Improving upon Acupuncure?
While acknowledging that acupuncture can be used to treat certain health-related problems, a group of physicians are calling for a shift from traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA), which involves needles, to a form that uses electrical stimulation, known as evidence-based acupuncture.
"It has become apparent that TCA as practiced in the United States is based on unproven pseudoscientific theories," concludes Dr. George Ulett and colleagues at the University of Missouri, Columbia; St. Louis University School of Medicine; and the Beijing Medical University, China. "Electrical stimulation presents a more scientific and powerful mode of acupuncture treatment," they note.
Their report, based on a literature review and published in the December issue of the Southern Medical Journal, argues that the mechanism by which acupuncture can relieve pain, treat addiction, and cure gastrointestinal disorders has little to do with the traditional Chinese concepts of meridians and "Qi." Meridians are energy pathways within the body through which energy, or Qi, flows. According to the traditional beliefs, when these channels are blocked, disease can result. Practitioners maintain that acupuncture needles are to be inserted at certain points along the meridians to correct the flow of energy.
The authors contend that acupuncture works through a neurochemical process that makes needles obsolete. "Scientific research has shown that healing is not by manipulating Qi but rather by neuroelectric stimulation. Needles are not necessary," the team asserts. For this reason, they write, evidence-based acupuncture should be taught in medical schools, a step that could also influence insurance coverage decisions. Currently, less than a third of the estimated 10,000 acupuncturists who practice in the United States are MDs.
Ulett and his colleagues also argue that the certification regulations for acupuncture are impractical for physicians. According to the American Association of Oriental Medicine, a "standard ... training curriculum of more than 1,500 hours ..." is recommended. "Since acupuncture is a beneficial treatment for pain control that is easily learned, it should be come a surefire tool in the armamentarium of all practicing physicians," Ulett and his colleagues wrote.
A second literature review published in the same issue discusses the roles acupuncture can fill in clinical practice, but stops short of advocating a new approach to the traditional Chinese form of the technique. According to Drs. Salvador Ceniceros and George Brown of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, "the mechanism by which acupuncture works ... appears to be effective in the treatment of pain, nausea and drug detoxification and also in stroke victims."
While concluding that acupuncture can be an effective and safe form of treatment for certain health problems, they write that further research is needed to determine "the extent to which acupuncture might fit into comprehensive Western medical treatment." According to Ulett's team, about 10 million acupuncture treatments are given each year to more than one million Americans.
SOURCE: Southern Medical Journal
Some Proven Benefits About the Soybean
A recent special report in the Washington Post highlighted some of the proven health benefits of the increasingly popular soybean. Many claims have been made for the health benefits of soy: from lowering blood cholesterol to lessening menopausal hot flashes to preventing prostate and breast cancer. But not all the claims are based on equally convincing evidence, the paper reports.
Nutritionists agree that soy is a very good food and a moderate intake of soy is healthful. Soybeans have more protein and less fat than other beans. They are a cholesterol-free source of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and calcium, and they supply most of the essential amino acids needed by humans to build proteins. They are also a good source of fiber.
The strongest evidence so far of health benefits from soy involves heart disease, the leading killer of Americans. Soy's ability to help lower cholesterol in people was first described in the 1960s but has gained widespread attention recently.
The FDA last November proposed allowing food marketers to claim on product labels that soy-containing foods can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. In its proposal, the FDA cited studies showing that consumption of 25 grams of soy protein per day can have a cholesterol-lowering effect. For a food to qualify for the health claim, each serving would have to contain at least one-quarter of that amount, or 6.25 grams of soy protein.
Some 50 published studies in humans have suggested that soy can help lower blood cholesterol levels, although scientists are still not sure exactly how it does so. Much of the attention has focused on "active ingredients" called isoflavones in soy.
As to other claims for soy, such as its possible effect on cancer, bone density or menopausal symptoms, research is more limited. "There's evidence in both humans and animals, but we need more data before we can make public health recommendations," says Victoria Persky, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois School of Public Health in Chicago.
Tantalizing evidence for soy's ability to prevent cancer comes mainly from laboratory animal studies and from epidemiology-the study of suggestive patterns in large populations. The latter include a number of major studies analyzing the lower rate of breast cancer in Asian women and the lower death rate from prostate cancer in Japan. But these studies do not prove that soy protects humans against cancer.
E.C. Henley, director of nutritional science for Protein Technologies, divides the health claims for soy protein into three broad categories. The data are most compelling for its ability to lower cholesterol.
The data are promising but still unproven for its ability to prevent hot flashes and maintain bone density. For example, soy's effect on osteoporosis in humans has only been studied for six months. Lengthier, more definite studies are expected by the year 2000.
Henley's third category, which she calls "this is interesting-let's wait and see," includes soy's possible protective effect against prostate, breast and other cancers. "It will probably be five or six years before we know," she added.
"The bottom-line evidence that soy is protective against cancer is not really here," said Ronald Krauss, head of molecular medicine at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, CA. Nonetheless, soy remains an unquestionably good source of low-fat fiber and protein.
SOURCE: The Washington Post
A Cancer Plus for Beer Drinkers?
Chasing a burger with a beer may wreck the waistline, but a new study suggests that it also might fight the effects of suspected cancer-causing compounds produced while certain foods cook.
There's something about beer, say Japanese researchers, that prevents the action of several types of heterocyclic amines (HAs)-a group of substances that form when proteins cook at high temperatures. In tests, the researchers failed to identify the protective ingredient, but they speculated that it could be hops. HAs have been shown to promote cancerous tumors in animals and are suspected of contributing to cancer in humans.
Recently researchers at the University of South Carolina in Columbia reported that eating very well-done meat might be linked to increased breast-cancer risk.
To test whether alcohol can battle these HA mutagens, the Japanese team, led by Sakae Arimoto-Kobayashi of Okayama University in Tsushima, examined several components found in beer and other alcoholic beverages.
Nearly all brews tested-24 from 11 countries including the United States-did the job against several HAs. Red and white wines, brandy and Japanese sake showed similar abilities against HA mutagens, but beer went one step further.
In mice given one type of HA, beer components decreased genetic alterations in the liver-alterations that the researchers called "biomarkers" for a compound's cancer-causing ability.
Alcohol itself, however, was not the key, the researchers noted. Instead, they speculated, the plant-derived hops that give beer its bitterness could be responsible. In the experiments, extractions of hops inhibited the effects of one HA type.
Moderate alcohol consumption has of late been shown to be a fairly healthy practice, and beer's possible cancer-fighting abilities have been likened to evidence of wine's protective effects against heart disease.
SOURCE: Medical Tribune News Service
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