has been popularized by Dr. Stanley Jacob who was evangelical about its use and treated a lot of professional athletes and pain patients. The buzz around DMSO was even showcased in an old 60 Minutes story. Also popular in veterinary medicine, it is widely used for muscle pain, osteoarthritis, chronic injuries and swelling.  Medical use of DMSO has been established in this study and is advocated as an adjunctive therapy. DMSO is available as a topical gel or cream and when applied to the skin, it is quickly absorbed into the deeper tissues to provide pain relief. It works as an antioxidant and scavenges free radicals that gather at the site of injury and reduces inflammation.

A word of caution on DMSO – it is a solvent that will cause anything on the skin to be absorbed, so make sure you apply to clean skin and not let it come in contact with anything your body should NOT absorb until it’s dried. Also, as it has sulfur, you may smell a bit like a garlic clove!

Here’s one I use for topical pain relief:

Top Tips for Managing Back Pain

According to the CDC, lower back pain is the most common type of disability globally. In the US, one in four adults reported having back pain in the last three months. Lower back pain is classified based on the type and duration of clinical symptoms: acute (lasting less than 4 weeks), subacute (lasting 4-12 weeks) and chronic (lasting more than 12 weeks). What is alarming is that even with the lack of evidence to support its efficacy, almost 14% of insured patients who sought care for lower back pain were prescribed pharmacological drugs like opioids and/or benzodiazepines. These addictive narcotics and sedatives have severe consequences which can lead to overdose, mis-use and death (nearly 50,000 people died in the US from opioid mis-use in 2019).

So in this blog, I’ll share some evidence-based complementary approaches for back pain that are non-invasive and non-pharmacological treatments.

In this review of 45 clinical trials, participants exhibited significantly lower chronic back pain with exercise intervention. The results found strength/resistance and stabilization/coordination exercise programs to be the most effective forms.  For strengthening and stabilizing exercises for back pain, try:

https://www.expertrain.com/blog/fitness/exercises-that-will-help-lower-back-pain.htm

Acupuncture, massage therapy and yoga were three key modalities recommended based on this analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials conducted on complementary approaches to back pain management.

Acupuncture

This ancient practice has been used in Asia for centuries to treat a myriad of conditions and relieve pain. The Chinese form of acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into the skin to work on the trigger points of the body and stimulate endorphins to kill pain. In other variations of this practice, heat or electrical stimulation may be applied to enhance the effects. Check out my earlier blog on how acupuncture works for managing pain.

When looking for an acupuncturist, make sure you verify the credentials and references prior to getting needled as laws vary by state. If unsure, it’s best to find an acupuncturist with certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org). Here’s a useful guide I put together on what to look for: https://community.wholistics.health/making-sense-of-the-alphabet-soup/

Massage therapy

There are many forms of massage therapy but make sure your practitioner is licensed in your state and certified by a national organization like the American Massage Therapy Association. Also, here’s a quick guide to finding the right massage for you.

In this systematic review of clinical trials conducted on non-pharmacologic treatments for back pain, the strongest recommendations were given for exercise, acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, motor control exercise, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a centuries-old Chinese martial art that utilizes slow, flowing exercises with movement, meditation and rhythmic breathing. Here’s one to try:

For yoga for back pain, here’s a video to check out:

Motor control exercises

These exercises, also called: lumbar stabilization, neuromuscular training, trunk stabilization and segmental stabilizing exercise, utilize a combination of whole-body movements, trunk-focused strengthening exercises, and stretching in order to increase spinal stability. These exercises are well established in the literature to reduce pain and disability.  Here’s a good one to try:

Cognitive behavioral therapy

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that enables you to better cope with negative and challenging situations, including chronic pain. If you’re interested in this form of therapy, look for a qualified, certified CBT counselor/therapist in your area:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/cognitive-behavioral-cbt

Bath for muscle pain

How about a nice soak in the tub with Epsom salts and some essential oils? Although Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) are widely used for alleviating muscle pain, most research done to date on pain management has been on other forms of magnesium (oral, intravenous). So instead of the aspirin or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug habit (like Advil), try an Epsom salts bath to provide soothing relief to your aches and pains without the side effects.

Clinical aromatherapy has been studied for a variety of conditions including pain management. It is understood that the essential oils have a pain-relieving effect on the body combined with a relaxant effect on the nervous system.

Here’s a pain-killing bath recipe to try:

  • 2 cups Epsom salts
  • 3 drops Rosemary Oil
  • 3 drops Lavender Oil
  • 3 drops Peppermint Oil

Other essential oils with analgesic and anti-spasmodic effects includer ginger, marjoram, geranium, lemongrass and Roman chamomile – so feel free to mix and match based on preference and what’s readily available. Check out some of these tips and join the Pain forum and let me know what works for you!

Tips for Managing Pain: Arthritis

According to the CDC, an estimated 78.4 million adults will have some form of physician-diagnosed arthritis (one in four of the population) by the year 2040 with about 35 million adults reporting arthritis-attributed activity limitations. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that caps the bones in your joints is degraded whereas in rheumatoid arthritis, the membrane that protects and lubricates the joints is inflamed which leads to joint erosion.

I’ll share some movement tips and herbs for managing the discomfort and pain associated with arthritis in the first blog of this series. Also, check out my earlier blog on natural options to manage pain.

Movement

Strength Training

Regular exercise and movement can alleviate arthritis pain, decrease stiffness of joints, improve flexibility and may help you reduce your prescription or over-the-counter medication. Although the thought of exercising when in pain may not be appealing, it is a necessity for maintaining healthy weight and lubricating our joints. You can start with just 15 minutes of exercise and gradually ramp up intensity and duration based on your body’s response.

Did you know that strength training can enhance the benefits of your aerobic exercise program? The great thing about strength training is that it can be done without any high impact aerobic activity and builds muscles to keep your body and metabolic rate strong. According to this analysis of 17 clinical trials, strength training exercises were effective in reducing discomfort and pain of participants with rheumatoid arthritis based on two metrics: Disease activity score measuring level of pain; and blood ESR measuring levels of inflammation.

Yoga

Yoga-based mind-body intervention provides a holistic approach to treating rheumatoid arthritis as co-morbid depression is often associated with and can adversely affect the outcome of treating this condition.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30714983/, eight weeks of yoga not only decreased the severity of rheumatoid arthritis based on reduction in inflammatory markers but was also accompanied by a statistically significant decrease in symptoms of depression.

Relaxing and restorative yin yoga can go a long way towards pain relief and lubricating the joints through its gentle movement. How about this one to try?

Herbs

Stinging nettle

Known as urtica dioica, it is a flowering plant covered in hairs that cause a painful stinging sensation when touched. Stinging nettle is an established herbal remedy that is known for anti-inflammatory actions combined with minerals (boron, calcium, magnesium and silicon). It has been studied for its impact on rheumatoid arthritis. Using nettle may help you decrease the amount of medicines you take so discuss with your practitioner if you are planning to supplement.

Here’s an extract of the stinging nettle leaf you can try:  

Burdock root (Arctium Iappa L. or arcticum minus)

Burdock root has active sterols, tannins and fatty oils which provide anti-inflammatory benefits. It is commonly eaten in Asia but not many Americans are aware of its power as a superfood. Unless you are cuisine curious and want to try cooking with burdock root, I suggest you go for the tea to reap the same awesome benefits.

This study showed that burdock root tea improved the inflammatory and oxidative stress markers on osteoarthritis patients.

Here’s one you can try:

Licorice

Licorice is a powerful anti-inflammatory and acts like your body’s own natural corticosteroid to fight inflammation and ease pain. In this review of extensive literature done through 2015, the active compounds of licorice (glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid) exerted potential anti-inflammatory effects while diminishing the adverse effects of NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and anti-rheumatic drugs. Licorice in large amounts is NOT recommended for those with high blood pressure, potassium deficiency, and impaired kidney or liver function so it’s best to avoid if you have any of these conditions. Also, licorice candy contains very little of the active compound and has too much sugar and other additives so opt for several cups of this tea instead:

Cat’s claw

Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianesis) hails from the Amazon where it has been widely used as a medicinal plant to treat conditions such as arthritis, gastritis and osteoarthritis. Cat’s claw is an antioxidant and an inhibitor of TNFalpha which exhibits anti-rheumatic properties. This study has shown the effectiveness of Cat’s claw in decreasing inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis.

Here’s a tincture form of cat’s claw which I prefer over the dried herb – it’s not tasty so I add some lemon or mix with flavored seltzer:

Natural and Alternative Options for Managing Pain

It’s estimated that over 150 million of us in the US live with chronic pain and take prescription and over-the-counter painkillers, both of which provide only temporary relief, have limited efficacy and come with side effects including potential addiction. This leaves us looking for safe and effective analgesics to manage pain – so in this blog, I’m going to cover some evidence-based alternative and complementary solutions that can provide natural pain relief. It’s important to note that while you can find relief from these options, looking into the root cause of the pain is the key to long-term wellness. And this may require a dramatic shift away from pro-inflammatory habits (affecting your diet, sleep, exercise and mind) which I’ll cover in another blog. 

Acupressure

Acupressure – a traditional Chinese medicine technique dating back more than 2,000 years – is still popular today as an inexpensive and non-medical intervention without side effects. This stimulating practice sends signals to the body to activate the self-healing mechanism and relax the muscles. When done consistently, it can reduce pain over the long term and lessen the recurrence of related symptoms. This recent study found that cohorts with chronic lower back pain who performed self-administered acupressure experienced improvement in pain and fatigue symptoms.

If the idea of self-administering acupressure seems daunting to you, check out this primer on the common acupressure points and how to correctly apply the pressure for sustained benefits. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is not only one of the oldest Chinese medicine treatments but is also one of the most widely researched and supported complementary modalities with thousands of published studies on pain. This incredible study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine

showed that acupuncture was more effective and faster in relieving pain with less adverse side effects than intravenous morphine. Here are some guidelines on licensure for acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine practitioners so you are in the know before getting needled. Also check out my review of Dr. Bonnie McLean’s podcast on acupuncture and pain. 

Anthocyanins from Cherries

Anthocyanins are phytochemicals that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This recent study found that consumption of cherries by athletes helped attenuate pain and decrease blood concentration of biomarkers linked to skeletal muscle degradation. So add cherries to your shopping list – if you cannot find fresh, grab frozen cherries or unsweetened cherry juice.  Here’s one to try:

 
 
Vitamin B12

Sub-optimal levels of vitamin B12 have been associated with pain from neuropathy. This study reviews the use of B-12 along with other supplements and lifestyle changes to alleviate painful peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Researchers also noted  a prevalence of B12 deficiency on diabetic patients on metformin therapy (diabetes drug). So it’s important to have B12 monitoried to ensure optimal levels are maintained. 

Look for methylcobalamin which is the active form of B12 (not cyanocobalamin) – here is one to try:

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Coffee

Did you know that both regular and decaf coffee have opiate-like properties and contain a compound called cafestrol which probably acts as a painkiller? These opioid properties could be due to a complex interplay amongst multiple compounds that are present in coffee. What a delicious way to manage pain and you can do it without the buzz!

If you are looking for decaf coffee, make sure you purchase brands that eliminate caffeine using the Swiss water method – this ensures that chemicals like methylene chloride are not present in your daily cup-a-joe. Here are some brands to try:

https://www.luckybelly.com/swiss-water-process-decaf-coffee-brands/

Ginger

Ginger is not only tasty but has amazing anti-inflammatory effects as well. According to this study in the Journal of Pain, ginger supplementation has been shown to reduce muscle pain after strenuous exercise. It’s also been shown to relieve menstrual pain in women and to be as effective as ibuprofen.

I love fresh ginger grated into salad dressings, cooking sauces and morning shakes. I buy a chunk of organic ginger and also brew tea: put a small chunk in water – upon boiling, let it simmer for an hour and it’s ready to enjoy. You can add some lemon and honey to taste. If you want to take it as a supplement, I recommend a fermented ginger form as it is more bioavailable:

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Magnesium

Pain is an inflammatory response and your body’s way of telling you of injury or damage. Your body’s normal response would be to produce systemic enzymes to counteract the inflammation so you can heal. And it is magnesium that mediates the activities of these crucial enzymes to manage inflammation. This study showed that magnesium treatment alleviated pain from fibromyalgia, headaches and acute migraine attacks.

Topical magnesium oil applied to sore parts on the body can provide relief. You will see a white residue once the oil is dry – that is the magnesium salt which can be rinsed off. Here’s one to try:

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And here is a relaxing supplement you can take:

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Topical Arnica

Arnica gel comes from the flowers of the arnica herb and is widely used for inflammation resulting from insect bites, bruising, muscle, and other general pain. This study shows the use of arnica gel on providing pain relief after strenuous exercise.  

Here’s one to try:

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Turmeric

Turmeric and the active component curcumin has been widely used and researched for many conditions, making “Orange is the New Block for Pain” (pun intended!) There are more than 2,000 published studies referencing the healing power of turmeric and its components. Here are several:

  • This meta-analysis reviewed randomized clinical trials of turmeric and curcumin-enriched extracts that provided scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of turmeric in the treatment of arthritic pain.
  • This study showed that curcumin extracts were as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis with fewer gastrointestinal side effects.
  • This study showed the role of curcumin and other nutrients like magnesium for chronic pain management in musculoskeletal frailty and aging. 

I like this  supplement because it contains bioperine which enhances the bioavailability of the turmeric extract:

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Or you can try fermented turmeric for easier digestability and absorption:

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Stay tuned to Wholistics for more tips and hacks to lead a pain-free life!

 
 

Making Sense of the Alphabet Soup

Licensure for Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine

In the recently posted webinar by Dagmar Ehling, author (The Chinese Herbalist’s Handbook), acupuncturist, Chinese herbal, and functional medicine practitioner, you may note that she has quite a few titles next to her name. In the field of Oriental medicine, figuring out how to make sense of an acupuncturist’s degree and licensure titles is often confusing. Depending on the college an acupuncturist graduated from and the state he or she practices, you can see different degree and licensure titles. This also comes with the added complexity of different licensing requirements in each state. To make sense of this alphabet soup, below is a short list of some of the titles you may see in the acupuncture and Oriental medicine profession. My suggestion – trust references you may have received but verify the credentials of the practitioner for licensure in your state prior to getting needled.

LAc (Licensed Acupuncturist) AP (Acupuncture Physician) DOM (Doctor of Oriental Medicine) DAc (Doctor of Acupuncture) RAc (Registered Acupuncturist)Various state designations for licensure
MAc MTCM MAcOM MSOM MAOMAcademic master’s degree titles from various Oriental Medical Colleges
OMD DAOM DACMAcademic doctoral titles from various Oriental Medical Colleges. The OMD title was discontinued in 1988.
Dipl Ac (Diplomate in Acupuncture); Dipl CH (Diplomate in Chinese Herbs); Dipl OM (Diplomate in Oriental Medicine [which includes acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Asian body work, biomedicine, and theory]Diplomate designation from NCCAOM (National Certification Commission of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine). This diplomate is the basis for licensure in many states
FABORMFellow of American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
R. TCM-DermRegistered Traditional Chinese Medicine-Dermatologist

For more titles, click on the links below.

https://acupuncturetoday.com/abc/titlesandabbreviations.php

https://www.acufinder.com/Acupuncture+Information/Detail/What+do+the+initials+after+the+acupuncturists+name+stand+for+

Is CBD All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, has grown in popularity over the past few years. But what really is CBD, is it actually beneficial for you, and is it marijuana? While, yes, CBD is a component of marijuana, it can be derived from either the hemp plant or the marijuana plant1. Also, unlike marijuana, CBD by itself will not give you a “high” or any feeling of intoxication1.

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