Hot Stone Massages Have Incredible Benefits

Although some massage therapists and clients may consider hot stone massage to be simply fashionable, the use of stones and gemstones for healing purposes dates back thousands of years.

A Part Of History
Both verbal and written history confirm the Chinese used heated stones more than 2,000 years ago as a means of improving the function of internal organs. Stones were also used for healing work in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Egypt and India.

 

These traditions included laying stones in patterns on the body, carrying or wearing stones for health and protection, using stones for the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and for ceremonial uses, such as sweat lodges and medicine wheels.

A Source Of Healing
The healing practices of curanderas (literal translation: “healers” in Spanish) and other female caregivers often included dealing with disease as well as pregnancy and childbirth. These folk healers used heated stones to diminish the discomfort of menstruation, plus the application of cold stones to slow bleeding after labor.

Some sources also cite instances of cultures in which women believed that simply holding stones during labor added to their strength and endurance.

Ancient Greek and Roman cultures have a long recorded history of many forms of massage and bodywork. The Roman Empire, which dates from 27 B.C. to 476 A.D., is noted for its creation of the Roman baths.

This ancient tradition is still with us today in the form of modern hydrotherapy practices. The Romans also used stones in saunas and combined the effects of hot immersion baths with the cooling effects of marble stone and cold pools.

An Old Technique Is Reborn
The use of heated stones in massage was reborn with the introduction of LaStone Therapy, created by Mary Nelson, in 1993. Stone massage has blossomed since then into a multimillion-dollar industry.

Stone massage, done correctly, is one of the most relaxing forms of massage a person can receive and because of its popularity, has once again traveled quickly around the globe.

The full-body, hot-stone massage has evolved to include deep tissue-specific work, hot-stone facials, hot-stone pedicures and manicures, and hot-stone meridian therapy. Because of their incredible energy, stones are used in reiki, polarity therapy and cranial sacral work.

There are many therapists who use their own variation of stone massage, from just placing stones on the body to a deep-tissue massage. Two important safety factors, however, apply to all uses of hot stones in massage therapy:

Never place a hot stone on bare skin without moving it.
Always use a barrier, such as a specific textile product designed for stone placement, or at least a sheet or towel to protect the skin.
The Evolution Of Stone-Supply Companies
With this massage modality growing in popularity, the need for sources of hot stone massage became a necessity. To this end, stone-supply companies evolved, such as Desert Stone People, TH. Stone, RubRocks and Nature’s Stones Inc.

The next challenge came with the need for heating the stones; incredibly, the initial suggested means of heating stones was in a turkey roaster.

Other options included crock pots, electric skillets and warming trays, all of which carried the possibility of overheating the stones and burning the client.

The problem, of course, was that all these options were actually kitchen appliances as opposed to being professional heating appliances manufactured specifically for spas, chiropractor’s offices and massage-therapy treatment rooms.

After much collaboration and cooperation between Nature’s Stones Inc. and the Metal Ware Corporation (makers of Nesco products), the Spa~Pro Massage Stone Heater, a unit designed specifically for hot-stone massage, was created.

The Value In Hot Stone Massage
As therapists recognized the value of working with massage stones, they also saw the need for high-quality instruction in the use of massage stones. Nelson assembled a team of therapists to teach all around the world. Sonya Alexander from TH. Stone was busy teaching, while Carollanne Crichton, founding director of The Institute of the Healing Arts in Rhode Island, then produced a video showing her method of stone massage.

As one of the first therapists on the East Coast to do stone massage, I was busy designing protocols for different modalities and teaching in Europe, the Caribbean and across the U.S.

Please look for future articles on www.MASSAGEmag.com, as I explore the exciting arena of stone massage. I will write about safety issues, contraindications, the expansion of stone therapy to different modalities, the evolution into cold-stone therapy with marble stones and now the resurgence of stone massage with the innovation of carved basalt stones.

I will also discuss accessory products, such as massage oil, essential oils, heaters, textiles, DVDs and seminars. I look forward to an ongoing conversation with you.

Massage Therapy Helps Thyroid Conditions

An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from a known hypothyroid condition, and 10 percent of adult American women may have some degree of such conditions, according to endocrineweb.com.
January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, sponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, a time when massage therapists can learn how clients with thyroid disorders might benefit from massage therapy.

Signs of a Challenged Thyroid
Hypothyroidism

The term hypothyroidism encompasses any condition witnessing the thyroid gland’s inability to produce adequate levels of hormones known as T3 and T4. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune inflammatory condition that destroys the thyroid gland, is the leading cause of hypothyroidism. The other major cause indicates a broad medical treatment term that includes surgical procedures to remove all or a portion of the thyroid. Removal of cancerous tissue in thyroid cancer patients is a prime example of this cause.

Major signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue; muscle weakness; fluctuations in weight without an obvious reason; dry, thinning hair; rough skin patching; cold intolerance; depression; abnormal menses; decreased libido; and cognitive challenges.

 

A patient may be difficult to diagnose by her physician due to not manifesting many of these symptoms initially. Insidious changes occur slowly, leaving a patient wondering why he feels off-balance. Most people will not think to consider their thyroid as the culprit, resulting in symptoms worsening slowly over time. Serious complications can occur, including heart failure, coma and severe depression.

The Enlarged Thyroid
Goiters, or enlarged thyroids, may be witnessed in hypothyroid patients. These result from an

Thyroid Gland

overproduction of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland. The constant stimulation from TSH will cause the thyroid tissues to swell. If the thyroid gland still cannot produce adequate T3 and T4 hormones, the patient will be considered to have goitrous hypothyroidism.

It is important to note that the presence of a goiter does not always equate to hypothyroidism. Other conditions featuring the development of a goiter include dietary iodine deficiency, the patient taking lithium carbonate, infectious disease, postpartum complications or a rare fibrosis condition called Riedel’s thyroiditis.

A massage client with hypothyroidism could be on one of several different medications for the treatment for hypothyroidism. The most common drug is a synthetic thyroid hormone usually sold under the brand name Synthroid or Levothroid, according to the website of the Mayo Clinic. The generic name of the drug is Levothyroxine. This drug is a synthetic form of T4 hormone (the most significant of thyroid hormones) and is used to replace one’s T4 hormone levels. Evaluation of dosage can be tricky for some patients. Proper communication with the endocrinologist is key to determining the proper dosage daily. An annual evaluation of the drug’s effectiveness is expected as well.

The half-life of Levothyroxine is six to seven days, meaning it takes this time period for the drug serum levels to drop significantly enough to become insufficient in the patient. Because of such a long half-life, massage therapists must communicate effectively with the client to determine how the drug is affecting the client at the time of massage treatment.

Common side effects of Levothyroxine and other hypothyroid medications include chest pain, changes in menses, headache, fatigue, heat intolerance, hives, facial swelling, breathing challenges, fainting and tremors, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. Overdosing symptoms include changes in consciousness, skin pallor, vertigo, changes in pulse, confusion and sudden headaches, aphasia and apraxia. It is important for massage therapists to recognize these signs and symptoms with their hypothyroid clients.

Massage for Thyroid Patient Health
Massage therapy and related bodywork can benefit the hypothyroid patient in many profound ways. First, a significant reduction in the patient’s symptoms can be witnessed with the usage of acupressure. This benefit was demonstrated by a research study in Russia conducted in 2011. Reflexology and Gua Sha technique were also utilized in this study involving Chinese medicine theory in addressing hypothyroidism.

A second benefit of massage therapy for the hypothyroid patient is aiding improved blood and lymphatic circulation. Since proper blood and lymphatic flow is vital for all endocrine organs, the thyroid could benefit from improved circulation.

Reduced inflammation is a third benefit derived from massage therapy and related bodywork. Research through the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, and McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, indicates that massage therapy may create a result similar to anti-inflammatory medications at a cellular level. This benefit will aid the hypothyroid patient with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or similar inflammatory concerns.

A fourth benefit of massage treatment is reduced stress within the body. This benefit can decrease cortisol and other stress hormones to help manage weight healthily.

Finally, increasing muscle strength will combat the fatigue and weakness often felt by the hypothyroid patient. A Swedish massage including a large percentage of petrissage strokes can enhance the size, strength and stamina of muscle tissue.

Eight Ways To Ensure a Long Massage Therapy Career

Whether you have two years’ experience or 20, you have no doubt discovered that building and maintaining a full-time massage therapy practice places a large physical demand on your body. Massage therapists often develop overuse injuries from repetitive movements of the upper extremities. Many learn too late that self-care is critical for enjoying a long and pain-free massage therapy career.

These physical demands are growing, too, as the size of our clients grows. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as reported by CBS Atlanta, American men’s average weight is approximately 30 pounds more now than it was in 1960; American women’s weight is approximately 26 pounds more.

How can we respect and protect our maturing, possibly injured bodies—and continue to deliver consistently superior sessions?

Here are my favorite career-extending self-care strategies:

1. Clothes-On, No-Oil Treatments
I made the switch to clothes-on treatment more than 20 years ago and have never looked back. The clothes-on approach enhances a client’s mobility, resolves potential modesty issues, and brings a more clinical focus to your practice.

I ask clients to wear a well-worn, cotton T-shirt and sweatpants, because both offer a modest amount of friction; I can take a position and press through the clothes, and my fingers do not slide.

It takes more effort and energy from me to deliver deep pressure and glide at the same time on oiled skin. Through clothing, I can deliver consistent, sustained pressure with less force coming from me. Less force means fewer repetitive injuries for the therapist.

Another benefit of the clothes-on approach is that it frees you from using oil or lotions. From a practical standpoint, it’s a treat to not have that continual cleanup and expense.

2. Side-Lying Position
Clothes-on massage eliminates draping, which opens up the all-important side-lying position. You’ve likely had many times you were out of position, leaning over a client in prone or supine position, using poor body mechanics, stressing yourself to get into an area that needed to be addressed. The side-lying position solves that.

I use pillows under the head, knee and feet to make a client comfortable, relaxed with muscles on slack, and therefore much more approachable. Treatments then require less pressure from me and are delivered from a place of proper posture, my back straight, without leaning over.

Also, in the side-lying position you don’t have to lift a heavy arm or leg to massage it properly.

side-lying massage position
David Morin demonstrates clothes-on, no-oil massage with the client in a side-lying position.

3. Use Tools
In the late 1970s, when I studied Neuromuscular Therapy with Paul St. John, the training included work in the lamina groove using wooden tools with a soft tip. One was rounded and one was beveled. The design didn’t fit my hand very well, so I redesigned the T-shape into an L-bar, changed the dimensions a bit, and ended up with what I have for 20 years been calling the Thumbsaver and the Beveled L-Bar.

I turned to these tools to save my career because my thumbs gave out; in fact, repetitive glides and strokes have left my thumbs profoundly changed. This wasn’t caused so much by delivering direct pressure as it was by turning and twisting to get my thumb into the right place. Pressing in with my thumb tool cradled comfortably in the palm of my hand, I can provide sustained pressure—moderate or deep—for as long as needed without using my thumbs. For sensory input, I use the tips of my fingers to track alongside the rubber point of the tool, so I can feel for just the right amount of pressure in just the right spots.

Especially though clothes, your clients will not be able to tell the difference between a tool and your overused thumbs.

4. Use More Pull, Less Push
Massage is all about pushing and pulling—usually much more pushing than pulling. In the side-lying position particularly, I can brace one hand on a client’s arm or leg to provide a stabilizing, opposing pressure, and with the other hand work a variety of pulls that greatly reduce the wear and tear on my body. Again, less repetitive pushing and greater diversity, using pulls, mean fewer injuries for the therapist.

Examples:

Cross-fiber Tibialis anterior in side-lying position. Brace the client’s ankle with one hand while using your fingertips to cross-fiber the entire length of the muscle.
Brace the ankle as above while using a thumb tool to apply direct compression along the lateral head of the gastrocnemius and soleus. Notice how little pressure it takes to get excellent results.
Forearm to Vastus lateralis in side-lying position. With one hand on the client’s lateral knee, either brace or move in opposition to the opposite forearm that is applying direct compression or cross-fiber treatment the entire length of the muscle.
Brace the elbow when treating anterior and medial deltoids in supine position.
Stabilize opposite forehead when treating suboccipital muscles.
Brace foot in the air in prone position while pulling on peroneals, gastrocnemius and soleus.

5. Specialize
Particularly valuable to therapists who are so damaged they are ready to give up their careers is the move to specialize in treating the head, neck and jaw exclusively. This greatly reduces the mechanical stress on the therapist, and at the same time opens the door to establishing a referral network with both physicians and dentists for treatments on headaches and temporomandibular joint dysfunction.

I specialize in medical massage therapy and employ the full range of clinical protocols: assessments, measurements, treatment plans, remedial exercises and more. So for me, a client session is more diverse than just hands-on manipulation. That means less wear and tear on my body.

Clients come to me to achieve targeted results on specific problem areas, and we work toward those goals. I rarely, if ever, give a full-body massage. This allows me to focus and position myself in the most beneficial posture to do what must be done.

6. Invest in a Rolling, Adjustable Stool
Clients with painful conditions and injuries usually require extensive treatment in specific areas. Neck and jaw treatment, for example, have always been paramount in my practice. It takes time to be thorough, and being seated on a rolling stool brings my body back into good posture.

7. Teach Client Self-Care
Teach your clients a self-care program of using daily hydrotherapy and active range-of-motion exercises to enhance their care. Clients often get better more quickly, and the therapist’s work becomes easier. This therapeutic relationship encourages personal responsibility and eases the expectation that healing is only the responsibility of the massage therapist. However, note that in some states even recommending exercise is outside the scope of practice of massage therapy. First, make sure you are acting within the law.

8. Take Care of Yourself
We all need to counterbalance the repetitive nature of giving massage with regular active range-of-motion exercises for the shoulders, back, arms and hands. A comprehensive self-care program is an important key to a long and healthy massage therapy career.

by David Morin

Working With Clients Who Are Medically Fragile

About 15 percent of the current U.S. population is 65 years or older, and as the baby boomers continue to age, the size of this group will continue to grow. Combine this population with those who are chronically ill or have suffered a serious injury, and it’s easy to see how now and in the future you may have clients who are deemed medically fragile.

Although the benefits of massage therapy are likely similar for medically fragile clients, there are a wide array of things that will be different when working with these clients. Read on to learn more about what you can expect—and what’s expected of you—when working with medically fragile clients.
What Is Meant by Medically Fragile?

A medically fragile client can be loosely defined as someone with serious and complex medical conditions and a frail constitution. These clients will likely fall into one of three categories: chronic or terminal illness, suffering from severe injury or advanced age. Some other common terms that are used to describe the medically fragile are medically frail, medically complex or technology-dependent.

Because medically fragile spans such a large range of conditions and client demographics, massage therapists are going to need to be prepared to evaluate how the definition of medically fragile may vary across clients. Julie Goodwin, a massage therapist and educator, considers a wide array of variables when thinking of how a medically fragile status may apply to her clients. “To me, assignment of a medically fragile or medically frail status evolves from an interview, observation, assessments of medical treatment and medication side effects, physical and social risk, and a review of medical records or treatment transcripts,” says Goodwin. “This often represents multiple health conditions from which recovery or rehabilitation is unlikely, medical treatments and medications that create side effects that interfere with daily functioning, and impairments to mobility and cognition.”

Remember, there is really no “typical” medically fragile client, so you’re going to need to be able to adapt quickly and be flexible.
When Massage Is Beneficial

Even though the session for these clients will be different, the benefits they receive are similar to the benefits massage provides to all other clients. “All the reasons why a non-fragile person would want a massage would be applicable here, too,” says Susan Salvo, a massage therapist and author who specializes in the medically fragile. Goodwin echoes this sentiment. “In my practice, pain relief, relaxation and increased range of joint motion are typical reasons for seeking massage therapy,” she explains. “Most of my clients I have deemed medically fragile are elderly (over 65).”

While massage therapy is effective for many of the same reasons as it is with more typical clients, there are still some reasons medically fragile clients seek out massage therapy that are more common than others. The most common therapeutic reasons include pain and stress management, decreased swelling, improved range-of-motion, relief from nausea, fatigue, insomnia, and a feeling of calmness and improved mood. Massage can also be beneficial for clients who suffer from psychosocial issues such as isolation, hopelessness, depression and anxiety. “Massage can bring comfort to these clients and their caregivers,” says Salvo, “which can be especially important when spoken language is difficult or impossible.”
What You Need to Know

Space. When working with medically fragile clients, the location of the massage therapy session is going to depend in large part on the client, and can range from your practice location to the client’s home to a medical facility or nursing home. For each of these settings, massage therapy sessions will need to be adapted. For example, Salvo recommends scheduling all appointments at your practice during daylight hours.

Here, too, you need to think of how you can make the space easy for the client to negotiate, like making sure there is enough space between furniture and walls to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. “Modifications in my location include lowering the table to ease access and assisting the client around the treatment space,” says Goodwin. “Working with the client only in a semi-reclining supine position, avoiding repositioning and working with the client clothed are other modifications I often make.” You should also consider using linens in contrasting colors for those clients who might be visually impaired.

Alternatively, if you see medically fragile clients on an outcall basis— either in their home or at a hospital or long-term care facility—different accommodations need to be made. Evening hours, for example, are sometimes better in these settings because there will likely be fewer disruptions. Space is limited in these settings, too, so don’t bring a portable table or massage chair. Instead, assume you’ll massage the client where they are, whether that’s in bed, in a wheelchair or while seated in a recliner. “If the client is in bed, the bed is often placed against a wall, limiting access to all sides of the body,” adds Ann Catlin, owner and director of the Center for Compassionate Touch.

Working with the care coordinator or nurses is a must. Ask for specific instructions, Salvo encourages, and when you go to the client’s room, obtain their permission before entering. Many times, these clients may have people in their room, too, whether medical staff or visiting family, so don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and explain why you’re there. A curtain pulled around your client often indicates a health care professional is performing care that requires privacy, says Salvo, so you should wait outside the room or in the hallway until they’re finished.

Other things Salvo suggests considering include:

Safety. Some medically fragile clients are going to be unsteady on their feet or experience dizziness, and so falling will be a big safety concern. You need to make sure you don’t allow a client to move without assistance from a member of their health care team, whether that’s from a chair or their bed. Also, if you need to step away from a client, make sure the bed rails are raised before doing so.

Accessibility. You aren’t going to want to move furniture from a client’s room, but you can try to make as clear a path as possible around the bed or chair to facilitate your work. If you need blankets or pillows or linens, however, ask someone to help you locate these items instead of looking for them yourself or bringing your own.

Emergency. Be sure you ask about the facility’s emergency protocol in advance so you can take proper measures. If an emergency occurs, Salvo recommends raising the bedrails to keep the client secure and then stepping out into the hallway to call for help instead of pushing the call button. Many times, you’ll get a quicker response this way.

Intake. Intake is always important, but especially so with medically fragile clients. The length of intake will differ based on the client, but make sure to have extra time allotted as most times you’ll need to talk with these clients longer. “Intake is extensive, and likely to comprise most of the client’s initial visit,” says Goodwin. “I prepare the client ahead of time by letting them (or the person making the appointment, who is often a family member) know what information to bring, including a list of health conditions, a list of all prescribed and over-the-counter medications, and the names of primary and specialist health care providers, to name a few.”

Remember, however, that when working in a hospital or other care facility, you won’t always have access to a client’s medical records. “It’s important to note that a massage therapist will only have access to the medical record if they have a formal relationship with the organization, either as an employee or a contracted service provider,” Catlin cautions.

Also, be sure the room is well lit and relatively quiet. Turn down the volume on the TV or radio, for example, or ask the nursing staff to hold calls while you’re conducting your intake. Salvo also suggests being systematic in your intake, asking how the client is feeling before moving on to more in-depth questions.
The Massage Session

Flexibility. As with most special populations, massage therapists need to be flexible when working with medically fragile clients. “Therapists are challenged to remain flexible and adaptive,” Catlin explains. “You’ll need to let go of preconceived ideas about how a session will unfold or how the client will respond.”

Positioning. Of all the differences you might notice when working with a medically fragile client, the massage therapy session itself may be where you see the biggest contrast, starting with how the client is positioned. “They’re rarely going to get disrobed,” says Salvo. “Depending on how medically fragile or how mobile they are, you’ll have to be willing to massage through clothing or just with what they have on, which might be a hospital gown or leisure clothing.” Before beginning, remind the client that they should let you know if anything hurts or causes discomfort so you can make the proper modifications.

When considering positioning, the client should be in a supine, semi-reclining, side-lying or seated position. If you’re working in a long-term care facility or hospital, many times the nursing staff will prefer to position these clients if they can’t manage on their own, so be aware of that before starting the massage. Prone positions, too, are not appropriate if there are any medical devices on the anterior surface of the chest or abdomen, like drain tubes or IV lines.

Catlin suggests thinking of ways you can work with the current location and position of the client to help with positioning. “For example, use the hospital bed controls to adjust the position, or use pillows to support the arms or raise the feet off the mattress,” she says.

Timing and Technique. Although the time you spend actually massaging these clients may be shorter than usual—typically from 15 to 45 minutes, according to Catlin—the length of the session when you include intake will still be an hour or more. Remember, too, that these clients are often going to need more time for activities such as using the restroom, drinking water or getting comfortable, and they may like to share personal stories, so you need to be patient.

“Technique modifications include shortening session duration to avoid overtiring the client, limiting or eliminating techniques that may stimulate systemic circulation, and decreasing pressure and increasing lubrication,” says Goodwin. “Also, choose a lubricant unlikely to trigger an allergic reaction, and take extra steps to preclude transmission of infectious pathogens.”

Salvo echoes this caution, advising massage therapists to use only unscented products or products that have a scent that is familiar to the client. Additionally, a different container should be used for each client whenever possible, or single-use lotion packs or the client’s own lotion could be used, with permission from the client, of course. Be sure to sanitize exterior surfaces both before and after use.

Whatever technique you use, making sure the level of pressure is appropriate is a must and requires you to continually check in with the client to ensure they are comfortable.
After the Massage Therapy Session

When the massage session is over, be sure to replace a client’s eyeglasses if you’ve removed them, as well as their socks or slippers. You might also ask the client if they need anything, Salvo suggests. After placing used linens in the hamper and sanitizing your hands, make sure to complete your session or SOAP notes. “Be sure to let the patient care coordinator know if you found unreported issues, such as swelling, redness or bruising,” Salvo adds.

Clients who are considered medically fragile often want—and need—the very real benefits offered by massage therapy, but you might have to modify your approach to accommodate the unique needs of the medically fragile client. Learning ahead of time what you’ll need to know when working with this population is a great place to start.

The M Technique for the Hand

When working with medically fragile clients, Susan Salvo recommends
a technique developed by Jane Buckle called the “M” Technique. This
technique uses a patterned sequence of three repetitions and light pressure
that remains unchanged, allowing the client’s body to become used
to the new stimuli and eventually relax. Following is the “M” Technique
sequence for the hand:

1. Alternate hand stroking to elbow
2. Lateral movements palm down
3. Joint circling
4. Scissor hold/pressure point/stroke
5. Turn hand over
6. Little finger links
7. Lateral movements, palm up
8. Handshake
9. One-hand stroking to elbow

Source

Physical Activity Can Prevent Stroke

Silent brain infarcts (subclinical strokes) “have an increased risk of dementia and a steeper decline in cognitive function than those without such lesions” for older people. This study found that “engaging in moderate to heavy physical activities may be an important component of prevention strategies aimed at reducing subclinical brain infarcts.”

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Silent brain infarcts are frequently seen on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in healthy elderly people and may be associated with dementia and cognitive decline.

METHODS:

We studied the association between silent brain infarcts and the risk of dementia and cognitive decline in 1015 participants of the prospective, population-based Rotterdam Scan Study, who were 60 to 90 years of age and free of dementia and stroke at base line. Participants underwent neuropsychological testing and cerebral MRI at base line in 1995 to 1996 and again in 1999 to 2000 and were monitored for dementia throughout the study period. We performed Cox proportional-hazards and multiple linear-regression analyses, adjusted for age, sex, and level of education and for the presence or absence of subcortical atrophy and white-matter lesions.

RESULTS:

During 3697 person-years of follow-up (mean per person, 3.6 years), dementia developed in 30 of the 1015 participants. The presence of silent brain infarcts at base line more than doubled the risk of dementia (hazard ratio, 2.26; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.09 to 4.70). The presence of silent brain infarcts on the base-line MRI was associated with worse performance on neuropsychological tests and a steeper decline in global cognitive function. Silent thalamic infarcts were associated with a decline in memory performance, and nonthalamic infarcts with a decline in psychomotor speed. When participants with silent brain infarcts at base line were subdivided into those with and those without additional infarcts at follow-up, the decline in cognitive function was restricted to those with additional silent infarcts.

CONCLUSIONS:

Elderly people with silent brain infarcts have an increased risk of dementia and a steeper decline in cognitive function than those without such lesions.

Copyright 2003 Massachusetts Medical Society

 

Meditation Promotes Mindfulness

The Default Mode Network (DMN) involves regions of the brain associated with mind-wandering – namely, the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate corticies, that may cause lapses in attention and anxiety.   To assess whether mindfulness-based meditation can reduce activity along this brain axis, Judson Brewer, from Yale University School of Medicine (Connecticut, USA), and colleagues analyzed 12 experienced mindfulness meditation practitioners, and a group of 13 control subjects who never practiced the technique.

The researchers used functional MRI to assess brain activation during both a resting state and a meditation period in each subject.  Compared with novice meditators, experienced study participants had significant deactivation in parts of the brain associated with the DMN.  As well, the team found that practiced meditators reported less mind-wandering during meditation than did their less experienced counterparts.

The study authors conclude that: “Our findings demonstrate differences in the default-mode network that are consistent with decreased mind-wandering. As such, these provide a unique understanding of possible neural mechanisms of meditation.”

Aside from attention lapses and anxiety, the “default mode network,” or DMN, has also been associated with certain conditions, including ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease. Conversely, mindfulness training has been shown to benefit certain conditions, such as pain, substance use disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Action Points


  • Explain that this study found that meditation diminishes activity in areas of the brain associated with mind-wandering, the so-called default mode network in the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate corticies.
  • Note that the study used functional MRI to assess brain activation during both a resting state and a meditation period in experienced mindfulness meditation practitioners and controls.

So to assess whether mindfulness-based meditation can reduce activity along this brain axis, the researchers analyzed both experienced meditators and controls who’d never practiced the technique. The researchers used functional MRI to assess brain activation during both a resting state and a meditation period in 12 experienced mindfulness meditation practitioners and 13 controls.

Groups attempted three different types of meditation: concentration, loving-kindness, and choiceless awareness. Concentration is intended to prevent practitioners from engaging with their preoccupations; loving-kindness focuses on fostering acceptance; and choiceless awareness allows for focusing on whatever arises in the conscious field of awareness at any moment.

Brewer and colleagues found that experienced meditators reported less mind-wandering during meditation than did controls, which was true across groups.

At the same time, they generally saw less activation in the main nodes of the DMN — the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate corticies — in experienced meditators than in controls.

While there was significantly less activation in the posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus and in the superior, middle, and medial temporal gyri and uncus, the trend toward diminished activation in the medial prefrontal cortex was not significant, they noted.

With regard to the specific types of meditation, the researchers found less activation in experienced meditators than in controls in the following regions:

  • Concentration: posterior cingulate cortex, left angular gyrus
  • Loving-kindness: posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal lobule, and inferior temporal gyrus extending into hippocampal formations, amygdala, and uncus
  • Choiceless awareness: superior and medial temporal gyrus

When using the posterior cingulate cortex as a seed region, the researchers saw significant differences in connectivity patterns with several other brain regions, notably the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, for experienced meditators compared with controls. And when using the medial prefrontal cortex as the seed region, they found increased connectivity with the fusiform gyrus, the inferior temporal and parahippocampal gyri, and the left posterior insula.

These patterns held during the resting-state baseline period as well, the researchers said, suggesting that meditation practice “may transform the resting-state experience into one that resembles a meditative state, and, as such, is a more present-centered default mode.”

The researchers concluded that the overall results “support the hypothesis that alterations in the DMN are related to reduction in mind-wandering.”

Though the study was limited by a small sample size, the researchers concluded that the findings may have a host of clinical implications, including treatment of conditions linked with dysfunction of these areas, such as ADHD or Alzheimer’s disease.

Is Soup Toxic to Your Health?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a plasticizer that is regarded as an endocrine disruptor that may be linked to  cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and liver abnormalities.  Commonly used in food can linings, Karin B. Michels, from Harvard School of Public Health (Massachusetts, USA), and colleagues assessed the urinary bisphenol A (BPA) levels of 75 healthy men and women, ages 18 years and older, who consumed homemade soup for five consecutive days, and then ate canned soup for another five days in a row.

Urinary levels of BPA averaged 1.1 mcg/L during the homemade soup segment, but reached 20.8 mcg/L during the canned soup segment.   Observing that: “The effect of such intermittent elevations in urinary BPA concentrations is unknown,” the team urges that: “Even if not sustained, [it] may be important, especially in light of available or proposed alternatives to [BPA-containing] epoxy resin linings for most canned goods.”

Recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, for example, indicated that the 95th percentile for urinary BPA was 13.0 mcg/L, Michels and colleagues noted.

BPA is used in a wide range of consumer and medical products to soften plastics. Studies have shown that BPA can mimic the action of female reproductive hormones and may be linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and liver abnormalities. Infants’ exposure is a particular concern because they may be more sensitive to these effects than adults.

Last month, researchers found that children whose mothers had high urine levels of BPA during pregnancy were more prone to behavioral problems.

The U.S. government, after initially dismissing concerns about BPA in baby bottles and other consumer products, reversed course in 2010 and promised a major research effort to pin down the health risks.

Because BPA is also used in food can linings, Michels and colleagues sought to examine whether canned soups would be a vehicle to increase human intake of the chemical.

They used five varieties of vegetarian Progresso soups, including tomato and minestrone, and five similar homemade soups. Participants were randomly assigned to start with the commercial or homemade soups, eating a serving of each variety at lunchtime daily for five days. After a two-day washout period, participants who first ate the canned products then had a week of the homemade soups, and vice versa.

Participants could otherwise eat what they pleased during the study.

Urine samples were collected in the late afternoon on the fourth and fifth days of each period. To minimize intraindividual variations, each person’s samples from consecutive days were mixed prior to analysis.

BPA levels in urine were adjusted for dilution, using a formula that included the samples’ specific gravity.

All the participants had detectable BPA in their urine after eating the canned soup, whereas 23% of samples in the homemade-soup phase were BPA-free.

The mean individual difference between mean adjusted urinary BPA levels following canned versus homemade soups, 22.5 mcg/L, was highly significant, with a 95% confidence interval of 19.6 to 25.5 mcg/L, Michels and colleagues reported.

Results were nearly identical for participants who started the trial with canned soup compared with those initially assigned to the homemade soups.

The researchers did list several limitations to the analysis. The study involved one institution (all participants were students or employees of the Harvard School of Public Health) and the canned soup came from a single manufacturer.

More important, Michels and colleagues indicated that “the increase in urinary BPA concentrations following canned soup consumption is likely a transient peak of yet uncertain duration. The effect of such intermittent elevations in urinary BPA concentrations is unknown.”

But they argued that the magnitude of the peaks seen in their study is great enough to cause concern.

“Even if not sustained, [it] may be important, especially in light of available or proposed alternatives to [BPA-containing] epoxy resin linings for most canned goods.”

Good for the Heart, Guard Against Cancer

As an American Heart Association Strategic 2020 Goal, “ideal” cardiovascular health is one of elements that aim to improve Americans’ heart health by 20% and reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke by 20%.  Laura J Rasmussen-Torvik, from Northwestern University (Illinois, USA), and colleagues followed more than 13,000 healthy individuals for 13 years, measuring seven “metrics” of heart health at the start and tracking any cancer that developed.

Those seven factors are: not smoking, normal BMI (a calculation based on weight and height), physical activity, healthy diet, and safe cholesterol, blood pressure and fasting blood glucose levels.  Between 1987 and 2006, the participants developed more than 1,800 new cancers, namely prostate, breast, lung and colon. But, the more “ideal” factors people had, the less likely they were to develop cancer. Compared to people who had none of the seven factors, having just one reduced the risk of cancer by 20%. Three factors lowered the risk of cancer by 22%, and five to seven pushed the risk down 38%.

The study authors conclude that: “Ideal cardiovascular health metrics are also collectively associated with lower cancer incidence.”

Individuals who don’t smoke and who maintain a healthy body-mass index (BMI), normal blood pressure and two to four other “ideal” measures of heart health have a 38% lower risk of developing cancer, according to research scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Fla.

The study authors hope the score they’ve developed will help doctors drive home the message that prevention is key to both cancer and heart disease.

“Physicians need motivation to really push the issue of prevention with patients,” said lead author Laura J. Rasmussen-Torvik, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Other experts agreed.

“If we give patients a double whammy [message], in the ideal world, we might be preventing two of these biggest killers. It might be a stronger message,” said Dr. Tara Narula, a cardiologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“People generally know that healthy behaviors prevent heart disease and cancer, but to [relate risk factors such as cholesterol] to cancer is novel,” added Dr. Harmony Reynolds, associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. “It’s very nice to have that crossover in practice. Sometimes I talk to patients about lowering their cholesterol and exercising, and they get very fatalistic saying that, in my family, cancer is the problem. It’s very convenient to be able to say these things.”

“Ideal” cardiovascular health is one of the American Heart Association’s Strategic 2020 Goals, which aim to improve Americans’ heart health by 20% and reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke by 20%.

For this study, researchers followed more than 13,000 healthy individuals for 13 years, measuring seven “metrics” of heart health at the start and tracking any cancer that developed. Those seven factors are: not smoking, normal BMI (a calculation based on weight and height), physical activity, healthy diet, and safe cholesterol, blood pressure and fasting blood glucose levels.

Between 1987 and 2006, the participants developed more than 1,800 new cancers, namely prostate, breast, lung and colon. But, the more “ideal” factors people had, the less likely they were to develop cancer.

Compared to people who had none of the seven factors, having just one reduced the risk of cancer by 20%. Three factors lowered the risk of cancer by 22%, and five to seven pushed the risk down 38%.

“If you lower yourself by one point [risk factor], that’s a significant decrease in cancer risk and a lower risk of heart disease,” said Dr. Christopher Cove, assistant director of the cardiac catheterization lab at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. “That’s exciting.”

When the researchers looked at the same participants but removed smoking from the measure, the association was no longer significant but the trend was still in the right direction.

“This says that, yes, smoking is really important but we still see the trend when smoking is taken out, so adhering to a healthy diet and having a low BMI are still important for cancer risk,” said Rasmussen-Torvik.

The association might have been even clearer had the study had more participants and more cases of cancer, said Reynolds.

It’s not clear why these associations exist, but Narula hypothesized they could relate to overall inflammation, which drives both heart disease and cancer.

The study authors said they hope to see more collaboration between the American Heart Association and cancer advocacy groups.

“I think the American public is very confused about conflicting health messages,” said Rasmussen-Torvik. “If organizations like the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association could work together to emphasize some core prevention goals, that could be beneficial to all groups.”

Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Active Lifestyle Reduces Risk of Depression

Previous studies have reported an inverse association between physical activity and depression. Michel Lucas, from Harvard School of Public Health (Massachusetts, USA), and colleagues studied data co0llected on 49,821 US women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, all of whom did not experience symptoms of depression in 1996.

Surveying for physical activity a total of five times during the study period, and following subjects for 10 years to assess for clinical depression, the team found that women who reported exercising the most in recent years were about 20% less likely to get depression, as compared to those who rarely exercised.

As well, the more hours the subjects spent watching TV each week, the more their risk of depression rose.  The researchers warn that:  “Analyses simultaneously considering [physical activity] and television watching suggested that both contributed independently to depression risk.”

According to findings published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that women who reported exercising the most in recent years were about 20 percent less likely to get depression than those who rarely exercised.

On the other hand, the more hours they spent watching TV each week, the more their risk of depression crept up.

“Higher levels of physical activity were associated with lower depression risk,” wrote study author Michel Lucas, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

More time spent being active might boost self-esteem and women’s sense of control, as well as the endorphins in their blood, although the study could not prove directly that watching too much television and avoiding exercise caused depression, she added.

The report included close to 50,000 women who filled out surveys every couple of years as part of the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study, and covered the years 1992 to 2006.

Participants recorded the amount of time they spent watching TV each week in 1992, and also answered questions about how often they walked, biked, ran and swam between 1992 and 2000.

On the same questionnaires, women reported any new diagnosis of clinical depression or medication taken to treat depression.

The analysis only included women who did not have depression in 1996. Over the next decade, there were 6,500 new cases of depression.

After the researchers accounted for aspects of health and lifestyle linked to depression, including weight, smoking and a range of diseases, exercising the most — 90 minutes or more each day — meant women were 20 percent less likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who exercised 10 minutes or less a day.

Women who watched three hours or more of television a day were 13 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who hardly ever tuned in, but Lucas said at least part of that link might be due to women replacing time they could be exercising with TV watching.

One alternative explanation the researchers brought up is that women might have been experiencing some symptoms of depression before they were diagnosed, leading them to exercise less. A formal diagnosis could have come later.

“Previous studies have suggested that physical activity is associated with a lower risk of depressive symptoms,” said Gillian Mead, who studies geriatric medicine at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary but was not involved in the study.