Newswise — We've gotten used to taking pills for everything that ails us, but medications have side effects and cost money. The April 2008 issue of the Harvard Health Letter takes a look at how to manage seven common conditions without taking medication. It takes some discipline, but in many cases, the nonpharmacological approach can do as much as pills.
Here's a brief look at the conditions and treatments:
Arthritis: There's a good chance that losing weight will make arthritis less painful. Combine weight loss with exercise and you may have less pain and more mobility. Even for those who don't need to lose weight, exercise that doesn't put "load" on the joints reduces pain.
Cholesterol: Your LDL level may drop by 5% or so if you keep foods high in saturated fat off the menu. Additional soluble fiber may reduce LDL levels as well. So can margarines fortified with sterols.
Cognitive decline: Memory training and other "brain exercises" seem to help healthy older people stay sharp. But physical exercise may benefit the brain more than mental gymnastics.
Depression: Studies have shown that regular physical activity can have a potent antidepressant effect.
Diabetes: Regular physical activity is a powerful brake on blood sugar levels as well, because exercised muscle becomes more receptive to the insulin that helps it pull sugar in from the bloodstream. Eating fewer sweets and easy-to-digest carbohydrates also helps control blood sugar levels.
High blood pressure: Losing weight, getting more exercise, and eating less sodium all lower blood pressure.
Osteoporosis: Weight-bearing exercise puts stress on bones, and bone tissue reacts by getting stronger and denser, fending off osteoporotic processes. Extra vitamin D and calcium top the list of dietary recommendations.
Also in this issue:
"¢ Loss of smell: causes, treatments
"¢ Risks, benefits of pets
"¢ By the way, doctor: Too much vitamin D? Why is my mitral valve leaking?
The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $28 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/health or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).