Category: Practical Tips

Practical Tips for Alternative Medicine: Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin supplements are commonly used as a sleep aid, managing jet lag, high-blood pressure, endometriosis, anxiety, and certain other situations. It even works as a sunscreen. Generally speaking, there’s a popular misconception that because melatonin is a “supplement” and because it’s naturally-occurring in the body, that it’s relatively harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Even apart from a list of side effects that includes headaches, daytime drowsiness, dizziness, cramps and irritability, it’s hard to know exactly how your body will react. Made by the pineal gland, melatonin is a hormone that’s a little like but not quite a neurotransmitter. It definitely has an effect on the uptake of neurotransmitters including serotonin. Melatonin can have complex physiological effects based on its ability to affect other things in the body.

 

Now, we’re not saying that the benefits won’t outweigh the adverse effects. Moreover, there is something you can do to make smarter choices about your long-term melatonin use:

 

  • Practical Tip—Your thyroid is one of the things that can be affected by melatonin use and chronic use in particular. This can be a good thing for one person and a bad thing for the next person. So next time you’re at the doctor’s office, and ideally before starting a regimen of melatonin, have your thyroid levels checked. This should give you something of a baseline to measure future thyroid activity, a notoriously difficult thing to track.

 

 

Practical Tips for Alternative Medicine: CBD Oil

CBD oil is an increasingly popular alternative medicinal substance. Cannabidiol, known colloquially as CBD, is one of the many compounds (cannabinoids) in the cannabis plant. Until recently, the best-known compound in cannabis was delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, the most active cannabinoid in marijuana. Recently, researchers have been searching for therapeutic uses of CBD. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive; it does, however, appear to produce significant changes in the body, suggesting medical benefits.

 

CBD offers a natural alternative to pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil and Ibuprofen. Authors of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that CBD significantly reduced chronic inflammation and pain. The research also suggested that the non-psychoactive compounds in marijuana, including CBD, could constitute a new treatment for chronic pain.

 

Researchers have also discovered a link between CBD use and certain conditions characteristic of epileptic seizures; a low dose of CBD may ease seizures. In fact, in June of 2018, the FDA approved CBD for the treatment of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. The most common side effects were very mild, including sleepiness, sedation and lethargy, elevated liver enzymes, and decrease appetite.

 

Several studies are ongoing regarding the potential effect of CBD on certain neuropsychiatric disorders, as well as a variety of anxiety disorders. According to a review from Neurotherapeutics, CBD may reduce anxiety-related behaviors in people with panic disorders, PTSD, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 

Most recently, researchers have begun to unpack the connection between CBD and Gastrointestinal disorders, such as IBS. While these studies are in their preliminary stages, early findings suggest that CBD can play a vital role in the neuromodulatory function of the GI system. Certain reactions can lead to inhibiting the secretion of digestive fluid and inflammation. While these studies are far from complete, we are looking forward to the results.

 

Practical Tips for Alternative Medicine: Chiropractic

Chiropractic is perhaps one of the most well-known and wide-spread forms of alternative medicine. The practice if primarily concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders, especially those associated with the spine. The primary chiropractic treatment technique involves manual therapy—spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) and manipulations of other joints and soft tissues.

 

Several controlled clinical studies or chiropractic treatments have been conducted, but results are often conflicting. Spinal manipulation, though potentially ineffective at treating conditions, may be a cost-effective for sub-acute or chronic lower back pain. However, there is not sufficient data to establish the safety of chiropractic manipulations.

 

Chiropractic is very established in North America and Australia, often overlapping with other manual-therapy professions like massage therapy, osteopathy, and physical therapy. Most seek chiropractic help for back and neck pain, which are considered to be the specialties of the practice. In the past twenty years, it has gained legitimacy and greater acceptance among conventional physicians and health plans in the United States.

 

In 2009, a review published in Prev Med stated that spinal manipulation was routinely associated with considerable harm, further reporting that there was no compelling evidence to indicate that it adequately prevented symptoms or diseases. In 2012, a systemic review found that the risk of death from manipulations to the neck outweighed any potential benefits. These statements, though bombastic, should not be disregarded. If you enjoy chiropractic, we recommend that you do so in limited quantities; rather than seeing a chiropractor every week, consider switching your appointments to every month to reduce the risk of injury.

 

Practical Tips for Alternative Medicine: Fish Oil Supplements

Fish oil is the third most commonly taken supplement in the U.S., but is it worthy of such popularity and widespread use? We do think there’s enough evidence to use fish oil—and other omega-3 supplements—as a dietary supplement for targeted results, but to simply say that fish oil is good for your heart and good for weight loss isn’t good enough. And depending on how it’s presented, it can be downright misleading.

 

While there is some evidence to suggest that fish oil can be good for overall heart health, the big thing it can do for you is to lower your triglyceride levels. (Triglycerides are a kind of fat cell in the blood that the body can use to store energy.) This alone should have some benefit in promoting a healthy heart and metabolic system. Still, it’s a long way to go from showing lower triglyceride levels to showing better health outcomes overall.

 

Take weight loss, for example. Studies show that fish oil may not help you lose weight so much as prevent and mitigate abdominal weight gain in particular. In other words, if you struggle with weight in your midsection, fish oil may be a smart supplement to take in combination with a leaner diet and healthier exercise routine. (For men and women alike, abdominal obesity is the most dangerous kind in terms of health outcomes and mortality rates.)

 

The studies and claims made surrounding cancer, mental health, and other health conditions are mixed and inconclusive. For cancer, in particular, you can find studies that suggest fish oil increases your risk of some cancers and decreases your risk in others. Looking for a roundup of various studies on fish oil? Check out this news resource.

 

Still, alternative medicine isn’t isolationist medicine. We do think taking a fish oil supplement can be right for a lot of people. On the other hand, many people also have limited resources. It might make more sense, for example, to spend your disposable income on higher-quality foods that are rich in omega-3. But maybe you can’t stand fish and aren’t all that crazy about other sources of omega-3 (walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and soy). The best use of a fish oil may not be as a diet “supplement” so much as a diet “substitute.”

 

The Chemistry of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are two main types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This article does a good job of explaining the different health benefits between the two acids. Although EPA is better for many of fish oil’s purported health benefits, especially as an anti-inflammatory, it’s the less well known DHA that’s likely better for stroke prevention and brain health, as it’s believed the longer DHA chain does a better job in maintaining a healthy brain. The article also reminded us that both EPA and DHA are shown to reduce triglyceride levels, which may help explain why this effect is so widely observed.

 

Don’t Overdo It

There aren’t a lot of acute dangers with taking in a bunch of omega-3 fatty acids, but you still don’t want to overdo it. Excessive amounts can lead to heavy bleeding and anticoagulant properties. Rash and nosebleeds are another potential side effect. Daily consumption of up to 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids is generally recognized as safe. But again, it’s also important to account for the omega-3 that’s already in your diet.

 

  • Practical Tip—Burping, bad breath, heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea are also potential side effects with fish oil. Look to eliminate these side effects by freezing and/or taking the supplements with a meal. If you still experience negative side effects, you might try krill oil or isolated EPA or DHA supplements. You may also want to talk to your doctor about the trade-offs and alternative supplements and medications that can help you achieve comparable health benefits.