A large study carried out in China has found that people who eat the most vegetables have lower mortality rates, especially from heart disease, with the strongest protective benefits linked to intake of cruciferous vegetables (inducing broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage). The analysis included 134,796 Chinese adults who participated in two cohort studies. Overall, fruit and vegetable intake was inversely associated with risk of total mortality in both women and men, and a dose-response pattern was particularly evident for cruciferous vegetable intake. People whose daily diets included the most vegetables were 15% less likely to have died during the 5-year study period and the risk of dying was 22% lower in women who ate the most cruciferous vegetables compared with those who ate the least. Most of the decreased risk was due to a drop in cardiovascular disease. (Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jul;94(1):240-6).

Physiological responses normally associated with involuntary autonomic thermoregulation can be voluntarily activated during a tai chi exercise. An experienced tai chi practitioner was asked to focus energy into, and then withdraw energy from the hands while being monitored using infrared-thermography (IR), thermocoupled thermometers and laser Doppler flowmetry. Trials consisted of three focus periods and one withdrawal period, each followed by a rest period. Substantial increases in local palmar and face surface temperatures were observed with IR during focus periods and substantial decreases were observed during the withdrawal period. Fingertip surface baseline temperatures were 31.1°C for one trial, increased by 1.8°C during the focus period, and then decreased by 4.9°C during the withdrawal period. A twofold increase in blood flow through fingertip regions paralleled changes in fingertip surface temperatures during focus periods. The American authors conclude that the changes in regional blood flow and surface temperature appear to be volitional activations of known skin vasomotor mechanisms which are not normally under voluntary control. (Physiologic correlates of t’ ai chi chuan. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Jan;17(1):77-81).

Norwegian researchers have found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders. Seventy-six patients were randomised to an eight-week MBSR intervention or a wait-list control. Those who completed treatment (eight did not) improved significantly on all outcome measures compared to controls. MBSR had medium to large effect sizes on anxiety and a large effect size for symptoms of depression, and the effect was maintained at six months follow-up. (Patients with anxiety disorders: evaluation in a randomized controlled trial. Behav Res Ther. 2011 Apr;49(4):281-8).

People who practice qigong report improved health-related quality of life compared with non-practitioners, according to a study from Taiwan. A total of 165 individuals practicing a qigong form called Wai Tan Kung were compared with 660 age and gender matched non-practitioner individuals for comparison. The qigong group scored higher on eight out of ten SF-36 Health Survey components compared with sedentary individuals, and five out of ten SF-36 measures compared with individuals practicing other forms of exercise. (Effect of Qigong on quality of life: a cross-sectional population-based comparison study in Taiwan. BMC Public Health. 2011 Jul 9;11:546).

Taking part in a 12-week tai chi programme has multiple health benefits for post-menopausal women, particularly for those suffering from age-related loss of muscle strength. A Canadian team recruited 62 postmenopausal women and categorised them as dynapenic (suffering from age-related loss of muscle strength) or non-dynapenic. After 12 weeks of tai chi training, dynapenic women showed a significant decrease in body weight, fat mass percentage and skeletal muscle mass, whereas handgrip strength, functional capacity test scores and general health perception significantly increased. In non-dynapenic women, there was a significant decrease in waist circumference and a significant increase in chair-stand test and one-leg stance test scores. In addition, significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures were observed in both groups after the intervention. Dynapenic women showed a more pronounced general health perception increase compared with non-dynapenic individials. (Effects of tai chi training in dynapenic and nondynapenic postmenopausal women.  Menopause. 2011 Sep; 18(9):974-979).

Tai chi exercise has measurable benefits for patients with chronic systolic heart failure (HF). In a multi-centre RCT, American researchers randomised 100 outpatients with HF to a group-based 12-week tai chi exercise program or time-matched education. At completion of the study, there were no significant differences in change in six-minute walk distance and peak oxygen uptake when comparing tai chi and control groups; however, patients in the tai chi group showed greater improvements in quality of life. Improvements with tai chi were also seen in exercise self-efficacy and mood. (Tai chi exercise in patients with chronic heart failure: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Apr 25;171(8):750-7).

A systematic review by US authors has concluded that Chinese herbal medicine may increase the effectiveness of infertility treatment with the drug clomiphene citrate (CC). Fourteen randomised studies representing 1316 patients met their inclusion criteria. Four studies (n=315) reported a 14% higher likelihood of biphasic basal body temperatures. Six studies (n=604) reported a non-significant 18% increase in ovulation rates. Two studies (n=138) reported subjects 78% more likely to have endometrial lining greater than 6mm. Thirteen studies (n=1202) reported a 50% increase in pregnancy rates. The authors noted the poor methodological quality and small sample size of published trials and called for more rigorously controlled studies. (Chinese herbal medicine and clomiphene citrate for anovulation: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 May;17(5):397-405).

A Cochrane Database systematic review has concluded that acupuncture and acupressure may have a role in reducing pain, increasing satisfaction with pain management and reducing use of pharmacological management for women in labour. Thirteen trials with data on 1986 women were included. Nine trials reported on acupuncture and four on acupressure. Less intense pain was found with acupuncture compared with no intervention. One trial showed increased satisfaction with pain relief compared with placebo. Reduced use of pharmacological analgesia was found in one trial of acupuncture compared with placebo and one compared with standard care.  Fewer instrumental deliveries were found with acupuncture compared with standard care.  Pain intensity was reduced with acupressure, compared with placebo and control and a combined control.  Trials showed significant heterogeneity and all showed some risk of bias.  (Acupuncture or acupressure for pain management in labour.  Cochrane Database Syust Rev. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD009232).

Acupuncture should be considered as a major therapeutic instrument for the decrease of heel pain in plantar fasciitis (PF), according to a Greek study. Thirty-eight patients with PF were randomly allocated to receive treatment with ice, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and a stretching and strengthening programme, or another group who received the same therapeutic procedures plus acupuncture. Scores for pain and mobility/function were significantly smaller in acupuncture group after at two months. (Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis in Recreational Athletes: Two Different Therapeutic Protocols. Foot Ankle Spec. 2011 Aug;4(4):226-234).

An American study suggests that acpuncture may be an effective adjunct to medication in patients with depression who do not respond to anti-depressant medication. Thirty subjects with major depressive disorder (MDD) and partial or non-response after eight or more weeks of anti-depressant therapy assigned to eight weeks of standardised 30 minute acupuncture sessions on a weekly or twice-weekly basis. Twenty subjects (18 for weekly and two for twice-weekly treatment) completed the study. Depression scores decreased in both groups and improvement did not differ significantly between treatment arms (18.5 to 11.2 in the weekly group and 18.5 to 11.8 in the twice-weekly group). Response rates (defined as an improvement of 50% or more in depression scores) were 47% for all subjects – 50% for the weekly group and 33% for the twice-weekly group. (A pilot study of acupuncture augmentation therapy in antidepressant partial and non-responders with major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord. 2011 Apr;130(1-2):285-9).