Allergies. See also Asthma and Food Allergies An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system misinterprets a normally nontoxic substance, such as grass, pollen, a detergent, or a certain food, as a harmful invader. The immune system then responds to this perceived threat, called an allergen, by releasing substances called histamines. Histamines produce a wide range of bodily reactions, including respiratory and nasal congestion, increased mucus production, skin rashes and welts, and headache. In the case of an actual threat to the body, in the form of, say, a flu … Continue reading


Bruises   A bruise is an injury caused by a blow or a bump that does not cut the skin but breaks blood vessels underneath the skin. Blood seeps out of these vessels, producing the tell- tale black-and-blue discoloration, as well as swelling and soreness. The deeper the bruise, or contusion, the longer it will take to heal. Leg bruises, for instance, can linger for up to four weeks because leg vessels have greater blood pres- sure than arm vessels. Bruises also change in color, first starting off red, then … Continue reading


Ulcers   Peptic ulcers most frequently affect the stomach and the duodenum, which is the upper part of the small intestine. Both the stomach and the duodenum process high quanti- ties of gastric juices. These juices have to be strong in order to break food down into digestible particles; in fact, they’re composed largely of hydrochloric acid, a substance that can dissolve not just last night’s dinner but body tissues as well. To protect the stomach and duodenum walls against damage from gastric acid, both organs are coated with a … Continue reading

Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Bad Breath (Halitosis)   If you’ve ever eaten garlic or onions—or stood next to someone who has—you know that certain foods reliably produce a sour or strong odor on the breath. These foods, usually ones that are pungent or spicy, contain foul-smelling sulfur compounds that are released not just into the mouth but into the bloodstream and the lungs as well. Even if you brush and gargle, you’ll continue to exhale the sulfur with every breath until the food is fully metabolized, a process that can take up to twenty-four … Continue reading


Menopause   Menopause is a good example of Western medicine’s focus on disease, rather than on health and wellness. In this case, a natural state—the end of menstruation—is defined by many conventional doctors as a disease that must be treated with medication. Women who don’t take their estrogen pills, Western medicine implies, will lose their femininity and their value to society. Luckily, many women instinctively know bet- ter, and studies have proven that there are extreme health risks with synthetic hormone replacement. To these wise women, menopause is a time … Continue reading

Kidney Stones

Kidney Stones   Kidney stones have become an increasingly common medical problem in Western society, mainly due to poor dietary habits. Although many kidney stones are so small that they pass unnoticed, they may sometimes become very large, up to the size of a marble. It is not hard to imagine that as these large stones move through the urinary tract, they cause great—and often excruciating—pain. Kidney stones are most likely to affect white men over the age of the thirty. People of any race or sex who live in … Continue reading


Psoriasis   Psoriasis, a common skin disorder, occurs when skin cells replicate too quickly. The skin produces new cells at about ten times its normal rate, but also it continues to slough off old ones at its usual, slower pace. With nowhere else to go, the new cells pile up under the surface, creating patches of red, swollen skin covered with silvery or whitish scales. Psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body, but it most often surfaces on the scalp, the knees, the elbows, the buttocks, and the backs of … Continue reading

Memory Problems

Memory Problems   Misplaced documents. Forgotten names. Missed appointments. More than two-thirds of people over sixty-five say that they have trouble recalling old details and absorb- ing new ones. To some people, memory problems are just part of what used to be called “senility,” an unfortunate but natural part of old age. For others, periodic for- getfulness sets off alarm bells: Is this Alzheimer’s? Stroke? Dementia? Poor memory is a problem but not an inevitable part of the aging process. While it’s true that nerve cells in the brain do … Continue reading

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)   Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by symptoms of depression that develop in the dark winter months and that lift with the onset of spring and summer. Although many of us feel a little less energetic in the winter, people with SAD suf- fer from more than just a prolonged bad mood. They have a medical condition typi- fied by fatigue, poor concentration, and an intense craving for carbohydrates. They may also feel an overwhelming need for sleep, although the sleep itself is rarely refreshing. … Continue reading

Ear Infection

Ear Infection A comprehensive review of studies published in the British Medical Jour- nal found that there was no significant dif- ference in children with acute ear infec- tions when antibiotics were given, as com- pared  to a placebo. While ear infections can occur at any age, they are most common in early childhood and infancy. In fact, ear infections are the reason for more than half the visits to pedi- atricians in the United States. Statistics show that acute ear infections affect two-thirds of American children under age two, … Continue reading

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular Disease   Numerous disorders fall under the broad category of heart and vascular disease. Here, discussion is restricted to arteriosclerosis, angina, and heart attack. For related sub- jects, see High Blood Pressure and Stroke. Arteries transport blood from the heart and deliver it to other parts of the body. Arteriosclerosis occurs when the inside of the artery wall thickens, leaving a narrower passageway for the blood to travel through. This disorder is often called hardening of the arteries. Arteriosclerosis can affect the coronary arteries—the arteries that lead to the … Continue reading

Back Pain

Back Pain   If you’re an American, you have an 80 percent chance of experiencing back pain at some point in your adult life. Back pain is one of the most common reasons for emer- gency room visits; in fact, it is the fourth most common ailment in our country. A few years ago, it was generally believed that back pain was caused by the degen- eration of one or more discs, the “shock absorbers” of the spine. This results in an impingement and possible damage to the nerves that … Continue reading


Arthritis   Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes swelling and pain that can range from mild to excruciating. Although more than two hundred diseases are classified under the name “arthritis,” most arthritic conditions fall into one of two categories: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is by far the more common, afflicting 40 million Americans and 80 percent of people over fifty. The pain and the inflammation occur when the cartilage that protects the bones from rubbing against each other wears down. Not surprisingly, the disease usually appears in … Continue reading

Attention Deficit

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder   Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is defined as age-inappropriate impulsiveness, lack of concentration, and sometimes-excessive physical activity. This condition is associated with learning difficulties and a lack of social skills. Because there is no laboratory or physical test that diagnoses ADHD, its diagnosis is based on a clinical history of symptoms and behavior. Since it is a subjective diag- nosis, it brings up controversy as to whether the behavior is actually normal in many cases, especially for younger boys. There are three subtypes of ADHD, … Continue reading


Infertility   To many couples, pregnancy seems like a simple matter—so simple that not getting pregnant is their chief concern. But after years of protected sex, men and women who decide they want children may discover that conception is a far more complex process than they realized. Here’s an extremely simplified version of what must happen: First, a woman secretes several hormones—each at the correct time—that cause one of the eggs in her ovaries to mature and to be released into the fallopian tube. A man must then con- tribute … Continue reading


Cough   Coughing is a normal part of the body’s immune system and respiratory defense sys- tem. Quick, sudden bursts of air and fluids from the respiratory tract help expel microbes, dust, chemicals, and other irritants, as well as foreign objects, from the airway. Coughing can be a symptom of an underlying infection of the bronchial tubes or lungs, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, or croup. In some cases, it can suggest more serious diseases, such as asthma, lung cancer, or heart problems. The goal in treating a cough is to … Continue reading


Stroke   Like all parts of the body, the brain needs a continuous supply of oxygen to function properly. When that oxygen supply is cut off, brain tissues begin to die within min- utes, never to regenerate. This tissue death is what happens during a stroke. A stroke occurs when blood carrying oxygen and other nutrients to the brain is blocked or inter- rupted; the extent of the damage to the brain usually depends upon the length of the interruption and the speed with which treatment is received. As most … Continue reading


Anxiety  Anxiety is a tool of the human body that is meant to be a healthy response to stresses in life or even to a dangerous situation. When we are afraid, our metabolism speeds up, our muscles tighten, and our adrenal glands produce extra quantities of adrena- line (a hormone that makes our hearts beat faster). Anxiety becomes a troublesome response only when we can’t burn up the nervous energy it creates. When a meeting, a deadline, or a family problem sets us on edge, our bodies signal “danger”—but physical … Continue reading


Insomnia   Insomnia is our nation’s silent health crisis. Almost half of all adults report having dif- ficulty sleeping, but less than 10 percent discuss the issue with their doctor. Almost everyone has suffered from temporary insomnia due to stress, overeating, or consum- ing stimulants before bed and knows how draining and exhausting sleep loss can be. But people who have chronic insomnia—a consistent inability to go to sleep or to stay asleep through the night—are at risk for far more than fatigue. Sleep deficiency sup- presses the immune system … Continue reading


Cataracts   Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States and worldwide. Because they develop gradually, and because most of us tend to associate some vision disturbances with “normal” aging, most cases go undetected until it is too late to stop the damage. This is a shame, because when cataracts are caught in their early stages, it is possible to halt or even reverse their progression. If your eyes are healthy, you can also take steps that may help prevent cataracts altogether. Cataracts are cloudy or … Continue reading