A German team has compared qigong and exercise therapy in patients with chronic neck pain. One hundred and twenty-three patients with chronic neck pain (VAS 40 mm) were randomised to six months (18 sessions) of either qigong or exercise therapy, or to a waiting list (no treatment). After six months, a significant difference was seen between the qigong and waiting list control groups in terms of neck pain, disability and quality of life. Results in the qigong and exercise therapy groups were found to be similar. (Qigong versus Exercise versus no Therapy for Patients with Chronic Neck Pain – a Randomized Controlled Trial. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2010 Dec 20. [Epub ahead of print]).

A US pilot study of tai chi for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) suggests that it may be an effective treatment. Ten patients with moderate to severe COPD were randomised to 12 weeks of tai chi plus usual care or usual care alone. Tai chi training consisted of a twice-weekly one-hour class, which emphasised gentle movement, relaxation, meditation and breathing techniques. At 12 weeks there was significant improvement in respiratory scores among the tai chi participants compared with the usual-care group (1.4 vs -0.1). The tai chi group also showed non-significant trends toward improvements in six-minute walk distance, depression scores and shortness of breath. There were no significant changes in either group’s peak oxygen uptake. (Tai chi exercise for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a pilot study. Respir Care. 2010 Nov;55(11):1475-82).

A randomised controlled trial carried out in the USA has evaluated the effectiveness of a six-week tai chi course in reducing symptoms, increasing function and improving psychosocial status in arthritis patients. In the largest study to date carried out under the Arthritis Foundation Tai Chi program, 332 participants were randomly assigned to treatment or a waiting list control. The tai chi intervention consisted of 12 movements from Sun style tai chi, which included exercises to improve mobility, breathing and relaxation. Participants in the tai chi program showed improvements in pain, fatigue, stiffness, wellbeing and ability to reach. (Evaluation of Tai Chi Course Effectiveness for People with Arthritis. 2010 Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, Abstract 690).

A study by US and UK investigators suggests that high levels of stress le- ay reduce the chances of a woman conceiving during the fertile days of her monthly cycle. The team looked at 274 healthy women aged between 18 and 40 who were trying to become pregnant. During the study, the women provided saliva samples to test for levels of the stress hormone cortisol and alpha-amylase (an indicator of adrenalin levels). They found that those women with high levels of alpha amylase (but not cortisol) across their fertile window were less likely to succeed in conceiving. The results showed that the chances of getting pregnant for women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase were roughly 12% lower than the quarter of women with the lowest levels of alpha-amylase. The authors comment that their findings support the use of relaxation techniques, counselling and approaches such as yoga and meditation to increase the chances of conception. (Stress reduces conception probabilities across the fertile window: evidence in support of relaxation. Fertil Steril. 2010 Aug 5. [Epub ahead of print]).

Drinking several cups of tea daily can cut your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by more than a third, according to Dutch researchers.  The investigators followed 40,000 healthy people for 13 years, finding that participants who drank between three and six cups of tea per day were 45% less likely to die from heart disease than those who drank less than a cup a day.  Moderate coffee consumption was also associated with a slightly reduced rate of CHD mortality.(Tea and coffee consumption and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2010 Aug;30(8):1665-71).

A daily dose of cinnamon may improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels in people with type-2 diabetes, according to UK-based research. Fifty-eight people with type-2 diabetes were randomly assigned to receive a daily supplement containing 2g of cinnamon or placebo for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the results indicated that the cinnamon supplement was associated with a significant decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The results also showed a significant reduction in levels of glycated haemoglobin (a long-term measure of blood sugar levels) over the 12 weeks in the cinnamon group, compared with an increase in the placebo group. (Glycated haemoglobin and blood pressure-lowering effect of cinnamon in multi-ethnic Type2 diabetic patients in the UK: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Diabet Med. 2010 Oct;27(10):1159-67).

A systematic review by British authors has concluded that eating a diet rich in green leafy vegetables may lower the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Combining the results of six studies (a total of more than 220,000 participants), the authors found that eating more fruit and vegetables did not significantly reduce the risk of diabetes, although there was a general trend in that direction. However, meta-analysis suggested that eating an additional one and a half portions of green leafy vegetables (e.g. cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach) daily had the effect of reducing the risk of diabetes by 14%, independent of any effect on weight loss. (Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2010 Aug 18;341:c4229. doi: 10.1136/ bmj.c4229).

Positive psychological changes that occur during meditation training are associated with increased activity of telomerase, a crucial enzyme responsible for cellular health, according to an important study from the USA. Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres, the protective caps of DNA at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres tend to shorten with each cell division and when their length drops below a critical level, the cell can no longer divide properly and eventually dies. Previous studies have suggested that telomerase activity may link psychological stress and physical health, as it is observed to decrease with chronic psychological distress. This new study is a product of the Shamatha Project, one of the first long-term, detailed, matched control-group studies of the effects of intensive meditation training on mind and body. Sixty volunteers attending a three-month meditation retreat were randomised into two groups. Half of the subjects began the retreat, while the remaining half served as the control group. During the retreat, attendees practiced concentration meditation for around six hours a day. Telomerase activity was found to be significantly greater in retreat participants than in controls at the end of the retreat and these increases correlated directly with positive changes in psychological measures including perceived control, neuroticism, mindfulness and purpose in life. (Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomeraseactivity, and psychological. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Oct 29. [Epub ahead of print]).

Researchers from the USA have reported that a single massage treatment can produce measurable changes in the immune and endocrine systems of healthy adults. The team compared 29 healthy adults who received a vigorous 45-minute Swedish massage with 24 healthy adults who received a 45-minute session of much milder light-touch massage. Blood samples were taken before the massage and at regular intervals up to one hour after the massage. The results showed positive changes in many immune parameters, including decreased levels of cortisol and anti-diuretic hormone (arginine-vasopressin [AVM), increased numbers of circulating lymphocytes an decreased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The authors note that their findings may have implications for the management of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. (A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Sep 1).

German researchers report that qigong training could be a useful adjunctive therapy for patients with tinnitus. Eighty tinnitus patients were randomly assigned to an intervention group, consisting of 10 qigong training sessions over five weeks, or a waiting-list control group. Compared with the control group, qigong participants experienced improvement in tinnitus severity. In a subgroup of patients with somatosensory tinnitus (tinnitus due to muscular overload), the effects of qigong were more pronounced, resulting in a highly significant improvement compared with the waiting-list group. The authors note that patient satisfaction with the intervention, a low drop-out rate and stability of the beneficial effects for at least three months after the intervention further increase the potential of qigong as a treatment for tinnitus. (Qigong for the treatment of tinnitus: a prospective randomized controlled study. J Psychosom Res. 2010 Sep;69(3):299-304).