(This is the 2nd of 4 posts regarding the effectiveness of “natural” or “alternative” health care.)
The Wall Street Journal article I mentioned in my last post also mentions other research into the mechanism by which plant-based diets, yoga, and meditation halt or even reverse the progression of prostate cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic conditions. One study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, provides evidence that only a few months of similar “natural” treatments permanently alters gene expression. It describes how genes associated with cancer, heart disease, and inflammation were downregulated or “turned off,” while protective genes were upregulated or “turned on.” Another study published in The Lancet Oncology reported that these changes also increased telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens the telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes. Telomeres control how long we live. No prescription medication has ever been shown to do this.
Popularity of Natural Health Care
A recent Discovery Channel special revealed that 40% of Americans employ use some form of “natural” medicine. At their website, they list the ten most common, in order of popularity, along with general comments about documented benefits and potential risks:
1. Natural supplements and herbal medicines – benefits best supported by research evidence include omega 3 for heart disease, arthritis, and depression; garlic for cholesterol reduction; and ginseng for heart disease. In the US, quality control can be a major issue with natural and herbal supplements, as they aren’t regulated and may contain heavy metals and other toxins. In New Zealand, the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill (awaiting its third reading) would establish standards for quality, strength, and purity.
2. Acupuncture – has the strongest evidence base, not only for pain relief, but to improve immunity and alleviate a range of chronic conditions. These are summarised in a recent World Health Organisation report. Some of the most common conditions that respond to acupuncture include rhinitis* (works better than antihistamines), sinusitis, asthma, irritable syndrome, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, menstrual cramps, migraine, menopausal symptoms, and stroke recovery (restores limb function).
3. Spinal manipulation (chiropractic) – also has a growing evidence base of effectiveness in chronic pain and other chronic illnesses.
4. Meditation – research supports effectiveness in treatment of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
5. Therapeutic massage – strong evidence base for therapeutic benefit in cancer, HIV, fibromyalgia, and other chronic pain conditions.
6. Ayurveda – an ancient Indian method of healing which shows promise as a way to boost memory and focus, though research into this approach is extremely limited. Some supplements used in this approach can contain heavy metals or cause dangerous interactions with prescription medication.
7. Guided imagery – demonstrated effectiveness in depression, anxiety, and pain.
8. Yoga – studies show that regular yoga practice reduces stress, eases depression, helps control high blood pressure and diabetes symptoms, helps reduce inflammation and asthma symptoms, reduce back pain, and improve heart function.
9. Hypnosis – shows promise for stress relief, pain management, headaches, dental pain and childbirth.
10. Homeopathy – very limited research base because the individualized treatments used make it hard to generate meaningful statistics.
To be continued.