6 New Age Cures That Aren't As Full Of Crap As You Think
Let's face it: If alternative medicine worked, it wouldn't be called "alternative." It's no shock to find out that remedies involving magic and ghosts don't really make your pain go away. It would be more of a surprise to learn that they do.
Well, surprise! They do! Sort of!
You may not know the theory behind it, but you probably know what acupuncture looks like: Someone lies face down on a bed while a Chinese lady sticks a few dozen needles in his back, and this makes his chronic pain go away. The idea is that the needles are directing the flow of "chi" or life energy around your body, and this causes something or other, and then bingo, you're healed.
"Don't worry. When we insert these needles into your brain, you'll never doubt us again."
How It Sort of Works:
It's probably not very surprising that science has been unable to locate chi energy on any X-Rays. What might be surprising is that despite this, actual scientific studies that don't involve a single "spirit crystal" show that acupuncture actually freaking works. Yes, according to that article in The Wall Street Journal, "neuroimaging studies show that it seems to calm areas of the brain that register pain and activate those involved in rest and recuperation," all of which sounds surprisingly official for a pain-relief method that involves repeated stabbing.
That's actually one theory on how it works. When an acupuncturist sticks a tiny needle in your skin and twirls it around, she's not quite harming you enough to cause real pain, but she is harming you just enough for your body to act in self-defense and release a natural chemical called adenosine, which acts like a local anesthetic.
Those aren't man-boobs, they're chi-sacks.
As a side effect, you also experience relief from whatever else might be ailing you. Of course, this doesn't mean that the process is actually healing you, but it has been shown to treat some pains that Tylenol can't help with. Which is why the world's best hospitals like the Mayo Clinic and Duke University Medical Center now offer acupuncture. Still, most doctors agree that as a general policy, you shouldn't attempt to cure diseases by stabbing them.
These days, the word "aromatherapy" is slapped onto pretty much everything from candles to car fresheners, promising stress relief in addition to covering up that vague puke smell coming from your back seat.
But in New Age circles, aromatherapy involves using something called "essential oils," which are plants, herbs or spices distilled into a perfume. Proponents believe that they contain the volatile "essence" or "life energy" of a plant. When you inhale them, these essences, aka plant ghosts, enter your body and cure all kinds of shit from headaches to cancer.
Then they take root and find new life right behind your eyeballs.
How It Sort of Works:
It should go without saying, but inhaling something's "life energy" in order to become stronger only works for evil wizards and mummies. No matter how strongly you concentrate the smell of flowers, you're still just smelling flowers.
Which is, admittedly, preferable to smelling like a misdemeanor.
That said, there is some evidence that aromatherapy can make people feel better. Despite how it may seem, it's not actually curing your headache, but it is helping you deal with it. Studies into the effects of smells on pain tolerance suggest that sweet smells actually do make you slightly more impervious to pain. It's not exactly going to turn you into Wolverine, but it can take the edge off your debilitating migraine.
"My technologically advanced smell powers will tame Gotham. I ... am Patchouliman."
As we've already told you, your sense of smell is hardwired to your memory. Our brains pair smells with our experiences and judge the pleasantness of a smell by what we were experiencing when we first smelled it. Your sense of smell is also processed in the same part of the brain as your emotions. So, chances are if your first experience with lavender or lemon ("relaxing" scents) was during a massage or from the candle on your girlfriend's nightstand, you're likely to feel pretty good the next time you smell it.
"This takes me back to the attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. Bring forth the dogs of war."
So, it stands to reason that if you take some pleasant scent that a person doesn't run into in his everyday life and introduce him to it during a pleasant massage or bubble bath, then the next time he smells it he'll get back into that massage state of mind.
St. John's Wort
St. John's wort is the go-to plant for herbalists. It's been around for thousands of years and has about a hundred supposed uses, for everything from hepatitis to hemorrhoids. Medieval Christians hung it in their homes to ward off evil spirits and scare away witches. When herbal medicine exploded during the '70s and '80s, St. John's wort pills showed up in drugstores everywhere. These days you'll find it being marketed as an all-natural, no-prescription-needed antidepressant.
Presumably they throw some rose-tinted glasses at you and stand you in a flower field for a while.
How It Sort of Works:
After shooting St. John's wort at every disease known to man, it was only a matter of time before it actually helped something. It turns out that, when you strip away all the stuff about magic and witches, St. John's wort actually can take the edge off depression thanks to a chemical it produces called hyperforin.
When you take St. John's wort, the hyperforin interacts with the neurotransmitters in your brain. Simply put, it gives the brain more access to serotonin and dopamine, two of the most important feel-good chemicals your body makes. In other words, it does the same thing to your brain as Prozac.
With wussier side effects.
Hold on, don't run out to the grocery store and buy a case of the shit just yet.
See, the problem is that, unlike Prozac, there's no real way to regulate whether a capsule of St. John's wort is going to contain enough hyperforin to do any good. That's one of the problems with herbal cures -- they're not regulated in any way, not for effectiveness or even to find out if they actually contain what their labels say.
Apparently it's really hard to quantify unicorn breath and dragon song.
And, sure enough, tests on commercially available brands of St. John's wort found wildly fluctuating dosages that don't necessarily resemble the dosage claimed on the bottle. And even when the dosage is correct, it's only effective for mild to moderate depression. So unless you feel like rolling the dice with your depression (or relying on a nice placebo effect), see a damned medical professional.
"We need some feel-good plant medicine photos. I dunno, just stick them on your face or whatever."
Like St. John's wort, ginseng is recommended by herbalists as a cure for just about everything. Then it started getting marketed as an alertness aid for all those people afraid of coffee and amphetamines.
"Oh God, my speed flask has beans in it."
These days, you'll see it on the label of energy drinks, after soda companies decided to downplay the stigma of caffeine by supplementing it with herbal-therapy-sounding ingredients like ginseng, guarana and taurine.
How It Sort of Works:
Ginseng can give you an energy boost -- but it takes way, way more of the stuff than what you're getting in any over-the-counter supplement.
And it needs to be ground up and cut with baking soda, and also be cocaine.
For instance, ginseng actually does seem to improve stamina in the bedroom -- after testing its effects on 45 men with erectile dysfunction, scientists found that 60 percent of them reported an improved ability to "salute." All they had to do was take 2,700 milligrams of ginseng a day. Otherwise known as "a shitload."
Or you could just get some natural ginseng and use it as a splint.
For comparison, studies on the energy drinks show that they only have about 25 milligrams of ginseng in a can -- that is, you'd need 108 cans to show the boner benefit, and by then you won't need it anyway because your heart has exploded from the 20,000 milligrams or so of caffeine. And make no mistake: The ginseng serves only as a distraction from the real active ingredients -- lots and lots of caffeine and sugar.
"Take 30 of these a day and call me when the world-serpent stops screaming."
Yes, commercially available ginseng supplements typically claim around 500 milligrams a pop ... but as with the St. John's wort, they are often lying.
By now you probably have had a friend or a co-worker or an annoying girl in a yoga class talk about doing one of the "cleansing" diets, like Master Cleanse. Usually these programs involve eating nothing for several days, and substituting water and fruit juices instead. These "fasting" or "detox" treatments are common among the incense-burning crowd, who believe that certain feelings of ill health are caused by a buildup of "toxins" from our polluted modern environment, and that we need to flush them out by consuming only water or juice for a while.
"Soon I shall be free from the tyranny of breathing!"
You'll know that the toxins are leaving, because you'll start getting diarrhea a lot and you'll smell like a slaughterhouse.
How It Sort of Works:
First, "toxins," in the sense that detox advocates refer to, are not a thing that even exists.
"Wait, don't call an ambulance, I'm just draining my toxins."
Second, it's no coincidence that the symptoms of this supposed cleansing of toxins are also the symptoms of ketosis, the body's "ohshitohshitohshit" reaction to starvation. We imagine that fewer people would choose to fast if it were referred to by its proper scientific name: "slow, painful suicide."
This woman's our suicide pinup for 2012, if only to stop her from floating away.
Then again, you can accidentally reap a benefit from fasting if you're really bad at it. Recent research suggests that if you alternately stop eating and then pig out every second day, your body gains a whole host of new weapons to combat diabetes and coronary heart disease. The specific sort of bodily stress and hunger caused by fasting forces the body to use up glucose of the body as nutrition, which in turn reduces the number of fat cells in the body -- which in turn reduces diabetes risk and symptoms and decreases cholesterol.
And the best thing is this: While on fast days you must subsist on just water, the feast day part means that every other day, you can eat what the hell you want. And it even tastes better, in the way that everything tastes better when you're literally starving.
In the simplest terms, biofeedback is the technique of concentrating really hard on an illness and telling it to go away. More specifically, practitioners believe that it is possible to consciously command functions in our body that are usually out of our control, like heart rate. It's the same kind of thing that yogis are doing when they claim to be able to stop their hearts in meditation.
Yogi, beg! Roll over! Play dead! Good yogi.
How It Sort of Works:
If that sounds like something somebody would tell you while wearing a tin foil hat, then you've passed the bullshit test. You can't gain command over the automatic functions of your body, because evolution saw no benefit in allowing you to stop your heart if you feel like it.
Now that we've said that, let's directly contradict ourselves by saying that biofeedback sessions do yield results. By participating in these pseudoscientific rituals, patients actually can reduce their heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension and other problems. But it's not magic. You're just relaxing.
When you tell a stressed person to calm down, odds are that she will panic more at being unable to calm down. But when you tell a person that she can physically control her heart rate, muscle tension and hand trembling by concentrating real hard and telling these body parts to stop being assholes, you give that person an illusion of control, the effect of which is that she stops worrying about it.
"STOP WORRYING ABOUT YOUR TERMINAL BRAIN CANCER."
Unfortunately, the technique's effectiveness relies upon you believing the magic explanation, and so, now that we have explained how it really works, it probably won't anymore. You're welcome!
For more products that are snake oil in disguise, check out 8 Health Foods That Are Bad For Your Health. Or learn about the 7 High Tech Products And Their Cheap Ass Ingredients.
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