Deep Breathing Exercise for Nausea

Deep Breathing Exercise for Nausea.jpeg

One of the most common fears patients express when facing surgery is postoperative nausea, which can range from minor queasiness to protracted periods of vomiting. Feeling sick to one's stomach and throwing up after surgery is a common problem, affecting between a quarter and a half of those placed under general anesthesia, and more than half of those at high risk (women who don't smoke and have a history of motion sickness).

I've explored the science behind treating nausea with ginger (see Natural Nausea Remedy Recipe), but if you're too nauseous to eat, what do you do? Well, people are often sent home with anti-nausea rectal suppositories. Surveys, however, show that cultural and sexual attitudes may make a number of people sensitive to anything involving the rectum. Though the wording of the question researchers asked was, "are you happy to have a drug put in your back passage?" I can imagine many of the respondents thinking "well, maybe I wouldn't so much mind, but wouldn't exactly be happy about it," especially when you're feeling sick and throwing up.

For women who've had a C-section, they might not want to take drugs at all if they're breastfeeding, so researchers decided to put aromatherapy to the test. Research has shown that essential oils of both spearmint and peppermint are effective in reducing nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, but this was after swallowing them.

Would just the smell of peppermint help with nausea? I explore this in my video Peppermint Aromatherapy for Nausea. Researchers had women take deep whiffs of peppermint extract (like you'd buy at a store) and it seemed to work. Eighty percent of the mint-sniffers felt better within just a few minutes, compared to no improvement in the placebo group who sniffed water with green food coloring, or the control group who didn't sniff anything.

The study was criticized for being small and for not using pure peppermint oil. Peppermint extract is peppermint oil plus alcohol. Maybe it was the smell of alcohol that made people better? And that's actually not too much of a stretch. In 1997, researchers reported a simple, innocuous, and inexpensive treatment for postoperative nausea and vomiting--the smell of isopropyl alcohol, which is what is found in those alcohol wipes, the little prep pads that nurses swab you with before shots. They found that they could just effectively tear one open and wave it under someone's nose and relieve nausea and vomiting in more than 80% of folks after surgery. It has been since shown to work as well as a leading anti-nausea drug, and may even work faster, cutting nausea in half within 10 to 15 minutes, rather than 20 or 25.

So was it the alcohol, the peppermint, or both? Researchers decided to put it to the test. They instructed patients to take three slow, deep breaths, smelling alcohol, peppermint, or nothing. The smell of peppermint cut nausea in half within five minutes, and so did the alcohol. But so did smelling nothing! So maybe it had nothing to do with the scent; maybe it was just the instruction to take slow, deep breaths. That would make it a really cost-effective intervention. Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising, given the proximity of the vomiting and breathing centers within the brain.

And indeed, controlled breathing was found effective with or without any scent. So next time you feel nauseous, inhale deeply through your nose to the count of three, hold your breath to the count of three, and exhale out the mouth to the count of three. Do that three times.

Ironically, the researchers continued to advocate using those nasty smelling alcohol pads even though they themselves showed they weren't any more effective than breathing alone. Why? Since isopropyl alcohol has a readily detectable odor, patients are more likely to think that their post-operation nausea and vomiting is being actively treated when they inhale alcohol vapors rather than just engaging in breathing exercises.


What do you think of still using the alcohol pads even though they were shown to offer no additional benefit? I have a whole video on such questions: The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos?

For those who can swallow, I offer more about powdered ginger in my video Dangerous Advice From Health Food Store Employees.

There's more on aromatherapy here:

What about actually eating the peppermint?

Of course, the best way to avoid postsurgical nausea is to try to avoid surgery in the first place. Those that eat healthy may be less likely to go under the knife. See Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Deep Breathing Exercise for Nausea

Deep Breathing Exercise for Nausea.jpeg

One of the most common fears patients express when facing surgery is postoperative nausea, which can range from minor queasiness to protracted periods of vomiting. Feeling sick to one's stomach and throwing up after surgery is a common problem, affecting between a quarter and a half of those placed under general anesthesia, and more than half of those at high risk (women who don't smoke and have a history of motion sickness).

I've explored the science behind treating nausea with ginger (see Natural Nausea Remedy Recipe), but if you're too nauseous to eat, what do you do? Well, people are often sent home with anti-nausea rectal suppositories. Surveys, however, show that cultural and sexual attitudes may make a number of people sensitive to anything involving the rectum. Though the wording of the question researchers asked was, "are you happy to have a drug put in your back passage?" I can imagine many of the respondents thinking "well, maybe I wouldn't so much mind, but wouldn't exactly be happy about it," especially when you're feeling sick and throwing up.

For women who've had a C-section, they might not want to take drugs at all if they're breastfeeding, so researchers decided to put aromatherapy to the test. Research has shown that essential oils of both spearmint and peppermint are effective in reducing nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, but this was after swallowing them.

Would just the smell of peppermint help with nausea? I explore this in my video Peppermint Aromatherapy for Nausea. Researchers had women take deep whiffs of peppermint extract (like you'd buy at a store) and it seemed to work. Eighty percent of the mint-sniffers felt better within just a few minutes, compared to no improvement in the placebo group who sniffed water with green food coloring, or the control group who didn't sniff anything.

The study was criticized for being small and for not using pure peppermint oil. Peppermint extract is peppermint oil plus alcohol. Maybe it was the smell of alcohol that made people better? And that's actually not too much of a stretch. In 1997, researchers reported a simple, innocuous, and inexpensive treatment for postoperative nausea and vomiting--the smell of isopropyl alcohol, which is what is found in those alcohol wipes, the little prep pads that nurses swab you with before shots. They found that they could just effectively tear one open and wave it under someone's nose and relieve nausea and vomiting in more than 80% of folks after surgery. It has been since shown to work as well as a leading anti-nausea drug, and may even work faster, cutting nausea in half within 10 to 15 minutes, rather than 20 or 25.

So was it the alcohol, the peppermint, or both? Researchers decided to put it to the test. They instructed patients to take three slow, deep breaths, smelling alcohol, peppermint, or nothing. The smell of peppermint cut nausea in half within five minutes, and so did the alcohol. But so did smelling nothing! So maybe it had nothing to do with the scent; maybe it was just the instruction to take slow, deep breaths. That would make it a really cost-effective intervention. Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising, given the proximity of the vomiting and breathing centers within the brain.

And indeed, controlled breathing was found effective with or without any scent. So next time you feel nauseous, inhale deeply through your nose to the count of three, hold your breath to the count of three, and exhale out the mouth to the count of three. Do that three times.

Ironically, the researchers continued to advocate using those nasty smelling alcohol pads even though they themselves showed they weren't any more effective than breathing alone. Why? Since isopropyl alcohol has a readily detectable odor, patients are more likely to think that their post-operation nausea and vomiting is being actively treated when they inhale alcohol vapors rather than just engaging in breathing exercises.


What do you think of still using the alcohol pads even though they were shown to offer no additional benefit? I have a whole video on such questions: The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos?

For those who can swallow, I offer more about powdered ginger in my video Dangerous Advice From Health Food Store Employees.

There's more on aromatherapy here:

What about actually eating the peppermint?

Of course, the best way to avoid postsurgical nausea is to try to avoid surgery in the first place. Those that eat healthy may be less likely to go under the knife. See Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Can Peppermint Improve Athletic Performance?

NF-Oct20 Enhancing Athletic Performance With Peppermint.jpeg

Ever since smoking was prohibited in night clubs, customers have increasingly noticed other unpleasant smells present in the club--like body odors. So, researchers in Europe thought they'd try to cover them up. The researchers measured the effects of peppermint, for example, on dancing activity and asked people to rate their energy level. They found that with peppermint scent, people felt more cheerful and danced more, and so, concluded the researchers, "environmental fragrancing may be expected to have a positive effects on club revenue." Innovative nightclubs are already inviting "aroma jockeys" to smell the places up.

The business community caught whiff of this and thought maybe peppermint smell would get their secretaries to type faster. And it worked! There was improved performance on clerical tasks associated with the administration of peppermint odor.

In an age where athletic competitions are frequently won or lost by mere hundredths of a second, athletes are continually looking for new ways to excel in their sport. Researchers threw some collegiate athletes onto a treadmill and piped different smell into their nostrils, and those on peppermint reported feeling less fatigued, more vigorous, less frustrated, and felt they performed better. But did they actually perform better? See my video, Enhancing Athletic Performance with Peppermint.

A different study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology measured actual performance, and participants were actually able to squeeze out one extra pushup before collapsing and cut almost two seconds off a quarter mile dash with an odorized adhesive strip stuck to their upper lip. Interestingly there was no significant difference in basketball free throws. The researchers think the reason is that free throws actually require some skill, and all the peppermint can do is really improve athlete's motivation.

Unfortunately follow-up studies were not able to replicate these results, showing no beneficial effect of smelling peppermint on athletic performance, so how about eating peppermint? Researchers measured the effects of peppermint on exercise performance before and after ten days of having subjects drink bottles of water with a single drop of peppermint essential oil in them. And all the subjects' performance parameters shot up, churning out 50 percent more work, 20 percent more power, and a 25 percent greater time to exhaustion. Improvements were found across the board in all those physiological parameters, indicating increased respiratory efficiency. They attribute these remarkable results to the peppermint opening up their airways, increasing ventilation and oxygen delivery.

Now, you can overdose on the stuff, but a few drops shouldn't be toxic. Why not get the best of both worls by blending fresh mint leaves in water rather than use the oil?

Sometimes aromatherapy alone may actually help, though:

Beet juice can also enhance athletic performance. See the dozen or so videos in the series starting with Doping With Beet Juice. Other ways healthy food can synergize with exercise:

I use peppermint in my Pink Juice with Green Foam recipe and talk about using the dried in Antioxidants in a Pinch. It can also help reduce IBS symptoms, as seen in Peppermint Oil for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Some other tea caveats, though:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Image Credit: Cory Denton / Flickr

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Quinoa Salad with Currants and Pistachios

I first tasted this beautiful salad when it was prepared in a cooking class I attended. Full of texture and flavors, it’s perfect for a holiday menu. This guest recipe was developed by Chef AJ, my friend and colleague in plant-based, SOS-free cooking. Chef AJ of Eat Unprocessed has followed a plant-based diet for over […]

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Hibiscus Tea: The Best Beverage?

A landmark investigation of the Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods put all previous rankings to shame. That’s where I got the data to create my videos Best Berries, which compares hundreds of berries to common fruits, and Better Than Goji Berries, which highlights the dried fruit most packed with anti-aging, anti-cancer antioxidants. Antioxidants in a Pinch and A Better Breakfast can help one visualize the effects of adding just tiny amounts of antioxidant-packed foods to our daily diets.

The international team of researchers also compared hundreds of different beverages. They tested everything from Red Bull to crowberry liqueur. I could never imagine any beverage more antioxidant-packed than matcha, which is a drink made out of powdered green tea leaves (so you’re actually eating green tea). But as I showed in Better Than Green Tea?, matcha may have met its match.

Hibiscus tea, made from the dried petals of hibiscus flowers, topped the rankings. It’s known as flor de Jamaica in Mexico, sorrel in the Caribbean, and roselle in many parts of the world. It’s what gives the “zing” to red zinger tea.

My family’s recipe is to soak a handful of bulk dried organic hibiscus flowers overnight and then blend with a knuckle of fresh ginger, a teaspoon of amla, three tablespoons of erythritol, and a handful of fresh mint leaves to make the half-gallon we drink throughout the day. By blending in the mint, you’re adding dark green leafies to what may be the highest antioxidant beverage in the world, and it tastes like fruit punch! Your kids will love it.

Just because something has antioxidant power in the test tube, though, doesn’t mean it has antioxidant flower power in the body. Maybe the phytonutrients aren’t even absorbed. A human investigation of hibiscus tea has finally been published, though.

If you take people and have them drink only water for 10 hours the antioxidant level of their bloodstream drops throughout the day. The antioxidants we’ve accumulated eating healthy foods get slowly used up throughout the day fighting off all those free radicals unless we replenish our antioxidant stores. For a primer on the fluctuating levels of oxidant stress, see Antioxidant Level Dynamics.

It’s hard to get people to fast for 10 hours, though. So, in addition to water, researchers gave the study subjects something they knew wouldn’t mess up their antioxidant measurements: white bread and cheese. What if at the beginning of the experiment you instead gave people a single cup of hibiscus tea? As you can see in my 2-min Herbal Tea Update: Hibiscus, within an hour there’s a nice spike in the antioxidant level in the blood stream. The effect disappears, however, unless you sip hibiscus throughout the day (or eat something other than Wonderbread cheese sandwiches).

Where are antioxidants concentrated the most? Whole plant foods. See the remarkable contrast in Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods. What’s so great about antioxidants? See The Power of NO and Mitochondrial Theory of Aging. How do we know more is necessarily better? See, for example, Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants.

For more flower power, check out what the saffron crocus can do against depression (Saffron vs. Prozac), PMS (Saffron for the Treatment of PMS), stress (Wake Up and Smell the Saffron), and dementia (Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s).

There are also chamomile flowers (Red Tea, Honeybush, & Chamomile), though Chamomile Tea May Not Be Safe During Pregnancy, and the rose bush: Dietary Osteoarthritis Treatment. More comparisons of herbal teas here: The Healthiest Herbal Tea.

I should note that there are unique phytonutrients found in the tea plant missing from all herbal teas, so one would not expect Dietary Brain Wave Alteration from drinking hibiscus. And hibiscus tea is sour, so make sure not to brush your teeth immediately after consumption (see my video Plant-Based Diets: Dental Health).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: BotMultichill / Wikimedia Commons

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