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What is valerian? Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb that has been used as a sleeping aid for more than 1,000 years. Many people (especially in Europe) still take it before going to bed. It's also an ingredient in many over-the-counter sleep products in this country. Does it really help promote sleep? Several small human studies have found that valerian root extract reduced the time...

What herb-drug combinations should I avoid? Herbal supplements are popular these days, but very few people have given up on mainstream medicine. Most of us still pop aspirin, see our physicians regularly, and pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy. Mixing herbs with traditional medicines can be the best of two worlds -- as long as you mix wisely. Many popular natural remedies can clash with pres...

A better understanding of pain -- and how to treat it -- means a gentler death for many patients with terminal illnesses. People who are near death have more important things to do than suffer. The final days, weeks, and months should be a time to connect with loved ones and reflect on life, says Kandyce Powell, RN. As the executive director of the Maine Hospice Council, Powell has stood at the si...

From the bacterial point of view, the human intestine is the promised land. The gut is warm, moist, and full of good food. It's also extremely crowded. A cubic centimeter of prime real estate in the colon can hold 100 billion bacteria -- nearly 20 times the entire human population of earth. A few hundred billion bacteria may seem like plenty, but some people might benefit from even more. Probioti...

What is music therapy? Hospitals around the country now make use of Mozart and Beethoven as well as morphine and bandages. Although the "Moonlight Sonata" certainly sounds better than the normal din of a hospital ward, the music isn't there for entertainment. It's being played because many nurses and doctors believe that a good dose of it can ease pain, reduce anxiety, and even protect the heart. ...

When a person has asthma, a bout of depression or anxiety can trigger attacks and make the disease much harder to manage, according to recent research. Studies have found that asthmatic children suffering from psychological distress need higher doses of medication and spend more time in the hospital than other children with asthma. "When I see patients who are having severe attacks, I always ask t...

Can depression and anxiety help cause hypertension? You don't need to measure your blood pressure to know that a heated argument or a walk down a dark alley can send that pressure soaring. Your pounding heart and flushed face say it all. Stress can temporarily boost blood pressure: For instance, some people have short-term hikes in blood pressure when they visit a doctor's office. Fortunately, th...

How does depression affect cancer patients? For cancer patients, depression means much more than just a dark mood. The illness, which strikes about up to 25 percent of all cancer patients (compared with about 7 percent of the general public), can sap a person's immune system, weakening the body's ability to cope with disease. Patients fighting both depression and cancer feel distressed, tend to ha...

Can omega-3 fatty acids stabilize mood and combat depression? We all have fat on the brain. Amazingly enough, more than half of the brain's dry weight comes from fat. Some of these fats are the key building blocks of cell membranes and play essential roles in the brain's function. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, help form cell membranes, keep those membranes flexible, and regulate the flow of ...

What's the link between depression and heart disease? Depression and loneliness put a terrible strain on the heart, and not just in the emotional sense: Psychological distress can turn a survivor of heart disease into a victim. Consider the words of physician Dean Ornish in his book Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy. "Among heart patients, depression is as g...

Everyone feels sad and blue once in a while, but depression is a gloom that lasts for weeks or months. It saps the life out of you and often leaves you feeling as if the world is empty and bleak. You're probably depressed if for two weeks or longer you're overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, anxiety, or worthlessness; lose interest in normal activities such as eating, making love, and seeing friend...

For all of his advantages, there was a moment when actor Kirk Douglas was so despondent after suffering a stroke that he opened a drawer, grabbed the pistol he had used in the film Gunfight at the OK Corral, and put the gun in his mouth. But he accidentally knocked the barrel against his teeth. The pain made him laugh at himself long enough to reconsider pulling the trigger. In the years followin...

For many of us, learning how to understand and handle our feelings is a lifelong task. For depressed people, however, recognizing and experiencing emotions is essential to recovery. According to psychotherapist Richard O'Connor, PhD, this is the very starting point for overcoming and preventing depression. Some people are afraid of emotions because they fear they will be overwhelmed, even consumed...

With millions of people in the vise grip of a tobacco addiction, it's little wonder we're inundated with products and programs to help smokers quit. Nor does it come as a surprise that many are turning to alternative therapies in their fight to kick nicotine. Whatever method you try, nothing is going to work without some will power and a strong desire to stop. Whether you're trying to quit cold tu...

Alternative remedies for arthritis are nothing new. Folklore is full of potions and poultices that supposedly relieve joint pain, and the advent of modern medicine hasn't dampened the public's interest. If anything, arthritis patients are more adventuresome than ever before. It's no surprise that so many arthritis sufferers are willing to venture beyond the bounds of mainstream medicine, says Joh...

What is meditation? Do you ever feel like your brain is too stuffed with thoughts? Between the errands that you need to do tomorrow, the lingering issues from yesterday, and the work in front of you today, it can be hard to find room for a positive emotion or a moment of peace. Meditation is a mental exercise that tries to tune out the mental clutter, giving the brain and body a chance to relax. A...

What is acupuncture? Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy that uses hair-like needles to stimulate specific points on the body. Practically unknown in this country until the early 1970s, acupuncture has become a common alternative treatment for a wide number of illnesses and complaints. A 2007 national health survey found that about 3.2 million Americans had used acupuncture in the previous y...

What is biofeedback? Biofeedback is a tool that helps people gain more control over their bodies. It works by translating subtle physical changes into easy-to-read signals. Through biofeedback, patients can learn how their state of mind affects their circulation, tension, and pain. In the end, they often feel more relaxed and more in control. Biofeedback is often used in combination with other rel...

Marina Alyea, a certified massage therapist in San Francisco, is familiar with the ravages of back pain. She has worked on people's backs, she said, that were so tight and inflexible that they felt armored. "Often people don't realize how much tension they feel until they're touched," she says. The most typical problem areas are the upper back, neck and shoulders, followed by the lower back -- ac...

What is biofeedback? Biofeedback is a tool that helps sufferers alleviate their own pain. By means of devices sensitive to very small changes in bodily conditions, it allows the user to monitor and fine-tune the connections between emotions and health. The mind can play an important role in treating headaches and other types of chronic pain. Biofeedback helps people recognize and control the tens...

Friends and family can be life savers -- and not just when you need an emergency babysitter or an extra hand during a big move. Although exercising, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are crucial, many recent studies have found that good company can prolong life just as surely. A study of nearly 3,000 Dutch people between 55 and 85 years of age published in the American Journal of Epid...

Terrence Auyeung wasn't prepared for the unexpected during the morning commute to his Redwood City, California, office. But suddenly his Subaru began to fishtail on a winding mountain road, and he narrowly avoided skidding off a steep hill. It was a close call, and Auyeung counted his blessings. Three days later, however, he began feeling excruciating shoulder pain, probably from slamming into the...

Not long ago, the number one treatment for chronic back pain was rest and more rest. Today, people are more active in the recovery process -- and open-minded about the methods used. While a few days of rest are a key step in recovering from pain and injury, modern medicine emphasizes getting back in motion sooner rather than later. This "use it or lose it" approach is right in line with yoga, an a...

What is milk thistle? Milk thistle (Silybum marianum ), a common herb with spiny white-veined leaves and pink flowers, has been used as a liver tonic for at least 2,000 years. In this case, the ancients may have been on to something. Milk thistle seed extract contains a group of substances called silymarin that may help protect the liver. Some human studies suggest that milk thistle seed extract ...

Dong quai (Angelica sinensis ), or Chinese angelica, is a member of a plant family that includes parsley, carrots, and poison hemlock. Asian women have traditionally used its bittersweet root to relieve menstrual cramps and regulate periods. In this country it often shows up as the principal ingredient in "women's supplements," commercial mixtures of herbs that promise to treat everything from a s...

What is guided imagery? Guided imagery (also called guided visualization) is a therapy that harnesses your imagination to help you handle stress and illness. With the assistance of a psychotherapist, nurse, or doctor, patients visualize positive images that can lift their mood and reduce their stress. If they can picture themselves in a mountain meadow or on a beach instead of in a hospital bed or...

Here's a joke: A man tells his friend about a dinner party he had at his house the night before. "I made a real Freudian slip," he says. "I meant to tell my mother-in-law to pass the butter, and instead I said, "You silly cow, you ruined my life!" Is humor good for my health? You've probably heard countless warnings about the dangers of negative emotions. Stress, anger, and depression can sap yo...

What is power yoga? Power yoga is essentially yoga with brawn. It's the American interpretation of ashtanga yoga, a discipline that combines stretching, strength training, and meditative breathing. But power yoga takes ashtanga one step further. Many of the poses (also called postures or their Sanskrit name, asanas) resemble basic calisthenics -- push-ups and handstands, toe touches and side bend...

A few days after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, Lynne Greabell got another surprise: She was also pregnant. Carrying a baby can be stressful business, especially when you're 38, hold down a full-time job, and already have a toddler at home. But carrying a baby while fighting cancer -- that's a challenge not everyone can handle. At least one doctor encouraged her to terminate the preg...

Why do I need vitamin D? Vitamin D -- also called the sunshine vitamin because your body makes it naturally when exposed to sunlight -- is perhaps best known for its ability to help build strong bones. Children with a serious shortfall of vitamin D can develop rickets, a condition that deforms growing bones. But even if you get enough vitamin D to avoid rickets, you may not have enough for optim...

Does my outlook on my health really matter? Curious about your health and your future? You can put yourself through a battery of medical tests, fill out stacks of questionnaires, and see every specialist in town. But for a simple and surprisingly reliable prediction, just ask yourself a simple question: How healthy do you feel? When it comes to health, your opinion definitely matters. That's what...

The knotty, twisted underground stem of the ginger plant (Zingiber officinale ) has been used as a spice and a drug in China for the last 25 centuries. Chinese sailors chewed pieces of it to relieve their seasickness thousands of years ago. Today ginger is a leading folk remedy for nausea and digestive problems as well as a flavoring for food and drinks throughout the world. What is it good for? ...

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ) is a relative of the daisy, marigold, and dandelion. The name is derived from the Latin word febrifugia, or fever reducer, and feverfew has been used for that purpose since the first century. Historically, the herb has also been used to treat headache, arthritis, menstrual irregularity, and stomachache. What is it good for? Some studies indicate that feverfew may...

Yoga is a movement technique -- a series of poses (called asanas) that emphasize stretching, attentive breathing, and relaxation. The poses are part of a spiritual discipline and belief system from India. The exercises promote physical and mental well-being; some improve flexibility and strength as well. What is Iyengar yoga? Iyengar yoga, developed by yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar more than 60 years...

Mental health professionals make a living dealing with psychological ills that can cripple: Depression and delusions, phobias and obsessions. In the past, they paid little attention to positive emotions and personal strengths such as happiness and optimism, love and resilience. In fact, one pioneer of positive psychology, Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, notes that psychiatric texts ten...

If you're tense, sore, or generally stressed out --in other words, if you feel pretty much like everyone else these days -- it might be time to put yourself in the hands of a professional massage therapist. Research shows that therapeutic massage can be a boon for both your mental and physical health. A single session can relax your body and help you sleep better at night. Go more often, and you j...

What are the benefits of peppermint? You already know about peppermint as a flavoring for candy and cookies. The oils from the peppermint (Mentha piperita ) have an unmistakable icy-cool flavor and smell. But peppermint oil seems to do more than freshen breath. It's a time honored remedy for sore throats. And in Germany, it's approved it as an aid to improve digestion and reduce bloating. Human ...

Green tea smells different from black tea. And it tastes different, too. You might call it "fresh" or even "grassy." And if you drink it regularly, you can also call it good for you. Packed with antioxidants, green tea may be one of the healthiest things you could ever put in a mug. What is green tea? Like black tea, green tea comes from the tea plant Camellia sinensis, a fragrant evergreen shru...