Currently viewing the tag: "Acupuncture"

The most innovative of changes to healthcare is the ability to personalize one’s care to their individual medical and personal needs. This new paradigm in medicine uses smart technologies and patient participation to prevent and treat disease. Personalized healthcare works by being able to tailor treatment and care that takes into account not just patient symptoms but also their genomics or genetic profile, brain circuitry, family dynamics, cultural and environmental exposures. Analysis of this data enables the doctor or nurse to understand the patient’s unique characteristics and develop prevention strategies based on individual risk profiles.

Personalised medicine is an evolving practice which has become increasingly popular in the past two decades owing to its ability to streamline care. Specifically, it is being introduced into routine clinical practice and becoming a part of cancer prevention, diagnosis and prognosis. Within therapeutics it focuses on molecular targeting, increasing efficacy and decreasing toxicity.  One the biggest barriers to developing personalized medicine are the cost of resources, the complexity of developing an acceptable system for sharing genomic data and translating data into clinical practice. For personalized medicine to expand and become a part of future of medicine then long strides need to be made to provide training to healthcare professionals1.  More recently, this form of personalized healthcare has been advocated to be included into educational curriculum for primary care providers. It has even insisted that doctors familiarize themselves with the unique mental, social and emotional factors of a patient that influence their health condition2.

Integrated Medicine has been referred to as a form of personalized medicine. Both put the individual at the centre of healthcare. It allows for medicine to be viewed as a philosophy, through an understanding of the patient.  This promotes the likelihood that your doctor will see you as a whole person – thoughts, feelings, mental state included – and not just another prescription to write. Integrated medicine is especially beneficial to the patient because it allows you to have a say in your treatment and be educated on the actual decisions your doctors are making. It promotes a compassionate care environment where the patient feels heard by their health provider, which ultimately helps balance the feeling of power disparities between patient and doctor.

A healthy doctor-patient relationship is a promising option for the future of healthcare. It has the ability to create a unique dialogue that could change the way doctors care for patients for the better. Personalised medicine should be seen as a movement that encompasses wider medicine and healthcare. It must be based on cohesive, tight collaboration between the patient, medical professionals, researchers, scientists and social scientists3.

 

References

  1. Rehm HL. Evolving health care through personal genomics. Nat Rev Genet. 2017;18(4):259–67. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28138143
  2. Brooks AJ, Koithan MS, Lopez AM, Klatt M, Lee JK, Goldblatt E, Sandvold I, Lebensohn P. Incorporating integrative healthcare into interprofessional education: What do primary care training programs need? J Interprof Edu & Prac. 2019;14:6–12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405452617301635
  3. Pavelić, K. , Martinović, T. and Kraljević Pavelić, S. (2015), Do we understand the personalized medicine paradigm?. EMBO rep. 2015; 16: 133-136. doi:10.15252/embr.201439609

Have you recently felt struggling to organize your thoughts? Do you often forget to complete important tasks at work? Our thoughts and emotions are dictated by the brain. Memory is the most important factor to succeed in life. Our memory power and concentration go hand in hand; we think clearly when our brain is in its most optimum state of health. Any form of unbalance in brain functions leads to poor concentration, clouded thinking, and confusion. 

Acupuncture to Optimize Brain Power

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicinal therapy that has been around for more than 3000 years. It consists of inserting tiny, thin needles into specific points of a body to stimulate and balance the flow of Qi energy, enhance circulation and release useful hormonal and substances in our body.

Disposable sterile needles are used through gentle insertion at specific body points. More than 400+ points are known. Also referred to as “Acupuncture points”, they lie on 14 major pathways known as “meridians”. Each meridian links to individual body systems, including internal organs. Disruption to this flow is seen as blockages or sluggish Qi flow. Qi encompasses spiritual, physical, and emotional energy. Acupuncture acts by unblocking or stimulating these pathways to facilitate these functions.

Do you know that our intellectual thinking is mutually dependent with other physiological systems?. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine Shen (mind and spirit) is our higher self; consciousness, emotions and thoughts. It influences long term memory, encompasses our wisdom and oversees mental and creative abilities. Brain memory is closely linked to the health and performance of the spleen, heart, kidney, and liver. According to the Five Element theory all of them are mutually inter-dependent e.g. spleen nourishes the heart, or disharmony between the heart and kidneys results in insomnia, anxiety and menopausal symptoms.  Emotionally, the spleen controls worry, the heart is responsible for love and happiness, fear is the realm of the kidneys and anger is associated with the liver (1, 2, 3, 4). Acupuncture positively influences the ability to think clearly by improving long term memory.

Acupuncture for Healthier Brain & Improved Concentration

We are living in a world where we are constantly bombarded by numerous forms of interruptions, smells, sounds and sights; these make it extremely difficult to stay focused at any particular time but even more so for higher level functioning.

Medical studies conducted by the Journal of Neural Regeneration Research concluded that acupuncture can help to improve our brain’s cognitive functions. The same study narrated that acupuncture can increase neural plasticity and thus improve overall brain function. It helps to restore body balance and improve mental clarity.

Treating specific acupuncture such as BA HUI – GV 20, YANG BAI – GB 14, YIN TANG – GV 24.5, SHUI GOU – GV 26, THREE MILE POINT – ST 36, HEAVENLY PILLAR – B10, DAN ZHONG – CV 17 etc. aims to improve brain health and memory functions.

Acupuncture & Brain Disorders

Medical studies focused on Alzheimer’s diseases conclude that acupuncture benefits the spatial learning process of the brain, and helps to improve memory functions. It is shown to improve brain glucose metabolism and helps improve subtle memory loss associated with dementia. Enhanced energy metabolism in the brain is imperative for the ability to learn, memorise as well as cognitive ability.

This time-tested, natural treatment therapy is a boon for your mental health. It energizes the body and nourishes your mind to sharpen memory, improve alertness, and boost your brain power.

If you are having problems focusing or have problems with memory or concentration, then acupuncture may be a good alternative treatment for you. Along with acupuncture, good nutrition also helps tremendously to boost brain functions. When it comes to brain health, never underestimate the power of a healthy diet. Wholesome nutrition acts as a brain food that keeps it sharp and healthy.

 

 

Unfortunately, Acupuncture cannot offer quick fixes. Acupuncture is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) discipline; its origins are in Taoism which is rooted in the natural world offering a view of health in relation to the natural environment.  Many Chinese philosophers were also contemplative, in depth scientists who devoted their life time to observing natural phenomenon. From this they developed a range of philosophical models to describe human body functions and its relationship to health. In this way they expressed their understanding of health using the language of natural forces and cycles.

TCM teaches us that health is a state of harmony between the many biological and energetic forces within our own body. There is no distinction between us as living beings, our mind and our body. When there is a problem or conflict in any then disease manifests itself as pain or other illness. Attainment of good health is a gentle process of balancing these forces. Healing takes place over a period of time.

In a modern technological world where complex tasks have been simplified to an effortless push of a button, people are often disappointed when told that regaining health is not a simple task, nor is it a short term endeavour. In many cases they have been battling with their health for many years whilst receiving medical treatment. Often patients want acupuncture to be a quick-fix without too much effort. It is amusing to think that they have such confidence in acupuncture. That a single or a few treatments will forever rid them of their health problems. Unfortunately, this is not the case although all acupuncturists would love to have such an ability to heal.

Acupuncture and TCM treatment is akin to gardening- building up healthy fertile soil, eliminating pests, growing complementary plants together, adequate water, sun and suitable temperature to grow the best possible crop. Gardening takes time. It takes regular and consistent care over many months before one can reap the harvest. With constant changes in the environment, wind, rain, sun and snow there is a need for steady ongoing care. Similarly, health is not a constant state of being; there is always an ebb and flow which needs to be cared for. The body needs good nutrition to build up resistance and resilience to overcome disease. The mind needs a suitable environment with the necessary stimulation to experience feelings of contentment and happiness. Spiritually, there needs to be a connection within oneself, others and the natural world. This is the catalyst for a person’s self-healing.

Self-healing is true healing, acknowledged by many ancient philosophies and texts. Through the natural rhythm of the universe, humans have an innate ability to self-heal. This ability is masked when the natural balance and self-awareness is lost e.g. when there is unhappiness, mental stresses or a disease state. Acupuncture and TCM treatments aim to return the balance by restoring the smooth flow of qi thus activating self-healing in the body. Unlike medical treatments that only addresses symptoms, acupuncture and TCM treatments also affects the mind, emotions and spiritual self. A strong inner self resides within us which is able to communicate the process of self-healing to the body. Reconnecting to the inner self is key to initiating this process. Acupuncture and TCM can help start this process of reconnection and harmonising.

How long will it take for your garden to grow ?

Seeking to maintain or restore good health?  Think harmony–not tune-up or repair.

Illness is dissonance.   The holistic practitioner does more than focus on wrong notes.  He/she undertakes a detailed examination of the body’s many systems to discover where and how they have stopped working properly together.

Patients are sometimes surprised by the questions a holistic practitioner asks and the nature of the examination.

Perhaps you’re troubled by constipation.  Why is the practitioner looking at your feet or your hand? Why are they checking pulses on both wrists, rather than just one? Why do they ask about your emotional temperament or what position you sleep in? What relevance is your blood type?

Traditional and complementary therapies centre on getting the body to work like an orchestra to make beautiful music. Like sections of the orchestra, each body system can perform separately–but all the time fully aware of the fundamental role every other part plays. Restoring good health requires our body’s orchestra of organs, tissue, muscles and bones to be at their best individually but also collectively.

Mind-Body-Spirit is the mantra of Holism, comparable to musical chords made up of top, middle and lower notes. Regardless of the sequence of notes they are equally important. What happens when we play an incorrect note?  Instead of music we get incoherent, disjointed ‘noise’ i.e. disharmony between mind-body-spirit.

A symptom like constipation is the consequence of such disharmony. Understandably, most people will think immediately of a problem in the digestive system. However, it may only be acting up as a result of a domino effect from another system or organ. Constipation can result from a poor diet; intolerance to certain foods; side effects from antacids containing calcium or aluminium.

More significantly it can also be due to low thyroid activity or neurological problems. So will taking a laxative solve the problem? The answer is no.

We need to address the root problem which offers a much better and longer-term solution.  Using this approach holistic practitioners assess beyond just the digestive system to look for clues that can tell them where the root problem lies.

Practitioners may look at your feet or hands for changes in the skin but also to examine acupuncture or acupressure points. Comparing both wrist pulses for their rhythm is an essential Chinese diagnostic tool. Changes in behavior, sleep patterns or sleeping in certain positions can allude to certain diagnostic patterns in homeopathy, Chinese and ayurvedic medicine.

Practitioners adopting Dr. Peter D’Adamo’s approach (author of Eat Right For Your Type) will use your blood type to determine how it chemically reacts to certain foods.

Health restoration is like tuning a musical instrument, and must encompass a look at not just the body itself, but also what you put into it, and the environment it lives in. Most of our problems have been acquired over decades of gradual exposure to various health hazards.

  • Start with the fundamentals of a healthy life style, diet and exercise.
  • Get the right amount of sleep. On average7– 91 hrs for adults, more for children.
  • Cut out or minimize intake of processed foods.
  • Keep hydrated (preferably with filtered water).
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Routinely supplement with good quality multivitamins and minerals and omega- 3, 6.
  • We increasingly live indoors which reduces our body’s ability to manufacture vitamin D. Thirty minutes daily (less for fair skinned people) of good midday sunshine on bare skin in e.g. shorts and tank top. In the UK it is almost impossible to get this amount particularly in the autumn and winter months thus creating a need for additional supplementation.
  • As much as possible eliminate toxic environmental stresses. Xenobiotic chemicals found in our food and water, pesticides, plastic packaging, metal jewellery, shower gels, cosmetics, prescription medication etc. act as anti-nutrients and increase our nutritional requirements e.g. nickel increases the need for zinc and fluoride increases the need for iodine.

If you currently have health concerns, and your GP has not found a resolution to them, you may need additional advice on supplementation or holistic treatments. Consider going to a holistic practitioner, or for more complex problems, a holistic physician.

 

 

 

Flavourings and preservatives have been used for centuries to enhance the taste and freshness of food. Do you wonder if they may be unsafe to eat?, or have you tried to identify all the additives that are in your food ?

Additives are not naturally found in food. They serve a number of purposes;

  • Colours  that add or restore lost colours to food.
  • Preservatives that help protect against food deterioration caused by bacteria.
  • Antioxidants that slow down or stop the oxidative deterioration of foods, e.g. when fats and oils go rancid.
  • Artificial sweeteners which impart a sweet taste for fewer calories than sugar, but also cheaper to use.
  • Flavour enhancers that improve the taste and aroma of food.
  • Presentation and texture enhancers e.g. thickeners, gelling agents, emulsifiers, emulsifiers.
  • Nutrient additions that increase the nutrient value of foods

Without many additives our food may not taste as nice, bread would go sour more quickly. Some foods will no longer be worth eating due to their low nutrient value.

Traditional methods of preservation include; smoking, salting, vinegar and drying are accepted for their long standing safe historical use. The use of additives has to go through a lengthy process to prove that they are safe to use, but despite this there are still many concerns. Below are some of the problems that additives may give rise to.

Allergy

  • Sulphite and sulphur dioxide (E220-28) have been known to cause allergic reactions. Specifically, asthma sufferers should avoid sulphur dioxide gas due to increased sensitivity, but there are also recorded cases of worsening of asthma after drinking soft drinks containing it. They are mainly found in dried fruits, dessicated coconut, relishes and fruit-based pie fillings.
  • Food colours like tartrazine (E102) can cause mild allergic reactions and some studies show that sunset yellow (E1 10) can cause tumours.
  • Annatto, a natural food colouring found in margarine, cheese, smoked fish and cakes is implicated in allergic reactions and irritable bowel.

Cancer

  • Aspartame (E951) has been linked to various cancers(1,2,3), although studies by US National Cancer Institute and European Food Safety Authority concluded that it did not increase the risk of cancers.
  • Erythrosine is a red food colour. Research has highlighted concerns about its potential tumour formation and inhibition of the normal functioning of the thyroid.
  • Allura red has been associated with cancer in mice but evidence is not consistent.
  • Nitrites and nitrates (E249-52) may convert to potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Hyperactivity

  • Although a definitive link has not yet been established food colours like, sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102) and ponceau 4R (E124) have been associated with hyperactivity in some children. These are commonly found in a variety of processed foods, especially in children’s sweets, confectionary, squashes, soft drinks, jams and cakes. Prevalence of hyperactivity is estimated to be about 2.5%.
  • Aspartame has also been linked with changes in behaviour.

Headaches

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate- E621) is a flavour enhancer can cause headaches in some people. Although in a recent review there was no conclusive direct evidence.
  • Aspartame is also linked with causing headaches.

Other


The Bottom Line

Additives are overused in the processed foods industry, so try to avoid them as much as possible.

  • Keep processed foods to a minimum, including sweets, lollies, soft drinks and cakes.
  • Be careful of foods that are presented as low-fat, sugar-free as majority will contain some form of additive.
  • Not everyone reacts to additives in the same way. If you experience signs of reacting to certain foods, then minimise or avoid eating it.
  • If your child shows signs of hyperactivity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) then eliminating some colours from their diet may prove beneficial.
  • Always read food labels to be fully aware of what you are buying.

 

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes pain, stiffness, inflammation of the joints, joint deformity and reduced physical function. Autoimmune disorders are characterised by the body’s immune system attacking healthy body tissue. Both T- and B- immune cells are implicated in the underlying pathology due to overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines.  Inevitably, it affects quality of life and life expectancy. Unfortunately, the cause of RA is still unknown. Patients often receive strong medication and may require surgical treatment. However, frequently patients will seek non-medical alternatives to try and alleviate their symptoms.

Acupuncture is often sought by patients for pain. Through its ability to modulate pain signals and release of neuro-chemicals e.g. serotonin and endorphins that influence biochemical changes within the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.

A new systematic review of the clinical efficacy of acupuncture on RA was published which included 43 studies. The study concluded that acupuncture alone or in combination with other treatment modalities is beneficial to treating RA, by improving physical function and quality of life. Possible mechanisms included anti-inflammatory effect, anti-oxidative effect and regulation of immune system function.

Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the circulatory and nervous system causing the release of

  • Release body chemicals and changes the way the brain and spinal cord processes the pain signals. These chemicals include; endorphins and other neurohumoral factors e.g. neuropeptide Y, serotonin.
  • Increases local release of  nitrous oxide(NO) known to play an important physiological role in skin local microcirculation, neurotransmission, immunity and wound healing.
  • Reduces inflammation by regulating the immune system, thus normalising immune function.
  • Increases the release of adenosine, which reduces the sensitivity to pain
  • Modulates parts of the brain network (limbic and paralimbic system), responsible for anti-pain, anti-anxiety, and other therapeutic effects
  • Improves muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation, and therefore blood circulation.
  • Benefits depression by acting through other pathways involving dopamine, noradrenaline, cortisol and neuropeptide Y. Stress-induced behavioural and biochemical changes may also be reversed. Acupuncture can generally be safely used in combination with medical treatments.

Alongside acupuncture dietary changes to avoid anti-inflammatory foods e.g. consider reducing consumption of meat, avoid gluten and eliminate dairy products, avoid citrus foods and consume sugars and in small amouts only.  In addition supplements  can help to support the immune system;

  • Essential fatty acids (EFA) like fish or fish oil, flax seed and borage seed oil.
  • Probiotics
  • Turmeric or ginger for its anti-inflammatory action.

 

Once again the media have focused on the use of E-cigarettes. For good reason there are still doubts on its safety. Majority of safety research has been on the e-cigarette liquid prior to it being vaped based on its constituents having fewer carcinogenic toxins. In a recent study scientists at the University of Birmingham believe that e-cigarettes commonly known as vaping is much more harmful than previously thought. Although safer in relation to causing cancer, 20-30yrs of vaping is associated with a higher risk of long term lung disease such as, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after 20-30yrs of vaping. Scientists mimicked the vaping mechanism, once the vapours are inhaled it turns back into a liquid condensate within the lungs. They tested this new condensate on samples of lung tissue and found significantly harmful effects.  It inhibits the alveolar macrophages from working effectively thus affecting the lungs ability to get rid of dust, bacteria and other allergens. Alveolar macrophages are a vital part of the lungs immune system.

When first introduced e-cigarettes had my own alarm bells ringing. The World Health Organisation has expressed concerns over e-cigarette safety. In the UK sales soared by 340% in one year, with the industry worth rising from an estimated £44 million (2012) to £193 million (2013). In 2017 sales increased by 50% to reach £1bn and set to exceed £2bn by 2020.

Vaping is advertised as a safer alternative to tobacco smoking, but is it really?  ‘Vaping’ is the inhalation of a mixture of carrier substances; propylene glycol (an alcohol) and glycerine (produced from fats and oils), added with nicotine and flavourings through an electronic vapouriser. Scientists are still divided on its safety. One camp believes that vaping is a safer alternative to tobacco smoking, while others are sceptical of its longer-term use. The finger has been firmly pointed at the many ‘flavours’ and ‘carrier substances’ that cause physiological effects. Vaping also releases volatile organic compounds and (ultra) fine particles into the atmosphere therefore for the rest of us increasing the risk of passive vaping. A study at New York University (Jan 2018) suggested that vaping may raise the risk of cancer and heart disease. Researchers observed changes in DNA which were similar to those found in secondhand smoke. In another stuty  the toxic element chromium and four times more nickle was found when compared to traditional tobacco. A BBC investigation found that a VIP butterscotch flavour refill contained a chemical diacetyl which, although safe to eat is not safe for inhalation and has been linked to a serious lung condition called ‘Popcorn worker’s lung’.

It took a long time for us to realise the health risks of smoking tobacco. Doctors used to recommend smoking to aid the nerves. How long will it take for us to realise that e-cigarettes are not safe? The rise in popularity amongst young smokers is worrying as they are drawn towards its image as a ‘safer’ alternative to smoking, consequently making it a potentially major public health issue. It is hard to accept that regularly spraying your lungs with layers of vegetable fat and other chemicals was OK! There is talk of e-cigarettes undergoing stricter regulation, and for its sale to be made illegal to the under 18s, while the WHO advised on banning its use indoors. Personally, I feel both of these cannot come soon enough as we need to establish a few facts before it is too late and lives are lost.

 

 

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One would have thought that anatomist would have discovered everything there was to discover in the human body. Au Contraire!  Hidden in plain sight researchers discovered the “Interstitium”; a mesh network of fluid filled spaces that lies along the web of collagen and elastin tissues throughout the body. It is estimated to be 20% of the total body volume. In the past it was simply labelled as dense connective tissue. Dr Neil Theise (co-senior study author) describes it as an “open, fluid-filled highway”. This was an accidental finding during studies on the bile duct. These spaces were never identified because the fluid filled spaces are only visible in living tissue, in dead tissue the fluid is lost and the compartments collapse and flatten losing their structure. Researchers used probing techniques on living tissue to see them in their full form. The spaces appear to be pre-lymphatic and appear to drain into lymph nodes.

In the human body around 70% of the water is found in cells. This finding helps to answer questions about where the remaining extracelluar fluid resides. Various theories for the function of the Interstitium have been put forward including being a source of lymphatic fluid. Consequently, it has a role in the body’s immune system and could be involved is the process of spread of cancer cells.

Researchers have speculated that in Acupuncture the tip of the needle goes into these spaces and may explain how it works. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners (including acupuncturists) learn about how the healthy and balanced movement of qi is vital to maintaining health and that blockages or stagnation results in health problems. Results from this study support this understanding. Past articles have discussed the existence of interstitial fluid network along fascia lines. These fluid-filled matrix correspond very closely to the acupuncture meridian channels where Qi (vital energy) flows. We can therefore postulate that the flow of interstitial fluid is crucial and any impediment would compromise the interstitium’s ability to fully function.

The use of cupping in acupuncture, where the skin is sucked up has the effect of raising tissue and loosening these spaces therefore allowing the flow of interstitial fluid. The Interstitium spaces are supported and organised by collagen lattice and thus described as a dynamic compression and distension shock absorber to protect tissue during daily functions. Data on keloid scars shows that they appear on skin under high tension, and so the effects of forceful mechanical forces of these spaces and the fluid flow within can be considerable. Similarly massage and acupressure techniques include compression and lifting actions that would act on these spaces and therefore the interstitial flow. Further, the process of wet cupping where through a small incision blood is sucked into cups is understood to remove toxins or ‘stagnant blood’ can be directly linked to clearing these interstitium spaces and encourage the flow.

Future studies on the Interstitium could give much more detailed answers on how acupuncture works and finally confirm ancient TCM theories around 5,000 yrs old.

 

References:

Benias, P.C., Wells, R.G., Sackey-Aboagye, B., Klavan, H., Reidy, J., Buonocore, D., Miranda, M., Kornacki, S., Wayne, M., Carr-Locke, D.L., Theise, N.D. Structure and distribution of an unrecognized interstitium in human tissues. Sci Rep. 2018;8:4947. Link

 

Stress and Anxiety is a very common presentation, ranging from everyday life stress of crossing the road safely, or more serious worries like a life threatening illness, divorce or loss of a loved one. However for some even in the absence of notable stressful event there is still anxiety. There is no logical reason for the anxiety but every little event weighs them down physically and emotionally. Social events are an uphill struggle and going to work is equally challenging.

No matter the cause of the stress, instinctively the body reacts by initiating a “stress response” and your body is flooded with stress hormones. Your muscles tenses up, there is rapid breathing, and adrenaline increases your heart rate and elevates your blood pressure. Cortisol increases blood sugar (glucose) levels and increases its availability to the brain.

Challenging situations are part of daily life, and so there is a need to have the necessary capacity and ability to manage stress. Therefore developing more positive, healthier ways to respond to stress becomes paramount.

Invoking a “relaxation response” is a good way to counter act stress. There are many different ways of doing this, and you will need to find the one technique (or a few) that work best for you. Initially, it will feel strange, but with regular practice you will gain confidence and create a source of relaxation and calm that is free to use and available day or night. Practicing relaxation has many benefits including;

  • Slows down breathing rate
  • Lowering heart rate and blood pressure
  • Improves digestion, maintains normal blood sugar levels
  • Reduces production of stress hormones
  • Reduces muscle tension and improves blood flow to the muscles
  • Enhances confidence and calm, reduces anger and frustration,
  • Improves sleep and energy levels

Here are five relaxation techniques that help initiate a relaxation response.

1.  Conscious breathing. Breathing is a simple but very powerful tool. Research has confirmed a link between breathing to relaxation. Specialised brain cells constantly monitor our breathing sending signals to other parts of the brain. It can differentiate between sighing, yawning, gasping, sleeping, laughing and crying.

The 4-7-8 Breath technique is the perfect antidote to stress that can bring on relaxation in a very short period of time. It does not require any equipment and can be done anywhere and in any position, but start practicing by sitting with your back straight. This technique may not be suitable for people with breathing problems.

During the exercise the tip of your tongue should lie and just touch the upper front teeth. Then, before starting exhale completely through your mouth.

  1. Inhale quietly through your nose (closed mouth) to a mental count of four.
  2. Pause and hold your breath for a count of seven.
  3. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath.

Now repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths. The time spent on each breath cycle is not important, but the ratios of 4:7:8 is key to good practice. With practice the breaths can be slowed down with deeper inhalation and exhalation breaths.

 

2. Body scan.  Together with the breathing technique you start to become aware of your physical body. Starting from the top of your head you start to ‘feel’ each part of our body, becoming more aware of it thus enhancing your mind-body connection. Gradually you work all the way down the body. Becoming aware of the body helps to release muscle tension and enable relaxation. This technique may not be suitable for people who have difficulties with their own body image.

3. Visualization.  In this relaxation technique, you close your eyes sitting or lying down in a quite spot and create mental images of calming or peaceful places or experiences to focus on and take a visual journey there. You can be in the forest or at the seaside, imagining the sounds, touch and smell e.g. feeling the warmth of the sun or smelling the fresh countryside air.

4. Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation can help with anxiety, depression and pain control. It focuses on being in the present moment reminding us of its importance, rather than dwelling on past or future concerns. You will need to find a quite space, sitting comfortably focus on your breathing whilst concentrating in the ‘here and now’.

5. Prayer. If you are religious or spiritual repeating a silent short prayer or phrase along with focused breathing will help relaxation and calm.

Other relaxation techniques include; tai chi, qigong, yoga, music and art therapy, walking, biofeedback and sports. There are a number of home remedies you can also try. For additional help complementary therapies like; massage, acupuncture, and reiki may be helpful.

Learning relaxation techniques takes practice, but is an extremely useful skill. Be patient, practice daily for 10-15 min. If you are really short on time than even 5 (full) minutes every day will make a difference. Try different ones. Start with the breathing technique and once you are comfortable with it then expand into the other techniques.

 

Smoking is a significant risk factor for many diseases including cancer, cardiovascular, chronic lung diseases and gastric ulcers. According to The WHO  smoking kills nearly 6 million people each year i.e. approximately one death every six seconds. 5 million of these results directly from smoking, while more than 600,000 are due to passive smoking. Due to the lag of many years, smoking is a slow gradual killer and people don’t realise its impact on their health until much later.  By then they have already developed an addiction.  A survey in China revealed that only 38% were aware it caused coronary heart disease.  Amongst smokers who are aware of its dangers, most want to quit however worldwide national smoking cessation services are only available in 21 countries. Smokers wanting to give up have tried, but most attempts are unsuccessful. E-cigarettes have become the new alternative to smoking but its safety is yet to be evidenced, and in my opinion there is a need to be cautious before giving it the green light. Getting help through cessation advice services using nicotine replacement therapy and counselling may be helpful but don’t always work for everyone. Complementary therapy studies have been done on acupuncture, hypnotherapy, yoga, mindfulness meditation herbal remedies and dietary supplements with some encouraging preliminary results.

Acupuncture is an ancient traditional Chinese therapy involving the insertion of fine needles at specific points in the body. It aims to affect symptoms of withdrawal, and studies show that it reduces the taste of tobacco and the intensity of the desire to smoke. A review of of 38 acupuncture and related randomised studies found inconsistent evidence of benefit, however there is enough to support the possibility of a positive effect that is greater than placebo. When used in combination with education it is found to have greater benefit. Studies on  smoking longer term effects show that it helps to keep smokers motivated to reduce or even quit smoking, with the effects lasting up to 5 yrs.

Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic tool used to affect patterns of behaviour. A Cochrane review found the evidence to be unclear, and not more successful than other therapist contact interventions. Any encouraging results were attributed to the individual’s strong motivation.

Yoga, breathing exercises and meditation-based therapies demonstrate some positive results to stop smoking in a small number of studies. Yoga compared to a psychologist led wellness group showed greater rates of abstinence in the longer term, but also improvements in anxiety levels and perceived health and well-being.

Dietary supplements and herbal remedies, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SaMe), silver acetate, lobeline (Lobelia inflate) and St. John’s Wort have not shown to be effective, and should only be tried with the advice and guidance of an appropriately qualified health professional.

There has been an ongoing interest in the use of complementary therapies to stop smoking. Regularly, I get smokers who express a need (for all the right health and economic reasons) to give up smoking and inquire about the effectiveness of complementary therapies.  My answer has always been the importance of a <b>strong inner desire (rather than just need) to give up, without which nothing works completely. Therapies like acupuncture can help to alleviate stress, aid relaxation, reduce withdrawal symptoms and the urge to smoke thus easing the journey to becoming smoke free somewhat soother, but in my experience the reason for smoking is the key influencing factor which needs to be addressed. Issues of life style choices, work, family, relationships and childhood can all form part of the picture. Finally, what determines which way it swings is a willingness to make real life changes, which is the ultimate ‘Crunch Factor’.