The antibacterial effects of honey have long been recognised in traditional medicine. A new UK study has found that medical grade manuka honey can hamper the attachment of bacteria to tissues, which is an essential step in the initiation of bacterial infection. Inhibiting attachment also blocks the formation of biofilms, which can protect bacteria from antibiotics and allow them to cause persistent infections. The researchers suggest that manuka honey could both prevent the initiation of acute infections and help clear chronically infected wounds. Other studies in the same lab have show that manuka honey can make methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) more sensitive to antibiotics and could therefore help reverse bacterial resistance to antibiotics. (Abstract GM/ 41 Manuka honey effectively inhibits growth of Streptococcus pyogenes biofilms and has an impact on the expression of surface adhesions. Abstract GM / 24 Interaction of antibiotics combined with manuka honey on MrSA-15. Society for General Microbiology Spring Conference, April 2011).

A systematic review by UK authors has concluded that exercising in the natural environment leads to greater benefits in mental and physical wellbeing than exercising indoors. Eleven controlled trials incorporating information from 833 adults were included in the review. The study found that most trials showed an improvement in mental well-being: compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date. (Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Mar 1;45(5):1761-72).

A study by an American research team has demonstrated that tai chi exercise (TC) and supplementation with green tea polyphenols (GTP) can benefit bone remodeling and muscle strength in postmenopausal women by reducing oxidative stress damage. One hundred and seventy-one postmenopausal women with osteopaenia (low bone mineral density) were divided into four groups: placebo – placebo pill without TC; GTP (500 mg / day) without TC; placebo pill plus TC (three times per week); or GTP plus TC. The treatment phase of the study lasted for six months. The results showed that consumption of GTP (at a level equivalent to about four to six cups of steeped green tea daily) and TC independently enhanced markers of bone health. Both GTP and TC were also found to reduce levels of biological markers of oxidative stress, suggesting that they have anti-inflammatory activity. TC participants also reported significant beneficial effects in quality of life in terms of improved emotional and mental health. (Effect of green tea polyphenols and Tai Chi exercise on bone health in postmenopausal women with low bone mass: a 24-week placebo-controlled randomized trial. FASEB Journal. 2011;25:594.3).

Combining a weekly tai chi exercise class with standard depression treatment leads to greater improvement in depression symptoms for elderly adults. One hundred and twelve adults aged 60 or older with major depression were treated with the antidepressant escitalopram (Cipralex), for approximately four weeks. From among these participants, 73 who showed only partial improvement continued to receive daily medication and were also randomly assigned to ten weeks of either a tai chi class or a health education class for two hours per week. The researchers found that among those who participated in tai chi, 94% achieved depression scores of less than 10 on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (a score of more than 10 indicates a diagnosis of depression), with 65% achieving remission (a score of six or less). By comparison, among participants who received health education, 77% achieved scores of 10 or less, with 51% achieving remission. Greater improvements in quality of life, memory and cognition, and overall energy were also seen in the tai chi group. (Complementary Use of Tai Chi Chih Augments Escitalopram Treatment of Geriatric Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 Mar 6. [Epub ahead of print]

Traditional Chinese medicine may help maintain immune function in women undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, according to a UK study. Women with ovarian cancer were randomised to receive either TCM or placebo in addition to standard chemotherapy. The TCM group was observed to have less neutropaenia (decrease in number of neutrophils) after three cycles of chemotherapy (0% in the TCM group had grade 4 neutropaenia, versus 28.6% in the placebo group). Lymphocyte counts and cytokine activities also decreased less in the TCM group. TCM was not found to improve patients’ quality of life. (The use of Chinese herbal medicine to improve quality of life in women undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer: a double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial with immunological monitoring. Ann Oncol. 2011 Feb 25).

US researchers have shown that acupressure treatment of subjects with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) result in improvements to their cognitive function. A randomised, placebo-controlled trial assessed the effects of eight acupressure treatments over four weeks. Thirty-eight TBI patients were randomly assigned to either an experimental group that received active acupressure treatments from practitioners or a control group that received treatment from the same practitioners on non-acupressure points. Verum acupressure treatment was administered according to the principles of Jin Shin Do and targeted 26 points located all over the body. Comparing pre- to post-treatment change between groups, the results showed that patients treated with acupressure showed significantly greater improvements on standard tests of attention and working memory than subjects in the control group. (Acupressure as a non-pharmacological intervention for traumatic brain injury (TBI). J Neurotrauma. 2011 Jan;28(1):21-34).

The analgesic benefits of acupuncture may be partially mediated through placebo effects related to the acupuncturist’s behaviour, according to US researchers. The team conducted a three-month randomised clinical trial in patients with knee osteoarthritis to compare the efficacy of traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA) with sham acupuncture and to examine the effects of acupuncturists’ communication styles. Acupuncturists were trained to interact in one of two communication styles, conveying either high or neutral expectations for the outcome of the treatment. Four hundred and fifty-five patients were randomised to one of three groups, waiting list, high treatment expectation style, or neutral treatment expectation style. Within each style group, participants were further divided into groups that received either TCA or sham acupuncture, twice a week for six weeks. Sham acupuncture was performed at non-acupoints points with shallow needles and minimal stimulation. No statistically significant differences were observed between TCA and sham acupuncture, however both groups had significant reductions in pain scores compared with the waiting list group. The results showed statistically significant differences in pain reduction and satisfaction, favouring the high treatment expectation group, suggesting that acupuncturists’ communication styles have a significant effect on treatment outcomes. (A randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee: effects of patient-provider communication. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2010 Sep;62(9):1229-36).

A Swedish pilot study has tested a modified single subject experimental design for evaluating the use of acupuncture for emesis during radiotherapy. Ten cancer patients were randomised to verum penetrating acupuncture or non-penetrating sham needles for 30 minutes, two to three times per week during radiotherapy. They answered test-retested emesis questions covering nausea, vomiting, use of antiemetics, wellbeing and activities of daily living. Overall, the patients completed 98% of the 345 emesis-questionnaire days. Ten patients experienced antiemetic effects, seven relaxation, five pain-reduction and five experienced sleep improvement. Nausea was experienced by one out of five verum acupuncture-treated patients and four out of five sham acupuncture treated patients. (Pilot testing of methods for evaluation of acupuncture for emesis during radiotherapy: a randomised single subject experimental design. Acupunct Med. 2011 Apr 3). A study published by some of the same Swedish authors has found no difference between verum and sham acupuncture for treating nausea in cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy. Two hundred and seventy-seven cancer patients were randomised to receive verum (penetrating) acupuncture at Neiguan P-6 or sham acupuncture (performed with a telescopic non-penetrating needle at a sham point) two to three times per week during radiotherapy. The acupuncture cohort was compared to a reference cohort receiving standard care. Nausea and vomiting during the preceding week was reported by 8% of the verum acupuncture group, 7% of the sham acupuncture group and 15% of the standard care group respectively. Nausea intensity was lower in the acupuncture cohort compared to the standard care cohort and 95% of the acupuncture cohort expected antiemetic effects from their treatment. Patients who expected nausea had increased risk for nausea compared to those who expected low risk for nausea. The authors conclude that patients treated with verum or sham acupuncture experienced less nausea and vomiting compared to patients receiving standard care, possibly through a general care effect or due to a high level of patient expectancy. (Getting the grip on nonspecific treatment effects: emesis in patients randomized to acupuncture or sham compared to patients receiving standard care. PLoS One. 2011 Mar 23;6(3):e14766).

Results from a German pilot study show that acupuncture reduces itch intensity in patients with atopic eczema and that this correlates with reduced activation of basophils (histamine-secreting white blood cells). Ten patients with atopic eczema were randomised to receive acupuncture or no treatment. Mean itch intensity on a visual analog scale was rated significantly lower in the acupuncture group on day 15 (after five acupuncture treatments) and day 33 (after 10 acupuncture treatments). Compared with the control group, basophils from the acupuncture group showed significantly less in vitro activation following allergen stimulation, at all time-points. (Effect of Acupuncture on Allergen-Induced Basophil Activation in Patients with Atopic Eczema:A Pilot Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Apr;17(4):309-14.J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Apr;17(4):309-14).

Acupuncture shows potential for improving the quality of life of people with eating disorders, according to a pilot study carried out in Australia. Nine women (five with anorexia and four with bulimia) who were receiving outpatient treatment participated in the study. The results showed that acupuncture improved the participants’ quality of life and there was also evidence of decreases in anxiety and perfectionism. (Acupuncture as an adjunct therapy in the treatment of eating disorders: a randomised cross-over pilot study. Complement Ther Med. 2010 Dec;18(6):233-40.).