News Roundup: Toxic Lead in Herbal Remedies, Posture Eases Back Pain, and More

August 26, 2008

A little toxic metal with your natural medicine
A new study suggests that one in five Ayurvedic medicines manufactured in the United States or India and bought online is contaminated with lead, mercury, or arsenic. In a Journal of the American Medical Association study, researchers bought 193 capsules, tablets, and other remedies online (115 manufactured in the U.S. and 77 in India), and found that 20.7% contained potentially harmful levels of toxic metals.

It’s not just Ayurvedic medicine (Ayurveda is a form of traditional medicine that originated in India 2,000 years ago). Supplements and herbal remedies are not regulated by the government, and other products have been found to contain steroids, toxins, or too much or too little of the expected ingredients. Congress should “revisit the way dietary supplements are regulated in the U.S.,” said lead author Robert Saper, MD, of the Boston University School of Medicine, in a statement.

Good posture may ease bad backs
A decades-old method that emphasizes good posture and body movement, known as the Alexander technique, may relieve chronic back pain, according to a study in the British Medical Journal. U.K. researchers looked at 463 back-pain patients who received one of four treatments: painkillers and exercise, massages, 6 classes teaching the Alexander technique, or 24 classes teaching the technique. At the end of the yearlong trial, researchers tallied the number of days that patients had been in pain in the previous four weeks: Alexander patients with 24 classes had 3 days of pain, Alexander patients with 6 classes had 11 days of pain, massage patients had 14 days of pain, and those in the painkiller-and-exercise group had 21 days of pain, according to a BBC report. Developed by a Shakespearean actor to combat chronic hoarseness, the technique has also been used by actors and musicians to “enhance performance and stage presence,” according to the American Society for the Alexander Technique. (Find out more about back pain and how to treat it.)

Have childhood pet, will snore
Although it’s usually adults who snore when they sleep, a new study suggests that the groundwork for the nighttime gasps, roars, and snorts may be laid in the cradle. The presence of a dog early on is among childhood factors associated with snoring in adulthood, according to a report in Respiratory Research. The findings are from a survey of more than 15,000 adult men and women in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Estonia. But is it fair to blame the family pooch for current nighttime sounds? It’s not conclusive. (Sometimes pets are good for your health.) But the researchers speculate that certain airborne agents often found in homes with dogs may cause enlarged tonsils, which could alter the upper airways in a snore-inducing way. (Find out more about snoring, and what to do about it.)

“Cold-busting” Airborne forced to give money back
Although once touted as a “miracle cold buster,” the dietary supplement Airborne was just plain busted when the FTC issued a statement that said “there was no credible evidence” that the product protects against colds. That means that if you bought one of seven Airborne products between May 2001 and November 2007, you can get your money back for up to six purchases, according to The Wall Street Journal‘s health blog. (The deadline is September 15, 2008.) The company that makes the products has agreed to pay $30 million—$23.5 million to settle a previous class-action suit and up to $6.5 million more to reimburse consumers—after the government said it didn’t have evidence to back up its ads. “It’s important to note that this is a settlement over older advertising and labeling and has nothing to do with public safety,” said Airborne CEO Elise Donahue in a statement.

Rubber hand fakes out the brain—again
It’s long been known (by those who study such things) that if a person’s hand is hidden from view, and a rubber hand is positioned where the real hand was, the person will “feel” a stroke given to the rubber hand. It’s called the rubber hand illusion, and it’s weird. Now it gets even weirder. For the first time, researchers have discovered that stroking the rubber hand causes a temperature drop in a person’s real hidden hand. What’s more, there’s a reduction in sensation from the real hand, even if something is touching it—suggesting the brain slows the information processing from the real limb. The researchers from Oxford University and elsewhere published the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and say the results have implications for schizophrenia, neuropathic pain, autism, epilepsy, and anorexia nervosa—all conditions in which the sense of body ownership can be disrupted.

(PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES)

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