Yoga Treating Back Pain

A new study indicates that yoga may be as effective for back pain as physical therapy.

The yoga protocol utilized in the study was developed by researchers at Boston Medical Center, with additional input from yoga instructors, doctors, and physical therapists. The study included 320 participants with moderate to severe back pain, all of whom received one of three approaches over a three-month time span: weekly yoga classes, 15 physical therapy visits, and clinical education surrounding ways to cope with back pain.

The findings, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are directly in line with new guidelines for treating back pain from the American College of Physicians. concluded that yoga was as effective as physical therapy, and both groups were 20% less likely to use pain medication than those patients solely receiving education.

Dr. Robert Saper of Boston Medical Center, one of the report’s authors, states: “Yoga was as effective as physical therapy for reducing pain intensity. Perhaps most importantly, reducing pain medication use.” At the outset of the study, 70% of the patients were taking a form of pain medication; at the end of three months, the percentage of yoga and physical therapy participants still taking pain medication dropped to 50%.

As opiate overdoses are now the leading cause of death for adults under age 50, the results offer compelling reasons to find approaches for chronic pain that do not involve narcotics–including tai-chi, yoga, and massage. Saper remarks that if research shows that yoga can be as effective, perhaps it should be considered as a potential therapy that can “be more widely disseminated and covered by insurance.”

How to Save Your Brain

A report published yesterday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) cites promising evidence indicating that active cognitive training, blood pressure management, and physical activity may collectively help stave off age-related cognitive decline and dementia.

In 2015, the Alzheimer’s Association released similar findings that identified two critical activities that could minimize the risk of cognitive decline: increasing physical activity, and improving cardiovascular health. Dan G. Blazer, a member of the NASEM committee that conducted the study and the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at Duke University Medical Center, states: “What is good for the heart is good for the brain. Therefore, exercise and controlling high blood pressure are good for the brain.” While controlling blood pressure is good preventive practice to combat heart disease, it may also reduce memory less and dementia—likely because high blood pressure damages delicate blood vessels in the brain.

In terms of diet, a study released earlier this week by Temple University found that extra-virgin olive helped fend off Alzheimer’s in mice. The mice fed a diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil showed better learning and memory skills than those who did not receive the diet. While the evidence surrounding diet is not as conclusive and plentiful as the research regarding exercise, the panel singled out diets that emphasized whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lower levels of salts.

Cognitive training has been receiving more attention recently, referring to tools and tactics engineered to improve reasoning, problem-solving, memory retention, and processing speed. In a randomized control trial reviewed by the committee titled “Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly,” participants who received cognitive training in processing speed and reasoning deduction demonstrated less decline than those who did not, over a time span of ten years.

More than 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, and the number is only expected to increase as the population ages. Statistics show that by 2050, numbers could reach up to 16 million. There is no cure, and few effective treatments. Yet the evidence suggests that these lifestyle changes may actively reduce risk, or at least delay the onset of dementia. Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, advised people to “Try and avoid the tendency to sit down, watch television for endless hours at night. Get out there, do something.”

International Blog Spotlight-Thailand

Dietary Fat Guidelines: Thinking Outside the Box
Patana Teng-umnuay MD PhD

While most of us crave and enjoy fatty foods, we simultaneously know that high fat diets are primary causes of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Yet recent studies have demonstrated that eliminating all fat from our diets will not improve blood cholesterol, reduce cardiovascular disease, or prevent obesity: our body can create its own fat from carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white rice will raise blood glucose and stimulate insulin secretion; the insulin hormone turns sugar into fat. Hence, one of the principal reasons that people are overweight is due to the consumption of too many carbohydrates. Yet because fat is high in calories, if we overeat, we will ultimately gain weight.

Because studies have indicated that the levels of serum LDL-cholesterol is associated with coronary heart disease, people often try to avoid having high cholesterol diets. In 2015, however, the American Nutritional Society announced that high cholesterol diets do not increase the risk of elevated cholesterol or heart disease. The body is able to synthesize cholesterol from acetyl CoA, which is derived from an oxidation reaction of fat and carbohydrate. Therefore, consuming too many carbohydrates and saturated fats can increase cholesterol synthesis—and the risk of cardiovascular disease—while cholesterol in diet inhibits cholesterol production.

In order to choose the ‘right’ type of dietary fat, people must be educated surrounding the various types of fatty acid. Saturated fat is a type of fat that primarily comes from red meat, poultry, and dairy products—yet this fat contains many toxins, and can be considered to raise the risk of cancers. Plant-based saturated fats, such as coconut oil and palm oil, are enriched with medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs), which can passively diffuse from the GI tract to the portal system, and can convert more rapidly into energy than animal fats. Therefore, consuming moderate amounts of coconut milk will not raise blood LDL-cholesterol.

Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been chemically processed into solid fat, such as margarine. During the past few decades, trans fats have been used as a replacements for animal fats, because of the falsely propagated idea that they are healthier. Yet numerous studies and research indicate that consuming large quantities of trans fats will increase the ratio of LDL-C to HDL-C, and raise the risk of coronary heart disease—more than saturated fats. Trans fats have been banned in the United States since 2015, and recent studies show that there have been declining statistics stroke and myocardial infarction.

In terms of vegetable oil, it is critical to understand its components. The omega-6 fatty acid is the source of atherogenic and inflammatory eicosanoids—an underlying cause of most chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension, and atherosclerosis. Dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil and omega-9 fatty acids in olive oil displace omega-6 fatty acids in the plasma membrane, which results in the production of less atherogenic and anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. Both types of these fatty acids are linked with a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, dementia, and cancers.

Dr. Teng-umnuay received his medical degree with first class honors from Chulalongkorn University, Thailand in 1986, with board board certification in Internal Medicine and Nephrology. He then earned his PhD at the University of Florida in Molecular Cell Biology in 1998. Dr. Teng-umnuay is a well-known lecturer on nutraceutical supplements, stem cell biology, and Anti-Aging medicine. He is a faculty member of the Anti-aging and Regenerative program of Dhurakij Pundit University, and also serves as a consulting physician for S Medical Clinic and Phyathai 2 Hospital in Thailand.Dr. Teng-umnuay is currently the vice-president of the American Academy of Anti-aging Medicine, Thailand.