Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Did Our Prehistoric Ancestors Practice Acupuncture?

Given it’s long history, is there a possibility that the practice of acupuncture pre-dates its formal use in traditional Chinese medicine?

By: Ringo Bones

When the mummified remains of a 5,300 year-old “ice man” was discovered in the warm summer back in 1991 in the Niederjoch Glacier, above the Ötz Valley in the Tyrolean Alps. Little did the first responding archeologist knew the impact of their discovery would create on what we then assumed so far of what we supposedly knew of our prehistoric ancestors. It was only nine years after the discovery of Ötzi – named after the place in which our 5,300 year-old mummified “ice man” was discovered – that two Austrian physiologist found out that Ötzi’s people might be practicing a form of acupuncture. One that even pre-dates the one established in traditional Chinese medicine by a few centuries.

After archeologists had concluded that Ötzi’s possessions were of Early Copper Age in origin via various dating methods, they became curious about Ötzi’s strange ornate tattoos. When the tattoos were examined by Max Moser, a physiologist at the University of Graz in Austria, together with his collegue Leopold Dorfer. The two became curious when Ötzi’s tattoo patterns resembles those of traditional acupuncture points used to treat backache and stomach upset. Ötzi’s back, right knee, and left ankle were adorned with 15 groups of short, bluish-black lines closely resembling the various meridian-points of traditional Chinese acupuncture. Injecting wood ash through the skin via a bone or wooden needle was probably how Ötzi’s tattoos were made.

The two Austrian physiologists even became more curious because Ötzi lived some 2,000 years before the oldest generally recognized evidence of acupuncture. Thus raising questions whether the now trendy form of alternative medicine – namely Chinese acupuncture – originally started in mainland Europe as opposed to China. Although the jury is still out, Max Moser thinks the history of acupuncture may have been more complicated than we currently assumed. He concludes that back when Ötzi was around, many various shamanistic cultures that lie between mainland Europe and China might have practiced it. But it was probably the one formalized by the practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine that managed to survive until modern times.

Given that the absence of our present-day “hazards” that lie between mainland Europe and China – namely less-than-democratic nation-states and undocumented anti-personnel mines – Ötzi could have easily braved the natural hazards of his day like wild animals and inclement weather. And might have been a frequent traveler between Europe and China, a few thousand years before Marco Polo’s famous trip.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Viagra: Beyond Impotence?

Marketed during the tail end of the1990’s as a revolutionary drug rivaling that of the birth control pill in importance, does Viagra have other uses besides curing male impotence?

By: Vanessa Uy

More commonly known to those who had come of age during the 21st Century as the most hackneyed subject of Spam e-mails, medical researchers around the world are finding out other uses for the wonderful – but controversial - drug sildenafil citrate, commonly known as Viagra besides curing male impotence. In the overly politicized theater of American healthcare policy, Viagra has for a number of years – if you’ll pardon the pun – a bone of contention in the court of public opinion. Especially during the height of the 2008 US Presidential Elections when the Republican / GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain failed to give a satisfactory disclosure when asked by a certain women’s interest group on why the Bush Administration subsidized Viagra prescriptions while there was none for hormone replacement therapy medications. Thus further reinforcing the public mystique of Viagra.

On the subject of the other newly found uses for Viagra, gastroenterologist Mauro Bortolotti – a professor of internal medicine at Italy’s University of Bologna – has demonstrated that Viagra can be an effective cure for achalasia. Achalasia is a digestive disorder in which the valve between the esophagus and the stomach fails to open regularly after swallowing. Achalasia causes frequent regurgitation, weight loss, and dangerously dilated esophagus. During the course of his research, Bortolotti found out that Viagra dilates and opens the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. According to the study, both functional impotence and achalasia are the physiological result of too little release of nitric oxide from the nerve endings – in which Viagra is used to amplify. Thus explaining the mechanism on how Viagra could be an achalasia cure.

But Bortolotti also found out during his research that although this is good news for those suffering from achalasia, healthy people who use Viagra for sexual purposes are more likely to suffer mild esophageal symptoms. Despite of this, sexually active men around the world are unanimous in ignoring a little heartburn – given the rewards offered by Viagra. Looks like sildenafil citrate / Viagra not only belongs to the bedroom, but also in the dinner table as well.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Allergically Clean?

Are we in the Industrial West breeding generations of allergy sufferers due to our overly hygienic lifestyle?

By: Ringo Bones

Loading one’s home with soaps, hand wipes, and antibacterial detergents has always been a sign of good parenting in the Western world. But ever since that somewhat controversial study on allergies whose data began to emerge near the end of the 1990’s showing that our modern overly hygienic lifestyle may actually trigger a heightened vulnerability to allergies – even to asthma – has sent shock waves across households of the affluent West.

Although some scientists have speculated as far back as the 1970’s that if the human immune system is not exposed to harmful pathogens during childhood, it may develop an over-active immune responses – hence allergies – to harmless plant pollen and mites. If this is true, then are we in the West guilty of breeding a generation of children with immune systems akin to white lab mice, unable to survive unaided in Mother Nature’s wild blue yonder?

A study conducted during the 1990’s by Paolo Matricardi, an immunologist working for the Italian Air Force, has finally found support for the hygiene theory of allergies. While looking for signs of exposure to the three most common food-borne pathogens – namely Toxoplasma gondii, Helicobacter pylori, and hepatitis A – in two groups of 240 male cadets. During the course of the study Matricardi has found out that one group of cadets had elevated allergic responses, while the other did not. The data of the study also shows that allergies were extremely rare – even nonexistent – among those who had exposure to two or all of the food-borne pathogens during their childhood, while allergy incidences were very common to those who had not.

Basing on the results of his study, Paolo Matricardi believes that our body’s immune cells – especially those in the gut – are primed to respond when they first encounter invading bacteria or viruses. Without such “training” during infancy and childhood, our body’s immune cells may instead multiply in response to innocuous – even to relatively harmless – stimuli. Thus giving primary credence to the theory that the main mechanism behind allergies in the affluent West is an overly hygienic lifestyle.

Feelgood Foods

Given that both medical studies and anecdotal testimonials have proven the indispensability of “feelgood foods”, will they ever replace harmful drugs like heroin?

By: Ringo Bones

The unforeseen side-effects of the Bush Administration’s “War on Terror” has been the availability of cheap and almost clinically pure acetyl morphine – otherwise known as heroin – in most metropolitan cities across the Western world. And yet this problem has no plans of going away anytime soon. Nowadays it is often 600 times purer when compared to the smack that’s available when Black Sabbath’s Supernaut was still in continuous airplay in Rock FM across America. But for those who know better than to acquire a risky and unhealthy habit can always try feelgood foods as a safe way into a better mood.

Studies into feelgood foods first appeared in medical journals as far back as the early 1980’s when it was observed in various drug rehab clinics that some foods can lessen adverse drug withdrawal symptoms. Which also happen to be the same foods that can give us a good mood or a feelgood factor and the evidence had been accumulating over the years.

Gary Small, author of The Memory Bible used the data of on-going studies of feelgood foods – also known as comfort foods - in order to compile a list of foods that can improve our memory and recall abilities. Feelgood foods have been shown to have positive physiological effects on our brains by lessening the impact of brain aging and future memory decline in recent medical studies.

Omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in fish such as salmon, trout, anchovies, and even in shellfish has been found to improve neural communication between nerve cells by maintaining the fluidity of their cell membranes. While antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables helps our body get rid of free radicals – i.e. unstable oxygen molecules – agents that are the main cause of memory loss.

Choline found in eggs, milk, beef, liver, and peanuts are very helpful in improving our brain’s memory storage capacity. And may – under on-going research – improve the development of brain function of a developing fetus when imparted to an expectant mother’s dietary routine. Carbohydrates found in fresh fruits and whole grains are a safe way of increasing the brain’s serotonin levels without resorting to the use of illegal and highly dangerous psychotrophic drugs. They also increase blood sugar levels, which indirectly regulates a group of neurotransmitters associated with memory.

Alcohol – i.e. potable ethyl alcohol or ethanol – commonly found in wine and spirits, when taken in moderation, has been shown in preliminary studies to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Even a single glass a day is enough to show significant benefits. And like alcohol – which used to be classified as an “indulgence” with nary a nutrient or health benefits, chocolates are now praised for their antioxidant content and the feelgood factor that they can contribute to our body and mind. With the conscientious choice of foods, you can have a feelgood mindset without resorting to the unnecessary and unwarranted use of psychoactive pharmaceuticals.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ginko Biloba: An Evergreen Wonder Drug?

With healing powers are well known to the practitioners of traditional / alternative medicine for perhaps thousands of years, is Ginko biloba still holds its own as a 21st Century wonder drug?

By: Ringo Bones

As a little medicinal herb that could is probably in use in traditional Chinese medicine to improve blood circulation that dates back centuries, Ginko biloba had been a subject of recent medical studies. With results pointing to the fact that Ginko biloba could also improve memory. While even more recent studies have shown that this herbal wonder drug can also improve the overall brain function in those suffering from dementia.

The 33 previously documented clinical trials of Ginko biloba – some dating as far back as 1976 - are now reexamined by scientists at Oxford University in order to reassess the previous results. The assessment of the previous clinical trials have shown that patients who took up to 200 milligrams of Ginko biloba herbal supplements on a daily basis for up to a year did better in standardized cognitive and memory tests. While further evaluation of the data obtained from past studies points to the possibility that Ginko biloba could slow down the on-going age-related degenerative processes of the brain.

Dr. James Warner, a senior lecturer at London’s Imperial College points out that there is a growing consensus of test results on the on-going medical research into Ginko biloba that it causes blood vessels to dilate, thus improving blood flow to the brain. Ginko biloba also makes blood less likely to clot due to its blood thinning properties. The herb is also high in antioxidants, which protects nerve cells against free radical damage.

With its blood thinning properties an overriding issue on the safety of its use as an herbal health supplement, Ginko biloba – like aspirin – should be prescribed under medical supervision. Also, patients should be mindful if their other medications will have adverse side-effects when taken alongside Ginko biloba herbal health supplements. Just because it falls under the purview of alternative medicine / traditional medicine / herbal medicine doesn’t make Ginko biloba 100% safe.