Tai Chi Helps Breast Cancer Survivors Beat Insomnia, Depression

There are few things worse than lying awake in bed, staring at the clock, knowing your alarm is going to go off in a few hours, and you’re still wide awake. Insomnia can be a never-ending cycle of constantly worrying yourself awake, night after night. A lack of sleep can make anyone feel terrible, emotionally and physically, but it’s especially troublesome for breast cancer survivors. Tai chi, a noncompetitive martial art known for its health and relaxation benefits, may help those warriors get more rest, a study finds.

About 30% of breast cancer survivors who have insomnia also wrestle with depression, fatigue, and a greater risk of illness. Researchers from UCLA say tai chi promotes significant improvements in sleep health in breast cancer survivors struggling to get enough shut-eye. It’s so effective, the researchers write in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, that it rivals cognitive behavioral therapy – the “gold standard” of treatment – in that the benefits endure longer than a year. [1]

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the go-to insomnia treatment by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Much like it sounds, CBT involves learning how to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. It works, but it can get pricey; and it can sometimes be difficult to find professionals who are trained in the therapy method.

Tai chi is much more widely available, with libraries, churches, community centers, and other public venues offering free or low-cost classes. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can always look up instructional videos on YouTube.

Of course, there are also some pretty potent sleep aids on the market, but there are good reasons to avoid them: Some of them, including the popular drug Ambien, have been called “as risky as cigarettes,” because they increase the risk of cancer and sudden death so significantly.

Testing Tai Chi’s Impact on Sleeplessness

For the study, researchers recruited 90 breast cancer survivors, ranging in age from 42 to 83, who had insomnia three or more times a week, and who also suffered with depression and drowsiness in the daytime. Each volunteer was randomly assigned to weekly CBT or weekly tai chi instruction, for three months. [2]

The participants were evaluated at intervals for the next year to track their insomnia symptoms, as well as their symptoms of fatigue and depression, and to determine whether there was any improvement.

Fifteen months into the study, 46.7% of those in the tai chi group, and 43.7% of those in the CBT group continued to show robust, clinically significant improvement in their insomnia symptoms. [1]

Dr. Michael Irwin, the study’s lead author, said:

“Breast cancer survivors often don’t just come to physicians with insomnia. They have insomnia, fatigue and depression. And this intervention, tai chi, impacted all those outcomes in a similar way, with benefits that were as robust as the gold standard treatment for insomnia.” [1]

Many of the participants continued to practice tai chi after the study concluded – a reflection of the motivation Irwin says he’s observed in breast cancer survivors.

“They often are seeking health-promoting activities because they recognize that the mindfulness approach, or health-based lifestyle interventions, may actually protect them.” [2]

Read: Green Tea and Tai Chi Reduce Inflammation, Enhance Bone Health

In previous research, Irwin and his fellow researchers found that tai chi could help reduce inflammation in breast cancer survivors, and may even reduce the likelihood of the disease recurring. [2]


[1] UCLA Health Services

[2] Newsmax

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WHO Report: Nearly Untreatable Gonorrhea is Spreading Globally

The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea are on the rise, and about 78 million people per year could be at risk for the sexually-transmitted disease (STD). [1]

In a recent report, the WHO explains how researchers looked at data from gonorrhea cases and antibiotic resistance from 77 countries. Of those countries:

  • 97% of those that reported data from 2009 to 2014 had cases that were resistant to ciprofloxacin;
  • 81% reported cases were resistant to azithromycin;
  • 66% had infections resistant to cephalosporin.

Dr. Teodora Wi, medical officer of human reproduction at the WHO, who co-authored the report, said in a statement:

“The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.”

More frightening yet, some countries reported gonorrhea infections that were resistant to every defense doctors threw at them.

Wi said:

“These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhea is actually more common.”

There has been a global increase in cases of gonorrhea, partly because of unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex, as well as the sharing of sex toys.

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has been spreading across Asia, North America, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Australia, the report states. [3]

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

Read: Drug Resistant Gonorrhea Has Made Its Way To Hawaii

Increased travel, poor gonorrhea-infection detection, and inadequate treatment also contribute to the spread of the infection, according to the researchers. [2]

Gonorrhea can infect the genitals, rectum, and throat, but the WHO is most concerned about infections of the throat, stating that “thrusting gonorrhea bacteria into this environment through oral sex can lead to super-gonorrhea.”

The report adds:

“Today, lack of public awareness, lack of training of health workers, and stigma around sexually transmitted infections remain barriers to greater and more effective use of these interventions.”

The organization says that gonorrhea infection can be prevented through “safer sexual behaviour, in particular, consistent and correct condom use.”

More women than men suffer serious gonorrhea-related complications, including “pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as an increased risk of HIV,” according to the WHO.

Read: Untreatable-Gonorrhea Hits Spotlight While WHO Issues New Treatment Guidelines

Researchers are looking into new drugs to treat the super-STD: solithromycin, zoliflodacin, and gepotidacin. Pharmaceutical companies don’t have much financial incentive to create new antibiotics, because the drugs are only taken for short periods, which makes them less profitable. What’s more, drugs become less effective over time, which feeds the need to constantly develop new antibiotics to treat gonorrhea. [3]

Creeping Quietly

One of the problems with gonorrhea is that many people who have the disease don’t have any symptoms.

People may have symptoms such as discharge from the urethra or the vagina, but these symptoms may not be caused by other conditions. In turn, doctors sometimes assume the patient has gonorrhea and prescribe antibiotics to treat it, but this only fuels antibiotic misuse and antibiotic resistance. [1] [3]

Dr. Marc Sprenger, director of antimicrobial resistance at WHO, said in a statement:

“To control gonorrhea, we need new tools and systems for better prevention, treatment, earlier diagnosis, and more complete tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures.” [3]


[1] SFGate.com

[2] Business Insider

[3] Live Science

U.S. Centers for Disease Control

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Brain Scans Catch Autism Months Before Symptoms Appear

The symptoms of autism generally begin to emerge in a person between 12 and 18 months of age. Oftentimes, babies develop normally until this age, but then they start regressing and lose skills. Now, a recent study suggests it may be possible to spot autism on an MRI scan months before symptoms start. [1]

Geraldine Dawson, a clinical psychologist and autism researcher at Duke University who was not involved in the new work, says:

“We’re learning that there are biological changes that occur at [the time] or before the symptoms start to emerge. It’s the ability to detect autism at its very earliest stages that’s going to allow us to intervene before the full syndrome is manifest.”

Read: New Scientific Discovery Could Make it Easier to Diagnose, Treat Autism

For the study, researchers conducted MRI scans on 150 children, 3 times: at 6 months old, 1 year, and 2 years. More than 100 of those children were at high risk for autism because they had an older sibling diagnosed with the disorder. Infants with older siblings who have autism have about a 1 in 5 chance of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The team found that 8 times out of 10, they could correctly predict which children would go on to develop autism based on the faster growth rate of the surface areas of their brains. They detail their findings in the journal Nature. [1] [2]

Source: ABC News – A 2011 study found that people with certain types of autism have bigger brains.

Washington University child psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Botteron, explains:

“It was basically 80, 85% predictive of being able to basically make a diagnosis based on just their MRI scan changes from 6 to 12 to 24 months.” [3]

The study’s lead author, Heather Hazlett, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina’s Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD), says that enlargement of the brain seemed to correlate with the onset of symptoms, but more research is needed. The study was small, and doctors shouldn’t start conducting MRIs on children in an effort to diagnose them. [1]

Read: 1st Trimester Ultrasounds may be Linked to Autism Symptoms in Children

Still, if the findings can be recreated in a larger study, MRI could become a new diagnostic tool for high-risk children before their symptoms begin, giving parents the opportunity to start treating their child at a time when treatment will be possibly most effective. We just have to be careful with recommending such measures, or we could see issues similar to those arising from mammograms (causing issues due to being unnecessarily overused). Currently, the average age of diagnosis is about 4 years. [2]

Botteron says:

“There’s pretty good evidence that the earlier we can make a diagnosis and begin interventions, even things like speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, kinds of behavioral interventions that we can have a much better long-term outcome.” [3]

Some of those interventions and treatments could include “hyper-parenting,” McPartland explains, meaning that a child headed for autism might benefit from more parental interaction such as cooing, singing, and laughing. He says:

“Supersaturate a child’s environment with social information as much as you can. And hope that it takes.” [1]


[1] Scientific American

[2] USA Today

[3] CBS News St. Louis

ABC News

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