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Past News Items - July 2009

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In the News

Acupuncture and Exercise May Bring Relief, Reduce Risks in Women With Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Insomnia May Be Treated Effectively by Meditation

Multivitamins In Pregnancy Reduce Risk of Low Birth Weights

Arthritis Sufferers Experience Reduced Pain With Tai Chi

Released: 07/01/09

Acupuncture and Exercise May Bring Relief, Reduce Risks in Women With Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Exercise and electro-acupuncture treatments can reduce sympathetic nerve activity in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), according to a recent study in the online version of American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. The finding is important because women with PCOS often have elevated sympathetic nerve activity, which plays a role in hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. The study also found that the electro-acupuncture treatments led to more regular menstrual cycles, reduced testosterone levels, and reduced waist circumference.

Exercise had no effect on the irregular or nonexistent menstrual cycles that are common among women with PCOS, nor did it reduce waist circumference; however, exercise did lead to reductions in weight and body mass index.

One of the researchers, Dr Elisabet Stener-Victorin of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, said that the study’s findings could indicate an alternative nonpharmacologic approach to reducing cardiovascular risk in women with PCOS.

PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders, affecting approximately 10% of women of reproductive age. Among the problems associated with the condition are elevated levels of androgens (such as testosterone), ovarian cysts, irregular menstrual cycles, and infertility. PCOS is associated with increased sympathetic nerve activity in the blood vessels, part of the “fight or flight” response that results in blood vessel constriction. Chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

The researchers wanted to find a long-lasting treatment for PCOS that would have no adverse side effects, so they looked at whether acupuncture or exercise could decrease the sympathetic nerve activity in women with PCOS. The study included 20 women, average age of 30 years, divided into the following groups: low-frequency electro-acupuncture (9); exercise (5); and untreated controls (6).

The acupuncture group underwent 14 treatments during the 16-week study. Acupuncture points were located in abdominal muscles and the back of the knee, points thought to be associated with the ovaries. The needles in the abdomen and leg were stimulated with a low-frequency electrical charge, enough to produce muscle contraction but not enough to produce pain or discomfort.

The exercise group received pulse watches and were told to take up regular exercise: brisk walking, cycling, or any other aerobic exercise that was faster than walking but that they could sustain for at least 30 minutes. They exercised at least 3 days per week for 30 to 45 minutes, maintaining a heart rate above 120 beats per minute.

The researchers instructed the control group in the importance of exercise and a healthy diet, the same instructions the experimental groups received, but the control group was not specifically assigned to do anything differently.

The researchers measured the muscle sympathetic nerve activity before and after the 16-week study. After treatment, they noted the following results.

  • Both the acupuncture and exercise groups significantly decreased muscle sympathetic nerve activity compared to the control group.
  • The acupuncture group experienced a drop in waist size, but not a drop in body mass index or weight.
  • The exercise group experienced a drop in weight and body mass index but not in waist size.
  • The acupuncture group experienced fewer menstrual irregularities, but the exercise group’s irregularities did not change.

Additionally, there was a significant drop in testosterone in the acupuncture group. This is an important indicator because the strongest independent predictor of high sympathetic nerve activity in women is the level of testosterone.

The study has some limitations, including a small sample size, so further research is necessary.

Insomnia May Be Treated Effectively by Meditation

Meditation may be an effective behavioral intervention in the treatment of insomnia, according to a research abstract presented at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

The study gathered data from 11 healthy subjects between the ages of 25 and 45 years with chronic primary insomnia. Participants were divided into 2 intervention groups for 2 months: Kriya Yoga (a form of meditation that is used to focus internalized attention and has been shown to reduce measures of arousal) and health education. Subjective measures of sleep and depression were collected at baseline and after the 2-month period.

Both groups received sleep hygiene education; members of the health education group also received information about health-related topics and how to improve health through exercise, nutrition, weight loss, and stress management.

Results indicate that patients saw improvements in subjective sleep quality and sleep diary parameters while practicing meditation. Sleep latency, total sleep time, total wake time, wake after sleep onset, sleep efficiency, sleep quality, and depression improved in patients who used meditation.

According to principal investigator Ramadevi Gourineni, MD, director of the insomnia program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, insomnia is believed to be a 24-hour problem of hyperarousal, and elevated measures of arousals are seen throughout the day. He said that the study results indicate that practicing deep relaxation techniques during the day can improve sleep during the night.

Multivitamins In Pregnancy Reduce Risk of Low Birth Weights

Prenatal multivitamin supplements are associated with a significantly reduced risk of babies with a low birth weight compared with prenatal iron-folic acid supplementation, according to a recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The World Health Organization currently recommends iron-folic acid supplements for all pregnant women. Previous studies have not shown an advantage from prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation over iron-folic acid supplementation.

According to the study’s primary author, Dr Prakash Shah, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, low birth weight and related complications are the most common cause of global infant mortality in children under 5 years of age.

It is estimated that of the total 133 million births worldwide per year, 15.5% are low birth weight babies. The authors suggest that approximately 1.5 million babies born with a low birth weight could be avoided each year globally, if all mothers receive prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation.

The research is limited by variability among the included studies, including timing, duration, composition of micronutrients, and characteristics of the study populations.

Arthritis Sufferers Experience Reduced Pain With Tai Chi

The results of a new analysis have provided good evidence that tai chi is beneficial for arthritis sufferers. Specifically, tai chi was shown to decrease pain by improving overall physical health, level of tension, and satisfaction with health status.

Musculoskeletal pain experienced by people with arthritis places a severe burden on the patient and community and is recognized as an international health priority. Exercise therapy, including strengthening, stretching, and aerobic programs, has been shown to be effective for arthritic pain. Tai chi is a form of exercise that is regularly practiced in China to improve overall health and well-being. It is usually performed in a group but can be practiced individually at one’s leisure.

A recent study in Arthritis Care & Research examined the effectiveness of tai chi in decreasing pain and disability and improving physical function and quality of life in people with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Led by Amanda Hall of The George Institute in Sydney, Australia, researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis. They analyzed 7 eligible randomized controlled trials that used tai chi as the main intervention for patients with musculoskeletal pain. The results demonstrate that tai chi improves pain and disability in patients suffering arthritis.

The authors say it is important to note that the results reported in the systematic review are indicative of the effect of tai chi vs minimal intervention (usual healthcare or health education) or wait list control. A placebo-controlled trial is needed to establish the specific effects of tai chi, and that has not yet been undertaken.

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