Complementary and alternative medicine

What exactly is cupping?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The ancient practice of cupping received attention during the summer’s Olympic games. This application of suction to the skin is supposed to promote healing of sore muscles, but precisely how it helps remains unclear. Most experts agree that cupping is safe. As long as those treated don’t mind the circular discolorations, side effects tend to be limited to the pinch experienced during skin suction.

A placebo can work even when you know it’s a placebo

Mallika Marshall, MD
Mallika Marshall, MD, Contributing Editor

You may have heard of the “placebo effect,” in which people taking an inactive drug as part of a study actually experience an improvement in their symptoms. As it turns out, the placebo effect still exists if you tell people they’re taking a placebo. This “open-label placebo” strategy doesn’t work for every condition, of course, but it’s a promising way to relieve many common symptoms without medication.

Tai chi may be as good as physical therapy for arthritis-related knee pain

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Treatment options for osteoarthritis of the knee are limited, and many people turn to surgery as a last resort — so there’s a lot of interest in non-invasive treatments for this common condition. Researchers have just completed a head-to-head trial of standard physical therapy versus the traditional Chinese practice of tai chi, and they’ve found the latter is just as good as the former. If it’s something you’d like to try, go for it!

Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety

Uma Naidoo, MD
Uma Naidoo, MD, Contributor

Millions of adults in the United States struggle with anxiety, but making the right dietary choices can help. The body’s slower metabolism of complex carbohydrates helps avoid drops in blood sugar, and foods with specific nutrients like zinc, magnesium, and antioxidant substances can ease anxiety as well.

New survey reveals the rapid rise of yoga — and why some people still haven’t tried it

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

A recently published study confirms what many of us have already observed: the popularity of yoga in the U.S. is exploding. More Americans now practice yoga than ever before — and they’re enjoying a range of health and wellness benefits associated with it. While there are still some negative perceptions of yoga that can discourage people from trying it, there’s a lot the yoga community can do to help them feel included.

Vitamin D and physical function: Is more better?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Much has been promised about the potential health benefits of vitamin D, but the evidence behind many of these promises is lacking. In fact, a recent study that tested whether vitamin D supplements protected older people from physical decline found that those on higher doses were more likely to have a fall. It’s important to get enough vitamin D in your diet. But when it comes to supplements, more is not always better.

Follow the poodle? Alternatives to prescription sleep medications

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, you may be concerned that there’s no other option besides prescription sleep aids. Fortunately, there are many other treatments to pick from. In fact, sleep specialists now agree that behavioral (non-drug) treatments should be the first treatment for most cases of insomnia. But beware: not all non-drug insomnia treatments are created equal.

More than just a game: Yoga for school-age children

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

Yoga is becoming increasingly popular among American children. Emerging research has shown that yoga has a number of physical and psychological benefits for children, and many classrooms now integrate yoga into a typical school day. Yoga can also be a great way for parents and children to play and interact at home. We’ve included several fun yoga-based exercises and games that parents and children can enjoy together.

Yoga in pregnancy: Many poses are safer than once thought

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

Yoga can help relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, all of which are common during pregnancy. A new study shows that many yoga poses are safe for mothers-to-be and their babies. However, pregnant women should take certain precautions when doing yoga — for example, avoiding heated yoga classes and being careful not to over-stretch. It’s also important for pregnant women to check with their doctors to be sure there are no underlying health concerns before starting yoga.

Yoga for Better Sleep

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

Yoga is a gentle and restorative way to wind down your day. A national survey found that over 55% of people who did yoga found that it helped them get better sleep. Over 85% said yoga helped reduce stress. Dr. Marlynn Wei shares a bedtime yoga routine and explains how to use the breath to relax deeper into the poses.