Yoga & Arthritis

New research, published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, finds that an 8-week regimen of intensive yoga eases both the physical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and the psychological distress that usually accompanies the condition.

Dr. Rima Dada, Ph.D., who is a professor in the Department of Anatomy at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, led the new research.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects approximately 1.3 million people in the United States. The disease is most likely autoimmune, which means that the immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues and cartilage as foreign and attacks them. While there is no cure for RA, there are a variety of medications available. However, as Dr. Dada and her colleagues explain in their paper, recovery depends on various factors, some of which are psychological. Depression, for instance, often occurs alongside RA, and it can negatively affect a person’s outcome.

In this context, Dr. Dada and team wondered if a yoga-based mind-body intervention could ease depressive symptoms in RA and help achieve remission of this chronic disease. To find out, Dr. Dada and colleagues examined the effects of practicing yoga intensively in 72 people with RA.

The scientists divided the study participants into two groups. Both groups continued to take disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which are the drugs doctors typically prescribe for this condition. Also, one group engaged in 120-minute sessions of yoga five times a week, for 8 weeks. The two main outcomes the researchers assessed were disease activity and depression severity. After the intervention, improvements in markers of neuroplasticity, inflammation, cellular health, and cellular aging — such as oxidative stress — showed that yoga had a positive effect on those who practiced it.

Dr. Dada and colleagues conclude, “Yoga, a mind-body intervention reestablished immunological tolerance by aiding remission at molecular and cellular level along with significant reduction in depression.” “Thus in this inflammatory arthritis with a major psychosomatic component, yoga can be used as a complementary/adjunct therapy.” The study’s lead author reports, “Our findings show measurable improvements for the patients in the test group, suggesting an immune-regulatory role of yoga practice in the treatment of RA.”

“An intensive yoga regimen,” she continued, “concurrent with routine drug therapy induced molecular remission and re-established immunological tolerance. In addition, it reduced the severity of depression by promoting neuroplasticity.”

My Take:
While this study was primarily looking at the psychological benefits of yoga for RA, they also found “remission at molecular and cellular level, suggesting an immune-regulatory role of yoga practice in RA.”

Clinically, I often see gait mechanisms resolve when a patient practices yoga. Gait mechanisms are compensatory adaptations that are reinforced neurologically with chronic musculoskeletal issues. A patient that limps because of back pain will compromise other joints, usually in the lower extremities, to compensate for that pain. With time, the nervous system accepts these altered patterns of movement as normal and they can become permanent even if the pain resolves. Yoga is one method to “reboot the nervous system” to return to normal.

There is a yoga center across the parking lot from my office. I have had the privilege of treating many of the instructors over the course of the past 30 years. These women, now in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s are amazingly fit and healthy. They move with grace, maintaining a posture that is enviable by all who see them. Typically, they are a breeze to treat as they heal quickly with minimal care.

Bottom Line:
I’m not surprised that yoga, practiced on a regular basis, helps reverse the course of an autoimmune disease like RA. I encourage you to practice yoga, you will be amazed by the health benefits.

Source: National Institutes of Health

Aromatherapy’s Effect on Moods and Minds

Aromatherapy’s Effect on Moods and Minds Researchers have shown that lavender and rosemary administered through aromatherapy positively affect psychological and physiological functioning. In a study conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, first published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, researchers assessed the effect of lavender and rosemary on alertness, mood and the brain’s electrical activity, and on subjects’ ability to perform math computations.

In the study, 40 adult faculty and staff members of the University of Miami Medical School were randomly placed into one of two groups, and were asked to inhale the scent of either lavender or rosemary essential oil for three minutes. Those in the lavender group were expected to show an increase in alpha and beta band activity, suggesting relaxation. Those in the rosemary group were expected to have a decrease in alpha and beta band activity, suggesting greater alertness.

Results showed that study expectations were correct: Participants in the lavender group experienced an increase in beta band activity, suggesting drowsiness; an improvement in mood; a feeling of greater relaxation; and better performance on math computations. The rosemary group showed a decrease in alpha and beta power, suggesting alertness and lower levels of anxiety; and were faster but not more accurate at performing math computations.

Subjects first took three assessment tests: an anxiety-inventory questionnaire, a profile-of-mood-states questionnaire and a series of timed math computations. While seated in a massage chair, each subject was then given a vial containing a dental swab soaked in a grapeseed-oil base with three drops of either lavender or rosemary essential oil. The subjects were instructed to sit quietly and breathe normally through the nose with their eyes closed. After three minutes of aromatherapy, the subjects again took the two self-report tests and did the math computations. For three minutes before, during and after the aromatherapy, EEG readings were taken through a cap worn on participants’ heads to measure the electrical activity of their brains.

Results of the self-assessment test data indicated that both the lavender and rosemary groups experienced lower levels of anxiety and felt more relaxed after the aromatherapy. Only the lavender group reported a significantly better mood. The rosemary group reported feeling more alert.

Math test results showed that the lavender group experienced an increase in drowsiness, while the rosemary group showed EEG patterns that reflected a greater state of alertness.

 – Source: Touch Research Institute, Originally reported in the International Journal of Neuroscience


Some call Alzheimer’s disease the greatest tragedy of the 21st century.

Tremendous research efforts have been dedicated to learning more about the causes and possible treatment approaches for this debilitating and devastating brain disease.

According to the American Brain Foundation, brain diseases affect the lives of one in six people, bringing the total number of people suffering from neurological disorders to one billion worldwide. Brain disease has many different forms, ranging from concussion to stroke, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, migraines, brain tumors, brain trauma or ALS, just to name a few.

A Deadly Disease

The most devastating and widespread brain disease, however, is dementia and its most common cause, Alzheimer’s disease. Based on data published by the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2020 more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

While the deaths caused by heart disease have decreased by 7.8% between the year 2000 and 2018, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 146% during the same time span. The growing numbers of people affected by this type of brain disease put a serious strain on the medical system as well as on families, resulting in high costs and enormous personal sacrifices required to take care of dementia patients in private and public care facilities.

In 2020, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia will cost the U.S. $305 billion USD. It is estimated that by 2050 these numbers will rise to $1.1 trillion USD.

The National Institute on Aging defines dementia as “the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.”

While dementia can have different origins, such as vascular or frontotemporal disorders, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among the senior population and can be described as a progressive, degenerative brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and ultimately leads to complete dependency of a person for basic activities of daily living.

The disease was first discovered in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer, MD, a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, who treated a patient for an unusual mental illness that involved memory loss, language problems, mood swings, and loss of bodily functions, as well as unpredictable behavior, including aggressive outbursts.

During a post-mortem autopsy of that patient, he discovered unusual clumps (now known as amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary tangles) in her brain tissues, pathological changes that are, together with the loss of connections between neurons in the brain, still the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

But even though the causes of this disease are not fully understood and many questions remain yet unanswered, new discoveries in the field of neuroscience and increasing evidence on the effectiveness of treatment modalities, such as CranioSacral Therapy, bring renewed hope to millions of people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The Great River of Life

The proper function of our brains is largely dependent on the effective and efficient exchange of nutrients and toxins between the tissues. The physiological system that is responsible for carrying out this role is called the CranioSacral System, a semi-hydraulic system that envelopes the brain and spinal cord and helps create, absorb and regulate the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, a clear, colorless liquid that serves as a shock absorber for the central nervous system, but also circulates nutrients and chemicals filtered from the blood and removes waste products from the brain.

Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, the father of Osteopathy, calls the cerebrospinal fluid “The Great River of Life in the Body” and describes it as the highest known element in the human body which abundant flow must be guaranteed in order for our bodies to stay healthy and fully functional.

The CranioSacral System was first described by osteopath John E. Upledger, DOO, OMM (1932–2012), who, based on his research at the University of Michigan, also developed CranioSacral Therapy, a gentle, non-invasive manual therapy that works with the CranioSacral Rhythm, the ebb and flow of the cerebrospinal fluid in the body, to detect and release restrictions in the body.

In a healthy adult, the daily turnover of cerebrospinal fluid lies between 600 and 800 ml. Upledger discovered that as we age, the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid decreases by as much as 50%, in part due to the aging process as well as inflammatory processes in the brain, head trauma or injury, accumulation of heavy metals, or other conditions.

Michael Morgan, LMT, CST-D, instructor at the Upledger Institute, took Upledger’s research a step further and discovered that in people with senile dementia, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid was actually decreased by 75% in comparison to a healthy adult. (Read “Craniosacral Therapy is Being Explored as a Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease,” By Michael Morgan.)

In his book, “Prevent Alzheimer’s in Just 10 Minutes a Day,” he explains that the decrease in the volume of cerebrospinal fluid actually leads to brains drying up during the aging process which results in an accumulation of toxins and restrictions in the brain, including the above-mentioned amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are considered trademark signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

A reduced flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain therefore greatly diminishes the ability of our brains to function in healthy and effective ways. (For more information about Morgan’s work, visit

The Glymphatic System’s Role

In 2012, a team of neuroscientists at the University of Rochester discovered a cleansing system that rapidly drains waste products from the brain. (See They named this newfound system the “glymphatic system” due to its similarity to the lymphatic system but including the name reference to the so-called glial cells, non-neuronal brain cells that play a key part in managing the waste removal and regulation of the brain tissues.

Using a two-photon microscope, the researchers could demonstrate the existence of a pathway in the brain through which cerebrospinal fluid is efficiently circulated through every part of the brain. This new discovery disproved an old theory that stated the cerebrospinal fluid would only trickle slowly and steadily through the brain tissues.

The newly found glymphatic system has been shown to push large volumes of cerebrospinal fluid through the brain along specific pathways, clearing out extracellular solutes and ultimately eliminating waste products through the circulatory system.

Some of these waste products are called amyloid ß, a type of protein that is continuously produced and secreted from brain cells. (See “Scientists discover previously unknown cleansing system in the brain,” In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the pathways where these proteins are cleaned out are failing due to injury, inflammation or infection in the brain. As a consequence, buildups of amyloid ß clog up the space in between the brain cells, which eventually leads to the suffocation and death of neurons and the creation of dementia symptoms.

Taking these findings into account, the researchers conclude that an increase in the activity of the glymphatic system might help prevent amyloid depositions from building up or cleaning out already existing buildups in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

CST as a Promising Treatment

Even though the discovery of the glymphatic system happened fairly recently, the concept of a strong motion of cerebrospinal fluid through the central nervous system had already been described in the 1980s by Dr. Upledger. He developed the so-called Pressure-Stat Model by describing a system of production and absorption of cerebrospinal fluid under pressure within the meninges, the dural membranes encasing the brain and spinal cord.

Based on extensive research in a multidisciplinary team at Michigan State University, Upledger developed CranioSacral Techniques that focus on enhancing and restoring fluid movement within the brain and spinal cord to facilitate adequate flushing of accumulated waste products and, therefore, a detoxification not only in the brain but ultimately the whole body system.

According to Morgan, there are five ways in which CranioSacral Therapy can benefit patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Based on his research and work with the senior population, he has found that CranioSacral Therapy works by:

1. Increasing the movement of cerebrospinal fluid, which supports the removal of waste products and helps improve brain function

2. Lowering sympathetic tone to encourage relaxation and reduction of stress levels so the body is better equipped to stay healthy

3. Reducing inflammation through the body and brain by assisting the immune system

4. Facilitating recovery from brain trauma, injury and concussion

5. Improving overall memory and brain function

Still Point Research

In a research study conducted by LA Gerdner and MB Zimmerman, “Craniosacral still point technique: exploring the effects in individuals with dementia” (Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 2008), the effectiveness of one specific CranioSacral technique, the still point, on individuals with dementia was explored.

Over a period of six weeks, patients suffering from moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease and residing in nursing homes were administered the Still Point Technique for a duration of 5-10 minutes each day at the same time of the day. The evaluation focused on changes in behavior, agitation, memory and cognition. Data was collected before and during as well as after the treatment.

The results showed clinically and statistically significant changes in all above-mentioned categories. The improvements observed in the patients continued after the closure of the study and were confirmed by caregivers, including family members and nursing staff. Some clients began to recognize their relatives and caregivers and, in some cases, improved speech abilities and enhanced independence in activities of daily living were observed.

More Studies are Needed

Do Alzheimer’s specialists believe in the benefits of CST? Do they refer to CST practitioners? This is a difficult question to answer. CranioSacral Therapy works from a different paradigm than allopathic medicine, as does most complementary and alternative medicine.

Most of the data is at this point still collected through case studies and personal observations with clients. More studies need to be conducted to understand the effectiveness of CST for the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s on a larger scale so we can come to more precise conclusions about if and how CST can be valuable for this population.

Even though further studies need to be conducted to understand the effectiveness of CranioSacral Therapy in the prevention and treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the results of this study as well as the work of Morgan within the senior population are promising to patients, families and caregivers.

With gentle yet very powerful and effective techniques, CranioSacral Therapy offers a safe and non-invasive approach that can potentially change the lives of many who are suffering from different varieties of brain diseases, and especially provide valuable tools to help combat the increasing numbers of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in our societies.

About the Author:

Andrea Winzer, M.Sc., LMT, BCTMB

Almond, hemp, oat, soy, and cow’s milk: Which one is best?

The number of people choosing nondairy, plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk appears to be growing. So, how do these different milks compare nutritionally? Research from 2018 says that eating and drinking milk that comes from cows has been falling, with interest in alternative milks rising.

One of the main medical reasons why people choose plant-based milk products is to avoid symptoms of lactose intolerance or a cow milk protein allergy. Doctors estimate the incidence of this allergy is 2 to 5% in children under 3 years old. The incidence is lower in adults. Some people may also choose plant-based milk products because they believe they are more sustainable, ethical, or healthful options compared to cow’s milk.

Almond milk is one of the most widely consumed plant-based milk variety in North America, the European Union, and Australia. Researchers have suggested that almond milk is an effective alternative for children and adults who suffer with allergies or intolerances to milk. Compared to cow’s milk, almond milk has less saturated fat and more unsaturated fats. The healthful fats in almond milk may help people lose weight and keep it off. Almond milk is low in calories and protein, which may not be suitable for all people, especially children.

Some manufacturers add calcium to almond milk to better resemble the nutritional content in cow’s milk. People may not be able to absorb as much of this calcium as they would from dairy, so they should be sure to consume plenty of other calcium sources, such as dark green vegetables. Almond milk is available in flavored varieties. Some of these products have added sugar to extend the shelf life and improve the flavor and texture.

Unflavored hemp beverages are also low in calories and protein compared with cow’s milk. There is, however, more protein in hemp beverages than in almond milk. Hemp seeds are also high in polyunsaturated fats, similarly to almond milk. Research shows that replacing saturated fats with these more healthful fats can help lower a person’s overall cholesterol.

Hemp milk will not separate in hot drinks, so people can add it to their coffee and tea. Some people may not like homemade hemp milk because of its earthy taste and chalky texture. Store-bought varieties have additional ingredients that help to mask the taste and texture.

Oat milk has a mild, creamy flavor that makes it good for cereals, hot beverages, and drinking on its own. Oat milk is not suitable for people with gluten intolerance or with celiac disease. Unflavored oat milk has the highest amount of calories and carbohydrates of plant-based milk varieties. Although the sugar is natural, oat milk is very high in carbohydrates.

Soy milk is the most common substitute for cow’s milk and the first plant-based alternative to appear on the market in the United States. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that people with lactose intolerance consume fortified soy beverages as an alternative to cow’s milk. When people compare soy milk with almond, hemp, and oat milk, this milk alternative has the highest amount of protein per serving. As with many other plant-based milk varieties, soy milk manufacturers often add calcium and vitamin D.

Plant-based milk varieties have high levels of phytate and oxalate, which are compounds that can block the absorption of calcium. According to the 2019 review in the journal Nutrients, experiments on soy milk show that despite the presence of these compounds, calcium absorption was similar to that of cow’s milk if the manufacturers fortified it with calcium carbonate.

Although soy milk has more protein than other plant-based milk products, cow’s milk has higher amounts of the essential amino acids methionine, valine, leucine, and lysine. People also consume soy milk because it has isoflavones, which researchers suggest have anticancer effects. Doctors may also recommend that children under 3 years old with cow milk protein allergy avoid drinking soy milk, as they may also be allergic to soy. Farmers use a variety of pesticides when growing soybeans, so people who want to avoid pesticides may wish to choose organic brands.

My Take: Soy milk also contains phytoestrogens which can disrupt hormone receptor pathways. I recommend staying away from all but naturally fermented soy. Cow’s milk has all the contamination issues of soy and then some. Avoid it as well.

Bottom Line: If you want dairy in your diet, stick to yogurt and hard cheeses. For milk, I prefer almond, but hemp and oat milk are also good choices as well.

Scents vs. True Essential Oils

Most of us love the smell of our favorite season. Floral scents in the Spring, Fruits and Coconut during the Summer, Spices and maybe pumpkin pie near Thanksgiving usually brings a smile and Peppermint, Cranberry or Vanilla warms your home and senses while the chilly weather whirls outside. But do you know what is in all of those chemically scented candles and sprays or plug in diffusers? synthetic fragrances, even oils claiming to be ‘Essential’ may be essentially harming your respiratory and nervous system, causing allergic reactions, birth defects and even cancer.

The thousands chemicals that make up the mysterious “fragrances” on the ingredient labels of household products and cosmetics can contain carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, neurotoxin chemicals and be absorbed into your body regardless of age. The dangers of these synthetic scents can create symptoms such as lightheadedness, headaches ad nausea. Continue reading “Scents vs. True Essential Oils”

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