CAM(eo) Appearances

So, you have a diagnosis and you’re armed with a brand new prescription from you doctor (as we discussed yesterday).Your doctor (and the medication he prescribes) is considered part of conventional medicine.

If you also visit a chiropractor or acupuncturist for treatment, you’d be in the field of complementary and alternative medicine – CAM for short.

CAM tries to prevent and treat different conditions with techniques such as:

  • healing touch
  • energy
  • herbal medicines

Many CAM therapies have been around for centuries. But do they really work?

There is research to show that some CAM techniques can help with problems like pain and nausea. But other alternative therapies don’t have enough medical evidence to determine if they are effective.

Acupuncture

203. acupunctureWhat it is: This traditional Chinese medicine technique uses thin needles to stimulate various points around the body. Each point corresponds to a specific condition. The aim of acupuncture is to restore a balance of energy and good health to the body.

The evidence: Many of acupuncture’s benefits still haven’t been confirmed. That’s because more studies on acupuncture need to be performed. But evidence suggests that acupuncture may help ease some chronic pain conditions, including:

  • headaches
  • low back pain
  • osteoarthritis of the knee

Chiropractic Medicine

imagesWhat it is: Chiropractors specialize in adjustments – manipulating the spine to put the body into better alignment. People typically visit the chiropractor when they have pain in their lower back, shoulders, and neck. But many chiropractors claim adjustments can also improve overall health.

The evidence: Chiropractic medicine does seem to provide some relief for lower back pain. But it may not be any better than other back pain treatments.

Studies have also found the technique effective for:

  • migraine and neck-related headaches
  • neck pain
  • joint conditions
  • whiplash

But there isn’t much data on the effectiveness of chiropractic medicine for FM.

Energy Therapies

Energy therapies use magnets and therapeutic touch to manipulate the body’s energy fields and improve health.

Here’s a round-up of some common energy therapies:

Magnetic Field Therapy

What it is: Magnets are thought by some to have healing abilities. Centuries ago, people believed magnets could treat everything from gout to baldness. Today, they’re worn inside bracelets, shoes, and other accessories.

The evidence: There’s no conclusive evidence that magnets are effective pain relievers. There are a series of studies currently looking at a magnet therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation which may help manage the symptoms of FM. Any results are preliminary. More study is needed to see if the therapy is effective.

Magnets are generally safe. But they can disrupt the function of pacemakers, defibrillators, and insulin pumps. That makes them potentially dangerous for anyone who uses these devices.

Reiki

reiki-handsWhat it is: The premise of Reiki is that it accesses the body’s natural energy to speed healing. The practitioner hovers his or her hands over the patient’s body. Or he or she places them lightly on the person’s skin.

The evidence: There is something to be said for the healing touch when it comes to bringing about a state of calm. One study showed that Reiki was effective in bringing about an increase in:

  • happiness
  • relaxation
  • feeling of calm

Therapeutic Touch

What it is: Advocates of this technique suggest that the power of touch may direct energy flow and treat pain and disease.

The evidence: It’s hard to tell for sure whether therapeutic touch works. There have been few good studies done on this technique. Researchers have investigated its effects on wound healing, pain, and anxiety. But most studies had mixed results. There is no conclusive evidence of effectiveness.

Herbal Medicine

Plants form the foundation of herbal medicine. They’re taken in several forms including pills, powders, or extracts to treat a variety of conditions. Herbal medicine can be divided into three types:

Ayurvedic

What it is: Ayurvedic medicine originated in India more than 2,000 years ago. It focuses on balance of the mind, body, and spirit. Hundreds of different herbs are used to:

  • protect the body against disease
  • relieve pain
  • improve general health

The evidence: Most studies performed have been small. They cannot provide conclusive evidence that Ayurvedic herbal medicine works.

There’s also a serious caution to using Ayurvedic products. One study found that Ayurvedic herbal medicines from South Asia had dangerously high levels of:

  • lead
  • mercury
  • arsenic

Chinese

12882850-chinese-food-therapy-traditional-chinese-herbal-medicineWhat it is: Chinese herbal medicines include gingko and ginseng. They are not used to treat a specific symptom or disease. Instead they are meant to restore balance to the body as a whole. These medicines can be taken in many forms, including pills, powders, and teas.

The evidence: Chinese herbal remedies have been studied but the research hasn’t been well-designed enough to draw any conclusions on effectiveness.

Regarding safety, there have been reports of heavy metals and other toxins in certain Chinese herbal remedies.

Traditional

A number of different herbs are grown in the Western world that are considered “Western” or “traditional” herbal remedies. Most studies on these herbs have been small. So it’s hard to know for sure whether they work. A few herbs that have shown possible benefit include:

  • Chamomile for relieving stomach upset.
  • Cranberry for preventing urinary tract infections.
  • Flaxseed, garlic, and soy for lowering cholesterol.
  • Peppermint oil for preventing heartburn.
  • St. John’s wort for relieving mild to moderate depression.

Although herbal remedies are considered “natural,” they can cause side effects. They may also interact with drugs you’re taking for other conditions. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal medicine.

Like everything else, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. So, it will be more trial and error…but we’d all like to hear any of your experiences with CAM therapies.

Diet of Desperation

I always have fish and chips on a Monday, except I don’t eat fish so it’s either a hamburger or souvlaki. Sometime during the week, I have a pepperoni pizza; and another day, it’s a cheese pizza. Chinese take-out is on Thursday. In there, as well, is a hell of a lot of Cadbury’s, and maybe some ice-cream.

Yes, my diet sucks. But I’m too scared to change it!

I suffer from depression and I take 100mg of sertraline (anti-depressant) daily. It took 3 years of experimentation and dark, scary days to reach a place where, despite everything, I’m pretty good. Antidepressants are also called serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, preventing the supply of serotonin in the brain from going down. However, antidepressants are not the only way to elevate serotonin levels. Many ordinary people self-medicate when they are feeling depressed by eating lots of carbohydrates.

R.I.P Davy Jones

I don’t question this theory – in fact, I am a total believer.

Here is how ingesting sugar – or some carbohydrate that is broken down into sugar after digestion – can alter our mood for the better. When we digest carbohydrates, our blood sugar levels rise, and then insulin is secreted, lowering the blood levels of most amino acids with the exception of tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. When there is more tryptophan than other amino acids, it enters the brain at a higher rate,[1] potentially alleviating a functional deficiency in brain serotonin and thus serving as self-medication.[2]  The brain then produces more serotonin. Studies focused on this link appear to back this up: high carbohydrate meals raise serotonin,[3] while fatty or protein rich meals tend to lower it. The type of carbohydrate chosen seems to be based upon its glycemic index, or how high it causes blood sugar levels to peak. The higher glycemic index carbohydrates like sugar have a greater effect on serotonin than starchy, lower glycemic index foods like potatoes.[4]

And it’s not just sugar that we crave: certain alkaloids have been isolated in chocolate that may raise brain serotonin levels.[5] Scientists now speculate that chocolate addiction may actually have a real biological basis with a serotonin deficiency being one factor.[6] Another basis that has been proposed for why chocolate has such a powerful influence on mood is that chocolate has ‘drug-like’ ingredients including anandamines, caffeine, and phenylethylamine.[7]

Expert tips to avoid the cravings include:

  • Be honest with yourself about how deep your problems with food go – I figure I can’t really be more honest than this!
  • Distract yourself by doing something else – oh yeah! because that works for the 61.5% of the Australian adult population considered overweight or obese! (Sorry – couldn’t find up to date figures on ALL the other countries!)
  • Exercise! Exercise stimulates the feel-better chemicals called endorphins and improves your mood. But it’s awfully hard to exercise when you can’t get yourself out of bed…
  • Drink a glass of water. Really? (need I say more?)
  • Be mindful of what you are consuming rather than grazing all day. A food journal can be very helpful – if you want to keep track of what you will need from the supermarket!

So, when doctors, websites, other bloggers, family and friends tell me that perhaps I need to alter my diet to help with my FM, all I can think of is the return of the Big Black Dog.

 

P.S. I love footnotes!


[1] Gendall & Joyce, 2000; Sayegh et al., 1995; Velasquez-Mieyer et al., 2003; Wurtman & Wurtman, 1995

[2] Pijl et al, 1993; Spring, Chiodo & Bowen, 1987; Wurtman, 1990; Wurtman & Wurtman, 1995

[3] Rouch C, Nicolaidis S, Orosco M. ‘Determination Using Microdialysis, of Hypothalamic Serotonin Variations in Response to Different Macronutrients’ Physiological Behaviour 1999 Jan 1-15;65(4-5):653-7.

[4] Lyons PM, Truswell AS. ‘Serotonin Precursor Influenced by Type of Carbohydrate Meal in Healthy Adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1988 Mar;47(3):433-9.

[5] Herraiz T. ‘Tetrahydro-beta-carbolines, Potential Neuroactive Alkaloids, in Chocolate and Cocoa’ Journal of  Agriculture, Food and Chemicals 2000 Oct;48(10):4900-4

[6] Bruinsma K, Taren DL. ‘Chocolate: Food or Drug?’ Journal of American Diet Association 1999 Oct;99(10):1249-56

[7] Benton D, Donohoe RT. ‘The Effects of Nutrients on Mood’ Public Health Nutrition 1999 Sep;2(3A):403-9