A PAIN IN THE NECK

As I can attest, sitting at a computer all day can be a real pain in the neck. Although I try to get up hourly and strive to keep an eye on my posture, by the end of the day my neck is often aching. And I’m not alone – statistics show that 85% of us will experience reoccurring neck and back pain throughout our lives.

A new study from Denmark shows that there may be a simple and effective way to combat this, though. In a randomized controlled study of 94 women, researchers Sjogaard and Andersen found that targeted strength training effectively eased neck pain.

The women were divided into three groups: one that participated in neck and shoulder strength training exercises, one that took part in general fitness training on a bicycle and a control group who received only health counseling. While those who bicycled did report a small decrease in pain following exercising, only the strength training group experienced significant and prolonged improvement.

Based on the results of the study, the researchers recommend 20 minutes of targeted strength training three times a week. In the study simple hand weights were used to target the trapezius and surrounding muscle groups. Body Rolling is another excellent option as is both strengthens and lengthens the muscles while also helping to release tension from the muscles.  

THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS

We’ve all been hurt or betrayed. If we were lucky, we were able to reach some sort of understanding and resolution with the person who hurt us. If not, we may be holding on to grudges which, according to a new study from the Mayo Clinic, could be damaging more that just our emotions. 

Carrying around past resentments is now known to have a detrimental effect upon both the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Participants who were told to focus on a personal grudge experienced elevated blood pressure, increased heart rates, muscle tension and feelings of loss of control. When these same participants were led to visualize forgiving the person who had hurt them, these negative effects were alleviated. 

It’s important to realize that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you’re excusing the person who harmed you or condoning their behavior. It does mean acknowledging that you were hurt and then releasing the burden of anger and resentment that you have been carrying around. There is no right or wrong way to do this – meditation, talking with a friend or seeking the help of a counselor – use whichever methods are most comfortable for you. 

Below are four steps listed in the Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource which can help you along the way:

 — Acknowledge the pain and anger felt as a result of someone else’s actions. For forgiveness to occur, the situation needs to be looked at honestly.
— Recognize that healing requires change.

— Find a new way to think about the person who caused the pain. What was happening in that person’s life when the hurt occurred? Sometimes, the motivation or causes for the incident have little to do with those most affected. For some people, this step includes saying, “I forgive you.”

— Begin to experience the emotional relief that comes with forgiveness. It may include increased compassion for others who have experienced similar hurt.
 

Having just begun a new year, now may just be the perfect time to let go of your past hurts and move forward through 2008 with clearer emotions and a healthier body. 

Happy New Year!

THIS BEARS REPEATING

I recently stumbled across the wonderful blog entry below that was written by John almost two years ago. It addresses the idea of goal setting. The timing is perfect. With the New Year rapidly approaching, many of us may be thinking of what resolutions to make this time around.  

This year, I plan on taking John’s advice. Rather than making nebulous resolutions like “This year I resolve to work out more often”, I plan to take part of New Year’s Day to write out specific goals and the steps that can be taken to achieve them. As you read the article below you may be inspired to do the same! 

HAVE YOU SET YOUR GOALS YET?

This is the time of year when we review what happened last year, and set our goals for 2006. Setting goals is a trait that sets apart those people who are successful. Just writing out your goals makes them much more likely to be realized.

I used to teach goal setting when I was a psychotherapist at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, California. I worked with people who were obese. The principals of how to set goals are pretty much the same no matter what you are aiming for.

 “The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly.”   Cecil B. De Mille

Here is a link to a wonderful program that will take you through the process as well as I could if I were there with you. And it’s free!

SETTING GOALS

A SONG A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY

I love to sing. Admittedly, I only indulge when I’m in the car alone or at my desk in my private studio, but I love it none-the-less. Singing is inherent in our natures – for thousands of years we have raised our voices in celebration, in praise and in sorrow. Perhaps part of the reason we feel such a strong love for song, is that instinctively we know than it is good for us. 

At the Western Ontario University, researchers have found that singing provides a healthy, free and non-invasion cure for chronic snorers. By strengthening the muscles at the back of the throat, Alise Ojay says that singing restores tone, reducing snoring and allowing for a restful night’s sleep.

Canadian scientists have found that song benefits patients suffering from severe Alzheimer’s. These patients, despite their illness, were able to recognize songs from their youth and sing along with the music. Meanwhile, doctors in Sydney, Australia, are using music to soothe babies in the intensive care unit. 

It seems that singing can even help smokers to quit their habit. Encouraged by the results of research from Frankfurt University showing that singing lowers stress levels, American choirs have been created to help beat nicotine addiction. One two-year project succeeded in cutting smoking rates by 7%. Statistics from similar, but non-singing, groups showed only a 1% decrease during the same timeframe. 

So whether you’re shy like me and sing in the shower, or boldly choose a night of karaoke – go out and sing! As Cervantes says in Don Quixote:

“He who sings frightens away his ills.

ANOTHER HOORAY FOR HONEY

When I was little, I remember my grandmother giving me honey mixed with a bit of lemon juice whenever I had a cough or sore throat. It always made me feel better, a fact I attributed as much to grandmotherly affection as to the remedy itself. My grandmother was a smart lady.

Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine recently completed a study proving that this sweet home remedy is more effective than over-the-counter cough syrup. The study followed 105 children who where having difficulty sleeping due to night-time coughing associated with upper respiratory infection. One group of children was given detromethorphan (DM), a common cough suppressant. Another group was given buckwheat honey and a third was left untreated.  

While the researchers found that DM was no more effective than no treatment at all, honey was able to significantly reduce both the severity and frequency of the coughing. Some of the children who received honey were noted to have increased energy levels after administration, but actually ended up sleeping better. 

Lead researcher, Dr. Ian Paul, noted that efficacy of honey was likely due to its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Honey also coats and soothes the back of the throat, providing symptomatic relief upon contact. Due to the rare risk of infantile botulism, Dr. Paul cautioned that honey not be given to babies under the age of one year. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles on this powerful gift from the hive, in order to get the full healing benefits make sure to buy unheated, raw honey and enjoy some sweet relief.  

SURVIVING SEASONAL STRESS

It’s that time of year again. Stores have been gearing up since October, with snowmen gleefully sitting along side jack-o-lanterns, and now the rush is in full swing. Even cloistered away in my home office, I can feel the shift.  

No matter which tradition you observe, the holidays provide a time to reconnect and celebrate, and keeping this focus is vital to staying (mostly) stress-free through the holidays. I try to keep this mind whenever I’m bombarded by aisles of tinsel and trapped in lines a mile long while trying to buy my keifer.   

With Thanksgiving just past us, now is the perfect time to think about what you are grateful for. You may even wish to start a journal to take note of those people and events that have made a positive difference in your life. After all, it’s often the little things – a smile from a stranger or a beautiful sunset – that cause us to stop and notice how blessed we truly are. 

Switching your focus outside of yourself can also to wonders to alleviate stress. Random acts of kindness not only bless those you touch, but enhance your own life, as well. Whether you choose to volunteer at a food bank or help an elderly person to decorate their tree, the sense of connection felt at these times reaches far beyond the act itself. 

There are also many simple techniques you can use to take the edge off. Below are just a few to get you started: 

*While giving to others, be sure to pamper yourself a bit, too. Take the time to curl up with a good book or soak in a warm tub.  

*Stay healthy. Between the celebrations eat healthy foods, drink plenty of pure water and exercise. If you start feeling run down, consider adding some supplements to your diet and getting some extra rest. 

*Use relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises to refocus and regain your balance physically and mentally. Even just taking five minutes to close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly can do wonders. 

*Don’t get upset over minor issues. If you burn the rolls or run out of wrapping paper, just take a few slow, deep breaths and return your focus to what’s important – connection, sharing and appreciation. Remember, your friends and family are there to spend time with you, not write a review on your homemade cranberry sauce. 
 

Above all relax, laugh and enjoy!

BLACK TEA & BLOOD SUGAR

Considering the fact that 20.8 million people in the US have diabetes, there is a good chance that we all know of someone who has been touched by this disease. Type II diabetes is by far the most common and its numbers are continuing to rise at an alarming rate.  

While the body is still able to produce insulin in those with Type II diabetes, it is unable to utilize it properly, resulting in excess blood glucose levels. Over time, this condition can lead to a host of problems including blindness, cataracts, nerve damage and kidney disease.  

A healthy and balanced diet, along with regular exercise, can go a long way to help those with diabetes to live a full and vibrant life. Recently researchers from King’s College and the University of Central Lancashire in the UK discovered another powerful ally in the treatment of this disease. Black tea appears to reduce blood sugar levels and stimulate the body’s insulin response.

During this study, 16 volunteers were given a glucose and water solution, water with a small amount of caffeine added or water with black tea powder. Two hours later, the blood glucose levels of those who had the black tea were significantly reduced. In addition, insulin levels were also increased in the tea drinkers. 

It’s believed that the polyphenols found in tea, such as epigallocatechin and epicatechin, may stimulate B-cell activity. B-cells are found in the pancreas and are responsible for insulin production. In addition to this newly discovered benefit, polyphenols have previously been found to help lower blood pressure, protect our bodies from cancer and balance cholesterol levels. 

With the positive effects of tea drinking continuing to mount, it may behoove all of us to begin participating in the age-old ritual of afternoon tea!

THE PERILS OF PARABANS

Those of us in the natural health field have been wary of parabens for several years. Early studies and reports had linked their use to allergic reactions and skin sensitivities. Concern about this common preservative is now becoming wide spread, however, due to new studies showing that these chemicals are able to penetrate the skin and cause hormonal disruptions. 

Touted as safe anti-fungal and anti-microbial agents, parabens have been used to extend the shelf life of body care products by months to years. But what cost have we paid for this convenience? Recent research has found that parabens mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Additionally, residual parabens have been detected in breast tumors. Being that high levels of estrogen have been directly linked to breast cancer, the chances of this correlation being coincidence are slim. 

Frighteningly, the absorption of these chemicals into our bodies is relatively immediate. In one Danish study a cream containing parabens was spread on the backs of healthy men. Within hours the chemicals were detectible in their blood samples. 

Protecting yourself does take a bit of work. Even in natural foods stores, finding a personal care product without parabens can be a chore. I know. I’ve read all the labels. An ingredient list that starts with such wonderful ingredients as organic chamomile and horsetail quickly turns toxic toward the end with methylparaban, propylparaban and butylparaban. Paraben-free products can be found though.

Chances are that if you’re reading this article you already read the labels on your foods. It would be well worth your time to begin reading the labels of your personal care products as well.

THE PROOF IS IN THE PRODUCE

I’ve been buying organic produce for years. Fortunately, it has gotten much easier to find. My initial reasons for making this choice were to avoid the numerous pesticides, herbicides and insecticides whose residue remains long after harvesting. I now know that this choice has also kept me better nourished. 

Over the course of four years, researchers from Newcastle University in the UK grew fruits and vegetables and also raised cattle on both organic and non-organic sites across Europe. They found that there were stunningly large differences in the nutritional levels of these foods depending on how they were grown. 

Milk from organically raised cattle contained 50% – 80% higher levels of antioxidants than conventional milk while organic produce had up to 40% more of these vital nutrients . This is particularly significant as antioxidants are believed to provide a host of benefits, including reduced coronary disease and protection against certain cancers. 

Researchers also found that the nutrient levels of wheat, lettuce, onions, cabbage and potatoes were 20% – 40% higher in the organic produce. There were also higher levels of zinc, iron and other beneficial minerals. Whether or not you’re concerned with the chemicals used in conventional farming, it’s clear that organic dairy and produce is a much healthier choice.  

GARLIC’S SECRETS REVEALED

It seems that the Egyptians were onto something. In a previous article I mentioned their respect for the healing powers of honey. Well, it seems they were also right when they praised garlic in the Ebers Papyrus. For at least 5,000 years the pungent bulb has been used to treat infection and improve overall health, but scientists have never been quite sure why it was so effective – until now.

Researchers from the University of Alabama have discovered that consumption of garlic boosts our supply of hydrogen sulfide, a compound that is naturally produced in our bodies and acts as an antioxidant. The molecule also sends signals which cause blood vessels to relax thereby increasing blood flow.


In fact, hydrogen sulfide seems to supply a wide range of benefits. In a previous study, scientist from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that it almost completely prevented damage to the heart caused by heart attack. The herb’s ability to increase hydrogen sulfide production may also explain why garlic-rich diets have been shown to protect against breast, prostate and colon cancers.

The amount of garlic used in the study equates to about two medium sized cloves per day. For some of us, like me, this isn’t a hard goal to reach. I’ve a bit of a reputation for adding the herb to everything except chocolate (although my use is mild compared to countries such as Italy, where it’s not uncommon for an adult to consume as many as 12 cloves per day).

In order to get the full benefits of the herb, Dr. Kraus recommends crushing the cloves and then letting them stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Doing this allows important enzyme reactions to take place which increase the healing properties. I would also suggest that you add your garlic toward the end of cooking your dish, as overheating can break down the beneficial compounds.

Eating fennel seeds or fresh parsley will help neutralize the odor, as will chewing on a cinnamon stick, although a dear friend of mine who owned his own restaurant swears that the best cure for “garlic breath” is simply to have everyone eat it. It sounds like a fine plan to me!