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December Issue of Natural Alternatives
December 02, 2013
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“The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.” ~Hippocrates
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) TAI CHI AND HEALTH
2) OILS THAT AGE YOU FASTER
3) THE RICH BENEFITS OF EATING CHOCOLATE
1) TAI CHI AND HEALTH
In the West we tend to think of tai chi as the milder version of more aggressive martial arts such as kung fu. We are quick to assume the gentle practice of tai chi is more suitable for the de-conditioned or the elderly, while younger and fitter types partake in the more vigorous and combative martial arts and other athletic endeavours.
This erroneous thinking about tai chi has North Americans of all ages and abilities missing out on an extraordinarily powerful yet simple tool to enhance health, vitality, and longevity.
We can look to both ancient wisdom and modern science to confirm tai chi’s health benefits. Most studies show that this age-old Chinese practice has stood the test of time for good reason. After being introduced to North America in the 1960s tai chi was quick to garner the attention of Western medical researchers, and a database of research on the health benefits of tai chi continues to swell today.
Tai chi is being used successfully to manage a variety of chronic conditions and to support general health and even happiness. Research on tai chi participation demonstrates:
Is it exercise, meditation, or a martial art? Tai chi or tai chi chuan (or tai-ji as in the Chinese spelling) is considered a body-mind exercise that incorporates elements of movement and meditation and is often referred to as the internal martial art. Tai chi literally translates as “supreme ultimate being” or “supreme ultimate fist” and has been used in China for thousands of years, although it is said to have been developed in the 1300s in the forms we practice today.
There are several different styles of tai chi named for the families that developed and passed it on through generations. The three most common styles are the Chen, Yang, and Wu styles. Chen is the oldest style and is said to be the most demanding to learn. Yang is the most widely practiced today.
All tai chi styles share the same philosophical framework and many points of practice. The ultimate goal is to cultivate life force, to exercise and condition the body, to understand the inner structure of the body, and to focus the mind. Each style includes attention to posture, breathing, and mental focus in a series of individual movements or forms that are linked in a continuous manner.
Tai chi requires no equipment and can be practiced anywhere, anytime. Millions of people in China practice tai chi in parks or open spaces every morning. It is becoming an antidote to the high-paced stressful life because of its focus on creating harmony and balance. It slows us down, allows us to contemplate, to relax.
It is not fully known by what mechanism tai chi works such diverse healing miracles. The gentle tai chi movements use the muscles that promote the flow of blood and lymph, which increases the efficiency of the immune, digestive, endocrine, and other systems.
The meditative aspect brings mental calmness and initiates a relaxation response that reduces the heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing increases the flow of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the brain to energize and infuse vitality, promote deeper sleep, reduce anxiety, and improve mental clarity.
However, if you talk to any tai chi master or Eastern philosophy expert you will discover centuries-old explanations that leave Western science without the tools to assess the true nature of tai chi’s healing properties: it’s all in the qi (chi).
If you read the discussion of any scientific study on tai chi you will find repeated attempts to explain a mechanism for healing that laboratory vernacular simply cannot explain. We do know about blood, lymph, and neurotransmitters. We also know about muscles and oxygen. But we don’t know much about qi or how to measure it.
Qi is often referred to as life force, the magical elixir, vital, or universal energy. It is said that diminished stores of qi is indicated by poor health, and through qi cultivation one can build up stores of qi wealth.
Tai chi is recognized as one of the foremost ways to cultivate qi. The gentle, slow movement, deep breathing, and relaxation infusing flow of the tai chi forms is said to generate and move qi through the body, providing nourishment and healing in a way we just don’t know how to assess yet.
Tai chi instructors can be found delivering classes in a variety of settings. Since it can be done anywhere, you will find practices in parks, beaches, churches, schools, and even parking lots.
Your local community center or YMCA are great places to start, as many offer registered tai chi classes. Martial arts and yoga studios are also great places to look. Impromptu classes are often free, so stumbling upon an unadvertised one in your neighborhood is also a possibility.
Let’s not hold our breath while Western scientists continue their billion-dollar quest to put health in a pill. It just might be worth wandering down to the park at sunrise to join a tai chi class. All of those radiant and glowing participants might be onto something.
I know these have been marketed to you over the years by giant food companies as "healthy", but if you understand a little biochemistry about how these highly-processed oils react inside your body, you would quickly see how false that is.
Studies have already established that chocolate contains a number of beneficial ingredients. For instance, resveratrol, an important compound in chocolate, may not only protect your brain and nervous system, but actually prolong your life.
Dark chocolate is also an inflammation fighter, listed along with turmeric and following a Mediterranean-style diet as one of the healthiest, most natural ways to reduce the inflammatory processes underlying the chronic, degenerative diseases that afflict most of the developed world. Five pieces of evidence highlighted in the ACS video show that other factors enhance the sweet, smooth goodness of chocolate, and those involve naturally-occurring chemicals. Read on.
One of the most compelling reasons to make chocolate a part of your regular diet may be for the antioxidants it provides. Few foods, and certainly not dessert foods, have as much therapeutic potential as this “candy” aisle treat, as evidenced by a wide range of accumulating scientific research linking its consumption to over 40 distinct health benefits.
While most of us have heard about the importance of antioxidants, a primer might help, beginning with the explanation that the formation of free radicals – atoms, ions and molecules with unpaired electrons – in your cells can damage your DNA to the point that your risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer are elevated.
This is why the antioxidant polyphenols in chocolate are so valuable, as they have the ability to stop free radical mediated oxidation. This helps to decrease your risk of those and other diseases by directly interfering with one of the major preventable causes of chronic degenerative diseases.
A factoid from ACS's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicates that naturally-occurring polyphenols in cocoa, the fundamental component in chocolate, actually boost levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol, while at the same time reducing the atherogenicity of so-called “bad” variety – LDL – by preventing its oxidation. Supporting evidence from the Cleveland Clinic study noted:
If you’re one of these individuals who gets a nice mood boost whenever you sink your teeth into a bar of pure, unadulterated chocolate, it is not happenstance.
There's actually a chemical reason called anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression.
It's a derivative of the Sanskrit word "bliss," and one of the great things about chocolate is that it not only produces this compound, it also contains other chemicals that prolongs the "feel-good" aspects of anandamide.
But there’s more to this brain chemical than just how it makes us feel.
As a scientist on the topic, Daniele Piomelli, from the University of California, Irvine, put it:
Also regarding brain health, a Johns Hopkins study found that dark chocolate may shield the brain from damage after a stroke by increasing cellular signals. Mice that had ingested epicatechin, a compound found in dark chocolate, suffered significantly less brain damage after undergoing induced stroke than mice that had not been given this compound. What this means for ischemic stroke victims (related to clot obstructions in the vessels supplying blood to the brain, a condition known as antherosclerosis) is that the epicatechin in dark chocolate may actually protect the brain.
Flavonols are the main flavonoids found in cocoa and chocolate, as a British study found. A pilot study evaluated the relationship between cerebral blood flow and a dose of flavanol-rich cocoa, which showed a marked increase in the cerebral blood flow to gray matter. The study results indicated that the flavonols in cocoa have the treatment potential against vascular impairment, which leads into the next point…
What's interesting is that a 7-study meta-analysis sought to find a link between chocolate consumption and certain cardiometabolic disorders, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Along with those disorders are related problems like hypertension, elevated fasting glucose and triglycerides, and high cholesterol, abdominal obesity. But rather than negative effects, scientists found that chocolate – specifically the dark unprocessed raw cacao kinds – actually reduced the risk of such disorders.
But remember that many chocolate brands are high in sugar, calories and unhealthy saturated fats, so buyer beware. First, be sure that the chocolate you're eating is dark chocolate. There is also a big difference in chocolates’ health effects, depending on how much you eat. As mentioned in the Cleveland Clinic study:
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Thank you for reading.
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This newsletter is for educational purposes only. It is your right to educate yourself in health and medical knowledge, to seek helpful information and make use of it for your own benefit, and for that of your family. You are the one responsible for your health. You must educate yourself in order to make decisions in all health matters. My views and advices are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medicine, but simply a help you to make educated changes in order to help your body heal itself. If you have a medical condition or concern you should consult your physician.
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