Should You Go without Gluten?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 14, 2014

Should you avoid eating grains that contain gluten?

Today’s post is written by Caitlin Hosmer Kirby, RD, a nutritional health coach at the Osher Clinical Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, led by Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director.

You’ve probably noticed an increased number of food items marked as “gluten free.” Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, certain forms of oats, and in many processed foods.  Many people are becoming increasingly concerned about eating foods containing gluten. Gluten is responsible for the reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine in celiac disease. It also has been linked to less serious gastrointestinal complaints, such as diarrhea and bloating. Today’s post looks at how gluten can affect your health and what are the benefits are of avoiding it.

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Seasonal Affective Disorder – Shining Light on the Winter Blues

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital January 22, 2014

You can work or read while treating seasonal affective disorder with bright light therapy.

Today’s blog post comes from Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

In late fall, as the days shorten and the temperature drops, many people note a change in their behavior and mental outlook. This may include a slight downturn in mood and a tendency to eat more carbohydrates and gain a little weight. For some people, these symptoms occur annually and become severely pronounced and disabling – a syndrome called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

The symptoms of SAD may include depression, fatigue, sleepiness, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, and loss of libido. The biochemical aspects of this condition are not fully understood, but include a shift in the circadian rhythm, abnormal secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland, and abnormal serotonin metabolism.

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Fibromyalgia: Aching for Pain Relief

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital November 19, 2013

Fibromyalgia patients usually experience widespread pain and discomfort.

Today’s post is written by Dr. Edgar Ross, Director of the Pain Management Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).  The post was adapted from an article that appeared in the September issue of the newsletter published by the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at BWH.

Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood syndrome that is quite common but can be difficult to diagnose and treat. The symptoms of fibromyalgia include widespread soft tissue pain, disturbed sleep, fatigue, and characteristic tender points that are multiple and  diffuse. Conditions such as migraine headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, restless legs syndrome, and temporal mandibular joint dysfunction are often associated with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia patients usually experience widespread pain and discomfort.

The processes within our bodies that can produce symptoms of fibromyalgia are not well understood. The leading theory suggests that the origins of fibromyalgia may relate to an over-reaction of the central nervous system to all types of sensation. These disturbances can have an impact on sleep. Sleep studies of patients with fibromyalgia frequently identify a lack of restful sleep.

Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose because the signs and symptoms in patients can vary from visit to visit. In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology published a list of tender points that can be used to establish the diagnosis. Though laboratory testing is not useful for making a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, it can help rule out other conditions that mimic this condition.

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Tai Chi for Patients with Parkinson’s Disease

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 31, 2013

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that tai chi may improve balance and prevent falls among people with Parkinson’s disease.

Today’s post is written by Dr. Peter Wayne, Director of Research at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).  Dr. Wayne is also the author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. The post was adapted from an article that appeared in the September 2013  issue of the Osher Center newsletter.

Parkinson’s disease affects more than one million Americans. This brain disorder interferes with muscle control, leading to trembling, stiffness, and inflexibility of the arms, legs, neck, and trunk; slowing or freezing of movement; and disruptions in balance, which can lead to harmful falls. These changes can greatly limit the ability of Parkinson’s patients to carry out everyday activities and compromise their quality of life.

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Do You BYOW (Bring Your Own Water)?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 11, 2013

Reduce your BPA exposure by purchasing water bottles and other hard plastics labeled “BPA-free.”

Today’s blog post is written by Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director of the Osher Clinical Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

It seems as though everywhere we look, people are carrying around bottles of water. But is this healthy choice presenting a health risk? Many plastic beverage containers contain a chemical known as bisphenol-A (BPA). So, what is BPA, and should you be avoiding it?

What Is BPA?

BPA is a chemical used in the production of epoxy resins and certain hard plastics called polycarbonates.

BPA Exposure

For most people, the primary source of exposure to BPA is through diet. BPA can migrate into food from polycarbonate food and beverage containers or from food and beverage containers that contain or are lined with epoxy resin. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) identified detectable levels of BPA in more than 90 percent of 2,517 urine samples from people six years and older.

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That Tension Headache May Be a Pain in the Neck

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 10, 2013

Muscle tension in the neck is a common cause of tension headaches.

Author: Thomas P. Mecke, chiropractor in the Osher Clinical Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

There are numerous causes of headaches and often, the exact mechanism cannot be identified.  One very common cause of tension headaches is rooted in the neck, resulting from muscle tension and trigger points.

At the base of the skull there is a group of muscles, the suboccipital muscles, which can cause headache pain for many people. These four pairs of muscles are responsible for subtle movements between the skull and first and second vertebrae in the neck. The suboccipital muscles commonly become tense and tender due to factors such as eye strain, wearing new eyeglasses, poor ergonomics at a computer workstation, grinding the teeth, slouching posture, and trauma (such as a whiplash injury).

Pain from the suboccipital muscles commonly feels like a band wrapping around the head. Also, tension in these muscles may cause compression of a nerve that exits the base of the skull, and trigger pain that wraps over the head and above the eyes.

So, what can you do to relieve headache pain caused by the suboccipital muscles?  Before reaching for a pain relief medication, try the following steps.

Eliminate the Cause of Your Tension Headache

It may be time for an eye examination. If you are straining to read, or keep tilting your head up and down to use those off-the-shelf readers, you may need a new pair of glasses.

Redesign your workstation. Simply raising your computer monitor or obtaining a document stand will reduce repeated head tilting that can strain the occipital muscles. Also, if your back is positioned to your office door, requiring you to crane your head around repeatedly, place a small mirror over your desk so that you can see out the door without turning around.

Do you slouch? Correct your rounded shoulders and forward head carriage. Consider joining yoga, Pilates or tai chi. All of these disciplines are great forms of exercise and all can help to improve posture. Also, consider consulting a physical therapist, chiropractor, or movement therapist for exercises that are tailored to your need.

Treating Tension Headaches Without Medication

Try applying a hot pack to the base of the head for 15-20 minute intervals. Here’s another strategy for pain relief. Stuff two tennis balls into a sock and tie it off tightly. Now, lie on your back on the floor. Place the tennis balls under the base of your skull and allow your head to compress against them. Gently rock your head back and forth and side to side for a few minutes.

A 30-minute massage that concentrates on the neck and upper back can also be an effective way to relax your muscles and relieve your headache pain .

When a Headache Indicates Something Serious

Most headaches are painful but not dangerous. However, headache pain can be a warning sign of a more serious health problem. Visit the Brigham and Women’s Health Library to learn more about headaches including when you should seek immediate medical care for a headache.

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Should You Be Consuming Probiotics for Your Health?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital July 17, 2013

Yogurt is rich in probiotics, bacteria that's beneficial to your intestinal health and your immune system.

Today’s blog post is written by Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Not all bacteria are bad or dangerous. In fact, your large intestine (colon) is home to trillions of bacterial microoganisms, known as microflora. There are over 1,000 species or subspecies of these bacteria that have lived within each of us since birth. They form a mini-ecosystem sometimes called the colonic microbiome.

Probiotics are useful or “friendly” microorganisms that, if eaten in adequate quantity, are beneficial to our health. Some fermented foods are rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso and sauerkraut. They have been eaten for centuries and touted by many as a way to promote good health.

We are just beginning to understand how these helpful bacteria work.  For example, it is believed that healthy intestinal microflora, aided by probiotics, help to:

  • Maintain proper balance of microorganisms in our intestines, helping to control the growth of “bad” or dangerous bacteria.
  • Maintain  the intestinal barrier so that bad bacteria and inflammatory proteins do not “leak” into the body.
  • Strengthen and regulate our immune system, helping us fight off disease and control processes that lead to allergic, autoimmune, and inflammatory conditions.
  • Produce substances in the colon that help control intestinal spasm, diarrhea, constipation, and perception of pain.
  • Manufacture important substances within our bodies, such as vitamin K, folate, and short-chain fatty acids, and help mediate the breakdown of dietary carcinogens.

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Navigating Treatment Options for Back Pain

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital July 1, 2013

Matthew Kowalski, DC, a chiropractor at the Osher Center, provides non-surgical care for patients with back pain.

Today’s blog post is written by Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Matthew H. Kowalski, DC, a chiropractor at the Osher Center.

You have many choices when seeking options for treatment of low back pain; however, many people become overwhelmed trying to identify the most appropriate health care provider. So when should you seek treatment for low back pain and who should you see?  This post discusses how to navigate the health care system to get proper care if you are suffering from back pain.

Getting Started

Not all back pain actually requires treatment. Consider a dose of self-care as your first treatment choice. Often, a combination of patience, over-the-counter medications, ice and/or heat, avoidance of injurious activities, and remaining active will relieve uncomplicated low back pain. (Uncomplicated low back pain is an episode of pain without other health concerns or “red flags.”)

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Myths and Facts About Low Back Pain

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital June 27, 2013

Eighty percent of us will experience a significant episode of back pain during our lifetime.

Today’s blog post is written by Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Matthew H. Kowalski, DC, chiropractor at the Osher Center.

There is a good chance that you will experience low back pain at some point during your lifetime. In fact, 80 percent of us will experience a significant episode of back pain. It may be a mild strain, such as after a day of yard work, or it may come on for no apparent reason and be quite severe.

If you suffer from back pain, your first temptation may be to search the Internet. In fact, most patients come to their doctor only after they have consulted online information. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation available online. This post will help you distinguish between the myths and facts about low back pain.

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Tips for Preventing Lyme Disease

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital June 25, 2013

Fine-tipped tweezers are an effective tool for removing ticks.

Today’s blog post is written by Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacterium is spread through the bite of infected ticks. The blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) spreads the disease in our area of the country. Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard-to-see areas (see below). In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. Most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm) and difficult to see. Follow these tips to help prevent Lyme disease this summer.

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