New Under the Sun:
Volume 2, Issue 12
Greetings!! Another year is ending, and it has been an eventful year. As with all years, there have been hardships along with happier events. If the hardships have been particularly difficult, they can weigh our spirits down, adversely affecting our health and well being. Therefore, it is important to also focus on happy and positive outcomes to provide balance to our lives. If you feel nothing happy or positive is happening in your life, then move outside yourself. Focus first on nature: the beauty of a perfectly shaped tree; the impact of a fiery sunset; the awesome expanse of the star-lit night sky. Then move beyond yourself to help others. Perhaps all that stranger needs to brighten her day is a cheerful comment from you. And her positive response to you will brighten your day, too. In this season of giving, give yourself and others some happiness.
Leaches and Pain: You are probably saying to yourself, “Yeah, leeches sound pretty painful!” or “Leeches! Yuck!” Leeches have a long and ancient history of medicinal use. However, their overuse for bloodletting in the 19th century led to their being discarded and disregarded for medicinal use in the 20th century. They were primitive, dirty, messy, and not appropriate for “real” medicine. But leeches are making a comeback in the 21st century. They have already been used for several years in plastic surgery to reduce venous congestion at the site of surgery and to speed healing. Now, recent German research shows that one of the traditional uses of leeches, to reduce pain, actually does seem to reduce the pain of osteoarthritic knees.
Patients who were older than 40 and who were diagnosed with osteoarthritic knees were divided into two groups. One group (27 patients) received the usual treatment of 300 g of diclofenac gel which was applied to the sore area twice each day for 28 consecutive days. The other group (24 patients) had four to six leeches applied to the sore areas of the knee. The leeches were not obtained from the wild but were special medicinal ones (Hirudo medicinalis) from a supplier. [The article did not make it clear whether other leeches would work, so it might be wise not to take your arthritic knee to the nearest swamp for “natural” pain relief just yet.] The leeches were left in place until they became engorged and fell off; at which point, one presumes, they were collected for cleanup and reuse. After the leeching process, which took about 70 minutes, the patients were bandaged and told to stay off their leg for at least 12 hours.
At the end of one week, patients completed a pain survey. Those who had the leech therapy indicated they’d received significantly greater pain relief than those receiving the topical ointment. However, by day 28, the difference in pain relief between the two groups was nonsignificant. Since the ointment group applied the gel every day, it would seem that the leech group probably needed to have the treatment done once a week for the most effective outcome. Beyond the greater pain relief provided by the leeches, those in the leech treatment group also experienced greater joint mobility than did the ointment group, a significant difference that was maintained throughout the study.
The reason for the pain relief appears to found in the saliva of the leeches, particularly a compound named hirudin, although other compounds may also play a role. The researchers were careful to point out that since it was impossible for their study to be “blinded” (that is, the patients knew they were getting real leech treatment as opposed to fake leech treatment or some other treatment), they cannot rule out the placebo effect. Therefore, as is true of most medical research, they recommend that further research be done. If further research supports this study, it could well be that medical treatment with leeches will once again be a common occurrence. This may be a case of “everything old is new again.” Michalsen A, Klotz S, Ludtke R, Moebus S, Spahn G, Dobos GJ. Effectiveness of leech therapy in osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 2003;139: 724-730,781-783.
Women and Heart Disease: This topic has been covered before in AnthroHealth News, but it bears repeating and will probably be repeated in the future: Despite justifiable fears of breast cancer, a woman is far, far more likely to die from heart disease than from any form of cancer. But heart disease affects women differently from men and these differences may result in underdiagnosis and inadequate treatment for women with heart disease. Researchers at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center found that whereas men with heart disease generally have blockages of the major arteries, women do not. Women are more likely to experience blockages in the smaller blood vessels which are less noticeable on an angiogram and are, therefore, less likely to be treated by angioplasty or bypass surgery. The different nature of women’s heart disease may also be a factor in why women receive less aggressive drug therapy than is true for men. The heart disease in men is clear and obvious because it fits the parameters of what is viewed as “typical,” thus men receive aggressive treatments. Obviously, the parameters of typical must be modified to take into account the more diffuse blood vessel blockages that are more typical of women’s heart disease.
The researchers reported that in 2000, 254,630 women in the US died from heart disease and that 6.6 million women in the US have had angina or a heart attack, but survived. Since heart disease is such a major concern for women, but one that is often overlooked and/or undertreated by physicians trained in a male version of “typical”, it is up to each woman to make sure her physician takes her concerns seriously and gives her the best treatment possible. American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, “Coronary Disease in Women is Different from that in Men with Acute Coronary Syndromes” — Abstract 3247.
Folic Acid: As readers of this newsletter know, appropriate nutrition is one of the bases of optimal health. Adequate levels of folic acid are necessary in a number of ways including the prevention of: anemia; neural tube problems in the developing fetus; other growth problems; heart disease; and colon cancer. The minimum recommended dosage is 400 mcg/day. However, pregnant women (or women planning to become pregnant); those taking drugs for cancer or arthritis; smokers; and those taking daily aspirin or antacids need to take 600 mcg/day. A multivitamin contains 400 mcg of folic acid. But a diet rich in dark, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, oranges, and tree nuts can also help optimize your folic acid levels.
Sources of Folic Acid: Good: 40 – 100 mcg/serving: Sunflower seeds (1 oz); Orange (1); Tomato juice (3/4 cup); Avocado (1/4); Egg (1 large); Cantalope (1/8); Better: 40 – 100 mcg/1/2 cup serving: Spinach, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts Green peas Beets, fresh cooked Boysenberries, Blackberries, Almonds, Walnuts, Filberts; Best: >100 mcg/1/2 cup serving: Dried beans, cooked (kidney, pinto, lentils, black-eyed peas); Mustard or Turnip greens, Okra, Asparagus Journal of Midwifery of Women’s Health, 2003. Health & Welfare, Canada 1993
Vitamin C and Mortality: Researchers in London found that blood levels of vitamin C were inversely associated with mortality rates among older individuals aged 75 - 84. That is, those individuals with the lowest levels of vitamin C had the highest rates of mortality. Those with the highest blood levels of vitamin C had about half the mortality rate of those with the lowest blood levels. This relationship held even after the researchers controlled for a variety of factors. Since other research has shown that simply taking supplements does not seem to provide the total antioxidant benefits provided by eating foods rich in antioxidants, the conclusion of this study is that older individuals need to eat a wide variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants including vitamin C. Fletcher AE, Breeze E, Shetty PS. Antioxidant vitamins and mortality in older persons: findings from the nutrition add-on study to the Medical Research Council Trial of Assessment and Management of Older People in the Community. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Nov;78(5):999-1010.
AnthroHealth Tip of the Month: This month’s tip is a reminder that we can improve our health and well being by creating our own luck when we follow Wiseman’s four principles as discussed in September’s book review: The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: The Four Essential Principles by Richard Wiseman, PhD. “Maximize Your Chance Opportunities: Lucky people create, notice, and act upon chance opportunities in their lives.” “Listen to Your Lucky Hunches: Lucky people make successful decisions by using their intuition and gut feelings.” “Expect Good Fortune: Lucky people’s expectations about the future help them fulfill their dreams and ambitions.” “Turn Bad Luck into Good: Lucky people are able to transform their bad luck into good fortune.” Try to focus on the positive as we think about the past year and plan for our future.
© 2001-2009 Kathleen E. Fuller, PhD. All rights reserved.